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CHAPTER VI. COUNT PENELLI.
Mrs. Gray was a lady of the old school. She was the widow of a merchant supposed to be rich, and in the days of her magnificence had lived in a large mansion on Fourteenth Street, and kept her carriage. When her husband died suddenly of apoplexy his fortune melted away, and she found herself possessed of expensive tastes, and a pittance of two thousand dollars.

She was practical, however, and with a part of her money bought an old established boarding-house on Waverley Place. This she had conducted for ten years, and it yielded her a good income. Her two[Pg 51] thousand dollars had become ten, and her future was secure.

Mrs. Gray did not class herself among boarding-house keepers. Her boarders she regarded as her family, and she felt a personal interest in each and all. When they became too deeply in arrears, they received a quiet hint, and dropped out of the pleasant home circle. But this did not happen very often.

From time to time when she had anything which she thought would interest her "family," she made what might be called a "speech from the throne." Usually we could tell when this was going to take place. She moved about a little restlessly, and pushed back her chair slightly from the table. Then all became silent and expectant.

This morning Mrs. Wyman augured rightly. Mrs. Gray was about to make an announcement.

She cleared her throat, and said: "My friends, I have a gratifying [Pg 52]announcement to make. We are about to have an accession to our pleasant circle."

"Who is it?" asked the widow, eagerly.

Mrs. Gray turned upon her a look of silent reproof.

"It is a gentleman of high family. Count Antonio Penelli, of Italy."

There was a buzz of excitement. We had never before had a titled fellow boarder, and democratic as we were we were pleased to learn that we should sit at the same board with a nobleman.

Probably no one was more pleasantly excited than Mrs. Wyman. Every male boarder she looked upon as her constituent, if I may use this word, and she always directed her earliest efforts to captivate any new masculine arrival.

"What does he look like, Mrs. Gray?" she asked, breathless.

"He looks like an Italian," answered the landlady, in a practical tone. "He has dark hair and a dark complexion.[Pg 53] He has also a black moustache, but no side whiskers."

"Is he good looking?"

"You will have to decide for yourselves when you see him."

"When shall we see him?"

"He is to be here to-night at supper."

"The day will seem very long," murmured the widow.

"You seem to regard him already as your special property."

This of course came from the lips of the Disagreeable Woman.

"I presume you are as anxious to see him as I am," snapped Mrs. Wyman.

"I once knew an Italian Count," said Miss Blagden reflectively.

"Did you? How nice!"

"I do not know about that. He turned out to be a barber."

"Horrible! Then he was not a count."

"I think he was, but he was poor and chose to earn a living in the only way[Pg 54] open to him. I respected him the more on that account."

Mrs. Wyman was evidently shocked. It seemed to dissipate the halo of romance which she had woven around the coming boarder.

"Count Penelli did not appear to be in any business?" she asked, anxiously, of the landlady.

"He said he was a tourist, and wished to spend a few months in America."

The widow brightened up. This seemed to indicate that he was a man of means.

Prof. Poppendorf did not seem to share in the interest felt in the Count.

"I do not like Italians," he said. "They are light, frivolous; they are not solid like the Germans."

"The Professor is solid enough," said Mrs. Wyman, with a titter.

This could not be gainsaid, for the learned German certainly tipped the scales at over two hundred pounds.[Pg 55] There was a strong suspicion that he imbibed copious potations of the liquid so dear to his countrymen, though he never drank it at table.

"The poor man is jealous," continued Mrs. Wyman, making the remark in a low tone for my private hearing. "He thinks we won't notice him after the Count comes."

This might be true, for Prof. Poppendorf was our star boarder. He was not supposed to be rich, but his title of Professor and his ancient intimacy with Bismarck, gave him a prestige among us all. When he first came Mrs. Wyman tried her blandishments upon him, but with indifferent success. Not that the grizzled veteran was too old for the tender passion, as we were soon to learn, but because he did not appreciate the coquettish ways of the widow, whom he considered of too light calibre for his taste.

"Don't you think the Professor very[Pg 56] homely?" asked Mrs. Wyman, in a confidential whisper.

"He certainly is not handsome," I answered. "Neither is Bismarck."

"True, but he is a great man."

"We should respect him on account of his learning—probably much more so than the Count whom we are expecting."

"That may be. We don't expect noblemen to be learned," said the widow, disdainfully.

Immediately after breakfast she began to sound Mrs. Gray about the Count.

"When did he apply for board?" she asked.

"Yesterday afternoon about four o'clock."

"Had he heard of you? What led him here?"

"I think he saw the sign I had out."

"I should have supposed he would prefer a hotel."

"He's staying at a hotel now."

[Pg 57]

"Did he say at what hotel? Was it the Fifth Avenue?"

"He did not say. He will move here early this afternoon."

"And what room will he have?"

"The back room on the third floor—the one Mr. Bates had."

"I should hardly think that room would satisfy a nobleman."

"Why not? Is it not clean and neat?"

"Undoubtedly, dear Mrs. Gray, but you must admit that it is not stylish, and it is small."

"It is of the same size as the Professor's."

"Ah, the Professor! He is not a man of elegant tastes. I once looked into his room. It smells so strong of tobacco, I could not stay in there ten minutes without feeling sick."

"I think the Count smokes."

"Perhaps he does, but he wouldn't smoke a dirty clay pipe. I can imagine him with a dainty cigarette between his[Pg 58] closed lips. But, Mrs. Gray, I am going to ask you a great favor."

"What is it?"

"Let me sit beside the Count. I wish to make his acquaintance. He will be reserved and silent with most of the boarders. I will try to make him feel at home."

"I thought you wished to sit beside Dr. Fenwick."

"So I did, but he and I are friends, and he won't mind my changing my seat."

When I came to supper that evening I was not wholly surprised to find myself removed to the opposite side of the table, but this I did not regret when I found that I was now next neighbor to the Disagreeable Woman.

In my old seat there was a slender young man of middle height, with dark eyes and hair. Mrs. Wyman had already established herself in confidential[Pg 59] relations with him, and was conversing with him in a low tone.

"I suppose that is the Count," I remarked.

"At any rate he calls himself so. He has deprived you of your seat."

"Not only that but Mrs. Wyman has transferred her attentions to him."

"Doubtless to your regret?"

"Well, I don't know."

"She is scarcely off with the old love before she is on with the new," quoted Miss Blagden, with an approach to a smile.

"Perhaps you will console me," I ventured to suggest.

"I can't compete with Mrs. Wyman in her special line."

"I quite believe that," I said, smiling.

After supper the widow fluttered up to me.

"The Count is charming," she said, with enthusiasm. "He has a large estate in the South of Italy. He has come here[Pg 60] to see the country and get acquainted with the people, and he may write a book."

"He doesn't seem overstocked with brains," observed the Disagreeable Woman. But Mrs. Wyman had fluttered away and did not hear her.
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