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The Turquoise Cup, and, The Desert

By

Arthur Cosslett Smith

1903







"KHADIJA BELIEVES IN ME"





CONTENTS

I The Turquoise Cup

II The Desert





THE TURQUOISE CUP


The Cardinal Archbishop sat on his shaded balcony, his well-kept hands
clasped upon his breast, his feet stretched out so straight before him
that the pigeon, perched on the rail of the balcony, might have seen
fully six inches of scarlet silk stocking.

The cardinal was a small man, but very neatly made. His hair was as
white as spun glass. Perhaps he was sixty; perhaps he was seventy;
perhaps he was fifty. His red biretta lay upon a near-by chair. His head
bore no tonsure. The razor of the barber and the scythe of Time had
passed him by. There was that faint tinge upon his cheeks that comes to
those who, having once had black beards, shave twice daily. His features
were clearly cut. His skin would have been pallid had it not been olive.
A rebellious lock of hair curved upon his forehead. He resembled the
first Napoleon, before the latter became famous and fat.

The pigeon's mate came floating through the blue sky that silhouetted
the trees in the garden. She made a pretence of alighting upon the
balcony railing, sheered off, coquetted among the treetops, came back
again, retreated so far that she was merely a white speck against the
blue vault, and then, true to her sex, having proved her liberty only to
tire of it, with a flight so swift that the eye could scarcely follow
her, she came back again and rested upon the farther end of the balcony,
where she immediately began to preen herself and to affect an air of
nonchalance and virtue.

Her mate lazily opened one eye, which regarded her for a moment, and
then closed with a wink.

"Ah, my friends," said the cardinal, "there are days when you make me
regret that I am not of the world, but this is not one of them. You have
quarrelled, I perceive. When you build your nest down yonder in the
cote, I envy you. When you are giving up your lives to feeding your
children, I envy you. I watch your flights for food for them. I say to
myself, 'I, too, would struggle to keep a child, if I had one. Commerce,
invention, speculation - why could I not succeed in one of these? I have
arrived in the most intricate profession of all. I am a cardinal
archbishop. Could I not have been a stockbroker?' Ah, signore and
signora," and he bowed to the pigeons, "you get nearer heaven than we
poor mortals. Have you learned nothing - have you heard no whisper - have
you no message for me?"

"Your eminence," said a servant who came upon the balcony, a silver tray
in his hand, "a visitor."

The cardinal took the card and read it aloud - "The Earl of Vauxhall."

He sat silent a moment, thinking. "I do not know him," he said at
length; "but show him up."

He put on his biretta, assumed a more erect attitude, and then turned to
the pigeons.

"Adieu," he said; "commercialism approaches in the person of an
Englishman. He comes either to buy or to sell. You have nothing in
common with him. Fly away to the Piazza, but come back tomorrow. If you
do not, I shall miss you sorely."

The curtains parted, and the servant announced, "The Earl of Vauxhall."

The cardinal rose from his chair.

A young man stepped upon the balcony. He was tall and lithe and blond,
and six-and-twenty.

"Your grace," he said, "I have come because I am in deep trouble."

"In that event," said the cardinal, "you do me much honor. My vocation
is to seek out those who are in trouble. When _they_ seek _me_ it argues
that I am not unknown. You are an Englishman. You may speak your own
language. It is not the most flexible, but it is an excellent vehicle
for the truth."

"Thank you," said the young man; "that gives me a better chance, since
my Italian is of the gondolier type. I speak it mostly with my arms,"
and he began to gesticulate.

"I understand," said the cardinal, smiling, "and I fear that my English
is open to some criticism. I picked it up in the University of Oxford.
My friends in the Vatican tell me that it is a patois."

"I dare say," said the young man. "I was at Cambridge."

"Ah," said the cardinal, "how unfortunate. Still, we may be able to
understand one another. Will you have some tea? It is a habit I
contracted in England, and I find it to be a good one. I sit here at
five o'clock, drink my cup of tea, feed the pigeons that light upon the
railing, and have a half-hour in which to remember how great is England,
and" - with a bow - "how much the rest of the world owes to her."

"A decent sort of chap, for an Italian," thought the earl. The cardinal
busied himself with the tea-pot.

"Your grace," said the earl, finally, "I came here in trouble."

"It cannot be of long standing," said the cardinal. "You do not look
like one who has passed through the fire."

"No," said the earl, "but I scarcely know what to say to you. I am
embarrassed."

"My son," said the cardinal, "when an Englishman is embarrassed he is
truly penitent. You may begin as abruptly as you choose. Are you a
Catholic?"

"No," replied the earl, "I am of the Church of England."

The cardinal shrugged his shoulders the least bit. "I never cease to
admire your countrymen," he said, "On Sundays they say, 'I believe in
the Holy Catholic Church,' and, on work-days, they say, 'I believe in
the Holy Anglican Church.' You are admirably trained. You adapt
yourselves to circumstances."

"Yes," said the earl, a trifle nettled, "I believe we do, but at present
I find myself as maladroit as though I had been born on the
Continent - in Italy, for example."

"Good," laughed the cardinal; "I am getting to be a garrulous old man. I
love to air my English speech, and, in my effort to speak it freely, I
sometimes speak it beyond license. Can you forgive me, my lord, and will
you tell me how I can serve you?"

"I came," said the Earl of Vauxhall, "to ask you if there is any way in
which I can buy the turquoise cup."

"I do not understand," said the cardinal.

"The turquoise cup," repeated the earl. "The one in the treasury of St.
Mark's."

The cardinal began to laugh - then he suddenly ceased, looked hard at the
earl and asked, "Are you serious, my lord?"

"Very," replied the earl.

"Are you quite well?" asked the cardinal.

"Yes," said the earl, "but I am very uncomfortable."

The cardinal began to pace up and down the balcony.

"My lord," he asked, finally, "have you ever negotiated for the Holy
Coat at Treves; for the breastplate of Charlemagne in the Louvre; for
the Crown Jewels in the Tower?"

"No," said the earl; "I have no use for them, but I very much need the
turquoise cup."

"Are you a professional or an amateur?" asked the cardinal, his eyes
flashing, his lips twitching.

"As I understand it," said the earl, slowly, a faint blush stealing into
his cheeks, "an 'amateur' is a lover. If that is right, perhaps you had
better put me down as an 'amateur.'"

The cardinal saw the blush and his anger vanished.

"Ah," he said, softly, "there is a woman, is there?"

"Yes," replied the earl, "there is a woman."

"Well," said the cardinal, "I am listening."

"It won't bore you?" asked the earl. "If I begin about her I sha'n't
know when to stop."

"My lord," said the cardinal, "if there were no women there would be no
priests. Our occupation would be gone. There was a time when _men_ built
churches, beautified them, and went to them. How is it now; even here in
Venice, where art still exists, and where there is no bourse? I was
speaking with a man only to-day - a man of affairs, one who buys and
sells, who has agents in foreign lands and ships on the seas; a man who,
in the old religious days, would have given a tenth of all his goods to
the Church and would have found honor and contentment in the remainder;
but he is bitten with this new-fangled belief of disbelief. He has a
sneaking fear that Christianity has been supplanted by electricity and
he worships Huxley rather than Christ crucified - Huxley!" and the
cardinal threw up his hands. "Did ever a man die the easier because he
had grovelled at the knees of Huxley? What did Huxley preach? The
doctrine of despair. He was the Pope of protoplasm. He beat his wings
against the bars of the unknowable. He set his finite mind the task of
solving the infinite. A mere creature, he sought to fathom the mind of
his creator. Read the lines upon his tomb, written by his wife - what do
they teach? Nothing but 'let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' If
a man follows Huxley, then is he a fool if he does not give to this poor
squeezed-lemon of a world another twist. If I believed there was nothing
after this life, do you think I should be sitting here, feeding the
pigeons? Do you think - but there, I have aired my English speech and
have had my fling at Huxley. Let me fill your cup and then tell me of
this woman whom I have kept waiting all this time by my vanity and my
ill manners. Is she English, French, Spanish, or American? There are
many Americans nowadays."

"No," said the earl, "she is Irish."

"The most dangerous of all," remarked the cardinal.

"It is plain that you know women," said the earl.

"I?" exclaimed the cardinal. "No; nor any living man."

"Her father." resumed the earl, "was a great brewer in Dublin. He made
ripping stout. Perhaps you use it. It has a green label, with a bull's
head. He kept straight all through the home-rule troubles, and he
chipped in a lot for the Jubilee fund, and they made him Lord Vatsmore.
He died two years ago and left one child. She is Lady Nora Daly. She is
waiting for me now in the Piazza."

"Perhaps I am detaining you?" said the cardinal.

"By no means," replied the earl. "I don't dare to go back just yet. I
met her first at home, last season. I've followed her about like a
spaniel ever since. I started in for a lark, and now I'm in for keeps.
She has a peculiar way with her," continued the earl, smoothing his hat;
"one minute you think you are great chums and, the next, you wonder if
you have ever been presented."

"I recognize the Irish variety," said the cardinal.

"She is here with her yacht," continued the earl. "Her aunt is with her.
The aunt is a good sort. I am sure you would like her."

"Doubtless," said the cardinal, with a shrug; "but have you nothing more
to say about the niece?"

"I followed her here," continued the earl, his hands still busy with his
hat, "and I've done my best. Just now, in the Piazza, I asked her to
marry me, and she laughed. We went into St. Mark's, and the lights and
the music and the pictures and the perfume seemed to soften her. 'Did
you mean it?' she said to me. I told her I did. 'Don't speak to me for a
little while,' she said, 'I want to think.' That was strange, wasn't
it?"

"No," said the cardinal, "I don't think that was strange. I think it was
merely feminine."

"We came out of the church," continued the earl, "and I felt sure of
her; but when we came into the Piazza and she saw the life of the place,
the fountain playing, the banners flying, the pigeons wheeling, and
heard the band, she began to laugh and chaff. 'Bobby,' she said,
suddenly, 'did you mean it?'

"'Yes,' I said, 'I meant it.' She looked at me for a moment so fixedly
that I began to think of the things I had done and which she had not
done, of the gulf there was between us - you understand?"

"Yes," said the cardinal, "I understand - that is, I can imagine."

"And then," continued the earl, "I ventured to look into her eyes, and
she was laughing at me.

"'Bobby,' she said, 'I believe I've landed you. I know you 're a
fortune-hunter, but what blame? I dare say I should be one, but for the
beer. I'm throwing myself away. With my fortune and my figure I think I
could get a duke, an elderly duke, perhaps, and a little over on his
knees, but still a duke. A well-brought-up young woman would take the
duke, but I am nothing but a wild Irish girl. Bobby, you are jolly and
wholesome, and auntie likes you, and I'll take you - hold hard,' she
said, as I moved up - 'I'll take you, if you'll give me the turquoise
cup.' 'What's that?' I asked. 'The turquoise cup,' she said; 'the one in
the treasury of St. Mark's. Give me that and Nora Daly is yours.' 'All
right,' I said, 'I'll trot off and buy it.'

"Here I am, your grace, an impecunious but determined man. I have four
thousand pounds at Coutts's, all I have in the world; will it lift the
cup?"

The cardinal rubbed his white hands together, uncrossed and recrossed
his legs, struck the arm of his chair, and burst into a laugh so merry
and so prolonged that the earl, perforce, joined him.

"It's funny," said the latter, finally, "but, all the same, it's
serious."

"Oh, Love!" exclaimed the cardinal; "you little naked boy with wings and
a bow! You give us more trouble than all the rest of the heathen deities
combined - you fly about so - you appear in such strange places - you
compel mortals to do such remarkable things - you debauch my pigeons,
and, when the ill is done, you send your victims to me, or another
priest, and ask for absolution, so that they may begin all over again."

"Do I get the cup?" asked the earl, with some impatience.

"My lord," said the cardinal, "if the cup were mine, I have a fancy that
I would give it to you, with my blessing and my best wishes; but when
you ask me to sell it to you, it is as though you asked your queen to
sell you the Kohinoor. She dare not, if she could. She could not, if she
dare. Both the diamond and the cup were, doubtless, stolen. The diamond
was taken in this century; the cup was looted so long ago that no one
knows. A sad attribute of crime is that time softens it. There is a
mental statute of limitations that converts possession into ownership.
'We stole the Kohinoor so long ago,' says the Englishman, 'that we own
it now.' So it is with the cup. Where did it come from? It is doubtless
Byzantine, but where did its maker live; in Byzantium or here, in
Venice? We used to kidnap Oriental artists in the good old days when art
was a religion. This cup was made by one whom God befriended; by a brain
steeped in the love of the beautiful; by a hand so cunning that when it
died art languished; by a power so compelling that the treasuries of the
world were opened to it. Its bowl is a turquoise, the size and shape of
an ostrich's egg, sawn through its longer diameter, and resting on its
side. Four gold arms clasp the bowl and meet under it. These arms are
set with rubies en cabochon, except one, which is cut in facets. The
arms are welded beneath the bowl and form the stem. Midway of the stem,
and pierced by it, is a diamond, as large" - the cardinal picked up his
teaspoon and looked at it - "yes," he said, "as large as the bowl of this
spoon. The foot of the cup is an emerald, flat on the bottom and joined
to the stem by a ferrule of transparent enamel. If this treasure were
offered for sale the wealth of the world would fight for it. No, no, my
lord, you cannot have the cup. Take your four thousand pounds to
Testolini, the jeweller, and buy a string of pearls. Very few good women
can resist pearls."

"Your grace," said the earl, rising, "I appreciate fully the absurdity
of my errand and the kindness of your forbearance. I fear, however, that
you scarcely grasp the situation. I am going to marry Lady Nora. I
cannot marry her without the cup. You perceive the conclusion - I shall
have the cup. Good-by, your grace; I thank you for your patience."

"Good-by," said the cardinal, ringing for a servant. "I wish that I
might serve you; but, when children cry for the moon, what is to be
done? Come and see me again; I am nearly always at home about this
hour."

"I repeat, your grace," said the earl, "that I shall have the cup. All
is fair in love and war, is it not?"

There was a certain quality in the earl's voice - that quiet, even note
of sincerity which quells riots, which quiets horses, which leads
forlorn hopes, and the well-trained ear of the cardinal recognized it.

"Pietro," he said to the servant who answered the bell, "I am going out.
My hat and stick. I will go a little way with you, my lord."

They went down the broad stairs together, and the earl noticed, for the
first time, that his companion limped.

"Gout?" he asked.

"No," said the cardinal; "the indiscretion of youth. I was with
Garibaldi and caught a bullet."

"Take my arm," said the earl.

"Willingly," said the cardinal, "since I know that you will bring me
into the presence of a woman worth seeing; a woman who can compel a peer
of England to meditate a theft."

"How do you know that?" exclaimed the earl; and he stopped so abruptly
that the cardinal put his free hand against his companion's breast to
right himself.

"Because," said the cardinal, "I saw your face when you said good-by to
me. It was not a pleasant face."




II


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

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

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

"Not here," said the earl.

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

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

She turned and saw that the earl was not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My dear lady," said the cardinal, after an interval of silence, "you
are entering upon life. You have a position, you have wealth, you have
youth, you have health, and," with a bow, "you have beauty such as God
gives to His creatures only for good purposes. Some women, like Helen of
Troy and Cleopatra, have used their beauty for evil. Others, like my
Queen, Margarita, and like Mary, Queen of the Scots, have held their
beauty as a trust to be exploited for good, as a power to be exercised
on the side of the powerless."

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

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

"Yes," replied Lady Nora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And so I will," said Lady Nora.

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

"Good old Bobby!" exclaimed Lady Nora. "That was nice of him, wasn't
it?" and her eyes glistened.

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

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

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

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

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

Tommaso bowed low. The earl blushed.

Lady Nora looked at her watch.

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

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

"To-morrow?" she asked.

"Yes," said the cardinal.

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

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

"Yes," replied Lady Nora.

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

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

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

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

Tommaso handed it to him, silent but wondering.

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

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


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