E-text prepared by Al Haines
ARMS AND THE WOMAN
New York Doubleday Page & Company 1905 Copyright, 1899, by S. S. Mcclure Co. Copyright, 1899, by Doubleday and Mcclure Co.
To her, that is to say, to the hand that rocked the cradle.
ARMS AND THE WOMAN
The first time I met her I was a reporter in the embryonic state and she was a girl in short dresses. It was in a garden, surrounded by high red brick walls which were half hidden by clusters of green vines, and at the base of which nestled earth-beds, radiant with roses and poppies and peonies and bushes of lavender lilacs, all spilling their delicate ambrosia on the mild air of passing May. I stood, straw hat in hand, wondering if I had not stumbled into some sweet prison of flowers which, having run disobedient ways in the past, had been placed here by Flora, and forever denied their native meadows and wildernesses. And this vision of fresh youth in my path, perhaps she was some guardian nymph. I was only twenty-two—a most impressionable age. Her hair was like that rare October brown, half dun, half gold; her eyes were cool and restful, like the brown pools one sees in the heart of the forests, and her lips and cheeks cozened the warm vermilion of the rose which lay ever so lightly on the bosom of her white dress. Close at hand was a table upon which stood a pitcher of lemonade. She was holding in her hand an empty glass. As my eyes encountered her calm, inquiring gaze, my courage fled precipitately, likewise the object of my errand. There was a pause; diffidence and embarrassment on my side, placidity on hers.
"Well, sir?" said she, in a voice the tone of which implied that she could readily understand her presence in the garden, but not mine.
As I remember it, I was suddenly seized with a great thirst.
"I should like a glass of your lemonade," I answered, bravely laying down the only piece of money I possessed.
Her stern lips parted in a smile, and my courage came back cautiously, that is to say, by degrees. She filled a glass for me, and as I gulped it down I could almost detect the flavor of lemon and sugar.
"It is very good," I volunteered, passing back the glass. I held out my hand, smiling.
"There isn't any change," coolly.
I flushed painfully. It was fully four miles to Newspaper Row. I was conscious of a sullen pride. Presently the object of my errand returned. Somewhat down the path I saw a gentleman reclining in a canvas swing.
"Is that Mr. Wentworth?" I asked.
"Yes. Do you wish to speak to him? Uncle Bob, here is a gentleman who desires to speak to you."
I approached. "Mr. Wentworth," I began, cracking the straw in my hat, "my name is John Winthrop. I am a reporter. I have called to see if it is true that you have declined the Italian portfolio."
"It is true," he replied kindly. "There are any number of reasons for my declining it, but I cannot make them public. Is that all?"
"Yes, sir; thank you;" and I backed away.
"Are you a reporter?" asked the girl, as I was about to pass by her.
"Yes, I am."
"Do you draw pictures?"
"No, I do not."
"Do you write novels?"
"No," with a nervous laugh.
There is nothing like the process of interrogation to make one person lose interest in another.
"Oh; I thought perhaps you did," she said, and turned her back to me.
I passed through the darkened halls of the house and into the street.
I never expected to see her again, but it was otherwise ordained. We came together three years later at Block Island. She was eighteen now, gathering the rosy flowers of her first season. She remembered the incident in the garden, and we laughed over it. A few dances, two or three evenings on the verandas, watching the sea, moon-lit, as it sprawled among the rocks below us, and the even tenor of my way ceased to be. I appreciated how far she was above me; so I worshipped her silently and from afar. I told her my ambitions, confidences so welcome to feminine ears, and she rewarded me with a small exchange. She, too, was an orphan, and lived with her uncle, a rich banker, who, as a diversion, consented to represent his country at foreign courts. Her given name was Phyllis. I had seen the name a thousand times in print; the poets had idealised it, and the novelists had embalmed it in tender phrases. It was the first time I had ever met a woman by the name of Phyllis. It appealed to my poetic instinct. Perhaps that was the cause of it all. And then, she was very beautiful. In the autumn of that year we became great friends; and through her influence I began to see beyond the portals of the mansions of the rich. Matthew Prior's Chloes and Sir John Suckling's Euphelias lost their charms. Henceforth my muse's name became Phyllis. I took her to the opera when I didn't know where I was going to breakfast on the morrow. I sent her roses and went without tobacco, a privation of which woman knows nothing.
Often I was plunged into despair at my distressed circumstances. Money to her meant something to spend; to me it meant something to get. Her income bothered her because she could not spend it; my income was mortgaged a week in advance, and did not bother me at all. This was the barrier at my lips. But her woman's intuition must have told her that she was a part and parcel of my existence.
I had what is called a forlorn hope: a rich uncle who was a planter in Louisiana. His son and I were his only heirs. But this old planter had a mortal antipathy to my side of the family. When my mother, his sister, married Alfred Winthrop in 1859, at the time when the North and South were approaching the precipice of a civil war, he considered all family ties obliterated. We never worried much about it. When mother died he softened to the extent of being present at the funeral. He took small notice of my father, but offered to adopt me if I would assume his name. I clasped my father's hand in mine and said nothing. The old man stared at me for a moment, then left the house. That was the first and last time I ever saw him. Sometimes I wondered if he would remember me in his will. This, of course, was only when I had taken Phyllis somewhere, or when some creditor had lost patience. One morning in January, five years after my second meeting with Phyllis, I sat at my desk in the office. It was raining; a cold thin rain. The window was blurred. The water in the steam-pipes went banging away. I was composing an editorial which treated the diplomatic relations between this country and England. The roar of Park Row distracted me. Now and then I would go to the window and peer down on the living stream below. A dense cloud of steam hung over all the city. I swore some when the copy boy came in and said that there was yet a column and a half to fill, and that the foreman wanted to "close up the page early." The true cause of my indisposition was due to the rumors rife in the office that morning. Rumors which emanate from the managing editor's room are usually of the sort which burden the subordinate ones with anxiety. The London correspondent was "going to pieces." He had cabled that he was suffering from nervous prostration, supplementing a request for a two months' leave of absence. For "nervous prostration" we read "drink." Our London correspondent was a brilliant journalist; he had written one or two clever books; he had a broad knowledge of men and affairs; and his pen was one of those which flashed and burned at frequent intervals; but he drank. Dan's father had been a victim of the habit. I remember meeting the elder Hillars. He was a picturesque individual, an accomplished scholar, a wide traveller, a diplomatist, and a noted war correspondent. His work during the Franco-Prussian war had placed him in the front rank. After sending his son Dan to college he took no further notice of him. He was killed while serving his paper at the siege of Alexandria, Egypt. Dan naturally followed his father's footsteps both in profession and in habits. He had been my classmate at college, and no one knew him better than I, except it was himself. The love of adventure and drink had ended the life of the one; it might end the life of the other.
The foreman in the composing room waited some time for that required column and a half of editorial copy. I lit my pipe; and my thoughts ran back to the old days, to the many times Dan had paid my debts and to the many times I had paid his. Ah, me! those were days when love and fame and riches were elusive and we went in quest of them. The crust is hyssop when the heart is young. The garret is a palace when hope flies unfettered. The most wonderful dreams imaginable are dreamt close to the eaves. And when a man leaves behind him the garret, he also leaves behind the fondest illusions. But who—who would stay in the garret!
And as my thoughts ran on, the question rose, Whom would they send in his place—Dan's? I knew London. It was familiar ground. Perhaps they might send me. It was this thought which unsettled me. I was perfectly satisfied with New York. Phyllis lived in New York. There would be time enough for London when we were married. Then I began to build air castles. A newspaper man is the architect of some splendid structures, but he thoughtlessly builds on the sand when the tide is out. Yes, foreign corresponding would be all well enough, I mused, with Phyllis at my side. With her as my wife I should have the envy of all my fellow craftsmen. We should dine at the embassies and the attaches would flutter about us, and all London would talk of the beautiful "Mrs. Winthrop." Then the fire in my pipe-bowl went out. The copy boy was at my elbow again.
"Hang you!" said I.
"The foreman says he's coming down with an axe," replied the boy.
It was like churning, but I did manage to grind the copy. I was satisfied that the United States and Great Britain would not go to war over it.
The late afternoon mail brought two letters. I opened the one from Phyllis first. It said:
"DEAR JACK—Uncle Bob has a box for the opera to-night, but he has been suddenly called to Washington; politics, possibly, but he would not say. Aunty and I want you to go with us in his stead. Ethel and her fiance, Mr. Holland, will be together, which means that Aunty and I will have no one to talk to unless you come. Carmen is to be sung. Please do not fail me.
Fail her! I thought not.
Then I read the second letter. I read it three or four times, and even then I was not sure that I was not dreaming. I caught up my pipe again, filled it and lit it. I read the letter once more. I was solemnly informed that my uncle was dead and that I was mentioned in the will, and that if I would kindly call at the Hoffman House the following morning a certain sum of money would be given to me. I regretted that I had reached that age when a man's actions must be dignified, although alone; otherwise I dare say I should have danced the pas seul. Whatever my uncle's bequest might be, I believed that it would make me independently rich. I am ashamed to admit that I did not feel sorry at the news of his sudden departure from this life. It is better to be rich than to be ambitious. It is better to have at hand what you want than to work for it, and then not get it. Phyllis was scarcely an arm's length away now. I whistled as I locked up my desk, and proceeded down stairs and sang a siren song into the waxen ears of the cashier.
"You have only twenty coming this week, Mr. Winthrop," said he.
"Never mind," I replied; "I'll manage to get along next week." It was only on very rare occasions that I drew my full pay at the end of the week.
I dined at a fashionable restaurant. As I sipped my wine I built one of my castles, and Phyllis reigned therein. There would be a trip to Europe every summer, and I should devote my time to writing novels. My picture would be the frontispiece in the book reviews, and wayside paragraphs would tell of the enormous royalties my publishers were paying me. I took some old envelopes from my pocket and began figuring on the backs of them as to what purposes the money should be put. It could not be less than $50,000, perhaps more. Of course my uncle had given a harbor to a grudge against me and mine, but such things are always forgotten on the death bed. It occurred to me that I never had known before what a fine world it was, and I regretted having spoken ill of it. I glanced across the way. The sky had cleared, and the last beams of the sun flamed in the windows of the tall buildings. Fortune, having buffeted me, was now going to make me one of her favorite children. I had reached the end of the long lane.
As I left the restaurant I decided to acquaint Phyllis with my good luck and also my desire that she should share of it. I turned into a florist's and had a dozen roses sent up to her. They were American Beauties. I could afford it now.
I found Phyllis thrumming on the piano. She was singing in a low voice the aria from "Lucia." I stood on the threshold of the drawing-room and waited till she had done. I believed her to be unaware of my presence. She was what we poets call a "dream of loveliness," a tangible dream. Her neck and shoulders were like satin, and the head above them reminded me of Sappho's which we see in marble. From where I stood I could catch a glimpse of the profile, the nose and firm chin, the exquisite mouth, to kiss which I would gladly have given up any number of fortunes. The cheek had that delicate curve of a rose leaf, and when the warm blood surged into it there was a color as matchless as that of a jack-rose. Ah, but I loved her. Suddenly the music ceased.
"There is a mirror over the piano, Jack," she said, without turning her head.
So I crossed the room and sat down in the chair nearest her. I vaguely wondered if, at the distance, she had seen the love in my eyes when I thought myself unobserved.
"I thank you for those lovely roses," she said, smiling and permitting me to press her hand.
"Don't mention it," I replied. It is so difficult for a man to say original things in the presence of the woman he loves! "I have great news for you. It reads like a fairy tale, you know; happy ever afterward, and all that."
"Yes. Do you remember my telling you of a rich uncle who lived in the South?"
"Is it possible that he has left you a fortune?" she cried, her eyes shining.
"You have guessed it."
"I am very glad for your sake, Jack. I was beginning to worry about you."
"Worry about me?"
"Yes. I do not understand how a newspaper man can afford to buy roses four or five times a week—and exist." She had the habit of being blunt and frank to her intimate friends. I secretly considered it an honor when she talked to me like this. "I have told you repeatedly to send me flowers only once a week. I'd rather not have them at all. Last week you spent as much as $30 on roses alone. Mr. Holland does not do that for Ethel, and he has a million."
"I'm not Holland," I said. "He doesn't—that is—I do not think he—." Then I foundered. I had almost said: "He doesn't care as much for Ethel as I do for you."
Phyllis pretended not to note my embarrassment. The others came in then, and conversation streamed into safer channels.
When we entered the box at the opera the curtain had risen. Phyllis and I took the rear chairs. They were just out of the glare of the lights.
"You are looking very beautiful to-night," I whispered lowly. I was beginning business early. There was no barrier at my lips.
"Thank you," she replied. Then with a smile: "Supposing I were to say that you are looking very handsome?"
"Oh," said I, somewhat disconcerted, "that would be rather embarrassing."
"I do not doubt it."
"And then it would not be true. The duty we men owe to a beautiful woman is constantly to keep telling her of it."
"And the duty we women owe to a fine-looking man?" a rogue of a dimple in her cheeks.
"Is to explicitly believe all he says regarding your beauty," I answered, evading the question. "A man may tell a woman that she is beautiful, but a woman may not tell a man that he is fine-looking, that is, in public."
"The terms are not fair."
"That may be true, but they make the wheels of the social organization run smoother. For instance, if I met a strange woman and she told me that I was handsome, I shouldn't be able to speak again the whole evening. On the other hand, a beautiful woman, after you say that you are delighted to meet her, expects the very next remark to concern her good looks."
"Your insight is truly remarkable," she said, the dimple continuing its elusive manoeuvres. "Hush; here comes Carmen."
And our voices grew faint in the swell of melody. Mrs. Wentworth was entranced; her daughter was fondly gazing at the back of her fiance's head; Phyllis had turned her face from me to the stage. As for myself, I was not particularly interested in the cigarette girl. It was running through my head that the hour had arrived. I patted my gloves for a moment, then I drew a long breath.
"Phyllis!" said I. There was a quaver in my voice. Perhaps I had not spoken loud enough. "Phyllis!" said I again.
She turned quickly and gave me an inquiring and at the same time nervous glance.
"What is it?"
"I want to tell you something I have never dared to tell you till now," I said earnestly. The voice on the stage soared heavenward. "I love you. Will you be my wife?"
Ah, me! where were those drooping eyelids, that flush, that shy, sweet glance of which I had so often dreamt? Phyllis was frowning.
"Jack, I have been afraid of this," she said. "I am so sorry, but it cannot be."
"Oh, do not say that now," I cried, crushing my gloves. "Wait awhile; perhaps you may learn to love me."
"Jack, I have always been frank to you because I like you. Do you suppose it will take me five years to find out what my heart says to any man? No. Had I loved you I should not have asked you to wait; I should have said yes. I do not love you in the way you wish. Indeed, I like you better than any man I know, but that is all I can offer you. I should be unkind if I held out any false hopes. I have often asked myself why I do not love you, but there is something lacking in you, something I cannot define. Some other woman will find what I have failed to find in you to love."
I was twisting my gloves out of all recognition. There was a singing in my ears which did not come from the stage.
"Look at it as I do, Jack. There is a man in this world whom I shall love, and who will love me. We may never meet. Then he shall be an ideal to me, and I to him. You believe you love me, but the love you offer is not complete."
"Not complete?" I echoed.
"No. It would be if I returned it. Do you understand? There is in this world a woman you will truly love and who will return your love in its fulness. Will you meet? That is in the hands of your destinies. Shall I meet my ideal? Who knows? But till I do, I shall remain an old maid."
I nodded wearily. A dissertation on affinities seemed ill-timed.
"And now," she said, "this beautiful friendship of ours must come to an end." And there were tears in her eyes.
"Yes," said I, twisting and untwisting the shreds of my gloves. It seemed as though the world had slipped from under my feet and I was whirling into nothingness. "My heart is very heavy."
"Jack, if you talk like that," hastily, "you will have me crying before all these people."
Unfortunately Ethel turned and saw the tears in her cousin's eyes.
"Mercy! what is the matter?" she asked.
"Jack has been telling me a very pathetic story," said Phyllis, with a pity in her eyes.
"Yes; something that happened to-night," said I, staring at the programme, but seeing nothing, nothing.
"Well," said Ethel, "this is not the place for them," turning her eyes to the stage again.
The concluding acts of the opera were a jangle of chords and discords, and the hum of voices was like the murmur of a far-off sea. My eyes remained fixed upon the stage. It was like looking through a broken kaleidoscope. I wanted to be alone, alone with my pipe. I was glad when we at last entered the carriage. Mrs. Wentworth immediately began to extol the singers, and Phyllis, with that tact which is given only to kind-hearted women, answered most of the indirect questions put to me. She was giving me time to recover. The direct questions I could not avoid. Occasionally I looked out of the window. It had begun to rain again. It was very dreary.
"And what a finale, Mr. Winthrop!" cried Mrs. Wentworth,
"Yes, indeed," I replied. To have loved and lost, and such a woman, was my thought.
"The new tenor is an improvement. Do you not think so?"
"Yes, indeed." No more to touch her hand, to hear her voice, to wait upon her wishes.
"It was the most brilliant audience of the season."
"Yes, indeed," I murmured. Those were the only words I could articulate.
The carriage rumbled on.
"Does Patti return in the fall?"
"Yes." Five years of dreaming, and then to awake!
And then the carriage mercifully stopped.
Mrs. Wentworth insisted that I should enter and have some coffee. I had so few words at my command that I could not invent even a flimsy excuse. So I went in. The coffee was tasteless. I put in four lumps of sugar. I stirred and stirred and stirred. Finally, I swallowed the contents of the cup. It was very hot. When the agony was past I rose and made my adieu.
Phyllis came to the door with me.
"Forget what I have said," I began, fumbling the door-knob. "I suppose I was an ass to think that you might love me. They say that it is a malady. Very well. With a few prescribed remedies I shall recover."
"You are very bitter."
"Can you blame me," clicking the latch back and forth, "when all the world has suddenly grown dark?"
"There are other eyes than mine," gently.
"Yes; but they will light other paths than those I shall follow."
"Jack, you are too manly to make threats."
"That was not a threat," said I. "Well, I shall go and laugh at myself for my presumption. To laugh at yourself is to cure. There is no more wine in the cup, nothing but the lees. I'll have to drink them. A wry face, and then it will all be over. Yes, I am bitter. To have dreamed as I have dreamed, and to awake as I have! Ah, well; I must go on loving you till—"
"Till she comes," supplemented Phyllis.
"You wrong me. It is only in letters that I am versatile. Forgive my bitterness and forget my folly."
"Oh, Jack, if you knew how sorry I am! I shall forgive the bitterness, but I will not forget what you term folly. It's something any woman might be proud of, the love of an honest, dear, good fellow. Good night." She held her hand toward me.
"Good night," I said, "and God bless you!" I kissed the palm of her hand, opened the door, and then stumbled down the steps.
I do not remember how I reached home.
It was all over.
My beautiful castle had fallen in ruins about my ears.
In my bedroom the next morning there was a sad and heavy heart. The owner woke up, stared at the ceiling, then at the sun-baked bricks beyond his window. He saw not the glory of the sun and the heavens. To his eyes there was nothing poetic in the flash of the distant church-spires against the billowy cloudbanks. The gray doves, circling about the chimneys, did not inspire him, nor the twittering of the sparrows on the window ledge. There was nothing at all in the world but a long stretch of barren, lonely years. And he wondered how, without her at his side, he ever could traverse them. He was driftwood again. He had built upon sands as usual, and the tide had come in; his castle was flotsam and jetsam. He was drifting, and he didn't care where. He was very sorry for himself, and he had the blue devils the worst kind of way. Finally he crawled out of bed and dressed because it had to be done. He was not particularly painstaking with the procedure. It mattered not what collar became him best, and he picked up a tie at random. A man generally dresses for a certain woman's approval, and when that is no longer to be gained he grows indifferent. The other women do not count.
My breakfast consisted of a cup of coffee; and as the generous nectar warmed my veins my thoughts took a philosophical turn. It is fate who writes the was, the is, and the shall be. We have a proverb for every joy and misfortune. It is the only consolation fate gives us. It is like a conqueror asking the vanquished to witness the looting. All roads lead to Rome, and all proverbs are merely sign posts by which we pursue our destinies. And how was I to get to Rome? I knew not. Hope is better than clairvoyance.
Was Phyllis right when she said that I did not truly love her? I believed not. Should I go on loving her all my life? Undoubtedly I should. As to affinities, I had met mine, but it had proved a one-sided affair.
It was after ten by the clock when I remembered that I was to meet the lawyer, the arbiter of my new fortunes. Money is a balm for most things, and coupled with travel it might lead me to forget.
He was the family lawyer, and he had come all the way North to see that I received my uncle's bequest. He was bent, gray and partially bald. He must have been close to seventy, but for all that there was a youthful twinkle in his eyes as he took my card and looked up into my face.
"So you are John Winthrop?" he said in way of preliminary. You may hand a card case full of your name to a lawyer, and still he will insist upon a verbal admission.
"I have always been led to believe so," I answered smartly, placing my hat beside the chair in which I sat down. "How did you manage to locate me in this big city?"
"Your uncle had seen some of your signed articles in New York papers, and said that in all probability I should find you here. A few inquiries set me on your track." Here he pulled out a lengthy document from his handbag. "I confess, however," he added, "that I am somewhat disappointed in your looks."
"Disappointed in my looks!" was my cry. "What sort of a duffer were you expecting to see?"
He laughed. "Well, your uncle gave me the idea that I should find a good-for-nothing hack-writer, a dweller in some obscure garret."
"If that is the case, what under the sun did he send you up here for?"
The merriment went out of the old man's face and his eyes became grave. "Of that anon. Let me proceed with my business and read the will to you. You will find it rather a remarkable document."
I settled back in my chair in a waiting attitude. To tell the truth, I was somewhat confused by all this preamble. To his son my uncle left the bulk of his property, which amounted to more than a million. I was listless. The head overseer received the munificent sum of $50,000; to the butler, the housekeeper and the cook he gave $10,000 each. I began to grow interested. He was very liberal to his servants. Several other names were read, and my interest assumed the color of anxiety. When the lawyer stopped to unfold the last flap, I spoke.
"And where in the world do I come in?"
"In the sense you understand, you do not come in."
I stared at him in amazement. "I don't come in?" I repeated vaguely. "Ah," reaching down for my hat, "then I go out, as it were;" as brilliant as a London yellow fog. "What the devil does all this mean?" I started to rise.
"Wait!" he commanded. "'To my nephew, John Winthrop, I bequeath the sum of $1,000 to be presented to him in person immediately after this will is probated, and with the understanding that he shall make no further demand upon my son and heir in the future.' That is all," concluded the lawyer, folding the document. "I have the check in my pocket."
"Keep it," said I, rising. A hot flush of indignation swept over me. I understood. It was his revenge. To have a man make sport of you after he is dead and gone, leaving you impotent and with never a chance to retaliate! "Keep it," I said again; "throw it away, or burn it. I understand. He has satisfied a petty revenge. It is an insult not only to me, but to my dead parents. You are, of course, acquainted with the circumstances of my mother's marriage. She married the man she loved, disregarding her brother's wishes."
"I knew your mother," said the lawyer, going to the window and looking out and beyond all that met his gaze.
"To think," I went on, cooling none, "that my mother's brother should die in this manner, nourishing so small and petty a spite! When he did this he knew that I should understand his motive. In the first place, I never dreamed that he would remember me in his will; never entertained the least idea of it. I am independent; I am earning a livelihood, small, but enough and to spare. I'll bid you good morning." I took a step toward the door.
"Young man, sit down," said the old man, coming back to his chair. "I want to talk to you for a few minutes. Your uncle was a peculiarly vindictive man. What he considered a wrong he neither forgot nor forgave. His son pleaded with him not to put in that final clause. He offered even to share with you. Your uncle swore he would leave it all to the stablemen first. This journey was forced upon me, or I should not have taken it. This is my advice to you: Accept the check, in the privacy of your room tear it up, or light a cigar with it; that's about all it's worth. You will feel no little satisfaction in lighting a cigar with it, that is, if you are anything like me. Think of it! a thousand dollars to light your cigar. It is an opportunity not to be missed. When you grow old you will say to your grandchildren: 'Once I lit a cigar with a thousand-dollar check.' The oldest inhabitant will be silenced forever; it may become history. And then, too, if there are spirits, as Scripture says there are, your uncle's will writhe at the performance. I trust that you will forgive me my part in the matter. I have taken a fancy to you, and if you will accept my friendship I shall be happy to accept yours. Your uncle's revenge will not be a marker to the restitution his son will make."
"Yes. To my sincere regret he is an invalid who may or may not live the year out. He has already made a will, in which he leaves all to you. The will is in my safe at home. I return to-night, so I may not see you again in this world of sin and tribulation." The merry twinkle had returned to his eyes. "I am very old."
"It is worth all the trouble to have met you," said I. "You should have made the jolt very easy."
So we shook hands, and he gave me a cigar, around which was wrapped the check. He winked. Then he laughed, and I joined him, though my laughter resembled mirth less than it did the cackle of a hen which was disturbed over the future of her brood.
I left him and went down into the wine room and ordered a stiff brandy and soda. When that disappeared I ordered another. I rattled the ice in the glass. "Ha, ha, ha!" I roared, as the events of the past twenty-four hours recurred to me. There must have been a suicidal accent to my laughter, for the bartender looked at me with some concern. I called for another brandy and shot the soda into it myself. I watched the foam evaporate, "Ha, ha, ha!"
"Hard luck?" the bartender asked sympathetically.
"Yes," said I. I seemed to be speaking to several bartenders who looked at me with several varieties of compassion.
"Have another on me," said the bartender.
I had another, and went out into the street. I walked down Broadway, chuckling to myself. What a glorious farce it all was! My fortune! Phyllis my wife! What if she had accepted me? I laughed aloud, and people turned and stared at me. Oh, yes! I was to travel and write novels and have my pictures in book reviews, and all that! When I arrived at the office I was on the verge of total insanity. I was obliged to ask the paragrapher to write my next day's leader. It was night before I became rational, and once that, the whole world donned cap and bells and began capering for my express benefit. The more I thought of it, the more I laughed. What a whimsical world it was! And was there anything in it so grotesque as my part? I took the check from my pocket and cracked it between my fingers. A cigar was in my mouth. Should I light it with the check? It was for $1,000. After all, it was more than I had ever before held in my hand at once. But what was a paltry thousand, aye a paltry ten thousand, to a man's pride? I bit off the end of my cigar, creased the check into a taper, and struck a match. I watched it burn and burn. I struck another. I held it within an inch of the check, but for the life of me I could not light it.
"The devil take it!" I cried. I flung the cigar out of the window and laid the check on my desk. Courage? Why, it needed the courage of a millionaire to light a cigar with a $1,000 check!
The office boy, who came in then, was salvation. The managing editor wanted to see me. I sprang up with alacrity; anything but the sight of that figure 1 and the three demon eyes of that $1,000 check!
"Winthrop," said the managing editor to me as I entered his office, "you've got to go to London. Hillars has gone under——"
"Not dead!" I cried.
"No, no! He has had to give up work temporarily on account of drink. If it was any other man I'd throw him over in short order. But I feel sorry for Hillars, and I am going to give him another chance. I want you to go over and take care of him if possible. The London work is not new to you. You can handle that and Hillars too. If you can keep him in check——"
I shuddered. The word "check" jarred on my nerves.
"What's the matter?" asked the editor.
"A temporary chill," I said. "Go on."
"Well, if you can manage to keep him in check for a month or so he'll be able to get on his feet again. And it will be like a vacation to you. If anything happens to Hillars you will be expected to remain permanently abroad. Hillars suggested you in his letter. Will you be ready to go next Monday?"
"To-morrow if you like," I answered readily enough. Here was an opportunity not to be missed. To see new scenes and faces is partially to forget old ones.
"Very well. I'll give you some letters which will help you. Our office is in the Strand. Hillars will find you lodgings. He has bachelor quarters in the west end of the town, where congenial spirits congregate. Come in to-morrow and we'll talk it over."
I was much pleased with the turn of events. If I could get away from New York I might forget Phyllis—no, not forget her; I loved her too well ever to forget her; but the prolonged absence would cure me of my malady.
Before going to bed that night I lit a cigar, but not with the check. On sober second thought I calculated that the sum would pay up all my debts and leave me a comfortable margin. A man can well pocket his pride when he pockets a thousand dollars with it. And why not? I was about to start life anew and might as well begin on a philosophical basis. Who knew but my uncle had foreseen the result of his bequest; my rage, my pride, and finally lighting a cigar with his check? It really might make his spirit writhe to better effect if I became benefited. Sober second thought is more or less a profitable investment.
On the morrow everything was arranged for my departure. I was to leave Saturday morning.
It was a beautiful day, crisp and clear, with a bare ground which rang to the heel. In the afternoon I wandered over to the Park and sat down on a bench, and watched the skaters as they glided to and fro. I caught myself wishing that I was a boy again, with an hour's romp on the sheeny crust in view. Gradually the mantle of peace fell upon me, and there was a sense of rest. I was going to forgive the world the wrong it had done me; perhaps it would feel ashamed of itself and reward me for my patience. So Hillars was "going to pieces." It is strange how we men love another who has shared and spent with us our late patrimonies. Hillars and I had been friends since our youth, and we had lived together till a few years back. Then he went to Washington, from there to Paris, thence to London. He was a better newspaper man than I. I liked to dream too well, while he was always for a little action. Liquor was getting the best of him. I wondered why. It might be a woman. There is always one around somewhere when a man's breath smells of whisky. A good deal of this woman's temperance business is caused by remorse. I was drawing aimless pictures in the frozen gravel, when I became aware that two skaters had stopped in front of me. I glanced up and saw Phyllis and Ethel, their eyes like stars and their cheeks like roses.
"I was wondering if it was you," said Ethel. "Phyllis, where is my cavalier?"
"I believe he has forsaken us," said the voice of the woman I loved.
"Will you not accept part of the bench?" I asked, moving along.
The girls dropped easily beside me.
"I was just wishing I was a boy again and was in for a game of hockey," said I. "I am going to London on Saturday. Our foreign correspondent has had to give up work on account of ill health."
"You haven't——" Phyllis stopped suddenly.
"Oh, no," said I intuitively. "I am growing rusty, and they think I need a vacation." I was glad Ethel was there with her voluble chatter.
"Oh, a foreign correspondent!"' she cried.
"You will have a glorious time. Papa will probably return to B—— when the next administration comes in. It is sure to be Republican." There are a few women who pose as Democrats; I never met one of them. "You know papa was there twenty years ago. I suppose you will be hob-nobbing with dukes and princes."
"It cannot be avoided," I said gravely. "I do not expect to remain long in London. When my work is done perhaps I shall travel and complete my foreign polish."
"Oh, yes!" said Phyllis. "I forgot to tell you, Ethel, that a fortune has been left to Jack, and he need not work but for the love of it."
I laughed, but they thought it a self-conscious laugh. Somehow I was not equal to the task of enlightening them.
"It is jolly to be rich," said Ethel, clicking her skates together. "It's a bother at times, however, to know what to do with the money. I buy so many things I do not need just because I feel compelled to spend my allowance."
"It must be very inconvenient," I observed.
"And now that you are a man of leisure," said Phyllis, "you will write that book you have always been telling me about?"
"Do you wish it?" I asked.
"I do. What I have always found lacking in you is application. You start out to accomplish something, you find an obstacle in your path and you do not surmount it; you do not persevere."
My pulse beat quickly. Was there a double meaning to what she said? I could not tell, for her eyes remained averted.
I sighed. "It would be nice to become a successful author, but when a man is as rich as I am fame tarnishes." I took out an envelope from my pocket.
"What is that?" asked Phyllis.
I turned over the back and showed it to her.
"Figures!" she laughed. "What do they mean?"
"It is what I am going to do with my fortune," said I. I was holding out my vanity at arm's length and laughing at it silently.
"Your air castles will be realized now," said Phyllis.
"I shall build no more," said I. "The last one gave me a very bad fall."
Phyllis looked away again. A vague perfume from her hair wafted past my nostrils, and for a space I was overwhelmed with sadness. Soon I discerned Mr. Holland speeding toward us.
"I shall not see you again," I said, "so I'll bid you good-bye now. If you should chance to come abroad this summer, do not fail to look me up."
"Good luck to you," said Ethel, shaking my hand. "You must bring home a Princess or a Duchess." Then she moved off a way, thoughtfully.
"You must write to me occasionally, Jack," said Phyllis, "if only once a month. I shall always be interested in your career."
The smile faltered as she put out her gloved hand.
"You will make some man happy, Phyllis," I said.
And then—and then they sped away, and I followed them with dimming gaze till I could see them no more. I trudged home. . . .
I stood on the upper deck. The spires and domes of the city faded on my sight till all merged into a gray smoky patch on the horizon. With a dead cigar clenched between my teeth I watched and watched with a callous air, as though there had been no wrench, as though I had not left behind all I loved in the world. And yet I gazed, the keen salt air singing past my ears, till there was nothing but the sea as far as the eye could scan.
Thus I began the quest of the elusive, which is a little of love, a little of adventure, and a little of all things.
Hillars hadn't been down to the office in two days, so the assistant said.
"Is he ill?" I asked, as I carried a chair to the window.
"Ill?" The young man coughed affectedly.
"Do you believe it possible for him to come in this afternoon?"
"It is quite possible. One does not use the word impossible in regard to Hillars. It is possible that he may be in St. Petersburg by this time, for all I know. You see," with an explanatory wave of the hand, "he's very uncertain in his movements. For the last six months he has been playing all over the table, to use the parlance of the roulette player. I have had to do most of the work, and take care of him into the bargain. If I may take you into my confidence——," with some hesitancy.
"Certainly," said I. "I want you to tell me all about him. He was my roommate at college. Perhaps I can straighten him up."
"The truth is, the trouble began last September. He came back from the Continent, where he had been on an errand, a changed man. Hillars always drank, but never to an alarming extent. On his return, however, he was in a bad shape. It was nearly November before I got him sobered up; and then he went under on an average of three times a week. I asked him bluntly what he meant by it, and he frankly replied that if he wanted to drink himself to death, that was his business. When he isn't half-seas over he is gloomy and morose. From the first I knew that something had gone wrong on the mainland; but I couldn't trap him for a farthing. No man at his age drinks himself to death without cause; I told him so, but he only laughed at me. I'd give a good deal to know what the truth is; not from curiosity, mind you, but to find the disease in order to apply a remedy. Dan's father died of drink."
"No," said I coldly; "he was shot."
"Oh, I know that," was the reply; "but give a conditioned man the same wound and he will recover, nine times out of ten. The elder Hillars was so enervated by drink that he had no strength to fight the fever which came on top of the bullet-hole. Something happened over there; and it's pounds to pence there's a woman back of the curtain. It is some one worth while. Hillars is not a man to fall in love with a barmaid."
I began to respect the young man's wisdom.
"So you believe it to be a woman?"
"Yes. The wind blows from one point at a time. There are four points to the vane of destiny; there is ambition for glory, ambition for power, ambition for wealth, and ambition for love. In Hillars's case, since the wind does not blow from the first three, it must necessarily blow from the fourth. You know him better than I do; so you must certainly know that Hillars is not a man to drink because glory or power or wealth refused to visit him."
"You are a very discerning young man," said I, whereat he laughed. "Did he get my cable?"
"No. I thought that it was some order from headquarters and opened it myself. I put it in his desk. I spoke to him, but he was too drunk to pay any heed to what I said. Well, I must be going. I am getting out a symposium of editorials from the morning papers on the possibility of a Franco-Russian alliance. It must be at the cable office in half an hour. If you are going to wait, you'll find the Berlin and Paris files in the next room. I'll see you later," and he departed.
It was five of the clock. The Strand was choked. Here and there I saw the color of martial attire. Save for this, and that the buildings were low and solid, and that most of the people walked slower, I might have been looking down upon Broadway for all the change of place I saw. There is not much difference between New York and London, except in the matter of locomotion. The American gets around with more rapidity than does his English cousin, but in the long run he accomplishes no more. It is only when one steps onto the Continent that the real difference in the human races is discerned. Strange as this may seem, it is not distinguishable in a cosmopolitan city. My eyes were greeted with the same huge wearisome signs of the merchants; the same sad-eyed "sandwich men;" the same newsboys yelling and scampering back and forth; the same rumble of the omnibuses, the roar of the drays, and the rattle of the cabs. I was not much interested in all I saw. Suddenly my roving eyes rested upon a familiar face. It was Hillars, and he was pushing rapidly across the street. Any one would have instantly marked him for an American by the nervous stride, the impatience at being obstructed. I went into the fire-room, intending to give him a little surprise. I did not have long to wait. The door to the main office opened and he came in, singing a snatch from a drinking song we used to sing at college. The rich baritone that had once made the old glee club famous was a bit husky and throaty. I heard him unlock his desk and roll back the lid. There was a quiet for a moment.
"Dick!" he called. "Hi, Dick! Well, I'm hanged!"
Evidently he had discovered my cable.
"Dick isn't in," said I, crossing the threshold.
In a moment our hands were welded together, and we were gazing into each other's eyes.
"You old reprobate!" I cried; "not to have met me at the station, even."
"Bless my soul, Jack, this cable was the first intimation that you were within 3,000 miles of London. But it does my heart good to see you!" pumping my hand again. "Come out to dinner with me. Now don't begin to talk till we've had something to eat; I'm almost famished. I know all the questions you want to ask, but not now. There's a Bohemian joint a block above that'll do your heart good to see. We'll have chops and ale, just like we did in the old days, the green and salad days, I would they were back again"—soberly. "Oh, I've a long story to tell you, my son; time enough when we get to my rooms; but not a word of it now—not a word. It will all be forgotten in ten minutes with you. We'll rake up the old days and live 'em over for an hour or so. I'm glad that I suggested you in my letter. What did the old man say about my nervous prostration?"—with half a laugh.
"He put quotation marks around it," I answered. "I wanted to see you particularly. They told me that you were rolling downhill so fast that if some one did not put a fulcrum under you, you'd be at the bottom in no time at all. I'm going to be the lever by which you are to be rolled uphill again."
He smiled grimly. "If any one could do that—well, here we are;" and we entered the chop house and took a table in one of the side rooms. "Woods," he said to the waiter, "chops for two, chipped potatoes, and fill up those steins of mine with ale. That will be all. I brought those steins from across, Jack; you'll go crazy over them, for they are beauties."
A college-bred bachelor, nine times out of ten, has a mania for collecting pipes or steins, or both. Dan and I had been affected this way. During the year I had studied at Heidelberg I had gathered together some fifty odd pipes and steins. I have them yet, and many a pleasant memory they beget me. As for the steins of Dan, they were beyond compare.
"I'll tell you a story about them," said Dan, after he had taken a deep swallow of the amber ale. "Few men can boast of steins like these. Not many months ago there was a party of men and women, belonging to the capital of a certain kingdom, who attended a dinner. It was one of those times when exalted personages divest themselves of the dignity and pomp of court and become free and informal. There were twenty of these steins made especially for the occasion. By a circumstance, over which I had no control, I was the only alien at this dinner. The steins were souvenirs. How I came by two was due to the lady whom I took down to dinner, and who presented hers to me after having—after having—well, kissed the rim. Do you see the crest?" pointing to the exquisite inlaid work.
"Why," I said eagerly, "it is the crest of——"
"Yes, a noted King," Dan completed. "And these were made by his express command. But never mind," he broke off. "It's merely a part of the story I am going to tell you when we get to my rooms. I am always thinking of it, night and day, day and night. Talk to me, or I'll be drinking again. This is the first time I've been sober in a month. It's drink or morphine or something like. Do you ever see anything of the old glee boys?"
"Once in a while. You know," said I, lighting a cigarette, "all the fellows but you and I had money. Most of them are carrying on the business of their paters and ornamenting dinner parties and cotillions."
"I thought that you had a rich uncle," said Dan.
"I did have, but he is no more," and I told him all about the bequest.
He laughed so long and heartily over it that I was glad for his sake that it had happened. Already I was beginning to look wholly upon the humorous side of the affair.
"It is almost too good not to be printed," he said. "But his son may square matters when he dies."
"I do not want matters squared," I growled. "I can earn a living for a few years to come. I shan't worry."
"By the way, is that Miss Landors whom you used to rave about in your letters married yet?"
"No." Miss Landors was Phyllis only to her intimate friends. I called the waiter and ordered him to replenish my stein, Dan watching me curiously the while. "No, Miss Landors is not married yet."
"I have often wondered what she looked like," he mused.
"When do you go on your vacation?" I asked irrelevantly.
"In a week or ten days; may be to-morrow. It's according to how long I stay sober."
I was sorry that he had recalled to me the name of Phyllis. It dampened my sociability. I was not yet prepared to take him into my confidence. The ale, however, loosened our tongues, and though we did not talk about our present affairs we had a pleasant time recounting the days when we were young in the sense that we had no real trouble. Those were the times when we were earning fifteen and twenty the week; when our watches were always in durance vile; when we lied to the poor washerwoman and to the landlady; when we would always be "around to-morrow" and "settle up" with our creditors.
"There was no ennui those days," laughed Hillars.
"True. Do you remember the day you stayed in bed because it was cheaper to sleep than work on an empty stomach?"
"And do you remember the time I saved you from jail by giving the Sheriff my new spring overcoat to pay a washerwoman's bill of six months' standing?"
"I hung around Jersey City that day," said I. And then there was more ale; and so on. It was nine when at last we rose.
"Well, we'll go back to the office and get your case," said Dan. "Where's your trunk?"
"At the Victoria."
"All your luggage must be sent to my rooms. I will not hear of your going elsewhere for lodging while in town. I have a floor, and you shall share it. It's a bachelor's ranch from basement to garret, inhabited by artists, journalists, one or two magazine men, a clever novelist, and three of our New York men. There is no small fry save myself. We have little banquets every Friday night, and they sometimes last till Saturday noon. I've taught the Frenchman who represents the Paris Temps how to play poker, and he threatens to become my Frankenstein, who will eventually devour me." Hillars laughed, and it sounded like the laughter of other days. "Jack, I think you will do me good. Stay with me and keep me away from the bottle if you can. No man drinks for pure love of liquor. My father never loved it, and God knows what he was trying to forget. For that's the substance of it all, to forget. When you start out to the point of forgetfulness, you must keep it up; regret comes back threefold with soberness. It seems silly and weak for a man who has been buffeted as I have, who is supposed to gather wisdom and philosophy as a snowball gathers snow as it rolls down hill, to try to drown regret and disappointment in liquor. A man never knows how weak he is till he meets the one woman and she will have none of him."
And somehow I got closer to Hillars, spiritually. There were two of us, so it seemed, only I was stronger, or else my passion did not burn so furiously as his.
The apartments occupied by Dan were all a bachelor could wish for. The walls were covered with photographs, original drawings, beer steins, pipes, a slipper here, a fan there, and books and books and books. I felt at home at once.
I watched Hillars as he moved about the room, tidying up things a bit, and I noticed now more than ever how changed he was. His face had grown thin, his hair was slightly worn at the crown and temples, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Yet, for all these signs of dissipation, he was still a remarkably handsome man. Though not so robust as when I last saw him, his form was yet elegant. In the old days we had called him Adonis, and Donie had clung to him long after the Cambridge time.
"Now," said he, when we had lighted our pipes, "I'll tell you why I'm going to the dogs. I've got to tell it to some one or go daft; and I can't say that I'm not daft as it is."
"It is a woman," said I, after reflection, "who causes a man to drink, to lose all ambition."
"It is a woman," I went on, holding the amber stem of my pipe before the light which gleamed golden through the transparent gum, "who causes a man to pull up stakes and prospect for new claims, to leave the new country for the old."
"It is a woman indeed," he replied. He was gazing at me with a new interest. "If the woman had accepted him, he would not have been here."
"No, he would not," said I.
"In either case, yours or mine."
"In either case. Go on with your story; there's nothing more to add to mine."
Some time passed, and nothing but the breathing of the pipes was heard. Now and then I would poke away at the ashes in my pipe bowl, and Dan would do the same.
"Have you a picture of her?" I asked, reaching for some fresh tobacco.
"No; I am afraid to keep one."
To me this was a new phase in the matter of grand passions.
"A likeness which never changes its expression means nothing to me," he explained. "Her face in all its moods is graven in my mind; I have but to shut my eyes, and she stands before me in all her loveliness. Do you know why I wanted this vacation? Rest?" His shoulders went up and his lips closed tighter. "My son, I want no rest. It is rest which is killing me. I am going across. I am going to see her again, if only from the curb as she rolls past in her carriage, looking at me but not recognizing me, telling her footman to brush me aside should I attempt to speak to her. Yet I would suffer this humiliation to see that glorious face once more, to hear again that voice, though it were keyed to scorn. I am a fool, Jack. What! have I gone all these years free-heart to love a chimera in the end? Verily I am an ass. She is a Princess; she has riches; she has a principality; she is the ward of a King. What has she to do with such as I? Three months in the year she dwells in her petty palace; the other months find her here and there; Paris, St. Petersburg, or Rome, as fancy wills. And I, I love her! Is it not rich? What am I? A grub burrowing at the root of the tree in which she, like a bird of paradise, displays her royal plumage. 'Masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.' The father of this Princess once rendered the present King's father a great service, and in return the King turned over to his care a principality whose lineal descendants had died out. It was with the understanding that so long as he retained the King's goodwill, just so long he might possess the principality, and that when he died the sovereignty would pass to his children. The old King died, and his son sat upon his father's throne. The father of the Princess also died. The King of to-day made the same terms as his father before him. The Princess Hildegarde accepted them, not counting the cost. Last spring she was coronated. Shortly before the coronation, Prince Ernst of Wortumborg became a suitor for her hand. The King was very much pleased. Prince Ernst was a cousin of the Princess Hildegarde's father, and had striven for the principality in the days gone by. The King, thinking to repair the imaginary wrongs of the Prince, forced the suit. He impressed upon the Princess that it was marry the Prince or give up her principality. She gave her consent, not knowing what to do under the circumstances. Prince Ernst is a Prince without principality or revenues. In marrying the Princess he acquires both. I shall tell you how I became concerned."
Hillars laid his smoking pipe in the ash pan. He got up and roamed about the room, stopped at the window and stared at the inken sky, then returned to his chair.
I shall tell Hillars's story as he told it. He said:
Last August I went to B——. My mission was important and took me to the British Legation, where I am well known. I was most cordially invited to attend a ball to be given the next evening. The notables of the court were there. For a few moments the King let his sun shine on the assemblage. It was a brilliant spectacle. At midnight I saw for the first time a remarkably beautiful woman. I was looking well myself that night. All women like to see broad shoulders in a man. It suggests strength—something they have not. Several times this young woman's eyes met mine. Somehow, mine were always first to fall. There was a magnetism in hers mine could not withstand. Later, an attache came to me and said that he wished to present me to her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde of—let us call it Hohenphalia. He whispered that she had commanded the introduction. I expected to see some red-faced dowager who wanted to ask me about my country and bore me with her guttural accents. To my intense pleasure, I found myself at the side of the beauty whom I had been admiring. There was a humorous light in her eyes as she put some questions to me.
"Do you speak German?" she asked in that language.
"Poorly, your Highness," I answered.
"Perhaps, then, you speak French?"
"As I do my mother tongue," said I.
"I am interested in Americans," she said.
"Collectively or individually?" I tried to say this with perfect innocence, but the smile on her lips told me that I had failed.
"Yes, I was sure that you would interest me."
She tapped the palm of her hand with the fan she held. "Shall I tell you why I desired to meet you?"
"I have heard it said that the American bows down before a title; and I am a woman, and curious."
Said I, laughing: "Your Highness has been misinformed. We never bow down to a title; it is to the wearers that we bow."
This time her eyes fell.
"This sort of conversation is altogether new to me," she said, opening the fan.
"I hope that I have not offended your Highness," I said.
"Indeed, no. But it seems so strange to have any one talk to me with such frankness and deliberation. Have you no fear?"
"There is seldom fear where there is admiration. If you had used the word awe, now——"
Soft laughter rippled over the fan. She had the most wonderful eyes.
"Are all Americans brave like yourself?" she next asked.
"Brave? What do you call brave?"
"Your utter lack of fear in my presence, in the first place: I am called dangerous. And then, your exploits in the Balkistan, in the second place. Are you not the M. Hillars whose bravery not so long ago was an interesting topic in the newspapers? I know you."
"This is truly remarkable," said I. "The only thing I did was to lead a regiment out of danger."
"The danger was annihilation. If a Captain or a Colonel had done it, we should have thought nothing of it; but an utter stranger, who had nothing in common with either cause—ah, believe me, it was a very gallant thing to do."
"This is positively the first time I was ever glad that I did the thing." I placed my hand over my heart. "But, after all, that is not half so brave as what I am doing now."
"I do not understand," said she puzzled.
"Why, it is simple. Here I am talking to you, occupying your time and keeping those fierce Generals at bay. See how they are gnawing their mustaches and biting their lips and asking one another who I am. There are as many as five challenges waiting for me the moment I depart from your side."
There was mischief in her eye.
"Then you shall stay with me, find me an ice and waltz once with me, for if anything happened to you I should always have myself to blame."
I waltzed with her, and the perfume of her hair got into my head, and I grew dizzy. When the dance came to an end, I went into the smoking room. Suddenly it went through my brain that the world had changed in an incredibly short time. I tried to smoke, and for the first time in my life, tobacco was tasteless, I was falling in love with a Princess. I confess that it did not horrify me; on the contrary, I grew thrilled and excited. There was a spice here which hitherto had been denied me. The cost was unspelled. I fell as far as I could fall. The uncertainty of the affair was in itself an enchantment.
Well, the next day I strolled up the Avenue of Legations and saw her on horseback. She was accompanied by an elderly man with a face like an eagle's. There were various decorations on his breast. As the Princess saw me, she bent her head. She remembered me. That was all that was necessary for my transportation. Later, I was informed that her escort was Prince Ernst of Wortumborg, who was destined to become her lord and master. I did not care who he was; I knew that I hated him.
For a week I lingered on. I met her time and again; alone on horseback, at the various embassies and at the opera. At these meetings I learned a great deal about her. She was known to be the most capricious woman at court, and that she was as courageous as she was daring; and that the Prince might consider himself lucky if he got her, King's will or no King's will. She had little liking for her intended. She treated him contemptuously and held his desires in utter disregard. One fine morning I was told that the Prince was beginning to notice my attentions, that he was one of the most noted pistol shots and swordsmen on the Continent, and that if I had any particular regard for my epidermis I would cease my attendance on the Princess at once. This, of course, made me more attentive than ever; for I can hold my own with any man when it comes to pistols, and I can handle the rapier with some success.
It was one night at the opera that the climax was brought about. I sat in one of the stalls diagonally across from the royal box, where she sat. She saw me and gave me the barest nod of recognition. Perhaps she did not wish to attract the attention of the royal personages who sat with her; for the nod struck me as clandestine. Between the first and second acts a note was handed to me. It was not addressed, neither was it signed. But it was for me; the bearer spoke my name. As near as I can remember, the note contained these words:
"A carriage will await you two blocks south; it will be without lights. You will enter it exactly ten minutes after the opera is ended."
That was all, but it was enough. When I returned to my seat I found the Princess gazing intently at me. I made an affirmative gesture and was rewarded with a smile which set my blood to rushing. I made little out of the last act. I could not dream what the anonymous note had behind it. I suspicioned an intrigue, but what use had she for me, an American, a very nobody? Something unusual was about to take place and I was to be a witness or a participant of it. That was as far as my talent for logical deduction went. Promptly at the stated time I stood at the side of the carriage. It was the plainest sort of an affair. Evidently it had been hired for the occasion. The door opened.
"Step in, monsieur," said a low voice in French. I obeyed. The horse started. As we spun along the pavement a light flashed into the window. The Princess sat before me. There was a ringing in my ears, and I breathed quickly. But I said no word; it was for her to speak first.
"Monsieur is an American," she began. "The American is of a chivalric race."
"That should be the aim of all men," I replied.
"But it is not so. Monsieur, I have been studying you for the past week. To-night I place my honor and my fame in your hands; it is for you to prove that you are a knight. I trust you. When I have said what I shall say to you, you may withdraw or give me your aid, as you please."
"I am grateful for your confidence, your Highness," said I. "What is it that you wish me to do?"
"Have patience, monsieur, till the ride is done," she said. "Do not speak again till I permit you. I must think."
The journey was accomplished in half an hour.
"It is here, monsieur, that we alight," she said as the carriage stopped.
I was glad that her opera cloak was of dark material and that she wore a veil.
The building before which we stood was on the outskirts of the city. Far away to my left I could see the flickering lights of the palaces; a yellowish haze hung over all. Once within the building I noted with surprise the luxurious appointments. Plainly it was no common inn, a resort for the middle and traveling classes; whether it was patronized by the nobility I could only surmise.
"We shall continue to speak in French," she said, as she threw back her cloak and lifted her veil. "Monsieur has probably heard that the Princess Hildegarde is a creature of extravagant caprices; and he expects an escapade."
"Your Highness wrongs me," I protested. "I am an obscure American; your Highness does not share your—that is——"
I stopped, not wishing to give the term escapade to anything she might do. As a matter of fact she has caused her royal guardian, the King, no end of trouble. She went to Paris once unattended; at another time she roamed around Heidelberg and slashed a fencing master; she had donned a student's garb. She is said to be the finest swordswoman on the Continent. Yet, notwithstanding her caprices, she is a noble-minded woman. She does all these things called social vagaries because she has a fine scorn for the innate hypocrisy of the social organization of this country. She loves freedom not wisely but too well. To go on:
"Monsieur wrongs me also," she said. "In what are termed my escapades I am alone. You appealed to me," with a directness which amazed me, "because of your handsome face, your elegant form, your bright eyes. You are a man who loves adventure which has the spice of danger in it. My countrymen——." She crooked one of her bare shoulders, which shone like yellow ivory in the subdued light. This rank flattery cooled me. A woman who has any regard for a man is not likely to flatter him in respect to his looks on so short and slight an acquaintance. "Monsieur," she proceeded, "this is to be no escapade, no caprice. I ask your aid as a desperate woman. At court I can find no one to succor me, save at the peril of that which is dearer to me than my life. Among the commoners, who would dare? An Englishman? It is too much trouble. A Frenchman? I would trust him not quite so far as the door. You are the first American, not connected with the legation, I have ever met. Will you help me?"
"If what you ask me to do is within my capabilities, I am yours to command."
"The reward will be small," as if to try me. I laughed. I was so insanely happy, I suppose. "There will be danger," she persisted; "secret danger: there will be scandal."
"The more danger, the merrier," I cried.
"Ah, yes," smiling; "it is the man of Balkistan."
I leaned over the table and inhaled the ineffable perfumes which emanated from her person. "Tell me, from what must I succor the Princess? Is she a prisoner in a castle over which some ogre rules? Well, then, I'll be Sir Galahad."
My jesting tone jarred on her nerves. She straightened in her chair.
"Monsieur is amused," she said coldly.
"And he asks a thousand pardons!" I cried contritely. "Command me," and I grew chilled and serious.
"You have heard that I am to wed Prince Ernst of Wortumborg?"
"Yes." I gnawed the ends of my mustache.
"Monsieur, it is against my will, my whole being. I have no desire to contribute a principality and a wife to a man who is not worthy of one or the other. I refuse to become the King's puppet, notwithstanding his power to take away my principality and leave me comparatively without resources. I detest this man so thoroughly that I cannot hate him. I abhor him. It is you who must save me from him; it is you who must also save me my principality. Oh, they envy me, these poor people, because I am a Princess, because I dwell in the tinsel glitter of the court. Could they but know how I envy their lives, their homes, their humble ambitions! Believe me, monsieur, as yet I love no man; but that is no reason why I should link my life to that of a man to whom virtue in a woman means nothing. He caused my mother great sorrow. He came between her and my father. He spoiled her life, now he wishes to spoil mine. But I will not have it so. I will give up my principality rather. But first let me try to see if I cannot retain the one and rid myself of the other. Listen. To-morrow night there will be a dinner here. The King and the inner court will hold forth. But they will cast aside their pomp and become, for the time being, ordinary people. The Prince will be in Brussels, and therefore unable to attend. You are to come in his stead."
"I?" in astonishment.
"Even so," she smiled. "While the festivities are at their height you and I will secretly leave and return to the city. We shall go immediately to the station, thence to France."
I looked at her as one in a dream. "I!—You!—thence to France?"
Hillars went to the sideboard and emptied half a glass of brandy. Coming back to his chair he remained in a reverie for a short time. Then he resumed his narrative.
The Princess looked up into my face and smiled.
"Yes; thence to France. Ah, I could go alone. But listen, monsieur. Above all things there must be a scandal. A Princess elopes with an American adventurer. The Prince will withdraw his suit. The King may or may not forgive me; but I will risk it. He is still somewhat fond of me, notwithstanding the worry I have caused him. This way is the only method by which I may convince him how detestable this engagement is to me. Yet, my freedom is more to me than my principality. Let the King bestow it upon whom he will. I shall become a teacher of languages, or something of that sort. I shall be free and happy. Oh, you will have a merry tale to tell, a merry adventure. You will return to your country. You will be the envy of your compatriots. You will recount at your clubs a story such as men read, but never hear told!" She was growing a bit hysterical. As she looked at me she saw that my face was grave.
"Is there no other way?" I asked. "Can it not be accomplished without scandal?"
"No. There must be scandal. Otherwise I should be brought back and forgiven, and no one would know. In a certain sense, I am valuable. The Hohenphalians love me; I am something of an idol to them. The King appreciates my rule. It gives him a knowledge that there will be no internal troubles in Hohenphalia so long as matters stand as they now do. Still, there are limits to the King's patience; and I am about to try them severely. But monsieur hesitates; he will withdraw his promise."
"No, your Highness," said I, "I have given my word. As for the scandal, it is not for myself that I care. It will be a jolly adventure for me; and then, I shall have such a clever story to tell my friends at the clubs."
She saw that I was offended. "Forgive me, monsieur; I know that you would do no such thing. But let me explain to you. At the station we will be intercepted by two trusted and high officials at court."
"What!" I exclaimed; "do they know?"
"No; but I shall write to them anonymously, the note to be placed in their hands immediately we leave the premises."
I looked at the woman in wonder.
"But this is madness!" I cried.
"Directly you will see the method in the madness. Without their knowing there could be no scandal. They will try to stop us. You will over-power and bind them. There will also be several other witnesses who will not be participants. Through them it will become known that I have eloped with an American. Oh, it is a well-laid plan."
"But, supposing I am overpowered myself, thrown into jail and I know not what?" All this was more than I had bargained for.
"Nothing of the kind will happen. Monsieur will hold a pistol in each hand when the carriage door is opened. You will say: 'I am a desperate man; one of you bind the other, or I fire!' It will be done. You will spring upon the remaining one and I will help you to bind him likewise. Oh, you will accomplish it well; you are a strong man; moreover, you are rapid."
I sat in my chair, speechless. Here was a woman of details. I had never met one before.
"Well, does monsieur accept the adventure or does he politely decline?" There was a subtle taunt in her tones. That decided me.
"Your Highness, I should be happy to meet a thousand Uhlans to do you service. What you ask me to do is quite simple." I knew that I should lose my head in case of failure. I rose and bowed as unconcernedly as though she had but asked me to join her with a cup of tea.
"Ah, monsieur, you are a man!" And she laughed softly as she saw me throw back my shoulders. There was unmistakable admiration in her eyes. "And yet," with a sudden frown, "there will be danger. You may slip; you may become injured. Yes, there is danger."
"Your Highness," said I lowly, compelling her eyes to meet mine, "it is not the danger of the adventure or its results that I most fear." I was honest enough to make my meaning clear.
She blushed. "I said that I trusted monsieur's honor," was her rejoinder. "Come," with a return of her imperiousness; "it is time that we were gone!" She drew on her cloak and dropped the veil. "I might add," she said, "that we will remain in France one hour. From there you may go your way, and I shall go secretly to my palace."
And the glamour fell away like the last leaves of the year.
I had to wake up the driver, who had fallen asleep.
"Where shall I say?" I asked.
"To your hotel. I shall give the driver the remaining instructions."
"But you haven't told me," said I, as I took my place in the carriage, "how I am to become a guest at the dinner to-morrow evening."
"I spoke to the King this morning. I said that I had a caprice. He replied that if I would promise it to be my last he would grant it. I promised. I said that it was my desire to bring to the dinner a person who, though without rank, was a gentleman—one who would grace any gathering, kingly or otherwise. My word was sufficient. I knew before I asked you that you would come. Twenty-four hours from now we, that is, you and I, will be on the way to the French frontier. I shall be ever in your debt."
Silence fell upon us. I knew that I loved her with a love that was burning me up, consuming me. And the adventure was all so unheard of for these prosaic times! And so full of the charm of mystery was she that I had not been a man not to have fallen a victim. What possibilities suggested themselves to me as on we rode! Once across the frontier I should be free to confess my love for her. A Princess? What of that? She would be only a woman—the woman I loved. I trembled. Something might happen so that she would have to turn to me. If the King refused to forgive her, she was mine! Ah, that plain carriage held a wonderful dream that night. At length—too shortly for me—the vehicle drew up in front of my hotel. As I was about to alight her hand stretched toward me. But instead of kissing it, I pressed my lips on her round white arm. As though my lips burned, she drew back.
"Have a care, monsieur; have a care," she said, icily. "Such a kiss has to be won."
I stammered an apology and stepped out. Then I heard a low laugh.
"Good night, Mr. Hillars; you are a brave gentleman!"
The door closed and the vehicle sped away into the darkness.
I stood looking after it, bewildered. Her last words were spoken in pure English.
With the following evening came the dinner; and I as a guest, a nervous, self-conscious guest, who started at every footstep. I was presented to the King, who eyed me curiously. Seeing that I wore a medal such as his Chancellor gives to men who sometimes do his country service, he spoke to me and inquired how I had obtained it. It was an affair similar to the Balkistan; only there was not an army, but a mob. The Princess was enchanting. I grew reckless, and let her read my eyes more than once; but she pretended not to see what was in them. At dinner a toast was given to his Majesty. It was made with those steins I showed you, Jack.
The Princess said softly to me, kissing the rim of the stein she held: "My toast is not to the King, but to the gentleman!" I had both steins bundled up and left with the host, together with my address.
It was not long after that the eventful moment for our flight arrived. I knew that I was basely to abuse the hospitality of the King. But what is a King to a man in love? Presently we two were alone in the garden, the Princess and myself. She was whispering instructions, telling me that I was a man of courage.
"It is not too late to back out," she said.
"I would face a thousand kings rather," I replied.
We could see at the gate the carriage which was to take us to the station. Now came the moment when I was tried by the crucible and found to be dross. I committed the most foolish blunder of my life. My love suddenly overleapt its bounds. In a moment my arms were around her lithe body; my lips met hers squarely. After it was done she stood very still, as if incapable of understanding my offence. But I understood. I was overwhelmed with remorse, love, and regret. I had made impossible what might have been.
"Your Highness," I cried, "I could not help it! Before God I could not! It is because I love you better than anything in the world—you cannot be of it!—and all this is impossible, this going away together."
Her bosom heaved, and her eyes flashed like a heated summer sky.
"I will give you one minute to leave this place," she said, her tones as even and as cold as sudden repression of wrath could make them. "I trusted you, and you have dared to take advantage of what seemed my helplessness. It is well indeed for you that you committed this outrage before it is too late. I should have killed you then. I might have known. Could ever a woman trust a man?" She laughed contemptuously. "You would have made me a thing of scorn; and I trusted you!"
"As God is my judge," I cried, "my respect for you is as high as heaven itself. I love you; is there nothing in that? I am but human. I am not a stone image. And you have tempted me beyond all control. Pardon what I have done; it was not the want of respect—."
"Spare me your protestations. I believe your minute is nearly gone," she interrupted.
And then—there was a crunch on the gravel behind us. The Princess and I turned in dismay. We had forgotten all about the anonymous note. Two officers were approaching us, and rapidly. The elder of the two came straight to me. I knew him to be as inexorable as his former master, the victor of Sedan. The Princess looked on mechanically.
"Come," said the Count, in broken English; "I believe your carriage is at the gate."
I glanced at the Princess. She might have been of stone, for all the life she exhibited.
"Come; the comedy is a poor one," said the Count.
I followed him out of the garden. My indifference to personal safety was due to a numbness which had taken hold of me.
"Get in," he said, when we reached the carriage. I did so, and he got in after me. The driver appeared confused. It was not his fare, according to the agreement. "To the city," he was briefly told. "Your hotel?" turning to me. I named it. "Do you understand German?"
"But indifferently," I answered listlessly.
"It appears that you understand neither the language nor the people. Who are you?"
"That is my concern," I retorted. I was coming about, and not unnaturally became vicious.
"It concerns me also," was the gruff reply.
"Have your own way about it."
"How came you by that medal?" pointing to my breast.
"Honestly," said I.
"Honestly or dishonestly, it is all the same." He made a move to detach it, and I caught his hand.
"Please don't do that. I am extremely irritable; and I might throw you out of the window. I can get back to my hotel without guidance."
"I am going to see you to your lodgings," asserted the Count, rubbing his wrist, for I had put some power into my grasp.
"Still, I might take it into my head to throw you out."
"You'd better not try."
"Are you afraid?"
"Yes. There would be a scandal. Not that I would care about the death of a miserable adventurer, but it might possibly reflect upon the virtue of her Highness the Princess Hildegarde."
"What do you want?" I growled.
"I want to see if your passports are proper so that you will have no difficulty in passing over the frontier."
"Perhaps it would be just as well to wake the American Minister?" I suggested.
"Not at all. If you were found dead there might be a possibility of that. But I should explain to him, and he would understand that it was a case without diplomatic precedent."
"You are to leave this country at once, sir; that is, if you place any value upon your life."
"Oh; then it is really serious?"
"Very. It is a matter of life and death—to you. Moreover, you must never enter this country again. If you do, I will not give a pfennig for your life."
He found my passports in good order. I permitted him to rummage through some of my papers.
"Ach! a damned scribbler, too!" coming across some of my notes.
"Quite right, Herr General," said I. I submitted because I didn't care.
My luggage was packed off to the station, where he saw that my ticket was for Paris.
"Good morning," he said, as I entered the carriage compartment. "The devil will soon come to his own; ach!"
"My compliments to him when you see him!" I called back, not to be outdone in the matter of courtesy.
"And that is all, Jack," concluded Hillars. "For all these months not an hour has passed in which I have not cursed the folly of that moment. Instead of healing under the balm of philosophy, the wound grows more painful every day. She did not love me, I know, but she would have been near me. And if the King had taken away her principality, she would have needed me in a thousand ways. And it is not less than possible that in time she might have learned the lesson of love. But now—if she is the woman I believe her to be, she never could love me after what has happened. And knowing this, I can't leave liquor alone, and don't want to. In my cups I do not care."
"I feel sorry for you both," said I. "Has the Prince married her yet?"
"No. It has been postponed. Next Monday I am going back. I am going in hopes of getting into trouble. I may never see her again, perhaps. To-morrow, to-morrow! Who knows? Well, I'm off to bed. Good night."
And I was left alone with my thoughts. They weren't very good company. To-morrow indeed, I thought. I sat and smoked till my tongue smarted. I had troubles of my own, and wondered how they would end. Poor Hillars! As I look back to-day, I marvel that we could not see the end. The mystery of life seems simple to us who have lived most of it, and can look down through the long years.
During the first year of my residence in London there happened few events worth chronicling. Shortly after my arrival Hillars disappeared. His two months' vacation stretched into twelve, and I was directed to remain in London. As I knew that Hillars did not wish to be found I made no inquiries. He was somewhere on the Continent, but where no one knew. At one time a letter dated at St. Petersburg reached me, and at another time I was informed of his presence at Monte Carlo. In neither letter was there any mention of her Serene Highness, the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia. Since the night he recounted the adventure the wayward Princess had never become the topic of conversation. I grew hopeful enough to believe that he had forgotten her. Occasionally I received a long letter from Phyllis. I always promptly answered it. To any one but me her letters would have proved interesting reading. It was not for what she wrote that I cared, it was the mere fact that she wrote. A man cannot find much pleasure in letters which begin with "Dear friend," and end with "Yours sincerely," when they come from the woman he loves.
In the preceding autumn I completed my first novel. I carried it around to publishers till I grew to hate it as one hates a Nemesis, and when finally I did place it, it was with a publisher who had just started in business and was necessarily obscure. I bowed politely to my dreams of literary fame and became wholly absorbed in my journalistic work. When the book came out I could not but admire the excellence of the bookmaking, but as I looked through the reviews and found no mention save in "books received," I threw the book aside and vowed that it should be my last. The publisher wrote me that he was surprised that the book had not caught on, as he considered the story unusually clever. "Merit is one thing," he said, "but luck is another." I have found this to be true, not only in literature, but in all walks of life where fame and money are the goals. Phyllis wrote me that she thought the book "just splendid"; but I took her praise with a grain of salt, it being likely that she was partial to the author, and that the real worth of the book was little in comparison with the fact that it was I who wrote it.
One morning in early June I found three letters on my desk. The first was from Hillars. He was in Vienna.
"MY DEAR SON," it ran, "there is another rumpus. The Princess disappeared on the 20th of last month. They are hunting high and low for her, and incidentally for me. Why me, is more than I can understand. But I received a letter from Rockwell of the American Legation warning me that if I remained in Austria I should be apprehended, put in jail, hanged and quartered for no other reason on earth than that they suspect me having something to do with her disappearance. Due, I suppose, to that other miserable affair. Though I have hunted all over the Continent, I have never seen the Princess Hildegarde since that night at B——. Where shall I find her? I haven't the least idea. But as a last throw, I am going to the principality of Hohenphalia, where she was born and over which she rules with infinite wisdom. The King is determined that she shall wed Prince Ernst. He would take away her principality but for the fact that there would be a wholesale disturbance to follow any such act. If I ever meet that watch dog of hers, the Count von Walden, the duffer who gave me my conge, there will be trouble. The world isn't large enough for two such men as we are. By the way, I played roulette at the Casino last night and won 3,000 francs. Well, au revoir or adieu as the case may be. They sell the worst whiskey here you ever heard of. It's terrible to have an educated palate.
So he was still desiring for something he could never have! I got out of patience with the fellow. Even if she loved him, what chance had he against the legions of the King? Hillars was a wild-headed fellow, and, if at liberty, was not incapable of creating a disturbance. It might land him in jail, or on the gallows. The phlegmatic German is not particular whom he hangs. In that wide domain there is always some petty revolution going on. In each of those petty kingdoms, or principalities, or duchies, there are miniature Rousseaus and Voltaires who shout liberty and equality in beer halls and rouse the otherwise peaceful citizens to warfare; short, it is true, but none the less warfare. Military despotism is the tocsin. When the King presses an unwilling subject into the army, upon his discharge the unwilling subject, usually a peasant, becomes a socialist. These Rousseaus and Voltaires have a certain amount of education, but they lack daring. If a man like Hillars, who had not only brains but daring, should get mixed up in one of these embroglios, some blood would be spilled before the trouble became adjusted. Still, Hillars, with all his love of adventure, was not ordinarily reckless. Yet, if he met the Princess, she would find a willing tool in him for her slightest caprice. Whatever happened the brunt would fall upon him. My opinion, formed from various stories I had heard of the Princess, was not very flattering to her. The letter and its possibilities disturbed me.
The second letter was from headquarters in New York.
"DEAR WINTHROP—We want a good Sunday special. Her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia has taken it into her head to disappear again. Go over and see Rockwell in B——; he will give you a good yarn. It has never been in type yet, and I daresay that it will make good reading. London seems particularly dull just now, and you can easily turn over your affairs to the assistant. This woman's life is more full of romance than that of any other woman of the courts of Europe. The most interesting part of it is her reputation is said to be like that of Caesar's wife—above reproach. Get a full history of her life and of the Prince whom she is to marry. If you can get any photographs do so. I know how you dislike this sort of work, prying into private affairs, as you call it, but with all these sensational sheets springing up around us, we must keep in line now and then. Do you know anything about Hillars; is he dead or alive? Take all the time you want for the story and send it by mail."
"The Princess Hildegarde!" I cried aloud. "The deuce take the woman!"
"What's that?" asked my assistant, who had overheard my outburst.
"Oh, I am to go across on a special story," I said with a snarl, "just as I was fixing for a week's fishing. I've got to concern myself with the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia."
"Ah, the Princess Hildegarde?" said the young fellow, pushing back his hat and elevating his feet, a trick he had acquired while being reared in his native land, which was the State of Illinois, in America. "You want to be careful. Every one burns his fingers or singes his wings around that candle."
"What do you know about her?" I asked.
"A little. You see, about six months ago I discovered all regarding Hillars and his fall from grace. It was through the Reuter agency. Hillars got badly singed. An elopement of some sort between him and the Princess was nipped in the bud. He was ordered to leave the country and warned never to return, at the peril of his liberty. A description of him is with every post on the frontier. As for the Princess she is an interesting character. She was educated in this country and France. She speaks several languages. She is headstrong and wilful, and her royal guardian is only too anxious to see her married and settled down. She masquerades in men's clothes when it pleases her, she can ride a horse like a trooper, she fences and shoots, she has fought two duels, and heaven alone knows what she has not done to disturb the tranquility of the Court. For a man she loved she would be a merry comrade. I saw her once in Paris. She is an extraordinarily beautiful woman. A man takes no end of risk when he concerns himself with her affairs, I can tell you. Hillars—Well, I suppose it's none of my business. He must have had an exciting time of it," concluded the young man.
"I'll leave you in charge for a week or so," said I. "What little news there is at the Houses you can cover. I'll take care of anything of importance that occurs abroad. I might as well pack up and get out to-night. A boat leaves Dover early in the morning."
Then I picked up the third and last letter. It was from Phyllis. It contained the enjoyable news that the Wentworths were coming abroad, and that they would remain indefinitely at B——, where Mr. Wentworth had been appointed charge d'affaires under the American Minister. They were to visit the Mediterranean before coming to London. They would be in town in October. The mere thought of seeing Phyllis made my heart throb.
The next morning I put out from Dover. It was a rough passage for that time of the year, and I came near being sea-sick. A day or so in Paris brought me around, and I proceeded. As I passed the frontier I noticed that my passports were eagerly scanned, and that I was closely scrutinized for some reason or other.
A smartly dressed officer occupied half of the carriage compartment with me. I tried to draw him into conversation, but he proved to be untalkative; so I busied myself with the latest issue of the Paris L'Illustration. I never glanced in the direction of the officer but what I found him staring intently at me. This irritated me. The incident was repeated so many times that I said:
"I trust Herr will remember me in the days to come."
"Eh?" somewhat startled, I thought.
"I observed that you will possibly remember me in the days to come. Or, perhaps I resemble some one you know."
"Not in the least," was the haughty retort.
I shrugged and relit my pipe. The tobacco I had purchased in Paris, and it was of the customary vileness. Perhaps I could smoke out Mein Herr. But the task resulted in a boomerang. He drew out a huge china pipe and began smoking tobacco which was even viler than mine, if that could be possible. Soon I let down the window.
"Does the smoke disturb Herr?" he asked, puffing forth great clouds of smoke. There was a shade of raillery in his tones.
"It would not," I answered, "if it came from tobacco."
Whenever there was a stop of any length I stepped out and walked the platform. The officer invariably followed my example. I pondered over this each time I re-entered the carriage. At last my irritation turned into wrath.
"Are you aware that your actions are very annoying?"
"How, sir?" proudly.
"You stare me out of countenance, you refrain from entering into conversation, and by the way you follow me in and out of the carriage, one would say that you were watching me. All this is not common politeness."
"Herr jests," he replied with a forced smile. "If I desire not to converse, that is my business. As for getting in and out of the carriage, have I no rights as a passenger?"
It was I who subsided. A minute passed.
"But why do you stare at me?" I asked.
"I do not stare at you, I have no paper and tried to read yours at a distance. I am willing to apologize for that."
"Oh, that is different," I said. I tossed the paper to him. "You are welcome to the paper."
I covertly watched him as he tried to read the French. By and by he passed the paper back.
"I am not a very good French scholar, and the French are tiresome."
"They would not have been if they had had a General who thought more of fighting than of wearing pretty clothes."
"Oh, it would not have mattered," confidently.
"Prussia was once humbled by a Frenchman." I was irritating him with a purpose in view.
"The only reason the French were beaten was because they did not think the German race worth troubling about."
He laughed pleasantly. "You Americans have a strange idea of the difference between the German and the Frenchman."
This was just what I wanted.
"And who informed you that I was an American?"
He was disconcerted.
"Why," he said, lamely, "it is easily apparent, the difference between the American and the Englishman." Then, as though a bright idea had come to him, "The English never engage in conversation with strangers while traveling. Americans are more sociable."
"They are? Then I advise them to follow the example set by the Englishman: Never try to get up a conversation while traveling with a German. It is a disagreeable task;" and I settled back behind my paper.