Being A Bald Yet Veracious Chronicle Containing Some Further Particulars Of Two Gentlemen Whose Previous Careers Were Touched Upon In A Tome Entitled "The Lunatic At Large"
By J. Storer Clouston
It is only with the politest affectation of interest, as a rule, that English Society learns the arrival in its midst of an ordinary Continental nobleman; but the announcement that the Baron Rudolph von Blitzenberg had been appointed attache to the German embassy at the Court of St. James was unquestionably received with a certain flutter of excitement. That his estates were as vast as an average English county, and his ancestry among the noblest in Europe, would not alone perhaps have arrested the attention of the paragraphists, since acres and forefathers of foreign extraction are rightly regarded as conferring at the most a claim merely to toleration. But in addition to these he possessed a charming English wife, belonging to one of the most distinguished families in the peerage (the Grillyers of Monkton-Grillyer), and had further demonstrated his judgment by purchasing the winner of the last year's Derby, with a view to improving the horse-flesh of his native land.
From a footnote attached to the engraving of the Baron in a Homburg hat holding the head of the steed in question, which formed the principal attraction in several print-sellers' windows in Piccadilly, one gathered that though his faculties had been cultivated and exercised in every conceivable direction, yet this was his first serious entrance into the diplomatic world. There was clearly, therefore, something unusual about the appointment; so that it was rumored, and rightly, that an international importance was to be attached to the incident, and a delicate compliment to be perceived in the selection of so popular a link between the Anglo-Saxon and the Teutonic peoples. Accordingly "Die Wacht am Rhein" was played by the Guards' band down the entire length of Ebury Street, photographs of the Baroness appeared in all the leading periodicals, and Society, after its own less demonstrative but equally sincere fashion, prepared to welcome the distinguished visitors.
They arrived in town upon a delightful day in July, somewhat late in the London season, to be sure, yet not too late to be inundated with a snowstorm of cards and invitations to all the smartest functions that remained. For the first few weeks, at least, you would suppose the Baron to have no time for thought beyond official receptions and unofficial dinners; yet as he looked from his drawing-room windows into the gardens of Belgrave Square upon the second afternoon since they had settled into this great mansion, it was not upon such functions that his fancy ran. Nobody was more fond of gaiety, nobody more appreciative of purple and fine linen, than the Baron von Blitzenberg; but as he mused there he began to recall more and more vividly, and with an ever rising pleasure, quite different memories of life in London. Then by easy stages regret began to cloud this reminiscent satisfaction, until at last he sighed—
"Ach, my dear London! How moch should I enjoy you if I were free!"
For the benefit of those who do not know the Baron either personally or by repute, he may briefly be described as an admirably typical Teuton. When he first visited England (some five years previously) he stood for Bavarian manhood in the flower; now, you behold the fruit. As magnificently mustached, as ruddy of skin, his eye as genial, and his impulses as hearty; he added to-day to these two more stone of Teutonic excellences incarnate.
In his ingenuous glance, as in the more rounded contour of his waistcoat, you could see at once that fate had dealt kindly with him. Indeed, to hear him sigh was so unwonted an occurrence that the Baroness looked up with an air of mild surprise.
"My dear Rudolph," said she, "you should really open the window. You are evidently feeling the heat."
"No, not ze heat," replied the Baron.
He did not turn his head towards her, and she looked at him more anxiously.
"What is it, then? I have noticed a something strange about you ever since we landed at Dover. Tell me, Rudolph!"
Thus adjured, he cast a troubled glance in her direction. He saw a face whose mild blue eyes and undetermined mouth he still swore by as the standard by which to try all her inferior sisters, and a figure whose growing embonpoint yearly approached the outline of his ideal hausfrau. But it was either St. Anthony or one of his fellow-martyrs who observed that an occasional holiday from the ideal is the condiment in the sauce of sanctity; and some such reflection perturbed the Baron at this moment.
"It is nozing moch," he answered.
"Oh, I know what it is. You have grown so accustomed to seeing the same people, year after year—the Von Greifners, and Rosenbaums, and all those. You miss them, don't you? Personally, I think it a very good thing that you should go abroad and be a diplomatist, and not stay in Fogelschloss so much; and you'll soon make loads of friends here. Mother comes to us next week, you know."
"Your mozzer is a nice old lady," said the Baron slowly. "I respect her, Alicia; bot it vas not mozzers zat I missed just now."
"What was it?"
"Life!" roared the Baron, with a sudden outburst of thundering enthusiasm that startled the Baroness completely out of her composure. "I did have fun for my money vunce in London. Himmel, it is too hot to eat great dinners and to vear clothes like a monkey-jack."
"Like a what?" gasped the Baroness.
To hear the Baron von Blitzenberg decry the paraphernalia and splendors of his official liveries was even more astonishing than his remarkable denunciation of the pleasures of the table, since to dress as well as play the part of hereditary grandee had been till this minute his constant and enthusiastic ambition.
"A meat-jack, I mean—or a—I know not vat you call it. Ach, I vant a leetle fun, Alicia."
"A little fun," repeated the Baroness in a breathless voice. "What kind of fun?"
"I know not," said he, turning once more to stare out of the window.
To this dignified representative of a particularly dignified State even the trees of Belgrave Square seemed at that moment a trifle too conventionally perpendicular. If they would but dance and wave their boughs he would have greeted their greenness more gladly. A good-looking nursemaid wheeled a perambulator beneath their shade, and though she never looked his way, he took a wicked pleasure in surreptitiously closing first one eye and then the other in her direction. This might not entirely satisfy the aspirations of his soul, yet it seemed to serve as some vent for his pent-up spirit. He turned to his spouse with a pleasantly meditative air.
"I should like to see old Bonker vunce more," he observed.
"Bunker? You mean Mr. Mandell-Essington?" said she, with an apprehensive note in her voice.
"To me he vill alvays be Bonker."
The Baroness looked at him reproachfully.
"You promised me, Rudolph, you would see as little as possible of Mr. Essington."
"Oh, ja, as leetle—as possible," answered the Baron, though not with his most ingenuous air. "Besides, it is tree years since I promised. For tree years I have seen nozing. My love Alicia, you vould not have me forget mine friends altogezzer?"
But the Baroness had too vivid a recollection of their last (and only) visit to England since their marriage. By a curious coincidence that also was three years ago.
"When you last met you remember what happened?" she asked, with an ominous hint of emotion in her accents.
"My love, how often have I eggsplained? Zat night you mean, I did schleep in mine hat because I had got a cold in my head. I vas not dronk, no more zan you. Vat you found in my pocket vas a mere joke, and ze cabman who called next day vas jost vat I told him to his ogly face—a blackmail."
"You gave him money to go away."
"A Blitzenberg does not bargain mit cabmen," said the Baron loftily.
His wife's spirits began to revive. There seemed to speak the owner of Fogelschloss, the haughty magnate of Bavaria.
"You have too much self-respect to wish to find yourself in such a position again," she said. "I know you have, Rudolph!"
The Baron was silent. This appeal met with distinctly less response than she confidently counted upon. In a graver note she inquired—
"You know what mother thinks of Mr. Essington?"
"Your mozzer is a vise old lady, Alicia; but we do not zink ze same on all opinions."
"She will be exceedingly displeased if you—well, if you do anything that she THOROUGHLY disapproves of."
The Baron left the window and took his wife's plump hand affectionately within his own broad palm.
"You can assure her, my love, zat I shall never do vat she dislikes. You vill say zat to her if she inquires?"
"Can I, truthfully?"
"Ach, my own dear!"
From his enfolding arms she whispered tenderly—
"Of course I will, Rudolph!"
With a final hug the embrace abruptly ended, and the Baron hastily glanced at his watch.
"Ach, nearly had I forgot! I must go to ze club for half an hour."
"To meet a friend."
"What friend?" asked the Baroness quickly.
"A man whose name you vould know vell—oh, vary vell known he is! But in diplomacy, mine Alicia, a quiet meeting in a club is sometimes better not to be advertised too moch. Great wars have come from one vord of indiscretion. You know ze axiom of Bismarck—'In diplomacy it is necessary for a diplomatist to be diplomatic.' Good-by, my love."
He bowed as profoundly as if she were a reigning sovereign, blew an affectionate kiss as he went through the door, and then descended the stairs with a rapidity that argued either that his appointment was urgent or that diplomacy shrank from a further test within this mansion.
For the last year or two the name of Rudolph von Blitzenberg had appeared in the members' list of that most exclusive of institutions, the Regent's Club, Pall Mall; and it was thither he drove on this fine afternoon of July. At no resort in London were more famous personages to be found, diplomatic and otherwise, and nothing would have been more natural than a meeting between the Baron and a European celebrity beneath its roof; so that if you had seen him bounding impetuously up the steps, and noted the eagerness with which he inquired whether a gentleman had called for him, you would have had considerable excuse for supposing his appointment to be with a dignitary of the highest importance.
"Goot!" he cried on learning that a stranger was indeed waiting for him. His face beamed with anticipatory joy. Aha! he was not to be disappointed.
"Vill he be jost the same?" he wondered. "Ah, if he is changed I shall veep!"
He rushed into the smoking-room, and there, instead of any bald notability or spectacled statesman, there advanced to meet him a merely private English gentleman, tolerably young, undeniably good-looking, and graced with the most debonair of smiles.
"My dear Bonker!" cried the Baron, crimsoning with joy. "Ach, how pleased I am!"
"Baron!" replied his visitor gaily. "You cannot deceive me—that waistcoat was made in Germany! Let me lead you to a respectable tailor!"
Yet, despite his bantering tone, it was easy to see that he took an equal pleasure in the meeting.
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Baron, "vot a fonny zing to say! Droll as ever, eh?"
"Five years less droll than when we first met," said the late Bunker and present Essington. "You meet a dullish dog, Baron—a sobered reveller."
"Ach, no! Not surely? Do not disappoint me, dear Bonker!"
The Baron's plaintive note seemed to amuse his friend.
"You don't mean to say you actually wish a boon companion? You, Baron, the modern Talleyrand, the repository of three emperors' secrets? My dear fellow, I nearly came in deep mourning."
"Mourning! For vat?"
"For our lamented past: I supposed you would have the air of a Nonconformist beadle."
"My friend!" said the Baron eagerly, and yet with a lowering of his voice, "I vould not like to engage a beadle mit jost ze same feelings as me. Come here to zis corner and let us talk! Vaiter! whisky—soda—cigars—all for two. Come, Bonker!"
Stretched in arm-chairs, in a quiet corner of the room, the two surveyed one another with affectionate and humorous interest. For three years they had not seen one another at all, and save once they had not met for five. In five years a man may change his religion or lose his hair, inherit a principality or part with a reputation, grow a beard or turn teetotaler. Nothing so fundamental had happened to either of our friends. The Baron's fullness of contour we have already noticed; in Mandell-Essington, EX Bunker, was to be seen even less evidence of the march of time. But years, like wheels upon a road, can hardly pass without leaving in their wake some faint impress, however fair the weather, and perhaps his hair lay a fraction of an inch higher up the temple, and in the corners of his eyes a hint might even be discerned of those little wrinkles that register the smiles and frowns. Otherwise he was the same distinguished-looking, immaculately dressed, supremely self-possessed, and charming Francis Bunker, whom the Baron's memory stored among its choicer possessions.
"Tell me," demanded the Baron, "vat you are doing mit yourself, mine Bonker."
"Doing?" said Essington, lighting his cigar. "Well, my dear Baron, I am endeavoring to live as I imagine a gentleman should."
"And how is zat?"
"Riding a little, shooting a little, and occasionally telling the truth. At other times I cock a wise eye at my modest patrimony, now and then I deliver a lecture with magic-lantern slides; and when I come up to town I sometimes watch cricket-matches. A devilish invigorating programme, isn't it?"
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Baron again; he had come prepared to laugh, and carried out his intention religiously. "But you do not feel more old and sober, eh?"
"I don't want to, but no man can avoid his destiny. The natives of this island are a serious people, or if they are frivolous, it is generally a trifle vulgarly done. The diversions of the professedly gay-hooting over pointless badinage and speculating whose turn it is to get divorced next—become in time even more sobering than a scientific study with diagrams of how to breed pheasants or play golf. If some one would teach us the simple art of being light-hearted he would deserve to be placed along with Nelson on his monument."
"Oh, my dear vellow!" cried the Baron. "Do I hear zese kind of vords from you?"
"If you starved a city-full of people, wouldn't you expect to hear the man with the biggest appetite cry loudest?"
The Baron's face fell further and Essington laughed aloud.
"Come, Baron, hang it! You of all people should be delighted to see me a fellow-member of respectable society. I take you to be the type of the conventional aristocrat. Why, a fellow who's been travelling in Germany said to me lately, when I asked about you—'Von Blitzenberg,' said he, 'he's used as a simile for traditional dignity. His very dogs have to sit up on their hind-legs when he inspects the kennels!'"
The Baron with a solemn face gulped down his whisky-and-soda.
"Zat is not true about my dogs," he replied, "but I do confess my life is vary dignified. So moch is expected of a Blitzenberg. Oh, ja, zere is moch state and ceremony."
"And you seem to thrive on it."
"Vell, it does not destroy ze appetite," the Baron admitted; "and it is my duty so to live at Fogelschloss, and I alvays vish to do my duty. But, ach, sometimes I do vant to kick ze trace!"
"You mean you would want to if it were not for the Baroness?"
Bunker smiled whimsically; but his friend continued as simply serious as ever.
"Alicia is ze most divine woman in ze world—I respect her, Bonker, I love her, I gonsider her my better angel; but even in Heaven, I suppose, peoples sometimes vould enjoy a stroll in Piccadeelly, or in some vay to exercise ze legs and shout mit excitement. No doubt you zink it unaccountable and strange—pairhaps ungrateful of me, eh?"
"On the contrary, I feel as I should if I feared this cigar had gone out and then found it alight after all."
"You say so! Ah, zen I will have more boldness to confess my heart! Bonker, ven I did land in England ze leetle thought zat vould rise vas—'Ze land of freedom vunce again! Here shall I not have to be alvays ze Baron von Blitzenberg, oldest noble in Bavaria, hereditary carpet-beater to ze Court! I vill disguise and go mit old Bonker for a frolic!'"
"You touch my tenderest chord, Baron!"
"Goot, goot, my friend!" cried the Baron, warming to his work of confession like a penitent whose absolution is promised in advance; "you speak ze vords I love to hear! Of course I vould not be vicked, and I vould not disgrace myself; but I do need a leetle exercise. Is it possible?"
Essington sprang up and enthusiastically shook his hand.
"Dear Baron, you come like a ray of sunshine through a London fog—like a moulin rouge alighting in Carlton House Terrace! I thought my own leaves were yellowing; I now perceive that was only an autumnal change. Spring has returned, and I feel like a green bay tree!"
"Hoch, hoch!" roared the Baron, to the great surprise of two Cabinet Ministers and a Bishop who were taking tea at the other side of the room. "Vat shall ve do to show zere is no sick feeling?"
"H'm," reflected Essington, with a comical look. "There's a lot of scaffolding at the bottom of St. James's Street. Should we have it down to-night? Or what do you say to a packet of dynamite in the two-penny tube?"
The Baron sobered down a trifle.
"Ach, not so fast, not qvite so fast, dear Bonker. Remember I must not get into troble at ze embassy."
"My dear fellow, that's your pull. Foreign diplomatists are police-proof!"
"Ah, but my wife!"
"One stormy hour—then tears and forgiveness!"
The Baron lowered his voice.
"Her mozzer vill visit us next veek. I loff and respect Lady Grillyer; but I should not like to have to ask her for forgiveness."
"Yes, she has rather an uncompromising nose, so far as I remember."
"It is a kind nose to her friends, Bonker," the Baron explained, "but severe towards——"
"Myself, for instance," laughed Essington. "Well, what do you suggest?"
"First, zat you dine mit me to-night. No, I vill take no refusal! Listen! I am now meeting a distinguished person on important international business—do you pairceive? Ha, ha, ha! To-night it vill be necessary ve most dine togezzer. I have an engagement, but he can be put off for soch a great person as the man I am now meeting at ze club! You vill gom?"
"I should have been delighted—only unluckily I have a man dining with me. I tell you what! You come and join us! Will you?"
"If zat is ze only vay—yes, mit pleasure! Who is ze man?"
"Young Tulliwuddle. Do you remember going to a dance at Lord Tulliwuddle's, some five and a half years ago?"
"Himmel! Ha, ha! Vell do I remember!"
"Well, our host of that evening died the other day, and this fellow is his heir—a second or third cousin whose existence was so displeasing to the old peer that he left him absolutely nothing that wasn't entailed, and never said 'How-do-you-do?' to him in his life. In consequence, he may not entertain you as much as I should like."
"If he is your friend, I shall moch enjoy his society!"
"I am flattered, but hardly convinced. Tulliwuddle's intellect is scarcely of the sparkling kind. However, come and try."
The hour, the place, were arranged; a reminiscence or two exchanged; fresh suggestions thrown out for the rejuvenation of a Bavarian magnate; another baronial laugh shook the foundations of the club; and then, as the afternoon was wearing on, the Baron hailed a cab and galloped for Belgrave Square, and the late Mr. Bunker sauntered off along Pall Mall.
"Who can despair of human nature while the Baron von Blitzenberg adorns the earth?" he reflected. "The discovery of champagne and the invention of summer holidays were minor events compared with his descent from Olympus!"
He bought a button-hole at the street corner and cocked his hat, more airily than ever.
"A volcanic eruption may inspire one to succor humanity, a wedding to condole with it, and a general election to warn it of its folly; but the Baron inspires one to amuse!"
Meanwhile that Heaven-sent nobleman, with a manner enshrouded in mystery, was comforting his wife.
"Ah, do not grieve, mine Alicia! No doubt ze Duke vill be disappointed not to see us to-night, but I have telegraphed. Ja, I have said I had so important an affair. Ach, do not veep! I did not know you wanted so moch to dine mit ze old Duke. I sopposed you vould like a quiet evening at home. But anyhow I have now telegraphed—and my leetle dinner mit my friend—Ach, it is so important zat I most rosh and get dressed. Cheer up, my loff! Good-by!"
He paused in answer to a tearful question.
"His name? Alas, I have promised not to say. You vould not have a European war by my indiscretion?"
With mirrors reflecting a myriad lights, with the hum of voices, the rustle of satin and lace, the hurrying steps of waiters, the bubbling of laughter, of life, and of wine—all these on each side of them, and a plate, a foaming glass, and a friend in front, the Baron and his host smiled radiantly down upon less favored mortals.
"Tulliwuddle is very late," said Essington; "but he's a devilish casual gentleman in all matters."
"I am selfish enoff to hope he vill not gom at all!" exclaimed the Baron.
"Unfortunately he has had the doubtful taste to conceive a curiously high opinion of myself. I am afraid he won't desert us. But I don't propose that we shall suffer for his slackness. Bring the fish, waiter."
The Baron was happy; and that is to say that his laughter re-echoed from the shining mirrors, his tongue was loosed, his heart expanded, his glass seemed ever empty.
"Ach, how to make zis joie de vivre to last beyond to-night!" he cried. "May ze Teufel fly off mit of offeecial duties and receptions and—and even mit my vife for a few days."
"My dear Baron!"
"To Alicia!" cried the Baron hastily, draining his glass at the toast. "But some fun first!"
"'I could not love thee, dear, so well, Loved I not humor more!'"
misquoted his host gaily. "Ah!" he added, "here comes Tulliwuddle."
A young man, with his hands in his pockets and an eyeglass in his eye, strolled up to their table.
"I'm beastly sorry for being so late," said he; "but I'm hanged if I could make up my mind whether to risk wearing one of these frilled shirt-fronts. It's not bad, I think, with one's tie tied this way. What do you say?"
"It suits you like a halo," Essington assured him. "But let me introduce you to my friend the Baron Rudolph von Blitzenberg."
Lord Tulliwuddle bowed politely and took the empty chair; but it was evident that his attention could not concentrate itself upon sublunary matters till the shirt-front had been critically inspected and appreciatively praised by his host. Indeed, it was quite clear that Essington had not exaggerated his regard for himself. This admiration was perhaps the most pleasing feature to be noted on a brief acquaintance with his lordship. He was obviously intended neither for a strong man of action nor a great man of thought. A tolerable appearance and considerable amiability he might no doubt claim; but unfortunately the effort to retain his eye-glass had apparently the effect of forcing his mouth chronically open, which somewhat marred his appearance; while his natural good-humor lapsed too frequently into the lamentations of an idle man that Providence neglected him or that his creditors were too attentive.
It happens, however, that it is rather his circumstances than his person which concern this history. And, briefly, these were something in this sort. Born a poor relation and guided by no strong hand, he had gradually seen himself, as Reverend uncles and Right Honorable cousins died off, approach nearer and nearer to the ancient barony of Tulliwuddle (created 1475 in the peerage of Scotland), until this year he had actually succeeded to it. But after his first delight in this piece of good fortune had subsided he began to realize in himself two notable deficiencies very clearly, the lack of money, and more vaguely, the want of any preparation for filling the shoes of a stately courtier and famous Highland chieftain. He would often, and with considerable feeling, declare that any ordinary peer he could easily have become, but that being old Tulliwuddle's heir, by Gad! he didn't half like the job.
At present he was being tolerated or befriended by a small circle of acquaintances, and rapidly becoming a familiar figure to three or four tailors and half a dozen door-keepers at the stage entrances to divers Metropolitan theatres. In the circle of acquaintances, the humorous sagacity of Essington struck him as the most astonishing thing he had ever known. He felt, in fact, much like a village youth watching his first conjuring performance, and while the whim lasted (a period which Essington put down as probably six weeks) he would have gone the length of paying a bill or ordering a tie on his recommendation alone.
To-night the distinguished appearance and genial conversation of Essington's friend impressed him more than ever with the advantages of knowing so remarkable a personage. A second bottle succeeded the first, and a third the second, the cordiality of the dinner growing all the while, till at last his lordship had laid aside the last traces of his national suspicion of even the most charming strangers.
"I say, Essington," he said, "I had meant to tell you about a devilish delicate dilemma I'm in. I want your advice."
"You have it," interrupted his host. "Give her a five-pound note, see that she burns your letters, and introduce her to another fellow."
"But—er—that wasn't the thing——"
"Tell him you'll pay in six months, and order another pair of trousers," said Essington, briskly as ever.
"But, I say, it wasn't that——"
"My dear Tulliwuddle, I never give racing tips."
"What is the matter?"
Tulliwuddle glanced at the Baron.
"I don't know whether the Baron would be interested——"
"Immensely, my goot Tollyvoddle! Supremely! hugely! I could be interested to-night in a museum!"
"The Baron's past life makes him a peculiarly catholic judge of indiscretions," said Essington.
Thus reassured, Tulliwuddle began—
"You know I've an aunt who takes an interest in me—wants me to collar an heiress and that sort of thing. Well, she has more or less arranged a marriage for me."
"Fill your glasses, gentlemen!" cried Essington.
"Hoch, hoch!" roared the Baron.
"But, I say, wait a minute! That's only the beginning. I don't know the girl—and she doesn't know me."
He said the last words in a peculiarly significant tone.
"Do you wish me to introduce you?"
"Oh, hang it! Be serious, Essington. The point is—will she marry me if she does know me?"
"Himmel! Yes, certainly!" cried the Baron.
"Who is she?" asked their host, more seriously.
"Her father is Darius P. Maddison, the American Silver King."
The other two could not withhold an exclamation.
"He has only two children, a son and a daughter, and he wants to marry his daughter to an English peer—or a Scotch, it's all the same. My aunt knows 'em pretty well, and she has recommended me."
"An excellent selection," commented his host.
"But the trouble is, they want rather a high-class peer. Old Maddison is deuced particular, and I believe the girl is even worse."
"What are the qualifications desired?"
"Oh, he's got to be ambitious, and a promising young man—and elevated tastes—and all that kind of nonsense."
"But you can be all zat if you try!" said the Baron eagerly. "Go to Germany and get trained. I did vork twelve hours a day for ten years to be vat I am."
"I'm different," replied the young peer gloomily. "Nobody ever trained me. Old Tulliwuddle might have taken me up if he had liked, but he was prejudiced against me. I can't become all those things now."
"And yet you do want to marry the lady?"
"My dear Essington, I can't afford to lose such a chance! One doesn't get a Miss Maddison every day. She's a deuced handsome girl too, they say."
"By Gad, it's worth a trip across the Atlantic to try your luck," said Essington. "Get 'em to guarantee your expenses and you'll at least learn to play poker and see Niagara for nothing."
"They aren't in America. They've got a salmon river in Scotland, and they are there now. It's not far from my place, Hechnahoul."
"She's practically in your arms, then?"
"Ach. Ze affair is easy!"
"Pipe up the clan and abduct her!"
"Approach her mit a kilt!"
But even those optimistic exhortations left the peer still melancholy.
"It sounds all very well," said he, "but my clansmen, as you call 'em, would expect such a devil of a lot from me too. Old Tulliwuddle spoiled them for any ordinary mortal. He went about looking like an advertisement for whisky, and called 'em all by their beastly Gaelic names. I have never been in Scotland in my life, and I can't do that sort of thing. I'd merely make a fool of myself. If I'd had to go to America it wouldn't have been so bad."
At this weak-kneed confession the Baron could hardly withhold an exclamation of contempt, but Essington, with more sympathy, inquired—
"What do you propose to do, then?"
His lordship emptied his glass.
"I wish I had your brains and your way of carrying things off, Essington!" he said, with a sigh. "If you got a chance of showing yourself off to Miss Maddison she'd jump at you!"
A gleam, inspired and humorous, leaped into Essington's eyes. The Baron, whose glance happened at the moment to fall on him, bounded gleefully from his seat.
"Hoch!" he cried, "it is mine old Bonker zat I see before me! Vat have you in your mind?"
"Sit down, my dear Baron; that lady over there thinks you are preparing to attack her. Shall we smoke? Try these cigars."
Throwing the Baron a shrewd glance to calm his somewhat alarming exhilaration, their host turned with a graver air to his other guest.
"Tulliwuddle," said he, "I should like to help you."
"I wish to the deuce you could!"
Essington bent over the table confidentially.
"I have an idea."
The three heads bent forward towards a common centre—the Baron agog with suppressed excitement, Tulliwuddle revived with curiosity and a gleam of hope, Essington impressive and cool.
"I take it," he began, "that if Mr. Darius P. Maddison and his coveted daughter could see a little of Lord Tulliwuddle—meet him at lunch, talk to him afterwards, for instance—and carry away a favorable impression of the nobleman, there would not be much difficulty in subsequently arranging a marriage?"
"Oh, none," said Tulliwuddle. "They'd be only too keen, IF they approved of me; but that's the rub, you know."
"So far so good. Now it appears to me that our modest friend here somewhat underrates his own powers of fascination."
"Ach, Tollyvoddle, you do indeed," interjected the Baron.
"But since this idea is so firmly established in his mind that it may actually prevent him from displaying himself to the greatest advantage, and since he has been good enough to declare that he would regard with complete confidence my own chances of success were I in his place, I would propose—with all becoming diffidence—that I should interview the lady and her parent instead of him."
"A vary vise idea, Bonker," observed the Baron.
"What!" said Tulliwuddle. "Do you mean that you would go and crack me up, and that sort of thing?"
"No; I mean that I should enjoy a temporary loan of your name and of your residence, and assure them by a personal inspection that I have a sufficient assortment of virtues for their requirements."
"Splendid!" shouted the Baron. "Tollyvoddle, accept zis generous offer before it is too late!"
"But," gasped the diffident nobleman, "they would find out the next time they saw me."
"If the business is properly arranged, that would only be when you came out of church with her. Look here—what fault have you to find with this scheme? I produce the desired impression, and either propose at once and am accepted——"
"H'm," muttered Tulliwuddle doubtfully.
"Or I leave things in such good train that you can propose and get accepted afterwards by letter."
"That's better," said Tulliwuddle.
"Then, by a little exercise of our wits, you find an excuse for hurrying on the marriage—have it a private affair for family reasons, and so on. You will be prevented by one excuse or another from meeting the lady till the wedding-day. We shall choose a darkish church, you will have a plaster on your face—and the deed is done!"
"Not a fault can I find," commented the Baron sagely. "Essington, I congratulate you."
Between his complete confidence in Essington and the Baron's unqualified commendation, Lord Tulliwuddle was carried away by the project.
"I say, Essington, what a good fellow you are!" he cried. "You really think it will work?"
"What do you say, Baron?"
"It cannot fail, I do solemnly assure you. Be thankful you have soch a friend, Tollyvoddle!"
"You don't think anybody will suspect that you aren't really me?"
"Does any one up at Hechnahoul know you?"
"And no one there knows me. They will never suspect for an instant."
His lordship assumed a look that would have been serious, almost impressive, had he first removed his eye-glass. Evidently some weighty consideration had occurred to him.
"You are an awfully clever chap, Essington," he said, "and deuced superior to most fellows, and—er—all that kind of thing. But—well—you don't mind my saying it?"
"My morals? My appearance? Say anything you like, my dear fellow."
"It's only this, that noblesse oblige, and that kind of thing, you know."
"I am afraid I don't quite follow."
"Well, I mean that you aren't a nobleman, and do you think you could carry things off like a—ah—like a Tulliwuddle?"
Essington remained entirely serious.
"I shall have at my elbow an adviser whose knowledge of the highest society in Europe is, without exaggeration, unequalled. Your perfectly natural doubts will be laid at rest when I tell you that I hope to be accompanied by the Baron Rudolph von Blitzenberg."
The Baron could no longer contain himself.
"Himmel! Hurray! My dear friend, I vill go mit you to hell!"
"That's very good of you," said Essington, "but you mistake my present destination. I merely wish your company as far as the Castle of Hechnahoul."
"I gom mit so moch pleasure zat I cannot eggspress! Tollyvoddle, be no longer afraid. I have helped to write a book on ze noble families of Germany—zat is to say, I have contributed my portrait and some anecdote. Our dear friend shall make no mistakes!"
By this guarantee Lord Tulliwuddle's last doubts were completely set at rest. His spirits rose as he perceived how happily this easy avenue would lead him out of all his troubles. He insisted on calling for wine and pledging success to the adventure with the most resolute and confident air, and nothing but a few details remained now to be settled. These were chiefly with regard to the precise limits up to which the duplicate Lord Tulliwuddle might advance his conquering arms.
"You won't formally propose, will you?" said the first edition of that peer.
"Certainly not, if you prefer to negotiate the surrender yourself," the later impression assured him.
"And you mustn't—well—er——"
"I shall touch nothing."
"A girl might get carried away by you," said the original peer a trifle doubtfully.
"The Baron is the most scrupulous of men. He will be by my side almost continually. Baron, you will act as my judge, my censor, and my chaperon?"
"Tollyvoddle, I swear to you zat I shall use an eye like ze eagle. He shall be so careful—ach, I shall see to it! Myself, I am a Bayard mit ze ladies, and Bonker he shall not be less so!"
"Thanks, Baron, thanks awfully," said his lordship. "Now my mind is quite at rest!"
In the vestibule of the restaurant they bade good-night to the confiding nobleman, and then turned to one another with an adventurer's smile.
"You are sure you can leave your diplomatic duties?" asked Essington.
"Zey vill be my diplomatic duties zat I go to do! Oh, I shall prepare a leetle story—do not fear me."
The Baron chuckled, and then burst forth
"Never was zere a man like you. Oh, cunning Mistair Bonker! And you vill give me zomezing to do in ze adventure, eh?"
"I promise you that, Baron."
As he gave this reassuring pledge, a peculiar smile stole over Mr. Bunker's face—a smile that seemed to suggest even happier possibilities than either of his distinguished friends contemplated.
It is at all times pleasant to contemplate thorough workmanship and sagacious foresight, particularly when these are allied with disinterested purpose and genuine enthusiasm. For the next few days Mr. Bunker, preparing to carry out to the best of his ability the delicate commission with which he had been entrusted, presented this stimulating spectacle.
Absolutely no pains were left untaken. By the aid of some volumes lent him by Tulliwuddle he learned, and digested in a pocketbook, as much information as he thought necessary to acquire concerning the history of the noble family he was temporarily about to enter; together with notes of their slogan or war-cry (spelled phonetically to avoid the possibility of a mistake), of their acreage, gross and net rentals, the names of their land-agents, and many other matters equally to the point. It was further to be observed that he spared no pains to imprint these particulars in the Baron's Teutonic memory—whether to support his own in case of need, or for some more secret purpose, it were impossible to fathom. Disguised as unconspicuous and harmless persons, they would meet in many quiet haunts whose unsuspected excellences they could guarantee from their old experience, and there mature their philanthropic plan.
Not only had its talented originator to impress the Tulliwuddle annals and statistics into his ally's eager mind, but he had to exercise the nicest tact and discernment lest the Baron's excess of zeal should trip their enterprise at the very outset.
"To-day I have told Alicia zat my visit to Russia vill probably be vollowed by a visit to ze Emperor of China," the Baron would recount with vast pride in his inventive powers. "And I have dropped a leetle hint zat for an envoy to be imprisoned in China is not to be surprised. Zat vill prepare her in case I am avay longer zan ve expect."
"And how did she take that intimation?" asked Essington, with a less congratulatory air than he had expected.
"I did leave her in tears."
"My dear Baron, fly to her to tell her you are not going to China! She will get so devilish alarmed if you are gone a week that she'll go straight to the embassy and make inquiries."
He shook his head, and added in an impressive voice—
"Never lie for lying's sake, Blitzenberg. Besides, how do you propose to forge a Chinese post-mark?"
The Baron had laid the foundations of his Russian trip on a sound basis by requesting a friend of his in that country to post to the Baroness the bi-weekly budgets of Muscovite gossip which he intended to compose at Hechnahoul. This, it seemed to him, would be a simple feat, particularly with his friend Bunker to assist; but he had to confess that the provision of Chinese news would certainly be more difficult.
"Ach, vell, I shall contradict China," he agreed.
It will be readily believed that what with getting up his brief, pruning the legends with which the Baron proposed to satisfy his wife and his ambassador, and purchasing an outfit suitable to the roles of peer and chieftain, this indefatigable gentleman passed three or four extremely busy days.
"Ve most start before my dear mozzer-in-law does gom!" the Baron more than once impressed upon him, so that there was no moment to be wasted.
Two days before their departure Mr. Bunker greeted his ally with a peculiarly humorous smile.
"The pleasures of our visit to Hechnahoul are to be considerably augmented," said he. "Tulliwuddle has only just made the discovery that his ancestral castle is let; but his tenant, in the most handsome spirit, invites us to be his guests so long as we are in Scotland. A very hospitable letter, isn't it?"
He handed him a large envelope with a more than proportionately large crest upon it, and drawing from this a sheet of note-paper headed by a second crest, the Baron read this epistle:
"MY LORD,—Learning that you propose visiting your Scottish estates, and Mr. M'Fadyen, your factor, informing me no lodge is at present available for your reception, it will give Mrs. Gallosh and myself great pleasure, and we will esteem it a distinguished honor, if you and your friend will be our guests at Hechnahoul Castle during the duration of your visit. Should you do us the honor of accepting, I shall send my steam launch to meet you at Torrydhulish pier and convey you across the loch, if you will be kind enough to advise me which train you are coming by.
"In conclusion, Mrs. Gallosh and myself beg to assure you that although you find strangers in your ancestral halls, you will receive both from your tenantry and ourselves a very hearty welcome to your native land. Believe me, your obedient servant,
"DUNCAN JNO. GALLOSH."
"Zat is goot news!" cried the Baron. "Ve shall have company—perhaps ladies! Ach, Bonker, I have ze soft spot in mine heart: I am so constant as ze needle to ze pole; but I do like sometimes to talk mit voman!"
"With Mrs. Gallosh, for instance?"
"But, Bonker, zere may be a Miss Gallosh."
"If you consulted the Baroness," said Bunker, smiling, "I suspect she would prefer you to be imprisoned in China."
The Baron laughed, and curled his martial mustache with a dangerous air.
"Who is zis Gallosh?" he inquired.
"Scottish, I judge from his name; commercial, from his literary style; elevated by his own exertions, from the size of his crest; and wealthy, from the fact that he rents Hechnahoul Castle. His mention of Mrs. Gallosh points to the fact that he is either married or would have us think so; and I should be inclined to conclude that he has probably begot a family."
"Aha!" said the Baron. "Ve vill gom and see, eh?"
A carefully clothed young man, with an eyeglass and a wavering gait, walked slowly out of Euston Station. He had just seen the Scottish express depart, and this event seemed to have filled him with dubious reflections. In fact, at the very last moment Lord Tulliwuddle's confidence in his two friends had been a trifling degree disturbed. It occurred to him as he lingered by the door of their reserved first-class compartment that they had a little too much the air of gentlemen departing on their own pleasure rather than on his business. No sooner did he drop a fretful hint of this opinion than their affectionate protestations had quickly revived his spirit; but now that they were no longer with him to counsel and encourage, it once more drooped.
"Confound it!" he thought, "I hadn't bargained on having to keep out of people's way till they came back. If Essington had mentioned that sooner, I don't know that I'd have been so keen about the notion. Hang it! I'll have to chuck the Morrells' dance. And I can't go with the Greys to Ranelagh. I can't even dine with my own aunt on Sunday. Oh, the devil!"
The perturbed young peer waved his umbrella and climbed into a hansom.
"Well, anyhow, I can still go on seeing Connie. That's some consolation," he told himself; and without stopping to consider what would be the thoughts of his two obliging friends had they known he was seeking consolation in the society of one lady while they were arranging his nuptials with another, the baptismal Tulliwuddle drove back to the civilization of St. James's.
Within the reserved compartment was no foreboding, no faint-hearted paling of the cheek. As the train clattered, hummed, and presently thundered on its way, the two laughed cheerfully towards one another, delighted beyond measure with the prosperous beginning of their enterprise. The Baron could not sufficiently express his gratitude and admiration for the promptitude with which his friend had purveyed so promising an adventure.
"Ve vill have fon, my Bonker. Ach! ve vill," he exclaimed for the third or fourth time within a dozen miles from Euston.
His Bunker assumed an air half affectionate, half apologetic.
"I only regret that I should have the lion's share of the adventure, my dear Baron."
"Yes," said the Baron, with a symptom of a sigh, "I do envy you indeed. Yet I should not say zat——" Bunker swiftly interrupted him.
"You would like to play a worthier part than merely his lordship's friend?"
"Ach! if I could."
Bunker smiled benignantly.
"Ah, Baron, you cannot suppose that I would really do Tulliwuddle such injustice as to attempt, in my own feeble manner, to impersonate him?"
The Baron stared.
"Vat mean you?"
"YOU shall be the lion, I the humble necessary jackal. As our friend so aptly quoted, noblesse oblige. Of course, there can be no doubt about it. You, Baron, must play the part of peer, I of friend."
The Baron gasped.
"Quite simple, my dear fellow."
"You—you don't mean so?"
"I do indeed."
"Bot I shall not do it so vell as you."
"A hundred times better."
"Bot vy did you not say so before?"
"Tulliwuddle might not have agreed with me."
"Bot vould he like it now?"
"It is not what he likes that we should consider, it's what is good for his interests."
"Bot if I should fail?"
"He will be no worse off than before. Left to himself, he certainly won't marry the lady. You give him his only chance."
"Bot more zan you vould, really and truthfully?"
"My dear Baron, you are admitted by all to be an ideal German nobleman. Therefore you will certainly make an ideal British peer. You have the true Grand-Seigneur air. No one would mistake you for anything but a great aristocrat, if they merely saw you in bathing pants; whereas I have something a little different about my manner. I'm not so impressive—not so hall-marked, in fact."
His friend's omniscient air and candidly eloquent tone impressed the Baron considerably. His ingrained conviction of his own importance accorded admirably with these arguments. His thirst for "life" craved this lion's share. His sanguine spirit leaped at the appeal. Yet his well-regulated conscience could not but state one or two patent objections.
"Bot I have not read so moch of the Tollyvoddles as you. I do not know ze strings so vell."
"I have told you nearly everything I know. You will find the rest here."
Essington handed him the note-book containing his succinct digest. In intelligent anticipation of this contingency it was written in his clearest handwriting.
"You should have been a German," said the Baron admiringly.
He glanced with sparkling eyes at the note-book, and then with a distinctly greater effort the Teutonic conscience advanced another objection.
"Bot you have bought ze kilt, ze Highland hat, ze brogue shoes."
"I had them made to your measurements."
The Baron impetuously embraced his thoughtful friend. Then again his smile died away.
"Bot, Bonker, my voice! Zey tell me I haf nozing zat you vould call qvite an accent; bot a foreigner—one does regognize him, eh?"
"I shall explain that in a sentence. The romantic tincture of—well, not quite accent, is a pleasant little piece of affectation adopted by the young bloods about the Court in compliment to the German connections of the Royal family."
The Baron raised no more objections.
"Bonker, I agree! Tollyvoddle I shall be, by Jove and all!"
He beamed his satisfaction, and then in an eager voice asked—
"You haf not ze kilt in zat hat-box?"
Unfortunately, however, the kilt was in the van.
Now the journey, propitiously begun, became more exhilarating, more exciting with each mile flung by. The Baron, egged on by his friend's high spirits and his own imagination to anticipate pleasure upon pleasure, watched with rapture the summer landscape whiz past the windows. Through the flat midlands of England they sped; field after field, hedgerow after hedgerow, trees by the dozen, by the hundred, by the thousand, spinning by in one continuous green vista. Red brick towns, sluggish rivers, thatched villages and ancient churches dark with yews, the shining web of junctions, and a whisking glimpse of wayside stations leaped towards them, past them, and leagues away behind. But swiftly as they sped, it was all too slowly for the fresh-created Lord Tulliwuddle.
"Are we not nearly to Scotland yet?" he inquired some fifty times.
"'My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the dears!'" hummed the abdicated nobleman, whose hilarity had actually increased (if that were possible) since his descent into the herd again.
All the travellers' familiar landmarks were hailed by the gleeful diplomatist with encouraging comments.
"Ach, look! Beauteeful view! How quickly it is gone! Hurray! Ve must be nearly to Scotland."
A panegyric on the rough sky-line of the north country fells was interrupted by the entrance of the dining-car attendant. Learning that they would dine, he politely inquired in what names he should engage their seats. Then, for an instant, a horrible confusion nearly overcame the Baron. He—a von Blitzenberg—to give a false name! His color rose, he stammered, and only in the nick of time caught his companion's eye.
"Ze Lord Tollyvoddle," he announced, with an effort as heroic as any of his ancestors' most warlike enterprises.
Too impressed to inquire how this remarkable title should be spelled, the man turned to the other distinguished-looking passenger.
"Bunker," said that gentleman, with smiling assurance.
The man went out.
"Now are ve named!" cried the Baron, his courage rising the higher for the shock it had sustained. "And you vunce more vill be Bonker? Goot!"
"That satisfies you?"
The Baron hesitated.
"My dear friend, I have a splendid idea! Do you know I did disgover zere used to be a nobleman in Austria really called Count Bonker? He vas a famous man; you need not be ashamed to take his name. Vy should not you be Count Bonker?"
"You prefer to travel in titled company? Well, be hanged—why not! When one comes to think of it, it seems a pity that my sins should always be attributed to the middle classes."
Accordingly this history has now the honorable task of chronicling the exploits of no fewer than two noblemen.
Late that evening they reached a city which the home-coming chieftain in an outburst of Celtic fervor dubbed "mine own bonny Edinburg!" and there they repaired for the night to a hotel. Once more the Baron (we may still style him so since the peerage of Tulliwuddle was of that standing also) showed a certain diffidence when it came to answering to his new title in public; but in the seclusion of their private sitting-room he was careful to assure his friend that this did not arise from any lack of nerve or qualms zof conscience, but merely through a species of headache—the result of railway travelling.
"Do not fear for me," he declared as he stirred the sugar in his glass, "I have ze heart of a lion."
The liquid he was sipping being nothing less potent than a brew of whisky punch, which he had ordered (or rather requested Bunker to order) as the most romantically national compound he could think of, produced, indeed, a fervor of foolhardiness. He insisted upon opening the door wide, and getting Bunker to address him as "Tollyvoddle," in a strident voice, "so zat zey all may hear," and then answering in a firm "Yes, Count Bonker, vat vould you say to me?"
It is true that he instantly closed the door again, and even bolted it, but his display seemed to make a vast impression upon himself.
"Many men vould not dare so to go mit anozzer name," he announced; "bot I have my nerves onder a good gontrol."
"You astonish me," said the Count.
"I do even surprise myself," admitted the Baron.
In truth the ordeal of carelessly carrying off an alias is said by those who have undergone it (and the report is confirmed by an experienced class of public officials) to require a species of hardihood which, fortunately for society, is somewhat rare. The most daring Smith will sometimes stammer when it comes to merely answering "Yes" to a cry of "Brown!" and Count Bunker, whose knowledge of human nature was profound and remarkably accurate, was careful to fortify his friend by example and praise, till by the time they went to bed the Baron could scarcely be withheld from seeking out the manager and airing his assurance upon him. Or, at least, he declared he would have done this had he been sure that the manager was not already in bed himself.
Unfortunately at this juncture the Count committed one of those indiscretions to which a gay spirit is always prone, but which, to do him justice, seldom sullied his own record as a successful adventurer. At an hour considerably past midnight, hearing an excited summons from the Baron's bedroom, he laid down his toothbrush and hastened across the passage, to find the new peer in a crimson dressing-gown of quilted silk gazing enthusiastically at a lithograph that hung upon the wall.
"See!" he cried gleefully, "here is my own ancestor. Bonker, I feel I am Tollyvoddle indeed."
The print which had inspired this enthusiasm depicted a historical but treasonable Lord Tulliwuddle preparing to have his head removed.
Giving it a droll look, the Count observed—
"Well, if it inspires you, my dear Baron, that's all right. The omen would have struck me differently."
"Ze omen!" murmured the Baron with a start.
It required all Bunker's tact to revive his ally's damped enthusiasm, and even at breakfast next morning he referred in a gloomy voice to various premonitions recorded in the history of his family, and the horrible consequences of disregarding them.
But by the time they had started upon their journey north, his spirits rose a trifle; and when at length all lowland landscapes were left far behind them, and they had come into a province of peat streams and granite pinnacles, with the gloom of pines and the freshness of the birch blended like a May and December marriage, all appearance, at least, of disquietude had passed away.
Yet the Count kept an anxious eye upon him. He was becoming decidedly restless. At one moment he would rave about the glorious scenery; the next, plunge into a brown study of the Tulliwuddle rent-roll; and then in an instant start humming an air and smoking so fast that both their cases were empty while they were yet half an hour from Torrydhulish Station. Now the Baron took to biting his nails, looking at his watch, and answering questions at random—a very different spectacle from the enthusiastic traveller of yesterday.
"Only ten minutes more," observed Bunker in his most cheering manner.
The Baron made no reply.
They were now running along the brink of a glimmering loch, the piled mountains on the farther shore perfectly mirrored; a tern or two lazily fishing; a delicate summer sky smiling above. All at once Count Bunker started—
"That must be Hechnahoul!" said he.
The Baron looked and beheld, upon an eminence across the loch, the towers and turrets of an imposing mansion overtopping a green grove.
"And here is the station," added the Count.
The Baron's face assumed a piteous expression.
"Bonker," he stammered, "I—I am afraid! You be ze Tollyvoddle—I cannot do him!"
"My dear Baron!"
"Oh, I cannot!"
"Be brave—for the honor of the fatherland. Play the bold Blitzenberg!"
"Ach, ja; but not bold Tollyvoddle. Zat picture—you vere right—it vas omen!"
Never did the genius of Bunker rise more audaciously to an occasion.
"My dear Baron," said he, assuming on the instant a confidence-inspiring smile, "that print was a hoax; it wasn't old Tulliwuddle at all. I faked it myself."
"So?" gasped the Baron. "You assure me truly?"
Muttering (the historian sincerely hopes) a petition for forgiveness, Bunker firmly answered—
"I do assure you!"
The train had stopped, and as they were the only first-class passengers on board, a peculiarly magnificent footman already had his hand upon the door. Before turning the handle, he touched his hat.
"Lord Tulliwuddle?" he respectfully inquired.
"Ja—zat is, yes, I am," replied the Baron.
From the platform down to the pier was only some fifty yards, and before them the travellers perceived an exceedingly smart steam-launch, and a stout middle-aged gentleman, in a blue serge suit and yachting cap, advancing from it to greet them. They had only time to observe that he had a sanguine complexion, iron-gray whiskers, and a wide-open eye, before he raised the cap and, in a decidedly North British accent, thus addressed them—
"My lord—ahem!—your lordship, I should say—I presume I've the pleasure of seeing Lord Tulliwuddle?"
The Count gently pushed his more distinguished friend in front. With an embarrassment equal to their host's, his lordship bowed and gave his hand.
"I am ze Tollyvoddle—vary pleased—Mistair Gosh, I soppose?"
"Gallosh, my lord. Very honored to welcome you."
In the round eyes of Mr. Gallosh, Count Bunker perceived an unmistakable stare of astonishment at the sound of his lordship's accented voice. The Baron, on his part, was evidently still suffering from his attack of stage fright; but again the Count's gifts smoothed the creases from the situation.
"You have not introduced me to our host, Tulliwuddle," he said, with a gay, infectious confidence.
"Ah, so! Zis is my friend Count Bunker—gom all ze vay from Austria," responded the Baron, with no glimmer of his customary aplomb.
Making a mental resolution to warn his ally never to say one word more about his fictitious past than was wrung by cross-examination, the distinguished-looking Austrian shook his host's hand warmly.
"From Austria via London," he explained in his pleasantest manner. "I object altogether to be considered a foreigner, Mr. Gallosh; and, in fact, I often tell Tulliwuddle that people will think me more English than himself. The German fashions so much in vogue at Court are transforming the very speech of your nobility. Don't you sometimes notice it?"
Thus directly appealed to, Mr. Gallosh became manifestly perplexed.
"Yes—yes, you're right in a way," he pronounced cautiously. "I suppose they do that. But will ye not take a seat? This is my launch. Hi! Robert, give his lordship a hand on board!"
Two mariners and a second tall footman assisted the guests to embark, and presently they were cutting the waters of the loch at a merry pace.
In the prow, like youth, the Baron insisted upon sitting with folded arms and a gloomy aspect; and as his nerve was so patently disturbed, the Count decidedly approved of an arrangement which left his host and himself alone together in the stern. In his present state of mind the Baron was capable of any indiscretion were he compelled to talk; while, silent and brooding in isolated majesty, he looked to perfection the part of returning exile. So, evidently, thought Mr. Gallosh.
"His lordship is looking verra well," he confided to the Count in a respectfully lowered voice.
"The improvement has been remarkable ever since his foot touched his native heath."
"You don't say so," said Mr. Gallosh, with even greater interest. "Was he delicate before?"
"A London life, Mr. Gallosh."
"True—true, he'll have been busy seeing his friends; it'll have been verra wearing."
"The anxiety, the business of being invested, and so on, has upset him a trifle. You must put down any little—well, peculiarity to that, Mr. Gallosh."
"I understand—aye, umh'm, quite so. He'll like to be left to himself, perhaps?"
"That depends on his condition," said the Count diplomatically.
"It's a great responsibility for a young man; yon's a big property to look after," observed Mr. Gallosh in a moment.
"You have touched the spot!" said the Count warmly. "That is, in fact, the chief cause of Tulliwuddle's curious moodiness ever since he succeeded to the title. He feels his responsibilities a little too acutely."
Again Mr. Gallosh ruminated, while his guest from the corner of his eye surveyed him shrewdly.
"My forecast was wonderfully accurate," he said to himself.
The silence was first broken by Mr. Gallosh. As if thinking aloud, he remarked—
"I was awful surprised to hear him speak! It's the Court fashion, you say?"
"Partly that; partly a prolonged residence on the Continent in his youth. He acquired his accent then; he has retained it for fashion's sake," explained the Count, who thought it as well to bolster up the weakest part of his case a little more securely.
With this prudent purpose, he added, with a flattering air of taking his host into his aristocratic confidence—
"You will perhaps be good enough to explain this to the friends and dependants Lord Tulliwuddle is about to meet? A breath of unsympathetic criticism would grieve him greatly if it came to his ears."
"Quite, quite," said Mr. Gallosh eagerly. "I'll make it all right. I understand the sentiment pairfectly. It's verra natural—verra natural indeed."
At that moment the Baron started from his reverie with an affrighted air.
"Vat is zat strange sound!" he exclaimed.
The others listened.
"That's just the pipes, my lord," said Mr. Gallosh. "They're tuning up to welcome you."
His lordship stared at the shore ahead of them.
"Zere are many peoples on ze coast!" he cried. "Vat makes it for?"
"They've come to receive you," his host explained. "It's just a little spontaneous demonstration, my lord."
His lordship's composure in no way increased.
"It was Mrs. Gallosh organized a wee bit entertainment on his lordship's landing," their host explained confidentially to the Count. "It's just informal, ye understand. She's been instructing some of the tenants—and ma own girls will be there—but, oh, it's nothing to speak of. If he says a few words in reply, that'll be all they'll be expecting."
The strains of "Tulliwuddle wha hae" grew ever louder and, to an untrained ear, more terrific. In a moment they were mingled with a clapping of hands and a Highland cheer, the launch glided alongside the pier, and, supported on his faithful friend's arm, the panic-stricken Tulliwuddle staggered ashore. Before his dazed eyes there seemed to be arrayed the vastest and most barbaric concourse his worst nightmare had ever imagined. Six pipers played within ten paces of him, each of them arrayed in the full panoply of the clan; at least a dozen dogs yelped their exultation; and from the surrounding throng two ancient men in tartan and four visions in snowy white stepped forth to greet the distinguished visitors.
The first hitch in the proceedings occurred at this point. According to the unofficial but carefully considered programme, the pipers ought to have ceased their melody; but, whether inspired by ecstatic loyalty or because the Tulliwuddle pibroch took longer to perform than had been anticipated, they continued to skirl with such vigor that expostulations passed entirely unheard. Under the circumstances there was nothing for it but shouting, and in a stentorian yell Mr. Gallosh introduced his wife and three fair daughters.
Thereupon Mrs. Gallosh, a broad-beamed matron whose complexion contrasted pleasantly with her costume, delivered the following oration—
"Lord Tulliwuddle, in the name of the women of Hechnahoul—I may say in the name of the women of all the Highlands—oor ain Heelands, my lord" (this with the most insinuating smile)—"I bid you welcome to your ancestral estates. Remembering the conquests your ancestors used to make both in war and in a gentler sphere" (Mrs. Gallosh looked archness itself), "we ladies, I suppose, should regard your home-coming with some misgivings; but, my lord, every bonny Prince Charlie has his bonny Flora Macdonald, and in this land of mountain, mist, and flood, where 'Dark Ben More frowns o'er the wave,' and where 'Ilka lassie has her laddie,' you will find a thousand romantic maidens ready to welcome you as Ellen welcomed Fitz-James! For centuries your heroic race has adorned the halls and trod the heather of Hechnahoul, and for centuries more we hope to see the offspring of your lordship and some winsome Celtic maid rule these cataracts and glens!"
At this point the exertion of shouting down six bagpipes in active eruption caused a temporary cessation of the lady's eloquence, and the pause was filled by the cheers of the crowd led by the "Hip-hip-hip!" of Count Bunker, and by the broken and fortunately inaudible protests of the embarrassed father of future Tulliwuddles. In a moment Mrs. Gallosh had resumed—
"Lord Tulliwuddle, though I myself am only a stranger to your clan, your Highland heart will feel reassured when I mention that I belong through my grandmother to the kindred clan of the Mackays!" ("Hear, hear!" from two or three ladies and gentlemen, evidently guests of the Gallosh.) "We are but visitors at Hechnahoul, yet we assure you that no more devoted hearts beat in all Caledonia! Lord Tulliwuddle, we welcome you!"
"Put your hand on your heart and bow," whispered Bunker. "Keep on bowing and say nothing!"
Mechanically the bewildered Baron obeyed, and for a few moments presented a spectacle not unlike royalty in procession.
But as some reply from him had evidently been expected at this point, and the pipers had even ceased playing lest any word of their chief's should be lost, a pause ensued which might have grown embarrassing had not the Count promptly stepped forward.
"I think," he said, indicating two other snow-white figures who held gigantic bouquets, "that a pleasant part of the ceremony still remains before us."
With a grateful glance at this discerning guest, Mrs. Gallosh thereupon led forward her two youngest daughters (aged fifteen and thirteen), who, with an air so delightfully coy that it fell like a ray of sunshine on the poor Baron's heart, presented him with their flowery symbols of Hechnahoul's obeisance to its lord.
His consternation returned with the advance of the two ancient clansmen who, after a guttural panegyric in Gaelic, offered him further symbols—a claymore and target, very formidable to behold. All these gifts having been adroitly transferred to the arms of the footmen by the ubiquitous Count, the Baron's emotions swiftly passed through another phase when the eldest Miss Gallosh, aged twenty, with burning eyes and the most distracting tresses, dropped him a sweeping courtesy and offered a final contribution—a fiery cross, carved and painted by her own fair hands.
A fresh round of applause followed this, and then a sudden silence fell upon the assembly. All eyes were turned upon the chieftain: not even a dog barked: it was the moment of a lifetime.
"Can you manage a speech, old man?" whispered Bunker.
"Ach, no, no, no! Let me escape. Oh, let me fly!"
"Bury your face in your hands and lean on my shoulder," prompted the Count.
This stage direction being obeyed, the most effective tableau conceivable was presented, and the climax was reached when the Count, after a brief dumb-show intended to indicate how vain were Lord Tulliwuddle's efforts to master his emotion, spoke these words in the most thrilling accents he could muster:
"Fair ladies and brave men of Hechnahoul! Your chief, your friend, your father requests me to express to you the sentiments which his over-wrought emotions prevent him from uttering himself. On his behalf I tender to his kind and courteous friends, Mr., Mrs., and the fair maids Gallosh, the thanks of a long-absent exile returned to his native land for the welcome they have given him! To his devoted clan he not only gives his thanks, but his promise that all rents shall be reduced by one half—so long as he dwells among them!" (Tumultuous applause, disturbed only by a violent ejaculation from a large man in knickerbockers whom Bunker justly judged to be the factor.)
"With his last breath he shall perpetually thunder: Ahasheen—comara—mohr!"
The Tulliwuddle slogan, pronounced with the most conscientious accuracy of which a Sassenach was capable, proved as effective a curtain as he had anticipated; and amid a perfect babel of cheering and bagpiping the chieftain was led to his host's carriage.
"Well, the worst of it is over," said Bunker cheerfully.
The Baron groaned. "Ze vorst is only jost beginning to gommence."
They were sitting over a crackling fire of logs in the sitting-room of the suite which their host had reserved for his honored visitors. How many heirlooms and dusky portraits the romantic thoughtfulness of the ladies had managed to crowd into this apartment for the occasion were hard to compute; enough, certainly, one would think, to inspire the most sluggish-blooded Tulliwuddle with a martial exultation. Instead, the chieftain groaned again.
"Tell zem I am ill. I cannot gom to dinner. To-morrow I shall take ze train back to London. Himmel! Vy vas I fool enof to act soch dishonorable lies! I deceive all these kind peoples!"
"It isn't that which worries me," said Bunker imperturbably. "I am only afraid that if you display this spirit you won't deceive them."
"I do not vish to," said the Baron sulkily.
It required half an hour of the Count's most artful blandishments to persuade him that duty, honor, and prudence all summoned him to the feast. This being accomplished, he next endeavored to convince him that he would feel more comfortable in the airy freedom of the Tulliwuddle tartan. But here the Baron was obdurate. Now that the kilt lay ready to his hand he could not be persuaded even to look at it. In gloomy silence he donned his conventional evening dress and announced, last thing before they left their room—
"Bonker, say no more! To-morrow morning I depart!"
Their hostess had explained that a merely informal dinner awaited them, since his lordship (she observed) would no doubt prefer a quiet evening after his long journey. But Mrs. Gallosh was one of those good ladies who are fond of asking their friends to take "pot luck," and then providing them with fourteen courses; or suggesting a "quiet little evening together," when they have previously removed the drawing-room carpet. It is an affectation of modesty apt to disconcert the retiring guest who takes them at their word. In the drawing-room of Mrs. Gallosh the startled Baron found assembled—firstly, the Gallosh family, consisting of all those whose acquaintance we have already made, and in addition two stalwart school-boy sons; secondly, their house-party, who comprised a Mr. and Mrs. Rentoul, from the same metropolis of commerce as Mr. Gallosh, and a hatchet-faced young man with glasses, answering to the name of Mr. Cromarty-Gow; and, finally, one or two neighbors. These last included Mr. M'Fadyen, the large factor; the Established Church, U.F., Wee Free, Episcopalian, and Original Secession ministers, all of whom, together with their kirks, flourished within a four-mile radius of the Castle; the wives to three of the above; three young men and their tutor, being some portion of a reading-party in the village; and Mrs. Cameron-Campbell and her five daughters, from a neighboring dower-house upon the loch.
It was fortunate that all these people were prepared to be impressed with Lord Tulliwuddle, whatever he should say or do; and further, that the unique position of such a famous hereditary magnate even led them to anticipate some marked deviation from the ordinary canons of conduct. Otherwise, the gloomy brows; the stare, apparently haughty, in reality alarmed; the strange accent and the brief responses of the chief guest, might have caused an unfavorable opinion of his character.
As it was, his aloofness, however natural, would probably have proved depressing had it not been for the gay charm and agreeable condescension of the other nobleman. Seldom had more rested upon that adventurer's shoulders, and never had he acquitted himself with greater credit. It was with considerable secret concern that he found himself placed at the opposite end of the table from his friend, but his tongue rattled as gaily and his smiles came as readily as ever. With Mrs. Cameron-Campbell on one side, and a minister's lady upon the other, his host two places distant, and a considerable audience of silent eaters within earshot, he successfully managed to divert the attention of quite half the table from the chieftain's moody humor.
"I always feel at home with a Scotsman," he discoursed genially. "His imagination is so quick, his intellect so clear, his honesty so remarkable, and" (with an irresistible glance at the minister's lady) "his wife so charming."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Mr. Gallosh, who was mellowing rapidly under the influence of his own champagne. "I'm verra glad to see you know good folks when you meet them. What do you think now of the English?"
Having previously assured himself that his audience was neat Scotch, the polished Austrian unblushingly replied—
"The Englishman, I have observed, has a slightly slower imagination, a denser intelligence, and is less conspicuous for perfect honesty. His womankind also have less of that nameless grace and ethereal beauty which distinguish their Scottish sisters."
It is needless to say that a more popular visitor never was seen than this discriminating foreigner, and if his ambitions had not risen above a merely personal triumph, he would have been in the highest state of satisfaction. But with a disinterested eye he every now and then sought the farther end of the table, where, between his hostess and her charming eldest daughter, and facing his factor, the Baron had to endure his ordeal unsupported.
"I wonder how the devil he's getting on!" he more than once said to himself.
For better or for worse, as the dinner advanced, he began to hear the Court accent more frequently, till his curiosity became extreme.
"His lordship seems in better spirits," remarked Mr. Gallosh.
"I hope to Heaven he may be!" was the fervent thought of Count Bunker.
At that moment the point was settled. With his old roar of exuberant gusto the Baron announced, in a voice that drowned even the five ministers—
"Ach, yes, I vill toss ze caber to-morrow! I vill toss him—so high!" (his napkin flapped upwards). "How long shall he be? So tall as my castle: Mees Gallosh, you shall help me? Ach, yes! Mit hands so fair ze caber vill spring like zis!"
His pudding-spoon, in vivid illustration, skipped across the table and struck his factor smartly on the shirt-front.
"Sare, I beg your pardon," he beamed with a graciousness that charmed Mrs. Gallosh even more than his spirited conversation—"Ach, do not return it, please! It is from my castle silver—keep it in memory of zis happy night!"
The royal generosity of this act almost reconciled Mrs. Gallosh to the loss of one of her own silver spoons.
"Saved!" sighed Bunker, draining his glass with a relish he had not felt in any item of the feast hitherto.
Now that the Baron's courage had returned, no heraldic lion ever pranced more bravely. His laughter, his jests, his compliments were showered upon the delighted diners. Mr. Gallosh and he drank healths down the whole length of the table "mit no tap-heels!" at least four times. He peeled an orange for Miss Gallosh, and cut the skin into the most diverting figures, pressing her hand tenderly as he presented her with these works of art. He inquired of Mrs. Gallosh the names of the clergymen, and, shouting something distantly resembling these, toasted them each and all with what he conceived to be appropriate comments. Finally he rose to his feet, and, to the surprise and delight of all, delivered the speech they had been disappointed of earlier in the day.
"Goot Mr. Gallosh, fair Mrs. Gallosh, divine Mees Gallosh, and all ze ladies and gentlemans, how sorry I vas I could not make my speech before, I cannot eggspress. I had a headache, and vas not vell vithin. Ach, soch zings vill happen in a new climate. Bot now I am inspired to tell you I loff you all! I zank you eggstremely! How can I return zis hospitality? I vill tell you! You must all go to Bavaria and stay mit——"
"Tulliwuddle! Tulliwuddle!" shouted Bunker frantically, to the great amazement of the company. "Allow me to invite the company myself to stay with me in Bavaria!"
The Baron turned crimson, as he realized the abyss of error into which he had so nearly plunged. Adroitly the Count covered his confusion with a fit of laughter so ingeniously hearty that in a moment he had joined in it too.
"Ha, ha, ha!" he shouted. "Zat was a leetle joke at my friend's eggspense. It is here, in my castle, you shall visit me; some day very soon I shall live in him. Meanvile, dear Mrs. Gallosh, gonsider it your home! For me you make it heaven, and I cannot ask more zan zat! Now let us gom and have some fon!"
A salvo of applause greeted this conclusion. At the Baron's impetuous request the cigars were brought into the hall, and ladies and gentlemen all trooped out together.
"I cannot vait till I have seen Miss Gallosh dance ze Highland reel," he explained to her gratified mother; "she has promised me."
"But you must dance too, Lord Tulliwuddle," said ravishing Miss Gallosh. "You know you said you would."
"A promise to a lady is a law," replied the Baron gallantly, adding in a lower tone, "especially to so fair a lady!"
"It's a pity his lordship hadn't on his kilt," put in Mr. Gallosh genially.
"By ze Gad, I vill put him on! Hoch! Ve vill have some fon!"
The Baron rushed from the hall, followed in a moment by his noble friend. Bunker found him already wrapping many yards of tartan about his waist.
"But, my dear fellow, you must take off your trousers," he expostulated.
Despite his glee, the Baron answered with something of the Blitzenberg dignity—
"Ze bare leg I cannot show to-night—not to dance mit ze young ladies. Ven I have practised, perhaps; but not now, Bonker."
Accordingly the portraits of four centuries of Tulliwuddles beheld their representative appear in the very castle of Hechnahoul with his trouser-legs capering beneath an ill-hung petticoat of tartan. And, to make matters worse in their canvas eyes, his own shameless laugh rang loudest in the mirth that greeted his entrance.
"Ze garb of Gaul!" he announced, shaking with hilarity. "Gom, Bonker, dance mit me ze Highland fling!"
The first night of Lord Tulliwuddle's visit to his ancestral halls is still remembered among his native hills. The Count also, his mind now rapturously at ease, performed prodigies. They danced together what they were pleased to call the latest thing in London, sang a duet, waltzed with the younger ladies, till hardly a head was left unturned, and, in short, sent away the ministers and their ladies, the five Miss Cameron-Campbells, the reading-party, and particularly the factor, with a new conception of a Highland chief. As for the house-party, they felt that they were fortunate beyond the lot of most ordinary mortals.
The Baron sat among his heirlooms, laboriously disengaging himself from his kilt. Fitfully throughout this process he would warble snatches of an air which Miss Gallosh had sung.
"Whae vould not dee for Sharlie?" he trolled, "Ze yong chevalier!"
"Then you don't think of leaving to-morrow morning?" asked Count Bunker, who was watching him with a complacent air.
"Mein Gott, no fears!"
"We had better wait, perhaps, till the afternoon?"
"I go not for tree veeks! Gaben sie—das ist, gim'me zat tombler. Vun more of mountain juice to ze health of all Galloshes! Partic'ly of vun! Eh, old Bonker?"
The Count took care to see that the mountain juice was well diluted. His friend had already found Scottish hospitality difficult to enjoy in moderation.
"Baron, you gave us a marvellously lifelike representation of a Jacobite chieftain!"
The Baron laughed a trifle vacantly.
"Ach, it is easy for me. Himmel, a Blitzenberg should know how! Vollytoddle—Toddyvolly—whatsh my name, Bonker?"
The Count informed him.
"Tollivoddlesh is nozing to vat I am at home! Abs'lutely nozing! I have a house twice as big as zis, and servants—Ach, so many I know not! Bot, mein Bonker, it is not soch fon as zis! Mein Gott, I most get to bed. I toss ze caber to-morrow."
And upon the arm of his faithful ally he moved cautiously towards his bedroom.
But if he had enjoyed his evening well, his pleasure was nothing to the gratification of his hosts. They could not bring themselves to break up their party for the night: there were so many delightful reminiscences to discuss.
"Of all the evenings ever I spent," declared Mr. Gallosh, "this fair takes the cake. Just to think of that aristocratic young fellow being as companionable-like! When first I put eyes on him, I said to myself—'You're not for the likes of us. All lords and ladies is your kind. Never a word did he say in the boat till he heard the pipes play, and then I really thought he was frightened! It must just have been a kind of home-sickness or something."
"It'll have been the tuning up that set his teeth on edge," Mrs. Gallosh suggested practically.
"Or perhaps his heart was stirred with thoughts of the past!" said Miss Gallosh, her eyes brightening.
In any case, all were agreed that the development of his hereditary instincts had been extraordinarily rapid.
"I never really properly talked with a lord before," sighed Mrs. Rentoul; "I hope they're all like this one."
Mrs. Gallosh, on the other hand, who boasted of having had one tete-a-tete and joined in several general conversations with the peerage, appraised Lord Tulliwuddle with greater discrimination.
"Ah, he's got a soupcon!" she declared. "That's what I admire!"
"Do you mean his German accent?" asked Mr. Cromarty-Gow, who was renowned for a cynical wit, and had been seeking an occasion to air it ever since Lord Tulliwuddle had made Miss Gallosh promise to dance a reel with him.
But the feeling of the party was so strongly against a breath of irreverent criticism, and their protest so emphatic, that he presently strolled off to the smoking-room, wishing that Miss Gallosh, at least, would exercise more critical discrimination.
"Do you think would they like breakfast in their own room, Duncan?" asked Mrs. Gallosh.
"Offer it them—offer it them; they can but refuse, and it's a kind of compliment to give them the opportunity."
"His lordship will not be wanting to rise early," said Mr. Rentoul. "Did you notice what an amount he could drink, Duncan? Man, and he carried it fine! But he'll be the better of a sleep-in in the morning, him coming from a journey too."
Mr. Rentoul was a recognized authority on such questions, having, before the days of his affluence, travelled for a notable firm of distillers. His praise of Lord Tulliwuddle's capacity was loudly echoed by Mr. Gallosh, and even the ladies could not but indulgently agree that he had exhibited a strength of head worthy of his race.
"And yet he was a wee thing touched too," said Mr. Rentoul sagely. "Maybe you were too far gone yourself, Duncan, to notice it, and the ladies would just think it was gallantry; but I saw it in his voice and his legs—oh, just a wee thingie, nothing to speak of."
"Surely you are mistaken!" cried Miss Gallosh. "Wasn't it only excitement at finding himself at Hechnahoul?"
"There's two kinds of excitement," answered the oracle. "And this was the kind I'm best acquaint with. Oh, but it was just a wee bittie."
"And who thinks the worse of him for it?" cried Mr. Gallosh.
This question was answered by general acclamation in a manner and with a spirit that proved how deeply his lordship's gracious behavior had laid hold of all hearts.
Breakfast in the private parlor was laid for two; but it was only Count Bunker, arrayed in a becoming suit of knickerbockers, and looking as fresh as if he had feasted last night on aerated water, who sat down to consume it.
"Who would be his ordinary everyday self when there are fifty more amusing parts to play," he reflected gaily, as he sipped his coffee. "Blitzenberg and Essington were two conventional members of society, ageing ingloriously, tamely approaching five-and-thirty in bath-chairs. Tulliwuddle and Bunker are paladins of romance! We thought we had grown up—thank Heaven, we were deceived!"
Having breakfasted and lit a cigarette, he essayed for the second time to arouse the Baron; but getting nothing but the most somnolent responses, he set out for a stroll, visiting the gardens, stables, kennels, and keeper's house, and even inspecting a likely pool or two upon the river, and making in the course of it several useful acquaintances among the Tulliwuddle retainers.
When he returned he found the Baron stirring a cup of strong tea and staring at an ancestral portrait with a thoughtful frown.
"They are preparing the caber, Baron," he remarked genially.
"Stoff and nonsense; I vill not fling her!" was the wholly unexpected reply. "I do not love to play ze fool alvays!"
"My dear Baron!"
"Zat picture," said the Baron, nodding his head solemnly towards the portrait. "It is like ze Lord Tollyvoddle in ze print at ze hotel. I do believe he is ze same."