Infomotions, Inc.The Net / Beach, Rex Ellingwood, 1877-1949



Author: Beach, Rex Ellingwood, 1877-1949
Title: The Net
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): norvin; myra nell; blake; bernie; maruffi; donnelly; myra; martel; narcone; mafia; cardi; dreux; vittoria; nell; norvin blake; sicilian; belisario cardi; sicily; bernie dreux; myra nell's; colonel neri
Contributor(s): Saintsbury, George, 1845-1933 [Editor]
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Identifier: etext6379
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Title: The Net

Author: Rex Beach

Release Date: August, 2004  [EBook #6379]
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[This file was first posted on December 3, 2002]

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Language: English

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, THE NET ***




Beth Constantine, Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.



[Illustration: "I DO NOT KNOW WHY I HAVE SUMMONED YOU," SHE SAID]




THE NET




A NOVEL

By REX BEACH

Author of "The Spoilers," "The Barrier," "The Silver Horde," Etc.



WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS BY WALTER TITTLE




CONTENTS



CHAP.

I. THE TRAIN FROM PALERMO

II. A CONFESSION AND A PROMISE

III. THE GOLDEN GIRL

IV. THE FEAST AT TERRANOVA

V. WHAT WAITED AT THE ROADSIDE

VI. A NEW RESOLVE

VII. THE SEARCH BEGINS

VIII. OLD TRAILS

IX. "ONE WHO KNOWS"

X. MYRA NELL WARREN

XI. THE KIDNAPPING

XII. LA MAFIA  XIII. THE BLOOD OF HIS ANCESTORS

XIV. THE NET TIGHTENS

XV. THE END OF THE QUEST

XVI. QUARANTINE

XVII. AN OBLIGATION IS MET

XVIII. BELISARIO CARDI

XIX. FELICITE

XX. THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS

XXI. UNDER FIRE

XXII. A MISUNDERSTANDING

XXIII. THE TRIAL AND THE VERDICT

XXIV. AT THE FEET OF THE STATUE

XXV. THE APPEAL

XXVI. AT THE DUSK




ILLUSTRATIONS

"I DO NOT KNOW WHY I HAVE SUMMONED YOU,' SHE SAID _Frontispiece_

"SILENZIO!" HE GROWLED, "I PLAY MY OWN GAME, AND I LOSE"

HE WRESTLED FOR POSSESSION OF THE GUN

"P-PLEASE DON'T KILL YOURSELF, DEAR? I COULDN'T HELP IT"




I

THE TRAIN FROM PALERMO



The train from Palermo was late. Already long, shadowy fingers were
reaching down the valleys across which the railroad track meandered.
Far to the left, out of an opalescent sea, rose the fairy-like Lipari
Islands, and in the farthest distance Stromboli lifted its smoking
cone above the horizon. On the landward side of the train, as it
reeled and squealed along its tortuous course, were gray and gold
Sicilian villages perched high against the hills or drowsing among
fields of artichoke and sumac and prickly pear.

To one familiar with modern Sicilian railway trains the journey
eastward from Palermo promises no considerable discomfort, but
twenty-five years ago it was not to be lightly undertaken--not to be
undertaken at all, in fact, without an unusual equipment of patience
and a resignation entirely lacking in the average Anglo-Saxon. It was
not surprising, therefore, that Norvin Blake, as the hours dragged
along, should remark less and less upon the beauties of the island and
more and more upon the medieval condition of the rickety railroad
coach in which he was shaken and buffeted about. He shifted himself to
an easier position upon the seat and lighted a cheroot; for although
this was his first glimpse of Sicily, he had watched the same villages
come and go all through a long, hot afternoon, had seen the same
groves of orange and lemon and dust-green olive-trees, the same fields
of Barbary figs, the same rose-grown garden spots, until he was
heartily tired of them all. He felt at liberty to smoke, for the only
other occupant of the compartment was a young priest in flowing mantle
and silk beaver hat.

Finding that Blake spoke Italian remarkably well for a foreigner, the
priest had shown an earnest desire for closer acquaintance and now
plied him eagerly with questions, hanging upon his answers with a
childlike intensity of gaze which at first had been amusing.

"And so the Signore has traveled all the way from Paris to attend the
wedding at Terranova. Veramente! That is a great journey. Many
wonderful adventures befell you, perhaps. Eh?" The priest's little
eyes gleamed from his full cheeks, and he edged forward until his
knees crowded Blake's. It was evident that he anticipated a thrilling
tale and did not intend to be disappointed.

"It was very tiresome, that's all, and the beggars at Naples nearly
tore me asunder."

"Incredible! You will tell me about it?"

"There's nothing to tell. These European trains cannot compare with
ours."

Evidently discouraged at this lack of response, the questioner tried a
new line of approach.

"The Signore is perhaps related to our young Conte?" he suggested.
"And yet that can scarcely be, for you are Inglese--"

"Americano."

"Indeed?"

"Martel and I are close friends, however. We met in Paris. We are
almost like brothers."

"Truly! I have heard that he spends much time studying to be a great
painter. It is very strange, but many of our rich people leave Sicily
to reside elsewhere. As for me, I cannot understand it."

"Martel left when his father was killed. He says this country is
behind the times, and he prefers to be out in the world where there is
life and where things progress."

But the priest showed by a blank stare that he did not begin to grasp
the meaning of this statement. He shook his head. "He was always a
wild lad. Now as to the Signorina Ginini, who is to be his beautiful
Contessa, she loves Sicily. She has spent most of her life here among
us."

With a flash of interest Blake inquired: "What is she like? Martel has
spoken of her a great many times, but one can't place much dependence
on a lover's description."

"Bellissima!" the priest sighed, and rolled his eyes eloquently. "You
have never seen anything like her, I assure you. She is altogether too
beautiful. If I had my way all the beautiful women would be placed in
a convent where no man could see them. Then there would be no fighting
and no flirting, and the plain women could secure husbands. Beautiful
women are dangerous. She is rich, too."

"Of course! That's what Martel says, and that is exactly the way he
says it. But describe her."

"Oh, I have never seen her! I merely know that she is very rich and
very beautiful." He went off into a number of rapturous "issimas!"
"Now as for the Conte, I know him like a book. I know his every
thought."

"But Martel has been abroad for ten years, and he has only returned
within a month."

"To be sure, but I come from the village this side of San Sebastiano,
and my second cousin Ricardo is his uomo d'affare--his overseer. It
is a very great position of trust which Ricardo occupies, for I must
tell you that he attends to the leasing of the entire estate during
the Conte's absence in France, or wherever it is he draws those
marvelous pictures. Ricardo collects the rents." With true Sicilian
naivete the priest added: "He is growing rich! Beato lui! He for one
will not need to go to your golden America. Is it true, Signore, that
in America any one who wishes may be rich?"

"Quite true," smiled the young man. "Even our beggars are rich."

The priest wagged his head knowingly. "My mother's cousin, Alfio
Amato, he is an American. You know him?"

"I'm afraid not."

"But surely--he has been in America these five years. A tall, dark
fellow with fine teeth. Think! He is such a liar any one would
remember him. Ebbene! _He_ wrote that there were poor people in
America as here, but we knew him too well to believe him."

"I suppose every one knows about the marriage?"

"Oh, indeed! It will unite two old families--two rich families. You
know the Savigni are rich also. Even before the children were left as
orphans it was settled that they should be married. What a great
fortune that will make for Ricardo to oversee! Then, perhaps, he will
be more generous to his own people. He is a hard man in money matters,
and a man of action also; he does not allow flies to sit upon his
nose. He sent his own daughter Lucrezia to Terranova when the Contessa
was still a child, and what is the result? Lucrezia is no longer a
servant. Indeed no, she is more like a sister to the Signorina. At the
marriage no doubt she will receive a fine present, and Ricardo as
well. He is as silent as a Mafioso, but he thinks."

Young Blake stretched his tired muscles, yawning.

"I'm sorry Martel couldn't marry in France; this has been a tedious
trip."

"It was the Contessa's wish, then, to be wed in Sicily?"

"I believe she insisted. And Martel agreed that it was the proper
thing to do, since they are both Sicilians. He was determined also
that I should be present to share his joy, and so here I am. Between
you and me, I envy him his lot so much that it almost spoils for me
the pleasure of this unique journey."

"You are an original!" murmured the priest, admiringly, but it was
evident that his thirst for knowledge of the outside world was not to
be so easily quenched, for he began to question his traveling
companion closely regarding America, Paris, the journey thence, the
ship which bore him to Palermo, and a dozen other subjects upon which
his active mind preyed. He was full of the gossip of the countryside,
moreover, and Norvin learned much of interest about Sicily and the
disposition of her people. One phenomenon to which the good man
referred with the extremest wonder was Blake's intimacy with a
Sicilian nobleman. How an American signore had become such a close
friend of the illustrious Conte, who was almost a stranger, even to
his own people, seemed very puzzling indeed, until Norvin explained
that they had been together almost constantly during the past three
years.

"We met quite by chance, but we quickly became friends--what in my
country we call chums--and we have been inseparable ever since."

"And you, then, are also a great artist?"

Blake laughed at the indirect compliment to his friend.

"I am not an artist at all. I have been exiled to Europe for three
years, upon my mother's orders. She has her own ideas regarding a
man's education and wishes me to acquire a Continental polish. My
ability to tell you all this shows that I have at least made progress
with the languages, although I have doubts about the practical value
of anything else I have learned. Martel has taught me Italian; I have
taught him English. We use both, and sometimes we understand each
other. My three years are up now, and once I have seen my good friend
safely married I shall return to America and begin the serious
business of life."

"You are then in business? My mother's cousin, Alfio Amato, is
likewise a business man. He deals in fruit. Beware of him, for he
would sell you rotten oranges and swear by the saints that they were
excellent."

"Like Martel, I have land which I lease. I am, or I will be, a
cotton-planter."

This opened a new field of inquiry for the priest, who was making the
most of it when the train drew into a station and was stormed by a
horde of chattering country folk. The platform swarmed with vividly
dressed women, most of whom carried bundles wrapped up in variegated
handkerchiefs, and all of whom were tremendously excited at the
prospect of travel. Lean-visaged, swarthy men peered forth from the
folds of shawls or from beneath shapeless caps of many colors; a pair
of carabinieri idled past, a soldier in jaunty feathered hat posed
before the contadini. Dogs, donkeys, fowls added their clamor to the
high-pitched voices.

Twilight had settled and lights were kindling in the village, while
the heights above were growing black against a rose-pink and
mother-of-pearl sky. The air was cool and fragrant with the odor of
growing things and the open sea glowed with a subdued, pulsating fire.

The capo stazione rushed madly back and forth striving by voice and
gesture to hasten the movements of his passengers.

"Partenza! Pronto!" he cried, then blew furiously upon his bugle.

After a series of shudders and convulsions the train began to hiss and
clank and finally crept on into the twilight, while the priest sat knee to
knee with his companion and resumed his endless questioning.

It was considerably after dark when Norvin Blake alighted at San
Sebastiano, to be greeted effusively by a young man of about his own
age who came charging through the gloom and embraced him with a great
hug.

"So! At last you come!" Savigno cried. "I have been here these three
hours eating my heart out, and every time I inquired of that head of a
cabbage in yonder he said, 'Pazienza! The world was not made in a
day!'

"'But when? When?' I kept repeating, and he could only assure me that
your train was approaching with the speed of the wind. The saints in
heaven--even the superintendent of the railway himself--could not tell
the exact hour of its arrival, which, it seems, is never twice the
same. And now, yourself? You are well?"

"Never better. And you? But there is no need to ask. You look
disgustingly contented. One would think you were already married."

Martel Savigno showed a row of even, white teeth beneath his military
mustache and clapped his friend affectionately on the back.

"It is good to be among my own people. I find, after all, that I am a
Sicilian. But let me tell you, that train is not always late. Once,
seven years ago, it arrived upon the moment. There were no passengers
at the station to meet it, however, so it was forced to wait, and now,
in order to keep our good-will it always arrives thus."

The Count was a well-set-up youth of an alert and active type, tall,
dark, and vivacious, with a skin as smooth as a girl's. He had an
impulsive, energetic nature that seldom left him in repose, and hence
the contrast between the two men was marked, for Blake was of a more
serious cast of features and possessed a decidedly Anglo-Saxon
reserve. He was much the heavier in build, also, which detracted from
his height and robbed him of that elegance which distinguished the
young Sicilian. Yet the two made a fine-looking pair as they stood
face to face in the yellow glare of the station lights.

"What the deuce made me agree to this trip, I don't know," the
American declared. "It was vile. I've been carsick, seasick, homesick--"

"And all for poor, lovesick Martel!" The Count laughed. "Ah, but if
you knew how glad I am to see you!"

"Really? Then that squares it." Blake spoke with that indefinable
undernote which creeps into men's voices when friend meets friend.
"I've been lost without you, too. I was quite ashamed of myself."

The Count turned to a middle-aged man who had remained in the shadows,
saying: "This is Ricardo Ferara, my good right hand, of whom you have
heard me speak." The overseer raised his hat, and Blake took his hand,
catching a glimpse of a grizzled face and a stiff mop of iron-gray
hair. "You will see to Signore Blake's baggage, Ricardo. Michele!
Ippolito!" the Count called. "The carretta, quickly! And now, caro
Norvin, for the last leg of your journey. Will you ride in the cart or
on horseback? It is not far, but the roads are steep."

"Horseback, by all means. My muscles need exercise."

The young men mounted a pair of compact Sicilian horses, which were
held by still another man in the street behind the depot, and set off
up the winding road which climbed to the village above. Blake
regretted the lateness of the hour, which prevented him from gaining
an adequate idea of his surroundings. He could see, however, that they
were picturesque, for San Sebastiano lay in a tiny step hewed out of
the mountain-side and was crowded into one street overlooking the
railway far below and commanding a view of the sea toward the
Calabrian coast. As the riders clattered through the poorly lighted
village, Blake saw the customary low-roofed houses, the usual squalid
side-streets, more like steep lanes than thoroughfares, and heard the
townspeople pronouncing the name of the Count of Martinello, while the
ever-present horde of urchins fled from their path. A beggar appeared
beside his stirrup, crying, "I die of hunger, your worship." But the
fellow ran with surprising vigor and manifested a degree of endurance
quite unexampled in a starving man. A glimpse of these, and then the
lights were left behind and they were moving swiftly upward and into
the mountains, skirting walls of stone over which was wafted the
perfume of many flowers, passing fragrant groves of orange and lemon
trees, and less fragrant cottages, the contents of which were bared to
their eyes with utter lack of modesty. They disturbed herds of drowsy
cattle and goats lying at the roadside, and all the time they
continued to climb, until their horses heaved and panted.

The American's impressions of this entire journey, from the time of
his leaving Paris up to the present moment, had been hurried and
unreal, for he had made close connections at Rome, at Naples, and at
Palermo. Having the leisurely deliberateness of the American
Southerner, he disliked haste and confusion above all things. He had
an intense desire, therefore, to come to anchor and to adjust himself
to his surroundings.

As Martel chattered along, telling of his many doings, Blake noted
that Ricardo and the man who had held the horses were following
closely. Then, as the cavalcade paused at length to breathe their
mounts, he saw that both men carried rifles.

"Why! We look like an American sheriff's posse, Martel," said he. "Do
all Sicilian bridegrooms travel with an armed escort?"

Savigno showed a trace of hesitation. "The nights are dark; the
country is wild."

"But, my dear boy, this country is surely old enough to be safe. Why,
Sicily was civilized long before my country was even heard of. All
sorts of ancient gods and heroes used to live here, I am told, and I
supposed Diana had killed all the game long ago."

He laughed, but Savigno did not join him, and a moment later they were
under way again.

After a brief gallop they drew up at a big, dark house, hidden among
the deeper shadows of many trees, and in answer to Martel's shout a
wide door was flung back; then by the light which streamed forth from
it they dismounted and made their way up a flight of stone steps. Once
inside, Savigno exclaimed:

"Welcome to my birthplace! A thousand welcomes!" Seizing Norvin by the
shoulders, he whirled him about. "Let me see you once. Ah! I am glad
you made this sacrifice for me, for I need you above all men." His
eyes, though bright with affection, were grave--something unusual in
him--and the other inquired, quickly:

"There's nothing wrong, I hope?"

Savigno tossed his head and smiled.

"Wrong! What could be wrong with me now that you are here? No! All is
quite right, but I have been accursed with lonesomeness. Something was
lacking, It was you, caro mio. Now, however, I am the most contented
of mortals. But you must be famished, so I will show you to your room
at once. Francesca has provided a feast for us, I assure you."

"Give me a moment to look around. So this is the castello? Jove! It's
ripping!"

Blake found himself in a great hall similar to many he had seen in his
European wanderings, but ruder and older by far. He judged the
castello to be of Norman build, but remodeled to suit the taste of the
Savigni. To the right, through an open door, he saw a large room where
a fat Sicilian woman was laying the table; to the left was a drawing-room
lighted only by a fire of fagots in a huge, black fireplace, the
furniture showing curiously distorted in the long shadows. Other rooms
opened towards the rear, and he realized that the old place was very
large. It was unkempt also, and showed the lack of a woman's hand.

"You exaggerate!" said Savigno. "After Paris the castello will seem
very mean. We Siciliani do not live in grand style, and, besides, I
have spent practically no time here, since my father (may the saints
receive him) left me free to wander. The place has been closed; the
old servants have gone; it is dilapidated."

"On the contrary, it's just the sort of place it should be--venerable
and overflowing with romance. You must rule like a medieval baron.
Why, you could sell this woodwork to some millionaire countryman of
mine for enough to realize a fortune."

"Per Dio! If taxes are not reduced I shall be forced to some such
expedient," the Count laughed. "It was my mother's home, it is my
birthplace, so I love it--even though I neglect it. As you perceive,
it is high time I took a wife. But enough! If you are lacking in
appetite, I am not, and Francesca is an unbearable tyrant when her
meals grow cold."

He led his friend up the wide stairs and left him to prepare for
supper.

"And so this ends it all," said Blake, as the two young men lounged in
the big, empty drawing-room later that evening. They had dined and
gossiped as only friends of their age can gossip, had relived their
adventures of the past three years, and still were loath to part, even
for sleep.

"How so?" queried Savigno. "You speak of marriage as if it were
dissolution."

"It might as well be, so far as the other fellow is concerned."

"Nonsense! I shall not change."

"Oh, yes, you will! Besides, I am returning to America."

"Even so, we are rich; we shall travel; we shall meet frequently. You
will come to Sicily. Perhaps the Contessa and I may even go to
America. Friendship such as ours laughs at the leagues."

But Blake was pessimistic. "Perhaps she won't like me."

Martel laughed at this.

"Impossible! She is a woman, she has eyes, she will see you as I see
you. More than that, I have told her that she must love you."

"Then that does settle it! You have hung the crepe on our future
intimacy, for good and all. She will instruct your cook to put a
spider in my dumpling or to do away with me by some characteristic
Sicilian method."

Martel seemed puzzled by the Americanism of this speech, but Norvin
merely smiled and changed to Italian.

"Do you really love her?" he asked.

"Of course! Since I was a boy so high I have known we would marry. She
adores me, she is young, she is beautiful, she is--rich!"

"In Heaven's name don't use that tone in speaking of her wealth. You
make me doubt you."

"No, no!" The Count smiled. "It would be the same if she were a
peasant girl. We shall be so happy--oh, there is no expressing how
happy we intend being."

"I've no doubt. And that makes it quite certain to end our
comradeship."

"You croak like a raven!" declared the Sicilian. "What has soured
you?"

"Nothing. I am a wise young man, that's all. You see, happiness is
all-sufficient; it needs nothing to complete itself. It is a wall
beyond which the owner does not care to wander, so, when you are quite
happy with the new Countess, you will forget your friends of unmarried
days."

"Would you then have me unhappily married?"

"By no means. I am full of regrets at losing you, nothing more."

"It is plain, then, that you also must marry. Is there no admirable
American lady?"

"Any quantity of them, but I don't care much for women except in an
impersonal sort of way, or perhaps I don't attract them. I might enjoy
falling in love if it were not such a tedious process."

"It is not necessarily tedious. One may love with the suddenness of an
explosion. I have done so, many times."

"I know you have, but you are a Sicilian; we go about such things in a
dignified and respectable manner. Love is a serious matter with us. We
don't explode."

"Yes. When you love, you marry; and you marry in the same way you buy
a farm. But we have blood in our veins and lime in our bones. I have
loved many women to distraction; there is only one whom I would
marry."

Ricardo entered at the moment, and the Count arose with a word of
apology to his guest. He spoke earnestly with his overseer, but, as
they were separated from him by the full width of the great room,
Blake overheard no more than a word now and then. They were speaking
in the Sicilian dialect, moreover, which was unfamiliar to him, yet he
caught the mention of Ippolito, one of the men who had met him at the
station, also of an orange-grove, and the word "Mafioso." Then he
heard Martel say:

"The shells for the new rifle--Ippolito is a bad shot--take plenty."

When Ricardo had gone and the Count had returned to his seat, Norvin
fancied he detected once more that grave look he had surprised in his
friend's countenance upon their arrival at the castello.

"What were you telling Ricardo about rifles and cartridges?" he
inquired.

"Eh? It was nothing. We are forced to guard our oranges; there are
thieves about. I have been too long away from Martinello."

Later, as Norvin Blake composed himself to sleep he wondered idly if
Martel had told him the whole truth. He recalled again the faint,
grave lines that had gathered about the Count's eyes, where there had
never been aught but wrinkles of merriment, and he recalled also that
word "Mafioso." It conjured memories of certain tales he had heard of
Sicilian outlawry and brigandage, and of that evil, shadowy society of
"Friends" which he understood dominated this island. There was a story
about the old Count's death also, but Martel had never told him much.
Norvin tried to remember what it was, but sleep was heavy upon him and
he soon gave up.




II

A CONFESSION AND A PROMISE



Norvin Blake slept soundly, as befitted a healthy young man with less
than the usual number of cares upon his mind, and, notwithstanding the
fact that he had retired at a late hour, somewhat worn by his journey,
he awoke earlier than usual. Still lacking an adequate idea of his
surroundings, he arose and, flinging back the blinds of his window,
looked out upon a scene which set him to dressing eagerly.

The big front door of the hall below was barred when he came down, and
only yielded to his efforts with a clanging which would have awakened
any one except Martel, letting him out upon a well-kept terrace
beneath which the hills fell away in majestic sweeps and curves to the
coast-line far beneath.

It was a true Sicilian morning, filled with a dazzling glory of color,
and although it was not early, from a countryman's point of view, the
dewy freshness had not entirely faded, and rosy tints still lingered
in the valleys and against the Calabrian coast in the distance. An
odor of myrtle and jessamine came from a garden beneath the outer
terrace wall, and on either side of the manor rose wooded hills the
lower slopes of which were laid out in vineyards and groves of citrus
fruits.

Having in full measure the normal man's unaffected appreciation of
nature, Blake found himself wondering how Martel could ever leave this
spot for the artificialities of Paris. The Count was amply able to
live where he chose, and it was no love for art which had kept him in
France these many years. On the contrary, they had both recognized the
mediocrity of his talent and had often joked about it. It was perhaps
no more than a youthful restlessness and craving for excitement, he
concluded.

Knowing that his luxurious host would not be stirring for another
hour, he set out to explore the place at his leisure, and in time came
around to the stables and outhouses. It is not the front of any
residence which shows its real character, any more than a woman's true
nature is displayed by her Sunday attire. Norvin made friends with a
surly, stiff-haired dog, then with a patriarchal old goat which he
found grazing atop a wall, and at last he encountered Francesca
bearing a bundle of fagots upon her head.

She was in a bad temper, it appeared, for in answer to his cheerful
greeting she began to revile the names of Ippolito and Michele.

"Lazy pigs!" she cried, fiercely. "Is it not sufficient that old
Francesca should bare her bones and become a shadow with the cares of
the household? Is it not sufficient that she performs the labor of
twenty in caring for the padrone? No! Is it not the devil's task to
prepare the many outlandish delicacies he learned to eat in his
travels? Yes! Ha! What of that! She must also perform the duties of an
ass and bear wood for the fires! And what, think you, those two young
giants are doing all the day? Sleeping, Si'or! Up all night, asleep
all day! A fine business. And Francesca with a broken back!"

"I'll carry your wood," he offered, at which the mountainous old woman
stared at him as if she did not in the least comprehend his words.
Although her burden was enough to tax a man's strength, she balanced
it easily upon her head and made no move to go.

"And the others! May they all be blinded--Attilio, Gaspare, Roberto!
The hangman will get them, surely. Briganti, indeed!" She snorted like
a horse. "May Belisario Cardi roast them over these very fagots."
Slowly she moved her head from side to side while the bundle swayed
precariously. "It is a bad business, Si'or. The padrone is mad to
resist. You may tell him he is quite mad. Mark me, Ricardo knows that
no good will come of it, but he is like a bull when he is angry. He
lowers his head and sees blood. Veramente, it is a bad business and we
shall all lose our ears." She moved off majestically, her eyes rolling
in her fat cheeks, her lips moving; leaving the American to speculate
as to what her evil prediction had to do with Ippolito and the
firewood.

He was still smiling at her anger when Ippolito himself, astride a
horse, came clattering into the courtyard and dismounted stiffly,
giving him a good morning with a wide yawn.

"Corpo di Baccho!" exclaimed the rider. "I shall sleep for a century."
He stretched luxuriously and, unslinging a gun from his shoulder,
leaned it against the wall. Blake was surprised to find it a late
model of an American repeating rifle. "Francesca!" he called loudly.
"Madonna mia, I am famished!"

"Francesca was here a moment ago," Norvin volunteered. "In a frightful
temper, too."

"Just so! It was the wood, I presume." He scowled. "One cannot be in
ten places unless he is in ten pieces. I am glad to be here, and not
here and there."

"Well, she wants you roasted by some fellow named Cardi--"

"Eh? What?" Ippolito started, jerking the horse's head by the bridle
rein, through which he had thrust his arm. "What is this?"

"Belisario Cardi, I believe she said. I don't know him."

The Sicilian muttered an oath and disappeared into the stable; he was
still scowling when he emerged.

Prompted by a feeling that he was close to something mysterious, Blake
tried to sound the fellow.

"You are abroad early," he suggested.

But Ippolito seemed in no mood for conversation, and merely replied:

"Si, Signore, quite early."

He was a lean, swarthy youth, square-jawed and well put up. Although
his clothes were poor, he wore them with a certain grace and moved
like a man who is sure of himself.

"Did you see any robbers?"

"Robbers?" Ippolito's look was one of quick suspicion. "Who has ever
seen a robber?"

"Come, come! I heard the Count and Ricardo talking. You have been
away, among the orange-groves, all night. Am I right?"

"You are right."

"Tell me, is it common thieves or outlaws whom you watch? I have heard
about your brigands."

"Ippolito!" came the harsh voice of Ricardo, who at that moment
appeared around the corner of the stable. "In the kitchen you will
find food."

Ippolito bowed to the American and departed, his rifle beneath his
arm.

Blake turned his attention to the overseer, for his mind, once filled
with an idea, was not easily satisfied. But Ricardo would give him no
information. He raised his bushy, gray eyebrows at the American's
question.

"Brigands? Ippolito is a great liar."

Seeing the angry sparkle in the old fellow's eyes, Norvin hastened to
say:

"He told me nothing, I assure you."

"Thieves, yes! We have ladri here, as elsewhere. Sometimes it is well
to take precautions."

"But Francesca was quite excited, and I heard you and Martel mention
La Mafia last night," Blake persisted. "I see you all go armed. I am
naturally curious. I thought you might be in trouble with the
society."

"Children's tales!" said Ricardo, gruffly. "There is no society of La
Mafia."

"Oh, see here! We have it even in my own country. The New Orleans
papers have been full of stories about the Mala Vita, the Mafia, or
whatever you choose to call it. There is a big Italian population
there, you know, and they are causing our police a great deal of
worry. I live in Louisiana, so I ought to know. We understand it's an
offshoot of the Sicilian Mafia."

"In Naples I hear there is a Camorra. But this is Sicily. We have no
societies."

"Nevertheless, I heard you say something about 'Mafioso' last night,"
Blake insisted.

"Perhaps," grudgingly admitted the overseer. "But La Mafia is not a
man, not a society, as you say. It is--" He made a wide gesture. "It
is all Sicily. You do not understand."

"No, I do not."

"Very well. One does not speak of it. Would the Signore care to see
the horses?"

"Thank you, yes."

The two went into the stables together, and Blake for the time gave up
the hope of learning anything further about Sicilian brigandage. Nor
did Martel show any willingness to enlighten him when he tentatively
introduced the subject at breakfast, but laughingly turned the
conversation into another channel.

"To-day you shall see the star of my life," he declared. "Be prepared
to worship as all men do."

"Assuredly."

"And promise you will not fall in love."

"Is that why you discouraged my coming until a week before your
wedding? Really, if she is all you claim, we might have been such
delightful enemies."

"Enemies are never that," said the Count, gravely.

I know men in my country who cherish their enemies like friends. They
seem to enjoy them tremendously, until one or the other has passed on
to glory. Even then they are highly spoken of."

"I am impatient for you to see her. She, of course, has many
preparations to make, for the wedding-day is almost here; but it is
arranged that we are to dine there to-night with her and her aunt, the
Donna Teresa. Ah, Norvin mine, seven days separate me from Paradise.
You can judge of my ecstasy. The hours creep, the moments are leaden.
Each night when I retire, I feel faithless in allowing sleep to rob my
thoughts of her. When I awake it is with the consolation that more of
those miserable hours have crept away. I am like a man insane."

"I am beginning to think you really are so."

"Diamine! Wait! You have not seen her. We are to be married by a
bishop."

"No doubt that will insure your happiness."

"A marriage like this does not occur every day. It will be an event, I
tell you."

"And you're sure I won't be in the way this evening?"

"No, no! It is arranged. She is waiting--expecting you. She knows you
already. This morning, however, you will amuse yourself--will you
not?--for I must ride down to San Sebastiano and meet the colonel of
carabinieri from Messina."

"Certainly. Don't mind me."

Martel hesitated an instant, then explained:

"It is a matter of business. One of my farm-hands is in prison."

"Indeed! What for?"

"Oh, it is nothing. He killed a fellow last week."

"Jove! What a peaceful, pastoral place you have here! I arrive to be
met by an armed guard, I hear talk of Mafiosi, men ride out at night
with rifles, and old women predict unspeakable evil. What is all the
mystery?"

"Nonsense! There is no mystery. Do you think I would drag you, my best
friend, into danger?" Savigno's lips were smiling, but he awaited an
answer with some restraint. "That would not be quite the--quite a nice
thing to do, would it?"

"So, that's it! Now I know you have something on your mind. And it
must be of considerable importance or you would have told me before
this."

"You are right," the Count suddenly declared, "although I hoped you
would not discover it. I might have known. But I suppose it is better
to make a clean breast of it now. I have enemies, my friend, and I
assure you I do not cherish them."

"The Countess Margherita is a famous beauty, eh? Well! It is not
remarkable that you should have rivals."

"No, no. This has nothing to do with her, unless our approaching
marriage has roused them to make a demonstration. Have you ever heard
of--Belisario Cardi?"

"Not until this morning. Who is he?"

"I would give much to know. If you had asked me a month ago, I would
have said he is an imaginary character, used to frighten people--a
modern Fra Diavolo, a mere name with which to inspire terror--for
nobody has ever seen him. Now, however, he seems real enough, and I
learn that the carabinieri believe in his existence." Martel pushed
back the breakfast dishes and, leaning his elbows upon the table,
continued, after a pause: "To you Sicily is all beauty and peace and
fragrance; she is old and therefore civilized, so you think.
Everything you have seen so far is reasonably modern, eh?" He showed
his white teeth as Blake assured him:

"It's the most peaceful, restful spot I ever saw."

"You see nothing but the surface. Sicily is much what she was in my
grandfather's time. You have inquired about La Mafia. Well, there is
such a thing. It killed my father. It forced me to give up my home and
be an exile." At Norvin's exclamation of astonishment, he nodded."
There's a long story behind it which you could not appreciate without
knowing my father and the character of our Sicilian people, for, after
all, Sicilian character constitutes La Mafia. It is no sect, no cult,
no secret body of assassins, highwaymen, and robbers, as you
foreigners imagine; it is a national hatred of authority, an
individual expression of superiority to the law."

"In our own New Orleans we are beginning to talk of the Mafia, but
with us it is a mysterious organization of Italian criminals. We treat
it as somewhat of a joke."

"Be not so sure. Some day it may dominate your American cities as it
does all Sicily."

"Still I don't understand. You say it is an organization and yet it is
not; it terrorizes a whole island and yet you say it is no more than
your national character. It must have a head, it must have arms."

"It has no head, or, rather, it has many heads. It is not a band. It
is the Sicilian intolerance of restraint, the individual's sense of
superiority to moral, social, and political law. It is the freemasonry
that results from this common resistance to authority. It is an idea,
not an institution; it is Sicily's curse and that which makes her
impossible of government. I do not mean to deny that we have outlawry
and brigandage; they are merely the most violent demonstrations of La
Mafia. It afflicts the cities; it is a tyranny in the country
districts. La Mafia taxes us with blackmail, it saddles us with a
great force of carabinieri, it gives food and drink and life to men
like Belisario Cardi. Every landholder, every man of property,
contributes to its support. You still do not understand, but you will
as I go along. As an instance of its workings, all fruit-growers
hereabouts are obliged to maintain watchmen, in addition to their
regular employees. Otherwise their groves will be robbed. These guards
are Mafiosi. Let us say that one of us opposes this monopoly. What
happens? He loses his crop in a night; his trees are cut down. Should
he appeal to the law for protection, he is regarded as a weakling, a
man of no spirit. This is but one small example of the workings of La
Mafia; as a matter of fact, it permeates the political, the business,
and the social life of the whole island. Knowing the impotence of the
law to protect any one, peaceable citizens shield the criminals. They
perjure themselves to acquit a Mafioso rather than testify against him
and thus incur the certainty of some fearful vengeance. Should the
farmer persist in his independence, something ends his life, as in my
father's case. The whole country is terrorized by a conspiracy of a
few bold and masterful men. It is unbearable. There are, of course,
Capi-Mafia--leaders--whose commands are enforced, but there is no
single well-organized society. It is a great interlocking system built
upon patronage, friendship, and the peculiar Sicilian character."

"Now I think I begin to understand."

"My father was not strong enough to throw off the yoke and it meant
his death. I was too young to take his place, but now that I am a man
I intend to play a man's part, and I have served notice. It means a
battle, but I shall win."

To Martel's hasty and very incomplete sketch of the hidden influences
of Sicilian life Blake listened with the greatest interest, noting the
grave determination that had settled upon his friend; yet he could
scarcely bring himself to accept an explanation that seemed so
far-fetched. The whole theory of the Mafia struck him as grotesque and
theatrical.

"And one man has already been killed, you say?" he asked.

"Yes, I discharged all the watchmen whom I knew to be Mafiosi. It
caused a commotion, I can tell you, and no little uneasiness among the
country people, who love me even if, to them, I have been a more or
less imaginary person since my father's death. Naturally they warned
me to desist in this mad policy of independence. A week ago one of my
campieri, Paolo--he who is now in prison--surprised a fellow hacking
down my orange-trees and shot him. The miscreant proved to be a
certain Galli, whom I had discharged. He left a family, I regret to
say, but his reputation was bad. Notwithstanding all this, Paolo is
still in prison despite my utmost efforts. The machinery of the Mafia
is in motion, they will perjure witnesses, they will spend money in
any quantity to convict my poor Paolo. Heaven knows what the result
will be."

"And where does this bogey-man enter--this Belisario Cardi?"

"I have had a letter from him."

"Really?"

"It is in the hands of the carabinieri, hence this journey of my
friend, Colonel Neri, from Messina."

"What did the letter say?"

"It demanded a great sum of money, with my life as the penalty for
refusal. It was signed by Cardi; there was no mistaking the name. If
it had been from Narcone, for instance, I would have paid no attention
to it, for he is no more than a cattle-thief. But Belisario Cardi! My
boy, you don't appreciate the significance of that name. I should not
care to fall into his hands, I assure you, and have my feet roasted
over a slow fire--"

"Good heavens!" Norvin cried, rising abruptly from his chair. "You
don't really mean he's that sort?"

"As a matter of fact," the Count reassured his guest, "I don't believe
in his existence at all. It is merely a name to be used upon occasion.
But as for the punishment, that is perhaps the least I might
expect if I were so unfortunate as to be captured."

"Why, this can't be! Do you realize that this is the year 1886? Such
things are not possible any longer. In your father's time--yes."

"All things are possible in Sicily," smiled Savigno. "We are a century
behind the times. But, caro mio, I did wrong to tell you--"

"No, no."

"I shall come to no harm, believe me. I am known to be young, rich,
and my marriage is but a few days off. What more natural, therefore,
than for some Mafioso to try to frighten me and profit by the dreaded
name of Cardi? I am a stranger here in my own birthplace. When I
become better known, there will be no more feeble attempts at
blackmail. Other landholders have maintained their independence, and I
shall do the same, for an enemy who fears to fight openly is a coward,
and I am in the right."

"I am glad I came. I shall be glad, too, when you are married and
safely off on your wedding journey."

"I feared to tell you all this lest you should think I had no right to
bring you here at such a time--"

"Don't be an utter idiot, Martel."

"You are an American; you have your own way of looking at things. Of
course, if anything should happen--if ill-fortune should overtake me
before the marriage--"

"See here! If there is the slightest danger, the faintest possibility,
you ought to go away, as you did before," Norvin declared, positively.

"I am no longer a child. I am to be married a week hence. Wild horses
could not drag me away."

"You could postpone it--explain it to the Countess--"

"There is no necessity; there is no cause for alarm, even. All the
same, I feel much easier with you here. Margherita has relatives, to
be sure, but they are--well, I have no confidence in them. In the
remote possibility that the worst should come, you could look out for
her, and I am sure you would. Am I right?"

"Of course you are."

"And now let us think of something pleasanter. We won't talk of it any
more, eh?"

"I'm perfectly willing to let it drop. You know I would do anything
for you or yours, so we needn't discuss that point any further."

"Good!" Martel rose and with his customary display of affection flung
an arm about his friend's shoulders. "And now Ricardo is waiting to go
to San Sebastiano, so you must amuse yourself for an hour or two. I
have had the billiard-table recovered, and the cushions are fairly
good. You will find books in the library, perhaps a portfolio of my
earlier drawings--"

"Billiards!" exclaimed the American, fervently, whereupon the Count
laughed.

"Till I return, then, a riverderci!" He seized his hat and strode out
of the room.




III

THE GOLDEN GIRL



Shortly after the heat of the day had begun to subside the two friends
set out for Terranova. Ricardo accompanied them--it seemed he went
everywhere with Martel--following at a distance which allowed the
young men freedom to talk, his watchful eyes scanning the roadside as
if even in the light of day he feared some lurking danger.

The prospect of seeing his fiancee acted like wine upon Savigno, and
from his exuberant spirits it was evident that he had completely
forgotten his serious talk at the breakfast table. His disposition was
mercurial, and if he had ever known real forebodings they were
forgotten now.

It was a splendid ride along a road which wound in serpentine twinings
high above the sea, now breasting ridges bare of all save rock and
spurge, and now dipping into valleys shaded by flowering trees and
cloyed with the scent of blooms. It meandered past farms, in haphazard
fashion, past vineyards and gardens and groves of mandarin, lime, and
lemon, finally toiling up over a bold chestnut-studded shoulder of the
range, where Blake drew in to enjoy the scene. A faint haze,
impalpable as the memory of dreams, lay over the land, the sea was
azure, the mountains faintly purple. A gleam of white far below showed
Terranova, and when the American had voiced his appreciation the three
horsemen plunged downward, leaving a rolling cloud of yellow dust
behind them.

The road from here on led through a wild and somewhat forbidding
country, broken by ravines and watercourses and quite densely wooded
with thickets which swept upward into the interior as far as the eye
could reach; but in the neighborhood of Terranova the land blossomed
and flowered again as on the other side of the mountains.

Leaving the main road by a driveway, the three horsemen swung through
spacious grounds and into a courtyard behind the house, where an old
man came shuffling slowly forward, his wrinkled face puckered into a
smile of welcome.

"Ha! Aliandro!" cried the Count. "What do I see? The rheumatism is
gone at last, grazie Dio!"

Aliandro's loose lips parted over his toothless gums and he mumbled:

"Illustrissimo, the accursed affliction is worse."

"Impossible! Then why these capers? My dear Aliandro, you are
shamming. Why, you came leaping like a goat."

"As God is my judge, carino, I can sleep only in the sun. It is like
the tortures of the devil, and my bones creak like a gate."

"And yet each day I declare to myself: 'Aliandro, that rascal, is
growing younger as the hours go by. It is well we are not rivals in
love or I should be forced to hate him!'" The old man chuckled and
beamed upon Savigno, who proceeded to make Norvin known.

Aliandro's face had once been long and pointed, but with the loss of
teeth and the other mysterious shrinkages of time it had shortened
until in repose the chin and the nose seemed to meet like the points
of calipers. When he moved his jaws his whole countenance lengthened
magically, as if made of some substance more elastic than flesh. It
stretched and shortened rapidly now, in the most extraordinary
fashion, for the Count had a knack of pleasing people.

"And where are the ladies?" Savigno inquired.

Aliandro cocked a watery eye at the heavens and replied:

"They will be upon the loggiato at this hour, Illustrissimo. The Donna
Teresa will have a book." He squinted respectfully at a small note
which Martel handed him, then inquired, "Do you wish change?"

"Not at all. It is yours for your courtesy."

"Grazie! Grazie! A million thanks." The old fellow made off with
surprising agility.

"What a sham he is!" the Count laughed, as he and Norvin walked on
around the house. "He will do no labor, and yet the Contessa supports
him in idleness. There is a Mafioso for you! He has been a brigand, a
robber. He is, to this day, as you see. Margherita has an army of such
people who impose upon her. Every time I am here I tip him. Every time
he receives it with the same words."

Although the country-seat of the Ginini was known as a castello, it
was more in the nature of a comfortable and pretentious villa. It had
dignity, however, and drowsed upon a commanding eminence fronted by a
splendid terraced lawn which one beheld through clumps of flowering
shrubs and well-tended trees. Here and there among the foliage gleamed
statuary, and the musical purl of a fountain fell upon the ear.

As the young men mounted to the loggiato, or covered gallery, a
delicate, white-haired Italian lady arose and came to meet them.

"Ah, Martel, my dear boy! We have been expecting you," she cried.

It was the Donna Teresa Fazello, and she turned a sweet face upon
Mattel's friend, bidding him welcome to Terranova with charming
courtesy. She was still exchanging with him the pleasantries customary
upon first meetings when he heard the Count exclaim softly, and,
looking up, saw him bowing low over a girl's hands. Her back was half
turned toward Norvin, but although he had not seen her features
clearly, he felt a great surprise. His preconceived notion of her had
been all wrong; It seemed, for she was not dark--on the contrary, she
was as tawny as a lioness. Her hair, of which there was an abundance,
was not the ordinary Saxon yellow, but iridescent, as if burned by the
fierce heat of a tropical sun. The neck and cheeks were likewise
golden, or was it the light from her splendid crown?

He was still staring at her when she turned and came forward to give
him her hand, thus allowing her full glory to flash upon him.

"Welcome!" she said, in a voice as low-pitched as a cello string, and
her lover, watching eagerly for some sign from his friend, smiled
delightedly at the emotion he saw leap up in Norvin's face. That young
man was quite unconscious of Martel's espionage--unconscious of
everything, in fact, save the splendid creature who stood smiling at
him as if she had known him all her days. His first impression, that
she was all golden, all gleaming, like a flame, did not leave him; for
the same warm tints that were in her hair were likewise present in her
cheeks, her neck, her hands. It was like the hue which underlies old
ivory. Her skin was clear and of unusual pallor, yet it seemed to
radiate warmth. Something rich and vivid in her voice also lent
strength to the odd impression she had given him, as if her very
speech were gold made liquid. Except for the faintest tinge of olive,
her cheeks were colorless, yet they spoke of perfect health, and shone
with that same pale, effulgent glow, like the reflection of a late
sun. Her lips were richly red and as fresh as a half-opened flower,
affording the only contrast to that puzzling radiance. Her unusual
effect was due as much perhaps to the color of her eyes as to her hair
and skin, for while they were really of a greenish hazel they held the
fires of an opal in their depths. They were Oriental, slumbrous,
meditative, and the black pupils were of an exaggerated size. Her
brows were dark and met above a finely chiseled nose.

All in all, Blake was quite taken aback, for he had not been prepared
for such a vision, and a sort of panic robbed him of speech. But when
his halting tongue had done its duty and his eyes had turned once more
to the aunt, some irresistible power swept them back to the young
woman's face. The more he observed her the more he was puzzled by that
peculiar effect, that glow which seemed to envelop her. Even her gown,
of some shimmering material, lent its part to the illusion. Yellow was
undeniably her color; she seemed steeped in it.

He had to make a determined effort to recover his composure.

Savigno fell quickly into a lover's rhapsody, devouring the girl with
ardent glances under which she thrilled, and soon they began to
chatter of the wedding preparations.

"It was very good of you to come so long a way," said the Countess at
last, turning to the American for a second time. "Martel has told us
all about you and about your adventures together."

"Not all!" cried Savigno, lightly. "We have pasts, I assure you."

"Martel tries so hard to impress us with his wickedness," the aunt
explained. "But we know him to be jesting. Perhaps you will confound
him here before us."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," Blake laughed. "Who am I to rob him
of a delightfully wicked past upon which he can pretend to look back
in horror? It is the only past he will ever have, so why spoil it for
him? On the contrary, I am prepared to lend a hand and to start him
off with a list of damning disclosures which it will require years to
live down."

"Pray begin," urged the Count with an air of intense satisfaction.
"Eh? He hesitates. Then I shall begin for him. In the first place,
Margherita, he openly declares that I covet your riches."

The Countess joined in the laughter at this, and Norvin could only
say:

"I had not met you then, Signorina."

"He was quite serious, nevertheless, and predicted that marriage would
end our friendship, arguing that supreme happiness is but another term
for supreme selfishness."

"At least I did not question the certainty of your happiness."

The girl spoke up gravely:

"I don't agree with you, Signor Blake. I should hate to think it will
make us selfish. It seems to me that such--love as we share will make
us very good and sweet and generous."

When she spoke of love she hesitated and lowered her eyes until the
quivering lashes swept her cheeks, but no flush of embarrassment
followed. Norvin realized that with all her reserve she could not
blush, had probably never blushed.

"You shouldn't place the least dependence on the words of a man's best
friend under such conditions," he told her, "for he covers his chagrin
at losing a comrade by a display of pessimism which he doesn't really
feel."

Norvin suddenly wished the Countess would not allow her glance to
linger upon him so long and searchingly. It filled him with a most
disturbing self-consciousness. He was relieved when the Donna Teresa
engaged him in conversation and the lovers were occupied with each
other. It was some time later that the Countess addressed her aunt
excitedly:

"Listen! What do you think of this, zia mia? The authorities will not
admit poor Paolo to bail, and he is still in prison."

"Poor fellow!" cried the Donna Teresa. "It is La Mafia."

"Perhaps it is better for him to remain where he is," Martel said. "He
is at least safe, for the time being. Here is something you may not
know: Galli's wife is sister to Gian Narcone."

"The outlaw?"

"Then she will probably kill Paolo," said the Countess Margherita,
calmly.

Blake exclaimed wonderingly: "I say--this is worse than Breathitt
County, Kentucky. You talk of murders and outlaws as we discuss the
cotton crop or the boll-weevil. This is the most fatal country I ever
saw."

"It is a great pity that such things exist," the Donna Teresa agreed,
"but one grows accustomed to them in time. It has been so ever since I
was a child--we do not seem to progress, here in Sicily. Now in Italy
it is much more civilized, much more restful."

"How hard it must be to do right," said the Countess, musingly. "Look
at Paolo, for instance; he kills a wretched thief quite innocently,
and yet the law holds him in prison. It is necessary, of course, to be
severe with robbers like this Galli and his brother-in-law, who is an
open outlaw, and yet, I suppose if I were that Galli's wife I should
demand blood to wash my blood. She is only a wife."

"You sympathize with her?" exclaimed Martel in astonishment.

"Deeply! I am not so sorry the man was killed, but a wife has rights.
She will doubtless follow him."

"Do you believe in the vendetta?" Norvin asked, curiously.

"Who does not? The law is full of tricks. There is a saying which
runs, 'The gallows for the poor, justice for the fool!'"

"You are a Mafiosa," cried the scandalized aunt.

"It is one of Aliandro's sayings. He has lived a life! He often tells
me stories."

"Aliandro is a terrible liar," Martel declared. "I fear his adventures
are much like his rheumatism."

"You do not exact a reckoning from your enemies in America?" queried
Margherita.

"Oh, we do, but not with quite so much enthusiasm as you do," Blake
answered her. "We aren't ordinarily obliged to kill people in order to
protect our property, and wives don't go about threatening vengeance
when their husbands meet with accidents. The police take care of such
things."

"A fine country! It must be so peaceful for old people," ejaculated
the aunt.

"We have some outlaws, to be sure, like your notorious Belisario
Cardi--"

"Cardi is but a name," said the girl. "He does not exist."

Intercepting a warning glance from Martel, Blake said no more, and the
talk drifted to more agreeable subjects.

But the Count, being possessed of a nervous temperament which called
for constant motion, could not long remain inactive, and now, having
poured his extravagant devotion into his sweetheart's ears, he rose,
saying:

"I must go to the village. The baker, the confectioner, the butcher,
all have many things to prepare for the festa, and I must order the
fireworks from Messina. Norvin will remain here while Ricardo and I
complete the arrangements. I tell you it will be a celebration to
awaken the countryside. For an hour then, addio!" He touched his lips
to Margherita's fingers and, bowing to her aunt, ran down the steps.

"Some gadfly stings him," said the Donna Teresa, fondly. "He is like a
child; he cannot remain seated. He comes, he goes, like the wind.
There is no holding him."

"So there's to be a festa?" Blake observed with interest.

"Oh, indeed! It will be a great event. It was Mattel's idea."
Margherita arose and the young man followed. "See, out there upon the
terrace there will be dancing. You have never seen a Sicilian
merrymaking? You have never seen the tarantella! Then you will be
interested. On the night before the ceremony the people will come from
the whole countryside. There will be music, games, fireworks. Oh, it
will be a celebrazione. My cousins from Messina will be here, the
bishop, many fine people. I--I am more excited than Martel. I can
scarcely wait." The girl's face mirrored her emotion and her eyes were
as deep as the sea. She seemed for the moment very far away, uplifted
in contemplation of the great change so soon to occur in her life, and
Norvin began to suspect her of a tremendous depth of feeling. Unknown
even to herself she was smouldering; unawakened fires were stirred by
the consciousness of coming wifehood. Out here in the sun she was more
tawny than ever, and, recalling the threat against her lover, the
young man fell to wondering how she would take misfortune if it ever
came. Feeling his eyes upon her, she met his gaze frankly with a
smile.

"What is it? You have something to say."

He recovered himself with an effort.

"No! Only--you are so different from what I expected."

"And you also," she laughed. "You are much more agreeable; I like you
immensely, and I want you to tell me all about yourself."

That was a wonderful afternoon for Blake. The Sicilian girl took him
into her confidence without the slightest restraint. There was no
period of getting acquainted; it was as if they had known each other
for a lifetime. He never ceased marveling at her beauty and his ears
grew ever more eager for her voice. Martel made no secret of his
delight at their instantaneous liking for each other, and the dinner
that evening was the gayest that had brightened Terranova for years.

Inasmuch as the ride to San Sebastiano was long, the young men were
forced to leave early, but they were scarcely out of hearing before
Martel drew his horse in beside Norvin and, laying a hand upon his
friend's arm, inquired, breathlessly:

"Well? Come, come, brother of mine! You know I perish of eagerness.
What have you to say? The truth, between man and man."

Blake answered him with an odd hesitation:

"You must know without asking. There's nothing to say--except that
she--she is like a golden flame. She sets one afire. She is different--
wonderful. I--I--"

"Exactly!" Savigno laughed with keenest contentment. "There is no
other."

When Blake retired that night it was not to sleep at once, for he was
troubled by a growing fear of himself that would not be lightly put
aside.




IV

THE FEAST AT TERRANOVA



During the next few days Norvin Blake saw much of the Countess
Margherita, for every afternoon he and Martel rode to Terranova. The
preparations for the wedding neared completion and the consciousness
of a coming celebration had penetrated the countryside. Among all who
looked forward to the big event, perhaps the one who watched the hours
fly with the greatest degree of suspense was the American. He had half
faced the truth on that night after his first meeting with the girl,
and the succeeding days enforced the conviction he would have been
glad to escape. He could no longer doubt that he was in love, madly
infatuated with his best friend's fiancee, and the knowledge came like
some crushing misfortune. It could scarcely be called a love at first
sight, for he felt that he had always known and always loved this
girl. He had never believed in these sudden obsessions, and more than
once had been amused at Martel's ability to fall violently in love at
a moment's notice, and to fall as quickly out again, but in spite of
his coolest reasoning and sternest self-reproach he found the spell
too strong for him. Every decent instinct commanded him to uproot this
passion; every impetuous impulse burst into sudden flame and consumed
his better sense, his judgment, and his loyalty, leaving him shaken
and doubtful. Although this was his first serious soul conflict, he
possessed more than average self-control, and he managed to conceal
his feelings so well that Martel, who was the embodiment of loyalty
and generosity, never for a moment suspected the truth. As for the
girl, she was too full of her own happiness to see anything amiss. She
took her lover's comrade into her heart with that odd unrestraint
which characterized her, and, recognizing the bond which united the
two young men, she strove to widen it sufficiently to include herself.
It spoke well for her that she felt no jealousy of that love which a
man bears for his life's best friend, but rather strove to encourage
it. Her intense desire to be a part of her lover and share all his
affections led her to strive earnestly for a third place in the union,
with the result that Blake saw even more of her than did Savigno. She
deliberately set herself the task of winning the American, a task
already more than accomplished, had she but known it, and, although
for some women such a course would have been neither easy nor safe,
with her a misconception of motive was impossible.

She had an ardent, almost reckless manner of attacking problems; she
was as intense and yet as changeful as a flame. Blake watched her
varying moods with the same fascination with which one regards a
wind-blown blaze, recognizing, even in her moments of repression, that
she was ready to burst forth anew at the slightest breath. She was the
sort of woman to dominate men, to inspire them with tremendous
enthusiasm for good or for evil as they chanced to lean toward the one
or the other. While she seemed wholly admirable, she exercised a
damnable effect upon Norvin. He was tortured by a thousand devils, he
was possessed by dreams and fancies hitherto strange and unrecognized.
The nervous strain began to tell in time; he slept little, he grew
weary of the struggle, things became unreal and distorted. He longed
to end it all by fleeing from Sicily, and had there been more time he
would have arranged for a summons to America. His mother had not been
well for a long time, and he was tempted to use this fact as an excuse
for immediate departure, but the thought that Martel needed him acted
as an effective restraint. The vague menace of La Mafia still hung
over the Count and was not lessened by the receipt of a second
threatening letter a few days after Blake's arrival.

Cardi wrote again, demanding instant compliance with the terms
contained in his first communication. Savigno was directed to send
Ricardo Ferara at a given hour to a certain crossroads above San
Sebastiano with ten thousand lire. In that case candles would be
burned and masses said for the soul of the murdered Galli, so the
writer promised. The letter put no penalty upon a failure to comply
with these demands, beyond a vague prediction of evil. It was short
and business-like and very much to the point.

As this was the first document of the kind Norvin had ever seen, he
was greatly interested in it.

"Don't you think it may be the work of this fellow Narcone?" he
inquired. "I understand he is the brother-in-law of Galli."

"Narcone would scarcely undertake so bold a piece of blackmail," the
Count declared. "I knew him slightly before he gave himself to the
campagna. He was a butcher; he was brutal and domineering, but he was
a coward."

"It is not from Narcone," Ricardo pronounced, positively--they had
called in the overseer for the discussion--"he is grossolano. He can
neither read nor write. This letter is well spelled and well written."

"Then you think it is really from Cardi?"

Ricardo shrugged his square shoulders. "Who knows? Some say there is
no such person, others declare he went to America years ago."

"What is your belief?"

"I know a man who has seen him."

"Who?"

"Aliandro."

"Bah! Aliandro is such a liar!" exclaimed Savigno.

"However that may be, he has seen things in his time. He says that
Cardi is not what people suppose him to be--a brigand--except when it
suits his desires. That is why he comes and goes and the carabinieri
can never trace him. That is why he is at home in all parts of Sicily;
that is why he uses men like Narcone when he chooses."

"It would please me to capture the wretch," said Martel.

"Let's try it," Norvin suggested, and accordingly a trap was laid.

Four carabinieri were sent to the appointed place, ahead of time, with
directions to conceal themselves, and Ferara carried out his part of
the programme. But no one came to meet him, he encountered no one
coming or going to the crossroads, and returned greatly disgusted.
However, at his suggestion Colonel Neri stationed the four soldier
policemen at the castello to prevent any demonstration and to profit
by any development which might occur.

The young men did not permit this diversion to interrupt their daily
trips to Terranova, although as a matter of precaution they added
Ippolito to their party. He was delighted at the change of duty,
because, as Norvin discovered, it brought him to the side of Lucrezia
Ferara. Thus it happened that Martel had reason to regret the choice
of his bodyguard, for on the very first visit Ippolito began to strut
and swagger before the girl and allowed the secret to escape him,
whereupon it was carried to the Countess.

She appealed to Martel to leave San Sebastiano for the time being, to
postpone the wedding, or at least to go to Messina for it; but of
course he refused and tried to laugh down her misgivings, and of
course she appealed privately to Blake for assistance.

"You must use your influence to change his mind," she said, earnestly.
"He declares he will not be overawed by these ruffians. He says that
to pay them the least attention would be to encourage them to another
attempt when we return, but--he does not know the Mafia as I know it.
You will do this for me?"

"Of course, if you wish it, although I agree with Martel, and I'm sure
he won't listen to me. He can't play the coward. The wedding is only
two days off now. Why, to-morrow is the gala-day! How could he notify
the whole district, when all his preparations have been completed?
What excuse could he give without confessing his fear and making
himself liable to a later and stronger attack?"

"The country people need not know anything about it. Let them come and
make merry. He can leave now, tonight. We will join him at Messina."

Norvin shook his head. "I'll do what I can, since you wish it, but I'm
sure he won't consent to any change of plan. I'm sure, also, that you
are needlessly troubled."

"Perhaps," she acknowledged, doubtfully. "And yet Martel's father--"

"Yes, yes. But conditions are not what they were fifteen years ago.
This is merely a blackmailing scheme, and if he ignores it he'll
probably never hear of it again. On the other hand, if he allows it to
drive him away it will be repeated upon his return."

She searched his face with her eyes, and his wits reeled at her
earnest gaze. He was conscious of a single wild desire that such
anxiety might be for him. How gladly he would yield to her wishes--how
gladly he would yield to any wish of hers! He was a foreigner; he
hated this island and its people, for the most part, and yet if he
stood in Martel's place he would willingly change his life to
correspond with hers. He would become Sicilian in body and soul. She
had the power to dissolve his habits, his likes and dislikes, and
reconstruct him through and through.

"I hope you are right," she said at last. "And yet--it is said that no
one escapes the Mafia."

"This isn't the Mafia. It is the work of some brigand--"

"What is the difference? The one merges into the other. Blood has been
spilled; the forces are at work."

Suddenly she seized him by the arm, and her eyes blazed. "Look you,"
she cried, "if Martel should be injured, if these men should dare--all
Sicily would not hold them. No power could save them, no hiding-place
could be so secret, no lies so cunning, that I would not know. You
understand?"

Blake saw that the girl was at last aroused to that intensity of
feeling which he had recognized as latent in her. Love had caused her
to glow, but it had required this breath of fear to fan the fire into
full strength. He was deeply moved and answered simply: "I understand.
I--never knew how much you loved him."

Her humor changed, and she smiled.

"One is foolish, perhaps, to be so frank, but that is my nature. You
would not have me change it?"

"You couldn't if you tried."

"Martel has always known I loved him. I could never conceal it. I
never wished to. If he had not seen it I would have told him. Just
now, when I heard he was threatened--well, you see."

"Ippolito had no business to mention the matter. I suppose his tongue
ran away with him. Tongues have a way of doing such things when their
owners are in love."

"He is not for Lucrezia."

"Why? He's a fine fellow."

"Oh, but Lucrezia is superior. I have taught her a great many things.
She is more like a sister to me than a servant, and I could not see
her married to a farm-hand. She can do much better than to marry
Ippolito."

"Love goes where it pleases," said the American with so much feeling
that Margherita's eyes leaped to his.

"You know? Ah, my good friend, then you have loved?"

He nodded. "I have. I do."

She was instantly all eagerness, and beamed upon him with a frank
delight that stabbed him.

"Martel? Does he know?"

"No, You see, there's no use--no possibility."

"I'm sorry. There must be some great mistake. I cannot conceive of so
sad a thing."

"Please don't try," he exclaimed, panic-stricken at thought of the
dangerous ground he was treading and miserably afraid she would guess
the truth in spite of him.

"I should think any woman might love you," she said, critically, after
a moment's meditation. "You are good and brave and true."

"Most discerning of women!" he cried, with an elaborate bow. "Those
are but a few of my admirable traits." He was relieved to see that she
had no suspicion of his feelings, for she was extremely quick of wit
and her intuition was keen. No doubt, her failure to read him was due
to her absorption in her own affairs. He had arrived at a better
knowledge of her capabilities to-day and began to realize that she was
as changeable as a chameleon. One moment she could be like the sirocco
in warmth and languor, the next as sparkling as the sunlit ocean.
Again she could be steeped in a dreamy abstraction or alive with a
pagan joy of life. She might have been sixteen or thirty, as her mood
chanced to affect her. Of all the crossed strains that go to make up
the Sicilian race she had inherited more of the Oriental than the
Greek or Roman. Somewhere back in the Ginini family there was Saracen
blood, he felt sure.

Blake was as good as his word, and made her wishes known to Martel,
who laughingly accused him of a lack of faith in his own arguments.
The Count was bubbling with spirits at the immediate nearness of his
nuptials, and declined to consider anything which might interfere with
them. He joyfully told Blake that the tickets were already bought and
all arrangements made to leave for Messina immediately after the
ceremony, which would take place in the church at Terranova. They
would catch the boat for Naples on the evening after the wedding, he
explained, and Blake was to accompany them at least that far on his
way to America. Meanwhile, he had no intention of foregoing the
pleasure of to-morrow's celebration, even if Belisario Cardi himself
should appear, to dispute his coming. It was the first, the last, and
the only time he intended marrying, and he had promised himself to
enjoy the occasion to the utmost, despite those letters, which, after
all, were not to be taken seriously. So the matter was allowed to
stand.

The country people had begun to assemble when Martel and his friend
arrived at the Ginini manor on the following afternoon, and the
grounds were filling with gaily dressed peasants. The train from
Messina had brought Margherita's relatives, and the bishop had sent
word that he would arrive in ample time for the ceremony on the next
morning. The contadini were coming in afoot, astride of donkeys and
mules, or in gaily painted carts pictured with the miracles of the
saints and the conquests of the Moors. There were dark-haired men and
women, wild-haired boys with roses above their ears, girls with huge
ear-rings and fringed shawls which swept the ground as they walked. As
yet they had not entirely lost their restraint, but Martel went among
them with friendly hand-clasps and exuberant greetings, renewing old
acquaintances and welcoming new until at last their shyness
disappeared and they began to laugh and chatter unaffectedly.

Savigno had traveled, he told them. He had arranged many surprises for
his friends. There would be games, dances, music, and a wonderful
entertainment in the big striped tent yonder, supplied by a troupe of
players which he had brought all the way from Palermo. As for the
feast, well, the tables were already stretched under the trees, as
they could see, and if any one wished to tantalize his nostrils just
let him wander past the kitchen in the rear, where a dozen women had
been at work since dawn. But that was not all; there would be gifts
for the children and prizes for the best dancers. The handsomest woman
would receive a magnificent shawl the like of which had never been
dreamed of in Terranova, and then to prevent jealousy the others would
receive presents also. But he would not say too much. Let them wait
and see. Finally there would be fireworks, enough to satisfy every
one; and all he asked of them was that they drink the health of the
Countess Margherita and wish her lifelong happiness. It was to be a
memorable occasion, he hoped, and if they did not enjoy themselves as
never before, then he and his bride would feel that their wedding had
been a great, a colossal failure.

But it seemed, as night approached, that Martel had no reason to doubt
the quality of his entertainment, for the guests gave themselves up to
joy as only southerners can, forgetting poverty, hardship, and all the
grinding cares of their barren lives. They yielded quickly to the
passion of the festa, and Blake began to see Sicily for the first
time. He would have liked to enter into their merrymaking, but felt
himself too much a stranger.

The feast was elaborate; no ristorante could have equaled it, no one
but a spendthrift lover like Martel would have furnished it. But it
was not until darkness came and the trees began to twinkle and glow
with their myriad lights that the fun reached its highest pitch. Then
there was true Sicilian dancing, true Sicilian joking, love-making.
Eyes were bright, cheeks were flushed, lips were parted, and the halls
of Terranova echoed to a bacchanalian tumult.

There had been an elaborate supper inside also, to which the more
prominent townspeople had been invited and from which Norvin Blake was
only too eager to escape as it drew to an end. The strain to which he
had been subjected for the past week was growing unbearable, and the
sight of Margherita Ginini clad like a vision in some elaborate
Parisian gown so intensified his distress that he was glad to slip
away into the open air at the first opportunity. He found Ricardo
leaning against the bole of a eucalyptus-tree, observing the throng
with watchful eyes.

"Why aren't you making merry?" Blake inquired.

The overseer shrugged his shoulders, replying, somberly, "I am
waiting."

"For what?"

"Who knows? There are strangers here." "You mean,"--Blake's manner
changed quickly--"there may be enemies?"

"If Cardi is in the mountains behind Martinello, may he not be here at
Terranova? I am looking for a thick, black man. Aliandro has described
him."

"Cardi would scarcely come to a wedding feast," said Blake, with a
certain feeling of uneasiness.

"Scarcely," the overseer agreed.

"Have you seen anything?"

"Nothing."

"Where is Ippolito?"

Ricardo grunted. "Asleep in the stable. The imbecile is drunk."

To the American these Sicilian people looked very much alike. They
were all a bit fantastic, and the scene reminded him of a fancy-dress
ball where all the men represented brigands. Many of them were, or
seemed to be, of truculent countenance; some wore piratical ear-rings,
others had shawls wrapped about their heads as if for concealment. Any
one of them might have been a brigand, for all he knew, and he saw how
easy it would be for a handful of evil-intentioned persons to mingle
unobserved with such a throng. Yet his better sense told him that he
was silly to imagine such things. He had allowed old women's tales to
upset his nerves.

A half-hour later, as he was watching the crowd from the loggiato,
Margherita appeared, and he thought for a moment that she too might
feel some vague foreboding, but her first words reassured him.

"My good friend, I missed you," she said, "but I had no chance of
leaving until this moment." Coming close to him, she inquired: "Has
something gone amiss? You have seemed sad all this evening. I do not
know, but I fear your heart is--heavy."

He answered, unsteadily: "Perhaps it is. I--don't know."

"It is that certain woman."

"I dare say. I'm a great fool, you know."

"Don't say that. This is perhaps the only chance I shall have of
seeing you alone."

"I'm glad," he broke out in a tone that startled her. "Glad for you. I
have tried not to be a death's-head at your feast, but it has been a
struggle."

"We women see things. Martel, boy that he is, does not suspect, and
yet I, who have known you so short a time, have read your secret. It
is our happiness which makes you sad."

"No, no. I'm not that sort. I share your happiness. I want it to
continue."

"If I had one wish it would be that she might care for you as I care
for Martel. And who knows? Perhaps she may. You say it is impossible,
yet life is full of blind ways and unseen turnings. Somehow I feel
that she will."

"You are very good," he managed to say. Then yielding to a sudden
impulse, he took her hand and kissed it. A moment later she left him,
but the touch of her cool flesh against his lips remained an
unforgetable impression.

Savigno appeared, yawning prodigiously.

"Dio!" he exclaimed with a grimace. "Those cousins of hers are deadly
dull; I do not blame you for escaping. And the judge, and the notary's
wife, and that village doctor! Colonel Neri is a good chap,
notwithstanding his mustache in which he takes so much pride. He
nurses it like a child, and yet it is older than I. Poor friend of
mine, you are a martyr, thus to endure for me."

"It's tremendously interesting, particularly this part out here,"
Norvin asserted. "I saw them dancing what I took to be the tarantella
a moment ago. Those peasant boys are like leaping fauns."

"Yes, and they will continue to dance for hours yet. I fear the Donna
Teresa will not retire at her usual hour. What a day it has been! It
is fine to give people happiness. That is one of my new discoveries."

"Remember to-morrow."

"Believe me, I think of nothing else. That is why we must be going
soon. We cannot wait even for the fireworks, as much as I would like
to. It is a long road to Martinello and we must be up early in the
morning. You do not object?"

"On the contrary, I was about to bear you off in spite of yourself."

"Then I will have Ippolito fetch the horses."

"Ippolito has been demonstrating the mastery of wine over matter. He
is asleep in the manger."

"Drunk? Oh, the idiot! He has the appetite of a shark, but the belly
of a herring. I ought to warm his soles with a cane," declared
Savigno, angrily.

"Don't be too hard on him. I suspect Lucrezia would not listen to his
suit, poor chap. He's sick from unrequited passion."

"Very well, we will leave him to sleep it off. I couldn't be harsh
with him at this time. And now we had best begin presenting our
good-nights, although I hate to go."




V

WHAT WAITED AT THE ROADSIDE



To avoid the dampening effect of an early departure the three men rode
out quietly from the courtyard at the rear of the house, leaving the
merrymakers to their fun.

"So, this is our last ride together," Norvin said, as they left the
valley and began the long ascent of the mountain that lay between them
and Martinello.

"Yes. Henceforth we spare our horses. You see tomorrow we will take
the morning train. Half of San Sebastiano will accompany us, too, and
everybody will be dressed in his finest. Ricardo here, for instance,
will wear his new brown suit--a glorious affair. Eh, Ricardo?"

"It would be as well to refrain from speaking," said the overseer,
gruffly. "The road is dark. Who knows what may be waiting?"

"Nonsense! Be not always a bear. We are three armed men. I fancy
Narcone, nay, even our dreadful Cardi himself, would scarcely dare
molest us."

Ferara merely grunted and continued to hold his place abreast of his
employer. Norvin observed that he carried his rifle across his saddle-bow,
and involuntarily shifted the strap of his own weapon so that it
might be ready in case of an emergency. He had rebelled, somewhat, at
carrying a firearm, but Martel, after making a clean breast of his
troubles that first morning, had insisted, and the American had
yielded even though he felt ridiculous.

The sky was moonless to-night but crowded with stars which gave light
enough so that the riders were able to follow the road without
difficulty, although the shadows on either side were dense. The air
was sweet, and so still that the sounds of revelry from Terranova were
plainly audible. Strains of music floated up the hillside, the shouts
of the master of ceremonies came distinctly as he issued his commands
for a country dance. The many lights within the grounds shone cloudily
among the tree-tops far below, like the effulgence from some well-lit
city hidden behind a hill, now disappearing for a time, now shining
out again as the road pursued its meanderings. The hurried footfalls
of the horses thudded steadily in the soft dust; the saddles creaked
with that music which lulls a horseman like a song.

"Youth! Youth! What a glorious thing it is!" exclaimed Martel after a
fruitless attempt to hold his tongue. "Ricardo would have us go
prowling like robbers when our hearts are singing loud enough for all
the mountainside to hear. There is no evil in the world to-night, for
the world is in love; to-morrow it bursts into happiness! And I am
king over it all!"

"I shall be glad to be rid of you, just the same," grumbled the old
man.

"Ricardo alone has fears, but he was never young. Think you that the
gods would permit my wedding-day to be marred? Bah! One can see evil
before it comes; it casts a shadow; it has a chilling breath which any
one with sensibilities can feel. As for me, I see the future as
clearly as if it were spread out before me in the sunshine, and there
is no misfortune in it anywhere. I cannot conceive of misfortune, with
all this gladness and expectancy inside me."

"They have begun the fireworks," said Blake. "It's too bad you
couldn't stay to see them, Martel." He turned in his saddle, and the
others reined in as a rocket soared into the night sky and burst with
a shower of sparks. Others followed and a detonation sounded faintly.

"Poor people!" said the Count, gently. "I can hear them crying, 'Oh!'
'Ah!' 'Beautiful!' 'It is an angel from heaven!'"

"On the contrary, I'll warrant they're exclaiming, 'It is that angel
from San Sebastiano.' You have given them a great night."

The Count laughed. "Yes. They will have much to talk and dream about.
Their lives are very barren, you know, and I hope the Countess and I
will be able to make them brighter as the years go by. Oh, I have
plans, caro mio, so many plans I scarcely know where to begin or how
to talk about them. I could never be an artist, no matter how
furiously I painted, no matter how many beautiful women I drew; but I
can paint smiles upon the faces of those sad women down yonder. I can
bring happiness into their lives. And that will be a picture to look
back upon, eh? Don't you think so? When they learn to know me, when
they learn to love and trust me, there will be brighter days at
Terranova and at San Sebastiano."

"They love you now, I am sure."

"I am too much a stranger yet. I have neglected my duties, but--well,
in my travels I have learned some things that will be of benefit to us
all. I see so much to do. It is delightful to be young and full of
hopes, and to have the means of realizing them. Above all, it is
delicious to know that there is one who will share those ambitions and
efforts with you. I see Ricardo is disgusted with me, but he is a
pessimist. He does not believe in charity and love."

"What foolish talk!" protested the old man with heat. "Do I not love
my girl Lucrezia? Do I not love you, the Countess, and--and--perhaps a
few others?"

Martel laughed. "I was merely teasing you."

They resumed their journey, leaving the showering meteors behind them,
and the Count, in the lightness of his heart, began humming a tune.

As for Blake, he rode as silently as Ferara, being lost in
contemplation of a happiness in which he had no part. Not until this
moment had he realized how entirely unnecessary he was to the
existence of Martel and Margherita. He longed to remain a part of
them, but saw that his desire was vain. They were complete without
him, their lives would be full. He began to feel like a stranger
already. It was a new sensation, for he had always seemed to be a
factor in the lives of those about him; but Martel had changed with
the advent of new interests and ambitions. Sicily, too, was different
from any land he knew, and even Margherita Ginini was hard to
understand. She seemed to be the spirit of Sicily made flesh and
blood. He wondered if the very fact that she was so unusual might not
help him to forget her once he was away from her influence. He hoped
so, for this last week had been the most painful period of his life.
He had come south, somewhat against his will, for a kaleidoscopic
glimpse of Europe, never dreaming that he would carry back to America
anything more than the usual flitting memories of a pleasant trip; but
instead he was destined to take with him a single vivid picture. He
argued that he was merely infatuated with the girl, carried away by
the allurement of a new and remarkable type of woman, and that these
headlong passions were neither healthy nor lasting; but his reasoning
brought him no real sense of conviction, and his life, as he looked
forward to it, appeared singularly flat and stale. His one
consolation, poor as it seemed, lay in the fact that he had played the
man to the best of his ability and was really glad, even if a bit
envious, of Martel's good-fortune.

He let his thoughts run free in this manner, sitting his horse
listlessly, for he was tired mentally and physically, watching the
gray road idly as it slipped past beneath the muffled hoofs, and
lulled by Savigno's musical humming.

It was while he was still in this half-somnolent, semidetached frame
of mind that he rode into a sudden white-hot whirl of events.

Norvin Blake was never clear in his mind regarding the precise
sequence of the action that followed, for he was snatched too quickly
from his mental relaxation to retain any well-defined impressions. He
recalled vaguely that the road lay like a mysterious canon walled in
with darkness, and that his thoughts were miles away when his horse
shied without warning, nearly unseating him and bringing him back to a
sense of his surroundings with a shock. Simultaneously he heard a cry
from Ricardo; it was a scream of agony, cutting through Savigno's song
like a saber stroke. For a moment Blake's heart seemed to stop, then
began pounding crazily. A stream of fire leaped out at his left side,
splitting the quiet night with a detonation. The wood which had lain
so silent and deserted an instant before was lit by answering flashes,
the blackness at an arm's-length on every side was stabbed by wicked
tongues of flame, and the road swarmed with grotesque bodies leaping
and tumbling and fighting. Blake's horse reared as something black
rose up beneath its forefeet and snatched at its bridle; Martel's
steed lurched into it, then fell kicking and screaming, sending its
mate careening to the roadside. The unexpected movement wrenched
Norvin's feet from the stirrups and left him clinging desperately to
mane and cantle.

It all came with a terrifying swiftness--quite as if the three riders
had crossed over a powder-train at the instant of its eruption, to
find themselves, in the fraction of a second, involved in chaos.

Ricardo's horse thundered away, riderless, leaving a squirming,
wriggling confusion of forms in the road where the overseer was
battling for his life. Martel's voice rose shrilly in a curse, and
then Norvin felt himself dragged roughly from his saddle, whether by
human hands or by some overhanging tree-branch he never knew. The
force of his fall bruised and stunned him, but he struggled weakly to
his feet only to find himself in the grasp of a man whose black visage
fronted his own. He tried to break away, but his bones were like rope,
his muscles were flabby and shaking. He exerted no more force than a
child. In front of him something sickening, something unspeakably foul
and horrible, was going on, and in its presence he was wholly
unmanned. More hands seized him quickly, but he lacked the vigor to
attempt an escape. On the contrary, he hung limp and paralyzed with
terror. The mystery, the uncertainty, the hideous significance of that
wordless scuffle in the dusty road rendered him nerveless, and he
cried out shakingly, like a man in a nightmare.

A voice commanded him to be silent, a hot breath beat against his
cheek; but he could not restrain his hysteria, and one of his captors
began to throttle him. He heard his name called and saw Savigno's
figure outlined briefly against the gray background, saw another
figure blend with it, then heard Martel's voice end in a rising cry
which lived to haunt his memory. It rose in protest, in surprise, as
if the Count doubted even at the last that death could really claim
him. Then it broke in a thin, wavering shriek.

Blake may have fainted; at any rate, his body was beyond his control,
and his next remembrance was of being half dragged, half thrust
forward out into the lesser shadows. There was no longer any
struggling, although men were speaking excitedly and he could hear
them panting; some one was working the ejector of a rifle as if it had
stuck. A tall man was wiping his hands upon some dried grass pluck'ed
from the roadside, and he was cursing.

"Who is this?" he cried, thrusting his face into the American's and
showing a brutal countenance bristly with a week's growth of beard.

"The stranger," one of Blake's captors answered, whereupon the tall
man uttered a violent exclamation.

"Wait!" cried the other. "He is already dying. He cannot stand."

Some one else explained, "It is indeed the American, but he is
wounded."

"Let me finish the work; he has seen too much," said the first
speaker, roughly.

"No, no! He is the American. Do you not understand?"

"Remember the order, Narcone," cautioned another.

But Narcone continued to curse as if mastered by the craving to kill,
and if the others had not laid hands upon him he might have made good
his intention. They argued with him, all at once, and in the midst of
the confusion which ensued a new voice called from the darkness:

"What have you there?"

"The American! He cannot stand."

A square figure came swiftly through the group, muttering angrily, and
the others fell back to give him room, all but Narcone, who repeated,
doggedly:

"Let me finish the work if you fear to do so."

His companions broke out at him again in a babble of argument,
whereupon the new-comer shouted at them in a furious voice:

"Silenzio! Who did this?"

No one answered for a moment, but at length the brigand who held
Blake's hands pinioned at his back with a sash or scarf ventured to
suggest:

"I am not so sure he is injured. We pulled him down first; he may only
be frightened."

"There was to be no shooting," growled the leader of the band.

"Eh? But you saw for yourself. There was nothing else to do," said
Narcone. "That Ricardo was an old wolf."

The thick-set man, whom Norvin took to be the infamous Cardi himself,
cried sharply:

"Come, come, Signore, speak! Are you hurt?"

The prisoner shook his head mechanically, although he did not know
whether he was injured or not. His denial seemed to satisfy the chief,
who said with relief:

"It is well. We did not wish to harm you. There would be consequences,
you understand? And now a match, somebody."

"It is not necessary," Narcone assured him with a laugh. "Of what use
to learn a trade like mine if one cannot strike true? The knife went
home, twice--once for us, once for poor Galli, who was murdered. It
was like killing sheep." Picking up the wisp of grass which he had
dropped, he began to dry his hands once more.

A tiny flame flickered in the darkness. It was lowered until it shone
upon the upturned face of Ricardo Ferara where he lay sprawled in the
dust, his teeth showing beneath his gray mustache, then died away, and
the black outlines of the bull-necked man leaped into relief again as
he stooped to examine Martel.

Not until that instant did the full, crushing horror of the affair
come home to the American, for events had crowded one another so
closely that his mind was confused; but when, in the halting yellow
glare, he saw those two slack forms and the crooked, unnatural
postures in which death had left them, his consciousness cleared and
he strained at his bonds like a fear-maddened horse.

His actual danger, however, was at an end. One of the band removed the
rifle which still hung from his shoulders and which he had forgotten;
another slipped the scarf from his wrists and directed him to go. He
staggered away down the road along which he and Martel and Ricardo had
come, walking like a sick man, for he was crippled with, fright. After
a few steps he began to run, heavily, awkwardly at first, stumbling as
if his joints were loose; but as his body awoke and the blood surged
through him he went faster and faster until he was fleeing like a wild
animal. And as he ran his terror grew. He fell many times, goblin
shapes pursued him or leaped forth from the shadows, but he knew that
no matter how fast he fled he could never escape the thing he had met
back there in the night. It was not the grisly sight of his murdered
friend nor the bared teeth of Ricardo Ferara grinning upward out of
the road which filled him with the greatest horror; it was the
knowledge of his own foul, sickening cowardice. He ran wildly as if to
leave it behind, but it trod in his tracks and kept step with him.

The pyrotechnics at Terranova were nearly over and the grounds echoed
to the applause of the delighted spectators. The Donna Teresa was
leaning upon the arm of Colonel Neri and saying:

"No one but that extravagant Martel would have entertained these poor
people so magnificently, but there is no reasoning with him when he
has an idea."

"It is the finest display since the fair at San Felice two years ago,"
the Colonel acknowledged. They had come out upon the open piazza which
overlooked the lawn, and the other guests who had been present at the
supper had followed suit and were gathered there to admire the
spectacle.

"The country people will never finish discussing it. Why, it has been
the greatest event this village ever witnessed. And Margherita! Have
you ever seen her so beautiful?" The old lady spoke with pride, for
she was very happy.

"Never!" Colonel Neri fondled his mustache tenderly. "She is ablaze
with love. Oh, that Martel has broken all our hearts, lucky fellow! I
could hate him if I did not like him so."

"You men, without exception, pretend to adore her but it is flattery;
you know that she loves it and that it pleases me. Now Martel--Madonna
mia! What is this?" She broke off sharply and pointed toward the main
gateway to the grounds.

By the light that gleamed from the trees on each side of the driveway
men could be seen approaching at a run; others were hurrying toward
them across the terrace, calling excitedly to one another. A woman
screamed something unintelligible, but the tone of her voice brought a
hush over the merrymakers.

In the midst of the group coming up the road was one who labored
heavily. He was bareheaded, gray with dust, and he staggered as if
wounded.

"Some one has been hurt," exclaimed the Colonel. "Maledetto! There has
been a fight." He dropped his companion's arm and hastened to the
steps, then halfway down paused, staring. He whirled quickly and cried
to the old lady: "Wait! Do not come."

But Madame Fazello had seen the white face of the runner, and
screamed:

"Mother of God! The American!"

The other guests from the balcony pressed forward with alarmed
inquiries. No one guessed as yet what had befallen, but the loud
voices died away, a murmuring tide swept the merrymakers toward the
castello.

"What has happened, Signore?" Colonel Neri was crying. "Speak!"

"The Mafia!" Blake gasped. "Martel--is--" His knees sagged and he
would have pitched forward had not the soldier supported him. "We met
them--in the woods. Cardi--"

"Cardi!" echoed the Colonel in a harsh voice.

"Cardi!" came from a dozen frightened throats. The Donna Teresa
uttered a second shrill cry, and then through the ranks of staring,
chalk-faced peasants the Countess came running swiftly.

"Cardi!" she cried. "What is this I hear?"

"Go away, Signorina, I beseech you," exclaimed the Colonel of
carbineers. "Something dreadful has occurred." But she disregarded him
and faced Norvin Blake.

He raised his dripping, dust-smeared face and nodded, whereat she
closed her eyes an instant and swayed. But she made no outcry.

"Take her--away," he wheezed painfully. "God in heaven! Don't you--
understand?"

Even yet there was no coherent speech and the people merely stared at
one another or inquired, dully:

"What did he say? What is this about Cardi?"

"Take her away," Blake repeated. But the Countess recovered herself
and with a little gesture bade him go on. He told his story haltingly,
clinging to the Colonel to prevent himself from falling, his matted
head rolling weakly from side to side. When he had finished a furious
clamor broke forth from the men, the women, and the children. Neri
commanded them roughly to silence.

"Run to the village, some one, and give the alarm," he ordered in the
voice of a sick man. "Call Sandro and his men and bid them bring extra
horses."

A half-dozen fleet-footed youths broke away and were off before he had
finished speaking. Then Blake was helped into the hall of the
castello, where the confusion was less.

Lucrezia Ferara, who had been in the rear of the house and was among
the last to hear the evil tidings, came running to him with colorless
lips and eyes distended, crying:

"The truth, Signore, for the love of Christ! They tell me he is
murdered, but I know it is a lie."

The notary's wife attempted to calm her, but the girl began to scream,
flinging herself upon her knees at the feet of the American, begging
him to tell her it was all a mistake.

"My father would not die," she cried, loudly. "He was here but an hour
ago and he kissed me."

She would not be calmed and became so violent that it required force
to remove her. As soon as she was out of the way, Colonel Neri began
questioning Norvin rapidly, at the same time striving by his own
example to steady the young man, who was in a terrible condition of
collapse. Bit by bit, the soldier learned all there was to learn of
the shocking story, and through it all the Countess Margherita stood
at his elbow, never speaking. Her eyes were glazed with horror, her
lips were whispering something over and over, but when her cousin
appealed to her to leave the scene she seemed not to hear him. She
only stood and stared at the exhausted man until he could bear it no
longer and, hiding his face in his hands, he began to shiver and
cringe and sob.

It seemed to him that she must know; that all these people must know
the truth, and see his shame as if it were blazoned in fire. Their
horror was for him; their looks were changing even now to contempt and
hatred. Why did they not accuse him openly instead of staring with
wide, shocked eyes? Realization had come to him long before he had
reached Terranova, and he was sick with loathing for himself. Now,
therefore, in every blanched cheek, in every parted lip, he felt an
accusation. He supposed all the world would have to know it, and it
was a thing he could never live down. He wished he might have died as
Martel had died, might die even now, and escape this torture; but with
every breath life flowed back into him, his heart was no longer
bursting, his lungs were no longer splitting.

"Why do you wait?" he queried at length, thinking of Martel out there
on the lonely mountainside. "Why don't you go fetch him?"

Neri said, soothingly: "Help will be here in a few moments, Signore.
You could not sit a horse yet a while."

"I?" Blake asked blankly, and shuddered. So they expected him to
return through that darkness--to guide them to the horror from which
he had just fled! He would not go! His mind recoiled at the thought
and terror came upon him afresh. Nevertheless, he made an effort at
self-control, lurched to his feet, and chattered through clicking
teeth: "Come on! I'm ready."

"Presently! Presently! There will be men and horses here in a moment."
In a lower tone the Colonel urged: "For the love of our Saviour, can
you not send the Contessa away? I am afraid she is dying."

Blake went to the girl and laid a shaking hand upon her arm,
stammering, wretchedly:

"Contessa, you--you--" He could not go on and turned appealingly to
the others.

"You say he is dead?" she inquired dully. "How can that be when you
told me there was no danger?"

"I did not know. Oh--" he lowered his working features. "If it had
only been I, instead!"

She nodded. "That would have been better."

From somewhere to the rear of the house came the shrill screams of
Lucrezia, and the Countess cried: "Poor child! They did not even spare
Ricardo, but--after all, he was only a father."

Neri said, gently: "Let me help you, Signorina. The doctor is with
your aunt, but I will call him."

"He cannot give me back Martel," she answered in the same dull,
lifeless tone.

Voices, footsteps, sounded outside and a man in the cocked hat and
uniform of a lieutenant of carbineers came briskly into the hall and
saluted his superior.

"We are ready, sir."

The Countess roused herself, saying: "Then come! I too am ready."

"Heaven above us!" Neri faltered. "You are not going." He took her by
the hand and led her away from the door. "No, my child, we will go
alone. You must wait." His face was twitching, and the sweat dripped
from his square jaw as he nodded to Blake.

They went out into the mocking glare of the garden lights, leaving her
standing in the great hall like a statue of ivory, her lips dumbly
framing the name of her lover.




VI

A NEW RESOLVE



All Sicily blazed with the account of the assassination of the Count
of Martinello and his overseer. All Italy took it up and called for
vengeance. There went forth to the world by wire, by post, and through
the public press a many-voiced and authoritative promise that the
brigandage which had cursed the island for so many generations should
be extirpated. The outrage was the one topic of conversation from
Trapani to Genoa, from Brindisi to Venice, in clubs, in homes, upon
the streets. Carbineers and soldiers came pouring into Terranova and
San Sebastiano. They scoured the mountains and patrolled the roads;
they searched the houses and farms, the valleys and thickets, and as
the days dragged on, proving the futility of their efforts, still more
carbineers arrived. But no trace of Cardi, of Narcone, or of the other
outlaws was discovered. Rewards were offered, doubled, trebled; the
north coast seethed with excitement.

The rank of the young Count and his fiancee enlisted the interest of
the nobility, the lively-minded middle classes were romantically
stirred by the picture of the lonely girl stricken on the eve of her
wedding, and yet notwithstanding the fact that towns were searched,
forests dragged as with a net, no quarry came to bay.

Colonel Neri explained it to Norvin, as he rode in to San Sebastiano
after thirty-six hours in the saddle.

"It is this accursed Sicilian Mafia," he growled. "The common people
are shocked, horrified, sympathetic, and yet they fear to show their
true feelings. They dare not tell what they know. Mark you, those men
are not hiding in the forests, they are here in San Sebastiano or the
other villages under our very noses; perhaps they are strutting the
streets of Palermo or Bagheria or Messina marked by a hundred eyes,
discussed by a hundred tongues, and yet we cannot surprise a look or
win the slightest hint. Fifty arrests have been made, but there will
be fifty alibis proven. It is maddening, it is damnable, it is--
Sicily!" He swore wearily beneath his breath, and twirled his mustache
with listless fingers.

"Then you are losing hope?"

"No. I had none to begin with, for I know these people. But we are
doing everything possible. God in heaven! The country is wild. From
Rome has come the order, definite, explicit, to stamp out the
banditti, if it requires an army; enough soldiers are coming to defeat
the Germans. But the more we have the less we shall accomplish. 'Sweep
Sicily!' 'Stamp out the Mafia!' What does Rome know about the Mafia?
Signore, did we arrest one half of those whom we know to be Mafiosi,
Rome would need to send us, not an army of soldiers, but regiments of
stone masons to enlarge our prisons. No! Send back the armed men, give
me ten thousand of your American dollars, and ten of my carbineers,
and I will catch Cardi, though it would require the cunning of the
devil. However, we may find something; who can tell? At any rate we
will try."

"Can't you work secretly?"

"It is being done, but we are too many. We make too much noise. The
Sicilian distrusts the law and above all he distrusts his neighbor. He
will perjure himself to acquit a Mafioso rather than betray him and
become a victim of his vengeance. He who talks little is wise. Of that
which does not concern him he says neither good nor evil; that is a
part of the Sicilians' training. But--miracles have happened, and God
may intervene for that saintly girl at Terranova. And now tell me, how
is the poor child bearing up?"

"I haven't seen her since we brought in Martel's body. I couldn't, in
fact, although I have sent word for her to call me when she is ready.
It seems a long time since--since--"

Neri shook his head in sorrowful agreement.

"I have never seen such grief. My heart bleeds. She was so still! Not
a tear! Not an outcry! It was terrible! Weak women do not act in that
manner. But you have suffered also, and I judge you have rested no
more than I."

"I can't rest," Blake said, dully. "I can do nothing but think." He
did not reveal the nature of the thoughts which in the short space of
thirty-six hours had put lines into his face. Instead, he scanned the
officer's countenance with fearful eyes to see if by any chance he had
guessed the truth. Blake had found himself looking thus at every one
since the tragedy, and it was a source of constant wonder to him that
his secret had remained his own. It seemed that they must know and
loathe him as he loathed himself. But on the contrary he was treated
with sympathy on all sides, and it was taken merely as an example of
the outlaws' cunning that they had refrained from injuring a
foreigner. To illustrate how curiously the Sicilian mind works on
these subjects, there were some who even spoke of it as demonstrating
the fairness of the bandits, thus to exclude Savigno's friend from any
connection with their quarrel.

During the long hours since the night of his friend's death Blake had
looked at himself in all his nakedness of soul, and the sight was not
pleasant. He could never escape the thought that if he had acted the
part of a man, if he had resisted with the promptness and vigor of his
companions, the result might have been different and Martel might at
this moment be on his way to Rome with his bride, alive and well. On
such occasions he felt like a murderer. But his mind was not always
undivided in this self-condemnation; there were times when with some
show of justice he told himself that the result would have been the
same or even worse if he had fought; and he tried to ease his
conscience by dwelling on the possibility that under other
circumstances he might not have proved a coward. He had been
physically tired, worn out; his nervous force had been spent. At the
moment of ambush his mind had been far away and he had had no time in
which to gather his wits. Moral courage, he knew, is quite different
from physical courage, which may depend upon one's digestion, one's
state of mind, or the amount of sleep one has had. It is sometimes
present in physical weaklings, and men of great daring may entirely
lack it. A man's behavior when suddenly attacked and overpowered is a
test of his nerve rather than his true nature. Still, at the last, he
was always faced by the stark, ugly fact that he had been tried and
found wanting. Conversation with Neri he found rather a relief.

"I wonder what the Countess will do?" he said.

"What would any one do? She will grieve for a long while, but time
will gradually rob her of her sorrow. She will remember Martel as a
saint and marry some sinner like you or me."

"Marry? Never!"

"Never?" The Colonel raised his brows. "She is young, she is human,
she is full of fire. It would be a great pity if she did not allow
herself to love--a great pity indeed."

"I'm afraid she's thinking more of vengeance than of love."

"Perhaps, but hatred is short-lived, while love grows younger all the
time. The world is full of great loves, but great hates usually
consume themselves quickly. I hope she will leave all thoughts of such
things to us who make a business of them."

"If you fail, as you fear, she might feel bound to take up the task
where you leave it."

"And she might succeed. But--"

"But what?"

"Revenge is a cold bedfellow, and women are designed to cherish finer
sentiments. As for Lucrezia, she will doubtless swear a vendetta, like
those Sardinians."

"She has."

"Indeed! Well, she is the kind to nourish hatred, for she is like her
father, silent, somber, unforgiving, whereas the Contessa is all
sunshine. But hear me talk! I am dying of fatigue. The funeral is at
twelve? It will be very sad and the poor girl will be under the
greatest strain then, so we must be with her, you and I. And then I
must be off again upon the trail of this infamous Cardi, who is, and
who is not. Ah, well!" He yawned widely. "We may accomplish the
impossible, or if not we may press him so closely that he will sail
for your America, which would not be so bad, after all."

Of course the country people turned out for the funeral, but for the
most part they came from curiosity. To Norvin the presence of such
spectators at the last sacred rites for the dead seemed sacrilegious,
indecent, and he knew that it must add to Margherita's pain. It was an
endless, heart-rending ordeal, a great somber, impressive pageant, of
which he remembered little save a tall, tawny girl crushed beneath a
grief so great that his own seemed trivial in comparison.

She was in such a state of physical collapse after the service that
she did not send for him until the second day following. He came
timidly even then, for he was at a loss how to comfort her, vividly
conscious as he was of his own guilt and shame. He found her crouched
upon one of the old stone benches in the garden in the full hot glare
of the sun. It relieved him to find that she had lost her unnatural
self-control, having fallen, it seemed, into much the same mood he
would have expected in any woman. It had been so hard to find what to
say heretofore--for she was braver than those about her and her grief
was so deep as to render words of comfort futile. Her eyes now were
heavy and full of haunting shadows, her ivory cheeks were pale, her
lips tremulous, and she seemed at last to crave sympathy.

"I do not know why I have summoned you," she said, leaving her hand in
his, "unless it is because my loneliness has begun and I lack the
courage to face it."

"I have been waiting. It will always be so, Contessa. I shall come
from across the world whenever you need me."

She smiled listlessly. "You are very good. I knew you were waiting. It
seems so strange to know that he is gone"--her voice caught, her eyes
filled, then cleared without overflowing--"and that the world is
moving on again in the same way and only I am left standing by the
wayside. You cannot wait with me; you must move on with the rest of
the world. You had planned to go home, and you must, for you have your
work and it calls you."

"Please don't think of it. I sha'n't leave you for a long time. I
promised Martel--"

"You promised? Then he had reason to suspect?"

"He would not acknowledge the possibility, and yet he must have had a
premonition."

"Oh, why will men trust themselves when women know! If he had told me,
if he had confided his fears to me, I could have told him what to do."

"I couldn't leave now, even if I wished, for I might be needed by the--the
law. You understand? It isn't finished with me yet."

"The law will not need you," she told him bitterly. "The law will do
nothing. The task is for other hands."

After a pause he said, "I had news from home to-day,--rather bad
news." Then at her quick look of inquiry he went on: "Nothing serious,
I hope, nothing to take me away. My mother is ill and has cabled me to
come."

"Then you will go at once, of course?"

"No. I've tried to explain to her the situation here, and the
necessity of my remaining for a time at least. Unless she grows worse
I shall stay and try to help Neri in his search."

"It is a great comfort to have you near, for in you I see a part of--
Martel. You were his other half. But there are other aching hearts, it
seems. That mother calls to you, and you ought to go. Besides, I must
begin my work."

"What work?"

She met his eyes squarely. "You know without asking. Neri will fail;
no Italian could succeed; no one could succeed except a Sicilian. I am
one."

"You mean to bring those men to justice?"

She nodded. "Certainly! Who else can do it?"

"But, my dear Signorina, think what that means. They are of a class
with which you can have no contact. They are the dregs; there is the
Mafia to reckon with. How will you go about it?"

"I will become one of them, if necessary."

He answered her in a shocked voice. "No, no! You are mad to think of
it. If you were a man you might have some chance for success, but you--a
girl, a gentlewoman!"

"I am a Sicilian. I am rich, too. I have resources." She took him by
the arm as she had done that first time when the thought of Martel's
danger had roused her. "I told you no power could save them; no
hiding-place could be so secret, no lies so cunning that I would not
know. Well! Those soldiers have failed and will continue to fail. But
you see they did not love Martel. I shall live for this thing."

"I won't allow you to dwell on the subject; it isn't natural, and it
isn't good for you. The desire to see justice done is commendable and
proper, but the desire for revenge isn't. You must not sacrifice your
life to it. There is a law of compensation; those men will be
apprehended."

"Where is my compensation? What had Martel done to warrant this?"

He fell silent, and she shook her head as if to indicate the
hopelessness of answering her. After a moment of meditation he began
again, gravely:

"If you feel that way, I shall make you an offer. Give up your idea of
taking an active personal part in this quest, and I will assume your
place. We will work together, but you will direct while I face the
risks."

"You are a stranger. We would be sure to fail. I thank you, but my
mind is made up."

"If it becomes known, you will be in great danger. Think! Life is
before you, and all its possibilities. Please let other hands do
this."

"It is useless to argue," she said, firmly. "I am like rock. I have
begun already and I have accomplished more than Colonel Neri and his
carbineers. I see Aliandro coming now, and I think he has news. He
knows many things of which the soldiers do not dream, for he is one of
the people. You will excuse me?"

"Of course, but--I can't let you undertake so dangerous a task without
a protest. I shall come back, if I may."

He rose as the old man shuffled down the path, and went in search of
the Donna Teresa, for he was determined to offer every discouragement
in his power to what struck him as an extremely rash and perilous
course. Men like Belisario Cardi, or Narcone the Butcher, would
hesitate no more in attacking a woman than a man. He knew the whole
Sicilian country to be a web of intrigue and secret understandings,
sensitive to the slightest touch and possessed of many means of
communication. It was a great ear which heard the slightest stir, and
its unfailing efficiency was shown by the ease with which the bandits
had forestalled every effort of the authorities.

In the hall of the manor house he encountered Lucrezia and stopped to
speak to her.

"You would do a great deal to protect the Countess, would you not?" he
asked.

"Yes, Signore. She has been both a sister and a mother to me. But what
do you mean?"

Ferara's daughter was a robust girl of considerable physical charm,
but although her training at Terranova had done much for her, it was
still evident that she was a country woman. She had nursed her grief
with all the sullen fierceness of a peasant, and even now her face and
eyes were swollen from weeping.

Blake explained briefly his concern, but when he had finished, the
girl surprised him by breaking forth into a furious denunciation of
the assassins. She surrendered to her passion with complete abandon,
and began to curse the names of Cardi and Gian Narcone horribly.

"We demand blood to wash our blood," she cried. "I curse them and
their souls, living and dead, in the name of God who made my father,
in the name of Christ who died for him, in the name of the holy saints
who could not save him. In the name of the whole world I curse them.
May they pray and not be heard. May they repent unforgiven and lie
unburied. May every living thing that bears their names die in agony
before their eyes. May their women and unborn children be afflicted
with every unclean thing until they pray for death at my hands--"

"Lucrezia!" He seized her roughly and clapped his hand over her mouth,
for her voice was rising steadily and threatened to rouse the whole
household. Her cheeks were white, she was shaking with long, tearless
sobs. She would have broken out again when he released her had he not
commanded her to be silent. He tried to explain that this work of
vengeance was not for her or for the Countess, and to point out the
ruin that was sure to follow any attempt on their part to take up the
work of the carabinieri, but she shook her head, declaring stubbornly:

"We have sworn it."

The more he argued the more obstinate she became, until, seeing the
ineffectiveness of his pleas, he gave up any further effort to move
her, sorry that he had raised such a storm. He went on in search of
Madam Fazello, with Lucrezia's parting words ringing ominously in his
ears:

"If we die, we shall be buried; if we live, we shall give them to the
hangman."

From Margherita's aunt he got but little comfort or hope of
assistance.

"Oh, my dear boy, I agree with your every word," the old lady said.
"But what can I do? I know better than you what it will lead to, but
Margherita is like iron--there is no reasoning with her. She would
sacrifice herself, Lucrezia, even me, to see Martel avenged, and if
she does not have her way she will burn herself to ashes. As for
Lucrezia, she is demented, and they do nothing all day but scheme and
plan with Aliandro, who is himself as bad as any bandit. I have no
voice with them; they do with me as they will." She hid her face in
her trembling fingers and wept softly. "And to think--we were all so
happy with Martel!"

"Nevertheless, somebody must dissuade them from this enterprise. It is
no matter for two girls and an old man to undertake."

"I pray hourly for guidance, but I am frightened, so frightened! When
Margherita talks to me, when I see her high resolve, I am ready to
follow; then when I am alone I become like water again."

"What are her plans?"

"I do not know. I have begged her to take her sorrow to God. The
bishop who came from Messina to marry Martel and remained to bury him
has joined me. There is a convent at Palermo--"

"No, no!" Blake cried, vehemently. "Not that! That life is not for
her. She must do nothing at all until her grief has had time to moderate."

"It will never be less. You do not know her. But you are the one to
reason with her."

Realizing that the old lady was powerless, he returned to the garden
and tried once more to weaken the girl's resolution, but without
success. It was with a very troubled mind that he took the train back
to San Sebastiano that afternoon.

The more he thought it over, the more certain he became that it was
his duty to remain in Sicily until Margherita had reached her right
senses. Martel had put a trust in him, and what could be more
important than to prevent her from carrying out this fantastic
enterprise? He would take up the search for the assassins in her
place, allowing her to work through him and in that way satisfying her
determination. What she needed above all things was distraction,
occupation. If she remained persistent they would work side by side
until justice had been done, and meanwhile he would become a part of
her life. He might make himself necessary to her. At least he would
prevent her from doing anything rash and perhaps fatal. In time he
would prevail upon her to travel, to seek recreation, and then her
youth would be bound to tell. That would be the work of a friend
indeed, that would remove at least a part of the obligation which
rested upon him. Some day, he reasoned, the Countess might even marry
and be happy in spite of what had occurred. As he contemplated the
idea, it began to seem less improbable. What if she should come to
care for him? He would still be true to Martel, for how could he
protect her better than by making her his wife? His heart leaped at
the thought, but then his old self-disgust returned, reminding him
that he had yet to prove himself a man.

As he stepped down from the train at San Sebastiano the station master
met him with a telegram. Even before he opened it he guessed its
contents, and his spirits sank. Was he never to escape these maddening
questions of duty--never to be free to pursue his heart's desire?

It was a cablegram, and read:

"Come quickly.

   "KENEAR."

He regarded it gravely for a moment, striving to balance his duty to
Martel and the girl against his duty to his mother, but his hesitation
was brief. He stepped into the little telegraph office with the
mandarin-tree peering in at the open window and wrote his answer. He
did not try to deceive himself; the mere fact that Dr. Kenear had been
summoned from New Orleans showed as plainly as the message itself that
his mother's condition was more serious than he had supposed. She was
alone with many responsibilities upon her frail shoulders, and she was
calling for her son. There was but one thing to do.

He stopped at the barracks to explain the necessity for his immediate
departure to Colonel Neri, who was most sympathetic. "You are not
needed here," the soldier assured him, "and you would have to go, even
though you were. You made your statement at the inquest; there is
nothing further for you to do until we accomplish the capture of
somebody. Even then I doubt if you could identify any one of those
bandits."

"I think I should know Narcone anywhere."

The Colonel shrugged. "Narcone has been swallowed by the earth. As for
Cardi and the rest, they have become thin smoke and the wind has
carried them away. We are precisely where we were at the start.
Perhaps it is fortunate for you that you have not been called upon to
testify against any of the band, for even the fact that you are a
foreigner might not save you from--unpleasant results."

Norvin reasoned silently that if this were indeed true it more than
confirmed his fears for the Countess, and after a brief hesitation he
told the soldier what he had learned at his visit to Terranova. Neri
rose and paced the room in agitation.

"Oh! She is mad indeed!" he exclaimed. "What can she do that we have
not already done? Aliandro? Bah! He is a doddering old reprobate who
will spread news instead of gather it. He has a bad record, and
although he loved Martel and doubtless loves Margherita, I have no
confidence in him whatever. She will accomplish nothing but her own
undoing."

"I am afraid so, too. That is why I shall return to Sicily as soon as
possible."

"Indeed? Then you plan to come back? Martel was fortunate to have so
good a friend as you, Signore. We must both do all we can to prevent
this folly on the part of his sweetheart. You may rest assured that I
shall make every effort in your absence." The Colonel extended his
hand, and Norvin took it, feeling some relief in the knowledge that
there was at least one man close to the girl upon whose caution he
could rely and upon whose good offices he could count. He had grown to
like the soldier during their brief acquaintance, and the fact that
Neri knew and appreciated the situation helped to reconcile him to the
thought of going away.

He was not ready to leave Sicily, however, without one final appeal,
and accordingly he stopped at Terranova on the following morning on
his way to Messina, where a boat was sailing for Naples that night.
But he found no change in the Countess; on the contrary, she told him
gently but firmly that she had made up her mind once for all and that
she would resent any further efforts at dissuasion.

"Won't you even wait until I return?" he inquired.

She shook her head and smiled sadly.

"Do not let us deceive ourselves, amico mio; you will not return."

"On the contrary, I shall. You make it necessary for me to return
whether I wish to or not."

"The ocean is wide, the world moves. You are a foreigner and you will
forget. It is only in Sicily that people remember."

"Will you give me time to prove you wrong?"

"I could not allow it. You have your own life to live; you have a
multitude of duties. Martel, you see, was only your friend. But with
me it is different. He was my lover; my life was a part of his and my
duty will not let me sleep."

"You have no reason to say I will forget."

"It is the way of the world. Then, too, there is the other woman. You
will see her. You will find a way, perhaps."

But he replied, doggedly, "I shall return to Sicily."

"When?"

"I can't tell. A month from now--two months at the longest."

"It would be very sweet to have you near," she said musingly, "for I
am lonely, very lonely, and with you I feel at rest, at peace in a
way. But something drives me, Signore, and I cannot promise. If you
should not forget, if you should wish to join hands with me, then I
should thank God and be very glad. But I sha'n't wish for it; that
would be unfair."

His voice shook as he said, "I am going to prove to you that your life
is not hopelessly wrecked, and to show you that there is something
worth living for."

She laid her two cool hands in his and looked deeply into his eyes,
but if she saw what lay in them she showed no altered feeling in her
words or tone.

"Martel would be glad to have you near me, I am sure," she said, "but
I shall only pray for your safety and your happiness in that far-off
America. Good-by."

He kissed her fingers, vowing silently to devote his whole life to
her, and finding it very hard to leave.




VII

THE SEARCH BEGINS



It was ten months later when Norvin Blake landed at Messina and took
the morning train westward to Terranova. As he disposed his
travelling-bags in a corner of the compartment, and settled himself
for the short journey, he felt a kind of irrational surprise at the
fact that there had been no changes during his absence. The city was
just as dirty and uninteresting as when he had left, the beggars were
just as ragged and importunate, the street coaches were just as
rickety. It required an effort to realize that ten months is, after
all, a very short time, for it seemed ten years since he had sailed
away. It had been a difficult period for him, one crowded with many
changes, readjustments, and responsibilities. He had gone far, he had
done much, he had been pressed by cares and anxieties on every side,
and even at the last he had willfully abandoned urgent duties, to his
own great loss and to the intense disgust of his friends, in order to
come back according to his promise. His return had been delayed from
week to week, from month to month, in spite of all he could do, and
meanwhile his thoughts had not been in America at all, but in Sicily,
causing him to fret and chafe at the necessities which bound him to
his post. Now, however, the day upon which he had counted had arrived;
he had taken his liberty regardless of consequences, and no dusty
pilgrim ever longed more fiercely for a journey's end. He was glad of
the impression of sameness he had received, for it made him feel that
there would be no great changes in Terranova.

He had learned little from the Countess during the interim, for she
had been slow in answering his frequent letters, while her own had
been brief and non-commital. They contained hardly a suggestion of
that warmth and intimacy which he had known in her presence. Her last
letter, now quite old, had added to this impression of aloofness and
rendered him somewhat timid as the time for meeting her approached. He
re-read it for the hundredth time as the train crawled out of the
city--

"MY DEAR FRIEND,--Your good letter was very welcome indeed, and I
thank you for your sympathetic interest in our affairs at Terranova,
but since fate has shown in so many ways that your life lies in
Louisiana, and not in Sicily, I beg of you to let things take their
course and give up any idea of returning here. There is nothing that
you can do, particularly since time has proved your fears for our
safety to be groundless. It is kind and chivalrous of you to persist
in offering to take that long journey from America, but nothing would
be gained by it, absolutely nothing, I assure you, and it would entail
a sacrifice on your part which I cannot permit.

"Very little of interest or of encouragement had occurred here, but I
am working. I shall always work. Some day I shall succeed. Meanwhile
we talk of you and are heartened by your friendship, which seems very
close and real, despite the miles that separate us. We shall cherish
it and the memory of your loyalty to Martel. Meanwhile, you must not
feel bound by your promise to come back, which was not a promise,
after all, but merely an unselfish offer. Once again I repeat, it
would do no good, and might only disappoint you. Besides, I am hoping
that you have seen the woman of whom you told me and that she will
need you.

  "We are all well. We have made no plans.

     "Yours gratefully, MARGHERITA GININI"

It was certainly unsatisfying, but her letters had all been of this
somewhat formal nature. She persisted, too, in referring to that
imaginary woman, and Blake regretted ever having mentioned her. If
Margherita suspected the truth, she could not help feeling his lack of
delicacy, his disloyalty to Martel, in confessing his love while the
Count was still alive; if she really believed him to be in love with
some other woman, it would necessitate sooner or later an explanation
which he dreaded. At all events, he hoped that the surprise of seeing
him unexpectedly, the knowledge that he had really crossed the world
to help her, would tend to dissipate her melancholy and restore her
old responsiveness.

During the months of his absence the girl had never been out of his
mind, and he had striven hard to reconcile his unconquerable love for
her with the sense of his own unworthiness. His unforgivable cowardice
was a haunting shame, and the more he dwelt upon it the more
unspeakably vile he appeared in his own sight; for the Blakes were
honorable people. The family was old and cherished traditions common
to fine Southern houses; the men of his name prided themselves upon an
especially nice sense of honor, which had been conspicuous even in a
country where bravery and chivalrous regard for women are basic
ideals. Having been reared in such an atmosphere, the young man looked
upon his own behavior with almost as much surprise as chagrin. He had
always taken it for granted that if he should be confronted with peril
he would behave himself like a man. It was inexplicable that he had
failed so miserably, for he had no reason to suspect a heritage of
cowardice, and he was sound in mind and body. He loved Margherita
Ginini with all his heart and his resolution to win her was stronger
than ever, but he felt that sooner or later he would have to prove
himself as manly as Martel had been, and, having lost faith in
himself, the prospect frightened him. If she ever discovered the
truth--and such things are very hard to conceal--she would spurn him:
any self-respecting woman would do the same.

He had forced himself to an unflinching analysis of his case, with the
result that a fresh determination came to him. He resolved to
reconstruct his whole being. If he were indeed a physical coward he
would deliberately uproot the weakness and make himself into a man.
Others had accomplished more difficult tasks, he reasoned; thieves had
made themselves into honest men, criminals had become decent. Why,
then, could not a coward school himself to become brave? It was merely
a question of will power, not so hard, perhaps, as the cure of some
drug habit. He made up his mind to attack the problem coldly,
systematically, and he swore solemnly by all his love for Margherita
that he would make himself over into a person who could not only win
but hold her. As yet there had been no opportunity of putting the plan
into operation, but he had mapped out a course.

Terranova drowsed among the hills just as he had left it, and high up
to the right, among the trees, he saw the white walls of the castello.
As he mounted the road briskly a goat-herd, flat upon his back in the
sun, was piping some haunting air; a tinkle of bells came from the
hillside, the vines were purple with fruit. Women were busy in the
vineyards gathering their burdens and bearing them to the tubs for the
white feet of the girls who trod the vintage.

Nearing his goal, he saw that the house had an unoccupied air, and he
found the big gates closed. Since no one appeared in answer to his
summons, he made his way around to the rear, where he discovered
Aliandro sunning himself.

"Well, Aliandro!" he cried. "This is good weather for rheumatism."

The old man peered up at him uncertainly, muttering:

"The saints in heaven are smiling to-day."

"Where are the Contessa Margherita and her aunt?"

"They are where their business takes them, I dare say. Ma che?"

"Gone to Messina, perhaps?"

"Perhaps."

"Visiting friends?"

"Exactly." Aliandro nodded. "They are visiting friends in Messina."

"I wish I had known; I just came from there. Will they return soon?"
Blake's hopes had been so high, his disappointment was so keen, that
he failed to notice the old man's lack of greeting and his crafty leer
as he answered:

"Si, veramente! Soon, very soon. Within a year--five years, at the
outside."

"What?"

"Oh, they will return so soon as it pleases them." He chuckled as if
delighted at his own secrecy.

Norvin said sharply: "Come, come! Don't jest with me. I have traveled
a long way to see them. I wish to know their whereabouts."

"Then ask some one who knows. If ever I was told, I have forgotten,
Si'or. My memory goes jumping about like a kid. It is the rheumatism."
After an instant more, he queried, "You are perhaps a friend of that
thrice-blessed angel, my padrona?"

With an exclamation of relief Norvin laid a hand upon the old fellow's
shoulder and shook him gently.

"Have your eyes failed you, my good Aliandro?" he cried. "Don't you
recognize the American?--the Signore Blake, who came here with the
Count of Martinello? Look at me and tell me where your mistress has
gone."

Aliandro arose and peered into his visitor's face, wagging his loose
jaws excitedly.

"As God is my judge," he declared, finally, "I believe it is, Che Dio!
Who would have expected to see you? Yes, yes! I remember as if it were
yesterday when you came riding up with that most illustrious gentleman
who now sits in Paradise. It is a miracle that you have crossed the
seas so many times in safety."

"So! Now tell me what I want to know."

"They have gone."

"Where?"

"How do I know? Find Belisario Cardi--may he live a million years in
hell! Find him, and you will find them also."

"You mean--"

"Find Belisario Cardi, that most infamous of assassins. My padrona has
set out to say good morning to him. He may even now be on his way to
purgatory."

Blake stared at the speaker, for he could not credit the words. Once
more he asked:

"But where? Where?"

"Where, indeed? If I had known in time where this Cardi lived I would
have knocked at his door some evening with the hilt of a knife. But he
was never twice in the same place. He has the ears of a fox. So long
as the soldiers went tramping back and forth he laughed. Then he must
have heard something--perhaps it was Aliandro whetting his blade--at
any rate he was gone in an hour, in a moment, in a second. Now I know
nothing more."

"She took the Donna Teresa with her?"

"Yes, squealing like a cat. She is too old to be of use, but the
Contessa could not leave her behind, I suppose."

Norvin felt some relief at this intelligence, reflecting that
Margherita would hardly draw her aunt into an enterprise which
promised to be dangerous. As he considered the matter further he began
to doubt the truth of Aliandro's story, for the old fellow seemed half
daft. Perhaps the Countess and her aunt were merely traveling and
Aliandro had construed their trip into a journey of vengeance. He had
doubtless spent all his time meditating upon the murder of his friend
and benefactor, and that was a subject which might easily unbalance a
stronger mind. Ten months had worked a change in Blake's viewpoint.
When he left Sicily the idea of a girl's devoting her life to the
pursuit of her lover's assassins had seemed to him extravagant, yet
not wholly unnatural. Now it struck him as beyond belief that
Margherita should really do this. Aliandro was continuing:

"It is work for young hands, Excellency. Old people grow weary and
forget, especially women. Now that Lucrezia, she is a fine child; she
can hate like the devil himself and she is as silent as a Mafioso. It
was two months ago that they went away, and that angel of gold, that
sweetest of ladies whom the saints are quarreling over, she left me
sufficient money for the balance of my days. But I will tell you
something, Excellency--a scandal to make your blood boil. She left
that money with the notary. And now, what do you think? He gives me
scarcely enough for tobacco! Once a week, sometimes oftener, I go down
to the village and whine like a beggar for what is mine. A fine man to
trust, eh? May he lie unburied! Sometimes I think I shall have to kill
him, he is so hard-hearted, but--I cannot see well enough. If you
should find him kicking in the road, however, you will know that he
brought it upon himself. You are shocked? No wonder. He is a greater
scoundrel than that Judas. Perhaps you--you are a great friend of the
family--perhaps you might force the wolf to disgorge. Eh? What do you
say? A word would do it. You will save his life in all probability."

"Very well, I'll speak to him, and meanwhile here is something to
please you." Norvin handed the old ruffian a gold coin, greatly to his
delight. "They have been gone two months and you have had no word?"

"Not a whisper. Once a week the notary comes up from the village to
see that all is well with the house. Many people have asked me the
same questions you asked. Some of them know me, and I know some who
think I do not. They would like to trick me into betraying the
whereabouts of the Contessa, but I lie like a lawyer and tell them
first one thing, then another. Body of Christ! I am no fool."

When Norvin had put himself in possession of all that Aliandro knew he
retraced his steps to the village, where the notary confirmed
practically all the old man had said, but declared positively that the
Countess and her admirable aunt were traveling for pleasure.

"What else would take them abroad?" he inquired. "Nothing! I have the
honor to look after the castello during their absence and the rents
from the land are placed in the bank at Messina."

"When do you expect them to return?"

"Privately, Signore, I do not expect them to return at all. That
shocking tragedy preyed upon the poor child's mind until she could no
longer endure Terranova. She is highly sensitive, you know; everything
spoke of Martel Savigno. What more natural than for her to wish never
to see it again? She consulted me once regarding a sale of all the
lands, and only last week some men came with a letter from the bank at
Messina. They were Englishmen, I believe, or perhaps Germans--I can
never tell the difference, if indeed there is any. I showed them
through the house. It would be a great loss to the village, however,
yes, and to the whole countryside, if they purchased Terranova, for
the Countess was like a ray of sunshine, like an angel's smile. And so
generous!"

"Tell me--Cardi was never found?"

The notary shrugged his shoulders. "As for me, I have never believed
there was such a person. Gian Narcone, yes. We all knew him, but he
has not been heard from since that terrible night which we both
remember. Now this Cardi, well, he is imaginary. If he were flesh and
blood the carabinieri would certainly have caught him--there were
enough of them. Per Baccho! You never saw the like of it. They were
thicker than flies."

"And yet they didn't catch Narcone, and he's real enough."

"True," acknowledged the notary, thoughtfully. "I never thought of it
in that light. Perhaps there is such a person, after all. But why has
no one ever seen him?"

"Where is Colonel Neri?"

"He is stationed at Messina. Perhaps he could tell you more than I."

Dismayed, yet not entirely discouraged, by what he had learned, Blake
caught the first train back to Messina and that evening found him at
Neri's rooms. The Colonel was delighted to see him, but could tell him
little more than Aliandro or the notary.

"Do you really believe the Countess left Sicily to travel?" Blake
asked him.

"To you I will confess that I do not. We know better than that, you
and I. She was working constantly from the time you left for America
until her own departure, but I never knew what she discovered. That
she learned more than we did I am certain, and it is my opinion that
she found the trail of Cardi."

"Then you're not like the others. You still believe there is such a
person?"

"Whether he calls himself Cardi or something else makes no difference;
there has been an intelligence of a high order at work among the
Mafiosi and the banditti of this neighborhood for many years. We
learned things after you left; we were many times upon the verge of
important discoveries; but invariably we were thwarted at the last
moment by that Sicilian trait of secrecy and by some very potent
terror. We tried our best to get to the bottom of this fear I mention,
but we could not. It was more than the customary distrust and dislike
of the law; It was a lively personal dread of some man or body of men,
The fact that we have been working nearly a year now without result
would indicate that the person at the head of the organization is no
common fellow. No one dares betray him, even at the price of a
fortune. I believe him to be some man of affairs, some well-fed and
respected merchant, or banker, perhaps, the knowledge of whose
identity would cause a commotion such as Etna causes when she turns
over in her sleep."

"That was Ricardo's belief, you remember."

"Yes. I have many reasons for thinking he was right, but I have no
proof. Cardi may still be in Sicily, although I doubt it. Gian Narcone
has fled; that much I know."

"Indeed?"

"Yes! The pursuit became hot; we did not rest! I do not see, even yet,
how we failed to capture him. We apprehended a number whom we know
were in the band, although we have no evidence connecting them with
that particular outrage. I think we will convict them for something or
other, however; at any rate, we have broken up this gang, even though
we have lost the two men we most desired. Narcone went to Naples. He
may be there now, he may be in any part of Italy, or he may even be in
your own America, for all I know. And this mysterious Cardi is
probably with him. It is my hope that we have frightened them off the
island for all time."

"And sent them to my country! Thanks! We're having trouble enough with
our own Italians, as it is."

"You at least have more room than we. But now, before we go further,
you must tell me about yourself, about your mother--"

Norvin shook his head gravely. "I arrived in time to see her, to be
with her at the last, that is all."

"I am indeed full of sympathy," said Neri. "It is no wonder you could
not return to Sicily as soon as you had planned."

"Everything conspired to hold me back. There were many things that
needed attention, for her affairs had become badly mixed and required
a strong hand to straighten them out. Yet all the time I knew I was
needed here; I knew the Countess was in want of some one to lean upon.
I came at the first opportunity, but--it seems I am too late. I am
afraid, Neri--afraid for her. God knows what she may do."

"God knows!" agreed the soldier. "I pleaded with her; I tried to
argue."

"But surely she can't absolutely disappear in this fashion. She will
have to make herself known sooner or later."

"I'm not so certain. Her affairs are in good shape and Terranova is
for sale."

"Doesn't the bank know her whereabouts?"

"If so, she has instructed them to conceal it."

"Nevertheless I shall go there in the morning and also to her cousins.
Will you help me?"

"Of course!" Neri regarded the young man curiously for an instant,
then said, "You will pardon this question, I hope, but since she has
taken such pains to conceal herself, do you think it wise to--to--"

"To force myself upon her? I don't know whether it is wise or foolish;
all I know is that I must find her. I must!" Blake met the older man's
eyes and his own were filled with a great trouble. "You told me once
that revenge and hatred are bad companions for a woman and that it
would be a great pity if Margherita Ginini did not allow herself to
love and be loved. I think you were right. I'm afraid to let her
follow this quest of hers; it may lead her into something--very bad,
for she has unlimited capabilities for good or evil. I had hoped to--
to show her that God had willed her to be happy. You see, Neri, I
loved her even when Martel was alive."

The Colonel nodded. "I guessed as much. All men love her, and there
lies her danger. I love her, also, Signore. I have always loved her,
even though I am old enough to be her father, and I would give my life
to see her--well, to see her your wife. You understand me? I would
help you find her if I could, but I am a soldier. I am chained to my
post. I am poor."

"Jove! You're mighty decent," said the American with an odd
breathlessness. "But do you think she could ever forget Martel?"

"She is not yet twenty."

"Do you think there is any possibility of my winning her? I thought so
once, but lately I have been terribly doubtful."

"I should say it will depend largely upon your finding her. We are not
the only good men who will love her. They sailed from here to Naples
on the trail of Narcone; that much I believe is reasonably certain. I
will give you a letter to the police there, and they will help you. It
is possible that we excite ourselves unduly; perhaps you will have no
difficulty whatever in locating her, but in the mean time we will do
well to talk with her relatives and with the officials of the bank. I
look for little help from those quarters, however."

Colonel Neri's misgivings were well founded, as the following day
proved. At the bank nothing definite was known as to the whereabouts
of the Countess. She had left instructions for the rents to be
collected until Terranova was sold and then for all moneys to be held
until she advised further. Her cousins were under the impression that
she had taken her aunt to northern Italy for a change of climate and
believed that she could be found in the mountains somewhere. Blake was
not long in discovering that while the relations between the two
branches of the family were maintained with an outward show of
cordiality they were really not of the closest. Neri told him, as a
matter of fact, that Margherita had always considered these people
covetous and untrustworthy.

Having exhausted the clues at Messina, Norvin hastened to Naples and
there took up his inquiry. He presented his letter, but the police
could find no trace of the women and finally told him that they must
have passed through the city without stopping, perhaps on their way to
Rome. So to Rome he went, and there met a similar discouragement. By
now he was growing alarmed, for it seemed incredible that a woman so
conspicuous and so well known as the Countess of Terranova should be
so hard to find unless she had taken unusual pains to hide her
identity. If such were the case the search promised many difficulties.
Nevertheless, he set about it energetically, sparing no expense and
yet preserving a certain caution in order not to embarrass the
Countess. He reasoned that if Cardi and Narcone had fled their own
island they would be unlikely to seek an utterly foreign land, but
would probably go where their own tongue was spoken; hence the
Countess was doubtless in one of the Italian cities. When several
weeks had been spent without result the young man widened the scope of
his efforts and appealed to the police of all the principal cities of
southern Europe.

Two months had crept by before word came from Colonel Neri which put
an end to his futile campaign. The bank, it seemed, had received a
letter from the Countess written in New York. It was merely a request
to perform certain duties and contained no return address, but it sent
Norvin Blake homeward on the first ship. Now that he knew that the
girl was in his own country he felt his hopes revive. It seemed very
natural, after all, that she should be there instead of in Europe, for
Cardi and his lieutenant, having found Sicily too hot to hold them,
had doubtless joined the tide of Italian emigration to America, that
land of freedom and riches whither all the scum of Europe was
floating. Why should they turn to Italy, the mother country, when the
criminals of Europe were flocking across the westward ocean to a
richer field which offered little chance of identification? It seemed
certain now that Margherita had taken up the work in earnest; nothing
less would have drawn her to the United States. Blake gave up his last
lingering doubt regarding her intentions, but he vowed that if her
resolve were firm, his should be firmer; if her life held nothing but
thoughts of Martel, his held nothing but thoughts of her; if she were
determined to hide herself, he was equally determined to find her, and
he would keep searching until he had done so. The hunt began to obsess
him; he obeyed but one idea, beheld but one image; and he cherished
the illusion that once he had overtaken her his task would be
completed. Only upon rare occasions did he realize that the girl was
still unwon--perhaps beyond his power to win. He chose to trust his
heart rather than his reason, and in truth something deep within him
gave assurance that she was waiting, that she needed him and would
welcome his coming.




VIII

OLD TRAILS



Mr. Bernard Dreux was regarded by his friends rather as an institution
than as an individual. He was a small man, but he wore the dignity of
a senator, and he possessed a pride of that intense and fastidious
sort which is rarely encountered outside the oldest Southern families.
He was thin, with the delicate, bird-like mannerisms of a dyspeptic,
and although he was nearing fifty he cultivated all the airs and
graces of beardless youth. His feet were small and highly arched, his
hands were sensitive and colorless. He was an authority on art, he
dabbled in music, and he had once been a lavish entertainer--that was
in the early days when he had been a social leader. Now, although
harassed by a lack of money which he considered degrading, he still
mingled in good society, he still dressed elegantly, his hands were
still white and sensitive, contrasting a little with his conscience,
which had become slightly discolored and calloused. He no longer
entertained, however, except by his wit; he exercised a watchful
solicitude over his slender wardrobe, and his revenues were derived
from sources so uncertain that he seemed to maintain his outwardly
placid existence only through a series of lucky chances. But adversity
had not soured Mr. Dreux; it had not dimmed his pride nor coarsened
his appreciation of beauty; he remained the gentle, suave, and
agreeably cynical beau. Young girls had been known to rave over him,
despite their mother's frowns; fathers and brothers called him Bernie
and greeted him warmly--at their clubs.

But aside from Mr. Dreux's inherited right to social recognition he
was marked by another and peculiar distinction in that he was the
half-brother and guardian of Myra Nell Warren. This fact alone would
have assured him a wide acquaintance and a degree of popularity
without regard to his personal characteristics.

While it was generally known that old Captain Warren, during a short
and riotous life, had dashed through the Dreux fortune at a tremendous
rate, very few people realized what an utter financial wreck he had
left for the two children. There had been barely enough for them to
live upon after his death, and inasmuch as Myra Nell's extravagance
steadily increased as the income diminished, her half-brother was
always hard pressed to keep up appearances. She was a great
responsibility upon the little man's shoulders, particularly since she
managed in all innocence and thoughtlessness to spend not only her own
share of the income, but his also. He was many times upon the point of
remonstrating with her, but invariably his courage failed him and he
ended by planning some additional self-sacrifice to offset her
expanding necessities.

The situation would have been far simpler had Bernie lacked that
particular inborn pride which forbade him to seek employment. Not that
he felt himself above work, but he recoiled from any occupation which
did not carry with it a dignity matching that of his name. Since the
name he bore was as highly honored as any in the State, and since his
capabilities for earning a living were not greater than those of an
eighteen-year-old boy, he was obliged to rely upon his wits. And his
wits had become uncommonly keen.

The winter climate of New Orleans drew thither a stream of Northern
tourists, and upon these strangers Mr. Dreux, in a gentlemanly manner,
exercised his versatile talents. He made friends easily, he knew
everybody and everything, and, being a man of leisure, his time
was at the command of those travelers who were fortunate enough to
meet him. He understood the good points of each and every little cafe
in the foreign quarters; he could order a dinner with the rarest
taste; it was due largely to him that the fame of the Ramos gin-fizz
and the Sazerac cocktail became national. His grandfather, General
Dreux, had drunk at the old Absinthe House with no less a person that
Lafitte, the pirate, and had frequented the house on Royal Street when
Lafayette and Marechal Ney were there. It was in this house, indeed,
that he had met Louis Philippe. His grandson had such a wealth of
intimate detail at his finger tips that it was a great pleasure and
privilege to go through the French quarter with him. He exhaled the
atmosphere of Southern aristocracy which is so agreeable to Northern
sensibilities, he told inimitable stories, and, as for antiques, he
knew every shop and bargain in the city. He was liberal, moreover,
nay, ingenuous in sharing this knowledge with his new-found friends,
even while admitting that he coveted certain of these bargains for his
own slender collection. As a result of Mr. Dreux's knack of making
friends and his intimate knowledge of art he did a very good business
in antiques. Many of his acquaintances wrote him from time to time,
asking him to execute commissions, which he was ever willing to do,
gratuitously, of course. In this way he was able to bridge over the
dull summer season and live without any unpleasant sacrifice of
dignity. But it was at best a precarious means of livelihood and one
which he privately detested. However, on the particular day in the
summer of 1890 on which we first encounter him Mr. Dreux was well
contented, for a lumber-man from Minneapolis, who had come South with
no appreciation whatever of Colonial antiques, had just departed with
enough worm-eaten furniture to stock a museum, and Bernie had
collected his regular commission from the dealer.

Now that his own pressing necessities were taken care of for the
moment, he began, as usual, to plan for Myra Nell's future. This would
have required little thought or worry had she been an ordinary girl,
but that was precisely what Miss Warren was not. The beaux of New
Orleans were enthusiastically united in declaring that she was quite
the contrary, quite the most extraordinary and dazzling of creatures.
Bernie had led them to the slaughter methodically, one after another,
with hope flaming in his breast, only to be disappointed time after
time. They had merely served to increase the unhappy number which
vainly swarmed about her, and to make Bernie himself the target of her
satire. Popularity had not spoiled the girl, however; her attitude
toward marriage was very sensible beneath the surface, and Bernie's
anxious efforts at matchmaking, instead of relieving their financial
distress, merely served to keep him in the antique business. Miss
Warren loved admiration; she might be said to live on it; and she
greeted every new admirer with a bubbling gladness which was
intoxicating. But she had no appreciation of the sanctity of a
promise. She looked upon an engagement to marry in the same light as
an engagement to walk or dine, namely, as being subject to the weather
or to a prior obligation of the same sort. Bernie was too much a
gentleman to urge her into any step for which she was not ready, so he
merely sighed when he saw his plans go astray, albeit confessing to
moments of dismay as he foresaw himself growing old in the second-hand
business. But a change had occurred lately, and although no word had
passed between brother and sister, the melancholy little bachelor had
been highly gratified at certain indications he had marked. It seemed
to him that her choice, provided she really had chosen, was excellent;
for Norvin Blake was certainly very young to be the president of the
Cotton Exchange, he was free from any social entanglements, and he was
rich. Moreover, his name had as many honorable associations as
even Bernie's own. All in all, therefore, the little man was in an
agreeable frame of mind to-day as he strolled up Canal Street, nodding
here and there to his acquaintances, and turned into Blake's office.

He entered without announcing himself, and Norvin greeted him
cordially. Bernie seldom announced himself, being one of those rare
persons who come and go unobtrusively and who interrupt important
conversations without offense.

"Do I find you busy?" he inquired, dropping into one of Blake's
easy-chairs and lighting a perfumed cigarette.

"No. Business is over for the day. But I am glad to see you at any
time; you're so refreshingly restful."

"How are the new duties and responsibilities coming on?"

"Oh, very well," said Blake, "Although I'm absurdly self-conscious."

"The Exchange needed new blood, I'm told. I think you are a happy
choice. Opportunity has singled you out and evidently intends to bear
you forward on her shoulders whether you wish or not. Jove! you
_have_ made strides! Let me see, you are thirty--"

"Two! This makes me look older than I am." Norvin touched his hair,
which was gray, and Bernie nodded.

"Funny how your hair changed so suddenly. I remember seeing you four
years ago at the Lexington races just after you returned from Europe
the second time. You were dark then. I saw you a year later and you
were gray. Did the wing of sorrow brush your brow?"

Blake shrugged. "They say fear will turn men gray."

Dreux laughed lightly. "Fancy! You afraid!"

"And why not? Have you never been afraid?"

"I? To be sure. I rather like it, too! It's invigorating--unusual. You
know there's a kind of fascination about certain emotions which are in
themselves unpleasant. But--my dear boy, you can't understand. We
were talking about you the other night at the Boston Club after your
election, and Thompson told about that affair you had with those
niggers up the State, when you were sheriff. It was quite thrilling to
hear him tell it."

"Indeed?"

"Oh, yes! He made you out a great hero. I never knew why you went in
for politics, or at least why, if you went in at all, you didn't try
for something worth while. You could have gone to the legislature just
as easily. But for a Blake to be sheriff! Well, it knocked us all
silly when we heard of it, and I don't understand it yet. We pictured
you locking up drunken men, serving subpoenas, and selling widows'
farms over their heads."

"There's really more to a sheriff's duties than that."

"So I judged from Thompson's blood-curdling tales. I felt very anaemic
and insignificant as I listened to him."

"It doesn't hurt a gentleman to hold a minor political office, even in
a tough parish. I think men ought to try themselves out and find what
they are made of."

"It isn't your lack of exclusiveness that strikes one; it's your
nerve."

"Oh, that's mostly imaginary. I haven't much, really. But the truth is
I'm interested in courage. They say a man always admires the quality
in which he is naturally lacking, and wants to acquire it. I'm
interested in brave men, too; they fascinate me. I've studied them;
I've tried to analyze courage and find out what it is, where it lies,
how it is developed, and all about it, because I have, perhaps, a
rather foolish craving to be able to call myself fairly brave."

"If you hadn't made a reputation for yourself, this sort of modesty
would convict you of cowardice," Dreux exclaimed. "It sounds very
funny, coming from you, and I think you are posing. Now with me it is
wholly different. I couldn't stand what you have; why, the sight of a
dead man would unsettle me for months and, as for risking my life or
attempting the life of a fellow creature--well, it would be a physical
impossibility. I--I'd just turn tail. You are exceptional, though you
may not know it; you're not normal. The majority of us, away back in
the woodsheds of our minds, recognize ourselves as cowards, and I
differ from the rest in that I'm brave enough to admit it."

"How do you know you are a coward?"

"Oh, any little thing upsets me."

"Your people were brave enough."

"Of course, but conditions were different in those days; we're more
advanced now. There's nothing refined about swinging sabers around
your head like a windmill and chopping off Yankee arms and legs; nor
is there anything especially artistic in two gentlemen meeting at dawn
under the oaks with shotguns loaded with scrap iron." Mr. Dreux
shuddered. "I'm tremendously glad the war is over and duels are out of
fashion."

"Well, be thankful that antiques are not out of fashion. There is
still a profit in them, I suppose?"

Dreux shook his head mournfully. "Not in the good stuff. I just sold
the original sword of Jean Lafitte to a man who makes preserved
tomatoes. It is the eighth in three weeks. The business in Lafitte
sabers is very fair lately. General Jackson belt-buckles are moving
well, too, not to mention plug hats worn by Jefferson Davis at his
inauguration. There was a fabulous hardwood king at the St. Charles
whom I inflamed with the beauties of marquetrie du bois. It was all
modern, of course, made in Baltimore, but I found him a genuine
Sinurette four-poster which was very fine. I also discovered a royal
Sevres vase for him, worth a small fortune, but he preferred a bath
sponge used by Louis XIV. I assured him the sponge was genuine, so he
bought a Buhl cabinet to put it in. I took the vase for Myra Nell."

"Do you think Myra Nell would care to be Queen of the Carnival?"
Norvin inquired.

"Care?" Bernie started forward in his chair, his eyes opened wide.
"You're--joking! Is--is there any--" He relaxed suddenly, and after an
instant's hesitation inquired, "What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say. She can be Queen if she wishes."

Dreux shook his head reluctantly. "She'd be delighted, of course;
she'd go mad at the prospect, but--frankly, she can't afford it." He
flushed under Blake's gaze.

"I'm sorry, Bernie. I've been told to ask her."

"I am very much obliged to you for the honor, and it's worth any
sacrifice, but--Lord! It is disgusting to be poor." He prodded
viciously with his cane.

"It is a great thing for any girl to be Queen. The chance may not come
again."

Dreux made a creditable effort to conceal his disappointment, but he
was really beside himself with chagrin. "You needn't tell me," he
said, "but there is no use of my even dreaming of it; I've figured
over the expense too often. She was Queen of Momus last year--that's
why I've had to vouch for so many Lafitte swords and Davis high hats.
If those tourists ever compare notes they'll think that old pirate
must have been a centipede or a devilfish to wield all those weapons."

"I would like to have her accept," Blake persisted.

Bernie Dreux glanced at the speaker quickly, feeling a warm glow
suffuse his withered body at the hint of encouragement for his private
hopes. What more natural, he reasoned, than for Blake to wish his
future wife to accept the highest social honor that New Orleans can
confer? Norvin's next words offered further encouragement, yet awoke a
very conflicting emotion.

"In view of the circumstances, and in view of all it means to Myra
Nell, I would consider it a privilege to lend you whatever you
require. She need never know."

Involuntarily the little bachelor flushed and drew himself up.

"Thanks! It's very considerate of you, but--I can't accept, really."

"Even for her sake?"

"If I didn't know you so well, or perhaps if you didn't know us so
well, I'd resent such a proposal."

"Nonsense! Don't be foolish." Realizing thoroughly what this sacrifice
meant to Miss Warren's half-brother, Norvin continued: "Suppose we say
nothing further about it for the time being. Perhaps you will feel
differently later."

After a pause Dreux said: "Heaven knows where these carnivals will end
if we continue giving bigger pageants every year. It's a frightful
drain on the antique business, and I'm afraid I will have to drop out
next season. I scarcely know what to do."

"Why don't you marry?" Blake inquired.

"Marry?" Dreux smiled whimsically. "That lumber king had a daughter,
but she was freckled."

"Felicite Delord isn't freckled."

Bernie said nothing for a moment, and then inquired quietly:

"What do you know about Felicite?"

"All there is to know, I believe. Enough, at any rate, to realize that
you ought to marry her."

As Dreux made no answer, he inquired, "She is willing, of course?"

"Of course."

"Then why don't you do it?"

"The very fact that people--well, that I know I ought to, perhaps.
Then, too, my situation. I have certain obligations which I must live
up to."

"Don't be forever thinking of yourself. There are others to be
considered."

"Exactly. Myra Nell, for instance."

"It seems to me you owe something to Felicite."

"My dear boy, you don't talk like a--like a--"

"Southern gentleman?" Blake smiled. "Nevertheless, Miss Delord is a
delightful little person and you can make her happy. If Myra Nell
should be Queen of the Mardi Gras it would round out her social
career. She will marry before long, no doubt, and then you will be
left with no obligations beyond those you choose to assume. Nobody
knows of your relations with Felicite."

"_You_ know," said the bachelor stiffly, "and therefore others
must know, hence it is quite impossible. I'd prefer not to discuss it
if you don't mind."

"Certainly. I want you to keep that loan in mind, however. I think you
owe it to your sister to accept. At any rate, I am glad we had this
opportunity of speaking frankly."

"Ah," said Bernie, suddenly, as if seizing with relief upon a chance
to end the discussion, "I think I heard some one in the outer office."

"To be sure," exclaimed Blake. "That must be Donnelly. I had an
appointment with him here which I'd forgotten all about."

"The Chief of Police? He's quite a friend of yours."

"Yes, we met while I was sheriff. He's a remarkably able officer--one
of those men I like to study."

"Well, then, I'll be going," said Bernie, rising.

"No, stay and meet him." Blake rose to greet a tall, angular man of
about Dreux's age, who came in without knocking. Chief Donnelly had an
impassive face, into which was set a pair of those peculiar smoky-blue
eyes which have become familiar upon our frontiers. He acknowledged
his introduction to Bernie quietly, and measured the little man
curiously.

"Mr. Dreux is a friend of mine, and he was anxious to meet you, so I
asked him to stay," Norvin explained.

"If I'm not intruding," Bernie said.

"Oh, there's nothing much on my mind," the Chief declared. "I've come
in for some information which I don't believe Blake can give me." To
Norvin he said, "I remembered hearing that you'd been to Italy, so I
thought you might help me out."

Mr. Dreux sat back, eliminated himself from the conversation in his
own effective manner, and regarded the officer as a mouse might gaze
upon a lion.

"Yes, but that was four years ago," Norvin replied.

"All the better. Were you ever in Sicily?"

Blake started. The sudden mention of Sicily was like a touch upon an
exposed nerve.

"I was in Sicily twice," he said, slowly.

"Then perhaps you can help me, after all. I recalled some sort of
experience you had over there with the Mafia, and took a chance."

The Chief drew from his pocket a note-book which he consulted. "Did
you ever hear of a Sicilian named--Narcone? Gian Narcone?" He looked
up to see that his friend's face had gone colorless.

Blake nodded silently.

"Also a chap named--some nobleman--" He turned again to his
memorandum-book.

"Martel Savigno, Count of Martinello," Norvin supplied in a strained,
breathless voice.

"That's him! Why, you must know all about this affair."

Blake rose and began to pace his office while the others watched him
curiously, amazed at his agitated manner and his evident effort to
control his features. Neither of his two friends had deemed him
capable of such an exhibition of feeling.

As a matter of fact, Norvin had grown to pride himself upon his
physical self-command and above all upon his impassivity of
countenance. He had cultivated it purposely, for it formed a part of
his later training--what he chose to call his course in courage. But
this sudden probing of an old wound, this unexpected reference to the
most painful part of his life, had found him off his guard and with
his nerves loose.

After his return from Europe he had set himself vigorously to the task
of uprooting his cowardice. Realizing that his parish had always been
lawless, it occurred to him that the office of sheriff would compel an
exercise of whatever courage he had in him. It had been absurdly easy
to win the election, but afterward--the memory of the bitter fight
which followed often made him cringe. Strangely enough, his theory had
not worked out. He found that his cowardice was not a sick spot which
could be cauterized or cut out, but rather that it was like some humor
of the blood, or something ingrained in the very structure of his
nervous tissue. But although his lack of physical courage seemed
constitutional and incurable, he had a great and splendid pride which
enabled him to conceal his weakness from the world. Time and again he
had balked, had shied like a frightened horse; time and again he had
roweled himself with cruel spurs and ridden down his unruly terrors by
force of will. But the struggle had burned him out, had calcined his
youth, had grayed his hair, and left him old and tired. Even now, when
he had begun to consider his self-mastery complete, it had required no
more than the unexpected mention of Martel Savigno's name and that of
his murderer to awaken pangs of poignant distress, the signs of which
he could not altogether conceal.

When after an interval of several minutes he felt that he had himself
sufficiently in hand to talk without danger of self-betrayal, he
seated himself and inquired:

"What do you wish to know about--the Count of Martinello and Narcone
the bandit?"

"I want to know all there is," said Donnelly. "Perhaps we can get at
it quicker if you will tell me what you know. I had no idea you were
familiar with the case. It's remarkable how these old trails recross."

"I--I know everything about the murder of Martel Savigno, for I saw
it. I was there. He was my best friend. That is the story of which you
read. That is why the mention of his name upset me, even after nearly
five years."

Bernie Dreux uttered an exclamation and hitched forward in his chair.
This new side of Blake's character fascinated him.

"If you will tell me the circumstances it will help me piece out my
record," said the Chief, so Blake began reluctantly, hesitatingly,
giving the facts clearly, but with a constraint that bore witness to
his pain in the recital.

When he had finished, it was Donnelly's turn to show surprise.

"That is remarkable!" he exclaimed. "To think that you have seen Gian
Narcone! D'you suppose you would know him again after four years?" He
shot a keen glance at his friend.

"I am quite sure I would. But come, you haven't told me anything yet."

"Well, Narcone is in New Orleans."

"What?" Blake leaned forward in his chair, his eyes blazing.

"At least I'm informed that he is. I received a letter some time ago
containing most of the information you've just given me, and stating
that there are extradition papers for him in New York. The letter says
that some of his old gang have confessed to their part in the murder
and have implicated Narcone so strongly that he will hang if they can
get him back to Sicily."

"I believe that. But who is your informant?"

"I don't know. The letter is anonymous."

A sudden wild hope sprang up in Blake's mind. He dared not trust it,
yet it clamored for credence.

"Was it written by a--woman?" he queried, tensely.

"No; at least I don't think so. It was written on one of these new-fangled
typewriting machines. I left it at the office, or you could judge for
yourself."

"If it is typewritten, how do you know whether--"

"I tell you I don't know. But I can guess pretty closely. It was one
of the Pallozzo gang. This Narcone--he calls himself Vito Sabella, by
the way--is a leader of the Quatrones. The two factions have been at
war lately and some member of the Pallozzo outfit has turned him up."

The light died out of Norvin's face, his body relaxed. He had followed
so many clues, his quest had been so long and fruitless, that he met
disappointment half-way.

Up to this moment Bernie Dreux had listened without a word or
movement, but now he stirred and inquired, hesitatingly:

"Pardon me, but what is this Pallozzo gang and who are the Quatrones?
I'm tremendously interested in this affair."

"The Pallozzos and the Quatrones," Donnelly explained, "are two
Italian gangs which have come into rivalry over the fruit business.
They unload the ships, you know, and they have clashed several times.
You probably heard about their last mix-up--one man killed and four
wounded."

"I never read about such things," Dreux acknowledged, at which the
Chief's eyes twinkled and once more wandered over the little man's
immaculate figure.

"You are familiar with our Italian problem, aren't you?"

"I--I'm afraid not. I know we have a large foreign population in the
city--in fact, I spend much of my time on the other side of Canal
Street--but I didn't know there was any particular problem."

"Well, there is, and a very serious one, too," Blake assured him.
"It's giving our friend Donnelly and the rest of the city officials
trouble enough and to spare. There have been some eighty killings in
the Italian quarter."

"Eighty-four," said Donnelly. "And about two hundred outrages of one
sort or another."

"And almost no convictions. Am I right?"

"You are. We can't do a thing with them. They are a law to themselves,
and they ignore us and ours absolutely. It's getting worse, too. Fine
situation to exist in the midst of a law-abiding American community,
isn't it?" Donnelly appealed to Dreux.

"Now that will show you how little a person may know of his own home,"
reflected Bernie. "Has it anything to do with this Mafia we hear so
much about?"

"It has. But the Mafia is going to end," Donnelly announced
positively. "I've gone on record to that effect. If those dagos can't
obey our laws, they'll have to pull their freight. It's up to me to
put a finish to this state of affairs or acknowledge I'm a poor
official and don't know my business. The reform crowd has seized upon
it as a weapon to put me out of office, claiming that I've sold out to
the Italians and don't want to run 'em down, so I've got to do
something to show I'm not asleep on my beat. I've never had a chance
before, but now I'm going after this Vito Sabella and land him. Will
you look him over, Norvin, and see if he's the right party?"

"Of course. I owe Narcone a visit and I'm glad of this chance. But
granting that he is Narcone, how can you get him out of New Orleans?
He'll fight extradition and the Quatrones will support him."

"I'm blamed if I know. I'll have to figure that out," said the Chief
as he rose to go. "I'm mighty glad I had that hunch to come and see
you, and I wish you were a plain-clothes man instead of the president
of the Cotton Exchange. I think you and I could clean out this Mafia
and make the town fit for a white man to live in. If you'll drop in on
me at eight o'clock to-night we'll walk over toward St. Phillip Street
and perhaps get a look at your old friend Narcone. If you care to come
along, Mr. Dreux, I'd be glad to have you."

Bernie Dreux threw up his shapely hands in hasty refusal. "Oh dear,
no!" he protested. "I haven't lost any Italian murderers. This
expedition, which you're planning so lightly, may lead to--Heaven
knows what. At any rate, I should only be in the way, so if it's quite
the same to you I'll send regrets."

"Quite the same," Donnelly laughed, then to Norvin: "If you think this
dago may recognize you, you'd better tote a gun. At eight, then."

"At eight," agreed Blake and escorted him to the door.




IX

"ONE WHO KNOWS"



Norvin Blake dined at his club that evening, returning to his office
at about half-past seven. He was relieved to find the place deserted,
for he desired an opportunity to think undisturbed. Although this
unforeseen twist of events had seemed remarkable, at first, he began
to feel that he had been unconsciously waiting for this very hour.
Something had always forewarned him that a time would come when he
would be forced to take a hand once more in that old affair. Nor was
he so much disturbed by the knowledge that Narcone, the butcher, was
here in New Orleans as by the memories and regrets which the news
aroused.

Entering his private office, he lit the gas, and flinging himself into
an easy-chair, gave himself over to recollections of all that the last
four years had brought forth. It seemed only yesterday that he had
returned from Italy, hot upon the scent which Colonel Neri had
uncovered for him. He had been confident, eager, hopeful, yet he had
failed, signally, unaccountably. He had combed New York City for a
trace of Margherita Ginini with a thoroughness that left no possible
means untried. As he looked back upon it now, he wondered if he could
ever summon sufficient enthusiasm to attack any other project with a
similar determination. He doubted it. Later experience had bred in him
a peculiar caution, a shrinking hesitancy at exposing his true
feelings, due, no doubt, to that ever-present necessity of watching
himself.

Margherita had never written him after her first disappearance; his
own letters had been returned from Sicily; the police of New York had
failed as those of Rome and Naples and other cities had failed. He had
wasted a small fortune in the hire of private detectives. At last,
when it was too late to profit him, he had learned that the three
women had been in New York at the time of his arrival, but evidently
they had become alarmed at his pursuit and fled. It was this which had
forced him to give up--the certainty that Margherita knew the motive
of his search and resented it. He had never quite recovered from the
sting of that discovery, for he was proud, but he had grown too wise
to cherish unjust resentment. It merely struck him as a great pity
that their lives had fallen out in such unhappy fashion. He never
tried to deceive himself into believing that he could forget her,
become a new man, and banish the joy and the pain of his past,
impartially. There were other women, it is true, who attracted him
strongly, aroused his tenderness and appealed to his manhood--and
among them Myra Nell Warren. His power of feeling had not been
atrophied, rather it had become deeper. Yet his loyalty was never
really impaired. In the bottom of his heart he knew that that tawny,
slumbrous yet passionate Sicilian girl was his first and his most
sacred love.

As he sat alone now, with the evidences of his accomplishment about
him, he realized that in spite of his material success, life, so far,
at least, had been just as stale and flat as it had promised to be on
that night when he and Martel had ridden away from the feast at
Terranova. He had made good, to his own satisfaction, in all respects
save one, and even in that he had gained the form if not the
substance, for the world regarded him as a man of proven courage. It
seemed to him a grim and hideous joke, and he wondered what his
friends would think if they knew that the very commonplace adventure
planned for this evening filled him with a cringing horror. The
prospect of this trip into the Italian quarter with the probability of
encountering Narcone turned him cold and sick. His hands were like ice
and the muscles of his back were twitching nervously; he could feel
his heart pound as he let his thoughts have free play. But these
symptoms were only too familiar; he had conquered them too many times
to think of weakening.

After five years of intimate self-study he was still at a loss to
account for his phenomenal cowardice. He wondered again to-night if it
might not be the result of a too powerful imagination. Donnelly had no
imagination whatever, and the same seemed true of others whom he had
studied. As for himself, his fancies took alarm at the slightest hint
and went careering off into all the dark byways of supposition,
encountering impossible shapes and improbable dangers. Whatever the
cause, he had long since given up hope of ever winning a permanent
victory over himself and had learned that each trial meant a fresh
battle.

When he saw by the clock that the hour of his appointment had come, he
arose, although his body seemed to belong to some one else and his
spirit was crying out a mad, panicky warning. He opened the drawer of
his desk and, extracting a revolver, raised it at arm's-length. He
drew it down before his eye until the sights crept into alignment, and
held it there for a throbbing second. Then he smiled mirthlessly, for
his hand had not shown the slightest tremor.

Donnelly was waiting as Blake walked into headquarters, and, exhuming
a box of cigars from the remotest depths of a desk drawer, he offered
them, saying:

"I've sent O'Connell over to reconnoiter. There's no use of our
starting out until he locates Sabella. You needn't be so suspicious of
those perfectos; they won't bite you."

"The last one you gave me did precisely that."

"Must have been one of my cooking cigars. I keep two kinds, one for
callers and one for friends."

"Then if this is a Flor de Friendship I'll accept," Blake said with a
laugh.

"I see Mr. Dreux didn't change his mind and decide to join us."

"No, this is a little too rough for Bernie. He very cheerfully
acknowledged that he was afraid Narcone might recognize me and make
trouble."

"I thought of that," Donnelly acknowledged. "Is there any chance?"

In the depths of Blake's consciousness something cried out fearfully
in the affirmative, but he replied: "Hardly. He never saw me except
indistinctly, and that was nearly five years ago. He might recall my
name, but I dare say not without an introduction, which isn't
necessary."

"Do you think you will know him?"

"I-I have reason to think I will."

The Chief grunted with satisfaction.

"A funny little fellow, that Dreux!" he remarked. "Wasn't it his
father who fought a duel with Colonel Hammond from Baton Rouge?"

"The same. They used shotguns at forty yards. Colonel Hammond was
killed."

"Humph! And he was afraid to go with us to-night?"

"Oh, he makes no secret of his cowardice."

"Well, a mule is a mule, a coward is a coward, and a gambler is a--
son-of-a-gun," paraphrased the Chief. "If he hasn't any courage he
can't force it into himself."

"Do you think so?"

"I know so. I've seen it tried. Some people are born cowards and can't
help themselves. As for me, I was never troubled much that way. I
suppose you find it the same, too."

"No. My only consolation lies in thinking it's barely possible the
other fellow may be as badly frightened as I am."

Donnelly scoffed openly. "I never saw a man stand up better than you.
Why I've touted you as the gamest chap I ever saw. Do you remember
that dago Misetti who jumped from here into your parish when you were
sheriff?"

Blake smiled. "I'm not likely to forget him."

"You walked into a gun that day when you knew he'd use it."

"He didn't, though--at least not much. Perhaps he was as badly rattled
as I was."

"Have it your own way," the Chief said. "But that reminds me, he's out
again."

"Indeed! I hadn't heard."

"You knew, of course, we couldn't convict him for that killing. We had
a perfect case, but the Mafia cleared him. Same old story--perjury,
alibis, and jury-fixing. We put him away for resisting an officer,
though; they couldn't stop us there. But they've 'sprung' him and he's
back in town again. Damn such people! With over two hundred Italian
outrages of various kinds in this city up to date, I can count the
convictions on the fingers of one hand. The rest of the country is
beginning to notice it."

"It is a serious matter," Blake acknowledged, "and it is affecting the
business interests of the city. We see that every day."

"If I had a free hand I'd tin-can every dago in New Orleans."

"Nonsense! They're not all bad. The great majority of them are good,
industrious, law-abiding people. It's a comparatively small criminal
element that does the mischief."

"You think so, eh? Well, if you held down this job for a year you'd be
ready to swear they're all blackmailers and murderers. If they're
so honest and peaceable, why don't they come out and help us run down
the malefactors?"

"That's not their way."

"No, you bet it isn't," Donnelly affirmed. "Things are getting worse
every day. The reformers don't have to call my attention to it; I'm
wise. So far, they have confined their operations to their own people,
but what's to prevent them from spreading out? Some day those Italians
will break over and tackle us Americans, and then there will be hell
to pay. I'll be blamed for not holding them in check. Why, you've no
idea of the completeness of their organization; it has a thousand
branches and it takes in some of their very best people. I dare say
you think this Mafia is some dago secret society with lodge-rooms and
grips and passwords and a picnic once a year. Well, I tell you--"

"You needn't tell me anything about La Mafia," Blake interrupted,
gravely. "I know as much about it, perhaps, as you do. Something ought
to be done to choke off this flood of European criminal immigration.
Believe me, I realize what you are up against, Dan, and I know, as you
know, that La Mafia will beat you."

"I'm damned if it will!" exploded the officer. "The policing of this
city is under my charge, and if those people want to live here among
us--"

The telephone bell rang and Donnelly broke off to answer it.

"Hello! Is that you, O'Connell? Good! Stick around the neighborhood.
We'll be right over." He hung up the receiver and explained:
"O'Connell has him marked out. We'd better go."

It was not until they were well on their way that Norvin thought to
mention the letter, which he had wished to see.

"Oh, yes, I meant to show it to you," said Donnelly.

"But there's nothing unusual about it, except perhaps the signature."

"I thought you said it was anonymous."

"Well, it is; it's merely signed 'One who Knows.'"

"Does it mention an associate of Narcone--a man named Cardi?"

"No. Who's he?"

"I dare say at least a hundred thousand people have asked that same
question." Briefly Norvin told what he knew of the reputed chief of
the banditti, of the terrors his name inspired in Sicily, and of his
supposed connection with the murder of Savigno. "Once or twice a year
I hear from Colonel Neri," he added, "but he informs me that Cardi has
never returned to the island, so it occurred to me that he too might
be in New Orleans."

"It's very likely that he is, and if he was a Capo-Mafia there, he's
probably the same here. Lord! I'd like to get inside of that outfit;
I'd go through it like a sandstorm."

By this time they had threaded the narrow thoroughfares of the old
quarter, and were nearing the vicinity of St. Phillip Street, the
heart of what Donnelly called "Dagotown." There was little to
distinguish this part of the city from that through which they had
come. There were the same dingy, wrinkled houses, with their odd
little balconies and ornamental iron galleries overhanging the
sidewalks and peering into one another's faces as if to see what their
neighbors were up to; the same queer, musty, dusty shops, dozing amid
violent foreign odors; the same open doorways and tunnel-like
entrances leading to paved courtyards at the rear. The steep roofs
were tiled and moss-grown, the pavements were of huge stone flags, set
in between seams of mud, and so unevenly placed as to make traffic
impossible save by the light of day. Alongside the walks were open
sewers, in which the foul and sluggish current was setting not toward,
but away from, the river-front. The district was peopled by shadows
and mystery; it abounded in strange sights and sounds and smells.

At the corner of Royal and Dumaine they found O'Connell loitering in a
doorway, and with a word he directed them to a small cafe and
wine-shop in the next block.

A moment later they pushed through swinging doors and entered.
Donnelly nodded to the white-haired Italian behind the bar and led the
way back to a vacant table against the wall, where he and Norvin
seated themselves. There were perhaps a half-dozen similar tables in
the room, at some of which men were eating. But it was late for
supper, and for the most part the occupants were either drinking or
playing cards.

There was a momentary pause in the babble of conversation as the two
stalked boldly in, and a score of suspicious glances were leveled at
them, for the Chief was well known in the Italian quarter. The
proprietor came bustling toward the new-comers with an obsequious
smile upon his grizzled features. Taking the end of his apron he wiped
the surface of their table dry, at the same time informing Donnelly in
broken English that he was honored by the privilege of serving him.

Donnelly ordered a bottle of wine, then drew an envelope from his
pocket and began making figures upon it, leaning forward and
addressing his companion confidentially, to the complete disregard of
his surroundings. Norvin glued his eyes upon the paper, nodding now
and then as if in agreement. Although he had taken but one hasty
glance around the cafe upon entering, he had seen a certain
heavy-muscled Sicilian whose face was only too familiar. It was
Narcone, without a doubt. Blake had seen that brutal, lust-coarsened
countenance too many times in his dreams to be mistaken, and while his
one and only glimpse had been secured in a half-light, his mind at
that instant had been so unnaturally sensitized that the photograph
remained clear and unfading.

He could feel Narcone staring at him now, as he sat nodding to the
senseless patter of the Chief in a sort of breathless, terrifying
suspense. Would his own face recall to the fellow's mind that night in
the forest of Terranova and set his fears aflame? Blake's reason told
him that such a thing was beyond the faintest probability, yet the
flesh upon his back was crawling as if in anticipation of a knife-thrust.
Nevertheless, he lit a cigar and held the match between fingers which
did not tremble. He was fighting his usual, senseless battle, and he was
winning. When the proprietor set the bottle in front of him he filled both
glasses with a firm hand and then, still listening to Donnelly's words, he
settled back in his chair and let his eyes rove casually over the room.
He encountered Narcone's evil gaze when the glass was half-way to his
lips and returned it boldly for an instant. It filled him with an odd
satisfaction to note that not a ripple disturbed the red surface of the
wine.

"Have you 'made' him?" Donnelly inquired under his breath.

Blake nodded: "The tall fellow at the third table."

"That's him, all right," agreed the Chief. "He doesn't remember you."

"I didn't expect him to; I've changed considerably, and besides he
never saw me distinctly, as I told you before."

"You've got the policeman's eye," declared Donnelly with enthusiasm.
"I wanted you to pick him out by yourself. We'll go, now, as soon as
we lap up this dago vinegar."

Out in the street again, Blake heaved a sigh of relief, for even this
little harmless adventure had been a trial to his unruly nerves.

"We'll drift past the Red Wing Club; it's a hang-out of mine and I
want to talk further with you," said Donnelly.

They turned back towards the heart of the city, stopping a moment
while the Chief directed O'Connell to keep a close watch upon Narcone.

The Red Wing Club was not really a club at all, but a small restaurant
which had become known for certain of its culinary specialties and had
gathered to itself a somewhat select clientele of bons vivants, who
dined there after the leisurely continental fashion. Thither the two
men betook themselves.

"I can't see what real good those extradition papers are going to do
you, even now that you're sure of your man," said Norvin as soon as
they were seated. "It won't be difficult to arrest him, but to
extradite him will prove quite another matter. I'm not eager myself to
take the stand against him, for obvious reasons." Donnelly nodded his
appreciation. "I will do so, if necessary, of course, but my evidence
won't counterbalance all the testimony Sabella will be able to bring.
We know he's the man; his friends know it, but they'll unite to swear
he is really Vito Sabella, a gentle, sweet soul whom they knew in
Sicily, and they'll prove he was here in America at the time Martel
Savigno was murdered. If we had him in New York, away from his
friends, it would be different; he'd go back to Sicily, and once there
he'd hang, as he deserves."

Donnelly swore under his breath. "It's the thing I run foul of every
time I try to enforce the law against these people. But just the same
I'm going to get this fellow, somehow, for he's one of the gang that
fired into the Pallozzos and killed Tony Alto. That's another thing I
know but can't prove. What made you ask if that letter was written by
a woman? Has Sabella a sweetheart?"

"Not to my knowledge. I--" Norvin hesitated. "No, Sabella has no
sweetheart, but Savigno had. I haven't told you much of that part of
my story. It's no use my trying to give you an idea of what kind of
woman the Countess of Terranova was, or is--you wouldn't understand.
It's enough to say that she is a woman of extraordinary
character, wholly devoted to Martel's memory, and Sicilian to the
backbone. After her lover's death, when the police had failed, she
swore to be avenged upon his murderers. I know it sounds strange, but
it didn't seem so strange to me then. I tried to reason with her, but
it was a waste of breath. When I returned to Sicily after my mother
died, Margherita--the Countess--had disappeared. I tried every means
to find her--you know, Martel left her, in a way, under my care--but I
couldn't locate her in any Italian city. Then I learned that she had
come to the United States and took up the search on this side. It's a
long story; the gist of it is simply that I looked up every
possibility, and finally gave up in despair. That was more than four
years ago. I have no idea that all this has any connection with our
present problem."

Donnelly listened with interest, and for a time plied Blake with
shrewd questions, but at length the subject seemed to lose its
importance in his mind.

"It's a queer coincidence," he said. "But the letter was mailed in
this city and by some one familiar with Narcone's movements up to
date. If your Countess was here you'd surely know it. This isn't New
York. Besides, women don't make good detectives; they get discouraged.
I dare say she went back to Italy long ago and is married now, with a
dozen or more little counts and countesses around her."

"I agree with you," said Blake, "that she can't be the 'One Who
Knows.' There are too many easier explanations, and I couldn't hope--"
He checked himself. "Well, I guess I've told you about all I know.
Call on me at any time that I can be of assistance."

He left rather abruptly, struggling with a sense of self-disgust in
that he had been led to talk of Margherita unnecessarily, yet with a
curious undercurrent of excitement running through his mood.




X

MYRA NELL WARREN



Miss Myra Nell Warren seldom commenced her toilet with that feeling
of pleasurable anticipation common to most girls of her age. Not that
she failed to appreciate her own good looks, for she did not, but
because in order to attain the desired effects she was forced to
exercise a nice discrimination which can be appreciated only by those
who have attempted to keep up appearances upon an income never equal
to one's requirements. She had many dresses, to be sure, but they were
as familiar to her as family portraits, and even among her most
blinded admirers they had been known to stir the chords of
remembrance. Then, too, they were always getting lost, for Myra Nell
had a way of scattering other things than her affections. She had
often likened her dresses to an army of Central American troops, for
mere ragged abundance in which there lay no real fighting strength.
Having been molded to fit the existing fashions in ladies' clothes,
and bred to a careless extravagance, poverty brought the girl many
complexities and worries.

To-night, however, she was in a very happy frame of mind as she began
dressing, and Bernie, hearing her singing blithely, paused outside her
door to inquire the cause.

"Can't you guess, stupid?" she replied.

"Um-m! I didn't know he was coming."

"Well, he is. And, Bernie--have you seen my white satin slippers?"

"How in the world should I see them?"

"It isn't them, it is just him. I've discovered one under the bed, but
the other has disappeared, gone, skedaddled. Do rummage around and
find it for me, won't you? I think it's down-stairs--"

"My dear child," her brother began in mild exasperation, "how can it
be down-stairs--"

The door of Myra Nell's room burst open suddenly, and a very animated
face peered around the edge at him.

"Because I left it there, purposely. I kicked it off--it hurt. At
least I think I did, although I'm not sure. I kicked it off
somewhere."

Miss Warren's words had a way of rushing forth head over heels, in a
glad, frolicky manner which was most delightful, although somewhat
damaging to grammar. But she was too enthusiastic to waste time on
grammar; life forever pressed her too closely to allow repose of
thought, of action, or of speech.

"Now, don't get huffy, honey," she ran on. "If you only knew how I've--
Oh, goody! you're going out!"

"I was going out, but of course--"

"Now don't be silly. He isn't coming to see you."

Bernie exclaimed in a shocked voice:

"Myra Nell! You know I never leave you to entertain your callers
alone. It isn't proper."

She sighed. "It isn't proper to entertain them on one foot, like a
stork, either. Do be a dear, now, and find my slipper. I've worn
myself to the bone, I positively have, hunting for it, and I'm in
tears."

"Very well," he said. "I'll look, but why don't you take care of your
things? The idea--"

She pouted a pair of red lips at him, slammed the door in his face,
and began singing joyously once more.

"What dress are you going to wear?" he called to her.

"That white one with all the chiffon missing."

"What has become of the chiffon?" he demanded, sternly.

"I must have stepped on it at the dance. I--in fact, I know I did."

"Of course you saved it?"

"Oh, yes. But I can't find it now. If you could only--"

"No!" he cried, firmly, and dashed down the stairs two steps at a
time. From the lower hall he called up to her, "Wear the new one, and
be sure to let me see you before he comes."

Bernie sighed as he hung up his hat, for he had looked forward through
a dull, disappointing day to an evening with Felicite Delord. She was
expecting him--she would be greatly disappointed. He sighed a second
time, for he was far from happy. Life seemed to be one long constant
worry over money matters and Myra Nell. Being a prim, orderly man, he
intensely disliked searching for mislaid articles, but he began a
systematic hunt; for, knowing Myra Nell's peculiar irresponsibility,
he was prepared to find the missing slipper anywhere between the
hammock on the front gallery and the kitchen in the rear. However, a
full half-hour's search failed to discover it. He had been under most
of the furniture and was both hot and dusty when she came bouncing in
upon him. Miss Warren never walked nor glided nor swayed sinuously as
languorous Southern society belles are supposed to do; she romped and
bounced, and she was chattering amiably at this moment.

"Here I am, Bunny, decked out like an empress. The new dress is a duck
and I'm ravishing--perfectly ravishing. Eh? What?"

He wriggled out from beneath the horsehair sofa, rose, and, wiping the
perspiration from his brow, pointed with a trembling finger at her
feet.

"There! There it is," he said in a terrible tone. "That's it on your
foot."

"Oh, yes. I found it right after you came downstairs." She burst
out laughing at his disheveled appearance. "I forgot you were looking.
But come, admire me!" She revolved before his eyes, and he smiled
delightedly.

In truth, Miss Warren presented a picture to bring admiration into any
eye, and although she was entirely lacking in poise and dignity, her
constant restless vivacity and the witch-like spirit of laughter that
possessed her were quite as engaging. She was a madcap, fly-away
creature whose ravishing lace was framed by an unruly mop of dark
hair, which no amount of attention could hold in place. Little dancing
curls and wisps and ringlets were forever escaping in coquettish
fashion:

Bernie regarded her critically from head to foot, absent-mindedly
brushing from his own immaculate person the dust which bore witness to
his sister's housekeeping. In his eyes this girl was more than a
queen, she was a sort of deity, and she could do no wrong. He was by
no means an admirable man himself, but he saw in her all the virtues
which he lacked, and his simple devotion was touching.

"You didn't comb your hair," he said, severely.

"Oh, I did! I combed it like mad, but the hairpins pop right out," she
exclaimed. "Anyway, there weren't enough."

"Well, I found some on the piano," he said, "so I'll fix you."

With deft fingers he secured the stray locks which were escaping,
working as skilfully as a hair-dresser.

"Oh, but you're a nuisance," she told him, as she accepted his aid
with the fidgety impatience of a restless boy. "They'll pop right out
again."

"They wouldn't if you didn't jerk and flirt around--"

"Flirt, indeed! Bunny! Bunny! What an idea!" She kissed him with a
resounding smack, squarely upon the end of his thin nose, then
flounced over to the old-fashioned haircloth sofa.

Now, Mr. Dreux abhorred the name of Bunny, and above all things he
abominated Myra Nell's method of saluting him upon the nose, but she
only laughed at his exclamation of disgust, saying:

"Well, well! You haven't told me how nice I look."

"There is no possible hope for him," he acknowledged. "The gown fits
very nicely, too."

"Chloe did it--she cut it off, and sewed on the doodads--"

"The what?"

"The ruffly things." Myra Nell sighed. "It's hard to make a dressmaker
out of a cook. Her soul never rises above fried chicken and light
bread, but she did pretty well this time, almost as well as--Do you
know, Bunny, you'd have made a dandy dressmaker."

"My dear child," he said in scandalized tones, "you get more slangy
every day. It's not ladylike."

"I know, but it gets you there quicker. Lordy! I hope he doesn't keep
me waiting until I get all wrinkled up. Why don't you go out and have
a good time? I'll entertain him."

"You know I wouldn't leave you alone."

She made a little laughing grimace at him and said:

"Well, then, if you must stay, I'll keep him out on the gallery all to
myself. It's a lovely night, and, besides, the drawing-room is getting
to smell musty. Mind you, don't get into any mischief."

She bounced up from the sofa and gave his ear a playful tweak with her
pink fingers, then danced out into the drawing-room, where she rattled
off a part of a piano selection at breakneck speed, ending in the
middle with a crash, and finally flung open the long French blinds.
The next instant he heard her swinging furiously in the hammock.

Bernie smiled fondly, as a mother smiles, and his pinched little face
was glorified, then he sighed for a third time, as he thought of
Felicite Delord, and regretfully settled himself down to a dull and
solitary evening. The library had long since been denuded of its
valuable books, in the same way that the old frame mansion had lost
its finer furniture, piece by piece, as some whim of its mistress made
a sacrifice necessary. In consequence, about all that remained now to
afford Bernie amusement were certain works on art which had no market
value. Selecting one of these, he lit a cigarette and lost himself
among the old masters.

When Norvin Blake came up the walk beneath the live-oak and magnolia
trees, Myra Nell met him at the top of the steps, and her cool, fresh
loveliness struck him as something extremely pleasant to look upon,
after his heated, bustling day on the Exchange.

"Bernie's in the library feasting on Spanish masters, so if you don't
mind we'll sit out here," she told him.

"I'll be delighted," he assured her. "In that way I may be seen and so
excite the jealousy of certain fellows who have been monopolizing you
lately."

"A little jealousy is a good thing, so I'll help you. But--they don't
have it in them. They're as calm and placid as bayou water."

Blake was fond of mildly teasing the girl about her popularity,
assuming, as an old friend, a whimsically injured tone. She could
never be sure how much or little his speeches meant, but, being an
outrageous little coquette herself, she seldom put much confidence in
any one's words.

"Tell me," he went on--"I haven't seen you for a week--who are you
engaged to now?"

"The idea! I'm never really engaged; that is, hardly ever."

"Then there is a terrible misapprehension at large!"

"Oh, I'm always misapprehended. Even Bernie misapprehends me; he
thinks I'm frivolous and light-minded, but I'm not. I'm really very
serious; I'm--I'm almost morose."

He laughed at her. "You don't mean to deny you have a bewildering
train of admirers?"

"Perhaps, but I don't like to think of them. You see, it takes years
to collect a real train of admirers, and it argues that a girl is a
fixture. That's something I won't be. I'm beginning to feel like one
of the sights of the city, such as Bernie points out to his Northern
tourists. Of course, you're the exception. I don't think we've ever
been engaged, have we?"

"Um-m! I believe not, I don't care to be considered eccentric,
however. It isn't too late."

"Bernie wouldn't allow it for a moment, and, besides, you're too
serious. A girl should never engage herself to a serious-minded man
unless she's really ready to--marry him."

"How true!"

"By the way," she chattered on, "what in the world have you done to
Bernie? He has talked nothing but Mafia and murders and vendettas ever
since he saw you the other day."

"He told you about meeting Donnelly in my office?"

"Yes! He's become tremendously interested in the Italian question all
at once; he reads all the papers and he haunts the foreign quarter. He
tells me we have a fearful condition of affairs here. Of course I
don't know what he's talking about, but he's very much in earnest, and
wants to help Mr. Donnelly do something or other--kill somebody, I
judge."

"Really! I didn't suppose he cared for such things."

"Neither did I. But your story worked him all up. Of course, I read
about _you_ long ago, and that's how I knew you were a hero. When
you returned from abroad I was simply smothered with excitement until
I met you. The _idea_ of your fighting with bandits, and all
that! But tell me, did you discover that murderer creature?"

"Yes. We identified him."

"Oh-h!" The girl fairly wriggled with eagerness, and he had to smile
at her as she leaned forward waiting for details. "Bernie said you
asked him to go, but he was afraid. I--I wish you'd take me the next
time. Fancy! What did he do? Was he a tall, dangerous-looking man? Did
he grind his teeth at you?"

"No, no!" Norvin briefly explained the very ordinary happenings of his
trip with the Chief of Police, to which she listened with her usual
intensity of interest in the subject of the moment.

"You won't have to testify against him in those what-do-you-call-'em
proceedings?" she asked as soon as he had finished.

"Extradition?"

"Why! Why, they'll blow you up, or do something dreadful!"

"I suppose I'll have to. Donnelly is bent on arresting him, and I owe
something to the memory of Mattel Savigno."

"You mustn't!" she exclaimed with a gravity quite surprising in her.
"When Bernie told me what it might lead to, it frightened me nearly to
death. He says this Mafia is a perfectly awful affair. You won't get
mixed up in it, will you? Please!"

The girl who was speaking now was not the Myra Nell he knew; her tone
of real concern struck him very agreeably. Beneath her customary mood
of intoxication with the joy of living he had occasionally caught
fleeting glimpses of a really unusual depth of feeling, and the
thought that she was concerned for his welfare filled him with a
selfish gladness. Nevertheless, he answered her, truly:

"I can't promise that. I rather feel that I owe it to Martel"

"He's dead! That sounds brutal, but--"

"I owe something also to--those he left behind."

"You mean that Sicilian woman--that Countess. I suppose you know I'm
horribly jealous of her?"

"I didn't know it."

"I am. Just think of it--a real Countess, with a castle, and dozens--
thousands of gorgeous dresses! Was she--beautiful?"

"Very!"

"_Don't_ say it that way. Goodness! How I hate her!"

Miss Warren flounced back into the corner of the hammock, and Norvin
said with a laugh:

"No wonder you have a train of suitors."

"I've never seen a really beautiful Italian woman--except Vittoria
Fabrizi, of course."

"Your friend, the nurse?"

"Yes, and she's not really Italian, she's just like anybody else. She
was here to see me again this afternoon, by the way; it's her day off
at the hospital, you know. I want you to meet her. You'll fall
desperately in love."

"Really, I'm not interested in trained nurses, and I wouldn't want you
to hate her as you hate the Countess."

"Oh, I couldn't hate Vittoria, she's such a dear. She saved my life,
you know."

"Nonsense! You only had a sprained ankle."

"Yes, but it was a perfectly odious sprain. Nobody knows how I
suffered. And to think it was all Bernie's fault!"

"How so? You fell off a horse."

"I did not," indignantly declared Miss Warren. "I was thrown, hurled,
flung, violently projected, and then I was frightfully trampled by a
snorting steed."

Norvin laughed heartily at this, for he knew the rickety old family
horse very well by sight, and the picture she conjured up was amusing.

"How do you manage to blame it on Bernie?" he inquired.

"Well, he forbade me to ride horseback, so of course I had to do it."

"Oh, I see."

"I fixed up a perfectly ravishing habit. I couldn't ask Bernie to buy
me one, since he refused to let me ride, so I made a skirt out of our
grand-piano cover--it was miles long, and a darling shade of green.
When it came to a hat I was stumped until I thought of Bernie's silk
one. No mother ever loved a child as he loved that hat, you know. I
twisted his evening scarf around it, and the effect was really
stunning--it floated beautifully. Babylon and I formed a picture, I
can tell you. I call the horse Babylon because he's such an old ruin.
But I don't believe any one ever rode him before; he didn't seem to
know what it was all about. He was very bony, too, and he stuck out in
places. I suppose we would have gotten along all right if I hadn't
tried to make him prance. He wouldn't do it, so I jabbed him."

"Jabbed him?"

Myra Nell nodded vigorously. "With my hat-pin. I didn't mean to hurt
him, but--oh my! He isn't nearly so old as we think. I suppose the
surprise did it. Anyhow, he became a raging demon in a second, and
when they picked me up I had a sprained ankle and the piano cover was
a sight."

"I suppose Babylon ran away?"

"No, he was standing there, with one foot right through Bernie's high
hat. That was the terrible part of it all--I had to pretend I was
nearly killed, just to take Bernie's mind off the hat. I stayed in bed
for the longest time--I was afraid to get up--and he got Vittoria
Fabrizi to wait on me. So that's how I met her. You can't linger along
with your life in a person's hands for weeks at a time without getting
attached to her. I was sorry for Babylon, so I had Chloe put a
poultice on his back where I jabbed him. Now I'd like to know if that
isn't Bernie's fault. He should have allowed me to ride and then I
wouldn't have wanted to. Poor boy! he was the one to suffer after all.
He'd planned to take a trip somewhere, but of course he couldn't do
that and pay for a trained nurse, too."

Myra Nell's allusion to her brother's financial condition reminded
Blake of the subject which had been uppermost in his mind all evening,
and he decided to broach it now. Subsequent to his last talk with
Dreux he had thought a good deal about that proffered loan and had
come to regard Bernie's refusal as unwarranted. To be Queen of the
Carnival was an honor given to but few young women, and one that would
probably never come to Miss Warren again, so even at the risk of
offending her half-brother he had decided to lay the matter before
Myra Nell herself. She ought at least to have in later years the
consoling thought that she had once refused the royal scepter. He
hoped, however, that her persuasion added to his own would bring Dreux
to a change of heart.

"If you'll promise to make no scene, refrain from hysterics, and all
that," he began, warningly, "I'll tell you some good news."

"How silly! I'm an iceberg! I never get excited!" she declared.

"Well then, how would you like to be Queen of the next Mardi Gras?"

Myra Nell gasped faintly in the darkness, and sat bolt-upright.

"You--you're joking."

"That's no answer."

"I--I--Do you mean it? Oh!" She was out of the hammock now and poised
tremblingly before him, like a bird. "Honestly? You're not fooling?
Norvin, you dear duck!" She clapped her hands together gleefully and
began to dance up and down. "I-I'm going to scream."

"Remember your promise."

"Oh, but Queen! Queen! Why I'm dreaming, I _must_ scream."

"I gather from these rapt incoherences that you'd like it."

"_Like_ it! You silly! Like it? Haven't I lived for it? Haven't I
dreamed about it ever since T was a baby? Wouldn't any girl give her
eyes to be queen?" She seemed upon the verge of kissing him, perhaps
upon the nose, but changed her mind and went dancing around his chair
like some moon-mad sprite. He seized her, barely in time to prevent
her from crying the news aloud to Bernie, explaining hastily that she
must breathe no word to any one for the time being and must first win
her brother's consent. It was very difficult to impress her with the
fact that the Carnival was still a long way off and that Bernie was
yet to be reckoned with.

"As if there could be any question of my accepting," she chattered.
"Dear, dear! Why shouldn't I? And it was lovely of you to arrange it
for me, too. Oh, I know you did, so you needn't deny it. I hope you're
to be Rex. Wouldn't that be splendid--but of course you wouldn't tell
me."

"I can tell you this much, that I am not to be King. Now I have
already spoken to Bernie--"

"The wretch! He never breathed a word of it."

"He's afraid he can't afford it."

"Oh, la, la! He'll have to. I'll die if he refuses--just die. You know
I will."

"We'll bring him around, between us. You talk to him after I go, and
the next time I see him I'll clinch matters. You'll make the most
gorgeous of queens, Myra Nell."

"You think so?" She blushed prettily in the gloom. "I'll have to be
very dignified; the train is as long as a hall carpet and I'll have to
walk this way." She illustrated the royal step, bowing to him with a
regal inclination of her dark head, and then broke out into rippling
life and laughter so infectious that he felt he was a boy once more.

The girl's unaffected spontaneity was her most adorable trait. She was
like a dancing ray of sunshine, and underneath her blithesome
carelessness was a fine, clean, tender nature. Blake watched her with
his eyes alight, for all men loved Myra Nell Warren and it was
conceded among those who worshiped at her shrine that he who finally
received her love in return for his would be favored far above his
kind. She was closer to him to-night than ever before; she seemed to
reach out and take him into her warm confidence, while he felt her
appeal more strongly than at any time in their acquaintance. Of course
she did not let him do much talking, she never did that, and now her
head was full of dreams, of delirious anticipations, of splendid
visions.

At last, when she had thanked him in as many ways as she could think
of for his kindness and the time drew near for him to leave, she fell
serious in a most abrupt manner, and then to his great surprise
referred once again to his affair with the Mafia.

"It seems to me that my joy would be supreme to-night if I knew you
would drop that Italian matter," she said. "The consequences may be
terrible and--I--don't want you to get into trouble."

"I'll be careful," he told her, but as she stood with her hand in his
she looked up at him with eyes which were no longer sparkling with
fun, but deep and dark with shadows, saying, gently:

"Is there nothing which would induce you to change your mind?"

"That's not a fair question."

"I shall be worried to death--and I detest worry."

"There's no necessity for the least bit of concern," he assured her.
But there was a plaintive wrinkle upon her brow as she watched him
swing down the walk to the street.

As Blake strolled homeward he began to reflect that this charming
intimacy with Myra Nell Warren could not go much farther without doing
her an injustice. The time was rapidly nearing when he would have to
make up his mind either to have very much more or very much less of
her society. He was undeniably fond of her, for she not only
interested him, but, what is far rarer and quite as important, she
amused him. Moreover, she was of his own people; the very music of her
Southern speech soothed his ear in contrast with the harsh accents of
his Northern acquaintances. The thought came to him with a profound
appeal that she might grow to love him with that unswerving
faithfulness which distinguishes the Southern woman. And yet,
strangely enough, when he retired that night it was not with her
picture in his mind, but that of a splendid, tawny Sicilian girl with
lips as fresh as a half-opened flower and eyes as deep as the sea.




XI

THE KIDNAPPING



Bernie Dreux appeared at Blake's office on the following afternoon
with a sour look upon his face. Norvin had known he would come, but
hardly expected Myra Nell to win her victory so easily. Without
waiting for the little man to speak, he began:

"I know what you're here for and I know just what you're going to tell
me, so proceed; run me through with your reproaches; I offer no
resistance."

"Do you think you acted very decently?" Dreux inquired.

"My dear Bernie, a crown was at stake."

"A crown of thorns for me. It means bankruptcy."

"Then you have consented? Good! I knew you would."

"Of course you knew I would; that's what makes your trick so
abominable. I didn't think it of you."

"That's because you don't know my depravity; few people do."

"It would serve you right if I accepted your loan and never paid you
back."

"It would indeed." Blake laughingly laid his hand upon his friend's
shoulder. "What's more, that is exactly what I would do in your place.
I'd borrow all I could and give my sister her one supreme hour, free
from all disturbing fears and embarrassments; then I'd tell the
impertinent meddler who was to blame for my trouble to go whistle for
his satisfaction. Of course Miss Myra Nell doesn't suspect?"

"Oh, Heaven forbid!" piously exclaimed Dreuix.

"Now how much will you need?"

"I don't know; some fabulous sum. There will be gowns, and luncheons,
and carriages, and entertaining. I will have to figure it out."

"Do. Then double it. And thanks awfully for coming to your senses."

"That's just the point--I haven't come to them, I'm perfectly insane
to consider it," Bernie declared, savagely. "But what can I do when
she looks at me with her eyes like stars and--and--" He waved his
hands hopelessly. "It's mighty decent of you, but understand I
consider it a dastardly trick and I'm horribly offended."

"Exactly, and I don't blame you, but your sister deserves a crown for
her royal gift of youth and sweetness. As for being offended, since
you are not one of the Mafia, I am not afraid."

"Do you know," said Bernie, "I have been thinking about this Mafia
matter ever since I saw you. I'm tremendously interested and I--I'm
beginning to feel the dawning of a civic spirit. Remarkable, eh? You
know I haven't many interests, and I'd like to--to take a hand in
running down these miscreants. I've always had an ambition, ever since
I was a child, to be a--Don't laugh now. This is a confession. I've
always wanted to be a--detective." He looked very grave, and at the
same time a little shamefaced. "Do you suppose Donnelly could make me
one?"

"Well! This is rather startling," said Blake, with difficulty
restraining a desire to laugh.

"I--I can wear disguises wonderfully well," Bernie went on, wistfully.
"I learned when I was in college theatricals. I was really very good.
And you see I might earn a lot of money that way; I understand there
are tremendous rewards offered for train-robbers and that sort of
people. No one need know, of course, and no one would ever suspect me
of being a minion of the law."

"That's true enough. But I'm afraid detectives in real life don't wear
false beards. It's a pretty mean occupation, I fancy. Do you seriously
think you are--er--fitted for it?"

"Heavens! I'm no good at anything else, and I'm perfectly wonderful at
worming secrets out of people. This Mafia matter would give me a great
opportunity. I--think I'll try it."

"These Italians have no sense of humor, you know. Something
disagreeable might happen if you went prowling around them."

"Oh, of course I'd quit if they discovered my intentions--my game.
When we were talking of such things, the other day, I said I was a
coward, but really I'm not. I've a frightful temper when I'm roused--
really fiendish. As a matter of fact, I've"--he smiled sheepishly and
tapped his slender, high-arched foot with his rattan cane--"I've
already begun."

Blake settled back in his chair without a word.

"I'm taking Italian lessons from Myra Nell's nurse, Miss Fabrizi.
She's a very superior woman, for a nurse, and she knows all about the
Mafia. Quite an inspiration, I call it, thinking of her. I'm working
her for informa--for a clue." He winked one eye gravely, and Norvin
gasped. Bernie suddenly seemed very secretive, very different from his
usual self. It was the first time Blake had ever seen him give this
particular facial demonstration, and the effect was much as if some
benevolent old lady had winked brazenly.

"Well!" he exclaimed. "I don't know what to say."

"There is nothing to say," Mr. Dreux answered in a vastly self-satisfied
tone. "I'm going to offer my services to Donnelly--in confidence, of
course. I'm glad you introduced us, for otherwise I'd have to arrange to
meet him properly. If he doesn't want me, I'll proceed unaided."

When his caller had gone Blake gave way to the hearty laughter he had
been smothering, dwelling with keen enjoyment upon the probable result
of Bernie's interview with the Chief. Dan, he was sure, would not hurt
the little man's feelings, so he felt no obligation to interfere.

Although he was expecting to hear from Donnelly at any moment
regarding the Narcone matter, it was not until two weeks after their
nocturnal excursion to the Italian quarter that the Chief came to see
him. He brought unexpected news.

"We've had a run of luck," he began. "I've verified the information in
that letter and found that those extradition papers for Narcone are
really in New York. What's more, there's an Italian detective there on
another matter, and he's ready to take our man back to Sicily with
him."

"Really!"

"Narcone, it seems, was in New York for a year before he came here;
that's why steps were taken to extradite him. Then he evidently got
suspicious and came South. Anyhow, the plank is all greased, and if we
land him in that city he'll go back to Sicily."

"I see. All that's necessary is to invite him to run up there and be
arrested. It seems to me you're just where you were two weeks ago,
Dan; unfortunately, this doesn't happen to be New York, and you've
still got to solve the important problem of getting him there."

"I'm going to kidnap him," said the Chief, quietly.

"What? You're joking!"

"Not a bit of it."

"But--kidnapping--it isn't done any more! It's not even considered the
thing in police circles, I believe. You'll be stealing children next,
like any Mafioso."

Donnelly grinned. "That's where I got the idea. This same Narcone is
mixed up in the Domenchino case. The kid has been gone nearly a month,
now, but the father won't help us. He made a roar at the start, but
they evidently got to him and now he declares that the boy must have
strayed away to the river-front and been drowned. Well, it occurred to
me to treat that Quatrone gang to some of its own medicine by stealing
their ringleader."

"There's poetic justice in the idea--that is, if Narcone was really
connected with the disappearance of the child."

"Oh, he was connected with it all right. Ordinary blackmail was
getting too slow for the outfit, so they went after a good ransom. Now
that old Domenchino has kicked up such a row, they're afraid to come
through, and have probably murdered the child. That's what he fears,
at any rate, and that's why he won't help us."

"It's shocking! But tell me, is this plan your own, or did Bernie
Dreux suggest it?"

Donnelly laughed silently.

"So you knew he'd turned fly cop? I thought I'd split when he came to
me."

"I hope you didn't offend him."

"Oh, not at all. Those little milliners are mighty sensitive. I told
him he had the makings of another Le Coq, but the force was full. I
suggested that he work on the outside, and set him to watching a
certain dago fruit-stand on Canal Street."

"Why that particular stand?"

"Because it's owned by one of our men and he can't come to any harm
there. He reports every day."

"But Narcone--Are you really in earnest about this scheme?"

"I am. It's our only chance to land him, and I've got to accomplish
something or quit drawing my salary. Here's the layout; the Pinkertons
have an operative who knew Sabella in New York; they were friends, in
fact. This fellow arrived here two hours ago--calls himself Corte.
He's to renew his acquaintance with our man and explain that he is
returning to New York in a week. The day he sails we grab Mr. Narcone,
hustle him aboard ship, and Corte will see to the rest. If it works
right nobody'll know anything about it until Narcone is at sea, when
it will be too late for interference. It's old stuff, but it'll work."

From what he knew of the Sicilian bandit, Blake felt a certain doubt
as to the practicability of this plan, yet he was relieved to learn
that he would not be called upon to testify. He therefore expressed
himself as gratified at the change of procedure.

"It was partly to spare you," the Chief replied, "that I decided on
this course. I want you to help me though."

"In what way?"

"Well, it will naturally take some force; Narcone won't go willingly.
I want you to help me take him."

Instantly those fears which had been lulled in Norvin's breast leaped
into turmoil; the same sick surge of emotions rose, and he felt
himself quailing. After an instant's pause he said:

"I'll act any part you cast me for, but don't you think it is work for
trained officers like you and this Corte?"

"That's exactly the point. Narcone may put up a fight, and I have more
confidence in you, when it comes to a pinch, than in any man I know.
Corte's job is to get him down to the dock, and I can't ask any of my
men to take a hand with me, for it's--well, not exactly regular.
Besides, I may need a witness." Donnelly hesitated. "If I do need one,
I'll want some man whose word will carry more weight than that of a
policeman. You understand?" He leveled his blue eyes at Blake and they
looked particularly smoky and cold.

"You mean the Quatrones may try to break you?"

"Something like that."

"Suppose Narcone--er--resists?"

Donnelly shrugged, "We can't very well kill him, That's what makes it
hard. I knew you had as much at stake as I, so I felt sure you'd
help."

Blake heard himself assuring the officer that he had not been
mistaken, but it was not his own voice that reached his ears, and when
his caller had gone he found himself sitting limply in his chair, numb
with horror at his own temerity.

As he looked back upon it, blaming himself for his too ready
agreement, he realized that several mingling emotions had been at the
root of it. In the first place, he had said "yes" because his craven
spirit had screamed "no" so loudly. He felt that the project was not
only dangerous, but impracticable, yet something, which he chose to
term his over-will, had warned him that he must not upon any account
give way to fear lest he weaken his already insecure hold upon
himself. Again, Donnelly had appealed to him in a way hard to resist.
He was not only flattered by the Chief's high regard for his courage,
but grateful to him for having relieved him of the notoriety and
possible consequences of a public proceeding. Most of all, perhaps,
his final acquiescence had been an instinctive reaction of rage and
disgust at the part of his nature that he hated. He struck at it as a
man strikes at a snake.

But now that he was irrevocably pledged, his reason broke and fled,
leaving him a prey to his imagination.

What, he wondered, would Narcone do when he saw his life at stake--
when he recognized in one of his captors the man he had craved to kill
in the forest of Terranova? There would in all probability be a
physical struggle--perhaps he would find his own flabby muscles pitted
against the mighty thews of the Sicilian butcher. At the thought he
felt again the melting horror which had weakened him on that
unspeakable night when Narcone had turned from wiping the warm blood
from his hands to glare into his face. Blake feared that the memories
would return to betray him at the last moment. That would mean that he
would be left naked of the reputation he had guarded so jealously--and
a far worse calamity--that his rebellious nature would finally
triumph. One defeat, he knew, implied total overthrow.

He tried to reason that he was magnifying the danger--that Narcone
would be easily handled, that other criminals as desperate had been
taken without a struggle, but the instant such grains of comfort
touched the healed terrors in his mind they vanished like drops of
water sprinkled upon an incandescent furnace.

Nevertheless, he was pledged, and he knew that he would go.

He had barely gotten himself under a semblance of control, two days
later, when Donnelly called him up by telephone to advise him in
cautious terms that affairs were nearing a climax and to warn him to
make ready.

This served to throw him into a renewed panic. It required a
tremendous effort to concentrate upon his business affairs, and it
took the genius of an actor to carry him through the inconsequent
details of his every-day life without betrayal. Alone, at home, upon
the crowded 'Change, in deadly-dull directors' meetings, that sinister
shadow overhung him. These long, leaden hours of suspense were doing
what nothing else had been able to do since he took himself definitely
in hand. They were harder to bear than any of those disciplinary
experiences which had turned his hair white and burned his youth to an
ash.

At last Donnelly came.

"Corte has framed it for to-morrow," he announced with evident
satisfaction.

"To-morrow?" Norvin echoed, faintly.

"Yes. He's sailing on the _Philadelphia_ at eleven o'clock--no
stops between here and New York. They'll be waiting for Narcone at
Quarantine." "I'm glad--it's time to do something."

Donnelly rubbed his palms together and showed his teeth in a smile,
"Corte says he'll have him at the Cromwell Line docks without fail, so
that will save us grabbing him on the street and holding him until
sailing time. If we pull it off quietly, at the last minute, nobody'll
know anything about it. You'd better be at my office by nine, in case
anything goes wrong."

"You may count on me," Blake answered in a tone that gave no hint of
his inward flinching. But once alone, he found that his nerves would
not allow him to work. He closed his desk and went home. When the heat
of the afternoon diminished he took out his saddle-horse and went for
a gallop, thinking in this way to blow some of the tortured fancies
out of his mind, but he did not succeed.

Despite his agitation, he ate a hearty dinner--much as a condemned man
devours his last meal--but he could not sleep. All night he
alternately tossed in his bed or paced his room restlessly, his
features working, his body shivering.

He ate breakfast, however, with an apparent appetite that delighted
his colored servant, and as the clock struck nine he walked into
Donnelly's office, smoking a cigar which he did not taste.

"I haven't heard anything further from Corte, so we'll go down to the
dock," the Chief informed him.

On the way to the river-front, Blake continued to smoke silently,
giving a careful ear to Donnelly's final directions. When they reached
their destination he waited while Dan went aboard the ship in search
of the captain.

In those days, rail transportation had not developed into its present
proportions, and New Orleans was even more interesting as a
shipping-point than now. Along the levee stretched rows of craft from
every port, big black ocean liners, barques and brigantines, fruit
steamers from the tropics, and a tremendous flotilla of flat-nosed river
steamers with their huge tows of barges. The cavernous sheds that
lined the embankment echoed to a thunder of rumbling trucks, of
clanking winches, of stamping hoofs, while through and above it all
came the cries and songs of a multitude of roustabouts and deck-hands.
Down the gangways of the _Philadelphia_, a thin, continuous line
of dusky truckmen was moving. A growing chaos of trunks and smaller
baggage on the dock indicated that her passenger-list was heavy.

Blake watched the shifting scene with little interest, now and then
casting an unseeing eye over the ramparts of cotton bales near by; but
although he was outwardly calm, his palms were cold and wet and his
mind was working with a panicky swiftness.

Donnelly reappeared with the assurance that all was arranged with the
ship's master, and, taking their stand where they could observe what
went on, they settled themselves to wait.

Again the moments dragged. Again Blake fought his usual weary battle.
He envied Donnelly his utter impassivity, for the officer betrayed no
more feeling than as if he were standing, rod in hand, waiting for a
fish to strike. An hour passed, bringing no sign of their men,
although a stream of passengers was filing aboard and the piles of
baggage were diminishing. Norvin struggled with the desire to voice
his misgivings, which were taking the form of hopes; Donnelly chewed
tobacco, and occasionally spat accurately at a knot-hole. His
companion watched him curiously. Then, without warning, the Chief
stirred, and there in the crowd Norvin suddenly saw the tall figure of
Gian Narcone, with another man, evidently a Sicilian, beside him.

"That's Corte," Donnelly said, quietly.

The two watchers mingled with the crowd, gradually drawing closer to
their quarry. But it seemed that Narcone refused to go aboard with his
friend--at any rate, he made no move in that direction. The
_Philadelphia_ blew a warning blast, the remaining passengers
quickened their movements, there was but little baggage left now upon
the deck, and still the two Italians stood talking volubly. Donnelly
waited stolidly near by, never glancing at his man. Blake held himself
with an iron grip, although his heart-throbs were choking him. It was
plain that Corte also was beginning to feel the strain, and Norvin
began to fear that Donnelly would delay too long.

At last the Pinkerton man stooped and raised his valise, then extended
his hand to the Mafioso. Donnelly edged closer.

Blake knew that the moment for action had come, and found that without
any exercise of will-power he too was closing in. His mind was working
at such high speed that time seemed to halt and wait. Donnelly was
within arm's-length of Narcone before he spoke; then he said, quietly,
"Going to leave the city, Sabella?"

"Eh?" The Sicilian started, his eyes leaped to the speaker, and the
smile died from his heavy features. Recognizing the officer, however,
he pulled at the visor of his cap, and said, brokenly: "No, no,
Signore. My friend goes."

"Come, now," the Chief said, grimly. "I want you to tell me something
about the Domenchino boy."

Narcone recoiled, colliding with Blake, who instantly locked his arm
within his own. Simultaneously Donnelly seized the other wrist,
repeating, "You know who stole the little Domenchino."

The tension which had leaped into the giant muscles died away; Narcone
shrugged his shoulders, crying, excitedly, in his native tongue:

"Before God you wrong me."

It was the instant for which his captor had planned; the ruse had
worked; there was a deft movement on Donnelly's part, something
snapped metallically, and the manacles of the law were upon the
murderer of Martel Savigno.

It had all been accomplished quietly, quickly; even those standing
near by hardly noticed it, and those who did were unaware of the
significance of the arrest. But once his man was safely ironed, the
Chief's manner changed, and in the next instant the prisoner caught,
perhaps from the eye of Corte, the stool-pigeon, some fleeting hint
that he had been betrayed. Following that came the suspicion that he
had been seized not for complicity in the Domenchino affair, but for
something far more significant. With a furious, snarling cry he flung
himself backward and raised his manacled hands to strike.

But it was too late for effective resistance. They took him across the
gang-plank, screaming, struggling, biting like a maddened animal,
while curious passengers rushed to the rails above and stared at them,
and another crowd yelled and hooted derisively from the dock.

A moment later they were in Corte's stateroom, panting, grim,
triumphant, with their prisoner's back against the wall and their work
done.

Now that Narcone realized the deception that had been practised upon
him he began to curse his betrayer with incredible violence and
fluency. As yet he had no idea whither he was being taken, nor for
which of his many crimes he had been apprehended. But it seemed as if
his rage would strangle him. With the unrestraint of a lifetime of
lawlessness he poured out his passion in a terrifying rush of
vilification, anathema, and threat. He hurled himself against the
walls of the stateroom as if to burst his way out, and they were
forced to clamp leg-irons upon him. When Donnelly had regained his
breath he savagely commanded the fellow to be silent, but Narcone only
shifted his fury from his betrayer to the Chief of Police.

To the Pinkerton operative Donnelly said, gratefully: "That was good
work, Corte. Wire me from New York. We'll have to go now, for the ship
is clearing."

"Wait!" said Blake; then pushing himself forward, he addressed the
captive in Italian, "Where is Belisario Cardi?"

The question came like a gunshot, silencing the outlaw as if with a
gag. His bloodshot eyes searched his questioner's face; his lips, wet
with slaver, were snarling like those of a dog, but he said nothing.

"Where is Belisario Cardi?" came the question for a second time.

"I do not know him," said the Sicilian, sullenly. "I am Vito Sabella,
an honest man--"

"You are Gian Narcone, the butcher, of San Sebastiano," said Blake.
"You are going back to Sicily to be hanged for the murder of Martel
Savigno, Count of Martinello, and his man Ricardo."

"Bah!" cried the prisoner, loudly. "I am not this Narcone of which you
speak. I do not know him. I am Vito Sabella, a poor man, I swear it by
the body of Christ. I have never seen this Cardi. God will punish
those who persecute me."

Blake leaned forward until his face was close to Narcone's.

"Look closely," he said. "Have you ever seen me before?"

They stared at each other, eye to eye, and the Sicilian nodded.

"You were drinking chianti in the cafe on Royal Street, but I swear to
you I am an innocent man and I curse those who betray me."

"Think! Do you recall a night four years ago? You were waiting beside
the road above Terranova. There was a feast of all the country people
at the castello, and finally three men came riding upward through the
darkness. One of them was singing, for it was the eve of his marriage,
and you knew him by his voice as the Count of Martinello. Do you
remember what happened then? Think! You were called Narcone the
Butcher, and you boasted loudly of your skill with the knife as you
dried your hands upon a wisp of grass. You left two men in the road
that night, but the third returned to Terranova. I ask you again if
you have ever seen my face."

The effect of these words was extraordinary. The fury died from the
prisoner's eyes, his coarse lips fell apart, the blood receded from
his purple cheeks, he shrank and shivered loosely. In the silence they
could hear the breath wheezing hoarsely in his throat. Blake made a
final appeal.

"They will take you back to Sicily, to Colonel Neri and his
carbineers, and you will hang. Before it is too late, tell me, where
is Belisario Cardi?"

Narcone moistened his livid lips and glared malignantly at his
inquisitors. But he could not be prevailed upon to speak.

"Well, that was easy," said Donnelly, when the _Philadelphia_ had
cast off and the two friends were once more back in the rush and
bustle of the water-front.

Norvin agreed. "And yet it seemed a bit unfair," he remarked. "There
were three of us, you know. If he were not what he is, I'd feel
somewhat ashamed of my part in the affair." Donnelly showed his
contempt for such quixotic views by an expressive grunt. "You can take
the next one single-handed, if you prefer. Perhaps it may be your
friend Cardi."

"Perhaps," said Norvin, gravely. "If that should happen, I should feel
that I had paid my debt in full."

"I'd like a chance to sweat Narcone," growled the Chief, regretfully.
"I'd find Cardi, or I'd--" He heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh, well,
we've done a good day's work as it is. I hope the papers don't get
hold of it."

But the papers did get hold of it, and with an effect which neither
man had anticipated. Had they foreseen the consequences of this
morning's work, had they even remotely guessed at the forces they had
unwittingly set in motion, they would have lost something of their
complacency. Throughout the greater part of the city that night the
kidnapping of Vito Sabella became the subject of excited comment. In
the neighborhood of St. Phillip Street it was received in an ominous
silence.




XII

LA MAFIA



The surprising ease with which the capture of Narcone had been
effected gratified Norvin Blake immensely, for it gave him an
opportunity to jeer at the weaker side of his nature. He told himself
that the incident went to prove what his saner judgment was forever
saying--that fear depends largely upon the power of visualization,
that danger is real only in so far as the mind sees it. Moreover, the
admiration his conduct aroused was balm to his soul. His friends
congratulated him warmly, agreeing that he and Donnelly had taken the
only practical means to rid the community of a menace.

In our Southern and Western States, where individual character stands
for more than it does in the over-legalized communities of the North
and East, men are concerned not so much with red-tape as with effects,
and hence there was little disposition to criticize.

Blake was amazed to discover what a strong public sentiment the
Italian outrages had awakened. New Orleans, it seemed, was not only
indignant, but alarmed.

His self-satisfaction received a sudden shock, however, when Donnelly
strolled into his office a few days later, and without a word laid a
letter upon his desk. It ran as follows:

DANIEL DONNELLY, Chief of Police,

  NEW ORLEANS, LA.

DEAR SIR,--God be praised that Gian Narcone has gone to his
punishment! But you have incurred the everlasting enmity of the Mala
Vita, or what you term La Mafia, and it has been decided that your
life must pay for his. You are to be killed next Thursday night at the
Red Wing Club. I cannot name those upon whom the choice has fallen,
for that is veiled in secrecy.

I pray that you will not ignore this warning, for if you do your blood
will rest upon, ONE WHO KNOWS.

P. S. Destroy this letter.

The color had receded from Norvin's face when he looked up to meet the
smoke-blue eyes of his friend.

"God!" he exclaimed. "This--looks bad, doesn't it?"

"You think it's on the level?"

"Don't you?"

Donnelly shrugged. "I'm blessed if I know. It may have come from the
very gang I'm after. It strikes me that they wanted to get rid of
Narcone, but didn't know just how to go about it, so used me for an
instrument. Now they want to scare me off."

"But--he names the very place; the very hour." "Sure--everything
except the very dago who is to do the killing! If he knew where and
when, why wouldn't he know how and who?"

"I--that sounds reasonable, and yet--you are not going to the Red Wing
Club any more, are you?"

"Why not? I've got until Thursday and--I like their coffee. Here is
the other letter, by the way." Donnelly produced the first
communication. The paper was identical and the type appeared to be the
same. Beyond this Norvin could make out nothing.

"Well," Dan exclaimed, when they had exhausted their conjectures,
"they've set their date and I reckon they won't change it, so I'm
going to eat dinner to-night at the Red Wing Club as usual, just to
see what happens."

After a brief hesitation Norvin said, "I'd like to join you, if you
don't mind."

Donnelly shook his gray head doubtfully. "I don't think you'd better.
This may be on the square."

"I think it is, and therefore I intend to see you through."

"Suit yourself, of course. I'd like to have you go along, but I don't
want to get you into any fuss."

Seven o'clock that evening found the two friends dining at the little
cafe in the foreign quarter, but they were seated at one of the corner
tables and their backs were toward the wall.

"I've had my reasons for eating here, and it wasn't altogether the
coffee, either," the elder man confessed.

"I suspected as much," Norvin told him. "At least I couldn't detect
anything remarkable about this Rio."

"You see, it's a favorite hang-out of the better Italian class, and
I've been working it carefully for a year."

"What have you discovered?"

"Not much, and yet a great deal. I've made friends, for one thing, and
that's considerable. Here comes one now. You know him, don't you?" Dan
indicated a thick-necked, squarely built Italian who had entered at
the moment. "That's Caesar Maruffi."

Norvin regarded the new-comer with interest, for Maruffi stood for
what is best among his Americanized countrymen. Moreover, if rumor
spoke true, he was one of the richest and most influential foreigners
in the city. In answer to the Chief's invitation he approached and
seated himself at the table, accepting his introduction to Blake with
a smile and a gracious word.

"Ah! It is my first opportunity to thank you for the service you have
done us in arresting that hateful brigand," he began.

"Did you know the fellow?" Norvin queried.

"Very well indeed."

"Maruffi knows a whole lot, if he'd only open up. He's a Mafioso
himself--eh, Caesar?" The Chief laughed.

"No, no!" the other exclaimed, casting a cautious glance over his
shoulder. "I tell you everything I learn. But as for this Sabella--I
thought him a trifle sullen, perhaps, but an honest fellow."

"You don't really think there has been any mistake?"

"Eh? How could that be possible? Did not Signore Blake remember him?"
Norvin was about to disclaim his part in the affair, but the speaker
ran on:

"I fear you must regard all us Italians as Mafiosi, Signore Blake, but
it is not so. No! We are honest people, but we are terrorized by a few
bad men. We do not know them, Signore. We are robbed, we are
blackmailed, and if we resist, behold! something unspeakable befalls
us. We do not know who deals the blow, we merely know that we are
marked and that some day we--are buried." Maruffi shrugged his square
shoulders expressively.

 "Do you suffer in your business?" Norvin asked.

"Per Dio! Who does not? I have adopted your free country, Signore, but
it is not so free as my own. Maledetto! You have too damned many laws
in this free America."

Maruffi spoke hesitatingly, and yet with intense feeling; his black
eyes glittered wickedly, and it was plain that he sounded the note of
revolt which was rising from the law-abiding Italian element. His
appearance bore out his reputation for leadership, for he was big and
black and dour, and he gave the impression of unusual force.

"Your home is in Sicily, is it not?" Blake inquired.

"Si! I come from Palermo."

"I have been there."

"I remember," said Maruffi, calmly.

Donnelly broke in, "What do you hear regarding our capture of
Sabella?"

"Eh?"

"How do they take it?"

Again Maruffi shrugged. "How can they take it? My good countrymen are
delighted; others, perhaps, not so well pleased."

"But Sabella has friends. I suppose they've marked me for revenge?"

"No doubt! But what can they do? You are the law. With a private
citizen, with me, for instance, it would be different. My wife would
prepare herself for widowhood."

"How's that? You're not married," said Donnelly.

"Not yet. But I have plans. A fine Sicilian girl."

"Good! I congratulate you."

"Speaking of Sabella," Blake interposed, curiously, "I had a hand in
taking him, and I'm a private citizen."

"True!" Maruffi regarded him with his impenetrable eyes.

"You predict trouble for me, then?"

"I predict nothing. We say in my country that no one escapes the
Mafia. No doubt we are timid. You are an American, you are not easily
frightened. But tell me"--he turned to the Chief of Police--"who is to
follow this brigand? There are others quite as black as he, if they
were known."

"No doubt! But, unfortunately, I don't know them. Why don't you help
me out, Caesar?"

"If I could! You have no suspicions, eh?"

"Plenty of suspicions, but no proofs."

Maruffi turned back to Norvin, saying: "So, you identified the
murderer of your friend Savigno? Madonna mia! You have a memory! But
were you not--afraid?"

"Afraid of what?"

"Ah! You are American, as I said before; you fear nothing. But it was
Belisario Cardi who killed the Conte of Martinello."

"Belisario Cardi is only a name," said Norvin, guardedly.

"True!" Maruffi agreed. "Being a Palermitan myself, he is real to me,
but, as you say, nobody knows."

He rose and shook hands cordially with both men. When he had joined
the group of Italians at a near-by table, Donnelly said:

"There's the whitest dago in the city. I thought he might be the 'One
Who Knows,' but I reckon I was mistaken. He could help me, though, if
he dared."

"Have you confided in him?"

"Lord, no! I don't trust any of them. Say! The more I think about that
letter, the more I think it's a bluff."

"You can't afford to ignore it."

"Of course not. I'll plant O'Connell and another man outside on
Thursday night and see if anything suspicious turns up, but I'll take
my dinner elsewhere."

The two men had finished their meal when Bernie Dreux strolled in and
took the seat which Maruffi had vacated.

"Well, how goes your detecting, Bernie?" Norvin inquired.

"_Hist_!" breathed the little man so sharply that his hearers
started. He winked mysteriously and they saw that he was bursting with
important tidings. "There's something doing!"

"What is it?" demanded the Chief. But Mr. Dreux answered nothing.
Instead he lit a cigarette, and as he raised the match looked
guardedly into a mirror behind Donnelly's chair.

"I'm glad you took this table," he began in a low voice. "I always sit
where I can get a flash."

"A _what_?" queried the astonished Blake.

"Pianissimo with that talk!" cautioned the speaker. "You'll tip him
off."

"Tip who?" Donnelly breathed.

"My man! He's one of the gang. Do you see that fellow--that wop next
to Caesar Maruffi?" Bernie did not lower his eyes from the mirror,
"the third from the left."

"Sure!"

"Well!" triumphantly.

"Well?"

"That is he."

"That's who?"

"I don't know."

"What the--"

"He's one of 'em, that's all I know. I've been on him for a week. I've
trailed him everywhere. He has an accomplice--a woman!"

The Chief's face underwent a remarkable change. "Are you sure?" he
whispered, eagerly.

"It's a cinch! He comes to the fruit-stand every day. I think he's
after blackmail, but I'm not sure."

"Good!" Dan exclaimed. "I want you to trail him wherever he goes, and,
above all, watch the woman. Now tear back to your banana rookery or
you'll miss something. Better have a drink first, though."

"I'll go you; it's tough work on the nerves. I'm all upset."

"I thought you never drank whiskey," Norvin said, still amazed at the
extraordinary transformation in his friend.

"I don't as a rule, it kippers my stomach; but it gives me the courage
of a lion."

Donnelly nodded with satisfaction. "Don't get pickled, but keep your
nerve. Remember, I'm depending on you."

Dreux's slender form writhed and shuddered as he swallowed the liquor,
but his eyes were shining when he rose to go. "I'm glad I'm making
good," said he. "If anything happens to me, keep your eye skinned for
that fellow; there's dirty work afoot."

When he had gone Donnelly stuck his napkin into his mouth to still his
laughter. "'There's dirty work afoot,'" he quoted in a strangling
voice. "Can you beat that?"

"I--can't believe my senses. Why, Bernie's actually getting tough! Who
is this fellow he's trailing?"

"That? That's Joe Poggi, the owner of the fruit-stand. He's my best
dago detective, and I sent him here to-night in case anything blew
off. The woman is his wife--lovely lady, too. 'Blackmail!' Oh, Lord!
I'll have to tell Poggi about this. I'll have to tell him he's being
shadowed, too, or he'll stop suddenly on the street some day and
Bernie will run into him from behind and break his nose."

Thursday night passed without incident. Donnelly set a watch upon the
Red Wing Club, but nothing occurred to give the least color to the
written warning. In the course of a fortnight he had well-nigh
forgotten it, and when a third letter came he was less than ever
inclined to believe it genuine.

"You forestalled the first attempt upon your life," wrote the
informant, "but another will be made. You are to be shot at Police
Headquarters some night next week. Your desk stands just inside a
window which opens upon the street. A fight will occur at the corner
near by and during the disturbance an assassin will fire upon you out
of the darkness, then disappear in the confusion. Do not treat this
warning lightly or I swear that you will repent it.

  "ONE WHO KNOWS"

Donnelly showed this to Blake, saying, sourly, "You see. It's just as
I told you. They're trying to run me out."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to move my desk, for one thing, then I'm going to run down
this writer. O'Connell is going through the stationery-stores now,
trying to match the water-mark on the paper. The post-office is on the
lookout for the next letter and will try to find which mail-box it is
dropped into."

"Then you think there will be other letters to follow this one?"

"Certainly! When they see that I've moved away from that window
they'll think they've got me going, then I'll be warned of another
plot, and another, and another. It might work with some people." The
speaker's lips curled in a wintry smile.

"You no longer think it came from one of the Pallozzo gang?"

"No! There's nobody in the outfit who can write a letter like that.
It's from the Mafia."

"How can you say that when the same writer betrayed Narcone?"

"Oh, I've asked myself the same question," Donnelly answered with a
trace of exasperation, "and I can't answer it unless that was merely a
case of revenge. Take it from me, I'll get another letter inside of
ten days. See if I don't."

True to his prediction, the tenth day brought another warning. The
writer advised him that his enemies had changed their plans once more,
but would strike, when the first opportunity offered. As to where or
when this would occur, no information was given. The Chief was merely
urged in the strongest terms to remove himself beyond the possibility
of danger.

Naturally the recipient took this as proof positive that the whole
affair was no more than a weak attempt to frighten him. Unfortunately,
the postal authorities could not determine where the letter had been
mailed, and O'Connell reported that the paper on which it was written
was of a variety in common use. There seemed to be little hope of
tracing the matter back to its source, so Donnelly dismissed the whole
affair from his mind and went about his duties undisturbed.

Norvin Blake, however, could not bring himself to take the same view.
As usual, he attributed his fears to imagination, yet they preyed upon
him so constantly that he was forced to heed them. His one frightful
experience with La Mafia had marked him, it seemed, like some prenatal
influence, and now the more he dwelt upon the subject, the more his
apprehension quickened. He was ashamed to confess to Donnelly, and at
the same time he was loath to allow the Chief to expose himself
unnecessarily. Therefore he made it a point to be with him as much as
possible. This, of course, involved a considerable risk to himself,
and he recalled with misgiving what Caesar Maruffi had said that night
in the Red Wing Club. Donnelly alone had been warned, but that did not
argue that vengeance would be confined to him.

October had come; the lazy heat of summer had passed and New Orleans
was awakening under its magic winter climate. The piny, breeze-swept
Gulf resorts had emptied their summer colonies cityward, the social
season had begun.

The preparations for the great February Carnival were nearing
completion, and Blake had the satisfaction of knowing that Myra Nell
Warren was to realize her heart's desire. He had forced a loan upon
Bernie sufficient to meet the requirements of any Queen, and had spent
several delightful evenings with the girl herself, amused by her plans
of royal conquest.

It was like a tonic to be with her. Norvin invariably parted from her
with a feeling of optimism and a gayety quite reasonless; he had no
fears, no apprehensions; the universe was peopled with sprites and
fairies, the morrow was a glad adventure full of merriment and
promise.

He was in precisely such a mood one drizzly Wednesday night after
having made an inexcusably long call upon her. Nothing whatever had
occurred to put him in this agreeable humor, yet he went homeward
humming as blithely as a barefoot boy in springtime.

As he neared the neighborhood in which Donnelly lived he decided to
drop in on him for a few moments and smoke a cigar. Business had
lately kept him away from the Chief, and he felt a bit guilty.

But Donnelly had either retired early or else he had not returned from
Headquarters, for his windows were dark, and Norvin retraced his
steps, a trifle disappointed. In front of a cobbler's shop, across the
street, several men were talking, and as he glanced in their direction
the door behind them opened, allowing a stream of light to pour forth.
He recognized Larubio, the old Italian shoemaker himself, and he was
on the point of inquiring if Donnelly had come home, but thought
better of it.

Larubio and his companions were idling beneath the wooden awning or
shed which extended over the sidewalk, and in the open doorway,
briefly silhouetted against the yellow light, Blake noted a man clad
in a shining rubber coat. Although the picture was fleeting, it caught
his attention.

The thought occurred to him that these men were Italians, and
therefore possible Mafiosi, but his mood was too optimistic to permit
of silly suspicions. To-night the Mafia seemed decidedly unreal and
indefinite.

He found himself smiling again at the memory of an argument in which
he had been worsted by Myra Nell. He had taken her a most elaborate
box of chocolates and she had gleefully promised to consume at least
half of them that very night after retiring. He had remonstrated at
such an unhygienic procedure, whereupon she had confessed to a secret,
ungovernable habit of eating candy in bed. He had argued that the
pernicious practice was sure to wreck her digestion and ruin her
teeth, but she had confounded him utterly by displaying twin rows as
sound as pearls, as white and regular as rice kernels. Her digestion,
he had to confess, was that of a Shetland pony, and he had been forced
to fall back upon an unconvincing prophecy of a toothless and
dyspeptic old age. He pictured her at this moment propped up in the
middle of the great mahogany four-poster, all lace and ruffles and
ribbons, her wayward hair in adorable confusion about her face, as she
pawed over the sweets and breathed ecstatic blessings upon his name.

Near the corner he stumbled over a boy hiding in the shadows. Then as
he turned north on Rampart Street he ran plump into Donnelly and
O'Connell.

"I just came from your house," he told Dan. "I thought I'd drop in and
smoke one of your bad cigars. Is there anything new?"

"Not much! I've had a hard day and there was a Police Board meeting
to-night. I'm fagged out."

"No more letters, eh?"

"No. But I've heard that Sabella is safe in Sicily. That means his
finish. I'll have something else to tell you in a day or so; something
about your other friend, Cardi."

"No! Really?"

"If what I suspect is true, it'll be a sensation. I can't credit the
thing myself, that's why I don't want to say anything just yet. I'm
all up in the air over it."

A moment later the three men separated, Donnelly and O'Connell turning
toward their respective homes, Blake continuing his way toward the
heart of the city.

But the Chief's words had upset Norvin's complacency. His line of
thought was changed and he found himself once more dwelling upon the
tragedy which had left such a mark upon his life. Martel had been the
finest, the cleanest fellow he had ever known; his life, so full of
promise, had just begun, and yet he had been ruthlessly stricken down.
Norvin shuddered at the memory. He saw the road to Martinello
stretching out ahead of him like a ghost-gray canyon walled with
gloom; he heard the creaking of saddles, the muffled thud of hoofs in
the dust of the causeway, the song of a lover, then--

Blake halted suddenly, listening. From somewhere not far away came the
sound again; it was a gunshot, deadened by the blanket of mist and
drizzle that shrouded the streets. He turned. It was repeated for a
third time, and as he realized whence it came he cried out,
affrightedly:

"Donnelly! Donnelly! Oh, God!"

Then he began to run swiftly, as he had run that night four years
before, with the lights of Terranova in the distance, and in his heart
was that same sickening, horrible terror. But this time he ran, not
away from the sound, but towards it.

As he raced along the slippery streets the night air was ripped again
and again with those same loud reverberations. He saw, by the
flickering arc-lamp above the crossing where he had just left
Donnelly, another figure flying towards him, and recognized O'Connell.
Together they turned into Girod Street.

They were in time to see a flash from the shed that stood in front of
Larubio's shop, then an answering spurt of flame from the side of the
street upon which they were. The place was full of noise and smoke. At
the farther crossing a man in a shining rubber coat knelt and fired,
then rose and scurried into the darkness beyond. Figures broke out
from the shadows of the wooden awning in front of Larubio's shop and
followed, some turning towards the left at Basin Street, others
continuing on through the area lighted by the sputtering street light
and into the night. One of them paused and looked back as if loath to
leave the spot until certain of his work.

Side by side Blake and O'Connell raced towards the Chief, whom they
saw lurching uncertainly along the banquette ahead of them. The
detective was cursing; Blake sobbed through his tight-clenched teeth.

Donnelly was down when they reached him, and his empty revolver lay by
his side. Norvin raised him with shaking arms, his whole body sick
with horror.

"Are you badly--hit, old man?" he gasped.

"I'm--done for!" said the Chief, weakly. "And the dagos did it."

From an open window above them a woman began to scream loudly:

"Murder! Murder!"

The cry was taken up in other quarters and went echoing down the
street.

Doors were flung wide, gates slammed, men came hurrying through the
wet night, hurling startled questions at one another, but the powder
smoke which hung sluggishly in the dark night air was sufficient
answer. It floated in thin blue layers beneath the electric lights,
gradually fading and melting as the life ebbed from the mangled body
of Dan Donnelly.

It was nearing dawn when Norvin Blake emerged from the hospital
whither Donnelly had been taken. The air was dead and heavy, a
dripping winding-sheet of fog wrapped the city in its folds; no sound
broke the silence of the hour. He was sadly shaken, for he had watched
a brave soul pass out of the light, and in his ears the words of his
friend were ringing:

"Don't let them get away with this, Norvin. You're the only man I
trust."




XIII

THE BLOOD OF HIS ANCESTORS



At the Central Station Norvin found a great confusion. City officials
and newspaper men were coming and going, telephones were ringing,
patrolmen and detectives, summoned from their beds, were reporting and
receiving orders; yet all this bustling activity affected him with a
kind of angry impatience. It seemed, somehow, perfunctory and
inadequate; in the intensity of his feeling he doubted that any one
else realized, as he did, the full significance of what had occurred.

As quickly as possible he made his way to O'Neil, the Assistant
Superintendent of Police, who was deep in consultation with Mayor
Wright. For a moment he stood listening to their talk, and then, at
the first pause, interposed without ceremony:

"Tell me--what is being done?"

O'Neil, who had not seemed to note his approach, answered without a
hint of surprise at the interruption:

"We are dragging the city."

"Of course. Have you arrested Larubio, the cobbler?"

"No!" Both men turned to Blake now with concentrated attention.

"Then don't lose a moment's time. Arrest all his friends and
associates. Look for a man in a rubber coat. I saw him fire. There's a
boy, too," he added, after a moment's pause, "about fourteen years
old. He was hiding at the corner. I think he must have been their
picket; at any rate, he knows something."

The Assistant Superintendent noted these directions, and listened
impassively while Norvin poured forth his story of the murder. Before
it was fairly concluded he was summoned elsewhere, and, turning away
abruptly, he left the room, like a man who knows he must think of but
one thing at a time. The young man, wiping his face with uncertain
hand, turned to the Mayor.

"Dan was the second friend I've seen murdered by these devils," he
said. "I'd like to do something."

"We'll need your help, if it was really the dagoes."

"What? There's no doubt on that score. Donnelly was warned."

"Well, we ought to have them under arrest in short order."

"And then what? They've probably arranged their alibis long ago. The
fellows who did the shooting are not the only ones, either. We must
get the leaders."

"Exactly. O'Neil understands."

"But he'll fail, as Donnelly failed."

"What would you have us do?"

Blake spoke excitedly, his emotions finding a vent.

"Do? I'd rouse the people. Awaken the city. Create an uprising of the
law-abiding. Strip the courts of their red tape and administer justice
with a rope. Hang the guilty ones at once, before delay robs their
execution of its effect and before there is time to breed doubts and
distrust in the minds of the people."

"You mean, in plain words--lynch them?"

"Well, what of that? It's the only--"

"But, my dear young man, the law--"

"Oh, I know what you're going to say, well enough, yet there are times
when mob law is justified. If these men are not destroyed quickly they
will live to laugh at our laws and our scheme of justice. We must
strike terror into the heart of every foreign-born criminal; we must
clean the city with fire, unless we wish to see our institutions
become a mockery and our community overridden by a band of cutthroats.
The killing of Dan Donnelly is more than a mere murder; it is an
attack on our civilization."

"You are carried away by your personal feelings."

"I think not. If this thing runs through the regular channels, what
will happen? You know how hard it is to convict those people. We must
fight fire with fire."

"Personally, I agree with a good deal you say; officially, of course.
I can't go so far. You say you want to help. Will you assume a large
responsibility? Will you take the lead in a popular movement to help
the enforcement of the law--organize a committee?"

"If you think I'm the right man?"

"Good! Understand"--the Mayor spoke now with determined earnestness--
"we must have no lynchings; but I believe the police will need help in
the search, and I think you are the man to stir up the public
conscience and secure that aid. If you can help in apprehending the
criminals we shall see that the courts do their part. I can trust you
in so delicate a matter where I couldn't trust--some others."

O'Neil appeared at that moment with two strange objects in his hands.

"See what we've just found on the Basin Street banquette."

He displayed a pair of sawed-off shotguns the stocks of which were
hinged in such a manner that the weapons could be doubled into a
length of perhaps eighteen inches and thus be concealed upon the
person. Blake examined them with mingled feelings. Having seen the
body of the Chief ripped and torn in twenty places by buckshot, slugs,
and scraps of iron, he had tried to imagine what sort of firearms had
been used. Now he knew, and he began to wonder whether death would
come to him in the same ugly form.

"Have you sent for Larubio?" he asked.

"The men are just leaving."

"I'll go with them."

O'Neil intercepted the officers at the door, and a moment later Norvin
was hurrying with them toward Girod Street. Mechanically his mind
began to review the events leading up to the murder, dwelling on each
detail with painful and fruitless persistence. He repictured the
scene that his eye had so swiftly and so carelessly recorded; he saw
again the dark shed, the dumb group of figures idling beneath it, the
open door and the flood of yellow light behind. But when he strove to
recall a single face or form, or even the precise number of persons,
he was at a loss. Nothing stood out distinctly but the bearded face
of Larubio, the silhouette of a man in a gleaming rubber coat, and, a
moment later, a slim stripling boy crouched in the shadows near the
corner.

As the party turned into Girod Street he saw by the first streaks of
dawn that the curious had already begun to assemble. A dozen or more
men were morbidly examining the scene, re-enacting the assassination
and tracing the course of bullets by the holes in wall and fence--no
difficult matter, since the ground where Donnelly had given battle had
been swept by a fusillade.

Larubio's shop was dark.

The officers tried the door quietly, then at a signal from Norvin they
rushed it. The next instant the three men found themselves in an
evil-smelling room furnished with a bench, some broken chairs, a
litter of tools and shoes and leather findings. It was untenanted,
but, seeing another door ahead of him, Blake stumbled toward it over
the debris. Like the outer door, it was barred, but yielded to his
shoulder.

It was well that the policemen were close upon his heels, for they
found him locked in desperate conflict with a huge, half-naked
Sicilian, who fought with the silent wickedness of a wolf at bay.

The chamber was squalid and odorous; a tumbled couch, from which the
occupant had leaped, showed that he had been calmly sleeping upon the
scene of his crime. Through the dim-lit filth of the place the cobbler
whirled them, struggling like a man insane. A table fell with a crash
of dishes, a stove was wrecked, a chair smashed, then he was pinned
writhing to the bed from which he had just arisen.

"Close the front door--quick!" Norvin panted. "Keep out the crowd!"

One of the policemen dashed to the front of the hovel barely in time
to bar the way.

Larubio, as he crouched there in the half-light, manacled but defiant,
made a striking figure. He was a patriarchal man. His hairy, naked
chest rose and fell as he fought for his breath, a thick beard grew
high upon his cheeks, lending dignity to his fierce aquiline features,
a tangled mass of iron-gray hair hung low above his eyes. He looked
more like an Arab sheik than a beggarly Sicilian shoemaker.

"Why are you here?" he questioned, in a deep voice.

Blake answered him in his own language:

"You killed the Chief of Police."

"No. I had no part--"

"Don't lie!"

"As God is my judge, I am innocent. I heard the shooting; I looked out
into the night and saw men running about. I was frightened, so I went
to bed. That is all."

Norvin undertook to stare him down.

"You will hang for this, Larubio," he said.

The fierce gray eyes met his unflinchingly.

"You had a hand in the killing, for I saw you. But you acted against
your will. Am I right?"

Still the patriarch flung back his glance defiantly.

"You were ordered to kill and you dared not disobey. Where is
Belisario Cardi?"

The old man started. Into his eyes for the briefest instant there
leaped a look of terror, then it was gone.

"I do not know what you are talking about," he answered.

"Come! The man with the rubber coat has confessed."

Larubio's gaze roved uncertainly about the squalid quarters; but he
shook his head, mumbling:

"God will protect the innocent. I know nothing, your Excellency."

They dragged him, still protesting, from his den as dogs drag an
animal from its burrow. But Norvin had learned something. That
momentary wavering glance, that flitting light of doubt and fear, had
told him that to the cobbler the name of Cardi meant something real
and terrible.

Back at headquarters O'Neil had further information for him.

"We've got Larubio's brother-in-law, Caspardo Cressi. It was his son,
no doubt, whom you saw waiting at the corner."

"Have you found the boy?"

"No, he's gone."

"Then make haste before they have time to spirit him away. These men
won't talk, but we might squeeze something out of the boy. He's the
weakest link in the chain, so you _must_ find him."

The morning papers were on the street when Norvin went home. New
Orleans had awakened to the outrage against her good name. Men were
grouped upon corners, women were gossiping from house to house, the
air was surcharged with a great excitement. It was as if a public
enemy had been discovered at the gates, as if an alien foe had struck
while the city slept. That unformed foreign prejudice which had been
slowly growing had crystallized in a single night.

To Norvin the popular clamor, which rose high during the next few
days, had a sickening familiarity. At the time of Martel Savigno's
murder he had looked upon justice as a thing inevitable, he had felt
that the public wrath, once aroused, was an irresistible force; yet he
had seen how ineffectually such a force could spend itself. And the
New Orleans police seemed likely to accomplish little more than the
Italian soldiers. Although more than a hundred arrests were made, it
was doubtful if, with the exception of Larubio and Cressi, any of the
real culprits had been caught. He turned the matter over in his mind
incessantly, consulted with O'Neil as to ways and means, conferred
with the Mayor, sounded his friends. Then one morning he awoke to find
himself at the head of a Committee of Justice, composed of fifty
leading business men of the city, armed with powers somewhat vaguely
defined, but in reality extremely wide. He set himself diligently to
his task.

There followed through the newspapers an appeal to the Italian
population for assistance, and offers of tremendous rewards. This
resulted in a flood of letters, some signed, but mostly anonymous, a
multitude of shadowy clues, of wild accusations. But no sooner was a
promising trail uncovered than the witness disappeared or became
inspired with a terror which sealed his lips. It began to appear that
there was really no evidence to be had beyond what Norvin's eyes had
photographed. And this, he knew, was not enough to convict even
Larubio and his brother-in-law.

While thus baffled and groping for the faintest clue, he received a
letter which brought him at least a ray of sunshine. He had opened
perhaps half of his morning's mail one day when he came upon a truly
remarkable missive. It was headed with an amateurish drawing or a
skull; at the bottom of the sheet was a dagger, and over all, in
bright red, was the life-size imprint of a small, plump hand.

In round, school-girl characters he read as follows:

"Beware! You are a traitor and a deserter, therefore you are doomed.
Escape is impossible unless you heed this warning. Meet me at the old
house on St. Charles Street, and bring your ransom.
  "THE AVENGER."

At the lower left-hand corner, in microscopic characters, was written:

  "I love chocolate nougat best."

Norvin laughed as he re-read this sanguinary epistle, for he had to
admit that it had given him a slight start. Being a man of action, he
walked to the telephone and called a number which had long since
become familiar.

"Is this the Creole Candy Kitchen? Send ten pounds of your best
chocolate nougat to Miss Myra Nell Warren at once. This is Blake
speaking. Wait! I have enough on my conscience without adding
another sin. Perhaps you'd better make it five pounds now and five
pounds a week hereafter. Put it in your fanciest basket, with lots of
blue ribbon, and label it 'Ransom!'"

Next he called the girl himself, and after an interminable wait heard
a breathless voice say:

"Hello, Norvin! I've been out in the kitchen making cake, so I
couldn't get away. It's in the oven now, cooking like mad."

"I've just received a threatening letter," he told her.

"Who in the world could have sent it?"

"Evidently some blackmailing wretch. It demands a ransom."

"Heavens! You won't be cowardly enough to yield?"

"Certainly. I daren't refuse."

He heard her laughing softly. "Why don't you tell the police?"

"Indeed! There's an army of men besieging the place now."

"Then you must expect to catch the writer?"

"I've been trying to for a long time."

"I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about," she said,
innocently.

"Could I have sent the ransom to the wrong address?"

He pretended to be seized with doubt, whereupon Myra Nell exclaimed,
quickly:

"Oh, not necessarily." Then, after a pause, "Norvin, how does a person
get red ink off of her hands?"

"Use a cotton broker. Let him hold it this evening."

"I'd love to, but Bernie wouldn't allow it. It was his ink, you know,
and I spilled it all over his desk. Norvin--is it really nougat?"

"It is, the most unhealthy, the most indigestible--"

"You _duck_! You _may_ hold my gory hand for--Wait!" Blake
heard a faint shriek. "Don't ring off. Something terrible--" Then the
wire was dead.

"Hello! Hello!" he called. "What's wrong, Myra Nell?" He rattled the
receiver violently, and getting no response, applied to Central. After
some moments he heard her explaining in a relieved tone:

"Oh, _such_ a fright as I had."

"What was it? For Heaven's--"

"The cake!"

"You frightened me. I thought--"

"It's four stories high and pasted together with caramel."

"You should never leave a 'phone in that way without--"

"Bernie detests caramel; but I'm expecting a 'certain party' to call
on me to-night. Norvin, do you think red ink would hurt a cake?"

"Myra Nell," he said, severely, "didn't you wash your hands before
mixing that dough?"

"Of course."

"I have my doubts. Will you really be at liberty this evening?"

"That depends entirely upon you. If I am, I shall exact another
ransom--flowers, perhaps."

"I'll send them anyhow, Marechal Neils."

"Oh, you are a--Wait!"

For a second time Miss Warren broke off; but now Norvin heard her cry
out gladly to some one. He held the receiver patiently until his arm
cramped, then rang up again.

"Oh, I forgot all about you, Norvin dear," she chattered. "Vittoria
has just come, so I can't talk to you any more. Won't you run out and
meet her? I know she's just dying to--She says she isn't, either! Oh,
fiddlesticks! You're not so busy as all that. Very well, we'll
probably eat the cake ourselves. Good-by!"

"Good-by, Avenger," he laughed.

As he turned away smiling he found Bernie Dreux comfortably ensconced
in an office chair and regarding him benignly.

"Hello, Bernie! I didn't hear you come in."

"Wasn't that Myra Nell talking?" inquired the little man.

"Yes."

"You called her 'Avenger.' What has she been up to now?"

Blake handed him the red-hand letter. To his surprise Bernie burst out
angrily:

"How dare she?"

"What?"

"It's most unladylike--begging a gentleman for gifts. I'll see that
she apologizes."

"If you do I'll punch your head. She couldn't do anything unladylike
if she tried."

"I don't approve--"

"Nonsense!"

"I'll see that she gets her chocolates."

"Oh, I've sent 'em--a deadly consignment--enough to destroy both of
you. And I've left a standing order for five pounds a week."

"But that letter--it's blackmail." Bernie groaned. "She holds me up in
the same way whenever she feels like it. She's getting suspicious of
me lately, and I daren't tell her I'm a detective. The other day she
set Remus, our gardener, on my trail, and he shadowed me all over the
town. Felicite thinks there's something wrong, too, and she's taken to
following me. Between her and Remus I haven't a moment's privacy."

"It's tough for a detective to be dogged by his gardener and his
sweetheart," Norvin sympathized. He began to run through his mail,
while his visitor talked on in his amusing, irrelevant fashion.

"I'm rather offended that I wasn't named on that Committee of Fifty,"
Bernie confessed, after a time. "You know how the Chief relied on me?"

"Exactly."

"Well, I'm full of Italian mysteries now. What I haven't discovered by
my own investigations, Vittoria Fabrizi has told me. For instance, I
know what became of the boy Gino Cressi."

"You do?" Blake looked up curiously from a letter he had been eagerly
perusing.

"He's in Mobile."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly."

"I think you're wrong."

"Why am I wrong?"

"Read this. My mail is full of anonymous communications." He
passed over the letter in his hand, and Mr. Dreux read as follows:

NORVIN BLAKE,

 NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA.

The Cressi boy is hidden at 93 1/2 St. Phillip Street. Go personally
and in secret, for there are spies among the police.

  ONE WHO KNOWS.

"Good Lord! Do you believe it?"

"I shall know in an hour." In reality Norvin had no doubt that his
informant told the truth. On the contrary, he found that he had been
waiting subconsciously for a hint from this mysterious but reliable
source, and now that it had come he felt confident and elated. "A leak
in the department would explain the maddening series of checkmates up
to date." After a moment's hesitation he continued: "If Gino Cressi
proves to be the boy I saw that night, we will put the rope around his
father's and his uncle's necks, for he is little more than a child,
and they evidently knew he would confess if accused; otherwise they
wouldn't have been so careful to hide him." He rose and, eying Dreux
intently, inquired, "Will you go along and help me take him?"

Bernie fell into a sudden panic of excitement. His face paled, he
blinked with incredible rapidity, his lips twitched, and he clasped
his thin, bloodless hands nervously.

"Why--are you--really--going--and alone?"

Norvin nodded. "If they have spies among our own men the least
indiscretion may give the alarm. Besides, there is no time to lose; it
would be madness to go there after dark. Will you come?"

"You--b-b-bet," Mr. Dreux stuttered. After a painful effort to control
himself he inquired, with rolling eyes, "S-say, Norvin, will there be
any fighting--any d-d-danger?"

Blake's own imagination had already presented that aspect of the
matter all too vividly.

"Yes, there may be danger," he confessed. "We may have to take the boy
by force." His nerves began to dance and quiver, as always before
every new adventure.

"Perhaps, after all, you'd better not go. I--understand how you feel."

The little man burst out in a forceful expletive.

"_Pudding!_ I _want_ to fight. D-don't you see?"

"No. I don't."

"I've never been in a row. I've never done anything brave or
desperate, like--like you. I'm aching for trouble. I go looking for it
every night."

"Really!" Blake looked his incredulity.

"Sure thing! Last night I insulted a perfectly nice gentleman just to
provoke a quarrel. I'd never seen him before, and ordinarily I
hesitate to accost strangers; but I felt as if I'd have hysterics if I
couldn't lick somebody; so I walked up to this person and told him his
necktie was in rotten taste."

"What did he say?"

"He offered to go home and change it. I was so chagrined that I--
cursed him fearfully."

"Bernie!"

Dreux nodded with an expression of the keenest satisfaction. "I could
have cried. I called him a worm, a bug, a boll-weevil; but he said he
had a family and didn't intend to be shot up by some well-dressed
desperado."

"I suppose it's the blood of your ancestors."

"I suppose it is. Now let's go get this dago boy. I'm loaded for
grizzlies, and if the Mafia cuts in I'll croak somebody." He drew a
huge rusty military revolver from somewhere inside his clothes and
flourished it so recklessly that his companion recoiled.

Together the two set out for St. Phillip Street. Blake, whose
reputation for bravery had become proverbial, went reluctantly, preyed
upon by misgivings; Dreux, the decadent, overbred dandy, went gladly,
as if thirsting for the fray.




XIV

THE NET TIGHTENS



Number 93 1/2 St. Phillip Street proved to be a hovel, in the front
portion of which an old woman sold charcoal and kindling. Leaving
Bernie on guard, Blake penetrated swiftly to the rooms behind, paying
no heed to the crone's protestations. In one corner a slender, dark-eyed
boy was cowering, whom he recognized at once as the lad he had
seen on the night of Donnelly's death.

"You are Gino Cressi," he said, quietly.

The boy shook his head.

"Oh, yes, you are, and you must come with me, Gino."

The little fellow recoiled. "You have come to kill me," he quavered.

"No, no, my little man. Why should I wish to do that?"

"I am a Sicilian; you hate me."

"That is not true. We hate only bad Sicilians, and you are a good
boy."

"I did not kill the Chief."

"True. You did not even know that those other men intended to kill
him. You were merely told to wait at the corner until you saw him come
home. Am I right?"

"I do not know anything about the Chief," Gino mumbled.

But it was plain that some of his fear was vanishing under this
unexpected kindness. Blake had a voice which won dumb animals, and a
smile which made friends of children. At last the young Sicilian came
forward and put his hand into the stranger's.

"They told me to hide or the Americans would kill me. Madonna mia! I
am no Mafioso! I--I wish to see my father."

"I will take you to him now."

"You will not harm me?"

"No. You are perfectly safe."

But the boy still hung back, stammering:

"I--am afraid, Si'or. After all, you see, I know nothing. Perhaps I
had better wait here."

"But you will come, to please me, will you not? Then when you find
that the policemen will not hurt you, you will tell us all about it,
eh, carino?"

He led his shrinking captive out through the front of the house,
whence the crone had fled to spread the alarm, and lifted him into the
waiting cab. But Bernie Dreux was loath to acknowledge such a tame
conclusion to an adventure upon which he had built high hopes.

"L-let's stick round," he shivered. "It's just getting g-g-good."

"Come on, you idiot." Blake fairly dragged him in and commanded the
driver to whip up. "That old woman will rouse the neighborhood, and
we'll have a mob heaving bricks at us in another minute."

"That'll be fine!" Dreux declared, his pride revolting at what he
considered a cowardly retreat. He had come along in the hope of doing
deeds that would add luster to his name, and he did not intend to be
disappointed. It required a vigorous muscular effort to keep him from
clambering out of the carriage.

"I don't understand you at all," said Norvin, with one hand firmly
gripping his coat collar, "but I understand the value of discretion at
this moment, and I don't intend to take any chances on losing our
little friend Gino before he has turned State's evidence."

Dreux sank back, gloomily enough, continuing for the rest of the
journey to declaim against the fate that had condemned him to a life
of insipid peace; but it was not until they had turned out of the
narrow streets of the foreign quarter into the wide, clean stretch of
Canal Street that Blake felt secure.

Little Gino Cressi was badly frightened. His wan, pinched face was
ashen and he shivered wretchedly. Yet he strove to play the man, and
his pitiful attempt at self-control roused something tender and
protective in his captor. Laying a reassuring hand upon his shoulder,
Blake said, gently:

"Coraggio! No harm shall befall you."

"I--do not wish to die, Excellency."

"You will not die. Speak the truth, figlio mio, and the police will be
very kind to you. I promise."

"I know nothing," quavered the child. "My father is a good man. They
told me the Chief was dead, but I did not kill him. I only hid."

"Who told you the Chief was dead?"

"I--do not remember."

"Who told you to hide?"

"I do not remember, Si'or." Gino's eyes were like those of a hunted
deer, and he trembled as if dreadfully cold.

It was a wretched, stricken child whom Blake led into O'Neil's office,
and for a long time young Cressi's lips were glued; but eventually he
yielded to the kind-faced men who were so patient with him and his
lies, and told them all he knew.

On the following morning the papers announced three new arrests in the
Donnelly case, resulting from a confession by Gino Cressi. On the
afternoon of the same day the friendly and influential Caesar Maruffi
called upon Blake with a protest.

"Signore, my friend," he began, "you and your Committee are doing a
great injustice to the Italians of this city."

"How so?"

"Already everybody hates us. We cannot walk upon your streets without
insult. Men curse us, children spit at us. We are not Jews; we are
Italians. There are bad people among my countrymen, of course, but,
Signore, look upon me. Do you think such men as I--"

"Oh, you stand for all that is best in your community. Mr. Maruffi. I
only wish you'd help us clean house."

The Sicilian shrugged. "Help? How can I help?"

"Tell what you know of the Mafia so that we can destroy it. At every
turn we are thwarted by the secrecy of your people."

"They know what is good for them. As for me, my flesh will not turn
the point of a knife, Signore. Life is an enjoyable affair, and if I
die I can never marry. What would you have me tell?"

"The name of the Capo-Mafia, for instance."

"You think there is a Capo-Mafia?"

"I know it. What's more, I know who he is."

"Belisario Cardi? Bah! Few people believe there is such a man."

"You and I believe it."

"Perhaps. But what if I could lay hands upon him? Think you that I, or
any Sicilian, would dare? All the police of this city could never take
Belisario Cardi. It is to make laugh! Our friend Donnelly was unwise,
he was too zealous. Now--he is but a memory. He took a life, his life
was taken in return. This affair will mean more deaths. Leave things
as they are, my friend, before you too are mourned."

Norvin eyed his caller curiously.

"That sounds almost as much like a threat as a warning."

"God forbid! I simply state the truth for your own good and for the
good of all of us. Wherever Sicilians are found there your laws will
be ignored. For my own part, naturally, I do not approve--I am an
American now--but the truth is what I tell you."

"In other words, you think we ought to leave your countrymen alone?"

"Ah, I do not go so far. The laws should be enforced, that is certain.
But in trying to do what is impossible you stir up race hatred and
make it hard for us reputable Sicilians, who would help you so far as
lies in our power. You cannot stamp out the Mafia in a day, in a week;
it is Sicilian character. Already you have done enough to vindicate
the law. If you go on in a mad attempt to catch this Cardi--whose
existence, even, is doubtful--the consequences may be in every way
bad."

"We have five of the murderers now, and we'll have the other man soon--
the fellow with the rubber coat. The grand jury will indict them. But
we won't stop there. We're on a trail that leads higher up, to the
man, or men, who directed Larubio and the others to do their work."

Maruffi shook his head mournfully. "And the Cressi boy--it was you who
found him?"

"It was."

"How did you do it?"

Norvin laughed. "If you'd only enlist in the cause I'd tell you all my
secrets gladly."

"Eh! Then he was betrayed!"

For the life of him Norvin could not tell whether the man was pleased
or chagrined at his secrecy, but something told him that the Sicilian
was feeling him out for a purpose. He smiled without answering.

"Betrayed!" said Maruffi. "Ah, well, I should not like to be in the
shoes of the betrayer." He seemed to lose himself in thought for a
moment. "Believe me, I would help you if I could, but I know nothing,
and besides it is dangerous. I am a good citizen, but I am not a
detective. You American-born," he smiled, "assume that all we
Sicilians are deep in the secrets of the Mafia. So the people in the
street insult us, and you in authority think that if we would only
tell--bah! Tell what? We know no more than you, and it is less safe
for us to aid." He rose and extended his hand. "Of course, if I learn
anything I will inform you; but there are times when it is best to let
sleeping dogs lie."

Norvin closed the door behind him with a feeling of relief, for he was
puzzled as to the object of this visit and wanted time to think it out
undisturbed. The upshot of his reflection was that Donnelly had been
right and that Caesar was indeed the author of the warning letters. As
to his want of knowledge, the Sicilian protested rather like a man who
plays a part openly. On the other hand, his fears for his own safety
seemed genuine enough. What more natural, then, than that he should
"wish to test Donnelly's successor with the utmost care before
proceeding with his disclosures?" Blake was glad that he had been
secretive, for if Maruffi were the unknown friend he would find such
caution reassuring.

As if to confirm this view of the case, there came, a day or two
later, another communication, stating that the assassin who was still
at large (he, in fact, who had worn the rubber coat) was a laborer in
the parish of St. John the Baptist, named Frank Normando. The letter
went on to say that in escaping from the scene of the crime the man
had fallen on the slippery pavement, and the traces of his injury
might still be found upon his body.

Norvin lost no time in consulting O'Neil.

"Jove! You're the best detective we have," said the Acting Chief,
admiringly. "I'd do well to turn this affair over to you entirely."

"Have you learned anything more from your prisoners?"

 "Nothing. They refuse to talk. We're giving them the third degree;
but it's no use. There was another murder on St. Phillip Street last
night. The old woman who guarded the Cressi boy was found dead."

"Then they think she betrayed the lad?" Norvin recalled Maruffi's hint
that it would go hard with the traitor.

"Yes; we might have expected it. How many men will you need to take
this Normando?"

"I? You--think I'd better do the trick?" Blake had not intended to
take any active part in the capture. He was already known as the head
of the movement to avenge Donnelly; he had apprehended Larubio and the
Cressi boy with his own hand. Inner voices warned him wildly to run no
further risks.

"I thought you'd prefer to lead the raid," O'Neil said.

"So I would. Give me two or three men and we'll bring in Normando,
dead or alive."

Six hours later the last of Donnelly's actual assassins was in the
parish prison and the police were in possession of evidence showing
his movements from early morning on the day of the murder up to the
hour of the crime. His identification was even more complete than that
of his accomplices, and the public press thanked Norvin Blake in the
name of the city for his efficient service.

The anonymous letters continued to come to him regularly, and each one
contained some important clue, which, followed up, invariably led to
evidence of value. Slowly, surely, out of nothing as it were, the
chain was forged. Now came the names of persons who had seen or had
talked with some of the accused upon the fatal day, now a hint which
turned light upon some dark spot in their records. Again the letters
aided in the discovery of important witnesses, who, under pressure,
confessed to facts which they had feared to make public--until at last
the history of the six assassins lay exposed like an open sheet before
the prosecuting attorney.

The certainty and directness with which the "One Who Knows" worked was
a matter of ever-increasing amazement to Blake. He himself was little
more than an instrument in these unseen hands. Who or what could the
writer be? By what means could he remain in such intimate touch with
the workings of the Mafia, and what reason impelled him to betray its
members? Hour after hour the young man speculated, racking his head
until it ached. He considered every possibility, he began to look with
curiosity at every face. At length he came to feel an even greater
interest in the identity of this hidden friend than in the result of
the struggle itself. But investigations--no matter how cautious--
invariably resulted in a prompt and imperative warning to desist upon
pain of ruining everything.

Gradually in his mind the conviction assumed certainty that the
omniscient informer could be none other than Caesar Maruffi. He
frequented the Red Wing Club as Donnelly had done, and the more he saw
of the fellow the more firm became his belief. He had recognized at
their first meeting that Caesar was unusual--there was something
unfathomable about him--but precisely what this peculiarity was he
could never quite determine.

As for Maruffi, he met Norvin's advances half-way; but although he was
apparently more than once upon the verge of some disclosure, the
terror of the brotherhood seemed always to intervene. Feeling that he
could not openly voice his suspicions until the other was ready to
show his hand, Blake kept a close mouth, and thus the two played at
cross-purposes. Maruffi--if he were indeed the author of those
letters--had not shrunk from betraying the unthinking instruments of
the Mafia. Would he ever bring himself to implicate the man, or men,
higher up? Blake doubted it. A certain instinctive distrust of the
Sicilian was beginning to master him when a letter came which put a
wholly different face upon the matter.

"The men who really killed Chief Donnelly," it read, "are Salvatore di
Marco, Frank Garcia, Giordano Bolla, and Lorenzo Cardoni." Blake
gasped; these were men of standing and repute in the foreign
community. "Larubio and his companions were but parts of the machine;
these are the hands which set them in motion. These four men dined
together on the evening of October 15th, at Fabacher's, then attended
a theater where they made themselves conspicuous. From there they
proceeded to the lower section of the city and were purposely arrested
for disturbing the peace about the time of Donnelly's murder, in order
to establish incontestable alibis. Nevertheless, it was they who laid
the trap, and they are equally guilty with the wretches who obeyed
their orders. It was they who paid over the blood money, and with
their arrest you will have all the accessories to the crime, save one.
Of him I can tell you nothing. I fear I can never find him, for he
walks in shadow and no man dares identify him."

The importance of this information was tremendous, for arrests up to
date had been made only among the lower element. An accusation against
Di Marco, Garcia, Bolla, and Cardoni would set the city ablaze. O'Neil
was aghast at the charge. The Mayor was incredulous, the Committee of
Fifty showed signs of hesitation. But Blake, staking his reputation on
the genuineness of the letter, and urging the reliability of the
writer as shown on each occasion in the past, won his point, and the
arrests were made.

The Italian press raised a frightful clamor, the prisoners themselves
were righteously indignant, and Norvin found that he had begun to lose
that confidence which the public had been so quick to place in him.
Nevertheless, he pursued his work systematically, and soon the
mysterious agent proceeded to weave a new web around the four
suspected men, while he looked on fascinated, doing as he was bid,
keeping his own counsel as he had been advised, and turning over the
results of his inquiries to the police as they were completed.

Then came what he had long been dreading--a warning like those which
had foreshadowed Donnelly's death--and he began to spend sleepless
nights. His daylight hours were passed in a strained expectancy; he
fought constantly to hold his fears in check; he began sitting with
his face to doors; he turned wide corners and avoided side streets. He
became furtive and watchful; his eyes were forever flitting here and
there; he chose the outer edges of the sidewalks, and he went nowhere
after nightfall unattended. The time was past when he could doubt the
constancy of his purpose; but he did fear a nervous breakdown, and
even shuddered at the thought of possible insanity. Being in fact as
sane a man as ever lived, his irrational nerves alarmed him all the
more. He could not conceive that an event was immediately before him
which, without making his position safer, would rouse him from all
thought of self.

Our lives are swayed by trifles; a feather's weight may alter the
course of our destinies. A man's daily existence is made up of an
infinite series of choices, every one of which is of the utmost
importance, did he but know it. We follow paths of a million forkings,
none of which converge. A momentary whim, a passing fancy, a broken
promise, turns our feet into trails that wind into realms undreamed
of.

It so happened that Myra Nell Warren yielded to an utterly reasonless
impulse to go calling at the utterly absurd hour of 10 A.M. Miss
Warren followed no set rules in her conduct, her mind reacted
according to no given formula, and, therefore, when it suddenly
occurred to her to visit a little old creole lady in the French
quarter, she went without thoughtful consideration or delay.

Madame la Branche was a distant cousin on Bernie's side--so distant,
in fact, that no one except herself had ever troubled to trace the
precise relationship; but she employed a cook whose skill was
celebrated. Now Myra Nell's appetite was a most ungovernable affair,
and when she realized that her complete happiness depended upon a
certain bouillabaisse, in the preparation of which Madame la Branche's
Julia had become famous, she whisked her hair into a knot, jammed her
best and largest hat over its unruly confusion, and went bouncing away
in the direction of Esplanade Street.

It was in the early afternoon that Norvin Blake received a note from a
coal-black urchin, who, after many attempts, had finally succeeded in
penetrating to his inner office.

Recognizing the writing, Norvin tore open the envelope eagerly, ready
to be entertained by some fresh example of the girl's infinite
variety. He read with startled eyes:

"I send this by a trusted messenger, hoping that it will reach you in
time. I am a prisoner. I am in danger. I fear my beauty is destroyed.
If you love me, come.
   "Your wretched

     "MYRA NELL."

The address was that of a house on Esplanade Street.

"How did you get this?" he demanded, harshly, of the pickaninny.

"A lady drap it from a window."

"Where? Where was she?"

"In a gre't big house on Esplanade Street. She seemed mighty put out
about something. Then a man run me away with a club."

A moment later Blake was on the street and had hailed a carriage. The
driver, reading urgency in the set face of his fare, whipped the
horses into a gallop and the vehicle tore across town, leaping and
rocking violently. The thought that Myra Nell was in danger filled
Blake with a physical sickness. Her beauty gone! Could it be that the
Mafia had taken this means of attacking him, knowing of his affection
for the girl? Of a sudden she became very dear, and he was smothered
with fury that any one should cause her suffering.

His heart was pounding madly as the carriage slowed into Esplanade
Street, threatening to upset, and he saw ahead of him the house he
sought. With a sharp twinge of apprehension he sighted another man
approaching the place at a run, and leaping from his conveyance, he
raced on with frantic speed.




XV

THE END OF THE QUEST



Evidently the alarm had spread, for there were others ahead of Blake.
Several men were grouped beneath an open window. They were strangely
excited; some were panting as if from violent exertion; a young French
Creole, Lecompte Rilleau, was sprawled at full length upon the grassy
banquette, either badly injured or entirely out of breath. He raised a
listless hand to the newcomer, as if waving him to the attack. Norvin
recognized them all as admirers of Myra Nell--cotton brokers,
merchants, a bank cashier--a great relief surged over him.

"Thank God! You're here--in time," he gasped. "What's happened to--
her?"

Raymond Cline started to speak, but just then Blake heard the girl
herself calling to him, and saw her leaning from a window, her piquant
beauty framed with blushing roses which hung about the sill.

"Myra Nell! You're safe!" he cried, shakingly. "What have they done to
you?"

She smiled piteously and shook her dark head.

"You were good to come. I am a prisoner."

"A prisoner!" Norvin stared at the young men about him. "Come on," he
said, "let's get her out!"

But Murray Logan quieted him. "It's no use, old man."

"What d'you mean?"

"You can't go in."

"Can't--go--in?" As Blake stared uncomprehendingly at the speaker he
heard rapid footsteps approaching and saw Achille Marigny coming on
the wings of the wind. It was he who appeared in the distance as
Norvin rounded the corner, and it was plain now that he was well-nigh
spent.

Rilleau reared himself on one elbow and cried with difficulty:

"Welcome, Achille."

"Take it easy, Marigny," called Cline; "we've saved her."

Some one laughed, and the suspicion that he had been hoaxed swept over
Blake.

"What's the joke?" he demanded. "I was frightened to death."

"The house is quarantined."

"I never dreamed you'd _all_ come," Miss Warren was saying,
sweetly. "It was very gallant, and I shall _never_ forget it--
never."

"She says her--beauty is--gone," wildly panted Marigny, who had run
himself blind and as yet could hear nothing but the drumming in his
ears.

"Judge for yourself." Cline steadied him against the low iron fence
and pointed to the girl's bewitching face embowered in the leafy
window above.

From where he lay flat on his back, idly flapping his hands, Rilleau
complained: "I have a weak heart. Will somebody get me a drink?"

"It was _splendid_ of you," Myra Nell called down to the group.
"I love you for it. Please get me out, right away."

Norvin now perceived a burly individual seated upon the steps of the
La Branche mansion. He approached with a view to parleying, but the
man forestalled him" saying warningly:

"You can't go in. They've got smallpox in there."

"Smallpox!"

"Go away from that door!" screamed Myra Nell; but the fellow merely
scowled.

"I hate to offend the lady," he explained to Norvin, in a hoarse
whisper; "but I can't let her out."

Miss Warren repeated in a fury:

"Go away, I tell you. These are friends of mine. If you were a
gentleman you'd know you're not wanted. Norvin, make him skedaddle."

Blake shook his head. "You've scared us all blue. If you're
quarantined I don't see what we can do."

"The idea! You can at least come in."

"If you go in, you can't come out," belligerently declared the
watchman. "Them's orders."

"_Oh-h!_ You monster!" cried his prisoner.

"She says herself she's got it," the man explained.

"I never did!" Myra Nell wrung her hands. "Will you stand there and
let me perish? Do you refuse to save me?"

"Where is Madame la Branche?" Norvin asked.

"Asleep. And Cousin Montegut is playing solitaire in the library."

"Then who has the smallpox?"

"The cook! They took her screaming to the pest-house an hour after I
came. I shall be the next victim; I feel it. We're shut up here for a
_week_, maybe longer. Think of that! There's nothing to do,
nobody to talk to, nothing to look at. We need another hand for whist.
I--I supposed somebody would volunteer."

"I'd love to," Rilleau called, faintly, from the curb, "but I wouldn't
survive a week. My heart is beating its last, and besides--I don't
play whist."

Mr. Cline called the attention of his companions to two figures which
had appeared in the distance, and began to chant:

  "The animals came in two by two,
   The elephant and the kangaroo,"

"Gentlemen, here come the porpoise and the antelope. We are now
complete."

The new arrivals proved to be Bernie Dreux and August Kulm, the latter
a fat Teutonic merchant whose place of business was down near the
river. Mr. Kulm had evidently run all the way, for he was laboring
heavily and his gait had long since slackened into a stumbling trot.
His eyes were rolling wildly; his fresh young cheeks were purple and
sheathed in perspiration.

Miss Warren exclaimed, crossly:

"Oh, dear! I didn't send for Bernie. I'll bet he's furious."

And so it proved. When her half-brother's horrified alarm had been
dispelled by the noisy group of rescuers it was replaced by the
blackest indignation. He thanked them stiffly and undertook to
apologize for his sister, in the midst of which Rilleau, who had now
managed to regain his feet, suggested the formation of "The Myra Nell
Contagion Club."

"Its object shall be the alleviation of our lady's distress, and its
membership shall be limited to her rejected suitors," he declared.
"We'll take turns amusing her. I'll appoint myself chairman of the
entertainment committee and one of us will always be on guard. We'll
sing, we'll dance, we'll cavort beneath the window, and help to while
the dreary hours away."

His suggestion was noisily accepted, then after an exchange of views
Murray Logan confessed that he had bolted a directors' meeting, and
that ruin stared him in the face unless he returned immediately.
Achille Marigny, it appeared, had unceremoniously fled from the trial
of an important lawsuit, and Raymond Cline was needed at the bank.
Foote, Delavan, and the others admitted that they, too, must leave
Miss Warren to her fate, at least until after 'Change had closed. And
so, having put themselves at her service with extravagant
protestations of loyalty, promising candy, books, flowers, a choir to
sing beneath her window, they finally trooped off, half carrying the
rotund Mr. Kulm, who had sprinted himself into a jelly-like state of
collapse.

Rilleau alone maintained his readiness to brave the perils of
smallpox, leprosy, or plague at Miss Warren's side, until Bernie
informed him that the very idea was shocking, whereupon he dragged
himself away with the accusation that all his heart trouble lay at her
door.

"Oh, you spoiled it all!" Myra Nell told her brother, indignantly.
"You might at least have let _him_ come in. Cousin Althea would
have chaperoned us."

"The idea! Why _did_ you do such an atrocious thing?"

"Where you frightened, Norvin?" The girl beamed hopefully down upon
him.

"Horribly. I'm not over it yet. I'm half inclined to act on Lecompte's
suggestion and break in."

She clapped her hands gleefully, whereupon the watchman arose, saying:

"No you don't!"

"I wouldn't allow such a thing," said Bernie, firmly. "It would mean a
scandal."

"I--I can't stay here _alone_, for a whole _week_. I'll
die."

"Then I'll join you myself," her brother offered.

Myra Nell looked alarmed. "Oh, not _you_! I want some one to
nurse me when I fall ill."

"What makes you think you'll catch it? Were you exposed?"

"Exposed! Heavens! I can feel the disease coming on this very minute.
The place is full of germs; I can spear 'em with a hat-pin." She
shuddered and managed to counterfeit a tear.

"I've an idea," said Norvin. "I'll get that trained nurse who saved
you when you fell off the horse."

"Vittoria? She might do. But, Norvin, the horse threw me." She warned
him with a grimace which Bernie did not see. "He's a frightful beast."

"I can't afford a trained nurse," Dreux objected, "and you don't need
one, anyhow."

"All right for you, Bernie; if you don't care any more for my life
than that, I'll sicken and die. When a girl's relatives turn against
her it's time she was out of the way."

"Oh, all right," said her brother, angrily. "It's ruinous, but I
suppose you must have it your way."

Myra Nell shook her head gloomily. "No--not if you are going to feel
like that. Of course, if she were here she could cut off my hair when
I take to my bed; she could bathe my face with lime-water when my
beauty goes; she could listen to my ravings and understand, for she is
a--woman. But no, I'm not worth it. Perhaps I can get along all right,
and, anyhow, I'll have to teach school or--or be a nun if I'm all
pock-marks."

"Good Lord!" Bernie wiped his brow with a trembling hand. "D'you think
that'll happen, Norvin?"

"It's bound to," the girl predicted, indifferently. "But what's the
odds?" Suddenly a new thought dilated her eyes with real horror. "Oh!"
she cried. "_Oh!_ I just happened to remember. I'm to be Queen of
the Carnival! Now, I'll be scarred and hideous, even if I happen to
recover; but I won't recover. You shall have my royal robe, Bunny.
Keep it always. And Norvin shall have my hair."

"Here! I--don't want your hair," Blake asserted, nervously. "I mean
not without--"

"It is all I have to give."

"You may not catch the smallpox, after all."

"We'll--have Miss Fabrizi b-by all means," Bernie chattered.

"You stay here and talk to her while I go," Norvin suggested, quickly.
"And, Myra Nell, I'll fetch you a lot of chocolates. I'll fetch you
anything, if you'll only cheer up."

"Remember, It's against my wishes," the girl said. "But she's not at
the hospital now; she's living in the Italian quarter." She gave him
the street, and number, and he made off in all haste.

On his way he had time to think more collectedly of the girl he had
just left. Her prank had shocked him into a keen realization of his
feeling for her, and he began to understand the large part she played
in his life. Many things inclined him to believe that her regard for
him was really deeper than her careless levity indicated, and it
seemed now that they had been destined for each other.

It was dusk when he reached his destination. A nondescript Italian
girl ushered him up a dark stairway and into an old-fashioned
drawing-room with high ceiling, and long windows which opened out
upon a rusty overhanging iron balcony. The room ran through to a
court in the rear, after the style of so many of these foreign-built
houses. It had once been the home of luxury and elegance, but had
long since fallen into a state of shabby decay. He was still lost in
thoughts of the important step which he contemplated when he heard
the rustle of a woman's garment behind him and rose as a tall figure
entered the room.

"Miss Fabrizi?" he inquired. "I came to find you--"

He paused, for the girl had given a smothered cry. The light was poor
and the shadows played tricks with his eyes. He stepped forward,
peering strangely at her, then halted.

"Margherita!" he whispered; then in a shaking voice, "My God!"

"Yes," she said, quietly, "it is I."

He touched her gently, staring as if bereft of his senses. He felt
himself swept by a tremendous excitement. It struck him dumb; it shook
him; it set the room to whirling dizzily. The place was no longer ill-lit
and shabby, but illumined as if by a burst of light. And through his
mad panic of confusion he saw her standing there, calm, tawny,
self-possessed.

"Caro Norvin! You have found me, indeed," he heard her say. "I
wondered when the day would come."

"You--you!" he choked. His arms were hungry for her, his heart was
melting with the wildest ecstasy that had ever possessed it. She was
clad as he often remembered her, in a dress which partook of her
favorite and inseparable color, her hair shone with that unforgettable
luster; her face was the face he had dreamed of, and there was no
shock of readjustment in his recognition of her. Rather, her real
presence made the cherished mental image seem poor and weak.

"I came to see Miss Fabrizi. Why are _you_ here?" He glanced at
the door as if expecting an interruption.

"I am she."

"Contessa!"

"Hush!" She laid her fingers upon his lips. "I am no longer the
Contessa Margherita. I am Vittoria Fabrizi."

"Then--you have been here--in New Orleans for a long time?"

"More than a year."

"Impossible! I--You--It's inconceivable! Why have we never met?"

"I have seen you many times."

"And you didn't speak? Why, oh, why, Margherita?"

"My friend, if you care for me, for my safety and my peace of mind,
you must not use that name. Collect yourself. We will have
explanations. But first, remember, I am Vittoria Fabrizi, the nurse, a
poor girl."

"I shall remember. I don't understand; but I shall be careful. I don't
know what it all means, why you--didn't let me know." In spite of his
effort at self-control he fell again into a delicious bewilderment.
His spirits leaped, he felt unaccountably young and exhilarated; he
laughed senselessly and yet with a deep throbbing undernote of
delight. "What are names and reasons, anyhow? What are worries and
hopes and despairs? I've found you. You live; you are safe; you are
young. I feared you were old and changed--it has seemed so long and--
and my search dragged so. But I never ceased thinking and caring--I
never ceased hoping--"

She laid a gentle hand upon his arm. "Come, come! You are upset. It
will all seem natural enough when you know the story."

"Tell me everything, all at once. I can't wait." He led her to a low
French _lit de repos_ near by, and seated himself beside her. Her
nearness thrilled him with the old intoxication, and he hardly heeded
what he was saying. "Tell me how you came to be Vittoria Fabrizi
instead of Margherita Ginini; how you came to be here; how you knew of
my presence and yet--Oh, tell me everything, for I'm smothering. I'm
incoherent. I--I--"

"First, won't you explain how you happened to come looking for me?"

He gathered his wits to tell her briefly of Myra Nell, feeling a
renewed sense of strangeness in the fact that these two knew each
other. She made as if to rise.

"Please!" he cried; "this is more important than Miss Warren's
predicament. She's really delighted with her adventure, you know."

"True, she is in no danger. There is so much to tell! That which has
taken four years to live cannot be told in five minutes. I--I'm afraid
I am sorry you came."

"Don't destroy my one great moment of gladness."

"Remember I am Vittoria Fabrizi--"

"I know of no other name."

"Lucrezia is here, also, and she, too, is another. You have never seen
her. You understand?"

He nodded. "And her name?"

"Oliveta! We are cousins."

"I respect your reasons for these changes. Tell me only what you
wish."

"Oh, I have nothing to conceal," she said, relieved at his growing
calmness. "They are old family names which I chose when I gave up my
former life. You wonder why? It is part of the story. When Martel died
the Contessa Margherita died also. She could not remain at Terranova
where everything spoke of him. She was young; she began a long quest.
As you know, it was fruitless, and when in time her ideas changed she
was born to a new life."

"You have--abandoned the search?"

"Long ago. You told me truly that hatred and revenge destroy the soul.
I was young and I could not understand; but now I know that only good
can survive--good thoughts, good actions, good lives."

"And is the Donna Teresa here?"

Vittoria shook her head. "She has gone--back, perhaps, to her land of
sunshine, her flowers, and her birds and her dream-filled mountain
valleys. It was two years ago that we lost her. She could not survive
the change. I have--many regrets when I think of her."

"You know, of course, that I returned to Sicily, and that I followed
you?"

"Yes. And when I learned of it I knew there was but one thing to do."

"I was unwise--disloyal there at Terranova." She met his eyes frankly,
but made no sign. "Is that why you avoided me?"

"Ah, let us not speak of that old time. When one severs all
connections with the past and begins a new existence, one should not
look back. But I have not lost interest in you, my friend, I have
learned much from Myra Nell; seeing her was like seeing you, for she
hardly speaks of any one else. Many times we nearly met--only a moment
separated us--you came as I went, or I came in time barely to miss
you. You walked one street as I walked another; we were in the same
crowds, our elbows touched, our paths crossed, but we never chanced to
meet until this hour. Now I am almost sorry--"

"But why--if you have forgiven me; how could you be so indifferent?
You must have known how I longed for you."

Her look checked him on the brink of a passionate avowal.

"Does my profession tell you nothing?" she asked.

"You are a--nurse. What has that to do with it?"

"Do you know that I have been with the Sisters of Mercy? I--I am one
of them."

"Impossible!"

"In spirit at least. I shall be one in reality, as soon as I am better
fitted."

"A nun!" He stared at her dumbly, and his face paled.

"I have given all I possess to the Order excepting only what I have
settled upon Oliveta. This is her house, I am her guest, her
pensioner. I am ready to take the last step--to devote my life to
mercy. Now you begin to understand my reason for waiting and watching
you in silence. You see it is very true that Margherita Ginini no
longer exists. I have not only changed my name, I am a different
woman. I am sorry," she said, doing her best to comfort him--"yes, and
it is hard for me, too. That is why I would have avoided this
meeting."

"If you contemplate this--step," he inquired, dully, "why have you
left the hospital?"

"I am not ready to take Orders. I have much to--overcome. Now I must
prepare Oliveta to meet you, for she has not changed as I have, and
there might be consequences."

"What consequences?"

"We wish to forget the past," she said, non-committally. When she
returned from her errand she saw him outlined blackly against one of
the long windows, his hands clasped behind his back, his head low as
if in meditation. He seemed unable to throw off this spell of silence
as they drove to the La Branche home, but listened contentedly to her
voice, so like the low, soft music of a cello.

After he left her it was long before he tried to reduce his thoughts
to order. He preferred to dwell indefinitely upon the amazing fact
that he at last had found her, that he had actually seen and touched
her. Finally, when he brought himself to face the truth in its
entirety, he knew that he was deeply disappointed, and he felt that he
ought to be hopeless. Yet hope was strong in him. It blazed through
his very veins, he felt it thrill him magically.

When he fell asleep that night it was with a smile upon his lips, for
hope had crystallized into a baseless but none the less assured belief
that he would find a way to win her.




XVI

QUARANTINE



Blake arose like a boy on Christmas morning. He thrilled to an
extravagant gladness. At breakfast the truth came to him--he was
young! For the first time he realized that he had let himself grow up
and lose his illusions; that he had become cynical, tired, prosaic,
while all the time the flame of youth was merely smouldering. Old he
was, but only as a stripling soldier is aged by battle; as for the
real, rare joys of living and loving, he had never felt them. Myra
Nell had appealed to his affection like a dear and clever child, and
helped to keep some warmth in his heart. But this was magic. The sun
had never been so bright, the air so sweet to his nostrils, the
strength so vigorous in his limbs.

He had become so accustomed to the mysterious letters by this time
that he had grown to look for them as a matter of course, and he was
not disturbed when, on arriving at his office, he found one in his
mail. Heretofore the writer had been positive in his statements, but
now came the first hint of uncertainty.

"I cannot find Belisario Cardi," he wrote. "His hand is over all, and
yet he is more intangible than mist. I am hedged about with
difficulties and dangers which multiply as the days pass. I can do no
more, hence the task devolves upon you. Be careful, for he is more
desperate than ever. It is your life or his.

  "ONE WHO KNOWS."

It was as daunting a message as he could have received--the withdrawal
of assistance, the authoritative confirmation of his fears--yet
Blake's spirit rose to meet the exigency with a new courage. It
occurred to him that if Maruffi, or whoever the author was, had
exhausted his usefulness, perhaps Vittoria could help. She had spent
much time in her search for this very Cardi, and might have learned
something of value concerning him. Oliveta, too, could be of
assistance. He felt sure that the knowledge of his own peril would be
enough to enlist their aid, and he gladly seized upon the thought that
a common interest would draw him closer to the woman he loved.

He arrived at the La Branche house early that afternoon, and found
young Rilleau sitting on a box beneath Myra Nell's window, with the
girl herself embowered as before in a frame of roses.

"Any symptoms yet?" Norvin inquired, agreeably.

"Thousands! I'm slowly dying."

Lecompte nodded dolefully. "Look at her color."

"No doubt it's the glow from those red roses that I see in her
cheeks."

"It's fever," Miss Warren exclaimed, indignantly. She took a hand-glass
from her lap and regarded her vivid young features. "Smallpox attacks
people differently. With me the first sign is fever." She had parted her
abundant hair and swept it back from her brow in an attempt to make
herself look ill, but with the sole effect of enhancing her appearance of
abounding health. Madame la Branche's best black shawl was drawn
about her plump and dimpled shoulders. Assuming a hollow tone, she
inquired: "Do you see any other change in me?"

"Yes. And I rather like that way of doing your hair."

"Vittoria says I look like a picture of Sister Dolorosa, or
something."

"Is Miss Fabrizi in?"

"In? How could she be out? Isn't she a dear, Norvin? I knew you'd meet
some day."

"Does she play whist?"

"Of course not, silly. She's--nearly a nun. But we sat up in bed all
night talking. Oh, it's a comfort to have some one with you at the
last, some one in whom you can confide. I can't bear to--to soar aloft
with so much on my conscience. I've confessed _everything_."

"What's to prevent her from catching the disease and soaring away with
you?"

"She's a nurse. They're just like doctors, you know, they never catch
anything. Is that hideous watchman still at his post?"

"Yes. Fast asleep, with his mouth open."

"I hope a fly crawls in," said the girl, vindictively; then, in an
eager whisper: "Couldn't you manage to get past him? We'd have a
lovely time here for a week."

Rilleau raised his voice in jealous protest.

"And leave me sitting on my throne? Never! I'm giving this box-party
for you, Myra Nell."

"Oh, you could come, too."

"I respect the law," Norvin told her; but Lecompte continued to
complain.

"I don't see what you're doing here at this time of day, anyhow,
Blake, Have you no business responsibilities?"

"I'm a member of the Contagion Club; I've a right to be here."

"We were discussing rice, old shoes, and orange blossoms when you
interrupted," the languid Mr. Rilleau continued. "Frankly, speaking as
a friend, I don't see anything in your conversation so far to interest
a sick lady. Why don't you talk to the yellow-haired nurse?"

"I intend to."

"Vittoria is back in the kitchen preparing my diet," said Myra Nell.
"She's making fudge, I believe. I--I seem to crave sweet things. Maybe
it's another symptom."

"It must be," Blake acknowledged. "I'll ask her what she thinks of
it." With a glance at the slumbering guard he vaulted the low fence
and made his way around to the rear of the house.

He heard Vittoria singing as he came into the flower-garden, a
low-pitched Sicilian love-song. He called to her, and she came to a
window, smiling down at him, spotless and fresh in her stiff uniform.

"Do you know that you're trespassing and may get into trouble?" she
queried.

"The watchman is asleep, and I had to speak to you."

"No wonder he sleeps. Myra Nell holds the poor fellow responsible for
all her troubles, and those young men have nearly driven him insane."

"Is there any danger of smallpox, really?"

"Not the slightest. This quarantine is merely a matter of form. But
that child--" She broke into a frank, sweet laugh. "She pretends to be
horribly frightened. All the time she is acting--the little fraud!"

Norvin flushed a bit under her gaze.

"I had no chance to talk to you last night."

"And you will have no chance now." Vittoria tipped her chin the
slightest bit.

"I must see you, alone."

"Impossible!"

"To-night. You can slip away on some pretext or other. It is really
important."

She regarded him questioningly. "If that is true I will try, but--I
cannot meet you at Oliveta's house. Besides, you must not go into that
quarter alone at night."

"What do you mean?" he inquired, wondering how she could know of his
danger.

"Because--no American is safe there now. Perhaps I can meet you on the
street yonder."

"I'll be waiting."

"It may be late, unless I tell Myra Nell."

"Heaven above! She'd insist on coming, too, just because it's
forbidden."

"Very well. Now go before you are discovered."

During the afternoon his excitement increased deliciously, and that
evening he found himself pacing the shaded street near the La Branche
home, with the eager restlessness of a lover.

It was indeed late when Vittoria finally appeared.

"Myra Nell is such a chatterbox," she explained, "that I couldn't get
her to bed. Have you waited long?"

"I dare say. I'm not sure."

"This is very exciting, is it not?" She glanced over her shoulder up
the ill-lighted street. Rows of shade trees cast long inky blots
between the corner illuminations; the houses on either side sat well
back in their yards, increasing the sense of isolation. "It is quite a
new experience for me."

"For me, too."

"I hope we're not seen. Signore Norvin Blake and a trained nurse! Oh,
the comment!"

"There's a bench near by where we can sit. Passers-by will take us for
servants."

"You are the butler, I am the maid," she laughed.

"I am glad you can laugh," he told her. "You were very sad, there at
Terranova."

"I've learned the value of a smile. Life is full of gladness if we can
only bring ourselves to see it. Now tell me the meaning of this. I
knew it must be important or I would not have come." Back of the bench
upon which she had seated herself a jessamine vine depended, filling
the air with perfume; the night was warm and still and languorous;
through the gloom she regarded him with curiosity.

"I hate to begin," he said. "I dread to speak of unpleasant things--to
you. I wish we might just sit here and talk of whatever we
pleased."

"We cannot sit here long on any account. But let me guess. It is your
work against--those men."

"Exactly. You know the history of our struggle with the Mafia?"

"Everything."

"I am leading a hard fight, and I think you can help me."

"Why do you think so?" she asked, in a low voice. "I have given up my
part. I have no desire for revenge."

"Nor have I. I do not wish to harm any man; but I became involved in
this through a desire to see justice done, and I have reached a point
where I cannot stop or go back. It started with the arrest of Gian
Narcone. You know how Donnelly was killed. They took his life for
Narcone's, and he, too, was my--dear friend."

"All this is familiar to me," she said, in a strained tone.

"I will tell you something that no one knows but myself, I have a
friend among the Mafiosi, and it is he, not I, who has brought the
murderers of Mr. Donnelly to an accounting."

"You know him?"

"Yes. At least I think I do."

"His--name?" She was staring at him oddly.

"I feel bound not to reveal it even to you. He has told me many
things, among them that Belisario Cardi is alive, is here, and that it
is he who worked all this evil."

"What has all this to do with me?" she inquired. "Have I not told you
that I gave my search into other hands?"

"It was Cardi who killed--one whom we both loved, one for whose life I
would have given my own; it was Cardi who destroyed my next-best
friend, a simple soul who lived for nothing but his duty. Now he has
threatened my life also--does that count for nothing with you?"

She leaned forward, searching his face earnestly. "You are a brave
man. You should go away where he cannot harm you."

"I would like very much to," he confessed, "but I am too great a
coward to run away."

"And why do you tell me this?"

"I need your help. My mysterious friend can do no more; he has said
so. I'm not equal to it alone."

"Oh," she cried, as if yielding to a feeling long suppressed, "I did
so want to be rid of it all, and now you are in danger--the greatest
danger. Won't you give it up?"

He shook his head, puzzled at her vehemence. "I don't wish to drag you
into it against your will, but Oliveta lives there among her
countrypeople. She must know many things which I, as an outsider,
could never learn. I--need help."

There was a long silence before the girl said:

"Yes, I will help, for I am still the same woman you knew in Sicily. I
am still full of hatred. I would give my life to convict Martel's
assassins; but I am fighting myself. That is why I have gone to live
with Oliveta until I have conquered and am ready to become a Sister."

"Please don't say that."

"Oliveta, you know, is alone," she went on, with forced composure,
"and so I watch over her. She is to be married soon, and when she is
safe, then I think I can return to the Sisters and live as I long to.
It will be a good match, much better than I ever hoped for, and she
loves, which is even more blessed to contemplate." Vittoria laid her
hands impulsively upon his arm. "Meanwhile I cannot refuse such aid as
I can give you, for you have already suffered too much through me. You
_have_ suffered, have you not?"

"It has turned my hair gray," he laughed, trying not to show the depth
of his feeling. "But now that I know you are safe and well and happy,
nothing seems to matter. Does Myra Nell know who you are?"

"No one knows save you and Oliveta. If that child even dreamed--" She
lifted her slender hands in an eloquent gesture. "My secret would be
known in an hour. Now I must go, for even housemaids must observe the
proprieties."

"It's late. I think I had better see you safely home."

"I dare say our watchman has found himself a comfortable bed--"

"The slumbers of night-watchmen are notoriously deep."

"And Papa La Branche has finished his solitaire. There is no danger."

No one was in sight as they stole in through the driveway to the
servants' door. She gave him her hand, and he pressed it closely,
whispering:

"When shall I see you again?"

"After the quarantine. I can do nothing until then."

"You will go back to Oliveta's house?"

"Yes, but you must never come there, even in daylight." She thought
for a moment while he still retained her hand. "I will instruct you
later--" She broke off suddenly, and at the same instant Blake heard a
stir in the darkness behind him.

Vittoria drew him quickly into the black shadows of the rear porch,
where they stood close together, afraid to move until the man had
passed. The kitchen gallery was shielded by a latticework covered with
vines, and Blake felt reasonably safe within its shelter. He was
beginning to breathe easier when a voice barely an arm's-length away
inquired, gruffly:

"Who's there?"

He would have given something handsome to be out of this foolish
predicament, which he knew must be very trying to his companion. But
the fates were against him. To his horror, the man struck a match and
mounting the steps to the porch flashed it directly into his face.

"Good evening," said Blake, with rather a weak attempt at assurance.

"What are you doing here?" the guard demanded. "Don't you know that
this house is quarantined?"

"I do. Kindly lower your voice; there are people asleep."

The fellow's eyes took in the girl in her stiffly starched uniform
before the match burned out and darkness engulfed them once more.

"I'm not a burglar."

"Humph! I don't know whether you are or not."

"I assure you," urged Vittoria.

"Strike another match and I'll prove to you that I'm not dangerous."
When the light flared up once more Norvin selected a card from his
case and handed it to the watchman. "I am Norvin Blake, president of
the Cotton Exchange."

But this information failed of the desired effect.

"Oh, I know you, but this ain't exactly the right time to be calling
on a lady."

Vittoria felt her companion's muscles stiffen.

"I will explain my presence later," he said, stiffly; then, turning to
Vittoria, "I am sorry I disturbed this estimable man. Good night."

"Just a minute," the watchman broke in. "You needn't say good night."

"What do you mean?"

"This house is quarantined for smallpox."

"Well?"

"Nobody can come or go without the doctor's permission."

"I understand that."

"Now that you're here, I reckon you'll stay."

Miss Fabrizi uttered a smothered exclamation.

"You're crazy!" said Blake, angrily.

"Yes? Well, that's my instructions."

"I haven't been inside."

"That don't make any difference; the lady has."

"It's absurd. You can't force--"

"'Sh-h!" breathed Vittoria.

Some one had entered the kitchen at their back. A light flashed
through the window, the door opened, and Mr. La Branche, clad in a
rusty satin dressing-gown and carpet slippers, stood revealed, a lamp
in his hand.

"I thought I heard voices," he said. "What is the trouble?"

"There's no trouble at all, sir," Blake protested, then found himself
absurdly embarrassed.

Vittoria and the guard both began to speak at once, and at length she
broke into laughter, saying:

"Poor Mr. Blake, I fear he has been exposed to contagion. It was
necessary for him to talk with me on a matter of importance, and now
this man tells him he cannot leave."

But from Papa La Branche's expression it was evident that he saw
nothing humorous in the situation.

"To talk with you! At this hour!"

"I'm working for the Board of Health, and those are my orders,"
declared outraged authority.

"It was imperative that I see Miss Fabrizi; the blame for this
complication is entirely mine," Norvin assured the old creole.

The representative of the Board of Health inquired, loudly: "Didn't
the doctors tell you that nobody could come or go, Mr. La Branche?"

"They did."

"But, my dear man, this is no ordinary case. Now that I have
explained, I shall go, first apologizing to Mr. La Branche for
disturbing him."

"No, you won't"

The master of the house stepped aside, holding his light on high.

"Miss Fabrizi is my guest," he said, quietly, "so no explanations are
necessary. This man is but doing his duty, and, therefore, Mr. Blake,
I fear I shall have to offer you the poor hospitality of my roof until
the law permits you to leave."

"Impossible, sir! I--"

"I regret that we have never met before; but you are welcome, and I
shall do my best to make you comfortable." He waved his hand
commandingly toward the open door.

"Thank you, but I can't accept, really."

"I fear that you have no choice."

"But the idea is ridiculous, preposterous! I'm a busy man; I can't
shut myself up this way for a week or more. Besides, I couldn't allow
myself to be forced upon strangers in this manner."

"If you are a good citizen, you will respect the law," said La
Branche, coldly.

"Bother the law! I have obligations! Why--the very idea is absurd!
I'll see the health officers and explain at once--"

The old gentleman, however, still waited, while the watchman took his
place at the top of the steps as if determined to do his duty, come,
what might.

Norvin found Vittoria's eyes upon him, and saw that beneath her
self-possession she was intensely embarrassed. Evidently there was
nothing to do now but accept the situation and put an end to the painful
scene at any sacrifice. Once inside, he could perhaps set himself right;
but for the present no explanations were possible. He might have braved
the Board of Health, but he could not run away from Papa La Branche's
accusing eye. Bowing gravely, he said:

"You are quite right, sir, and I thank you for your hospitality. If
you will lead the way, I will follow"

The two culprits entered the big, empty kitchen, then followed the
rotund little figure which waddled ahead of them into the front part
of the house.




XVII

AN OBLIGATION IS MET



Montegut La Branche paused in the front hall at the foot of the
stairs.

"It is late" he said; "no doubt Mademoiselle wishes to retire."

"I would like to offer a word of explanation," Norvin ventured, but
Vittoria interposed, quietly:

"Mr. La Branche is right--explanations are unnecessary." Bowing
graciously to them both, she mounted the stairs into the gloom above,
followed by the old Creole's polite voice:

"A pleasant sleep, Mademoiselle, and happy dreams." Leading the way
into the library, he placed the lamp upon a table, then, turning to
his unbidden guest, inquired, coldly, "Well?"

His black eyes were flashing underneath his gray brows, and he
presented a fierce aspect despite his gown, which resembled a Mother
Hubbard, and his slippers, which flapped as he walked.

"I must apologize for my intrusion," said Norvin. "I wish you to
understand how it came about."

"In view of your attentions to my wife's cousin, it was unfortunate
that you should have selected this time, this place, for your--er--
adventure."

"Exactly! I'm wondering how to spare Miss Warren any annoyance."

"I fear that will be impossible. She must know the truth."

"She must not know; she must not guess."

"M'sieu!" exclaimed the old man. "My wife and I can take no part in
your intrigues. Myra Nell is too well bred to show resentment at your
conduct, no matter what may be her feelings."

Norvin flushed with exasperation, then suddenly felt ashamed of
himself. Surely he could trust this chivalrous old soul with a part of
the truth. Once his scruples were satisfied, the man's very sense of
honor would prevent him from even thinking of what did not concern
him.

"I think you will understand better," he said, "when you have heard me
through. I can't tell you everything, for I am not at liberty to do
so. But you know, perhaps, that I am connected with the Committee of
Justice."

"I do."

"You don't know the full extent of the task with which I am charged,
however."

"Perhaps not."

"Its gravity may be understood when you know that I have been marked
for the same fate as Chief Donnelly."

The old man started.

"My labors have taken me into many quarters. I seek information
through many channels. It was upon this business, in a way, that I
came to see Miss Fabrizi."

"I do not follow you."

"She is a Sicilian. She knows much which would be of value to the
Committee and to me. It was necessary for me to see her alone and
secretly. If the truth were known it would mean her--life, perhaps."

The Creole's bearing altered instantly.

"Say no more. I believe you to be a man of honor, and I apologize for
my suspicions."

"May I trust you to respect this confidence?"

"It is sealed."

"But this doesn't entirely relieve the situation. I can't explain to
Madame La Branche or to Miss Myra Nell even as much as I've explained
to you."

"Some day will you relieve me from my promise of secrecy?" queried the
old man, with an eager, bird-like glance from Ms bright eyes.

"Assuredly. As soon as we have won our fight against the Mafia."

"Then I will lie for you, and confess later. I have never lied to my
wife, M'sieu--except upon rare occasions," Mr. La Branche chuckled
merrily. "And even then only about trifles. So, the result? Absolute
trust; supreme confidence on her part. A happy state for man and wife,
is it not? Ha! I am a very good liar, an adept, as you shall see, for
I am not calloused by practice and therefore liable to forgetfulness.
With me a lie is always fresh in my mind; it is a matter of absorbing
interest, hence I do not forget myself. Heaven knows the excitement of
nursing an innocent deceit and of seeing it grow and flower under my
care will be most welcome, for the monotony of this abominable
confinement--But I must inquire, do you play piquet?"

"I am rather good at it," Norvin confessed, whereat Papa La Branche
seemed about to embrace him.

"You are sent from heaven!" he declared. "You deliver me from
darkness. Thirty-seven games of Napoleon to-day! Think of it! I was
dealing the thirty-eighth when you came. But piquet! Ah, that is a
game, even though my angel wife abominates it. We have still five days
of this hideous imprisonment, so let us agree to an hour before lunch,
an hour before dinner, then--um-,--perhaps two hours in the evening at
a few cents a game, eh? You agree, my friend?" The little man peered
up timidly. "Perhaps--but no, I dare say you are sleepy, and it
_is_ late."

"I should enjoy a game or two right now," Norvin falsified. "But
first, don't you think we'd better rehearse our explanation of my
presence?"

"A good idea. You came to see me upon business. I telephoned, and you
came like a good friend, then--let me see, I was so overjoyed to see a
new face that I rushed forth to greet you, and behold! that scorpion,
that loathsome reptile outside pronounced you infected. He forced you
to enter, even against my protestations. It was all my fault. I am
desolated with regrets. Eh? How is that? You see nature designed me
for a rogue."

"Excellent! But what is our important business?"

"True. Since I retired from active affairs I have no business. That is
awkward, is it not? May I ask in what line you are engaged?"

"I am a cotton factor."

"Then I shall open an account with you. I shall give you money to
invest. Come, there need be no deceit about that; I shall write you a
check at once."

"That's hardly necessary, so long as we understand each other."

But Mr. La Branche insisted, saying:

"One lie is all that I dare undertake. I have told two at the same
time, but invariably they clashed and disaster resulted. There! I
trust you to make use of the money as you think best. But enough! What
do women know of business? It is a mysterious word to them. Now--
piquet!" He dragged Norvin to a seat at a table, then trotted away in
search of cards, his slippers clap-clapping at every step as if in
gleeful applause. "Shall we cut for deal, M'sieu? Ah!" He sighed
gratefully as he won, and began to shuffle. "With four hours of piquet
every day, and a lie upon my conscience, I feel that I shall be happy
in spite of this execrable smallpox."

Myra Nell's emotions may be imagined when, on the following morning,
she learned who had broken through the cordon while she slept.

"Lordy! Lordy!" she exclaimed, with round eyes. "He said he'd do it;
but I didn't think he really would."

She had flounced into Vittoria's room to gossip while she combed her
hair.

"Mr. La Branche says it's all his fault, and he's terribly grieved,"
Miss Fabrizi told her. "Now, now! Your eyes are fairly popping out."

"Wouldn't your eyes pop out if the handsomest, the richest, the
bravest man in New Orleans deliberately took his life in his hands to
see you and be near you?"

"But he says it was important business which brought him." Vittoria
smiled guiltily.

"Tell that to your granny! You don't know men as I do. Have you really
seen him? I'm not _dreaming_?"

"I have seen him, with these very eyes, and if you were not such a
lazy little pig you'd have seen him, too. Shall you take your
breakfast in your room, as usual?" Vittoria's eyes twinkled.

"Don't tease me!" Miss Warren exclaimed, with a furious blush. "I--I
love to tease other people, but I can't stand it myself. Breakfast in
my room, indeed! But of course I shall treat him with freezing
politeness."

"Why should you pretend to be offended?"

"Don't you understand? This is bound to cause gossip. Why, the idea of
Norvin Blake, the handsomest, the richest--"

"Yes, yes."

"The idea of his getting himself quarantined in the same house with
_me_, and our being here together for days--maybe for _months!_ Why,
it will create the loveliest scandal. I'll never dare hold up my head again
in public, _never_. You see how it must make me feel. I'm
compromised." Myra Nell undertook to show horror in her features, but
burst into a gale of laughter.

"Do you care for him very much?"

"I'm crazy about him! Why, dearie, after _this_--we're--we're
almost married! Now watch me show him how deeply I'm offended."

But when she appeared in the dining-room, late as usual, her frigidity
was not especially marked. On the contrary, her face rippled into one
smile after another, and seizing Blake by both hands, she danced
around him, singing:

"You did it! You did it! You did it! Hurrah for a jolly life in the
pest-house!"

Madame La Branche was inclined to be shocked at this behavior, but
inasmuch as Papa Montegut was beaming angelically upon the two young
people, she allowed herself to be mollified.

"I couldn't believe Vittoria," Myra Nell told Norvin. "Don't you know
the danger you run?"

Mr. La Branche exclaimed: "I am desolated at the consequences of my
selfishness! I did not sleep a wink. I can never atone."

"Quite right," his wife agreed." You must have been mad, Montegut. It
was criminal of you to rush forth and embrace him in that manner."

"But, delight of my soul, the news he bore! The joy of seeing him! It
unmanned me." The Creole waved his hands wildly, as if at a loss for
words.

"Oh, you fibber! Norvin told me he'd never met you," said Myra Nell.

"Eh! Impossible! We are associates in business; business of a most
important--But what does that term signify to you, my precious
ladybird? Nothing! Enough, then, to say that he saved me from
disaster. Naturally I was overjoyed and forgot myself."

His wife inquired, timidly, "Have your affairs gone disastrously?"

"Worse than that! Ruin stared us in the face until _he_ came. Our
deliverer!"

Blake flushed at this fulsome extravagance, particularly as he saw
Myra Nell making faces at him.

"Fortunately everything is arranged now," he assured his hostess. But
this did not satisfy Miss Warren, who, with apparent innocence,
questioned the two men until Papa La Branche began to bog and flounder
in his explanations. Fortunately for the men, she was diverted for the
moment by discovering that the table was set for only four.

"Oh, we need another place," she exclaimed, "for Vittoria!"

The old lady said, quietly: "No, dear. While we were alone it was
permissible, but it is better now in this way."

Myra Nell's ready acquiescence was a shock to Norvin, arguing, as it
did, that these people regarded the Countess Margherita as an
employee. Could it be that they were so utterly blind?

He was allowed little time for such thoughts, however, since Myra Nell
set herself to the agreeable task of unmasking her lover and
confounding Montegut La Branche. But Cousin Althea was not of a
suspicious nature, and continued to beam upon her husband, albeit a
trifle vaguely. Then when breakfast was out of the way the girl added
to Norvin's embarrassment by flirting with him so outrageously that he
was glad to flee to Papa Montegut's piquet game.

At the first opportunity he said to Vittoria: "I feel dreadfully about
this. Why, they seem to think you're a--a--servant! It's unbearable!"

"That is part of my work; I am accustomed to it." She smiled.

"Then you _have_ changed. But if they knew the truth, how
differently they'd act!"

"They must never suspect; more depends upon it than you know."

"I feel horribly guilty, all the same."

"It can make no difference what they think of me. I'm afraid, however,
that you have--made it--difficult for Myra Nell."

"So it appears. I didn't think of her when I entered this delightful
prison."

"You had no choice."

"It wasn't altogether that. I wanted to be near you, Vittoria."

Her glance was level and cool, her voice steady. "It was chivalrous to
try to spare me the necessity of explaining. The situation was trying;
but we were both to blame, and now we must make the best of it. Myra
Nell's misunderstanding is complete, and she will be unhappy unless
you devote yourself to her."

"I simply can't. I think I'll keep to myself as much as possible."

"You don't know that girl," Vittoria said. "You think she is frivolous
and inconsequent, that she has the brightness of a sunbeam and no more
substance; but you are mistaken. She is good and true and steadfast
underneath, and she can feel deeply."

Blake found that it was impossible to isolate himself. Mr. La Branche
clung to him like a drowning man; his business affairs called him
repeatedly to the telephone; Myra Nell appropriated him with all the
calm assurance of a queen, and Madame La Branche insisted upon seeing
personally to his every want. The only person of whom he saw little
was Vittoria Fabrizi.

His disappearance, of course, required much explaining and long
conversations with his office, with his associates, and with police
headquarters, where his plight was regarded as a great joke. This was
all very well; but there were other and unforeseen consequences.

Bernie Dreux heard of the affair with blank amazement, which turned
into something resembling rage. His duty, however, was plain. He
packed a valise and set out for the quarantined house like a man
marching to his execution; for he had a deathly horror of disease, and
smallpox was beyond compare the most loathsome.

But the Health Department had given strict orders, and he was turned
away; nay, he was rudely repulsed. Crushed, humiliated, he retired to
his club, and there it was that Rilleau found him, steeped in
melancholy and a very insidious brand of Kentucky Bourbon.

When Lecompte accused Blake of breaking the rules of the game, the
little bachelor rose resolutely to his sister's defense.

"Norvin's got a perfect right to protect her," he lied, "and I honor
him for it."

"You mean he's engaged to her?" Rilleau inquired, blankly.

Bernie nodded.

"Well, so am I, so are Delevan and Mangny, and the others."

"Not this way." Mr. Dreux's alcoholic flush deepened. "He thought she
was in danger, so he flew to her side. Mighty unselfish to sacrifice
his business and brave the disease. He did it with my consent,
y'understand? When he asked me, I said, 'Norvin, my boy, she needs
you.' So he went. Unselfish is no word for it; he's a man of honor, a
hero."

Mr. Rilleau's gloom thickened, and he, too, ordered the famous
Bourbon. He sighed.

"I'd have done the same thing; I offered to, and I'm no hero. I
suppose that ends us. It's a great disappointment, though. I hoped--
during Carnival week that she'd--Well, I wanted her for my real
queen."

Bernie undertook to clap the speaker on the shoulder and admonish him
to buck up; but his eye was wavering and his aim so uncertain that he
knocked off Mr. Rilleau's hat. With due apologies he ran on:

"She couldn't have been queen at all, only for him. He made it
possible."

"I had as much to say about it as he did."

Bernie whispered: "He lent me the money, y'understand? It was all
right, under the circumstances, everything being settled but the date,
y'understand?"

Rilleau rose at last, saying: "You're all to be congratulated. He is
the best fellow in New Orleans, and there's only one man I'd rather
see your sister marry than him; that's me. Now I'm going to select a
present before the rush commences. What would you think of an onyx
clock with gold cupids straddling around over it?"

"Fine! I'm sorry, old man--I like you, y'understand?" Bernie upset his
chair in rising to embrace his friend, then catching sight of August
Kulm, who entered at the moment, he made his way to him and repeated
his explanations.

Mr. Kulm was silent, attentive, despairing, and spoke vaguely of
suicide, whereupon Dreux set himself to the task of drowning this
Teutonic instinct in the flowing bowl.

"I don't know what has happened to the boys," Myra Nell complained to
Norvin, on the second day after his arrival. "Lecompte was going to
read me the Rubaiyat, and Raymond Cline promised me a bunch of
orchids; but nobody has shown up."

"It's jealousy," he said, lightly.

"I suppose so. Of course it was nice of you to compromise me this way--
it's delicious, in fact--but I didn't think it would scare off the
others."

"You think I have compromised you?"

"You know you have, _terribly_. I'm engaged to all of them--
everybody, in fact, except you--"

"But they know my presence here is unintentional."

"Oh! _Is_ it, really?" She laughed.

"Don't you believe it is?"

"Goodness! Don't spoil all my pleasure. If ever I saw two cringing,
self-conscious criminals, it's you and Papa Montegut. Men are so
deceitful. Heigh-ho! I thought this was going to be splendid, but you
play cards all day with Mr. La Branche while I die of loneliness."

"What would you like me to do?" he faltered.

"I don't know. It's very dull. Couldn't you sally forth and drag in
Lecompte or Murray or Raymond?" She looked up with eyes beaming.
"Bernie was furious, wasn't he?"

Mr. La Branche came trotting in with the evening newspaper in his
hand. "It's in the paper," he chuckled. "Those reporters get
everything."

"What's in the paper?" Myra Nell snatched the sheet from his hand and
read eagerly as he went trotting out again with his slippers
applauding every step. "Oh, Lordy!"

Blake read over her shoulder, and his face flushed.

"Norvin, we're really, truly engaged, now. See!" After a pause, "And
you've never even asked me."

There was only one thing to say.

"Myra Nell," he began, "I want you--Will you--"

"Oh, you goose, you're not taking a cold shower!"

"Will you do me the honor to be my wife?"

She burst into delightful laughter. "So you actually have the courage
to propose? Shall I take time to think it over, or shall I answer
now?"

"Now, by all means."

"Very well, of course I--won't."

"Why not?" he exclaimed, with a start.

"The idea! You don't mean it!"

"I do."

"Why, Norvin, you're old enough to be my father."

"Oh, no, I'm not."

"Do you think I could marry a man with gray hair?"

"It all gets gray after a while."

"No. I'll be engaged to you, but I'll never marry any one, never. That
would spoil all the fun. This very thing shows how stupid it must be;
the mere rumor has scared the others away,"

"You're a Mormon."

"I'm not. I'll tell you what I'll do; if I ever marry any one, I'll
marry you."

"That's altogether too indefinite."

"I don't see it. Meanwhile we're engaged, aren't we?"

"If that's the case--" He reached uncertainly for her hand, and
pressed it. "I--I'm very happy!"

She waited an instant, watching him shyly, then said: "Now I must show
this to Vittoria. But--please don't look so frightened."

The next instant she was gone. When Miss Fabrizi entered her room, a
half-hour later, it was to find her with her eyes red from weeping.

As for Norvin, he had risen to the occasion as best he could. He loved
Myra Nell sincerely, tenderly, in a big-brotherly way; he would have
gone to any lengths to serve her, yet he could not feel toward her as
he felt toward Vittoria Fabrizi. He nerved himself to stand by his
word, even though it meant the greatest sacrifice. But the thought
agonized him.

Nor was he made more easy as time went on, for Mr. and Mrs. La Branche
took it for granted that he was their cousin's affianced lover; and
while the girl herself now bewildered him with her shy, inviting
coquetry, or again berated him for placing her in an unwelcome
position, he could never determine how much she really cared.

When the quarantine was finally lifted he walked out with feelings
akin to those of a prisoner who has been reprieved.




XVIII

BELISARIO CARDI



After his enforced idleness Blake was keen to resume his task, yet
there was little for him to do save study the one big problem which
lay at the root of the whole matter.

The evidence against the prisoners was in good shape; they were
indicted, and the trial date would soon be set. They had hired
competent lawyers and were preparing for a desperate fight. Where the
necessary money came from nobody seemed to know, although it was
generally felt that a powerful influence was at work to free them. The
district attorney expressed the strongest hopes of obtaining
convictions; but there came disturbing rumors of alibis for the
accused, of manufactured evidence, and of overwhelming surprises to be
sprung at the last moment. Detectives were shadowed by other
detectives, lawyers were spied upon, their plans leaked out; witnesses
for the State disappeared. Opposing the authorities was a master hand,
at once so cunning and so bold as to threaten a miscarriage of
justice.

This could be none other then Belisario Cardi, yet he seemed no nearer
discovery than ever. Norvin had no idea how to proceed. He could only
wait for some word from his new ally, Vittoria Fabrizi. It might be
that she would find a clue, and he feared to complicate matters by any
premature or ill-judged action. Meanwhile, he encountered the results
of Bernie Dreux's garrulity. He found himself generally regarded as
Myra Nell's accepted suitor, and, of course, could make no denial.
But when he telephoned to the girl herself and asked when he might
call he was surprised to hear her say:

"You can't call at all Why, you've ruined all my enjoyment as it is!
There hasn't been a man in this whole neighborhood since I came home.
Even the policeman takes the other side of the street."

"All the more reason why I should come."

"I won't have you hanging around until I get my Carnival dresses
fitted. Oh, Norvin, you ought to see them. There's one-white brocaded
peau de soie, all frills and rosebuds; the bodice is trimmed with
pearl passementerie, and it's a dear." After a moment's hesitation she
added: "Norvin dear, what does it cost to rent the front page of a
newspaper?"

"I don't know. I don't think it can be done."

"I wondered if you couldn't do it and--deny our engagement."

"Do you want to break it?" He could hardly keep the eagerness out of
his voice.

"Oh, no! But I'd like to deny it until after the Carnival. Now don't
be offended. I'll never get my dances filled if I'm as good as married
to you. Imagine a queen with an empty programme. I just love you to
pieces, of course, but I can't allow our engagement to interfere with
the success of the Carnival, can I?"

"Don't you know this is a thing we can't joke about?"

"Of course I do. It has taught me a good lesson."

"What?"

"I'll never be engaged to another man."

"Well! I should hope not. Do you intend to marry me, Myra Nell?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I think I will, then again I'm afraid
nobody'd ever come to see me if I did. I'll get old, like you."

"I'm not old."

"We'd both have gray hair and--I can't talk any more. Here comes
Bernie with an armful of dresses and a mouthful of pins. If he coughs
I'll be all alone in the world. No, you can't see me for a week. I
don't even want to hear from you except--"

"What?"

"Well, the strain of dress-fitting is tremendous. I'm nearly always
hungry--ravenous for nourishment."

"You mean you're out of candy, I suppose?"

"Practically. There's hardly a whole piece left. They've all been
nibbled."

Blake did not know whether to feel amused or ashamed. He was relieved
at the girl's apparent carelessness, yet this half-serious engagement
had put Myra Nell in a new light. He could not think of their
relations as really unchanged, and this was inevitable since his
sentiment for her was genuine. The grotesqueness of the affair--even
Myra Nell's own attitude toward it--seemed a violation of something
sacred.

But nothing could subdue the joy he felt in his growing intimacy with
Vittoria, whom he managed to see frequently, although she never
permitted him to come to Oliveta's house. Little by little her reserve
melted, and more and more she seemed to forget her intention of
devoting herself to a religious life, while fears for her friend's
safety appealed to the deep mother instinct which had remained latent
in her.

She was unable, however, even with Oliveta's assistance, to put any
information in his way, and Blake could think of no better plan than
to try once more to sound Caesar Maruffi. If Caesar had really written
the letters, it would be strange if he could not be induced to go
farther, despite his obvious fear of Cardi. It was unbelievable that a
man who knew so much about the Mafia was really in ignorance of its
leader's identity, and Blake was convinced that if he acted
diplomatically and seized the right occasion he could bring the fellow
to unbosom himself.

Discarding all thought of his own safety, he went often to the Red
Wing Club. But he found Caesar wary, and he dared not be too abrupt.
Time and again he was upon the verge of speaking out, but something
invariably prevented, some inner voice warned him that the man's mood
was unpropitious, that his extravagant caution was not yet satisfied.
He allowed the Sicilian to feel him out to his heart's content, and,
at last, seeing that he made no real progress, he set out one evening
resolved to risk all in an effort to reach some definite
understanding.

He was delayed in reaching the foreign quarter, and the dinner-hour
was nearly over when he arrived at the cafe. Maruffi was there, as
usual, but he had finished his meal and was playing cards with some of
his countrymen, swarthy, eager-faced, voluble fellows whose chatter
filled the place. They greeted Norvin politely as he seated himself
near by, then went on with their amusement as he ordered and ate his
dinner. He was near enough to hear their talk, and to catch an
occasional glimpse of the game, so that he was not long in finding
that they played for considerable stakes. They were as earnest as
school-boys, and he watched their ever-changing expressions with
interest, particularly when he discovered that Maruffi was in hard
luck. The big Sicilian sat bulked up in a corner, black, silent, and
sinister, his scowling brows bespeaking his rage. Occasionally he
growled a curse, then sent the waiter scurrying with an order. Other
Italians were drawn to the scene and crowded about the players.

When Norvin had finished his meal he sat back to smoke and idly sip
his claret, thinking he would wait until the game broke up, so that he
might get Caesar to himself and perhaps put the issue to the test. He
began to study the fellow's face, thinking what force, what passion
lay in it, puzzling his brain for some means of enlisting that energy
upon his side. But as fortune continued to run against Maruffi, he
began to fear that the time was not favorable.

What a picture those laughing, hawk-like men formed, surrounding the
black, resentful merchant! Martel Savigno could have drawn a group
like that, he mused, for he had a rare appreciation of his own people,
no matter what might be said of his talent. He had done some very
creditable Sicilian sketches; in fact, Norvin had one framed in his
room. What a pity the Count had been stricken in the first years of
his promise! What a ruthless hand it was that had destroyed him! What
a giant mind it was which had kept all Sicily in terror and scaled its
lips!

In that very group yonder there probably was more than one who knew
the evil genius in person, and yet they were held in a thralldom of
fear which no offer of riches could break. What manner of man was this
Cardi? What hellish methods did he follow to wield such despotism?
Those card-players were impudent, unscrupulous blades, as ready to
gamble with death as with their jingling coins, and yet they dared not
lift a hand against him.

Blake saw that the game had reached a point of unusual intensity; the
players were deeply engrossed; the spectators had fallen silent, with
bright eyes fixed upon the mounting stakes. When the tension broke
Norvin saw that Caesar had lost again, and smiled at the excited
conversation which ensued. There was a babble of laughter, of curses,
of expostulation, shafts of badinage flew at the Sicilian merchant. In
the midst of it he raised a huge, hairy fist and brought it down,
smiting the table until the coins, the cards, and the glasses leaped.
His face was distorted; his voice was thick with passion.

[Illustration: "SILENZIO" HE GROWLED, "I PLAY MY OWN GAME, AND I
LOSE"]

"_Silenzio!_" he growled, with such imperative fury that the
others fell silent; then hoarsely: "I play my own game, and I lose.
That is all! You are like old wives with your advice. It is my
accursed luck, which will some day bring me to the gallows. Now deal!"

That same nausea which invariably seized Norvin Blake in moments of
extreme excitement swept over him now. His whole body went cold, the
knot of figures faded from his vision, he heard the noisy voices as if
from a great distance. A giant hand had reached forth and gripped him,
halting his breath and his heart-beats. The room swam dizzily, in a
haze.

He found, an instant later, that he had risen and was gripping the
table in front of him as if for support. He had upset his goblet of
wine, and a wide red stain was spreading over the white cloth. To him
it was the blood of Martel Savigno. He stared down at it dazedly, his
eyes glazed with horror and surprise.

As the crimson splotch widened his heart took up its halting labors,
then began to race, faster and faster, until he felt himself
smothering; his frame was swept with tremors. Then the raucous voices
grew louder and louder, mounting into a roar, as if he were coming out
from a swoon, and all the time that red blotch grew until he could see
no other color; it blurred the room and the quarreling gamblers; it
steeped the very air. He was still deathly sick, as only those men are
whose blood sours, whose bones and muscles disintegrate at the touch
of fear.

He did not remember leaving the place, but found the cool night air
fanning fresh upon his face as he lurched blindly down the dark
street, within his eyes the picture of a scowling, black-browed
visage; in his ears that hoarse, unforgettable command,
_"Silenzio!"_

A single word, burdened with rage and venom, had carried him back over
the years to a certain moment and a certain spot on a Sicilian
mountain-side. The peculiar arrogance, the harsh vibrations of that
voice permitted no mistake. He saw again a ghost-gray road walled in
with fearful shadows, and at his feet two silent, twisted bodies dimly
outlined against the dust. A match flared and Ricardo Ferara grinned
up into the night beneath his grizzled mustache, Narcone, the butcher,
his hands still wet, was whining for the blood of the American. He
heard Martel Savigno call, heard the young Count's voice rise and
break in a shriek, heard a thunder of hoofs retreating into the
blackness. Sicilian men were peering into his face, talking excitedly;
through their chatter came that same voice, imperative, furious,
filled with rage, and it cried:

"_Silenzio!_"

There was no mistaking it. The veil was ripped at last.

Blake recalled the dim outlines of that burly, bull-necked figure as
it had leaped into brief silhouette against the glare of the blazing
match, that night so long ago, and then he cried out aloud in the
empty street as he realized how complete was the identification. He
remembered Donnelly's vague prediction five minutes before he was
stricken:

"If what I suspect is true, it will cause a sensation,"

A sensation indeed! The surprise, the realization of consequences, was
too overpowering to permit coherent thought. This Maruffi, or Cardi,
or whoever he might prove to be, was tremendous. No wonder he had been
hard to uncover. No wonder his power was absolute. He had the genius
of a great general, a great politician, and a great criminal, all in
one, and he was as pitiless as a panther, more deadly than a moccasin.
What influence had perverted such intellect into a weapon of iniquity?
What evil of the blood, what lesion of the brain, had distorted his
instincts so monstrously?

Caesar Maruffi, rich, respected, honored! It was unbelievable.

Blake halted after a time and took note of the surroundings into
which his feet had led him. He was deep in the foreign quarter, and
found, with a start, that he had been heading for Vittoria Fabrizi's
dwelling as if guided by some extraneous power. By a strong exercise
of will he calmed himself. What he needed above all things was
counsel, some one with whom he could share this amazing discovery.
Perhaps his presence here was a sign; at any rate, he decided to
follow his first impulse, so hastened onward.

Inside the house his brain cleared in a measure, as he waited; but his
agitation must have left plain traces, for no sooner had Vittoria
appeared than she exclaimed:

"My friend! Something has happened."

He rose and met her half-way. "Yes. Something tremendous, something
terrible."

"It was unwise of you to come here--you may be followed. Tell me
quickly what has made you so indiscreet?"

"I have found Belisario Cardi."

She paled; her eyes flamed.

"Yes--it's incredible." His voice shook. "I know the man well, that's
the marvel of it. I've trusted him; I've rubbed shoulders with him; I
went to him to-night to enlist his aid." He paused, realizing for the
first time that the mystery of those letters was now deeper than ever.
If Maruffi had not written them, who then? "He's the best and richest
Italian in the city. God! The thing is appalling."

"He must go to justice," said Vittoria, quietly. "His name?"

"Caesar Maruffi!"

The girl's eager look faded into one of blank dismay.

"No!" she said, strangely. "No!"

"Do you know him?"

In a daze she nodded; then cast a hurried, frightened look over her
shoulder.

"Madonna mia! Caesar Maruffi!" Disbelief and horror leaped into her
eyes. "You are mad! Not Caesar. I do not believe it."

"Caesar, _Caesar_." he cried." Why do you call him that? Why do you
doubt? What is he to you?"

She drew away with a look that brought him to his senses.

"There is no mistake," he mumbled." He is Cardi. I know it. I--"

"Wait, wait; don't tell me." She went groping uncertainly to the door.
"Don't tell me yet."

A moment later he heard her call:

"Oliveta! Come quickly, sorella mia. A friend. Quickly!"

Oliveta--recognizably the same girl that he had known in Sicily--
entered with her black brows lifted in anxious inquiry, her dark eyes
wide with apprehension.

"Some evil has befallen; tell me!" she said, wasting no time in
greeting.

"No. Nothing evil," Blake assured her.

"Our friend has made a terrible discovery," said Vittoria, in a faint
voice. "I cannot believe--I--want you to hear, carina." She motioned
to Norvin.

"I have been seeking our enemy, Belisario Cardi, and--I have found
him."

Oliveta cried out in fierce triumph: "God be praised! He lives; that
is enough. I feared he had cheated us."

"Listen!" exclaimed Vittoria, in such a tone that the peasant girl
started. "You don't understand."

"I understand nothing except that he lives. His blood shall wash our
blood. That is what we swore, and I have never forgotten, even though
you have. He shall go to meet his dead, and his soul shall be
accursed." She spoke with the same hysterical ferocity as when she had
cursed her father's murderer in the castello of Terranova.

"He calls himself Caesar Maruffi," Blake told her.

There was a pause, then she said, simply: "That is a lie."

"No, no! I saw him that night. I saw him again to-night."

"It cannot be."

"That is what I have said," concurred Vittoria, with strange
eagerness. "No, no--it would be too dreadful."

Mystified and offended, Blake defended his statement forcibly.
"Believe it or not, as you please, it is true. That night in Sicily he
came among the brigands who held me prisoner. They were talking
excitedly. He cried, 'Silenzio!' in a voice I can never forget. To-night
he was gambling, and he lost heavily. He was furious; his friends
began to chatter, and he cried that word again! I would know it a
thousand years hence. I saw it all in a flash. I saw other things I had
failed to grasp--his size, his appearance. I tell you he is Belisario
Cardi."

"God help me!" whispered the daughter of Ferara, crossing herself with
uncertain hand. She was staring affrightedly at Vittoria. "God help
me!" She kept repeating the words and gesture.

Blake turned inquiringly to the other woman and read the truth in her
eyes.

"Good Lord!" he cried. "He is her--"

She nodded. "They were to be married."

Oliveta began speaking slowly to her foster sister. "Yes, it is indeed
true. I have suspected something, but I dared not tell you all--the
things he said--all that I half learned and would not ask about. I was
afraid to know. I closed my eyes and my ears. Body of Christ! And all
the time my father's blood was on his hands!"

Vittoria appealed helplessly to Blake. "You see how it is. What is to
be done?"

But his attention was all centered upon Oliveta, whose face was
changing curiously.

"His blood!" she exclaimed. "I have loved that infamous man. His
hands--" She let her gaze fall to her own, as if they too might be
stained from contact.

"Does Maruffi know who you really are?" he asked.

Vittoria answered; "No. She would have told him soon; we were waiting
until we had run down those men. You see, it was largely through her
that I worked. Those things which I could not discover she learned
from--him. It was she who secured the names of Di Marco and Garcia and
the others."

Sudden enlightenment brought a cry from him.

"You! Then you wrote those letters! You are the 'One Who Knows'?"

Vittoria nodded; but her eyes were fixed upon the girl.

Oliveta was whispering through white lips: "It is the will of God! He
has been delivered into my hands."

"I am beginning to--"

"Wait!" Vittoria did not withdraw her anxious gaze. After an instant
she inquired, gently, "Oliveta, what shall we do?"

"There is but one thing to do."

"You mean--"

"I have been sent by God to betray him." Her face became convulsed,
her voice harsh. "I curse him, living and dead, in the name of my
father, in the name of Martel Savigno, who died by his hand. May he
pray unheard, may he burn in agony for a thousand thousand years. Take
him to the hangman, Signore. He shall die with my curse in his ears."

"I can't bring him to justice," Blake confessed. "I know him to be the
assassin, but my mere word isn't enough to convict him. I have no way
of connecting him with the murder of Chief Donnelly, and that is what
he must answer for."

Oliveta's lips writhed into a tortured smile. "Never fear, I shall
place the loop about his neck where my arms have lain. He has told me
little, for I feared to listen. But wait! Give me time."

Vittoria cried in a shocked voice: "Child! Not--that,"

"It was from him I learned of Gian Narcone and his other friends; now
I shall learn from his own mouth the whole truth. He shall weave the
rope for his own destruction. Oh, he is like water in my hands, and I
shall lie in his arms--"

"Lucrezia! You can't touch him--knowing--"

"I will have the truth, if I give myself to him in payment, if I am
damned for eternity. God has chosen me!"

She broke down into frightful sobs. With sisterly affection the other
woman put her arms about her and tried to soothe her. At length she
led her away, but for a long time Norvin could hear sounds of the
peasant girl's grief. When Vittoria reappeared her face was still pale
and troubled.

"I can do nothing with her. She seems to think we are all divine
instruments."

"Poor girl! She is in a frightful position. I'm too amazed to talk
sensibly. But surely she won't persist."

"You do not know her; she is like iron. Even I have no power over her
now, and I--fear for the result. She is Sicilian to the core, she will
sacrifice her body, her soul, for vengeance, and that--man is a
fiend."

"It's better to know the truth now than later."

"Yes, the web of chance has entangled our enemies and delivered them
bound into our hands. We cannot question the wisdom of that power
which wove the net. Oliveta is perhaps a stronger instrument than I;
she will never rest until her father is avenged."

"The strangest part is that you are the 'One Who Knows,' You told me
you had given up the quest."

"And so I had. I was weary of it. My life was bleak and empty. I could
not return to Sicily, because of the memories it held. We came South
in answer to the call of our blood, and I took up a work of love
instead of hate, while Oliveta found a new interest in this man, who
was wonderful and strong and fierce in his devotion to her. I attained
to that peace for which I had prayed. Then, when I was nearly ready
for my vows, my foster sister learned of Gian Narcone and came to me.
We talked long together, and I finally yielded to her demands--she is
a contadina, she never forgets--and I wrote that first letter to Mr.
Donnelly. I feared you might see and recognize my handwriting, so I
bought one of those new machines and learned to use it. What followed
you know. When we discovered that the Mafia had vowed to take Chief
Donnelly's life in payment for Narcone's, we were forced to go on or
have innocent blood upon our hands.

"The Chief was killed in spite of our warnings, and then you appeared
as the head of his avengers--you--my truest friend, the brother of
Martel. I knew that the Mafia would have your life unless you crushed
it, and in a sense I was responsible for your danger. It seemed my
duty to help break up this accursed brotherhood, much as I wished that
the work might fall to other hands. Oliveta was eager for the
struggle, and while she fought for her vengeance, I--I fought to save
you."

"You did this for _me!_" he cried, falteringly.

"Yes. My position at the hospital, my occupation made it easy for me
to learn many things. It was I who discovered the men who actually
killed Chief Donnelly; for Normando, after his injury, was brought
there and I attended him. I learned of his accomplices, where the boy,
Gino Cressi, was concealed, and other things. Lucrezia was a spy here
among her countrypeople, and Caesar was forever dropping bits of
information, though we never dreamed who he was."

She went to the long French window, and, shading her eyes with her
hands, peered down into the dark street.

"Then you have--thought of me," he urged. "You thought of me even
before we were drawn together by this net of chance?"

"You have seldom been out of my thoughts," she told him, quietly." You
were my only friend, and I live a lonely life." Turning with a wistful
smile, she asked: "And have you now and then remembered that Sicilian
girl you knew so long ago?"

His voice was unruly; it broke as he replied: "Your face is always
before me, Contessa. I grew very tired of waiting, but I always felt
that I would find you."

She gave him her two hands. "The thought of your affection and loyalty
has meant much to me; and it will always mean much. When I have
entered upon my new life and know that you are happy in yours--"

"But I never shall be happy," he broke out, hoarsely.

She stopped him with a grave look.

"Please! You must go now. I will show you a way. So long as Cardi is
at liberty you must not return; the risks are too great for all of us.
As Oliveta learns the truth I shall advise you. Poor girl, she needs
me tonight. Come!"

She led him through the house, down a stairway into the courtyard, and
directed him into a narrow passageway which led out to the street
behind. "Even this is not safe, for they may be waiting." She laid her
hand upon his arm and said, earnestly, "You will be careful?"

"I will."

He fought down the wild impulse to take her in his arms. As he skulked
through the gloom, searching the darkest shadows like a criminal, his
fear was gone, and in his heart was something singing joyously.




XIX

FELICITE



"You're just the man I'm looking for," Bernie Dreux told Norvin, whom
he chanced to meet on the following morning. "I've made a discovery."

"Indeed! What is it?"

"Hist! The walls have ears." Bernie cast a glance over his shoulder at
the busy, sunlit street and the hurrying crowds. "Come!" With a
melodramatic air he led Blake into a coffee-house near by. "You can't
guess it!" he exclaimed, when they were seated.

"And what's more, I won't try. You're getting too mysterious, Bernie."

"I've found him."

"Whom?"

"The bell-cow; the boss dago; the chief head-hunter; Belisario Cardi!"

Blake started and the smile died from his lips. Dreux ran on with some
heat:

"Oh, don't look so skeptical. Any man with intelligence and courage
can become as good a detective as I am. I've found your Capo-Mafia,
that's all."

"Who is he?"

"You won't believe me; but he's well thought of. You know him; O'Neil
knows him. He's generally trusted."

Norvin began to suspect that by some freak of fortune his little
friend had indeed stumbled upon the truth. Dreux was leaning back in
his chair and beaming triumphantly.

"Come, come! What's his name?"

"Joe Poggi."

"Poggi? He's the owner of that fruit-stand you've been watching."

"Exactly! Chief Donnelly suspected him."

"Nonsense!" Norvin's face was twitching once more. "Poggi is on the
force; he's a detective, like you."

"Come off!" Bernie was shocked and incredulous.

"Have you shadowed him for months without learning that he's an
officer?"

"I--I--He's the fellow, just the same."

"Oh, Bernie, you'd better stick to the antique business."

Mr. Dreux flushed angrily. "If he isn't one of the gang," he cried,
"what was he doing with Salvatore di Marco and Frank Garcia the night
after Donnelly's murder? What's he doing now with Caesar Maruffi if he
isn't after him for money?"

Blake's amusement suddenly gave place to eagerness.

"Maruffi!" he exclaimed. "What's this?"

"Joe Poggi is blackmailing Caesar Maruffi out of the money to defend
his friends. He was at di Marco's house an hour before Salvatore's
arrest. I saw him with Garcia and Bolla and Cardoni more than once."

"Why didn't you tell this to O'Neil?"

"I tried to, but he wouldn't listen. When I said I was a detective he
laughed in my face, and we had a scene. He told me I couldn't find a
ham at a Hebrew picnic. Since then I've been working alone. Poggi has
been lying low lately, but--" Bernie hesitated, and a slight flush
stole into his cheeks. "I've become acquainted with his wife--we're
good friends."

"And what have you learned from her?"

"Nothing directly; but I think she's acting as her husband's agent,
collecting blackmail to hire lawyers for the defense. Poor Caesar!
he's rich, and Poggi is bleeding him. Since Joe is on the police force
he knows every thing that goes on. No wonder you can't break up the
Mafia!"

"By Jove!" said Norvin. "I was warned of a leak in the department. But
it couldn't be Poggi!"

He began to question Bernie with a peremptoriness and rapidity that
made the little man blink. Mingled with much that was grotesque and
irrelevant, he drew out a fairly credible story of nocturnal meetings
between the Italian detective and Caesar Maruffi, which, taken in
connection with what he already knew, was most disturbing.

"How did you come to meet Mrs. Poggi?" he inquired, at last.

The question brought that same flush to Mr. Dreux's cheeks.

"She found I was following her one day," he explained, "so I told her
I was smitten by her beauty. I got away with it, too. Rather clever,
for an amateur, eh?"

"Is she good-looking?"

Bernie nodded. "She's an outrageous flirt, though, and--oh, what a
temper!" He shuddered nervously. "Why, she'd stick a knife into me or
bite my ears off if she suspected. She's insanely jealous."

"It's not a nice position for you."

"No. But I've something far worse than her on my hands--Felicite.
She's more to be feared than the Mafia."

"Surely Miss Delord isn't dangerous."

"Isn't she?" mocked the bachelor. "You ought to see--" He started, his
eyes fixed themselves upon the entrance to the cafe with a look of
horror, he paled and cast a hurried glance around as if in search of a
means of escape. "Here she is now!"

Norvin turned to behold Miss Delord approaching them like an arrow.
She was a tiny creature, but it was plain that she was out in all her
fighting strength. Her pretty face was dark with passion, her eyes
were flashing, and they pierced her lover with a terrible glance as
she paused before him, crying furiously:

"Well? Where is she?"

"Felicite," stammered Dreux, "d-don't cause a scene."

Miss Delord stamped a ridiculously small foot and cried again,
oblivious of all save her black jealousy:

"Where is she, I say? Eh? You fear to answer. You shield her,
perhaps." A plump brown hand darted forth and seized Bernie by the
ear, giving it a tweak like the bite of a parrot.

"Ouch!" he exclaimed, loudly. "Felicite, you'll ruin us!"

A waiter began to laugh in smothered tones.

"Tell me," stormed the diminutive fury. "It is time we had a
settlement, she and I. I will lead you to her by those ass's ears of
yours and let her hear the truth from your own mouth."

"Miss Delord, you do Bernie an injustice," Norvin said, placatingly.

She turned swiftly. "Injustice? Bah! He is a flirt, a loathsome
trifler. What could be more abominable?"

"Felicite! D-don't make a scene," groaned the unhappy Dreux, nursing
his ear and staring about the cafe with frightened, appealing eyes.

"Bernie was just--"

"You defend him, eh?" stormed the creole girl. "You are his friend.
Beware, M'sieu, that I do not pull your ears also. I came here to
unmask him."

"Please sit down. You're attracting attention."

"Attention! Yes! But this is nothing to what will follow. I shall make
known his depravity to the whole city, for he has sweethearts like
that King Solomon of old. It is his beauty, M'sieu! Listen! He loves a
married woman! Imagine it!"

"Felicite! For Heaven's sake--"

"A dago woman by the name of Piggy. But wait, I shall make her squeal.
Piggy! A suitable name, indeed! He follows her about; he meets her
secretly; he adores her, the scoundrel! Is it not disgusting? But I am
no fool. I, too, have watched; I have followed them both, and I shall
scratch her black face until it bleeds, then I shall tell her husband
the whole truth."

Miss Delord paused, out of breath for the moment, while Bernie pawed
at her in a futile manner. Beads of perspiration were gathering upon
his brow and he seemed upon the verge of swooning. As if from habit,
however, he reached forth a trembling hand and deftly replaced a loose
hairpin, then tucked in a stray lock which Felicite's vehemence had
disarranged.

"Y-your hat's on one side, my dear," he told her.

She tossed her head and drew away, saying, "Your touch contaminates
me--monster!"

Blake drew out a chair for her; his eyes were twinkling as he said,
"Won't you allow him to explain?"

"There is nothing to explain, since I know everything. See! His tongue
cleaves to the roof of his mouth. He quails! He cannot even lie! But
wait until I have told the Piggy's husband--that big, black ruffian--
then perhaps he will find his voice. Ah, if I had found that woman
here there would have been a scene, I promise you."

"Help me--out," gasped Mr. Dreux, and Norvin came willingly to his
friend's rescue.

"Bernie loves no one but you," he said.

"So? I glory in the fact that I loathe him."

"Please sit down."

"No!" Miss Delord plumped herself down upon the edge of the proffered
seat, her toes bardy touching the floor.

"I'm--working Mrs. Poggi," Bernie explained. "I'm a--detective."

"What new falsehood is this?"

"No falsehood at all," Norvin told her. "He is a detective--a very
fine one, too--and he has been working on the Mafia case for a long
time. It has been part of his work to follow the Poggis. Please don't
allow your jealousy to ruin everything."

"I am not jealous. I merely will not let him love another, that is
all--But what is this you say?" Her velvet eyes had lost a little of
their hardness; they were as round as buttons and fixed inquiringly
upon the speaker.

"You must believe me," he said, impressively, "though I can't tell you
more. Even of this you mustn't breathe a word to any one. Mr. Dreux
has had to permit this misunderstanding, much against his will,
because of the secrecy imposed upon him."

With wonderful quickness the anger died out of Felicite's face, to be
replaced by a look of sweetness.

"A detective!" she cried, turning to Bernie. "You work for the public
good, at the risk of your life? And that dago woman is one of the
Mafia? What a noble work! You forgive me?"

Instantly Mr. Dreux's embarrassment left him and he assumed a chilling
haughtiness.

"Forgive you? After such a scene? My dear girl, that's asking a good
deal."

Felicite's lips trembled, her eyes, as they turned to Norvin, held
such an appeal that he hastened to reassure her.

"Of course he forgives you. He's delighted that you care enough to be
jealous."

Bernie grinned, whereupon his peppery sweetheart exploded angrily:

"You delight in my unhappiness, villain! You enjoy my sufferings! Very
well! You have flirted; I shall flirt You drive me to distraction; I
shall behave accordingly. That Antoine Giroux worships me and would
buy a ring for me to-morrow if I would consent."

"I'll murder him!" exclaimed Dreux, with more savagery than his friend
believed was in him.

"Now, don't start all over again," Blake cautioned them. "You are mad
about each other--"

"Nothing of the sort," declared Felicite.

"At least Bernie worships you."

The girl fell silent and beamed openly upon her lover.

"Why don't you two end this sort of misunderstanding and--marry?"

Miss Delord paled at this bold question. Dreux gasped and flushed
dully, but seemed to find no words.

"That is impossible," he said, finally.

"It's nothing of the sort," urged Blake. "You think you're happy this
way, but you're not and never will be. You're letting the best years
of your lives escape. Why care what people say if you're happy with
each other and unhappy when apart?"

To his surprise, the girl turned upon him fiercely. "Do not torture
Bernie so," she cried. "There are reasons why he cannot marry. I love
him, he adores me; that is enough." Two tears gathered and stole down
her smooth cheeks. "You are cruel to hurt him so, M'sieu."

"Bernie, you're a coward!" Blake said, with some degree of feeling,
but the girl flew once more to her lover's defense.

"Coward, indeed! His bravery is unbelievable. Does he not risk his
life for this miserable Committee of yours? He has the courage of a
thousand lions."

"I admire your loyalty--and of course it's really not my affair,
although--Why don't you go out to the park where the birds are
singing, and talk it all over? Those birds are always glad to welcome
lovers. Meanwhile I'll look into the Poggi matter."

Bernie was glad enough to end the scene, and he arose with alacrity;
but his face was very red and he avoided the eye of his friend. As for
Miss Delord, now that her doubts were quelled, she was as sparkling
and as cheerful as an April morning.

If Bernie Dreux supposed that his troubles for the day had ended with
that stormy scene in the cafe, he was greatly mistaken. He had
promised Felicite that he would fly to her with the coming of dusk,
and that neither the claims of duty nor of family should keep him from
her side. But that evening Myra Nell seized upon him as he was
cautiously tiptoeing past her door on his way out. The tone of her
greeting gave him an unpleasant start.

"I want to talk with you, young man," she said.

Now nobody, save Myra Nell, ever assumed the poetic license of calling
Bernie "young man," and even she did so only upon momentous occasions.
A quick glance at her face confirmed his premonition of an
uncomfortable half-hour.

"I haven't a cent, really," he said, desperately.

"This isn't about money." She was very grave. "It is something far
more serious."

"Then what can it be?" he inquired, in a tone of mild surprise.

But she deigned no explanation until she had led him into the library,
waved him imperiously to a seat upon the hair-cloth sofa, and composed
herself on a chair facing him. Reflecting that he was already late for
his appointment, he wriggled uncomfortably under her gaze.

"Well?" she said, after a pause. Something in her bearing caused his
spirits to continue their downward course. Her brow was furrowed with
a somber portent.

"Yes'm," he said, nervously, quite like a small schoolboy whose eyes
are fixed upon the sunshine outside.

"I've heard the truth."

"Yes'm," he repeated, vaguely.

"Needless to say I'm crushed,"

Bernie slowly whitened as the meaning of his sister's words sank in.
He seemed to melt, to settle together, and his eyes filled with a
strange, hunted expression.

"What are you talking about?" he demanded, thickly.

"You know, very well."

"Do I?"

She nodded her head.

"This is the first disgrace which has ever fallen upon us, and I'm
heartbroken."

"I don't understand," he protested, in a voice so faint she could
scarcely hear him. But his pallor increased; he sat upon the edge of
the couch, clutching it nervously as if it had begun to move under
him. He really felt dizzy. Myra Nell had a bottle of smelling-salts in
her room, and he thought of asking her to fetch it.

"Even yet I can't believe it of you," she continued. "The idea that
you, my protector, the one man upon whom I've always looked with
reverence and respect; you, my sole remaining relative.... The idea
that you should be entangled in a miserable intrigue.... Why, it's
appalling!" Her lips quivered, tears welled into her eyes, seeing
which the little man felt himself strangling.

"Don't!" he cried, miserably. "I didn't think you'd ever find it out."
"I seem to be the only one who doesn't know all about it." Myra Nell
shuddered.

"I simply couldn't help it," he told her. "I'm human and I've been in
love for years."

"But think what people are saying."

He passed a shaking hand over his forehead, which had grown damp. "One
never realizes the outcome of these things until too late. I hoped
you'd never discover it. I've done everything I could to conceal it."

"That's the terrible part--your double life. Don't you know it's
wrong, wicked, vile? I can't really believe it of you. Why, you're my
own brother! The honor of our name rests upon you. The--the idea that
you should fall a victim to the wiles of a low, vulgar--"

Bernie stiffened his back and his colorless eyes flashed.

"Myra Nell, she's nothing like that!" he declared. "You don't know
her."

"Perhaps. But didn't you think of me?" He nodded his head. "Didn't you
realize it meant my social ruin?" Again he nodded, his mind in a whirl
of doubts and fears and furious regrets. "Nobody'll care to marry me
now. What do you think Lecompte will say?"

"What the devil has Lecompte to do with it? You're engaged to Norvin
Blake."

"Oh, yes, among the others."

Bernie was too miserable to voice the indignation which such flippancy
evoked in him. He merely said:

"Norvin isn't like the others. It's different with him; he compromised
you,"

"Yes. It was rather nice of him, but do you think he'll care to
continue our engagement after this?"

"Oh, he's known about Felicite for a long time. Most of the fellows
know. That's what makes it so hard."

This intelligence entirely robbed Myra Nell of words; she stared at
her half-brother as if trying to realize that the man who had made
this shocking admission was he.

"Do you mean to tell me that your friends have known of this
disgrace?" she asked at length.

Bernie nodded. "Of course it seems terrible to you, Myra Nell, for
you're innocent and unworldly, and I'm rather a dissipated old chap.
But I'm awfully lonely. The men of my own age are successful and busy
and they've all left me behind; the young ones don't find me
interesting. You see, I don't know anything, I can't do anything, I'm
a failure. Nobody cares anything about me, except you and Felicite I
found a haven in her society; her faith in me is splendid. To her I'm
all that's heroic and fine and manly, so when I'm with her I begin to
feel that I'm really all she believes, all that I hoped to be once
upon a time. She shares my dreams and I allow myself to believe in her
beliefs."

"And yet you must realize that your conduct is shocking?"

"I suppose I do."

"You must know that you're an utterly immoral person?" He nodded.
"You're my protector, Bernie; you're all I have. I'm a poor motherless
girl and I lean upon you. But you must appreciate now that you're
quite unfit to act as my guardian."

The little man wailed his miserable assent. His half-sister's
reproachful eyes distracted him; the mention of her defenseless
position before the world touched his sorest feeling. It was almost
more than he could stand, He was upon the verge of hysterical
breakdown, when her manner suddenly changed.

Her eyes brightened, and, rising swiftly, she flung herself down
beside him upon the sofa, where he still sat clutching it as if it
were a bucking horse. Then, curling one foot under her, she bent
toward him, all eagerness, all impulsiveness. With breathless
intensity she inquired:

"Tell me, Bunnie, is she pretty?"

"Very pretty, indeed," he said, lamely.

"What's she like? Quick! Tell me all about her. This is the wickedest
thing I ever heard of and I'm _perfectly_ delighted."

It was Bernie's turn to look shocked. He arose indignantly. "Myra
Nell! You paralyze me. Have you no moral--"

"Rats!" interrupted Miss Warren, inelegantly. "I've let you preach to
me in the past, but never again. We've the same blood in us, Bunnie.
If I were a man I dare say I'd do the most terrible things--although
I've never dreamed of anything so fiercely awful as this."

"I should hope not," he gasped.

"So come now, tell me everything. Does she pet you and call you funny
names and ruffle your hair the way I do?"

Bernie assumed an attitude of military erectness. "It's bad enough for
me to be a reprobate in secret," he said, stiffly, "but I sha'n't
allow my own flesh and blood to share my shame and gloat over it."

The girl's essential innocence, her child-like capacity for seeing
only the romance of a situation in which he himself recognized real
dishonor, made him feel ashamed, yet he was grateful that she took the
matter, after all, so lightly. His respite, however, was of short
duration. Failing to draw him out on the subject which held her
interest for the moment, Myra Nell followed the beckoning of a new
thought. Fixing her eyes meditatively upon him, she said, with mellow
satisfaction:

"It seems we're both being gossiped about, dear."

"You? What have _you_ been doing?" he demanded, in despair.

"Oh, I really haven't done anything, but it's nearly as bad. There's a
report that Norvin Blake is paying all my Carnival bills, and
naturally it has occasioned talk. Of course I denied it; the idea is
too preposterous."

Bernie, who had in a measure recovered his composure, felt himself
paling once more.

"Amy Cline told me she'd heard that he actually bought my
_dresses_, but Amy is a catty creature. She's mad over Lecompte,
you know; that's why I encourage him; and she wanted to be Queen, too,
but la, la, she's so skinny! Well, I was furious, naturally--" Miss
Warren paused, quick to note the telltale signs in her brother's face.
"Bernie!" she said. "Look me in the eye!" Then--"It is true!"

Her own eyes were round and horrified, her rosy cheeks lost something
of their healthy glow; for once in her capricious life she was not
acting.

"I never dreamed you'd learn about it," her brother protested. "When
Norvin asked me if you'd like to be Queen I forbade him to mention it
to you, for I couldn't afford the expense. But he told you in spite of
me, and when I saw your heart was set on it--I--I just couldn't
refuse. I allowed him to loan me the money."

"Bernie! Bernie!" Myra Nell rose and, turning her back upon him,
stared out of the window into the dusk of the evening. At length she
said, with a strange catch in her voice, "You're an anxious comfort,
Bernie, for an orphan girl." Another moment passed in silence before
he ventured:

"You see, I knew he'd marry you sooner or later, so it wasn't really a
loan." He saw the color flood her neck and cheek at his words, but he
was unprepared for her reply.

"I'll never marry him now; I'll never speak to him again."

"Why not?"

"Can't you understand? Do you think I'm entirely lacking in pride?
What kind of man can he be to _tell_ of his loan, to make it
public that the very dresses which cover me were bought with his
money?" She turned upon her half-brother with clenched hands and eyes
which were gleaming through tears of indignation. "I could _kill_
him for that."

"He didn't tell," Bernie blurted out.

"He must have. Nobody knew it except you--" Her eyes widened; she
hesitated. "You?" she gasped.

It was indeed, the hour of Bernie's discomfiture. Myra Nell was his
divinity, and to confess his personal offense against her, to destroy
her faith in him, was the hardest thing he had ever done. But he was
gentleman enough not to spare himself. At the cost of an effort which
left him colorless he told her the truth.

"I'd been drinking, that day of the quarantine. I thought I'd fix it
so he couldn't back out."

Myra Nell's lips were white as she said, slowly, measuring him
meanwhile with a curious glance:

"Well, I reckon you fixed it right enough; I reckon you fixed it so
that neither of us can back out." She turned and went slowly up-stairs,
past the badly done portraits of her people which stared down
at her in all their ancient pride. She carried her head high before
them, but, once in her room, she flung herself upon her bed and wept
as if her heart were breaking.

Fortunately for Norvin Blake's peace of mind, he had no inkling of
Bernie's indiscretion nor of any change in Myra Nell. His work now
occupied his mind to the exclusion of everything else. While anxiously
waiting for some word from Oliveta he took up, with O'Neil, the
investigation of Joe Poggi, the Italian detective. Before definite
results had been obtained he was delighted to receive a visit from
Vittoria Fabrizi, who explained that she had risked coming to see him
because she dared not trust the mails and feared to bring him into the
foreign quarter.

"Then Oliveta has made some progress?" he asked, eagerly.

"Yes."

"Good! Poor girl, it must be terribly hard for her to play such a
part."

"No one knows how hard it has been. You would not recognize her, she
has changed so. Her love, for which we were so deeply thankful, has
turned into bitter hate. It was a long time before she dared trust
herself with Maruffi, for always she saw the blood of her father upon
his hands. But she is Sicilian, she turned to stone and finally
welcomed his caresses. Ah! that man will suffer for what he has made
her endure."

Blake inquired, curiously, "Does he really love her?"

"Yes. That is the strangest part of the whole affair. It is the one
good thing in his character, the bit of gold in that queer alloy which
goes to make him up. Perhaps if he had met her when he was younger,
love would have made him a different man. In her hands he is like wax;
he is simple, childlike; he fawns upon her, he would shower her with
gifts and attentions; yet underneath there is that streak of devilish
cunning."

"What has he told, so far?"

"Much that is significant, little that is definite. We have pieced his
words together, bit by bit, and uncovered his life an inch at a time.
It was he who paid the blood money to di Marco and Bolla--thousand
dollars."

"A thousand dollars for the life of Dan Donnelly!"

The Countess lowered her yellow head. "They in turn hired Larubio,
Normando, and the rest. The chain is complete."

"Then all that remains is to prove it, link by link, before arresting
him."

"Is not Oliveta's word sufficient proof?"

"No." Blake paced his office silently, followed by the anxious gaze of
his caller. At length he asked, "Will she take the stand at the
trial?"

"Heaven forbid! Nothing could induce her to do so. That is no part of
her scheme of vengeance, you understand? Being Sicilian, she will work
only in her own way. Besides--that would mean the disclosure of her
identity and mine."

"I feared as much. In that case every point which Maruffi confesses to
her must be verified by other means. That will not be easy, but I dare
say it can be done."

"The law is such a stupid thing!" exclaimed Vittoria. "It has no eyes,
it will not reason, it cannot multiply nor add; it must be led by the
hand like a blind old man and be told that two and two make four.
However, I have a plan."

"I confess that I see no way. What do you advise?"

"These accused men are in the Parish prison, yes? Very well. Imprison
spies with them who will gain their confidence. In that way we can
verify Maruffi's words."

"That's not so easily done. There is no certainty that they would make
damaging admissions."

"Men who dwell constantly with thoughts of their guilt feel the need
of talking. The mind is incapable of continued silence; it must
communicate the things that weigh it down. Let the imprisoned Mafiosi
mingle with one another freely whenever ears are open near by, and you
will surely get results." Seeing him frown in thought, she continued,
after a moment, "You told me of a great detective agency--one which
sent that man Corte here to betray Narcone."

"Yes, the Pinkertons. I was thinking of them. I believe it can be
done. At any rate, leave it to me to try, and if I succeed no one
shall know about it, not even our own police. When our spies enter the
prison, if they do, it will be in a way to inspire confidence among
the Mafiosi. Meanwhile, do you think you are entirely safe in that
foreign quarter?"

"Quite safe, although the situation is trying. I have felt the strain
almost as deeply as my unfortunate sister."

"And when it is all over you will be ready for your vows?"

Her answer gave no sign of the hesitation he had hoped for and half
expected.

"Of course."

He shook his head doubtfully. "Somehow, I--I feel that fate will keep
you from that life; I cannot think of you as a Sister of Mercy." In
spite of himself his voice was uneven and his eyes were alight with
the hope which she so steadfastly refused to recognize.

As she rose to leave she said, musingly, "How strange it is that this
master of crime and intrigue should betray himself through the one
good and unselfish emotion of his life!"

"Samson was shorn of his strength by the fingers of a woman," he said.

"Yes. Many good men have been betrayed by evil women, but it is not
often that evil men meet their punishment through good ones. And now--
a riverderci."

"Good-by, for a few days." He pressed his lips lightly to her fingers.




XX

THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS



Late one day, a fortnight after her visit to Blake's office, Vittoria
returned from a call upon Myra Nell Warren, to find Oliveta in a high
state of apprehension. The girl, who had evidently kept watch for her,
met her at the door, and inquired, nervously:

"What news? What have you heard?"

"Nothing further, sorella mia."

"Impossible! God in Heaven! I am dying! This suspense--I cannot endure
it longer."

Vittoria laid a comforting hand upon her.

"Courage!" she said. "We can only wait. I too am torn by a thousand
demons. Caesar has gone, but no one knows where."

Oliveta shuddered. "We are ruined. He suspects."

"So you have said before, but how could he suspect?"

"I don't know, yet judge for yourself. I worm his secrets from him at
the cost of kisses and endearments; I hold him in my arms and with
smiles and caresses I lead him to betray himself. Then, suddenly,
without warning or farewell, he vanishes. I tell you he knows. He has
the cunning of the fiend, and your friend Signore Blake has
blundered." Oliveta's face blanched with terror. She clung to her
companion weakly, repeating over and over: "He will return. God help
us, he will return."

"Even though he knows the truth, which is far from likely, he would
scarcely dare to come here," Vittoria said, striving with a show of
confidence which she did not feel to calm her foster sister.

"You do not know him as I do. You do not know the furies which goad
him in his anger."

In spite of herself Vittoria felt choked again by those fears which
during the days since Maruffi's disappearance she had with difficulty
controlled. She knew that the net had been spread for him in all
caution, yet he had slipped through it. Whether he had been warned or
whether mere chance had taken him from the city at the last moment,
neither she, nor Blake, nor the Chief of Police had been able to
learn. All had been done with such secrecy that, except a bare
half-dozen trusted officers, no one knew him to be even suspected of a
part in the Mafia's affairs. Norvin had been quick to sense the possible
danger to the two women, and had urged them to accept his protection;
but they had convinced him that such a course had its own dangers, for
in case the Mafioso was really unsuspicious the slightest indiscretion
on their part might frighten him. Therefore they had insisted upon
living as usual until something more definite was known.

This afternoon Vittoria had received a message from Myra Nell,
requesting, or rather demanding, her immediate attendance. She had
gone gladly, hoping to divert her mind from its present anxieties; but
the girl had talked of little except Norvin Blake and the effect had
not been calming.

Oliveta soon discovered that her sister was in a state to receive
rather than give consolation.

"Carissima, you are ill!" she said with concern.

Vittoria assented. "It is my eyes--my head. The heat is perhaps as
much to blame as our many worries." She removed her hat and pressed
slender fingers to her throbbing temples, while Oliveta drew the
curtains against the fierce rays of a westering sun. Later, clad in a
loose silken robe, Vittoria flung herself upon the low couch and her
companion let down her luxuriant masses of hair until it enveloped her
like a cloud. She lay back upon the cushions in grateful relaxation,
while Oliveta combed and brushed the braids, soothing her with an
occasional touch of cool palms or straying fingers.

"How strange that both our lives should have been blighted by this
man!" the peasant girl said at length.

"'Sh-h! You must not think of him so unceasingly," Vittoria warned
her.

"One's thoughts go where they will when one is sick and wearied. I
have grown to hate everything about me--the people, the life, the
country."

"Sicily is calling you, perhaps?"

Oliveta answered eagerly, "Yes! You, too, are unhappy, my dearest. Let
us go home. Home!" She let her hands fall idle and stared ahead of
her, seeing the purple hills behind Terranova, the dusty gray-green
groves of olive-trees, the brilliant fields of sumach, the arbors bent
beneath their weight of blushing fruit. "I want to see the village
people again, my father's relatives, old Aliandro, and the Notary's
little boy--"

"He must be a well-grown lad, by now," murmured Vittoria. "Aliandro, I
fear, is dead. But it is a long road to Terranova; we have--changed."

"Yes--everything has changed. My happiness has changed to misery, my
hope to despair, my love to hate."

"Poor sister mine!" Vittoria sympathized. "Be patient. No wound is too
deep for time to heal. The scar will remain, but the pain will
disappear. I should know, for I have suffered."

"And do you suffer no longer? It has been a long time since you
mentioned--Martel."

For a moment Vittoria remained silent, her eyes closed. When she
replied it was not in answer to the question. "I can never return to
Sicily, for it would awaken nothing but distress in me. But there is
no reason why you should not go if you wish. You have the means, while
all that I had has been given to the Sisters."

Oliveta cried out at this passionately. "I have nothing. That which
you gave me I hold only for you. But I would not go alone; I shall
never leave you."

"Some time you must, my dear. Our parting is not far off."

"I am not sure." The peasant girl hesitated. "Deep in your heart, do
you hope to find peace inside the walls of that hospital?"

"Yes--peace, at least; perhaps contentment and happiness also."

"That is impossible," said Oliveta, at which Vittoria's hazel eyes
flew open.

"Eh? Why not?"

"Because you love this Signore Blake!"

"Oliveta! You are losing your wits."

"Perhaps! But I have not lost my eyes. As for him, he loved you even
in Sicily."

"What then?"

"He is a fine man. I think you could hear an echo to the love you
cherished for Martel, if you but listened."

Vittoria gazed at her foster-sister with a look half tender and half
stern. Her voice had lost some of its languid indifference when she
replied:

"Any feeling I might have would indeed be no more than an echo. I--am
not like other women; something in me is dead--it is the power to love
as women love. I am like a person who emerges from a conflagration,
blinded; the eyes are there, but the sight is gone."

"Perhaps you only sleep, like the princess who waited for a kiss--"

Vittoria interrupted impatiently: "No, no! And you mistake his
feelings. I attract him, perhaps, but he loves Miss Warren and has
asked her to marry him. What is more, she adores him and--they were
made for each other."

"She adores him!" echoed the other. "Che Dio! She only plays at love.
Her affections are as shifting as the winds."

"That may be. But he is in earnest. It was he who gave her this social
triumph--he made her Queen of the Carnival. He even bought her
dresses. It was that which caused her to send for me this afternoon.
Heaven knows I was in no mood to listen, but she chattered like a
magpie. As if I could advise her wisely!"

"She is very dear to you," Oliveta ventured.

"Indeed, yes. She shares with you all the love that is left in me."

"I think I understand. You have principles, my sister. You have
purposely barred the way to your fairy prince, and will continue
sleeping."

Vittoria's brow showed faint lines, but whether of pain or annoyance
it was hard to tell.

Oliveta sighed. "What evil fortune overhangs us that we should be
denied love!"

"Please! Let us speak no more of it." She turned her face away and for
a long time her companion soothed her with silent ministrations.
Meanwhile the dusk settled, the golden flames died out of the western
windows, the room darkened. Seeing that her patient slept, Oliveta
arose and with noiseless step went to a little shrine which hung on
the wall. She knelt before the figure of the Virgin, whispering a
prayer, then lit a fresh candle for her sister's pain and left the
room, partly closing the door behind her.

She had allowed the maid-servant to go for the afternoon, and found,
upon examination, that the day's marketing had been neglected. There
was still time, however, in which to secure some delicacies to tempt
Vittoria's taste so she flung a shawl over her dark hair and descended
softly to the street.

A little earlier on this same afternoon, as Norvin Blake sat at work
in his office, the telephone bell roused him from deep thought. He
seized the instrument eagerly, hoping for any news that would relieve
the tension upon his nerves. For uncertainty as to Maruffi's
whereabouts had weighed heavily upon him, especially in view of the
possible danger to the woman he loved and to her devoted companion.
The voice of O'Neil came over the wire, full-toned and distinct:

"Hello! Is this Blake?"--and then, "We've got Maruffi!"

"When? Where?" shouted Norvin.

"Five minutes ago; at his own house. Johnson and Dean have been
watching the place. He went with them like a lamb, too. They've just
'phoned me that they're all on their way here."

"Good! Do you need me?"

"No! See you later. Good-by!"

The Acting Chief slammed up his receiver, leaving his hearer stunned
at the suddenness of this long-awaited denouement.

Maruffi taken! His race run! Then this was the end of the fight! A
ferocious triumph flooded Norvin's brain. With Belisario Cardi in the
hands of the law the spell of the Mafia was broken. Savigno and
Donnelly were as good as avenged. He experienced an odd feeling of
relaxation, as if both his body and brain were cramped and tired with
waiting. Then, realizing that the Countess and Oliveta must have
suffered an even greater strain, he set out at once to give them the
news in person.

As he turned swiftly into Royal Street he encountered O'Connell, who,
noting his haste and something unusual in his bearing, detained him to
ask the cause.

"Haven't you heard?" exclaimed Norvin. "Maruffi's captured at last."

"You don't mean it!"

"Yes. O'Neil told me over the wire not ten minutes ago."

O'Connell fell into step with him, saying, incredulously: "And he came
without a fight? Lord! I can't believe it."

"Nor I. I expected trouble with him."

"Sure! I thought he was a bad one, but that's the way it goes
sometimes. I reckon he saw he had no chance." The officer shook his
red head. "It's just my blamed luck to miss the fun." O'Connell was
one of the few who had been first trusted with the news of Maruffi's
identity, and for the past fortnight he had been casting high and low
for the Sicilian's trail. Ever since that October night when he had
supported Donnelly in his arms as the life ebbed from the Chief, ever
since he had knelt on the soft banquette with the sting of powder
smoke in his nostrils, he had been obsessed by a fanatical desire to
be in at the death of his friend's murderers. He left Blake at his
destination and hurried on toward St. Phillip Street in the vague hope
that he might not be too late to take a hand in some part of the
proceedings.

Blake's hand was upon Oliveta's bell when the door opened and she
confronted him. Her start, her frightened cry, gave evidence of the
nervous dread under which she labored.

"Don't be afraid, Oliveta," he said, quickly. "I come with news--good
news."

She swayed and groped blindly for support. He put out his hand to
sustain her, but she shrank away from him, saying, faintly: "Then he
is captured? God be praised!"

In spite of the words, her eyes filmed over with tears, a look of
abject misery bared itself upon her face.

"Where is the Countess?"

"Above--resting. Come; she, too, will rejoice."

"Let me take her the news. You were going out, and--I think the air
will do you good. Be brave, Oliveta; you have done your share, and
there's nothing more to fear."

She acquiesced dully; her olive features were ghastly as she felt her
way past him; she walked like a sick woman.

He watched her pityingly for a moment, then mounted the stairs. As he
laid his hand upon the door it gave to his touch and he stood upon the
threshold of the parlor. Vittoria's name was upon his lips when, by
the dim evening light which came through the drawn curtains and by the
faint illumination from the solitary shrine candle, he saw her
recumbent form upon the couch.

She was lying in an attitude of complete relaxation, her sun-gilded
hair straying in long thick braids below her waist, Those tawny ropes
were of a length and thickness to bind a man about the body. Her lips
were slightly parted; her lashes lay like dark shadows against her
ivory cheeks.

He was swept by a sudden awed abashment. The impulse to retreat came
over him, but he lacked the will. The longing which had remained so
strong in him through years of denial, governing the whole course of
his life, blazed up in him now and increased with every heartbeat. He
found that without willing it he had come close to the couch. The
girl's slim hand lay upon the cushions, limply upturned to him; it was
half open and there sprang through him an ungovernable desire to bury
his lips in its rosy palm. He knelt, then quailed and recovered
himself. At the same instant she stirred and, to his incredulous
delight, whispered his name.

A wild exultation shot through him. Why not yield to this madness, he
asked himself, dizzily. The long struggle was over now. For this
woman's sake he had repeatedly played the part of bravery in a fever
of fear. He had done what he had done to make himself worthy of her,
and now, at the last, he was to have nothing--absolutely nothing,
except a memory. Against these thoughts his notions of honorable
conduct hastily and confusedly arrayed themselves. But he was in no
state to reason. The same enchantment, half psychic, half physical,
ethereal yet strongly human, that had mastered him in the old Sicilian
days, was at work upon him now. Dimly he felt that so mighty and
natural a thing ought not to be resisted. He stood stiffly like a man
spellbound.

It may have been Oliveta's accusation that affected the course of the
sleeping woman's thoughts, it may have been that she felt the man's
nearness, or that some influence passed from his mind to hers. However
it was, she spoke his name again, her fingers closed over his, she
drew him toward her.

He yielded; her warm breath beat upon his face; then the last atoms of
self-restraint fled away from him like sparks before a fierce night
wind. A fiery madness coursed through his veins as he caught her to
him. Her lips were fevered with sleep. For a moment the caress seemed
real; it was the climax of his hopes, the attainment of his longings.
He crushed her in his arms; her hair blinded him; he buried his face
in it, kissing her brow, her cheek, the curve where neck and shoulder
met, and all the time he was speaking her name with hoarse tenderness.

So strangely had the fanciful merged into the real that the girl was
slow in waking. Her eyelids fluttered, her breast rose and fell
tumultuously, and even while her wits were struggling back to reality
her arms clung to him. But the transition was brief. Her eyes opened,
and she stiffened as with the shock of an electric current. A cry, a
swift, writhing movement, and she was upon her feet, his incoherent
words beating upon her ears but making no impression upon her brain.

"_You_! God above!" she cried.

She faced him, white, terror-stricken, yet splendid in her anger. She
was still dazed, but horror and dismay leaped quickly into her eyes.

"Margherita! You called me. You drew me to you. It was your real self
that spoke--I know it."

"You--kissed me while--I slept!"

He paled at the look with which she scorched him, then broke out,
doggedly:

"You wanted me; you drew me close. You can't undo that moment--you
can't. My God! Don't tell me it was all a mistake. That would make it
unendurable. I could never forgive myself."

She hid her face with a choking cry of shame. "No, no! I didn't
know--"

He approached and touched her arm timidly. "Margherita," he said, "if
I thought you really did not call me--if I were made to believe that I
had committed an unpardonable offense against your womanhood and our
friendship--I would go and kill myself. But somehow I cannot believe
that. I was beside myself--but I was never more exalted. Something
greater than my own will made me do as I did. I think it was your love
answering to mine. If that is not so--if it is all a delusion--there
is nothing left for me. I have played my part out to the end. My work
is done, and I do not see how I can go on living."

There was an odd mingling of pain and rapture in the gaze she raised
to his. It gave him courage.

"Why struggle longer?" he urged, gently. "Why turn from love when
Heaven wills you to receive it and learn to be a woman? I was in your
thoughts and you longed for me, as I have never ceased, all these
years, to hunger for you. Please! Please! Margherita! Why fight it
longer?"

"What have you done? What have you done?" she whispered over and over.
She looked toward the open door as if with thought of escape or
assistance, and despite his growing hope Blake was miserable at sight
of her distress.

"How came you here, alone with me?" she asked at length. "Oliveta was
here only a moment ago."

"I came with good news for both of you. I met Oliveta as she went out,
and when I had told her she sent me to you. Don't you understand,
dear? It was good news. Our quest is over, our work is done, and God
has seen fit to deliver our enemy--"

She flung out a trembling hand, while the other hid itself in the silk
and lace at her breast.

"What is this you tell me? Maruffi? Am I still dreaming?"

"Maruffi has been arrested."

"Is it possible?--this long nightmare ended at last like this? Maruffi
is arrested? You are safe? No one has been killed?"

"It is all right. O'Neil telephoned me and I came here at once to tell
you and Oliveta."

"When did they find him? Where?"

"Not half an hour ago--at his house. We have been watching the place
ever since he disappeared, feeling sure he'd have to return sooner or
later, if only for a moment. He is under lock and key at this
instant."

Blake attributed a stir in the hall outside to the presence of the
maid-servant; Margherita, whose eyes were fixed upon him, failed to
detect a figure which stood in the shadow just beyond the open door.

"Does he know of our part in it--Oliveta's part?" she asked.

"O'Neil didn't say. He'll learn of it shortly, in any event. Do you
realize what his capture means? I--hardly do myself. For one thing,
there's no further need of concealment. I--I want people to know who
you are. It seems hardly conceivable that Belisario Cardi has gone to
meet his punishment, but it is true. Lucrezia has her revenge at last.
It has been a terrible task for all of us, but it brought you and me
together. I don't intend ever to let you go again, Margherita. I loved
you there in Sicily. I've loved you every moment, every hour--"

Blake turned at the sound of a door closing behind him. He saw
Margherita start, then lean forward staring past him with a look of
amazement, of frightened incredulity, upon her face. Some one, a man,
had stepped into the dim-lit room and was fumbling with the lock, his
eyes fixed upon them, meanwhile, over his shoulder. The light from the
windows had faded, the faint illumination from the taper before the
shrine was insufficient fully to pierce the gloom. But on the instant
of his interruption all triumph and hope, all thoughts of love, fled
from Norvin's mind, bursting like iridescent bubbles, at a touch. The
flesh along his back writhed, the hair at his neck lifted itself; for
there in the shadow, huge, black, and silent, stood Caesar Maruffi.




XXI

UNDER FIRE



Blake heard Margherita's breath release itself. She was staring as if
at an apparition. His mind, working with feverish speed, sought vainly
to grasp the situation. Maruffi had broken away and come for his
vengeance, but how or why this had been made possible he could not
conceive. It sufficed that the man was here in the flesh, sinister,
terrible, malignant as hell. Blake knew that the ultimate test of his
courage had come.

He felt the beginnings of that same shuddering, sickening weakness
with which he was only too familiar; felt the strength running out
from his body as water escapes from a broken vessel. He froze with the
sense of his physical impotency, and yet despite this chaos of
conflicting emotions his inner mind was clear; it was bitter, too,
with a ferocious self-disgust.

There was a breathless pause before Maruffi spoke.

"Lucrezia Ferara!" he said, hoarsely, as if wishing to test the sound
of the name. "So Oliveta is the daughter of the overseer, and you are
Savigno's sweetheart." His words were directed at Margherita, who
answered in a thin, shrill, broken voice:

"What--are you doing--here?"

"I came for that wanton's blood. Give her to me."

"Oliveta? She is--gone."

The Sicilian cursed. "Gone? Where?"

"Away. Into the street. You--you cannot find her."

"Christ!" Maruffi reached upward and tore open the collar of his
shirt.

Blake spoke for the first time, but his voice was dead and lifeless.

"Yes. She's gone. You're wanted. You must go with me!"

Maruffi gave a snarling, growling cry and his gesture showed that he
was armed. Involuntarily Blake shrank back; his hand groped for his
hip, but, half-way, encountered the pile of silken cushions upon which
Margherita had been lying; his fingers sank into them nervously, his
other hand gripped the carven footboard of the couch. He had no
weapon. He had not dreamed of such a necessity.

In this imminent peril a new fear swept over him greater than any he
had ever known. It was not the fear of death. It was something far
worse. For the moment, it seemed to him inevitable that Margherita
Ginini should, at last, learn the truth concerning him, should see him
as he was that night at Terranova. Swift upon the heels of his
long-deferred declaration of love would come the proof that he was a
craven. Then he thought of her danger, realizing that this man was
quite capable in his fury of killing her, too, and he stiffened in every
fiber. His cowardice fell away from him like a rotten garment, and he
stood erect.

Maruffi, it seemed, had not heard his last words, or else his mind was
still set upon Oliveta. "Gone!" he exclaimed. "Then I shall not see
her face grow black within my fingers--not yet. God! How I ran!" He
cursed again. "But I shall not fare so badly, after all." He stirred,
and with his movement Blake flew to action. Swiftly, with one sweep of
his right hand, he brought the silken cushions up before his breast
and lunged at his enemy. At the same instant Maruffi fired.

In the closed room the detonation was deafening; it rattled the
windows, it seemed to bulge the very walls. Blake felt a heavy blow
which drove the floss-filled pillows against his body with the force
of a giant hammer, it tore them from his grip, it crushed the breath
from his lungs and spun him half around. Seeing that he did not fall,
Maruffi cocked and fired a second time without aiming, but his victim
was upon him like a tiger and together they crashed back against the
wall, locked in each other's arms.

Blake's will propelled him splendidly. All that indecision with which
fear works upon the mind had left him, but the old contraction of his
nerves still hampered his action. The blaze from Maruffi's second shot
half blinded him and its breath smote him like a blow.

"Two!" he counted, wonderingly. A pain in his left side, due to that
first sledge-hammer impact, was spreading slowly, but he had crossed
the room under the belching muzzle of the revolver and was practically
unharmed.

There began a struggle--the more terrible since it was unequal--in
which the weaker man had to drive his body at the cost of tremendous
effort. Blake was like a leader commanding troops which had begun to
retreat. But more power came to him under the spur of action and the
pressing realization that he must give Margherita a chance to get
safely away. If he could not wrest the weapon from Maruffi's hands he
knew that he must receive those four remaining bullets in his own
body. He rather doubted that he could take that weight of lead.

He shouted to her to run, while he wrestled for possession of the gun.
He had flung his right arm about his adversary's body, his other hand
gripped his wrist; his head was pressed against Maruffi's chest. The
weapon described swift circles, jerking parabolas and figures as the
men strained to wrest it from each other. Maruffi strove violently to
free his imprisoned hand, and in doing so he discharged the revolver a
third time. The bullet brought a shower of plaster from the ceiling,
and Blake counted with fierce exultation,

"Three!"

He gasped his warning to the woman again, then twined his leg about
his antagonist's in a wrestler's hold, striving mightily to bear
Maruffi against the wall. But Caesar was like an oak-tree. Failing to
move him, Blake suddenly flung himself backward, with all his weight,
lifting at the same instant in the hope of a fall. In this he was all
but successful. The two reeled out into the room, tripped, went to
their knees, then rose, still intertwined in that desperate embrace.
The odd, stiff feeling in Blake's side had increased rapidly; it began
to numb his muscles and squeeze his lungs. His eyes were stinging with
sweat and smoke; his ears were roaring. As they swayed and turned he
saw that Margherita had made no effort to escape and he was seized
with an extraordinary rage, which for a brief time renewed his
strength.

She was at the front window crying for help.

"Jump! For--God's sake, jump!" he shouted, but she did not obey.
Instead she ran toward the combatants and seized Maruffi's free arm,
in a measure checking his effort to break the other man's hold. Her
closeness to danger agonized Blake, the more as he felt his own
strength ebbing, under that stabbing pain in his side. He centered his
force in the grip of his left hand, clinging doggedly while the
Sicilian flung his two assailants here and there as a dog worries a
scarf.

Blake fancied he heard a stamping of feet in the hall outside and the
sound of voices, of heavy bodies crashing against the door. Maruffi
heard it, too, for with a bellow of fury he redoubled his exertions. A
sweep of his arm flung the girl aside; with a mighty wrench of his
body he carried Blake half across the room, loosening his hold. Then
he seized him by the throat and forced his head back.

[Illustration: He wrestled for possession of the gun]

The shouting outside was increasing, the pounding was growing louder.
Blake's breath was cut off and his strength went swiftly; his death
grip on the Sicilian's body slackened. As he tore at the fingers which
were throttling him, his left hand slipped, citing to Maruffi's
sleeve, and finally began clawing blindly for the weapon. The next
moment he was hurled aside, so violently that he fell, his feet
entangled in the cushions with which he had defended himself against
the first shot.

He rose and renewed his attack, hearing Margherita cry out in horror.
This time Maruffi took deliberate aim, and when he fired the figure
lurching toward him was halted as if by some giant fist.

"Four!" Blake counted. He was hit, he knew, but he still had strength;
there were but two more shots to come. Then he was dazed to find
himself upon his knees. As if through a film he saw the Italian turn
away and raise his weapon toward the girl, who was wrenching at the
door.

"Maruffi!" he shouted. "Oh, God!" then he closed his eyes to shut out
what followed. But he heard nothing, for he slipped forward, face
down, and felt himself falling, falling, into silence and oblivion.

As O'Connell made his way toward St. Phillip Street he nursed a
growing resentment at the news Norvin Blake had given him. His feeling
toward Caesar Maruffi had all the fierceness of private hatred,
calling for revenge, and he considered himself ill-used in that he had
not even been permitted to witness the arrest. He knew Maruffi's
countrymen would be likely to make a demonstration, and he was grimly
desirous of being present when this occurred.

As he neared the heart of the Italian section he saw a blue-coated
officer running toward him.

"What's up?" he cried. "Have the dagoes started something?"

"Maruffi was pinched, but he got away," the other answered. "Johnson
is hurt, and--"

O'Connell lost the remaining words, for he had broken into a run.

A crowd had gathered in front of a little shop where the wounded
policeman had been carried to await the arrival of an ambulance, and
even before O'Connell had heard the full story of the escape
Acting-Chief O'Neil drove up behind a lathered horse. He leaped from his
mud-stained buggy, demanding, hoarsely:

"Where is he--Maruffi?"

Officer Dean, Johnson's companion, met him at the door of the shop.

"He made his break while I was 'phoning you," he answered.

"Hell! Didn't you frisk him?" roared the Chief.

"Sure! But we missed his gun."

"Caesar carries it on a cord around his neck--nigger-fashion," briefly
explained O'Connell.

Dean was running on excitedly: "I heard Johnson holler, but before I
could get out into the street Maruffi had shot him twice and was into
that alley yonder. I tried to follow, but lost him, so I came back and
sent in the alarm."

The Acting Chief cursed under his breath, and with a few sharp orders
hurried off the few officers who had reached the scene. Then as an
ambulance appeared he passed into the room where Johnson lay. As he
emerged a moment later O'Connell drew him aside.

"Maruffi won't try to leave town till it's good and dark," he said.
"He's got a girl, and I've an idea he'll ask her to hide him out."

"It was his girl who turned him up--she and Blake--"

O'Connell cried, sharply: "Wait! Does he know she did that? If he
does, he'll make for her, sure."

"That may be. Those two women are all alone, and I'd feel better if
they were safely out of the way. I'll leave you there on the way
back."

An instant later they were clattering over the uneven flags while
their vehicle rocked and bounded in a way that threatened to hurl them
out.

Even before they reached their destination they saw people running
through the dusk toward the house in which the two girls lived and
heard a shot muffled behind walls. O'Neil reined the horse to his
haunches as the shrill cry of a woman rang out above them, and the
next moment he and O'Connell were inside, rushing up the stairs with
headlong haste. They were brought to a stop before a bolted door from
behind which came the sounds of a furious struggle.

"Blake! Norvin Blake!" shouted O'Connell.

"Break it down!" O'Neil ordered. He set his back against the opposite
wall, then launched himself like a catapult. The patrolman followed
suit, but although the panels strained and split the heavy door held.

"By God! he's in there!" the Chief cried, as he set his shoulder to
the barrier for a second time. "Once more! Together!" Through a
crevice which had opened in the upper panels they caught a glimpse of
the dimly lighted room. What they saw made them struggle like madmen.

Another shot sounded, and O'Neil in desperation inserted his fingers
in the opening and tore at it. Through the aperture O'Connell saw
Maruffi run to an open window at the rear, then pause long enough to
snatch the taper from its sconce at the foot of the little shrine and,
stooping, touch its flame to the long lace curtains. They promptly
flashed into a blaze. Parting them, he bestrode, the sill, lowered
himself outside, and disappeared. It was an old but effective ruse to
delay pursuit.

"Quick! He's set fire to the place," O'Connell gasped, and dashed down
the hall.

A tremendous final heave of O'Neil's body cleared his way, a few
strides and he was at the window, ripping the blazing hangings down
and flinging them into the court below. When he turned it was to
behold in the dim twilight Vittoria Fabrizi kneeling beside Blake. Her
arms were about him, her yellow hair entwined his figure.

"A light! Somebody get a light!" the Chief roared to those who had
followed him up the stairs, then seeing a lamp near by he lit it
hurriedly, revealing the full disorder of the room. He knelt beside
Vittoria, who drew the fallen man closer to her, moaning something in
Italian which O'Neil could not understand. But her look told him
enough, and, rising, he ordered some one to run for a doctor.
Strangers, white-faced and horrified, were crowding in; the sound of
other feet came from the stairs outside, questions and explanations
were noisily exchanged. O'Neil swore roundly at the crowd and drove it
ahead of him down into the street, where he set a man to guard the
door. Then he returned and helped the girl examine her lover's wounds.
Her fingers were steady and sure, but in her face was such an
abandonment of grief as he had never seen, and her voice was little
more than a rasping whisper. They were still working when the doctor
came, followed a moment later by a disheveled, stricken figure of
tragedy which O'Neil recognized as Oliveta.

At sight of her foster-sister the peasant girl broke into a passion of
weeping, but Vittoria checked her with an imperious word, meanwhile
keeping her tortured eyes upon the physician. She waited upon him,
forestalling his every thought and need with a mechanical dexterity
that bore witness to her training, but all the while her eyes held a
pitiful entreaty. Not until she heard O'Neil call for an ambulance did
she rouse herself to connected speech. Then she exclaimed with
hysterical insistence:

"You shall not take him away! I am a nurse; he shall stay here. Who
better than I could attend to him?"

"He can stay here if you have a place for him," said the doctor.
O'Neil drew him aside, inquiring, "Will he live?"

The doctor indicated Vittoria with a movement of his head. "I'm sure
of it. That girl won't let him die,"

The news of that combat traveled fast and far and it came to Myra Nell
Warren among the first. Despite the dreadful false position in which
Bernie had placed her with respect to Norvin, the girl had but one
thought and that was to go to her friend. She could not endure the
sight of blood, and her somewhat child-like imagination conjured up a
gory spectacle. She was afraid that if she tried to act as nurse she
would faint or run away when most needed. But she was determined to go
to him and to assist in any way she could. It was not consistent with
her ideas of loyalty to shrink from the sight of suffering even though
she could do nothing to relieve it.

When she mounted the stairs to Oliveta's living-quarters she was pale
and agitated, and she faltered on the threshold at the sight of
strangers. Within were a newspaper reporter, a doctor, the Chief of
Police, the Mayor of the city, while outside a curious throng was
gathered. Seeing Miss Fabrizi, she ran toward her, sobbing nervously.

"Where is he, Vittoria? Tell me that he's--safe!"

Some one answered, "He's safe and resting quietly."

"T-take me to him."

A spasm stirred Vittoria's tired features; she petted the girl with a
comforting hand, while Mayor Wright said, gently:

"It must have been a great shock to you, Myra Nell, as it was to all
of us, but you may thank God he has been spared to you."

The reporter made a note upon his pad, and began framing the heart
interest of his story. Here was a new and interesting aspect of an
event worth many columns.

Vittoria led the girl toward her room, but outside the door Myra Nell
paused, shaking in every limb.

"You--you love him?" asked the other woman.

The look which Miss Warren gave her stabbed like a knife, and when the
girl had sunk to her knees beside the bed, with Blake's name upon her
lips, Vittoria stood for a long moment gazing down upon her dazedly,

Later, when she had sent Myra Nell home and silence lay over the city,
Norvin's nurse stole into the great front room where she had
experienced so much of gladness and horror that night, and made her
way wearily to the little image of the Virgin. She noted with a start
that the candle was gone, so she lit a new one and, kneeling for many
minutes, prayed earnestly for strength to do the right and to quench
the leaping, dazzling flame which had been kindled in her heart.




XXII

A MISUNDERSTANDING



Several days later Vittoria Fabrizi led Bernie Dreux into the room
where Norvin lay. The little man walked on tiptoe and wore an
expression of such gloomy sympathy that Blake said:

"Please don't look so blamed pious; it makes me hurt all over."

Bernie's features lightened faintly; he smiled in a manner bordering
upon the natural.

"They wouldn't let me see you before. Lord! How you have frightened
us!"

"My nurse won't let me talk."

Blake's eyes rested with puzzled interrogation upon the girl, who
maintained her most professional air as she smoothed his pillow and
admonished him not to overtax himself. When she had disappeared
noiselessly, he said:

"Well, you needn't put a rose in my hand yet awhile. Tell me what has
happened? How is Myra Nell?"

"She's heartbroken, of course. She came here that first night; but the
smell of drugs makes her sick."

"I suppose Maruffi got away?"

Dreux straightened in his chair; his face flushed proudly; he put on
at least an inch of stature. "Haven't you heard?" he inquired,
incredulously.

"How could I hear anything when I'm doctored by a deaf-mute and nursed
by a divinity without a tongue?"

"Maruffi was captured that very night. Sure! Why, the whole country
knows about it." Again a look of mellow satisfaction glowed on the
little man's face. "My dear boy, you're a hero, of course, but--there--
are--others."

"Who caught him?"

"I did."

"_You!_" Norvin stared in open-mouthed amazement.

"That's what I said. I--me--Mr. Bernard Effingwell Dreux, the
prominent cotillion leader, the second-hand dealer, the art critic and
amateur detective. I unearthed the notorious and dreaded Sicilian
desperado in his lair, and now he's cooling his heels in the parish
prison along with his little friends."

"Why--I'm astonished."

"Naturally! I found him in Joe Poggi's house. Mr. Poggi also
languishes in the bastille."

"How in the world--"

"Well, it's quite a story, and it all happened through the woman--"
Bernie flushed a bit as he met his companion's eye. "When I told you
about Mrs. Poggi I didn't exactly go into all the intimate--er--
details. The truth is she became deeply interested in me. I told you
how I met her--Well, she wasn't averse to receiving my attentions--
Heavens, no! She ate 'em up! Before I knew it I found myself entangled
in an intrigue--I had hold of an electric current and couldn't let go.
When I didn't follow her around, she followed me. When I didn't make
love, she did. She learned about Felicite, and there was--Excuse me!"
Bernie rose, put his head cautiously outside the door to find the
coast clear, then said: "Hell to pay! I tried to back out; but you
can't back away from some women any more than you can back away from a
prairie fire." He shook his head gloomily." It seems she wasn't
satisfied with Poggi; she had ambitions. She'd caught a glimpse of the
life that went on around her and wanted to take part in it. She
thought I was rich, too--my name had something to do with it, I
presume--at any rate, she began to talk of divorce, elopement, and
other schemes that terrorized me. She was quite willing that I murder
her husband, poison her relatives, or adopt any little expedient of
that kind which would clear the path for our true love. I was in over
my depth, but when I backed water she swam out and grabbed me. When I
stayed away from her she looked me up. I tried once to tell her that I
didn't really care for her--only once." The memory brought beads of
sweat to the detective's brow. "Between her and Felicite I led a dog's
life. If I'd had the money I'd have left town.

"I'd been meeting her on street corners up to that point; but she
finally told me to come to the house while Poggi was away--it was the
day you were hurt. I rebelled, but she made such a scene I had to
agree or be arrested for blocking traffic. She carries a dagger,
Norvin, in her stocking, or somewhere; it's no longer than your
finger, but it's the meanest-looking weapon I ever saw. Well, I went,
along about dark, determined to have it out with her once for all; but
those aristocrats during the French Revolution had nothing on me. I
know how it feels to mount the steps of the guillotine.

"The Poggi's parlor furniture is upholstered in red and smells musty.
I sat on the edge of a chair, one eye on her and the other taking in
my surroundings. There's a fine crayon enlargement of Joe with his
uniform, in a gold frame with blue mosquito-netting over it to
disappoint the flies--four ninety-eight, and we supply the frame--done
by an old master of the County Fair school. There's an organ in the
parlor, too, with a stuffed fish-hawk on it.

"She seemed quite subdued and coy at first, so I took heart, never
dreaming she'd wear her dirk in the house. But say! That woman was
raised on raw beef. Before I could wink she had it out; it has an
ivory hilt, and you could split a silk thread with it. I suppose she
didn't want to spoil the parlor furniture with me, although I'd never
have showed against that upholstery, or else she's in the habit of
preparing herself for manslaughter by a system of vocal calisthenics.
At any rate, we were having it hot and heavy, and I was trying to
think of some good and unselfish actions I had done, when we heard the
back door of the cottage open and close, then somebody moving in the
hall.

"Mrs. Poggi turned green--not white--green! And I began to picture the
head-lines in the morning papers! 'The Bachelor and the Policeman's
Wife,' they seemed to say. It wasn't Poggi, however, as I discovered
when the fellow called to her. He was breathing heavily, as if he had
been running. She signaled me to keep quiet, then went out; and I
heard them talking, but couldn't understand what was said. When she
came back she was greener than ever, and told me to go, which I did,
realizing that the day of miracles is not done. I fell down three
times, and ran over a child getting out of that neighborhood." Blake,
who had listened eagerly, inquired:

"The man was Maruffi?"

"Exactly! I got back to the club in time to hear about his arrest and
escape and your fight here. The town was ringing with it; everybody
was horrified and amazed. What particularly stunned me was the news
that Maruffi, not Poggi, was the head of the Mafia; but my experience
in criminal work has taught me to be guided by circumstances, and not
theory, so when I learned more about Caesar's escape I fell to
wondering where he could hide. Then I recalled his secret meetings
with Joe Poggi and that scalding volcano of emotion from whom I had
just been delivered. Her fright, when she let me out, something
familiar in the voice which called to her, came back, and--well, I
couldn't help guessing the truth. Maruffi was in the house of one of
the officers who was supposed to be hunting him."

"But his capture?"

"Simple enough. I went to O'Neil and told him. We got a posse together
and went after him. We descended in such force and so suddenly that he
didn't have a chance to resist. If I'd known who he was at first I'd
have tried to take him single-handed."

"Then it's well you didn't know." Blake smiled.

"What bothers me," Dreux confessed, "is how Mrs. Poggi regards my
action. I--I hate to appear a cad. I'd apologize if I dared."

Vittoria appeared to warn Dreux that his visit must end. When the
little man had gone Norvin inquired:

"You knew of Maruffi's arrest?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were in no condition to hear news of importance."

"Is that why you have been so silent?"

"Hush! You have talked quite enough for the present."

"You act strangely--differently," he insisted.

"I am your nurse. I am responsible for your recovery, so I do as I am
ordered."

"And you haven't changed?" he inquired, wistfully.

"Not at all, I am quite the same--quite the same girl you knew in
Sicily!" He did not relish her undertone, and wondered if illness had
quickened his imagination, if he was forever seeing more in her
manner, hearing more in her words than she meant. There was something
intangibly cold and distant about her, or seemed to be. During the
first feverish hours after his return to consciousness he had seen her
hanging over him with a wonderful loving tenderness--it was that which
had closed his wounds and brought him back toward health so swiftly;
but as his brain had cleared and he had grown more rational this
vision had disappeared along with his other fancies.

He wondered whether knowledge of his pseudo-engagement to Myra Nell
had anything to do with her manner. He knew that she was in the girl's
confidence. Naturally, he himself was not quite at his ease in regard
to Miss Warren. The rumor about his advancing the money for her
Carnival expenses had been quieted through Bernie's efforts, and the
knowledge of it restricted to a necessary few. Although Myra Nell had
refused his offers of marriage and treated the matter lightly, he
could not help feeling that this attitude was assumed or exaggerated
to cover her humiliation--or was it something deeper? It would be
terrible if she really cared for him in earnest. Her own character
protected her from scandal. The breaking-off of his supposed
engagement with her could not hurt her--unless she really loved him.
He closed his eyes, cursing Bernie inwardly. After a time he again
addressed Vittoria.

"Tell me," he said, "how Maruffi came to spare you. My last vision was
of him aiming--"

"He had but four shots."

"Four?"

"Yes, he had used two in his escape from the officers--before he came
here."

"I see! It was horrible. I felt as if I had failed you at the critical
moment, just as I failed--"

"As you failed whom?"

"Martel!" The word sounded in his ears with a terrible significance;
he could hardly realize that he had spoken it. He had always meant to
tell her, of course, but the moment had taken him unawares. His
conscience, his inmost feeling, had found a voice apart from his
volition. There was a little silence. At length she said in a low,
constrained tone.

"Did you fail--him?"

"I--I did," he said, chokingly; and, the way once opened, he made a
full and free confession of his craven fear that night on the road to
Terranova, told her of the inherent cowardice which had ever since
tortured and shamed him, and of his efforts to reconstruct his whole
being. "I wanted to expiate my sin," he finished, "and, above all, I
have longed to prove myself a man in your sight."

She listened with white, set face, slightly averted. When she turned
to him at last, he saw that her eyes were wet with tears.

"I cannot judge of these matters," she said. "You--you were no coward
the other night, amico mio. You were the bravest of the brave. You
saved my life. As for that other time, do not ask me to turn back and
judge. You perhaps blame yourself too much. It was not as if you could
have saved Martel. It is rather that you should have at least tried--
that is how you feel, is it not? You had to reckon with your own sense
of honor. Well, you have won your fight; you have become a new person,
and you are not to be held responsible for any action of that Norvin
Blake I knew in Sicily, who, indeed, did not know his own weakness and
could not guard against it. Ever since I met you here in New Orleans I
have known you for a brave, strong man. It is splendid--the way in
which you have conquered yourself--splendid! Few men could have done
it. Be comforted," she added, with a note of tenderness that answered
the pleading in his eyes--"there is no bitterness in my heart."

"Margherita," he cried, desperately, "can't you--won't you--"

"Oh," she interposed, peremptorily, "do not say it. I forbid you to
speak." Then, as he fell silent, she continued in a manner she strove
to make natural: "That dear girl, Myra Nell Warren, has inquired about
you daily. She has been distracted, heartbroken. Believe me, caro
Norvin, there is a true and loving woman whom you cannot cast aside.
She seems frivolous on the surface, I grant you. Even I have been
deceived. But at the time of Mr. Dreux's dreadful faux pas she was so
hurt, she grieved so that I couldn't but believe she felt deeply."

Norvin flushed dully and said nothing.

Vittoria smiled down upon him with a look that was half maternal in
its sweetness.

"All this has been painful for you," she said, "and you have become
over-excited. You must not talk any more now. You are to be moved
soon."

"Aren't you going to be my nurse any more?"

"You are to be taken home."

His hand encountered hers, and he tried to thank her for what she had
done, but she rose and, admonishing him to sleep, left the room
somewhat hurriedly.

In the short time which intervened before Norvin was taken to his own
quarters Vittoria maintained her air of cool detachment. Myra Nell
came once, bringing Bernie with her, much to the sick man's relief;
his other friends began to visit him in rapidly increasing numbers; he
gradually took up the threads of his every-day life which had been so
rudely severed. Meanwhile, he had ample time to think over his
situation. He could not persuade himself that Vittoria had been right
in her reading of Myra Nell. Perhaps she had only put this view
forward to shield herself from the expression of a love she was not
ready to receive. He could not believe that he had been deluded, that
there was in reality no hope for him.

Mardi Gras week found him still in bed and unable to witness Myra
Nell's triumph. During the days of furious social activity she had
little time to give him, for the series of luncheons, of pageants, of
gorgeous tableaux and brilliant masked balls kept her in a whirl of
rapturous confusion, and left her scant leisure in which to snatch
even her beauty sleep.

Since she was to be the flower of the festival, and since her beauty
was being saved for the grand climax of the whole affair, she had no
idea of sacrificing it. Proteus, Momus, the Mistick Krewe of Comus,
and the other lesser societies celebrated their distinctive nights
with torch and float and tableau; the city was transformed by day with
bunting and flags, by night it was garlanded with fire; merrymakers
thronged the streets, their carnival spirit entered into every breast.
It was a glad, mad week of gaiety, of dancing, of laughter, of
flirting and love-making under the glamour of balmy skies and velvet
torch-lit nights; and to the pleasure of the women was added the
delicious torture of curiosity regarding those mysterious men in masks
who came through a blaze of fire and departed, no one knew whither.

As the spirit of the celebration mounted, Myra Nell abandoned herself
to it; she lived amid a bewilderment of social obligations, through
which she strove incessantly to discover the identity of her King.
Finding herself unsuccessful in this, her excitement redoubled. At
last came his entrance to the city; the booming cannon, the applauding
thousands, his royal progress through the streets toward the
flower-festooned stand where she looked down upon the multitude. Miss
Warren's maids of honor were the fairest of all this fair city, and
yet she stood out of that galaxy as by far the most entrancing.

Her royal consort came at length, a majestic figure upon a float of
ivory and gold; he took the goblet from her hand; he pledged her with
silent grace while the assembled hordes shouted their allegiance to
the pair. She knew he must be very handsome underneath his mask; and
he was bold also, in a quite unkingly way, for there was more in his
glance than the greeting of a monarch; there was ardent love, a
burning adoration which thrilled her breast and fanned her curiosity
to a leaping flame. This was, indeed, life, romance, the purple
splendor for which she had been born. She could scarcely contain
herself until the hour of the Rex ball, when she knew her chance would
come to match her charm and beauty against his voiceless secrecy. She
was no longer a make-believe queen, but a royal ruler, beloved by her
subjects, adored by her throne-mate. Then the glittering ball that
followed!--the blazing lights, the splendid pantomime, the great
shifting kaleidoscope of beauteous ladies and knightly men in gold and
satin and coats of mail! And, above all, the maddening mystery of that
king at her side whose glances were now melting with melancholy, now
ablaze with eagerness, and whose whispered words, muffled behind his
mask, were not those of a monarch, but rather those of a bold and
audacious lover! He poured his vows into her blushing ear; he set her
wits to scampering madly; his sincere passion, together with the
dream-like unreality of the scene, intoxicated her. Who could he be?
How dared he say these things? What faint familiar echo did his voice
possess? Which one of her many admirers had the delightful effrontery
to court her thus ardently beneath a thousand eyes? He was drunk with
the glory of this hour, it seemed, for he whispered words she dared
not listen to. What preposterous proposals he voiced; what insane
audacity he showed! And yet he was in deadly earnest, too. She
canvassed her many suitors in her mind, she tried artfully to trap him
into some betrayal; the game thrilled her with a keen delight. At last
she realized there was but one who possessed such brazen impudence,
and told him she had known him from the first, whereat he laughed with
the abandon of a pagan and renewed the fervor of his suit.

Blake learned from many sources that Myra Nell had made a gorgeous
Queen. The papers lauded her grace, her beauty, the magnificence of
her costumes. Bernie was full of it and could talk of nothing else
when he dropped in as usual.

"She's all tired out, and I reckon she'll sleep for a week. I hope so,
anyhow."

"I'm sorry I couldn't see her, but I'm glad I escaped the Carnival.
The Mardi Gras is hard enough on the women; but it kills us men."

"I should say so. Look at me--a wreck." After a moment he added: "You
think Myra Nell is all frivolity and glitter, but she isn't; she's as
deep as the sea, Norvin. I can't tell you how glad I am that you two--
"Blake stirred uneasily. "I--I admire you tremendously, for you're
just what I wanted to be and couldn't. I'm talking foolishly, I know,
but this Carnival has made me see Myra Nell in a new light; I see now
that she was born for joy and luxury and splendor and--and those
things which you can give her. She's been a care to me. I've been her
mother; I've actually made her dresses--but I'm glad now for all my
little sacrifices." Two tears gathered and trickled down Mr. Dreux's
cheeks, while Blake marveled at the strange mixture of qualities in
this withered little beau. Bernie's words left him very uncomfortable,
however, and the hours that followed did not lessen the feeling.

Although Myra Nell sent him daily messages and gifts--now books, now
flowers, now a plate of fudge which she had made with her own hands
and which he was hard put to dispose of--she nevertheless maintained a
shy embarrassment and came to see him but seldom. When she did call,
her attitude was most unusual: she overflowed with gossip, yet she
talked with a nervous hesitation; when she found his eyes upon her she
stammered, flushed, and paled; and he caught her stealing glances of
miserable appeal at him. She was very different from the girl he had
known and had learned to love in a big, impersonal way. He
attributed the change to his own failure in responding to her timid
advances, and this made him quite unhappy.

Nor did he see much of Vittoria, although Oliveta came daily to
inquire about his progress.

He was up and about in time for the Mafia trial; but his duties in
connection with it left him little leisure for society, which he was
indeed glad to escape. New Orleans, he found, was on tiptoe for the
climax of the tragedy which had so long been its source of ferment;
the public was roused to a new and even keener suspense than at any
time--not so much, perhaps, by the reopening of the case as by the
rumors of bribery and corruption which were gaining ground. A
startling array of legal talent had appeared for the defense; the
trial was expected to prove the greatest legal battle in the history
of the commonwealth.

Maruffi, with his genius for control, had assumed an iron-bound
leadership and laughed openly at the possibility of a conviction. He
had struck the note of persecution, making a patriotic appeal to the
Italian populace; and the foreign section of the city seethed in
consequence.

On the opening day the court-room was packed, the halls and corridors
of the Criminal Court building were filled to suffocation, the
neighboring streets were jammed with people clamoring for admittance
and hungry for news from within. Then began the long, tedious task of
selecting a jury. Public opinion had run so high that this was no easy
undertaking. As day after day went by in the monotonous examination
and challenge of talesmen, as panel after panel was exhausted with no
result, not only did the ridiculous shortcomings of our jury system
become apparent, but also the fact that the Mafia had, as usual, made
full use of its sinister powers of intimidation. In view of the
atrocious character of the crime and the immense publicity given it,
those citizens who were qualified by intelligence to act as jurors had
of necessity read and heard sufficient to form an opinion, and were
therefore automatically debarred from service. It became necessary to
place the final adjudication of the matter in the hands of men who
were either utterly indifferent to the public weal or lacked the
intelligence to read and weigh and think.

A remarkable wave of humanity seemed to have overwhelmed the city.
Four out of every five men examined professed a disbelief in capital
punishment, which, although it merely covered a fear of the Mafia's
antagonism, nevertheless excused them for cause. Day after day this
mockery went on.

As the list of talesmen grew into the hundreds and the same
extraordinary antipathy to hanging continued to manifest itself, it
occasioned remark, then ridicule. It would have been laughable had it
not been so significant. The papers took it up, urging, exhorting,
demanding that there be a stiffening of backbone; but to no effect.
More than this, the Mafia had reigned so long and so autocratically,
it had so shamefully abused the courts in the past, that a large
proportion of honest men declared themselves unwilling to believe
Sicilian testimony unless corroborated, and this prevented them from
serving.

A week went by, and then another, and still twelve men who could try
the issue fairly had not been found. Some few had been accepted, to be
sure, but they were not representative of the city, and the list of
talesmen who had been examined and excused on one pretext or another
numbered fully a thousand.

Meanwhile, Maruffi smiled and shrugged and maintained his innocence.




XXIII

THE TRIAL AND THE VERDICT



Blake did not attend these tiresome preliminaries, although he
followed them with intense interest, the while a sardonic irritation
arose in him. Chancing to meet Mayor Wright one day, he said:

"I'm beginning to think my original plan was the best after all."

"You mean we should have lynched those fellows as they were taken?"
queried the Mayor, with a smile.

"Something like that."

"It won't take long to fix their guilt or innocence, once we get a
jury."

"Perhaps--if we ever get one. But the men of New Orleans seem filled
with a quality of mercy which isn't tempered with justice. Those who
haven't already formed an opinion of the case are incompetent to act
as intelligent jurors. Those who could render a fair judgment are
afraid."

"You don't think there's any chance of an acquittal!"

"Hardly! And yet I hear the defense has called two hundred witnesses,
so there's no telling what they will prove. You see, the prosecution
is handicapped by a regard for the truth, something which doesn't
trouble the other side in the least."

"Suppose they should be acquitted?"

"It would mean the breakdown of our legal system."

"And what would happen?"

Blake repeated the question, eyeing the Mayor curiously.

"Exactly! What would happen? What ought to happen?"

"Why, nothing," said the other, nervously. "They'd go free, I suppose.
But Maruffi can't get off--he resisted an officer."

"Bah! He'd prove that Johnson assaulted him and he acted in
self-defense."

"He'd have to answer for his attack upon you."

Norvin gave a peculiarly disagreeable laugh. "Not at all. That's the
least of his sins. If the law fails in the Donnelly case I sha'n't ask
it to help me."

But his pessimism gave way to a more hopeful frame of mind when the
jury was finally impaneled and sworn and the trial began. The whole
city likewise heaved a sigh of relief. The people had been puzzled and
disgusted by the delay, and now looked forward to the outcome with all
the keener eagerness to see justice done. Even before the hour for
opening, the streets around the Criminal Court were thronged; the
halls and lobbies were packed with a crowd which gave evidence of a
breathless interest. No inch of space in the court-room was
untenanted; an air of deep importance, a hush of strained expectancy
lay over all.

Norvin found himself in a room with the other witnesses for the State,
a goodly crowd of men and women, whites and blacks, many of whom he
had been instrumental in ferreting out. From beyond came the murmur of
a great assemblage, the shuffling of restless feet, the breathing of a
densely packed audience. The wait grew tedious as witness after
witness was summoned and did not return. At last he heard his own name
called, and was escorted down a narrow aisle into an inclosure peopled
with lawyers, reporters, and court officials, above which towered the
dais of the judge, the throne of justice. He mounted the witness-stand,
was sworn, and seated himself, then permitted his eyes to take in the
scene. Before him, stretching back to the distant walls, was a sea of
faces; to his right was the jury, which he scanned with the quick
appraisal of one skilled in human analysis. Between him and his
audience were the distinguished counsel, a dozen or more; and back of
them eleven swarthy, dark-visaged Sicilian men, seated in a row. At
one end sat Caesar Maruffi, massive, calm, powerful; at the other end
sat Gino Cressi, huddled beside his father, his pinched face
bewildered and terror-stricken.

A buzz of voices arose as the crowd caught its first full glimpse of
the man who had so nearly lost his life through his efforts to bring
these criminals to justice. Upon Maruffi's face was a look of such
malignant hate that the witness stiffened in his chair. For one brief
instant the Sicilian laid bare his soul, as their eyes met, then his
cunning returned; the fire died from his impenetrable eyes; he was
again the handsome, solid merchant who had sat with Donnelly at the
Red Wing Club. The man showed no effect of his imprisonment and
betrayed no sign of fear.

Norvin told his story simply, clearly, with a positiveness which could
not fail to impress the jury; he withstood a grilling cross-examination at
the hands of a criminal lawyer whose reputation was more than
State-wide; and when he finally descended from the stand, Larubio,
the cobbler, the senior Cressi, and Frank Normando stood within the
shadow of the gallows. Normando he identified as the man in the
rubber coat whose face he had clearly seen as the final shot was fired;
he pointed out Gino Cressi as the picket who had given warning
of the Chief's approach, then told of his share in the lad's arrest and
what Gino had said. Concerning the other three who had helped in
the shooting he had no conclusive evidence to offer; nevertheless, it
was plain that his testimony had dealt a damaging blow to the defense.
Yet Maruffi's glance showed no concern, but rather a veiled and
mocking insolence.

As Blake passed out, young Cressi reached forth a timid hand and
plucked at him, whispering:

"Signore, you said they would not hurt me."

"Don't be afraid. No one shall harm you," he told the boy,
reassuringly.

"You promise?"

"Yes."

Cressi snatched his son to his side and scowled upward, breathing a
malediction upon the American.

Inasmuch as the assassination had been carefully planned and executed
at a late hour on a deserted street, it was popularly believed that
very little direct testimony would be brought out, and that a
conviction, therefore, would rest mainly upon circumstantial evidence;
but as the trial progressed the case against the prisoners developed
unexpected strength. Had Donnelly fallen at the first volley, his
assailants would, in all probability, never have been identified, but
he had stood and returned their fire for a considerable time, thus
allowing opportunity for those living near by to reach their windows
or to run into the street in time to catch at least a glimpse of the
tragedy. Few saw more than a little, no one could identify all six of
the assailants; but so thoroughly had the prosecution worked, so
cunningly had it put these pieces together, that the whole scene was
reproduced in the court-room. The murderers were singled out one by
one and identified beyond a reasonable doubt.

One witness had passed Larubio's shop a few minutes before the
shooting and had recognized the cobbler and his brother-in-law,
Gaspardo Cressi. He also pointed out Normando and Paul Rafiro, both of
whom he knew by sight.

From an upper window of a house near by another man who had been
awakened by the noise saw Normando and Celso Fabbri in the act of
firing. A woman living opposite the cobbler's house peered out into
the smoke and flare in time to see Adriano Dora kneeling in the middle
of the street. He was facing her; the light was fairly good; there
could be no mistake. Various residents of the neighborhood had similar
tales to tell, for, while no one had seen the beginning of the fight,
a dozen pairs of eyes had looked out upon the finish, and many of
these had recorded a definite picture of one or more of the actors. A
gentleman returning from a lodge-meeting had even found himself on the
edge of the battle, and had been so frightened that he ran straight
home. He had learned, later, the significance of the fray, and had
told nobody about his experience until Norvin Blake had traced him out
and wrung the story from him. He feared the Mafia with the fear of
death; but descending from the stand he pointed out four of the
assassins--Normando, Fabbri, Rafiro, and Dora. He had seen them in the
very act of firing.

A watchman on duty near by saw the boy Gino running past a moment
before the shooting began; then, as he hurried toward the disturbance,
he met Normando, Dora, and Rafiro coming toward him. The first of
these carried a shotgun, which dropped into the gutter as he slipped
and fell. The weapon and the suit of clothes Normando had worn were
produced and identified. It transpired that this witness knew Paul
Rafiro well, and for that reason had refused to tell what he knew
until Norvin Blake had come to him and forced the words from his lips.

So it ran; the chain of evidence grew heavier with every hour. It
seemed that some superhuman agency must have set the stage for the
tragedy, posting witnesses at advantageous points. People marveled how
so many eyes had gazed through the empty, rainy night; it was as if a
mysterious hand had reached out of nowhere and brought together the
onlookers, one by one, willing and unwilling, friend and enemy alike.

A more conclusive case than the State advanced against the six hired
murderers during the first few days would be hard to conceive, and the
public began to look for equally conclusive proof against the master
ruffian and his lieutenants; but through it all Maruffi sat
unperturbed, guiding the counsel with a word or a suggestion, in his
bearing a calm self-assurance.

Then came a surprise which roused the whole city. From out of the
parish prison appeared another Italian, a counterfeiter, who had
recently been arrested, and who proved to be a Pinkerton detective
"planted" among the Mafiosi for a purpose. Larubio had been a
counterfeiter in Sicily--it was in the government prison that he had
learned his cobbler's trade; and out of the fullness of his heart he
had talked--so the detective swore--concerning these foolish Americans
who sought to stay the hand of La Mafia. Nor had he been the only one
to commit himself. Di Marco, Garcia, and the other two lieutenants
turned livid as the stool-pigeon confronted them with their own words.

On the heels of this came the crowning dramatic moment of the trial.

Normando broke down and tried to confess in open court. He was a dull,
ignorant man, with a bestial face and a coward's eye. This unexpected
treachery, his own complete identification, had put an intolerable
strain upon him. Without warning, he rose to his feet in the crowded
court-room and cried loudly in his own tongue:

"Madonna mia! I do not want to die! I confess! I confess!"

Norvin Blake, who had been watching the proceedings from the audience,
leaped from his seat as if electrified; other spectators followed, for
even among those who could not understand the fellow's words it was
seen that he was breaking. Normando's ghastly pallor, his wet and
twitching lips, his shaking hands, all told the story. Confusion
followed. Amid the hubbub of startled voices, the stir of feet, the
interruption of counsel, the wretch ran on, repeating his fear of
death and his desire to confess, meanwhile beating his breast in
hysterical frenzy.

Of all the Americans present perhaps Norvin alone understood exactly
what the Sicilian was saying and why consternation had fallen upon the
other prisoners. Larubio went white; a blind and savage fury leaped
into Maruffi's face; the other nine wilted or stiffened according to
the effect fear had upon them.

A death-like hush succeeded the first outbreak, and through Normando's
gabble came the judge's voice calling for an interpreter. There was no
need for the crier to demand silence; every ear was strained for the
disclosures that seemed imminent.

Blake was forcing himself forward to offer his services when the
wretch's wavering eyes caught something in the audience and rested
there. The death sign of the Brotherhood was flashed at him; he
halted. His tongue ran thickly for a moment; then he sank into his
chair, and, burying his head in his hands, began to rock from side to
side, sobbing and muttering. Nor would he say more, even when a recess
was declared and he was taken into the judge's chambers. Thereafter he
maintained a sullen, hopeless silence which nothing could break,
glaring at his captors with the defiance of a beast at bay. But the
episode had had its effect; it seemed that no one could now doubt the
guilt of the prisoners.

The assurance of conviction grew as it was proven that Maruffi himself
had rented Larubio's shop and laid the trap for Donnelly's
destruction. Step by step the plot was bared in all its hideous
detail. The blood money was traced from the six hirelings up through
the four superiors to Caesar himself. Then followed the effort to show
a motive for the crime--not a difficult task, since every one knew of
Donnelly's work against the Mafia. Maruffi's domination of the Society
was harder to bring out; but when the State finally rested its case,
even Blake, who had been dubious from the start, confessed that
American law and American courts had demonstrated their efficiency.

During all this time his relations with Vittoria remained unchanged.
She and Oliveta eagerly welcomed his reports of the trial; but she
never permitted him to see her alone, and he felt that she was
deliberately withdrawing from him. He met her only for brief
interviews. Of Myra Nell, meanwhile, he saw nothing, since, with
characteristic abruptness, she had decided to visit some forgotten
cousins in Mobile.

Of all those who followed the famous Mafia trial, detail by detail,
perhaps no one did so with greater fixity of interest than Bernie
Dreux. He reveled in it, he talked of nothing else, his waking hours
were spent in the courtroom, his dreams were peopled with Sicilian
figures. He hung upon Norvin, his hero, with a tenacity that was
trying; he discussed the evidence bit by bit; he ran to him with every
rumor, every fresh development. As the prosecution made its case his
triumph became fierce and fearful to behold; then when the defense
began its crafty efforts he grew furiously indignant, a mighty rage
shook him, he swelled and choked with resentment.

"What do you think?" he inquired, one day. "They're proving alibis,
one by one! It's infamous!"

"It will take considerable Sicilian testimony to offset the effect of
our witnesses," Blake told him.

But Dreux looked upon the efforts of the opposing lawyers as a
personal affront, and so declared himself.

"Why, they're trying to make you out a liar! That's what it amounts
to. The law never intended that a gentleman's word should be disputed.
If I were the judge I'd close the case right now and instruct the
sheriff to hang all the prisoners, including their attorneys."

"They'll never be acquitted."

Bernie shook his head morosely.

"There's a rumor of jury-fixing. I hear one of the talesmen was
approached with a bribe before the trial."

"I can scarcely believe that."

"I'll bet it's true just the same. If I'd known what they were up to
I'd have got on the jury myself. I'd have taken their money, then I'd
have fixed 'em!"

"You'd have voted for eleven hemp neckties, eh?"

"I'd have hung each man twice."

Although Blake at first refused to credit the rumors of corruption,
the following days served to verify them, for more than one juryman
confessed to receiving offers. This caused a sensation which grew as
the papers took up the matter and commented editorially. A leading
witness for the State finally told of an effort to intimidate him, and
men began to ask if this was destined to prove as rotten as other
Mafia cases in the past. A feeling of unrest, of impatience, began to
manifest itself, vague threats were voiced, but the idea of a bribed
or terrorized jury was so preposterous that few gave credence to it.
Nevertheless, the closing days of the trial were weighted heavily with
suspense. Not only the city, but the country at large, hung upon the
outcome. So strongly had racial antipathy figured that Italy took note
of the case, and it assumed an international importance. Biased
accounts were cabled abroad which led to an uneasy stir in ministerial
and consular quarters.

During the exhaustive arguments at the close of the trial Norvin and
Bernie sat together. When the opening attorneys for the prosecution
had finished, Dreux exclaimed, triumphantly:

"We've got 'em! They can't escape after that."

But when the defense in turn had closed, the little man revealed an
indignant face to his companion, saying:

"Lord! They're as good as free! We'll never convict on evidence like
that."

Once more he changed, under the spell of the masterly State's
attorney, and declared with fierce exultance:

"What did I tell you? They'll hang every mother's son of 'em. The jury
won't be out an hour."

The jury was out more than an hour, even though press and public
declared the case to be clear. Yet, knowing that the eyes of the world
were upon her, New Orleans went to sleep that night serene in the
certainty that she had vindicated herself, had upheld her laws, and
proved her ability to deal with that organized lawlessness which had
so long been a blot upon her fair name.

Soon after court convened on the following morning the jury sent word
that they had reached a verdict, and the court-room quickly filled.
Rumors of Caesar Maruffi's double identity had gone forth; it was
hinted that he was none other than the dreaded Belisario Cardi, that
genius of a thousand crimes who had held all Sicily in fear. This
report supplied the last touch of dramatic interest.

Blake and Bernie were in their places before the prisoners arrived.
Every face in the room was tense and expectant; even the calloused
attendants felt the hush and lowered their voices in deference. Every
eye was strained toward the door behind which the jury was concealed.
There came the rumble of the prison van below, the tramp of feet upon
the hollow stairs, and into the dingy, high-ceilinged hall of justice
filed the accused, manacled and doubly guarded. Maruffi led, his black
head held high; Normando brought up the rear, supported by two
officers. He was racked with terror, his body hung like a sack, a
moisture of foam and spittle lay upon his lips. When he reached the
railing of the prisoners' box he clutched it and resisted loosely,
sobbing in his throat; but he was thrust forward into a seat, where he
collapsed.

The judge and the attorneys were in their places when a deputy sheriff
swung open the door to the jury-room and the "twelve good men and
true" appeared. As if through the silence of a tomb they went to their
stations while eleven pairs of black Sicilian eyes searched their
downcast features for a sign. Larubio, the cobbler, was paper-white
above his smoky beard; Di Marco's swarthy face was green, like that of
a corpse; his companions were frozen in various attitudes of eager,
dreadful waiting. The only sound through the scuff and tramp of the
jurors' feet was Normando's lunatic murmuring. As for the leader of
the band, he sat as if graven in stone; but, despite his iron control,
a pallor had crept up beneath his skin.

Blake heard Bernie whisper:

"Look! They know they're lost."

"Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?" came the
voice of the judge.

The foreman rose. "We have."

He passed a document up to the bench, and silently the court examined
it.

The seconds were now creeping minutes. Normando's ceaseless mumbling
was like that of a man distraught by torture. A hand was used to
silence him. The spectators were upon their feet and bent forward in
attention; the cordon of officers closed in behind the accused as if
to throttle any act of desperation.

The judge passed the verdict down to the minute clerk, who read in a
clear, distinct, monotonous tone:

"Celso Fabbri, Frank Normando, mistrial. Salvatore di Marco, Frank
Garcia, Giordano Bolla"--the list of names seemed interminable--
"Gaspardo Cressi, Lorenzo Cardoni, Caesar Maruffi"--he paused for an
instant while time halted--"not guilty."

After the first moment of stunned stupefaction a murmur of angry
disapproval ran through the crowd; it was not loud, but hushed, as if
men doubted their senses and were seeking corroboration of their ears.
From the street below, as the judgment was flashed to the waiting
hundreds, came an echo, faint, unformed, like the first vague stir
that runs ahead of a tempest.

The shock of Norvin Blake's amazement in part blurred his memory of
that dramatic tableau, but certain details stood out clearly
afterwards. For one thing he heard Bernie Dreux giggling like an
overwrought woman, while through his hysteria ran a stream of shocking
curses He saw one of the jurors rise, yawn, and stretch himself, then
rub his bullet head, smiling meanwhile at the Cressi boy. He saw
Caesar Maruffi turn full to the room behind him and search for his own
face. When their eyes met, a light of devilish amusement lit the
Sicilian's visage; his lips parted and his white teeth gleamed, but it
was no smile, rather the nervous, rippling twitch that bares a wolf's
fangs. His color had come flooding back, too; victory suffused him
with a ruddy, purple congestion, almost apoplectic. Then heads came
between them; friends of the prisoners crowded forward with noisy
congratulations and outstretched palms; the rival attorneys were
shaking hands.

Blake found himself borne along by the eddying stream which set out of
the court-room and down into the sunlit street, where the curbs were
lined with uplifted faces. Dreux was close beside him, quite silent
now. A similar silence brooded over the whole procession which emerged
from the building like a funeral cortege. When the moments brought
home the truth to its members they felt, indeed, as if they came from
a house of death, for they had seen Justice murdered, and the chill
was in their hearts.

But there was something sinister in the hush which gagged that
multitude.

Many readers will doubtless recall, even now, the shock that went
through this country at the conclusion of the famous New Orleans Mafia
trial of twenty years ago. They will, perhaps, remember a general
feeling of surprise that an American jury would dare, in the face of
such popular feeling and such apparently overwhelming evidence, to
render a verdict of "not guilty." In some quarters the farcical
outcome of the trial was blamed upon Louisiana's peculiar legal code.
But the truth is our Northern cities had not at that time felt the
power of organized crime. New York, for instance, had not been shaken
by an interminable succession of dynamite outrages nor terrorized by
bands of Latin-born Apaches who live by violence and blackmail;
therefore, the tremendous difficulty of securing convictions was not
appreciated as it is to-day.

There was a universal suspicion that the last word concerning the New
Orleans affair had not been written, so what followed was not entirely
a surprise.




XXIV

AT THE FEET OF THE STATUE



Two hours after the verdict there was a meeting of the Committee of
Justice, and that night the evening papers carried the following
notice:

            "MASS-MEETING"

"All good citizens are invited to attend a mass-meeting to-morrow
morning at 10 o'clock at Clay Statue, to take steps to remedy the
failure of justice in the Donnelly case. Come prepared for action."

It was signed by the fifty well-known men who had been appointed to
represent the people. That incredible verdict had caused a great
excitement; but this bold and threatening appeal brought the city up
standing. It caused men who had been loudly cursing the jury to halt
and measure the true depth of their indignation. There was no other
topic of conversation that night; and when the same call appeared in
the morning papers, together with a ringing column headed,

            "AWAKE! ARISE!"

it stirred a swift and mighty public sentiment. Never, perhaps, in any
public press had so sanguinary an appeal been issued.

"Citizens of New Orleans," it read in part, "when murder overrides law
and justice, when juries are bribed and suborners go unwhipped, it is
time to resort to your own indefeasible right of self-preservation.
Alien bands of oath-bound assassins have set the blot of a martyr's
blood upon your civilization. Your laws, in the very Temple of
Justice, have been bought, suborners have loosed upon your streets the
midnight murderers of an officer in whose grave lies the majesty of
American law.

"Rise in your might, people of New Orleans! Rise!"

A similar note was struck by editorials, many of them couched in
language even stronger and more suited to fan the public rage. The
recent trial was called an outrageous travesty on justice; attention
was directed to the damnable vagaries of recent juries which had been
impaneled to try red-handed Italian murderers.

"Our city is become the haven of blackmailers and assassins, the safe
vantage-ground for Sicilian stilletto bands who slay our legal
officers, who buy jurors, and corrupt sworn witnesses under the hooded
eyes of Justice. How much longer will this outrage be permitted?" So
read a heavily typed article in the leading journal.

A wave of fierce determination ran through the whole community.

Margherita Ginini was waiting at Blake's place of business when he
arrived, after a night of sleepless worry. She, too, showed evidence
of a painful vigil; her hand was shaking as she held out a copy of the
morning paper, inquiring:

"What is the meaning of this?"

"It means we're no longer in Sicily," he said.

"You intend to--kill those men?"

"I fear something like that may occur. The question will be put up to
the people, plainly."

She clutched the edge of his desk, staring at him with wide, tragic
eyes.

"Your name heads the list. Did--you do this?"

"I am the chairman of that committee. I did my part."

"But the law declares them innocent," she gasped--"all but two, and
they can be tried over again."

"The law!" He smiled bitterly. "Do you believe that?"

"I believe they are guilty--who can doubt it? But this lawlessness--
this mad cry for revenge--it is against all my beliefs, my religion.
Oh, my friend, can't you stop it? At least take no part in it--for my
sake."

His look was hard, yet regretful,

"For your sake I would give my life gladly," he said, "but there are
times when one must act his destined part. That verdict holds me up to
the public as a perjurer; but that is a small matter. Oh, I have had
my scruples; I have questioned my conscience, and deep in my heart I
see that there is only one way. I'd be a hypocrite if I denied it. I'm
wrong, perhaps, but I can't be untrue to myself."

"We know but a part of the truth," she urged, desperately. "God alone
knows it all. You saw three men--there are others whom you did not
see."

"They were seen by other eyes quite as trustworthy as mine."

She wrung her hands miserably, crying:

"But wait! Guilty or innocent, they have appeared in judgment, and the
law has acquitted them. You urge upon the people now a crime greater
than theirs. Two wrongs do not make a right. Who are you to raise
yourself above that power which is supreme?"

"There's a law higher than the courts."

"Yes, one; the law of God. If our means have failed, leave their
punishment to Him."

He shook his head, no trace of yielding in his eyes.

"One man was killed, and yet you contemplate the death of eleven!"

"Listen," he cried, "this cause belongs to the people who have seen
their sacred institutions debauched. If I had the power to sway the
citizens of New Orleans from the course which I believe they
contemplate, I doubt that I could bring myself to exercise it, for it
is plain that the Mafia must be exterminated. The good of the city,
the safety of all of us, demands it." He regarded her curiously. "Do
you realize what Maruffi's freedom would mean to you and Oliveta?"

"We are in God's hands."

"It would require a miracle to save you. Caesar would have my life,
too; he told me as much with his eyes when that corrupted jury lifted
the fear of death from his heart."

"So!" cried the girl. "You fear him, therefore you take this means of
destroying him! You goad the public and your friends into a red rage
and send them to murder your enemy."

Her hysteria was not proof against the look which leaped into his
eyes--the pallor that left him facing her with the visage of a sick
man.

"During the last five years," he said, slowly, "I've often tried to be
a man, but never until last night have I succeeded fully. When I
signed that call to arms I felt that I was writing Maruffi's death-warrant.
I hesitated for a time, then I put aside all thoughts of myself, and now
I'm prepared to meet this accusation. I knew it would come. The
world--my world--knows that Maruffi's life or mine hinges on his liberty;
if he dies by the mob to-day, that world will call me coward for my act;
it will say that I roused the passions of the populace to save myself.
Nevertheless, I was chosen leader of that committee, and I did their
will--as I shall do the will of the people."

"The will of the people! You know very well that the people have no
will. They do what their leaders tell them."

"My name is written. I am sorry that I cannot do as you wish."

"But surely you do not deceive yourself," she insisted. "This is
wrong, oh, so inconceivably, so terribly wrong! You do not possess the
divine power to bestow life. How then can you dare to take it? By what
possible authority do you decree the destruction of your fellow-men
whom the law has adjudged innocent?"

"By the sovereign authority of the public good. By the inherited right
of self-protection."

"You would shoot them down, like caged animals?"

"Those eleven individuals have ceased to exist as men. They represent
an infection, a diseased spot which must be cut out. They stand for
disorder and violence; to free them would be a crime, to give them
arms to defend themselves would be merely to increase their evil."

"There is a child among them, too; would you have his death upon your
conscience?"

"I told Gino he should come to no harm, and, God willing, he sha'n't."

"How can you hope to stem the rage of a thousand madmen? A mob will
stop at no half measures. There are two men among the prisoners who
are entitled to another trial. Do you think the people will spare them
if they take the others?" He shrugged his shoulders doubtfully, and
she shuddered. "You shall not have the death of those defenseless men
upon your soul!" she cried. "Your hands at least shall remain clean."

"Please don't urge me," he said.

"But I do. I ask you to take no part in this barbarous uprising."

"And I must refuse you."

She looked at him wildly; her face was ashen as she continued:

"You have said that you love me. Can't you make this sacrifice for me?
Can't you make this concession to my fears, my conscience, my beliefs?
I am only a woman, and I cannot face this grim and awful thing. I
cannot think of your part in it."

The look she gave him went to his heart.

"Margherita!" he cried, in torture; "don't you see I have no choice? I
couldn't yield, even if the price were--you and your love. You
wouldn't rob me of my manhood?"

"I could never touch hands which were stained with the blood of
defenseless men--not even in friendship, you--understand?"

"I understand!" For a second time the color left his face.

Her glance wavered again, she swayed, then groped for the door, while
he stood like stone in his tracks.

"Good-by!" he said, lifelessly.

"Good-by!" she answered, in the same tone. "I have done my part. You
are a man, and you must do yours as you see it. But may God save you
from bloodshed."

Long before the hour set for the gathering at Clay Statue the streets
in that vicinity began to fill. Men continued on past their places of
business; shops and offices remained closed; the wide strip of neutral
ground which divided the two sides of the city's leading thoroughfare
began to pack. Around the base of the monument groups of citizens
congregated until the cars were forced to slow down and proceed with a
clangor of gongs which served only as a tocsin to draw more recruits.
Vehicles came to a halt, were wedged dose to the curbs, and became
coigns of vantage; office windows, store-fronts, balconies, and roof-tops
began to cluster with a human freight.

After a week of wind and rain the sun had risen in a sky that was
cloudless, save for a few thin streaks of shining silver which
resembled long polished rapiers or the gleaming spear-points of a host
still hidden below the horizon. The fragrance of shrubs and flowers,
long dormant, weighted the breeze. It was a glorious morning, fit for
love and laughter and little children.

Nor did the rapidly swelling assemblage resemble in any measure a mob
bent upon violence. It was composed mainly of law-abiding business men
who greeted each other genially; in their grave, intelligent faces was
no hint of savagery or brutality. All traffic finally ceased, the
entire neighborhood was massed and clotted with waiting humanity;
then, as the hour struck, a running salvo of applause came from the
galleries and a cheer from the street when a handful of men was seen
crowding its way up to the base of the statue. It was composed of a
half-dozen prominent men who had been identified with the Committee of
Justice; among them was Norvin Blake. A hush followed as one of them
mounted the pedestal and began to speak. He was recognized as Judge
Blackmar, a wealthy lawyer, and his well-trained voice filled the wide
spaces from wall to wall; it went out over the sea of heads and up to
the crowded roof-tops.

He told of the reasons which had inspired this indignation meeting; he
recounted the history of the Mafia in New Orleans, and recalled its
many outrages culminating in the assassination of Chief Donnelly.

"Affairs have reached such a crisis," said he, "that we who live in an
organized and civilized community find our laws ineffective and are
forced to protect ourselves as best we may. When courts fail, the
people must act. What protection is left us, when our highest police
official is slain in our very midst by the Mafia and his assassins
turned loose upon us? This is not the first case of wilful murder and
supine justice; our court records are full of similar ones. The time
has come to say whether we shall tolerate these outrages further or
whether we shall set aside the verdict of an infamous and perjured
jury and cleanse our city of the ghouls which prey upon it. I ask you
to consider this question fairly. You have been assembled, not behind
closed doors, nor under the cloak of darkness, but in the heart of the
city, in the broad light of day, to take such action as honest men
must take to save their homes against a public enemy. What is your
answer?"

A roar broke from all sides; an incoherent, wordless growling rumbled
down the street. Those on the outskirts of the assemblage who had come
merely from curiosity, or in doubt that anything would be
accomplished, began to press closer.

A restless murmur, broken by the cries of excitable men, arose when
the second speaker took his place. Then as he spoke the temper of the
people began to manifest itself undeniably. The crowd swayed and
cheered; certain demands were voiced insistently; a wave of intense
excitement swept it as it heard its desires so boldly proclaimed. As
the heaving sea is lashed to fury by the wind, the people's rage
mounted higher with every sentence of the orator; every pause was
greeted with howls. Men stared into the faces around them, and, seeing
their own emotions mirrored, they were swept by an ever-increasing
agitation. There was a general impulse to advance at once upon the
parish prison, and knots of stragglers were already making in that
direction, while down from the telegraph-poles, from roofs and shed-tops
men were descending. All that seemed lacking for a concerted
movement was a leader, a bold figure, a ringing voice to set this army
in motion.

Blake had been selected to make the third address and to put the issue
squarely up to the people; but, as he wedged his way forward to enact
his role, up to the feet of the statue squirmed and wriggled a figure
which assumed the place just vacated by the second speaker.

It was Bernie Dreux, but a different Bernie from the man his amazed
friends in the crowd thought they knew. He was pale, and his limbs
shook under him, but his eyes blazed with a fire which brought a hush
of attention to all within sight of him. Up there against the heroic
figure of Henry Clay he looked more diminutive, more insignificant
than ever; but oddly enough he had attained a sudden dignity which
made him seem intensely masterful and alive. For a moment he paused,
erect and motionless, surveying that restless multitude which rocked
and rumbled for the distance of a full city square in both directions;
then he began. His voice, though high-pitched from emotion, was as
clear and ringing as a trumpet; it pierced to the farthest limits of
the giant audience and stirred it like a battle signal. The blood of
his forefathers had awakened at last; and old General Dreux, the man
of iron and fire and passion, was speaking through his son.

"People of New Orleans," he cried, "I desire neither fame nor name nor
glory; I am here not as one of the Committee of Public Safety, but as
a plain citizen. Let me therefore speak for you; let mine be the lips
which give your answer. Fifty of our trusted townsmen were appointed
to assist in bringing the murderers of Chief Donnelly to justice. They
told us to wait upon the law. We waited, and the law failed. Our court
and our jury were debauched; our Committee comes back to us now, the
source from which it took its power, and acknowledges that it can do
no more. It lays the matter in our hands and asks for our decision.
Let me deliver the message: Justice must be done! Dan Donnelly must be
avenged to-day!"

The clamor which had greeted the words of the previous speakers was as
nothing to the titanic bellow which burst forth acclaiming Dreux's.

"This is the hour for action, not for talk," he continued, when he had
stilled them. "The Anglo-Saxon is slow to anger, and because of that
the Mafia has thrived among us; but once he is aroused, once his
rights are invaded and his laws assailed, his rage is a thing to
reckon with. Our Committee asks us if we are ready to take justice
into our own hands, and I answer, Yes!"

A chaos of waving arms and of high-flung hats, a deafening crash of
voices again answered.

"Then our speakers shall lead us. Judge Blackmar shall be the first in
command; Mr. Slade, who spoke after him, shall be second, and I shall
be the third in authority. Arm yourselves quickly, gentlemen, and may
God have mercy upon the souls of those eleven murderers."

He leaped lightly down, and the great assemblage burst into motion,
streaming out Canal Street like a storming army. It boiled into side
streets and through every avenue which led in the direction of the
prison. At each corner it gathered strength; every thoroughfare
belched forth reinforcements; hundreds who had entertained no faintest
notion of taking part fell in, were swallowed up in the seething tide,
and went shouting to the very gates of the jail.

Once that tossing river of humanity had been given force and direction
its character changed; it became a mailed dragon, it suddenly
blossomed with steel. Peaceful, middle-aged men who had stood beside
the monument buttoned up in peculiarly bulky overcoats were now
marching silently with weapons at their shoulders.

Strangest of all, perhaps, was the greeting this army received on
every side. The flotsam and jetsam which swirled along in its eddies
or followed in its wake cheered, howled, and danced deliriously; men,
women, and children from doorways and galleries raised their voices
lustily, and applauded as if at some favorite carnival parade. In
notable contrast was the bearing of the armed men themselves; they
marched through the echoing streets like a regiment of mutes.




XXV

THE APPEAL



On the iron balcony of a house in the vicinity of the parish prison
the two Sicilian girls were standing. Across from them loomed the
great decaying structure with its little iron-barred windows and its
steel-ribbed doors behind which lay their countrymen. From inside came
the echo of a great hammering, as if a gallows were being erected; but
the square and the streets outside were quiet.

"What time is it now?" Oliveta had repeated this question already a
dozen times.

"It is after ten."

"I hear nothing as yet, do you?"

"Nothing!"

"We could hear if it were not for that dreadful pounding yonder in the
jail."

"Hush! They are building barricades."

The peasant girl gasped and seized the iron railing in front of her.

"Madonna mia! I am dying. Do you think Signore Blake will yield to
your appeal and turn the mob?"

"I'm afraid not," said Vittoria, faintly.

"He can do more than any other, for he is powerful; they will listen
to him. If Caesar should escape! I am shamed through and through to
have loved such a man, and yet to have him killed like a rat in a
hole! I pray, and I know not what I pray for--my thoughts are whirling
so. Do you hear anything from the city?"

"No, no!"

There was a moment's pause.

"Those barricades will not allow them to enter, even if our friend
does not persuade them to disperse,"

"I have heard there is sometimes shooting." Vittoria shuddered. "It is
terrible for men to become brutes."

"The time is growing late," Oliveta quavered.

There was another period of silence while they strained their ears for
the faintest sound, but the fresh breeze wafted nothing to them. On a
neighboring gallery two housewives were gossiping; a child was playing
on the walk beneath, and his piping laughter sounded strangely
incongruous. From across the way rose that desultory pounding as
spikes were driven home and beams were nailed in place. Through a
grated aperture in the prison wall an armed man peered down the
street.

"Caesar is cunning," Oliveta broke out. "He is not one to be easily
caught. He is brave, too. Ah, God! how I loved him and how I have
hated him!" Ever since Maruffi's capture she had remained in a frame
of mind scarcely rational, fluctuating between a silent, sullen mood
of revenge and a sense of horror at her betrayal of the man who had
once possessed her whole heart.

"It can't be that you still care for him?"

"No, I loathe him, and if he escapes he would surely kill me. Yet
sometimes I wish it." She began mumbling to herself. "Look!" she
cried, suddenly. "What is this?"

A public hack came swinging into view, its horses at a gallop. It drew
up before the main gate of the prison, a man leaped forth and began
pounding for admittance. Some one spoke to him through a grating.

"What does he say?" queried the peasant girl.

"I cannot hear. Perhaps he comes to say there is no--Mother of God!
Listen!"

From somewhere toward the heart of the city came a faint murmur.

"It is the rumble of a wagon on the next street," gasped Oliveta.

The sound died away. The girls stood frozen at attention with their
senses strained. Then it rose again, louder. Soon there was no
mistaking it. A whisper came upon the breeze, it mounted into a
long-drawn humming, which in turn grew to a steady drone of voices
broken by waves of cheering. It gathered volume rapidly, and straggling
figures came running into view, followed by knots and groups of
fleet-footed youths. The driver of the carriage rose on his box, looked
over his shoulder, then whipped his horses into a gallop and fled. As he
did so a slowly moving wagon laden with timbers turned in from a side
street. It was driven by a somnolent negro, who finally halted his
team and stared in dull lack of comprehension at what he saw
approaching.

By now the street beneath the girls was half filled with people; it
echoed to a babble of voices, to the shuffle and tread of a coming
multitude, and an instant later out of every thoroughfare which
fronted upon the grim old prison structure streamed the people of New
Orleans.

"See! They are unarmed!" Oliveta's fingers sank into her sister's
wrist.

Then through the press came a body of silent men, four abreast and
shoulder to shoulder. The crowd opened to let them through, cheering
frenziedly. They wore an air of sober responsibility; they carried
guns, and looked to neither right nor left. Directly beneath the
waiting women they passed, and at their head marched Norvin Blake and
Bernie Dreux together with two men unknown to the girls.

Vittoria leaned forward horror-stricken, and although she tried to
call she did not hear her voice above the confusion; Oliveta clutched
her, murmuring distractedly.

The avenues were jammed from curb to curb; telegraph-poles,
lamp-posts, trees held a burden of human forms; windows and
house-tops were filling in every direction; a continuous roar beat
thunderously against the prison walls.

The army of vigilantes drew up before the main gate, and a man smote
it with the butt of his shotgun, demanding entrance. The crowd,
anticipating a volley from within, surged back, leaving them isolated.
A dozen bluecoats struggled to clear the sidewalks next the structure,
but they might as well have tried to stem a rising tide with their
naked hands; they were buffeted briefly, then swallowed up.

In answer to a command, the armed men scattered, surrounding the
building with a cordon of steel; then the main body renewed its
assault. But the oaken barrier, stoutly reinforced, withstood them
gallantly, and a brief colloquy occurred, after which they made their
way to a small side door which directly faced the two women across the
street. This was not so heavily constructed as the front gate and
promised an easier entrance; but it was likewise locked and barred.
Then some one spied the wagon and its load of timbers, now hopelessly
wedged into the press, and a rush was made toward it. A beam was
raised upon willing shoulders, and with this as a battering-ram a
breach was begun.

Every crash was the signal for a shout from the multitude, and when
the door finally gave way a triumphant roar arose. The armed men
swarmed into the opening and disappeared one by one, all but two who
stood with backs to the door and faced the crowd warningly. It was
evident that some sort of order prevailed among them, and that this
was more than an unorganized assault.

Through the close-packed ranks, on and on around the massive pile, ran
the word that the vigilantes were within; it was telegraphed from
house-top to house-top. Then a silence descended, the more sinister
and ominous because of the pandemonium which had preceded it.

Thus far Vittoria and her companion had seen and heard all that
occurred, for their position commanded a view of both fronts of the
building; but now they had only their ears to guide them.

"Come, let us leave now! We have seen enough." Vittoria cried, and
strove to drag Oliveta from her post. But the girl would not yield,
she did not seem to hear, her eyes were fixed with strained and
fascinated horror upon that shattered aperture which showed like a
gaping wound. Her bloodless lips were whispering; her fingers, where
they gripped the iron railing, were like claws.

"Quickly! Quickly!" moaned Vittoria. "We did not come to see this
monstrous thing. Oliveta, spare yourself!" In the silence her voice
sounded so loudly and shrilly that people on the adjoining balcony
turned curious, uncomprehending faces toward her.

Moment after moment that hush continued, then from within came a
renewed hammering, hollow, measured; above it sounded the faint cries
of terrified prisoners. This died away after a time, and some one
said:

"They're into the corridors at last. It won't be long now."

A moment later a dull, unmistakable reverberation rolled forth like
the smothered sound of a subterranean explosion; it was followed by
another and another--gunshots fired within brick walls and flag-paved
courtyards.

It shattered that sickening, unending suspense which caused the pulse
to flutter and the breath to lag; the crowd gave tongue in a howl of
hoarse delight. Then followed a peculiar shrilling chorus--that
familiar signal known as the "dago whistle"--which was like the
piercing cry of lost souls. "Who killa da Chief?" screamed the
hoodlums, then puckered their lips and piped again that mocking
signal. As the booming of the guns continued, now singly, now in
volley, the maddened populace squeezed toward that narrow entrance
through which the avengers had disappeared; but they were halted by
the guards and forced to content themselves by greeting every shot
with an exultant cry. The streets in all directions were tossing and
billowing like the waves of the sea; men capered and flung their arms
aloft, shrieking; women and children waved their aprons and kerchiefs,
sobbing and spent with excitement. It was a wild and grotesque scene,
unspeakably terrible, inhumanly ferocious.

Through it the two Sicilian girls clung to each other, fainting,
revolted, fascinated. When they could summon strength they descended
to the street and fought their way out of the bedlam.

Norvin Blake was not a willing participant in the lynching, although
he had gone to the meeting at Clay Statue determined to do what he
considered his duty. He had felt no doubt as to the outcome of the
mass-meeting even before he saw its giant proportions, and even before
it had sounded its approval of the first speaker's words, for he knew
how deeply his townspeople were stirred by the astounding miscarriage
of justice. At the rally of the Committee on the afternoon previous it
had been urged to proceed with the execution at once, and the counsel
of the more conservative had barely prevailed. Blake knew perhaps
better than his companions to what lengths the rage of a mob will go,
and he confessed to a secret fear of the result. Therefore, although
he marched in the vanguard of the storming party, it was more to
exercise a restraining influence and to prevent violence against
unoffending foreigners, than to take part in the demonstration. As for
the actual shedding of blood, his instinct revolted from it, while his
reason recognized its necessity and defended it.

Bernie Dreux's amazing assumption of dictatorship had relieved him of
the duty of heading the mob, a thing for which he was profoundly
grateful. When the main body of vigilantes had armed itself, he fell
in beside his friend with some notion of helping and protecting him.
But the little man proved amply equal to the occasion. He was
unwaveringly grim and determined It was he who faced the oaken gate
and demanded entrance in the name of the people; it was he who
suggested the use of the battering-ram; and it was he who first fought
his way through the breach, at the risk of bullets from within. Blake
followed to find him with his fowling-piece at the head of the prison
captain, and demanding the keys to the cells.

The posse had gained a partial entrance, but another iron-ribbed door
withheld them from the body of the prison, and there followed a delay
while this was broken down. Meanwhile, from within came the sound of
turning locks and of clanging steel doors, also a shuffling of many
feet and cries of mortal terror, which told that the prisoners had
been freed to shift for themselves in this extremity.

In truth, a scene was being enacted within more terrible than that
outside, for as the deputies released the prisoners, commanding them
to save themselves if they could, a frightful confusion ensued. Not
only did the eleven Sicilians cry to God, but the other inmates of the
place who feared their crimes had overtaken them joined in the appeal.
Men and women, negroes and whites, felons and minor evil-doers, rushed
to and fro along the galleries and passageways, fighting with one
another, tearing one another from places of refuge, seeking new and
securer points of safety. They huddled in dark corners; they crept
under beds, beneath stairways, and into barrels. They burrowed into
rubbish piles only to be dragged out by the hair or the heels and to
see their jealous companions seize upon these sanctuaries.

Terror is swiftly contagious; the whole place became a seething pit of
dismay. Some knelt and prayed, while others trampled upon them; they
rose from their knees to beat with bleeding fists upon barred doors
and blind partitions; but as their fear of death increased and the
chorus of their despair mounted higher there came another pounding,
nearer, louder--the sound of splitting wood and of rending metal. To
escape was impossible; to remain was madness; of hiding-places there
was a fearful scarcity.

The regulators came rushing into the prison proper, with footsteps
echoing loudly through the barren corridors. Out into the open court
they swarmed, then up the iron stairways to the galleries that ringed
it about, peering into cells as they went, ousting the wretched
inmates from remotest corners. But the chamber in which they knew
their quarry had been housed was empty, so they paused undecided,
while from all sides came the smothered sounds of terror like the
mewling and squeaking of mice hidden in a wall.

Suddenly some one shouted, "There they are!" and pointed to the
topmost gallery, which ran in front of the condemned cells. A rush
began, but at the top of the winding stairs another grating barred the
way. Through this, however, could be seen Salvatore di Marco, Giordano
Bolla, and the elder Cressi. The three Sicilians had fled to this last
stronghold, slammed the steel door behind them, and now crouched in
the shelter of a brick column. Some one hammered at the lock, and the
terrified prisoners started to their feet with an agonized appeal for
mercy. As they exposed themselves to view a man fired through the
bars. His aim was true; Di Marco flung his arms aloft and pitched
forward on his face. Crazed by this, his two companions rushed madly
back and forth; but they were securely penned in, and appeal was
futile. Another shot boomed deafeningly in the close confines of the
place, and Cressi plunged to his death; then Bolla followed, his
bloody hands gripping the bars, his face upturned in a hideous
grimace, and his eyes, which stared through at his slayers, glazing
slowly.

Down the ringing stairs marched the grim-featured men who had set
themselves this task, and among them Bernie Dreux strode, issuing
orders. The weapon in his hand was hot, his shoulder was bruised, for
he had long been unaccustomed to the use of firearms.

Then began a systematic search of the men's department of the prison;
but no new victims were discovered, only the ordinary prisoners who
were well-nigh speechless with fright.

"Where are the others?" went up the cry, and some one answered:

"On the women's side."

The band passed through to the adjoining portion of the double
building, and, keys having been secured, the rapidity of their search
increased. Into the twin courtyard they filed; then while some
investigated the cookhouse others climbed to the topmost tier of
cells. As the quest narrowed, six of the Sicilians, who had lain
concealed in a compartment on the first floor, broke out in a
desperate endeavor to escape, but they were caught between the
opposing ranks, as in the jaws of a trap. The cell door clanged to
behind them; they found themselves at bay in the open yard. Resistance
was useless; they sank to their knees and set up a cry for mercy. They
shrieked, they sobbed, they groveled; but their enemies were open to
no appeal, untouched by any sense of compunction. They were men wholly
dominated by a single fixed idea, as merciless as machines.

There followed a nightmare scene; a horrid, bellowing uproar of voices
and detonations, of groans and prayers and curses. The armed men
emptied their weapons blindly into that writhing tangle of forms, and
as one finished he stepped back while another took his place. The
prison rocked with the din of it; the wretches were shot to pieces,
riddled, by that horizontal hail which mowed and mangled like an
invisible scythe. Now a figure struggled to its feet only to become
the target for a fusillade; again one twisted in his agony only to be
filled with missiles fired from so short a range that his garments
were torn to rags. The pavement became wet and slippery; in one brief
moment that section of the yard became a shambles.

Then men went up and poked among the bodies with the hot muzzles of
their rifles, turning the corpses over for identification; and as each
stark face was recognized a name went echoing out through the dingy
corridors to the mob beyond.

Larubio, the cobbler, had attempted a daring ruse. The firing had
ceased when up out of that limp and sodden heap he rose, his gray hair
matted, his garments streaming. They thrust their rifles against his
chest and killed him quickly.

Nine men had died by now, and only two remained, Normando and Maruffi.
The former was found shortly, where he had squeezed himself into a
dog-kennel which stood under the stairs; but the vigilantes, it
seemed, had had enough of slaughter, so he was rushed into the street,
where the crowd tore him to pieces as wolves rend a rabbit. Even his
garments were ripped to rags and distributed as ghastly souvenirs.

Norvin Blake had been a witness to only a part of this brutality, but
what he had seen had sickened him, and had increased his determination
to find Gino Cressi. He shared not at all in the sanguinary exaltation
which possessed his fellow-townsmen; instead he longed for the end and
hoped he would be able to forget what he had seen. He would have fled
but for his fear of what might happen to the Cressi boy. Corridor
after corridor he searched, peering into cells, under cots, into
corners and crannies, while through the cavernous old building the
other hunters stormed. He was hard pressed to keep ahead of them, and
when he finally found the lad they were dose at his heels.

They came upon him with the lad clinging to his knees, and a shout
went up.

"Here's the Cressi kid. He gave the signal; let him have it!"

But Norvin turned upon them, saying:

"You can't kill this boy."

"Step aside, Blake," ordered a red-faced man, raising and cocking his
weapon.

Norvin seized the rifle-barrel and turned it aside roughly. The two
stared at each other with angry eyes.

"He's only a baby, don't you understand? Good God! You have children
of your own."

"I--I--" The fellow hesitated. "So he is. Damnation! What has come
over me?" He lowered his gun and turned against the others who were
clamoring behind him. "This is--awful," he murmured, shakingly, when
the crowd had passed on. "I've done all I intend to." He flung his
rifle from him with a gesture of repugnance, and went out of the cell.

Norvin continued to stand guard over his charge while the search for
Maruffi went on, for he dared not trust these men who had gone mad.
Thus he did not learn that his arch enemy had been taken until he saw
him rushed past in the hands of his captors. Caesar had fought as best
he could against overwhelming odds, and continued to resist now in a
blind fury; but a rope was about his neck, at the end of which were a
dozen running men; a dozen gun-butts hustled him on his way to the
open air. Blake closed the cell door upon Gino Cressi and followed,
drawn by a magnetic force he could not resist.

The main gate of the prison opened before the rush of that tangled,
growling handful of men, and they swept straight out into the turmoil
that filled the streets. An instant later Maruffi was beset by five
thousand maniacs; he was kicked, he was beaten, he was spat upon, he
was overwhelmed by an avalanche of humanity. His progress to the
gallows was a short but a terrible one, marked by a series of violent
whirlpools which set through that river of people. The uproar was
deafening; spectators screamed hoarsely, but did not hear their
voices.

From where Blake paused beside the gate he traced the Sicilian's
progress plainly, marveling at the fellow's vitality, for it seemed
impossible that any human being could withstand that onslaught. A coil
of rope sailed upward, a negro perched in a tree passed it over a
limb, and the next instant the head and shoulders of the Capo-Mafia
rose above the dense level of standing forms. He was writhing
horribly, but, seizing the rope with his hands, he drew himself
upward; his blackened face glared down upon his executioners. The
grinning negro kicked at the dark head beneath him, once, twice, three
times, so violently that he lost his balance and fell, whereupon a
bellowing shout of laughter arose more terrible than any sound
heretofore. Still the Sicilian clung to the rope which was strangling
him. Then puffs of smoke curled up in the sunshine, and the crowd
rolled back upon itself, leaving the gibbet ringed with armed men.
Maruffi's body was swayed and spun as if by invisible hands; his
fingers slipped; he settled downward.

Blake turned and hid his face against the cold, damp walls, for he was
very sick.




XXVI

AT THE DUSK



Within two days the city had regained its customary calm. It had, in
fact, settled down to a more placid mood than at any time since the
murder of Chief Donnelly. Immediately after the lynching the citizens
had dispersed to their homes. No prisoners except the Mafiosi had been
harmed, and of those who had been sought not one had escaped. The
damage to the parish prison did not amount to fifty dollars. Through
the community spread a feeling of satisfaction, which horror at the
terrible details of the slaughter could not destroy. There was nowhere
the slightest effort at dodging responsibility; those who had led in
the assault were the best-known citizens and openly acknowledged their
parts. It was realized now, even more fully than before the event,
that the course pursued had been the only one compatible with public
safety; and, while every one deplored the necessity of lynchings in
general, there was no regret at this one, shocking as it had been.

This state of mind was reflected by the local press, and, for that
matter, by the press of all the Southern cities where the gravity of
the situation had become known, while to lend it further countenance,
the Cotton Exchange, the Board of Trade, and the Chamber of Commerce
promptly passed resolutions commending the action of the vigilance
committee. There was some talk of legal proceedings; but no one took
it seriously, except the police, who felt obliged to excuse their
dereliction. Of course, the stir was national--international, indeed,
since Italy demanded particulars; but, serene in the sense of an
unpleasant duty thoroughly performed, New Orleans did not trouble to
explain, except by a bare recital of facts.

In spite of the passive part he had played, Blake was perhaps more
deeply affected by the doings at the prison than any other member of
the party, and during the interval that followed he did not trust
himself to see Vittoria. There was a double reason for this, for he
not only recalled their last interview with consternation, but he
still had a guilty feeling about Myra Nell. On the second afternoon
after the lynching Bernie Dreux dropped in to tell him of his sister's
return from Mobile.

"She read that I took a hand in the fuss," Bernie explained, "but, of
course, she has no idea I did so much actual shooting. When she told
me she was going to see you this afternoon, I came to warn you not to
expose me."

"Do you regret your part?"

"Not the least bit. I'm merely surprised at myself."

"You surprised all your friends," Blake said, with a smile. "You seem
to have changed lately."

In truth, the difference in Dreux's bearing was noteworthy, and many
had remarked upon it. The dignity and force which had enveloped the
little beau for the first time when he stood before the assembled
thousands still clung to him; his eyes were steady and bright and
purposeful; he had lost his wavering, deprecatory manner.

"Yes, I've just come of age," he declared, with some satisfaction. "I
realize that I'm free, white, and twenty-one, for the first time. I'm
going to quit idling and do something."

"What, for instance?"

"Well, I'm going to marry Felicite, to begin with, then maybe some of
my friends will give me a job."

"I will," said Blake.

"Thanks, but--I'd rather impose on somebody else at the start. I want
to make good on my own merits, understand? I've lived off my relatives
long enough. It's just as bad to let the deceased members of your
family support you as to allow the live ones--"

"Bernie!" Blake interrupted, gravely. "I'm afraid I won't marry Myra
Nell."

"You think she won't have you, eh? She has been acting queerly of
late; but leave it to me."

Norvin was spared the necessity of further explanation by the arrival
of the girl herself. Miss Warren seemed strangely lacking in her usual
abundance of animal spirits; she was obviously ill at ease, and the
sight of her brother did not lessen her embarrassment. During the
brief interchange of pleasantries her eyes were fixed upon Blake with
a troubled gaze.

"We--I just ran in for a moment," she said, and seemed upon the point
of leaving after inquiring solicitously about his health.

"My dear," said Bernie, with elaborate unction, "Norvin and I have
just been discussing your engagement."

Miss Warren gasped and turned pale; Blake stammered.

With a desperate effort the girl inquired:

"D--do you love me, Norvin?"

"Of course I do."

"See!" Bernie nodded his satisfaction.

"Oh, Lordy!" said Myra Nell. "I--can't marry you, dear."

"What?" Blake knew that his expression was changing, and tried to
stifle his relief.

As for Bernie, he flushed angrily, and his voice rang with his newly
born determination.

"Don't be silly. Didn't he just say he loved you? And, for heaven's
sake, don't look so scared. We won't devour you."

"I can't marry him," declared the girl, once more.

"Why?"

"Be-because I'm already married! There! Jimmy! I've been trying to get
that out for a month."

Dreux gasped. "Myra Nell! You're crazy!"

She nodded, then turned to Blake with a look of entreaty, "P-please
don't kill yourself, dear? I couldn't help it."

"Why, you poor frightened little thing! I'm delighted! I am indeed,
"he told her, reassuringly.

"Don't you care? Aren't you going to storm and--and raise the
dickens?" she queried. "Maybe this is your way of hiding your
despair?"

"Not at all. I'm glad--so long as you're happy."

"And you're not mad with anguish nor crushed with--Why, the idea! I'm
perfectly _furious!_ I ran away because I was afraid of you, and
I haven't seen my husband once, not once, do you understand, since we
were married. Oh, you--_brute!_"

By this time Dreux had recovered his power of speech, and yelled in
furious voice:

"Who is the reptile?"

There came a timid rap, the office door opened, and Lecompte Rilleau
inserted his head, saying gently:

"Me! I! I'm it!"

Blake rose so suddenly that his chair upset, whereupon Rilleau, who
saw in this abrupt movement a threat, propelled himself fully into
view, crying with determination:

"Here! Don't you touch her! She's mine! You take it out of me!"

Blake's answering laugh seemed so out of character that the bridegroom
took it as merely a new phase of insanity, and edged in front of his
wife protectingly.

"I wanted to come in at first and break the news, but she wouldn't let
me," he explained.

"You have a weak heart. You--you mustn't fight!" implored Myra Nell;
but Lecompte only shrugged.

[Illustration: "P-PLEASE DON'T KILL YOURSELF, DEAR? I COULDN'T HELP
IT"]

"That's all a bluff." Then to Norvin: "I'll admit it _was_ a mean
trick, and I guess my heart really might have petered out if she'd
married you; but I'm all right now, and you can have satisfaction."

"I don't know whether to be angry or amused at you children," Norvin
told them. "Understand, once for all, that our engagement wasn't
serious. There have been a lot of mistakes and misunderstandings--
that's all. Now tell us how and when this all happened."

"Y-yes!" echoed Bernie, who was still dazed.

Myra Nell seemed more chagrined than relieved.

"It was perfectly simple," she informed them. "It happened during the
Carnival. I--never heard a man talk the way he did, and I was really
worried about his heart. I said no--for fifteen minutes, then we
arranged to be married secretly. When it was all over, I was
frightened and ran away. You're such a deep, desperate, unforgiving
person, Norvin. I--I think it was positively horrid of you."

"Good Lord!" breathed her brother. "What a perverted sense of
responsibility!"

"Are we forgiven?"

"It's all right with me, if it is with Norvin," said Bernie, somewhat
doubtfully.

"Forgiven?" Blake took the youthful pair by the hands, and in his eyes
was a brightness they had never seen. "Of course you are, and let me
tell you that you haven't cornered all the love in the world. I've
never cared but for one woman. Perhaps you will wish me as much
happiness as I wish you both?"

"Then you have found your Italian girl?" queried Myra Nell, with
flashing eagerness.

"Vittoria!"

"Vittoria!" Miss Warren shrieked. "Vittoria--a _countess!_ So,
she's the one who spoiled everything?"

"Gee! You'll be a count," said Rilleau.

There followed a period of laughing, incoherent explanations, and then
the beaming bridegroom tugged at Myra Nell's sleeve, saying:

"Now that it's all over, I'm mighty tired of being a widower."

She flung her arms about his neck and lifted her blushing face to his,
explaining to her half-brother, when she could:

"I don't know what you'll do without some one to look after you,
Bernie, but--it's perfectly grand to elope."

Dreux rose with a grin and winked at Norvin as he said:

"Oh, don't mind me. I'll get along all right." And seizing his hat he
rushed out with his thin face all ablaze. When Blake was finally
alone, he closed his desk and with bounding heart set out for the
foreign quarter. His day had dawned; he could hardly contain himself.
But, as he neared his goal, strange doubts and indecisions arose in
his mind; and when he had reached Oliveta's house he passed on,
lacking courage to enter. He decided it was too soon after the tragedy
at the parish prison to press his suit; that to intrude himself now
would be in offensively bad taste. Then, too, he began to reason that
if Margherita had wished to see him she would have sent for him--all
in all, the hour was decidedly unpropitious. He dared not risk his
future happiness upon a blundering, ill-timed declaration; therefore
he walked onward. But no sooner had he passed the house than a
thousand voices urged him to return, in this the hour of the girl's
loneliness, and lay his devotion at her feet. Torn thus by hesitation
and by the sense of his unworthiness, he walked the streets, hour
after hour. At one moment he approached the house desperately
determined; the next he fled, mastered by the fear of dismissal. So he
continued his miserable wanderings on into the dusk.

Twilight was settling when Margherita Ginini finished her packing. The
big living-room was stripped of its furnishings; trunks and cases
stood about in a desolate confusion. There was no look of home or
comfort remaining anywhere, and the whole house echoed dismally to her
footsteps. From the rear came the sound of Oliveta's listless
preparations.

Pausing at an open window, Margherita looked down upon the street
which she had grown to love--the suggestion of darkness had softened
it, mellowed it with a twilight beauty, like the face of an old friend
seen in the glow of lamplight. The shouting of urchins at play floated
upward, stirring the chords of motherhood in her breast and
emphasizing her loneliness. With Oliveta gone what would be left?
Nothing but an austere life compressed within drab walls; nothing but
sickness and suffering on every side. She had begun to think a great
deal about those walls of late and--The bells of a convent pealed out
softly in the distance, bringing a tightness to her throat. In spite
of herself she shuddered. Those laughing children's voices mocked at
her empty life. They seemed always to jeer at that hungry mother-love,
but never quite so loudly as now. She remembered surprising Norvin
Blake at play with these very children one day, and the half-abashed,
half-defiant light in his eyes when he discovered her watching him.
Thinking of him, she recalled just such another twilight hour as this
when, in a whirl of shamed emotion, she had been compelled to face the
fact of her love. A sudden trembling weakness seized her at the
memory, and she saw again those cold gray walls, which never echoed to
the gleeful crowing of babes or the thrilling merriment of little
voices. In that brief hour of her awakening life had opened
gloriously, bewilderingly, only to close again, leaving her soul
bruised and sore with rebellion.

She crossed the floor listlessly in answer to a knock, for the
repeated attentions of her neighbors, although sincere and touching,
were intrusive; then she fell back at sight of the man who entered.

The magic of this evening hour had brought him to her in spite of all
his fears; but his heart was in his throat, and he could hardly manage
a greeting. As he passed the threshold of the disordered room he
looked round him in dismay.

"What is this?" he asked.

"Oliveta is going home to Sicily. It is our parting."

"And you?"

"To-morrow--I go to the Sisters."

"No, no!" he cried, in a voice which thrilled her. "I won't let you.
For hours I've been trying to come here--Dearest, don't answer until
you know everything. Sometimes I fear I was the one who was dreaming
at that moment when you confessed you loved me, for it is all so
unreal--But my love is not unreal. It has lived with me night and day
since that first moment at Terranova--I couldn't speak before, but all
these years seem only hours, and I've been living in the gardens of
Sicily where you first smiled at me and awoke this love. You asked me
to take no part--I had to refuse--I've tried to make a man of myself,
not for my own sake, not for what the world would say, but for you--"

In the tumult of feeling that his words aroused she held fast to one
thought.

"What--what about Myra Nell?" she gasped.

"Myra Nell is married!"

The curling lashes which had lain half closed during his headlong
speech flew open to display a look of wonderment and dawning gladness.

"Yes," he reiterated. "She is married. She has been married ever since
the Carnival, and she's very happy. But I didn't know. I was tied by a
miserable misunderstanding, so I couldn't come to you honestly
until today. And now--I--I'm--afraid--"

"What do you fear?" she heard herself say. The breathless delight of
this moment was so intense that she toyed with it, fearing to lose the
smallest part. She withheld the confession trembling upon her lips
which he was too timid to take for granted, too blind to see.

"Can you take me, in spite of my wretched cowardice back there in
Sicily? I would understand, dear, if you couldn't forget it, but--I
love you so--I tried so hard to make myself worthy--you'll never know
how hard it was--I couldn't do what you asked me, the other day, but,
thank God, my hands are clean."

He held them out as if in evidence; then, to his great, his never-ending
surprise, she came forward and placed her two palms in his. She
stood looking gravely at him, her surrender plain in the curve of her
tremulous lip, the droop of her faltering, silk-fringed lids.

Knowledge came to him with a blinding, suffocating suddenness which
set his brain to reeling and wrung a rapturous cry from his throat.

After a long time he felt her shudder in his arms.

"What is it, heart of my life?" he whispered, without lifting his lips
from her tawny cloud of hair.

"Those walls!" she said. "Those cold, gray walls!"

A sob rose, caught, then changed to a laugh of deep contentment, and
she nestled closer.

Children's voices were wafted up to them through the fragrant,
peaceful dusk, and the two fell silent again, until Oliveta came and
stood beside them with her face transfigured.

"God be praised!" said the peasant girl, as she put her hands in
theirs. "Something told me I should not return to Sicily alone."




THE END




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