THE MAN FROM BRODNEY'S
George Barr McCutcheon
Author of The Daughter of Anderson Crow, Graustark, Beverly of Graustark, Brewster's Millions, Nedra, etc.
With Illustrations by Harrison Fisher
CHAPTER I THE LATE MR. SKAGGS II AN EXTRAORDINARY DOCUMENT III INTRODUCING HOLLINGSWORTH CHASE IV THE INDISCREET MR. CHASE V THE ENGLISH INVADE VI THE CHATEAU VII THE BROWNES ARRIVE VIII THE MAN FROM BRODNEY'S IX THE ENEMY X THE AMERICAN BAR XI THE SLOUGH OF TRANQUILLITY XII WOMEN AND WOMEN XIII CHASE PERFORMS A MIRACLE XIV THE LANTERN ABOVE XV MR. SAUNDERS HAS A PLAN XVI TWO CALLS FROM THE ENEMY XVII THE PRINCESS GOES GALLOPING XVIII THE BURNING OF THE BUNGALOW XIX CHASE COMES FROM THE CLOUDS XX NEENAH XXI THE PLAGUE IS ANNOUNCED XXII THE CHARITY BALL XXIII THE JOY OF TEMPTATION XXIV SEVERAL PHILOSOPHERS XXV THE DISQUIETING END OF PONG XXVI DEPPINGHAM FALLS ILL XXVII THE TRIAL OF VON BLITZ XXVIII CENTURIES TO FORGET XXIX THE PURSUIT XXX THE PERSIAN ANGEL XXXI A PRESCRIBED MALADY XXXII THE TWO WORLDS XXXIII THE SHIPS THAT PASS XXXIV IN THE SAME GRAVE WITH SKAGGS XXXV A TOAST TO THE PAST XXXVI THE TITLE CLEAR
"He saw the Princess for the first time that afternoon"
"'Don't you intend to present me to Lady Deppingham?'"
"'No,' she said to herself, 'I told him I was keeping them for him'"
"He felt that Genevra was still looking into his eyes"
THE MAN FROM BRODNEY'S
THE LATE MR. SKAGGS
The death of Taswell Skaggs was stimulating, to say the least, inapplicable though the expression may seem.
He attained the end of a hale old age by tumbling aimlessly into the mouth of a crater on the island of Japat, somewhere in the mysterious South Seas. The volcano was not a large one and the crater, though somewhat threatening at times, was correspondingly minute, which explains—in apology—to some extent, his unfortunate misstep.
Moreover, there is but one volcano on the surface of Japat; it seems all the more unique that he, who had lived for thirty years or more on the island, should have stepped into it in broad daylight, especially as it was he who had tacked up warning placards along every avenue of approach.
Inasmuch as he was more than eighty years old at the time, it would seem to have been a most reprehensible miscalculation on the part of the Grim Reaper to have gone to so much trouble.
But that is neither here nor there.
Taswell Skaggs was dead and once more remembered. The remark is proper, for the world had quite thoroughly forgotten him during the twenty odd years immediately preceding his death. It was, however, noticeably worth while to remember him at this particular time: he left a last will and testament that bade fair to distress as well as startle a great many people on both sides of the Atlantic, among whom it may be well to include certain distinguished members of the legal profession.
In Boston the law firm of Bowen & Hare was puzzling itself beyond reason in the effort to anticipate and circumvent the plans of the firm of Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin, London, E.C.; while on the other side of the Atlantic Messrs. Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin were blindly struggling to do precisely the same thing in relation to Messrs. Bowen & Hare.
Without seeking to further involve myself, I shall at once conduct the reader to the nearest of these law offices; he may hear something to his own interest from Bowen & Hare. We find the partners sitting in the private room.
"Pretty badly tangled, I declare," said Mr. Hare, staring helplessly at his senior partner.
"Hopelessly," agreed Mr. Bowen, very much as if he had at first intended to groan.
Before them on the table lay the contents of a bulky envelope: a long and stupendous letter from their London correspondents and with it a copy of Taswell Skaggs's will. The letter had come in the morning's mail, heralded by a rather vague cablegram the week before. To be brief, Mr. Bowen recently had been named as joint executor of the will, together with Sir John Allencrombie, of London, W.C., one time neighbour of the late Mr. Skaggs. A long and exasperating cablegram had touched somewhat irresolutely upon the terms of the will, besides notifying him that one of the heirs resided in Boston. He was instructed to apprise this young man of his good fortune. This he delayed in doing until after he had obtained more definite information from England. The full and complete statement of facts was now before him.
There was one very important, perhaps imposing feature in connection with the old gentleman's will: he was decidedly sound of mind and body when it was uttered.
When such astute lawyers as Bowen & Hare give up to amazement, the usual forerunner of consternation, it is high time to regard the case as startling. Their practice was far-reaching and varied; imperviousness had been acquired through long years of restraint. But this day they were sharply ousted from habitual calmness into a state of mind bordering on the ludicrous.
"Read it again, Bowen."
"No; the letter."
Whereupon Mr. Bowen again read aloud the letter from Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin, this time slowly and speculatively.
"They seem as much upset by the situation as we," he observed reflectively.
"Extraordinary state of affairs, I must say."
"And I don't know what to do about it—I don't even know how to begin. They're both married."
"And not to each other."
"She's the wife of a Lord-knows-what-kind-of-a-lord, and he's married to an uncommonly fine girl, they say, notwithstanding the fact that she has larger social aspirations than he has means."
"And if that all-important clause in the will is not carried out to the letter, the whole fortune goes to the bow-wows."
"Practically the same thing. He calls them 'natives,' that's all. It looks to me as though the bow-wows will get the old man's millions. I don't see how anything short of Providence can alter the situation."
Mr. Bowen looked out over the house-tops and Mr. Hare laughed softly under his breath.
"Thank heaven, Bowen, he names you as executor, not me."
"I shall decline to serve. It's an impossible situation, Hare. In the first place, Skaggs was not an intimate friend of mine. I met him in Constantinople five years ago and afterward handled some business for him in New York. He had no right to impose upon me as if———"
"But why should you hesitate? You have only to wait for the year to roll by and then turn your troubles over to the natives. Young Browne can't marry Miss Ruthven inside of a year, simply because there is no Miss Ruthven. She's Lady—Lady—what's the name?"
"And Browne already has one Mrs. Browne to his credit, don't you see? Well, that settles it, I'd say. It's hardly probable that Browne will murder or divorce his wife, nor is it likely that her ladyship would have the courage to dispose of her encumbrance in either way on such short notice."
"But it means millions to them, Hare."
"That's their unfortunate lookout. You are to act as an executor, not as a matrimonial agent."
"But, man, it's an outrage to give all of it to those wretched islanders. Bosworth says that rubies and sapphires grow there like mushrooms."
"Bosworth also says that the islanders are thrifty, intelligent and will fight for their rights. There are lawyers among them, he says, as well as jewel diggers and fishermen."
"Skaggs and Lady Deppingham's grandfather were the only white men who ever lived there long enough to find out what the island had stored up for civilisation. That's why they bought it outright, but I'm hanged if I can see why he wants to give it back to the natives."
"Perhaps he owes it to them. He doubtless bought it for a song and, contrary to all human belief, he may have resurrected a conscience. Anyhow, there remains a chance for the heirs to break the will."
"It can't be done, Hare, it can't be done. It's as clean an instrument as ever survived a man."
It is, by this time, safe for the reader to assume that Mr. Taswell Skaggs had been a rich man and therefore privileged to be eccentric. It is also time for the writer to turn the full light upon the tragic comedy which entertained but did not amuse a select audience of lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic. As this tale has to do with the adventures of Taswell Skaggs's heirs and not with the strange old gentleman who sleeps his last sleep literally in the midst of the island of Japat, it is eminently wise to make as little as possible of him.
Mr. Skaggs came of a sound old country family in upper England, but seems to have married a bit above his station. His wife was serving as governess in the home of a certain earl when Taswell won her heart and dragged her from the exalted position of minding other people's children into the less conspicuous one of caring for her own. How the uncouth country youth—not even a squire—overcame her natural prejudice against the lower classes is not for me to explain. Sufficient to announce, they were married and lived unhappily ever afterward.
Their only son was killed by a runaway horse when he was twenty, and their daughter became the wife of an American named Browne when she was scarcely out of her teens. It was then that Mr. Skaggs, practically childless, determined to make himself wifeless as well.
He magnanimously deeded the unentailed farm to his wife, turned his securities into cash and then set forth upon a voyage of exploration. It is common history that upon one dark, still night in December he said good-bye forever to the farm and its mistress; but it is doubtful if either of them heard him.
To be "jolly well even" with him, Mrs. Skaggs did a most priggish thing. She died six months later. But, before doing so, she made a will in which she left the entire estate to her daughter, effectually depriving the absent husband of any chance to reclaim his own.
Taswell Skaggs was in Shanghai when he heard the news. It was on a Friday. His informant was that erstwhile friend, Jack Wyckholme. Naturally, Skaggs felt deeply aggrieved with the fate which permitted him to capitulate when unconditional surrender was so close at hand. His language for one brief quarter of an hour did more to upset the progress of Christian endeavour in the Far East than all the idols in the Chinese Empire.
"There's nawthin' in England for me, Jackie. My gal's a bloomin' foreigner by this time and she'll sell the bleedin' farm, of course. She's an h'American, God bless 'er 'eart. I daresay if I'd go to 'er and say I'd like my farm back again she'd want to fork hover, but 'er bloody 'usband wouldn't be for that sort of hextravagance. 'E'd boot me off the hisland."
"The United States isn't an island, Tazzy," explained Mr. Wyckholme, gulping his brandy and soda.
Mr. Wyckholme was the second son of Sir Somebody-or-other and had married the vicar's daughter. This put him into such bad odour with his family that he hurried off to the dogs—and a goodly sized menagerie besides, if the records of the inebriate's asylum are to be credited. His wife, after enduring him for sixteen years, secured a divorce. It may not have been intended as an insult to the scapegoat, but no sooner had she freed herself from him than his father, Sir Somebody-or-other, took her and her young daughter into the ancestral halls and gave them a much-needed abiding-place. This left poor Mr. Jack quite completely out in the world—and he proceeded to make the best and the worst of it while he had the strength and ambition. Accepting the world as his home, he ventured forth to visit every nook and cranny of it. In course of time he came upon his old-time neighbour and boyhood friend, Taswell Skaggs, in the city of Shanghai. Neither of them had seen the British Isles in two years or more.
"'Ow do you know?" demanded Taswell.
"Haven't I been there, old chap? A year or more? It's a rotten big place where gentlemen aspire to sell gloves and handkerchiefs and needlework over the shop counters. At any rate, that's what every one said every one else was doing, and advised me to—to get a situation doing the same. You know, Tazzy, I couldn't well afford to starve and I wouldn't sell things, so I came away. But it's no island."
"Well, that's neither here nor there, Jackie. I 'aven't a 'ome and you 'aven't a 'ome, and we're wanderers on the face of the earth. My wife played me a beastly trick, dying like that. I say marriage is a blooming nuisance."
"Marriage, my boy, is the convalescence from a love affair. One wants to get out the worst way but has to stay in till he's jolly well cured. For my part, I'm never going back to England."
"Nor I. It would be just like me, Jackie, to 'ave a relapse and never get out again."
The old friends, with tear-dimmed eyes, shook hands and vowed that nothing short of death should part them during the remainder of their journey through life. That night they took an inventory. Jack Wyckholme, gentleman's son and ne'er-do-well, possessed nine pounds and a fraction, an appetite and excellent spirits, while Taswell Skaggs exhibited a balance of one thousand pounds in a Shanghai bank, a fairly successful trade in Celestial necessities, and an unbounded eagerness to change his luck.
"I have a proposition to make to you, Tazzy," said Mr. Wyckholme, late in the night.
"I think I'll listen to it, Jackie," replied Mr. Skaggs, quite soberly.
As the outcome of this midnight proposition, Taswell Skaggs and John Wyckholme arrived, two months later, at the tiny island of Japat, somewhere south of the Arabian Sea, there to remain until their dying days and there to accumulate the wealth which gave the first named a chance to make an extraordinary will. For thirty years they lived on the island of Japat. Wyckholme preceded Skaggs to the grave by two winters and he willed his share of everything to his partner of thirty years' standing. But there was a proviso in Wyckholme's bequest, just as there was in that of Skaggs. Each had made his will some fifteen years or more before death and each had bequeathed his fortune to the survivor. At the death of the survivor the entire property was to go to the grandchild of each testator, with certain reservations to be mentioned later on, each having, by investigation, discovered that he possessed a single grandchild.
The island of Japat had been the home of a Mohammedan race, the outgrowth of Arabian adventurers who had fared far from home many years before Wyckholme happened upon the island by accident. It was a British possession and there were two or three thousand inhabitants, all Mohammedans. Skaggs and Wyckholme purchased the land from the natives, protected and eased their rights with the government and proceeded to realise on what the natives had unwittingly prepared for them. In course of time the natives repented of the deal which gave the Englishmen the right to pick and sell the rubies and other precious stones that they had been trading away for such trifles as silks, gewgaws and women; a revolution was imminent. Whereupon the owners organised the entire population into a great stock company, retaining four-fifths of the property themselves. This seemed to be a satisfactory arrangement, despite the fact that some of the more warlike leaders were difficult to appease. But, as Messrs. Wyckholme and Skaggs owned the land and the other grants, there was little left for the islanders but arbitration. It is only necessary to add that the beautiful island of Japat, standing like an emerald in the sapphire waters of the Orient, brought millions in money to the two men who had been unlucky in love.
And now, after more than thirty years of voluntary exile, both of them were dead, and both of them were buried in the heart of an island of rubies, their deed and their deeds remaining to posterity—with reservations.
AN EXTRAORDINARY DOCUMENT
It appears that the Messrs. Skaggs and Wyckholme, as their dual career drew to a close, set about to learn what had become of their daughters. Investigation proved that Wyckholme's daughter had married a London artist named Ruthven. The Ruthvens in turn had one child, a daughter. Wyckholme's wife and his daughter died when this grandchild was eight or ten years old. By last report, the grandchild was living with her father in London. She was a pretty young woman with scores of admirers on her hands and a very level head on her shoulders.
Wyckholme held to his agreement with Skaggs by bequeathing his share of the property to him, but it was definitely set forth that at the death of his partner it was to go to Agnes Ruthven, the grandchild—with reservations.
Skaggs found that his daughter, who married Browne the American, likewise had died, but that she had left behind a son and heir. This son, Robert Browne, was in school when the joint will was designed, and he was to have Skaggs's fortune at the death of Wyckholme, in case that worthy survived.
All this would have been very simple had it not been for the instructions and conditions agreed upon by the two men. In order to keep the business and the property intact and under the perpetual control of one partnership, the granddaughter of Wyckholme was to marry the grandson of Skaggs within the year after the death of the surviving partner. The penalty to be imposed upon them if the conditions were not complied with—neither to be excusable for the defection of the other—lay in the provision that the whole industry and its accumulated fortune, including the land (and they owned practically the entire island), was to go to the islanders—or, in plain words, to the original owners, their heirs, share and share alike, all of which was set forth concisely in a separate document attached. Wyckholme named Sir John Allencrombie as one executor and Skaggs selected Alfred Bowen, of Boston, as the other.
As Wyckholme was the first to die, Skaggs became sole owner of the island and its treasures, and it was he who made the final will in accordance with the original plans.
The island of Japat with its jewels and its ancient chateau—of modern construction—represented several million pounds sterling. Its owners had accumulated a vast fortune, but, living in seclusion as they did, were hard put for means to spend any considerable part of it. Wyckholme's dream of erecting an exact replica of a famous old chateau found response in the equally whimsical Skaggs, who constantly bemoaned the fact that it was impossible to spend money. For five years after its completion the two old men, with an army of Arabian retainers and Nubian slaves, lived like Oriental potentates in the huge structure on the highlands overlooking the sea.
Skaggs seldom went from one part of his home to another without a guide. It was so vast and so labyrinthine that he feared he might become lost forever. The dungeon below the chateau, and the moat with its bridges, were the especial delight of these lonely, romantic old chaps. One of the builders of this rare pile was now sleeping peacefully in the sarcophagus beneath the chapel; the other was lying dead and undiscovered in the very heart of his possessions. Their executors were sourly wondering whether the two venerable testators were not even then grinning from those far-away sepulchres in contemplation of the first feud their unprimitive castle was to know.
The magnificent plans of the partners would have been a glorious tribute to romance had it not been for one fatal obstacle. The trouble was that neither young Miss Ruthven nor young Mr. Browne knew that their grandfathers lived, much less that they owned an island in the South Seas. Therefore it is quite natural that they could not have known they were expected to marry each other. In complete but blissful ignorance that the other existed, the young legatees fell in love with persons unmentioned in the will and performed the highly commendable but exceedingly complicating act of matrimony. This emergency, it is humane to suspect, had not revealed itself to either of the grandfathers.
Miss Ruthven, from motives peculiar to the head and not to the heart, set about to earn a title for herself. Three months before the death of Mr. Skaggs she was married to Lord Deppingham, who possessed a title and a country place that rightfully belonged to his creditors. Mr. Browne, just out of college, hung out his shingle as a physician and surgeon, and forthwith, with all the confidence his profession is supposed to inspire, proceeded to marry the daughter of a brokerage banker in Boston and at once found himself struggling with the difficulties of Back Bay society.
A clause in the will, letter of instruction attached, demanded that the two grandchildren should take up their residence in the chateau within six months after the death of the testator, there to remain through the compulsory days of courtship up to and including the wedding day. Four months had already passed. It was also stipulated that the executors should receive L10,000 each at the expiration of their year of servitude, provided it was shown in court that they had carried out the wishes of the testator, or, in failing, had made the most diligent effort within human power.
"It is very explicit," murmured Mr. Hare, for the third time. "I suppose the first step is to notify young Mr. Browne of his misfortune. His lordship has the task of breaking the news to Lady Deppingham."
"You are assuming that I intend to act under this ridiculous will."
"Certainly. It means about $50,000 to you at the end of the year, with nothing to do but to notify two persons of the terms in the will. If they're not divorced and married again at the end of the year, you and Sir John simply turn everything over to the Malays or whatever they are. It's something like 'dust to dust,' isn't it, after all? I think it's easy sledding for you."
Mr. Bowen was eventually won over by Mr. Hare's enthusiasm. "Notifications" took wing and flew to different parts of the world, while many lawyers hovered like vultures to snatch at the bones should a war at law ensue.
Young Mr. Browne (he was hardly a doctor even in name) hastened downtown in response to a message from the American executor, and was told of the will which had been filed in England, the home land of the testator. To say that this debonair, good-looking young gentleman was flabbergasted would be putting it more than mildly. There is no word in the English language strong enough to describe his attitude at that perilous moment.
"What shall I do—what can I do, Mr. Bowen?" he gasped, bewildered.
"Consult an attorney," advised Mr. Bowen promptly.
"I'll do it," shouted "Bobby" Browne, one time halfback on his college eleven. "Break the will for me, Mr. Bowen, and I'll give—"
"I can't break it, Bobby. I'm its executor."
"Good Lord! Well, then, who is the best will-breaker you know, please? Something has to be done right away."
"I'm afraid you don't grasp the situation. Now if you were not married it would—"
"I wouldn't give up my wife for all the islands in the universe. That's settled. You don't know how happy we are. She's the—"
"Yes, yes, I know," interrupted the wily Mr. Bowen. "Don't tell me about it. She's a stumbling block, however, even though we are agreed that she's a most delightful one. Your co-legatee also possesses a block, perhaps not so delicate, but I daresay she feels the same about hers as you do about yours. I can't advise you, my boy. Go and see Judge Garrett over in the K—— building. They say he expects to come back from the grave to break his own will."
Ten minutes later an excited young man rushed into an office in the K—— building. Two minutes afterward he was laying the case before that distinguished old counsellor, Judge Abner Garrett.
"You will have to fight it jointly," said Judge Garrett, after extracting the wheat from the chaff of Browne's remarks. "You can't take hers away from her and she can't get yours. We must combine against the natives. Come back to-morrow at two."
Promptly at two Browne appeared, eager-eyed and nervous. He had left behind him at home a miserable young woman with red eyes and choking breath who bemoaned the cruel conviction that she stood between him and fortune.
"But hang it all, dearest, I wouldn't marry that girl if I had the chance. I'd marry you all over again to-day if I could," he had cried out to her, but she wondered all afternoon if he really meant it. It never entered her head to wonder if Lady Deppingham was old or young, pretty or ugly, bright or dull. She had been Mrs. Browne for three months and she could not quite understand how she had been so happy up to this sickening hour.
Judge Garrett had a copy of the will in his hand. He looked dubious, even dismayed.
"It's as sound as the rock of Gibraltar," he announced dolefully.
"You don't mean it!" gasped poor Bobby, mopping his fine Harvard brow, his six feet of manhood shrinking perceptibly as he looked about for a chair in which to collapse. "C—can't it be smashed?"
"It might be an easy matter to prove either of these old gentlemen to have been insane, but the two of them together make it out of the question——"
"What do you mean, sir?" indignantly.
"I mean—oh, you know what I mean. The conditions and all that. Why, the old chumps must have been trying to prove their grandchildren insane when they made that will. Nobody but imbeciles would marry people they'd never seen. I——"
"But the will provides for a six months' courtship, Dr. Browne, I'm sorry to say. You might learn to love a person in less time and still retain your mental balance, you know, especially if she were pretty and an heiress to half your own fortune. I daresay that is what they were thinking about."
"Thinking? They weren't thinking of anything at all. They weren't capable. Why didn't they consider the possibility that things might turn out just as they have?"
"Possibly they did consider it, my boy. It looks to me as if they did not care a rap whether it went to their blood relatives or to the islanders. I fancy of the two they loved the islanders more. At any rate, they left a beautiful opening for the very complications which now conspire to give the natives their own, after all. There may be some sort of method in their badness. More than likely they concluded to let luck decide the matter."
"Well, I guess it has, all right."
"Don't lose heart. It's worth fighting for even if you lose. I'd hate to see those islanders get all of it, even if you two can't marry each other. I've thought it over pretty thoroughly and I've reached a conclusion. It's necessary for both of you to be on the ground according to schedule. You must go to the island, wife or no wife, and there's not much time to be lost. Lady Deppingham won't let the grass grow under her feet if I know anything about the needs of English nobility, and I'll bet my hat she's packing her trunks now for a long stay in Japat. You have farther to go than she, but you must get over there inside of sixty days. I daresay your practice can take care of itself," ironically. Browne nodded cheerfully. "You can't tell what may happen in the next six months."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's possible that you may become a widower and she a wid—"
"Good heaven, Judge Garrett! Impossible!" gasped Bobby Browne, clutching the arms of his chair.
"Nothing is impossible, my boy—"
"Well, if that's what you're counting on you can count me out, I won't speculate on my wife's death."
"But, man, suppose that it did happen!" roared the judge irascibly. "You should be prepared for the best—I mean the worst. Don't look like a sick dog. We've got to watch every corner, that's all, and be Johnny-on-the-spot when the time comes. You go to the island at once. Take your wife along if you like. You'll find her ladyship there, and she'll need a woman to tell her troubles to. I'll have the papers ready for you to sign in three days, and I don't think we'll have any trouble getting the British heirs to join in the suit to overthrow the will. The only point is this: the islanders must not have the advantage that your absence from Japat will give to them. Now, I'll——"
"But, good Lord, Judge Garrett, I can't go to that confounded island," wailed Browne. "Take my wife over among those heathenish——"
"Do you expect me to handle this case for you, sir?"
"Then let me handle it. Don't interfere. When you start in to get somebody else's money you have to do a good many things you don't like, no matter whether you are a lawyer or a client."
"But I don't like the suggestion that my wife will be obliged to die in order——"
"Please leave all the details to me, Mr. Browne. It may not be necessary for her to die. There are other alternatives in law. Give the lawyers a chance. We'll see what we can do. Besides, it would be unreasonable to expect his lordship to die also. All you have to do is to plant yourself on that island and stay there until we tell you to get off."
"Or the islanders push me off," lugubriously.
"Now, listen intently and I'll tell you just what you are to do."
Young Mr. Browne went away at dusk, half reeling under the responsibility of existence, and eventually reached the side of the anxious young woman uptown. He bared the facts and awaited the wail of dismay.
"I think it will be perfectly jolly," she cried, instead, and kissed him rapturously.
Over on the opposite side of the Atlantic the excitement in certain circles was even more intense than that produced in Boston. Lord Deppingham needed the money, but he was a whole day in grasping the fact that his wife could not have it and him at the same time. The beautiful and fashionable Lady Deppingham, once little Agnes Ruthven, came as near to having hysteria as Englishwomen ever do, but she called in a lawyer instead of a doctor. For three days she neglected her social duties (and they were many), ignored her gallant admirers (and they were many), and hurried back and forth between home and chambers so vigorously that his lordship was seldom closer than a day behind in anything she did.
There was a great rattling of trunks, a jangling of keys, a thousand good-byes, a cast-off season, and the Deppinghams were racing away for the island of Japat somewhere in the far South Seas.
INTRODUCING HOLLINGSWORTH CHASE
While all this was being threshed out by the persons most vitally interested in the affairs of Taswell Skaggs and John Wyckholme, events of a most unusual character were happening to one who not only had no interest in the aforesaid heritage, but no knowledge whatever of its existence. The excitement attending the Skaggs-Wyckholme revelations had not yet spread to the Grand Duchy of Rapp-Thorberg, apparently lost as it was in the cluster of small units which went to make up a certain empire: one of the world powers. The Grand Duke Michael disdained the world at large; he had but little in common with anything that moved beyond the confines of his narrow domain. His court was sleepy, lackadaisical, unemotional, impregnable to the taunts of progression; his people were thrifty, stolid and absolutely stationary in their loyalty to the ancient traditions of the duchy; his army was a mere matter of taxation and not a thing of pomp or necessity. Four times a year he inspected the troops, and just as many times in the year were the troops obliged to devote themselves to rigorous display. The rest of the time was spent in social intrigue and whistling for the war-clouds that never came.
The precise location of the Grand Duchy in the map of the world has little or nothing to do with this narrative; indeed, were it not for the fact that the Grand Duke possessed a charming and most desirable daughter, the Thorberg dynasty would not be mentioned at all. For that matter, it is brought to light briefly for the sole purpose of identifying the young lady in question, and the still more urgent desire to connect her past with her future—for which we have, perhaps intemperately, an especial consideration. It is only necessary, therefore, for us to step into and out of the Grand Duchy without the procrastination usual in a sojourner, stopping long enough only to see how tiresome it would be to stay, and to wonder why any one remained who could get away. Not that the Grand Duchy was an utterly undesirable place, but that too much time already had been wasted there by the populace itself.
It has been said that events of a most unusual character were happening; any event that roused the people from their daily stolidity was sufficiently unusual to suggest the superlative. The Grand Duke's peace of mind had been severely disturbed—so severely, in fact, that he was transferring his troubles to the Emperor, who, in turn, felt obliged to communicate with the United States Ambassador, and who, in his turn, had no other alternative than to take summary action in respect to the indiscretions of a fellow-countryman.
In the beginning, it was not altogether the fault of the young man who had come from America to serve his country. Whatever may have been the turmoil in the Grand Duke's palace at Thorberg, Chase's conscience was even and serene. He had no excuses to offer—for that matter none would have been entertained—and he was resigning his post with the confidence that he had performed his obligations as an American gentleman should, even though the performance had created an extraordinary commotion. Chase was new to the Old World and its customs, especially those rigorous ones which surrounded royalty and denied it the right to venture into the commonplace. The ambassador at the capital of the Empire at first sought to excuse him on the ground of ignorance; but the Grand Duke insisted that even an American could not be such a fool as Chase had been; so, it must have been a wilful offence that led up to the controversy.
Chase had been the representative of the American Government at Thorberg for six months. He never fully understood why the government should have a representative there; but that was a matter quite entirely for the President to consider. The American flag floated above his doorway in the Friedrich Strasse, but in all his six months of occupation not ten Americans had crossed the threshold. As a matter of fact, he had seen fewer than twenty Americans in all that time. He was a vigorous, healthy young man, and it may well be presumed that the situation bored him. Small wonder, then, that he kept out of mischief for half a year. Diplomatic service is one thing and the lack of opportunity is quite another. Chase did his best to find occupation for his diplomacy, but what chance had he with nothing ahead of him but regular reports to the department in which he could only announce that he was in good health and that no one had "called."
Chase belonged to the diplomatic class which owes its elevation to the influence of Congress—not to Congress as a body but to one of its atoms. He was not a politician; no more was he an office seeker. He was a real soldier of fortune, in search of affairs—in peace or in war, on land or at sea. Possessed of a small income, sufficiently adequate to sustain life if he managed to advance it to the purple age (but wholly incapable of supporting him as a thriftless diplomat), he was compelled to make the best of his talents, no matter to what test they were put. He left college at twenty-two, possessed of the praiseworthy design to earn his own way without recourse to the $4,500 income from a certain trust fund. His plan also incorporated the hope to save every penny of that income for the possible "rainy day." He was now thirty; in each of several New York banks he had something like $4,000 drawing three per cent. interest while he picked his blithe way through the world on $2,500 a year, more or less, as chance ordained.
"When I'm forty," Chase was wont to remark to envious spendthrifts who couldn't understand his philosophy, "I'll have over a hundred thousand there, and if I live to be ninety, just think what I'll have! And it will be like finding the money, don't you see? Of course, I won't live to be ninety. Moreover, I may get married and have to maintain a poor wife with rich relatives, which is a terrible strain, you know. You have to live up to your wife's relatives, if you don't do anything else."
He did not refer to the chance that he was quite sure to come in for a large legacy at the death of his maternal grandfather, a millionaire ranch owner in the Far West. Chase never counted on probabilities; he took what came and was satisfied.
After leaving college, he drifted pretty much over the world, taking pot luck with fortune and clasping the hand of circumstance, to be led into the highways and byways, through good times and ill times, in love and out, always coming safely into port with a smiling wind behind. There had been hard roads to travel as well as easy ones, but he never complained; he swung on through life with the heart of a soldier and the confidence of a Pagan. He loathed business and he abhorred trade.
"That little old trust fund is making more money for me by lying idle than I could accumulate in a century by hard work as a grocer or an undertaker," he was prone to philosophise when his uncles, who were merchants, urged him to settle down and "do something." Not that there were grocers or undertakers among them; it was his way of impressing his sense of freedom upon them.
He was an orphan and bounden to no man. No one had the right to question his actions after his twenty-first anniversary. It was fortunate for him that he was a level-headed as well as a wild-hearted chap, else he might have sunk to the perdition his worthy uncles prescribed for him. He went in for law at Yale, and then practised restlessly, vaguely for two years in Baltimore, under the patronage of his father's oldest friend, a lawyer of distinction.
"If I fail at everything else, I'll go back to the practice of law," he said cheerfully. "Uncle Henry is mean enough to say that he has forgotten more law than I ever knew, but he has none the better of me. 'Gad, I am confident that I've forgotten more law, myself, than I ever knew."
Tiring of the law books and reports in the old judge's office, he suddenly abandoned his calling and set forth to see the world. Almost before his friends knew that he had left he was heard of in Turkestan. In course of time he served as a war correspondent for one of the great newspapers, acted as agent for great hemp dealers in the Philippines, carried a rifle with the Boers in South Africa, hunted wild beasts in Asia and in Hottentot land, took snapshots in St. Petersburg, and almost got to the North Pole with one of the expeditions. To do and be all of these he had to be a manly man. Not in a month's journey would you meet a truer thoroughbred, a more agreeable chap, a more polished vagabond, than Hollingsworth Chase, first lieutenant in Dame Fortune's army. Tall, good looking, rawboned, cheerful, gallant, he was the true comrade of those merry, reckless volunteers from all lands who find commissions in Fortune's army and serve her faithfully. He had shared pot luck in odd parts of the world with English lords, German barons and French counts—all serving under the common flag. His heart had withstood the importunate batterings of many a love siege; the wounds had been pleasant ones and the recovery quick. He left no dead behind him.
He was nearly thirty when the diplomatic service began to appeal to him as a pleasing variation from the rigorous occupations he had followed heretofore. A British lordling put it into his head, away out in Delhi. It took root, and he hurried home to attend to its growth. One of his uncles was a congressman and another was in some way connected with railroads. He first sought the influence of the latter and then the recommendation of the former. In less than six weeks after his arrival in Washington he was off for the city of Thorberg in the Grand Duchy of Rapp-Thorberg, carrying with him an appointment as consul and supplied with the proper stamps and seal of office. His uncle compassionately informed him beforehand that his service in Thorberg would be brief and certainly would lead up to something much better.
At the end of five months he was devoutly, even pathetically, hoping that his uncle was no false prophet. He loathed Thorberg; he hated the inhabitants; he smarted under the sting of royal disdain; he had no real friends, no boon companions and he was obliged to be good! What wonder, then, that the bored, suffering, vivacious Mr. Chase seized the first opportunity to leap headforemost into the very thick of a most appalling indiscretion!
When he first arrived in Thorberg to assume his sluggish duties he was not aware of the fact that the Grand Duke had an unmarried daughter, the Princess Genevra. Nor, upon learning that the young lady existed, was he particularly impressed; the royal princesses he had been privileged to look upon were not remarkable for their personal attractiveness: he forthwith established Genevra in what he considered to be her proper sphere.
She was visiting in St. Petersburg or Berlin or some other place—he gave it no thought at the time—when he reached his post of duty, and it was toward the end of his fifth month before she returned to her father's palace in Thorberg. He awoke to the importance of the occasion, and took some slight interest in the return of the royal young lady—even going so far as to follow the crowd to the railway station on the sunny June afternoon. His companions were two young fellows from the English bank and a rather agreeable attache of the French Government.
He saw the Princess for the first time that afternoon, and he was bowled over, to use the expression of his English friends with whom he dined that night. She was the first woman that he had ever looked upon that he could describe, for she was the only one who had impressed him to that extent. This is how he pictured her at the American legation in Paris a few weeks later:
"Ever see her? Well, you've something to live for, gentlemen. I've seen her but three times and I don't seem able to shake off the spell. Her sisters, you know—the married ones—are nothing to look at, and the Grand Duke isn't a beauty by any means. How the deuce she happens to produce such a contrast I can't, for the life of me, understand. Nature does some marvellous things, by George, and she certainly spread herself on the Princess Genevra. You've never seen such hair. 'Gad, it's as near like the kind that Henner painted as anything human could be, except that it's more like old gold, if you can understand what I mean by that. Not bronze, mind you, nor the raw red, but—oh, well, I'm not a novelist, so I can't half-way describe it. She's rather tall—not too tall, mind you—five feet five, I'd say—whatever that is in the metric system. Slender and well dressed—oh, that's the strangest thing of all! Well dressed! Think of a princess being well dressed! I can see that you don't believe me, but I'll stake my word it's true. Of course, I've seen but three of her gowns and—but that's neither here nor there. I'd say she's twenty-two or twenty-three years of age—not a minute older. I think her eyes are a very dark grey, almost blue. Her skin is like a—a—oh, let me see, what is there that's as pure and soft as her skin? Something warm, and pink, and white, d'ye see? Well, never mind. And her smile! And her frown! You know, I've seen both of 'em, and one's as attractive as the other. She's a real princess, gentlemen, and the prettiest woman I've ever laid my eyes upon. And to think of her as the wife of that blithering little ass—that nincompoop of a Karl Brabetz! She loathes him, I'm sure—I know she does. And she's got to marry him! That's what she gets for being a Grand Duke's daughter. Brabetz is the heir apparent to some duchy or other over there and is supposed to be the catch of the season. You've heard of him. He was in Paris this season and cut quite a figure—a prince with real money in his purse, you know. I wonder why it is that our American girls can't marry the princes who have money instead of those who have none. Not that I wish any of our girls such bad luck as Brabetz! I'll stake my head he'll never forget me!" Chase concluded with a sharp, reflective laugh in which his hearers joined, for the escapade which inspired it was being slyly discussed in every embassy in Europe by this time, but no one seemed especially loth to shake Chase's hand on account of it.
But to return: the advent of the Princess put fresh life into the slowgoing city and court circles. Charming people, whom Chase had never seen before, seemed to spring into existence suddenly; the streets took on a new air; the bands played with a keener zest and the army prinked itself into a most amazingly presentable shape. Officers with noble blood in their veins stepped out of the obscurity of months; swords clanked merrily instead of dragging slovenly at the heels of their owners; uniforms glistened with a new ambition, and the whole atmosphere of Thorberg underwent a change so startling that Chase could hardly believe his senses. He lifted up his chin, threw out his chest, banished the look of discontent from his face and announced to himself that Thorberg was not such a bad place after all.
For days he swung blithely through the streets, the hang-dog look gone from his eyes, always hoping for another glimpse of the fair sorceress who had worked the great transformation. He even went so far as to read the court society news in the local papers, and grew to envy the men whose names were mentioned in the same column with that of the fair Genevra. It was two weeks before he saw her the second time; he was more enchanted by her face than before, especially as he came to realise the astonishing fact that she was kind enough to glance in his direction from time to time.
It was during the weekly concert in the Kursaal, late one night. She came in with a party, among whom he recognised several of the leading personages at court.
Once a week the regular concert gave way to a function in which the royal orchestra was featured. On such occasions the attendance was extremely fashionable, the Duke and his court usually being present. It was not until this time, however, that Chase felt that he could sit through a concert without being bored to extinction. He loved music, but not the kind that the royal orchestra rendered; Wagner, Chopin, Mozart were all the same to him—he hated them fervently and he was not yet given to stratagems and spoils. He sat at a table with the French attache just below the box occupied by the Princess and her party. In spite of the fact that he was a gentleman, born and bred, he could not conquer countless impulses to look at the flower-face of the royal auditor. They were surreptitious and sidelong peeps, it is true, but they served him well. He caught her gaze bent upon him more than once, and he detected an interest in her look that pleased his vanity exceeding great.
Gradually the programme led up to the feature of the evening—the rendition of a great work under the direction of a famous leader, a special guest of the music-loving Duke.
Chase arose and cheered with the assemblage when the distinguished director made his appearance. Then he proceeded to forget the man and his genius—in fact everything save the rapt listener above him. She was leaning forward on the rail of the box, her chin in her hand, her eyes looking steadily ahead, enthralled by the music. Suddenly she turned and looked squarely into his eyes, as if impelled by the magnetism they unconsciously employed. A little flush mounted to her brow as she quickly resumed her former attitude. Chase cursed himself for a brainless lout.
The number came to an end and the crowd arose to cheer the bowing, smiling director. Chase cheered and shouted "bravo," too, because she was applauding as eagerly as the others. She called the flushed, bowing director to her box, and publicly thanked him for the pleasure he had given. Chase saw him kiss her hand as he murmured his gratitude. For the first time in his life he coveted the occupation of an orchestra leader.
The director was a frail, rather good-looking young man, with piercing black eyes that seemed too bold in their scrutiny of the young lady's face. Chase began to hate him; he was unreasonably thankful when he passed on to the box in which the Duke sat.
The third and last time he saw the Princess Genevra before his sudden, spectacular departure from the Grand Duchy, was at the Duke's reception to the nobility of Rapp-Thorberg and to the representatives of such nations of the world as felt the necessity of having a man there in an official capacity.
THE INDISCREET MR. CHASE
There was not a handsomer, more striking figure in the palace gardens on the night of the reception than Hollingsworth Chase, nor one whose poise proved that he knew the world quite as well as it is possible for any one man to know it. His was an unique figure, also, for he was easily distinguishable as the only American in the brilliant assemblage.
He was presented to the Princess late in the evening, together with Baggs of the British office. His pride and confidence received a severe shock. She glanced at him with unaffected welcome, but the air of one who was looking upon his face for the first time. It was not until he had spent a full hour in doleful self-commiseration, that his sense of worldliness came to his relief. In a flash, he was joyously convincing himself that her pose during the presentation was artfully—and very properly—assumed. He saw through it very plainly! How simple he had been! Of course, she could not permit him to feel that she had ever displayed the slightest interest in him! His spirits shot upward so suddenly that Baggs accused him of "negotiating a drink on the sly" and felt very much injured that he had been ignored.
The gardens of the palace were not unlike the stage setting of a great spectacle. The sleepy, stolid character of the court had been transformed, as if by magic. Chase wondered where all the pretty, vivacious women could have sprung from—and were these the officers of the Royal Guard that he had so often laughed at in disdain? Could that gay old gentleman in red and gold be the morbid, carelessly clad Duke of Rapp-Thorberg, whom he had grown to despise because he seemed so ridiculously unlike a real potentate? He marvelled and rejoiced as he strolled hither and thither with the casual Baggs, and for the first time in his life really felt that it was pleasant to be stared at—in admiration, too, he may be pardoned for supposing.
He could not again approach within speaking distance of the Princess—nor did he presume to make the effort. Chase knew his proper place. It must be admitted, however, that he was never far distant from her, but perhaps chance was responsible for that—chance and Baggs, who, by nature, kept as close to royalty as the restrictions allowed.
She was the gayest, the most vivacious being in the whole assemblage; she had but to stretch out her hand or project her smile and every man in touch with the spell was ready to drop at her feet. At last, she led her court off toward the pavilion under which the royal orchestra was playing. As if it were a signal, every one turned his steps in that direction. Chase and the Englishman had been conversing diligently with an ancient countess and her two attractive daughters near the fountain. The Countess gave the command in the middle of Chase's dissertation on Italian cooking, and the party hastily fell in line with the throng which hurried forward.
"What is it? Supper again?" whispered Baggs, lugubriously.
One of the young women, doubtless observing the look of curiosity in the face of the American, volunteered the information that the orchestra was to repeat the great number which had so stirred the musical world at the concert the week before. Chase's look of despair was instantly banished by the recollection that the Princess had bestowed unqualified approval on the previous occasion. Hence, if she enjoyed it, he was determined to be pleased.
Again the dapper director came forward to lead the musicians, and again he was most enthusiastically received. His uniform fairly sparkled with the thrill of vanity, which seemed to burst from every seam; his sword clanked madly against his nimble legs as he bowed and scraped his grateful recognition of the honour. This time Chase was not where he could watch the Princess; he found, therefore, that he could devote his attention to the music and the popular conductor. He was amazed to find that the fellow seemed to be inspired; he was also surprised to find himself carried away by the fervour of the moment.
With the final crash of the orchestra, he found himself shouting again with the others; oddly, this time he was as mad as they. A score or more of surprised, disapproving eyes were turned upon him when he yelled "Encore!"
"There will be no encore," admonished the fair girl at his side, kindly. "It is not New York," she added, with a sly smile.
Ten minutes later, Chase and the Englishman were lighting their cigars in an obscure corner of the gardens, off in the shadows where the circle of light spent itself among the trees.
"Extraordinarily beautiful," Chase murmured reflectively, as he seated himself upon the stone railing along the drive.
"Yes, they say he really wrote it himself," drawled Baggs, puffing away.
"I'm not talking about the music," corrected Chase sharply.
"Oh," murmured Baggs, apologetically. "The night?"
"No! The Princess, Baggs. Haven't you noticed her?" with intense sarcasm in his tone.
"Of course, I have, old chap. By Jove, do you know she is good-looking—positively ripping."
The concert over, people began strolling into the more distant corners of the huge garden, down the green-walled walks and across the moonlit terraces. For a long time, the two men sat moodily smoking in their dark nook, watching the occasional passers-by; listening to the subdued laughter and soft voices of the women, the guttural pleasantries of the men. They lazily observed the approach of one couple, attracted, no doubt, by the disparity in the height of the two shadows. The man was at least half a head shorter than his companion, but his ardour seemed a thousandfold more vast. Chase was amused by the apparent intensity of the small officer's devotion, especially as it was met with a coldness that would have chilled the fervour of a man much larger and therefore more timid. It was impossible to see the faces of the couple until they passed through a moonlit streak in the walk, quite close at hand.
Chase started and grasped his companion's arm. One was the Princess Genevra and—was it possible? Yes, the nimble conductor! The sensation of the hour—the musical lion! Moreover, to Chase's cold horror, the "little freak" was actually making violent love to the divinity of Rapp-Thorberg!
There was no doubt of it now. The Princess and her escort—the plebeian upstart—were quite near at hand, and, to the dismay of the smokers, apparently were unaware of their presence in the shadows. Chase's heart was boiling with disappointed rage. His idol had fallen, from a tremendous height to a depth which disgusted him.
Then transpired the thing which brought about Hollingsworth Chase's sudden banishment from Rapp-Thorberg, and came near to making him the laughing stock of the service.
The Princess had not seen the two men; nor had the fervent conductor, whose impassioned French was easily distinguishable by the unwilling listeners. The sharp, indignant "no" of the Princess, oft repeated, did much to relieve the pain in the heart of her American admirer. Finally, with an unmistakable cry of anger, she halted not ten feet from where Chase sat, as though he had become a part of the stone rail. He could almost feel the blaze in her eyes as she turned upon the presumptuous conductor.
"I have asked you not to touch me, sir! Is not that enough? If you persist, I shall be compelled to appeal to my father again. The whole situation is loathsome to me. Are you blind? Can you not see that I despise you? I will not endure it a day longer. You promised to respect my wishes—"
"How can I respect a promise which condemns me to purgatory every time I see you?" he cried passionately. "I adore you. You are the queen of my life, the holder of my soul. Genevra, Genevra, I love you! My soul for one tender word, for one soft caress! Ah, do not be so cruel! I will be your slave—"
"Enough! Stop, I say! If you dare to touch me!" she cried, drawing away from her tormentor, her voice trembling with anger. The little conductor's manner changed on the instant. He gave a snarl of rage and despair combined as he raised his clenched hands in the air. For a moment words seemed to fail him. Then he cried out:
"By heaven, I'll make you pay for this some day! You shall learn what a man can do with a woman such as you are! You—"
Just at that moment a tall figure leaped from the shadows and confronted the quivering musician. A heavy hand fell upon his collar and he was almost jerked from his feet, half choked, half paralysed with alarm. Not a word was spoken. Chase whirled the presumptuous suitor about until he faced the gates to the garden. Then, with more force than he realised, he applied his boot to the person of the offender—once, twice, thrice! The military jacket of the recipient of these attentions was of the abbreviated European pattern and the trousers were skin tight.
The Princess started back with a cry of alarm—ay, terror. The onslaught was so sudden, so powerless to avert, that it seemed like a visitation of wrath from above. She stared, wide-eyed and unbelieving, upon the brief tragedy; she saw her tormentor hurled viciously toward the gates and then, with new alarm, saw him pick himself up from the ground, writhing with pain and anger. His sword flashed from its scabbard as, with a scream of rage, he dashed upon the tall intruder. She saw Chase—even in the shadows she knew him to be the American—she saw Chase lightly leap aside, avoiding the thrust for his heart. Then, as if he were playing with a child, he wrested the weapon from the conductor's hand, snapped the blade in two pieces and threw them off into the bushes.
"Skip!" was his only word. It was a command that no one in Rapp-Thorberg ever had heard before.
"You shall pay for this!" screamed the conductor, tugging at his collar. "Scoundrel! Dog! Beast! What do you mean! Murderer! Robber! Assassin!"
"You know what I mean, you little shrimp!" roared Chase. "Skip! Don't hang around here a second longer or I'll—" and he took a threatening step toward his adversary. The latter was discreet, if not actually a coward. He turned tail and ran twenty paces or more in heartbreaking time; then, realising that he was not pursued, stopped and shook his fist at his assailant.
"Come, Genevra," he gasped, but she remained as if rooted to the spot. He waited an instant, and then walked rapidly away in the direction of the palace, his back as straight as a ramrod, but his legs a trifle unsteady. The trio watched him for a full minute, speech-bound now that the deed was done and the consequences were to be considered. Baggs grasped Chase by the shoulder, shook him and exclaimed, when it was too late:
"You blooming ass, do you know what you've done?"
"The da—miserable cur was annoying the Princess," muttered Chase, straightening his cuffs, vaguely realising that he had interfered too hastily.
"Confound it, man, he's the chap she's going to marry."
"Marry?" gasped Chase.
"The hereditary prince of Brabetz—Karl Brabetz."
"You must have known."
"How the dev—Of course I didn't know," groaned Chase. "But hang it all, man, he was annoying her. She was flouting him for it. She said she despised him. I don't understand——"
The Princess came forward into the light of the path. There was a quaint little wrinkle of mirth about her lips, which trembled nevertheless, but her eyes were full of solicitude.
"I'm sorry, sir," she began nervously. "You have made a serious mistake. But," she added frankly, holding out her hand to him, "you meant to defend me. I thank you."
Chase bowed low over her hand, too bewildered to speak. Baggs was pulling at his mustache and looking nervously in the direction which the Prince had taken.
"He'll be back here with the guard," he muttered.
"He will go to my father," said Genevra, her voice trembling. "He will be very angry. I am sorry, indeed, that you should have witnessed our—our scene. Of course, you could not have known who he was——"
"I thought he was a—but in any event, your highness, he was annoying you," supplemented Chase eagerly.
"You will forgive me if I've caused you even greater, graver annoyance. What can I do to set the matter right? I can explain my error to the Duke. He'll understand—"
"Alas, he will not understand. He does not even understand me," she said meaningly. "Oh, I'm so sorry. It may—it will mean trouble for you." There was a catch in her voice.
"I'll fight him," murmured Chase, wiping his brow.
"Deuce take it, man, he won't fight you," said Baggs. "He's a prince, you know. He can't, you know. It's a beastly mess."
"Perhaps—perhaps you'd better go at once," said the Princess, rather pathetically. "My father will not overlook the indignity to—to my—to his future son-in-law. I am afraid he may take extreme measures. Believe me, I understand why you did it and I—again I thank you. I am not angry with you, yet you will understand that I cannot condone your kind fault."
"Forgive me," muttered the hapless Chase.
"It would not be proper in me to say that I could bless you for what you have done," she said, so naively that he lifted his eyes to hers and let his heart escape heavenward.
"The whole world will call me a bungling, stupid ass for not knowing who he was," said Chase, with a wretched smile.
Her face brightened after a moment, and an entrancing smile broke around her lips.
"If I were you, I'd never confess that I did not know who he was," she said. "Let the world think that you did know. It will not laugh, then. If you can trust your friend to keep the secret, I am sure you can trust me to do the same."
Again Chase was speechless—this time with joy. She would shield him from ridicule!
"And now, please go! It were better if you went at once. I am afraid the affair will not end with to-night. It grieves me to feel that I may be the unhappy cause of misfortune to you."
"No misfortune can appal me now," murmured he gallantly. Then came the revolting realisation that she was to wed the little musician. The thought burst from his lips before he could prevent: "I don't believe you want to marry him. He is the Duke's choice. You—"
"And I am the Duke's daughter," she said steadily, a touch of hauteur in her voice. "Good-night. Good-bye. I am not sorry that it has happened."
She turned and left them, walking swiftly among the trees. A moment later her voice came from the shadows, quick and pleading.
"Hasten," she called softly. "They are coming. I can see them."
Baggs grasped Chase by the arm and hurried him through the gate, past the unsuspecting sentry. They did not know that the Princess, upon meeting the soldiers, told them that the two men had gone toward the palace instead of out into the city streets. It gave them half an hour's start.
"It's a devil of a mess," sighed Baggs, when they were far from the walls. "The Duke may have you jugged, and it would serve you jolly well right."
"Now, see here, Baggs, none of that," growled Chase. "You'd have done the same thing if you hadn't been brought up to fall on your face before royalty. It will cost me my job here, but I'm glad I did it. Understand?"
"I'm sure it will cost you the job if nothing else. You'll be relieved before to-morrow night, my word for it. And you'll be lucky if that's all. The Duke's a terror. I don't, for the life of me, see how you failed to know who the chap really is."
"An Englishman never sees a joke until it is too late, they say. This time it appears to be the American who is slow witted. What I don't understand is why he was leading that confounded band."
"My word, Chase, everybody in Europe—except you—knows that Brabetz is a crank about music. Composes, directs and all that. Over in Brabetz he supports the conservatory of music, written dozens of things for the orchestra, plays the pipe organ in the cathedral—all that sort of rot, you know. He's a confounded little bounder, just the same. He's mad about music and women and don't care a hang about wine. The worst kind, don't you know. I say, it's a rotten shame she has to marry him. But that's the way of it with royalty, old chap. You Americans don't understand it. They have to marry one another whether they like it or not. But, I say, you'd better come over and stop with me to-night. It will be better if they don't find you just yet."
Three days later, a man came down to relieve Chase of his office; he was unceremoniously supplanted in the Duchy of Rapp-Thorberg.
It was the successful pleading of the Princess Genevra that kept him from serving a period in durance vile.
THE ENGLISH INVADE
The granddaughter of Jack Wyckholme, attended by two maids, her husband and his valet, a clerk from the chambers of Bosworth, Newnes & Grapewin, a red cocker, seventeen trunks and a cartload of late novels, which she had been too busy to read at home, was the first of the bewildered legatees to set foot upon the island of Japat. A rather sultry, boresome voyage across the Arabian Sea in a most unhappy steamer which called at Japat on its way to Sidney, depressed her spirits to some extent but not irretrievably.
She was very pretty, very smart and delightfully arrogant after a manner of her own. To begin with, Lady Agnes could see no sensible reason why she should be compelled to abandon a very promising autumn and winter at home, to say nothing of the following season, for the sake of protecting what was rightfully her own against the impudent claims of an unheard-of American.
She complacently informed her solicitors that it was all rubbish; they could arrange, if they would, without forcing her to take this abominable step. Upon reflection, however, and after Mr. Bosworth had pointed out the risk to her, she was ready enough to take the step, although still insisting that it was abominable.
Mr. Saunders was the polite but excessively middle-class clerk who went out to keep the legal strings untangled for them. He was soon to discover that his duties were even more comprehensive.
It was he who saw to it that the luggage was transferred to the lighter which came out to the steamer when she dropped anchor off the town of Aratat; it was he who counted the pieces and haggled with the boatmen; it was he who carried off the hand luggage when the native dock boys refused to engage in the work; it was he who unfortunately dropped a suitcase upon the hallowed tail of the red cocker, an accident which ever afterward gave him a tenacity of grip that no man could understand; it was he who made all of the inquiries, did all of the necessary swearing, and came last in the procession which wended its indignant way up the long slope to the chateau on the mountain side.
If Lady Deppingham expected a royal welcome from the inhabitants of Japat, she was soon to discover her error. Not only was the pictured scene of welcome missing on the afternoon of her arrival, but an overpowering air of antipathy smote her in the face as she stepped from the lighter—conquest in her smile of conciliation. The attitude of the brown-faced Mohammedans who looked coldly upon the fair visitor was far from amiable. They did not fall down and bob their heads; they did not even incline them in response to her overtures. What was more trying, they glared at the newcomers in a most expressive manner. Lady Deppingham's chin was interrupted in its tilt of defiance by the shudder of alarm which raced through her slender figure. She glanced from right to left down the lines of swarthy islanders, and saw nothing in their faces but surly, bitter unfriendliness. They stood stolidly, stonily at a distance, white-robed lines of resentment personified.
Not a hand was lifted in assistance to the bewildered visitors; not a word, not a smile of encouragement escaped the lips of the silent throng.
Lady Agnes looked about eagerly in search of a white man's face, but there was none to be seen except in her own party. A moment of panic came to her as she stood there on the pier, almost alone, while Saunders and her husband were engaged in the effort to secure help with the boxes. Behind her lay the friendly ocean; ahead the gorgeous landscape, smiling down upon her with the green glow of poison in its sunny face, dark treachery in its heart. On the instant she realised that these people were her enemies, and that they were the real masters of the island, after all. She found herself wondering whether they meant to settle the question of ownership then and there, before she could so much as set her foot upon the coveted soil at the end of the pier. A hundred knives might hack her to pieces, but even as she shuddered a rush of true British doggedness warmed her blood; after all, she was there to fight for her rights and she would stand her ground. Almost before she realised, the dominant air of superiority which characterises her nation, no matter whither its subjects may roam, crept out above her brief touch of timidity, and she found that she could stare defiantly into the swarthy ranks.
"Is there no British agent here?" she demanded imperatively, perhaps a little more shrilly than usual.
No one deigned to answer; glances of indifference, even scorn, passed among the silent lookers-on, but that was all. It was more than her pride could endure. Her smooth cheeks turned a deeper pink and her blue eyes flashed.
"Does no one here understand the English language?" she demanded. "I don't mean you, Mr. Saunders," she added sharply, as the little clerk set the suitcase down abruptly and stepped forward, again fumbling his much-fumbled straw hat. This was the moment when the red cocker's tail came to grief. The dog arose with an astonished yelp and fled to his mistress; he had never been so outrageously set upon before in all his pampered life. Seizing the opportunity to vent her feelings upon one who could understand, even as she poured soothings upon the insulted Pong, whom she clasped in her arms, Lady Agnes transformed the unlucky Saunders into a target for a most ably directed volley of wrath. The shadow of a smile swept down the threatening row of dark faces.
Lord Deppingham, a slow and cumbersome young man, stood by nervously fingering his eyeglass. For the first time he felt that the clerk was better than a confounded dog, after all. He surprised every one, his wife most of all, by coolly interfering, not particularly in defence of the clerk but in behalf of the Deppingham dignity.
"My dear," he said, waving Saunders into the background, "I think it was an accident. The dog had no business going to sleep—" he paused and inserted his monocle for the purpose of looking up the precise spot where the accident had occurred.
"He wasn't asleep," cried his wife.
"Then, my dear, he has positively no excuse to offer for getting his tail in the way of the bag. If he was awake and didn't have sense enough—"
"Oh, rubbish!" exclaimed her ladyship. "I suppose you expect the poor darling to apologise."
"All this has nothing to do with the case. We're more interested in learning where we are and where we are to go. Permit me to have a look about."
His wife stared after him in amazement as he walked over to the canvas awning in front of the low dock building, actually elbowing his way through a group of natives. Presently he came back, twisting his left mustache.
"The fellow in there says that the English agent is employed in the bank. It's straight up this street—by Jove, he called it a street, don't you know," he exclaimed, disdainfully eyeing the narrow, dusty passage ahead. Here and there a rude house or shop stood directly ahead in the middle of the thoroughfare, with happy disregard for effect or convenience.
"There's the British flag, my lord, just ahead. See the building to the right, sir?" said Mr. Saunders, more respectfully than ever and with real gratitude in his heart.
"So it is! That's where he is. I wonder why he isn't down here to meet us."
"Very likely he didn't know we were coming," said his wife icily.
"Well, we'll look him up. Come along, everybody—Oh, I say, we can't leave this luggage unguarded. They say these fellows are the worst robbers east of London."
It was finally decided, after a rather subdued discussion, that Mr. Saunders should proceed to the bank and rout out the dilatory representative of the British Government. Saunders looked down the sullen line of faces, and blanched to his toes. He hemmed and hawed and said something about his mother, which was wholly lost upon the barren waste that temporarily stood for a heart in Lord Deppingham's torso.
"Tell him we'll wait here for him," pursued his lordship. "But remind him, damn him, that it's inexpressibly hot down here in the sun."
They stood and watched the miserable Saunders tread gingerly up the filthy street, his knees crooking outwardly from time to time, his toes always touching the ground first, very much as if he were contemplating an instantaneous sprint in any direction but the one he was taking. Even the placid Deppingham was somewhat disturbed by the significant glances that followed their emissary as he passed by each separate knot of natives. He was distinctly dismayed when a dozen or more of the dark-faced watchers wandered slowly off after Mr. Saunders. It was clearly observed that Mr. Saunders stepped more nimbly after he became aware of this fact.
"I do hope Mr. Saunders will come back alive," murmured Bromley, her ladyship's maid. The others started, for she had voiced the general thought.
"He won't come back at all, Bromley, unless he comes back alive," said his lordship with a smile. It was a well-known fact that he never smiled except when his mind was troubled.
"Goodness, Deppy," said his wife, recognising the symptom, "do you really think there is danger?"
"My dear Aggy, who said there was any danger?" he exclaimed, and quickly looked out to sea. "I rather think we'll enjoy it here," he added after a moment's pause, in which he saw that the steamer was getting under way. The Japat company's tug was returning to the pier. Lord Deppingham sighed and then drew forth his cigarette case. "There!" he went on, peering intently up the street. "Saunders is gone."
"Gone?" half shrieked her ladyship.
"Into the bank," he added, scratching a match.
"Deppy," she said after a moment, "I hope I was not too hard on the poor fellow."
"Perhaps you won't be so nervous if you sit down and look at the sea," he said gently, and she immediately knew that he suggested it because he expected a tragedy in the opposite direction. She dropped Pong without another word, and, her face quite serious, seated herself upon the big trunk which he selected. He sat down beside her, and together they watched the long line of smoke far out at sea.
They expected every minute to hear the shouts of assassins and the screams of the brave Mr. Saunders. Their apprehensions were sensibly increased by the mysterious actions of the half-naked loiterers. They seemed to consult among themselves for some time after the departure of the clerk, and then, to the horror of the servants, made off in various directions, more than one of them handling his ugly kris in an ominous manner. Bromley was not slow to acquaint his lordship with these movements. Deppingham felt a cold chill shoot up his spine, and he cleared his throat as if to shout after the disappearing steamer. But he maintained a brave front, or, more correctly, a brave back, for he refused to encourage the maid's fears by turning around.
It was broiling hot in the sun, but no one thought of the white umbrellas. Saunders was the epitome of every thought.
"Here he comes!" shouted the valet, joyously forgetting his station. His lordship still stared at the sea. Lady Deppingham's little jaws were shut tight and her fingers were clenched desperately in the effort to maintain the proper dignity before her servants.
"Your lordship," said Mr. Saunders, three minutes later, "this is Mr. Bowles, his Majesty's agent here. He is come with me to—"
It was then and not until then that his lordship turned his stare from the sea to the clerk and his companion.
"Aw," he interrupted, "glad to see you, I'm sure. Would you be good enough to tell us how we are to reach the—er—chateau, and why the devil we can't get anybody to move our luggage?"
Mr. Bowles, who had lived in Japat for sixteen years, was a tortuously slow Englishman with the curse of the clime still growing upon him. He was half asleep quite a good bit of the time, and wholly asleep during the remainder. A middle-aged man was he, yet he looked sixty. He afterward told Saunders that it seemed to take two days to make one in the beastly climate; that was why he was misled into putting off everything until the second day. The department had sent him out long ago at the request of Mr. Wyckholme; he had lost the energy to give up the post.
"Mr.—er—Mr. Saunders, my lord, has told me that you have been unable to secure assistance in removing your belongings—" he began politely, but Deppingham interrupted him.
"Where is the chateau? Are there no vans to be had?"
"Everything is transferred by hand, my lord, and the chateau is two miles farther up the side of the mountain. It's quite a walk, sir."
"Do you mean to say we are to walk?"
"Yes, my lord, if you expect to go there."
"Of course, we expect to go there. Are there no horses on the beastly island?"
"Hundreds, my lord, but they belong to the people and no one but their owners ride them. One can't take them by the hour, you know. The servants at the chateau turned Mr. Skaggs's horses out to pasture before they left."
"Before who left?"
"The servants, my lord."
Lady Deppingham's eyes grew wide with understanding.
"You don't mean to say that the servants have left the place?" she cried.
"Yes, my lady. They were natives, you know."
"What's that got to do with it?" demanded Deppingham.
"I'm afraid you don't understand the situation," said Mr. Bowles patiently. "You see, it's really a triangular controversy, if I may be so bold as to say so. Lady Deppingham is one of the angles; Mr. Browne, the American gentleman, is another; the native population is the last. Each wants to be the hypothenuse. While the interests of all three are merged in the real issue, there is, nevertheless, a decided disposition all around to make it an entirely one-sided affair."
"I don't believe I grasp—" muttered Deppingham blankly.
"I see perfectly," exclaimed his wife. "The natives are allied against us, just as we are, in a way, against them and Mr. Browne. Really, it seems quite natural, doesn't it, dear?" turning to her husband.
"Very likely, but very unfortunate. It leaves us to broil our brains out down here on this pier. I say, Mr.—er—old chap, can't you possibly engage some sort of transportation for us? Really, you know, we can't stand here all day."
"I've no doubt I can arrange it, my lord. If you will just wait here until I run back to the bank, I daresay I'll find a way. Perhaps you'd prefer standing under the awning until I return."
The new arrivals glowered after him as he started off toward the bank. Then they moved over to the shelter of the awning.
"Did he say he was going to run?" groaned his lordship. The progress of Bowles rivalled that of the historic tortoise.
It was fully half an hour before he was seen coming down the street, followed by a score or more of natives, their dirty white robes flapping about their brown legs. At first they could not believe it was Bowles. Lord Deppingham had a sharp thrill of joy, but it was shortlived. Bowles had changed at least a portion of his garb; he now wore the tight red jacket of the British trooper, while an ancient army cap was strapped jauntily over his ear.
"It's all right, my lord," he said, saluting as he came Up. "They will do anything I tell 'em to do when I represent the British army. This is the only uniform on the island, but they've been taught that there are more where this one came from. These fellows will carry your boxes up to the chateau, sixpence to the man, if you please, sir; and I've sent for two carts to draw your party up the slope. They'll be here in a jiffy, my lady. You'll find the drive a beautiful if not a comfortable one." Then turning majestically to the huddled natives, he waved his slender stick over the boxes, big and little, and said: "Lively, now! No loafing! Lively!"
Whereupon the entire collection of boxes, bags and bundles figuratively picked itself up and walked off in the direction of the chateau. Bowles triumphantly saluted Lord and Lady Deppingham. The former had a longing look in his eye as he stared at Bowles and remarked:
"I wish I had a troop of real Tommy Atkinses out here, by Jove."
The road to the chateau took its devious way through the little town—out into the green foothill beyond. Two lumbering, wooden wheeled carts, none too clean, each drawn by four perspiring men, served as conveyances by which the arrivals were to make the journey to their new home. Mr. Bowles informed his lordship that horses were not submitted to the indignity of drawing carts. The lamented Mr. Skaggs had driven his own Arab steeds to certain fashionable traps, but the natives never thought of doing such a thing.
Lady Deppingham's pert little nose lifted itself in disgust as she was joggled through the town behind the grunting substitutes for horseflesh. She sat beside her husband in the foremost cart. Mr. Bowles, very tired, but quite resplendent, walked dutifully beside one wheel; Mr. Saunders took his post at the other. It might have been noticed that the latter cut a very different figure from that which he displayed on his first invasion of the street earlier in the day. The servants came along behind in the second cart. Far ahead, like hounds in full cry, toiled the unwilling luggage bearers. From the windows and doorways of every house, from the bazaars and cafes, from the side streets and mosque-approaches, the gaze of the sullen populace fastened itself upon the little procession. The town seemed ominously silent. Deppingham looked again and again at the red coat on the sloping shoulders of their guardian, and marvelled not a little at the vastness of the British dominion. He recalled his red hunting coat in one of the bags ahead, and mentally resolved to wear it on all occasions—perhaps going so far as to cut off its tails if necessary.
At last they came to the end of the sunlit street and plunged into the shady road that ascended the slope through what seemed to be an absolutely unbroken though gorgeous jungle. The cool green depths looked most alluring to the sun-baked travellers; they could almost imagine that they heard the dripping of fountains, the gurgling of rivulets, so like paradise was the prospect ahead. Lady Agnes could not restrain her cries of delighted amazement.
"It's like this all over the island, your ladyship," volunteered Mr. Bowles, mopping his brow in a most unmilitary way. "Except at the mines and back there in the town."
"Where are the mines?" asked Deppingham.
"The company's biggest mines are seven or eight miles eastward, as the crow flies, quite at the other side of the island. It's very rocky over there and there's no place for a landing from the sea. Everything is brought overland to Aratat and placed in the vaults of the bank. Four times a year the rubies and sapphires are shipped to the brokers in London and Paris and Vienna. It's quite a neat and regular arrangement, sir."
"But I should think the confounded natives would steal everything they got their hands on."
"What would be the use, sir? They couldn't dispose of a single gem on the island, and nothing is taken away from here except in the company's chests. Besides, my lord, these people are not thieves. They are absolutely honest. Smugglers have tried to bribe them, and the smugglers have never lived to tell of it. They may kill people occasionally, but they are quite honest, believe me. And, in any event, are they not a part of the great corporation? They have their share in the working of the mines and in the profits. Mr. Wyckholme and Mr. Skaggs were honest with them and they have been just as honest in return."
"Sounds very attractive," muttered Deppingham sceptically.
"I should think they'd be terribly tempted," said Lady Agnes. "They look so wretchedly poor."
"They are a bit out at the knees," said her husband, with a great laugh.
"My lady," said Bowles, "there are but four poor men on the island: myself and the three Englishmen who operate the bank. There isn't a poor man, woman or child among the natives. This is truly a land of rich men. The superintendent of the mines is a white man—a German—and the three foremen are Boers. They work on shares just as the natives do and save even more, I think. The clerical force is entirely native. There were but ten white men here before you came, including two Greeks. There are no beggars. Perhaps you noticed that no one was asking for alms as you came up."
"'Gad, I should say we did," exclaimed Deppingham ruefully. "There wasn't even a finger held out to us. But is this a holiday on the island?"
"A holiday, my lord?"
"Yes. No one seems to be at work."
"Oh? I see. Being part owners the natives have decided that four hours constitutes a day's work. They pay themselves accordingly, as it were. No one works after midday, sir."
"I say, wouldn't this be a paradise for the English workingman?" said Deppingham. "That's the kind of a day's labor they'd like. Do you mean to say that these fellows trudge eight miles to work every morning and back again at noon?"
"Certainly not, sir. They ride their thoroughbred horses to work and ride them back again. It's much better than omnibuses or horse cars, I'd say, sir—as I remember them."
"You take my breath away," said the other, lapsing into a stunned silence.
The road had become so steep and laborious by this time that Bowles was very glad to forego the pleasure of talking. He fell back, with Mr. Saunders, and ultimately both of them climbed into the already overloaded second cart, adding much to the brown man's burden. After regaining his breath to some extent, the obliging Mr. Bowles, now being among what he called the lower classes, surreptitiously removed the tight-fitting red jacket, and proceeded to give the inquisitive lawyer's clerk all the late news of the island.
The inhabitants of Japat, standing upon their rights as part owners of the mines and as prospective heirs to the entire fortune of Messrs. Skaggs and Wyckholme, had been prompt to protect themselves in a legal sense. They had leagued themselves together as one interest and had engaged the services of eminent solicitors in London, who were to represent them in the final settlement of the estate. London was to be the battle ground in the coming conflict. A committee of three had journeyed to England to put the matter in the hands of these lawyers and were now returning to the island with a representative of the firm, who was coming out to stand guard, so to speak. Von Blitz, the German superintendent, was the master mind in the native contingent. It was he who planned and developed the course of action. The absent committee was composed of Ben Adi, Abdallah Ben Sabbat and Rasula, the Aratat lawyer. They were truly wise men from the East—old, shrewd, crafty and begotten of Mahomet.
The mines continued to be operated as usual, pending the arrival of the executors' representative, who, as we know, was now on the ground in the person of Thomas Saunders. The fact that he also served as legal adviser to Lady Deppingham was not of sufficient moment to disturb the arrangements on either side. Every one realised that he could have no opportunity to exercise a prejudice, if he dared to have one. Saunders blinked his eyes nervously when Bowles made this pointed observation.
As for the American heir, Robert Browne, he had not yet arrived. He was coming by steamer from the west, according to report, and was probably on the Boswell, Sumatra to Madagascar, due off Aratat in two or three days. Mr. Bowles jocosely inferred that it should be a very happy family at the chateau, with the English and American heirs ever ready to heave things at one another, regardless of propriety or the glassware.
"The islanders," said Mr. Bowles, lighting a cigarette, "it looks to me, have all the best of the situation. They get the property whether they marry or not, while the original beneficiaries have to marry each other or get off the island at the end of the year. Most of the islanders have got three or four wives already. I daresay the legators took that into consideration when they devised the will. Von Blitz, the German, has three and is talking of another."
"You mean to say that they can have as many wives as they choose?" demanded Saunders, wrinkling his brow.
"Yes, just so long as they don't choose anybody else's."
Saunders was buried in thought for a long time, then he exclaimed, unconsciously aloud:
"Eh?" queried Bowles, arousing himself.
"I didn't say anything," retorted Saunders, looking up into the tree tops.
In the course of an hour—a soft, sleepy hour, too, despite the wondrous novelty of the scene and the situation—the travellers came into view of the now famous chateau.
Standing out against the sky, fully a mile ahead, was the home to which they were coming. The chateau, beautiful as a picture, lifted itself like a dream castle above all that was earthly and sordid; it smiled down from its lofty terrace and glistened in the sunset glow, like the jewel that had been its godmother. Long and low, scolloped by its gables, parapets and budding towers, the vast building gleamed red against the blue sky from one point of view and still redder against the green mountain from another. Soft, rich reds—not the red of blood, but of the unpolished ruby—seemed to melt softly in the eye as one gazed upward in simple wonder. The dream house of two lonely old men who had no place where they could spend their money!
According to its own records, the chateau, fashioned quite closely after a famous structure in France, was designed and built by La Marche, the ill-fated French architect who was lost at sea in the wreck of the Vendome. Three years and more than seven hundred thousand pounds sterling, or to make it seem more prodigious, nearly eighteen million francs, were consumed in its building. An army of skilled artisans had come out from France and Austria to make this quixotic dream a reality before the two old men should go into their dreamless sleep; to say nothing of the slaving, faithful islanders who laboured for love in the great undertaking. Specially chartered ships had carried material and men to the island—and had carried the men away again, for not one of them remained behind after the completion of the job.
There was not a contrivance or a convenience known to modern architecture that was not included in the construction of this latter-day shadow of antiquity.
It was, to step on ahead of the story as politely as possible, fully a week before Lord and Lady Deppingham realised all that their new home meant in the way of scientific improvement and, one might say, research. It was so spacious, so comprehensive of domain, so elaborate, that one must have been weeks in becoming acquainted with its fastnesses, if that word may be employed. To what uses Taswell Skaggs and John Wyckholme could have put this vast, though splendid waste, the imagination cannot grasp. Apartments fit for a king abounded; suites which took one back to the luxuries of Marie Antoinette were common; banquet halls, ball rooms, reception halls, a chapel, and even a crypt were to be found if one undertook a voyage of discovery. Perhaps it is safe to say that none of these was ever used by the original owners, with the exception of the crypt; John Wyckholme reposed there, alone in his dignity, undisturbed by so little as the ghost of a tradition.
The terrace, wide and beautiful, was the work of a famous landscape gardener. Engineers had come out from England to install the most complete water and power plant imaginable. Not only did they bring water up from the sea, but they turned the course of a clear mountain stream so that it virtually ran through the pipes and faucets of the vast establishment. The fountains rivalled in beauty those at Versailles, though not so extensive; the artificial lake, while not built in a night, as one other that history mentions, was quite as attractive. Water mains ran through miles of the tropical forest and, no matter how great the drouth, the natives kept the verdure green and fresh with a constancy that no real wage-earner could have exercised. As to the stables, they might have aroused envy in the soul of any sporting monarch.
It was a palace, but they had called it a chateau, because Skaggs stubbornly professed to be democratic. The word palace meant more to him than chateau, although opinions could not have mattered much on the island of Japat. Inasmuch as he had not, to his dying day, solved the manifold mysteries of the structure, it is not surprising that he never developed sufficient confidence to call it other than "the place."
Now and then, officers from some British man-of-war stopped off for entertainment in the chateau, and it was only on such occasions that Skaggs realised what a gorgeously beautiful home it was that he lived in. He had seen Windsor Castle in his youth, but never had he seen anything so magnificent as the crystal chandelier in his own hallway when it was fully lighted for the benefit of the rarely present guests. On the occasion of his first view of the chandelier in its complete glory, it is said that he walked blindly against an Italian table of solid marble and was in bed for eleven days with a bruised hip. The polished floors grew to be a horror to him. He could not enumerate the times their priceless rugs had slipped aimlessly away from him, leaving him floundering in profane wrath upon the glazed surface. The bare thought of crossing the great ballroom was enough to send him into a perspiration. He became so used to walking stiff-legged on the hardwood floors that it grew to be a habit which would not relax. The servants were authority for the report, that no earlier than the day before his death, he slipped and fell in the dining-room, and thereupon swore that he would have Portland cement floors put in before Christmas.