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LE ROI S'AMUSE
If Montgomery Brewster had had any misgivings about his ability to dispose of the balance of his fortune they were dispelled very soon after his party landed in the Riviera. On the pretext that the yacht required a thorough "house cleaning" Brewster transferred his guests to the hotel of a fascinating village which was near the sea and yet quite out of the world. The place was nearly empty at the time and the proprietor wept tears of joy when Monty engaged for his party the entire first floor of the house with balconies overlooking the blue Mediterranean and a separate dining-room and salon. Extra servants were summoned, and the Brewster livery was soon a familiar sight about the village. The protests of Peggy and the others were only silenced when Monty threatened to rent a villa and go to housekeeping.
The town quickly took on the appearance of entertaining a royal visitor, and a number of shops were kept open longer than usual in the hope that their owners might catch some of the American's money. One morning Philippe, the hotel proprietor, was trying to impress Brewster with a gesticulatory description of the glories of the Bataille de Fleurs. It seemed quite impossible to express the extent of his regret that the party had not arrived in time to see it.
"This is quite another place at that time," he said ecstatically. "C'est magnifique! c'est superbe! If monsieur had only seen it!"
"Why not have another all to ourselves?" asked Monty. But the suggestion was not taken seriously.
Nevertheless the young American and his host were in secret session for the rest of the morning, and when the result was announced at luncheon there was general consternation. It appeared that ten days later occurred the fête day of some minor saint who had not for years been accorded the honor of a celebration. Monty proposed to revive the custom by arranging a second carnival.
"You might just as well not come to the Riviera at all," he explained, "if you can't see a carnival. It's a simple matter, really. I offer one prize for the best decorated carriage and another to the handsomest lady. Then everyone puts on a domino and a mask, throws confetti at everyone else, and there you are."
"I suppose you will have the confetti made of thousand franc notes, and offer a house and lot as a prize." And Bragdon feared that his sarcasm was almost insulting.
"Really, Monty, the scheme is ridiculous," said DeMille, "the police won't allow it."
"Won't they though!" said Monty, exultantly. "The chief happens to be Philippe's brother-in-law, and we had him on the telephone. He wouldn't listen to the scheme until we agreed to make him grand marshal of the parade. Then he promised the cooperation of the entire force and hoped to interest his colleague, the chief of the fire department."
"The parade will consist of two gendarmes and the Brewster party in carriages," laughed Mrs. Dan. "Do you expect us to go before or after the bakery carts?"
"We review the procession from the hotel," said Monty. "You needn't worry about the fête. It's going to be great. Why, an Irishman isn't fonder of marching than these people are of having a carnival."
The men in the party went into executive session as soon as Monty had gone to interview the local authorities, and seriously considered taking measures to subdue their host's eccentricities. But the humor of the scheme appealed to them too forcibly, and almost before they knew it they were making plans for the carnival.
"Of course we can't let him do it, but it would be sport," said "Subway" Smith. "Think of a cake-walk between gendarmes and blanchiseuses."
"I always feel devilish the moment I get a mask on," said Vanderpool, "and you know, by Jove, I haven't felt that way for years."
"That settles it, then," said DeMille. "Monty would call it off himself if he knew how it would affect Reggie."
Monty returned with the announcement that the mayor of the town would declare a holiday if the American could see his way to pay for the repairs on the mairie roof. A circus, which was traveling in the neighborhood, was guaranteed expenses if it would stop over and occupy the square in front of the Hotel de Ville. Brewster's enthusiasm was such that no one could resist helping him, and for nearly a week his friends were occupied in superintending the erection of triumphal arches and encouraging the shopkeepers to do their best. Although the scheme had been conceived in the spirit of a lark it was not so received by the townspeople. They were quite serious in the matter. The railroad officials sent advertisements broadcast, and the local curé called to thank Brewster for resurrecting, as it were, the obscure saint. The expression of his gratitude was so mingled with flattery and appeal that Monty could not overlook the hint that a new altar piece had long been needed.
The great day finally arrived, and no carnival could have been more bizarre or more successful. The morning was devoted to athletics and the side shows. The pompiers won the tug of war, and the people marveled when Monty duplicated the feats of the strong man in the circus. DeMille was called upon for a speech, but knowing only ten words of French, he graciously retired in favor of the mayor, and that pompous little man made the most of a rare opportunity. References to Franklin and Lafayette were so frequent that "Subway" Smith intimated that a rubber stamp must have been used in writing the address.
The parade took place in the afternoon, and proved quite the feature of the day. The question of precedence nearly overturned Monty's plans, but the chief of police was finally made to see that if he were to be chief marshal it was only fair that the pompiers should march ahead of the gendarmes. The crew of the "Flitter" made a wonderful showing. It was led by the yacht's band, which fairly outdid Sousa in noise, though it was less unanimous in the matter of time. All the fiacres came at the end, but there were so many of them and the line of march was so short that at times they were really leading the procession despite the gallant efforts of the grand marshal.
From the balcony of the hotel Monty and his party pelted those below with flowers and confetti. More allusions to Franklin and Lafayette were made when the curé and the mayor halted the procession and presented Monty with an address richly engrossed on imitation parchment. Then the school children sang and the crowd dispersed to meet again in the evening.
At eight o'clock Brewster presided over a large banquet, and numbered among his guests everyone of distinction in the town. The wives were also invited and Franklin and Lafayette were again alluded to. Each of the men made at least one speech, but "Subway" Smith's third address was the hit of the evening. Knowing nothing but English he had previously clung consistently to that language, but the third and final address seemed to demand something more friendly and genial. With a sweeping bow and with all the dignity of a statesman he began:
"Mesdames et Messieurs: J'ai, to as, it a, nous avons," — with a magnificent gesture, "vous avez." The French members of the company were not equal to his pronunciation and were under the impression that he was still talking English. They were profoundly impressed with his deference and grace and accorded his preamble a round of applause. The Americans did their utmost to persuade him to be seated, but their uproar was mistaken by the others for enthusiasm, and the applause grew louder than ever. "Subway" held up his hand for silence, and his manner suggested that he was about to utter some peculiarly important thought. He waited until a pin fall could have been heard before he went on.
"Maitre corbeau sur un arbre perché— " he finished the speech as he was being carried bodily from the room by DeMille and Bragdon. The Frenchmen then imagined that Smith's remarks had been insulting, and his friends had silenced him on that account. A riot seemed imminent when Monty succeeded in restoring silence, and with a few tactful remarks about Franklin and Lafayette quieted the excited guests.
The evening ended with fireworks and a dance in the open air, — a dance that grew gay under the masks. The wheels had been well oiled and there was no visible failure of the carnival spirit. To Brewster it seemed a mad game, and he found it less easy to play a part behind the foolish mask than he expected. His own friends seemed to elude him, and the coquetries of the village damsels had merely a fleeting charm. He was standing apart to watch the glimmering crowd when he was startled by a smothered cry. Turning to investigate, he discovered a little red domino, unmistakably frightened, and trying to release herself from a too ardent Punchinello. Monty's arrival prevented him from tearing off the girl's mask and gave him an entirely new conception of the strenuous life. He arose fuming and sputtering, but he was taken in hand by the crowd and whirled from one to another in whimsical mockery. Meanwhile Monty, unconscious that his mask had dropped during the encounter, was astonished to feel the little hand of the red domino on his arm and to hear a voice not all unfamiliar in his ear.
"Monty, you are a dear. I love you for that. You looked like a Greek athlete. Do you know — it was foolish — but I really was frightened."
"Child, how could it have happened?" he whispered, leading her away. "Fancy my little Peggy with no one to look after her. What a beast I was to trust you to Pettingill. I might have known the chump would have been knocked out by all this color." He stopped to look down at her and a light came into his eyes. "Little Peggy in the great world," he smiled; "you are not fit. You need — well, you need — just me."
But Mrs. Valentine had seen him as he stood revealed, and came up in search of Peggy. It was almost morning, she told her, and quite time to go back to the hotel and sleep. So in Bragdon's charge they wandered off, a bit reluctantly, a bit lingeringly.
It was not until Monty was summoned to rescue "Reggie" Vanderpool from the stern arm of the law that he discovered the identity of Punchinello. Manifestly he had not been in a condition to recognize his assailant, and a subsequent disagreement had driven the first out of his head. The poor boy was sadly bruised about the face and his arrest had probably saved him from worse punishment.
"I told you I couldn't wear a mask," he explained ruefully as Monty led him home. "But how could I know that he could hear me all the time?"
The day after the carnival Brewster drove his guests over to Monte Carlo. He meant to stay only long enough to try his luck at the tables and lose enough to make up for the days at sea when his purse was necessarily idle. Swearengen Jones was forgotten, and soon after his arrival he began to plunge. At first he lost heavily, and it was with difficulty that he concealed his joy. Peggy Gray was watching him, and in whispers implored him to stop, but Mrs. Dan excitedly urged him to continue until the luck changed. To the girl's chagrin it was the more reckless advice that he followed. In so desperate a situation he felt that he could not stop. But his luck turned too soon.
"I can't afford to give up," he said, miserably, to himself, after a time. "I'm already a winner by five thousand dollars, and I must at least get rid of that."
Brewster became the center of interest to those who were not playing and people marveled at his luck. They quite misinterpreted his eagerness and the flushed anxious look with which he followed each spin of the wheel. He had chosen a seat beside an English duchess whose practice it was to appropriate the winnings of the more inexperienced players, and he was aware that many of his gold pieces were being deliberately stolen. Here he thought was at least a helping hand, and he was on the point of moving his stack toward her side when DeMille interfered. He had watched the duchess, and had called the croupier's attention to her neat little method. But that austere individual silenced him by saying in surprise, "Mais c'est madame la duchesse, que voulez-vous?"
Not to be downed so easily, DeMille watched the play from behind Monty's chair and cautioned his friend at the first opportunity.
"Better cash in and change your seat, Monty. They're robbing you," he whispered.
"Cash in when I'm away ahead of the game? Never!" and Monty did his best to assume a joyful tone.
At first he played with no effort at system, piling his money flat on the numbers which seemed to have least chance of winning, but he simply could not lose. Then he tried to reverse different systems he had heard of, but they turned out to be winners. Finally in desperation he began doubling on one color in the hope that he would surely lose in the end, but his particular fate was against him. With his entire stake on the red the ball continued to fall in the red holes until the croupier announced that the bank was broken.
Dan DeMille gathered in the money and counted forty thousand dollars before he handed it to Monty. His friends were overjoyed when he left the table, and wondered why he looked so downhearted. Inwardly he berated himself for not taking Peggy's advice.
"I'm so glad for your sake that you did not stop when I asked you, Monty, but your luck does not change my belief that gambling is next to stealing," Peggy was constrained to say as they went to supper.
"I wish I had taken your advice," he said gloomily.
"And missed the fortune you have won? How foolish of you, Monty! You were a loser by several thousand dollars then," she objected with whimsical inconsistency.
"But, Peggy," he said quietly, looking deep into her eyes, "it would have won me your respect."