THE PRINCE OF GRAUSTARK
GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
Author of "Graustark", "Beverly of Graustark," etc.
With Illustrations by A.I. KELLER
I MR. AND MRS. BLITHERS DISCUSS MATRIMONY
II TWO COUNTRIES DISCUSS MARRIAGE
III MR. BLITHERS GOES VISITING
IV PROTECTING THE BLOOD
V PRINCE ROBIN is ASKED TO STAND UP
VI THE PRINCE AND MR. BLITHERS
VII A LETTER FROM MAUD
VIII ON BOARD THE JUPITER
IX THE PRINCE MEETS MISS GUILE
X AN HOUR ON DECK
XI THE LIEUTENANT RECEIVES ORDERS
XII THE LIEUTENANT REPORTS
XIII THE RED LETTER B
XIV THE CAT IS AWAY
XV THE MICE IN A TRAP
XVI THREE MESSAGES
XVII THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
XVIII A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
XIX "WHAT WILL MY PEOPLE DO"
XX LOVE IN ABEYANCE
XXI MR. BLITHERS ARRIVES IN GRAUSTARK
XXII A VISIT TO THE CASTLE
XIV JUST WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED
Her eyes were starry bright, her red lips were parted. Frontispiece
"You will be her choice," said the other, without the quiver of an eye-lash.
"I shall pray for continuous rough weather."
The dignified Ministry of Graustark sat agape.
MR. AND MRS. BLITHERS DISCUSS MATRIMONY
"My dear," said Mr. Blithers, with decision," you can't tell me."
"I know I can't," said his wife, quite as positively. She knew when she could tell him a thing and when she couldn't.
It was quite impossible to impart information to Mr. Blithers when he had the tips of two resolute fingers embedded in his ears. That happened to be his customary and rather unfair method of conquering her when an argument was going against him, not for want of logic on his part, but because it was easier to express himself with his ears closed than with them open. By this means he effectually shut out the voice of opposition and had the discussion all to himself. Of course, it would have been more convincing if he had been permitted to hear the sound of his own eloquence; still, it was effective.
She was sure to go on talking for two or three minutes and then subside in despair. A woman will not talk to a stone wall. Nor will she wantonly allow an argument to die while there remains the slightest chance of its survival. Given the same situation, a man would get up and leave his wife sitting there with her fingers in her ears; and, as he bolted from the room in high dudgeon, he would be mean enough to call attention to her pig-headedness. In most cases, a woman is content to listen to a silly argument rather than to leave the room just because her husband elects to be childish about a perfectly simple elucidation of the truth.
Mrs. Blithers had lived with Mr. Blithers, more or less, for twenty- five years and she knew him like a book. He was a forceful person who would have his own way, even though he had to put his fingers in his ears to get it. At one period of their joint connubial agreement, when he had succeeded in accumulating a pitiful hoard amounting to but little more than ten millions of dollars, she concluded to live abroad for the purpose of educating their daughter, allowing him in the meantime to increase his fortune to something like fifty millions without having to worry about household affairs. But she had sojourned with him long enough, at odd times, to realise that, so long as he lived, he would never run away from an argument—unless, by some dreadful hook or crook, he should be so unfortunate as to be deprived of the use of both hands. She found room to gloat, of course, in the fact that he was obliged to stop up his ears in order to shut out the incontrovertible.
Moreover, when he called her "my dear" instead of the customary Lou, it was a sign of supreme obstinacy on his part and could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as an indication of placid affection. He always said "my dear" at the top of his voice and with a great deal of irascibility.
Mr. William W. Blithers was a self-made man who had begun his career by shouting lustily at a team of mules in a railway construction camp. Other drivers had tried to improve on his vocabulary but even the mules were able to appreciate the futility of such an ambition, and later on, when he came to own two or three railroads, to say nothing of a few mines and a steam yacht, his ability to drive men was even more noteworthy than his power over the jackasses had been. But driving mules and men was one thing, driving a wife another. What incentive has a man, said he, when after he gets through bullying a creature that very creature turns in and caresses him? No self- respecting mule ever did such a thing as that, and no man would think of it except with horror. There is absolutely no defence against a creature who will rub your head with loving, gentle fingers after she has worked you up to the point where you could kill her with pleasure—or at least so said Mr. Blithers with rueful frequency.
Mr. and Mrs. Blithers had been discussing royalty. Up to the previous week they had restricted themselves to the nobility, but as an event of unexampled importance had transpired in the interim, they now felt that it would be the rankest stupidity to consider any one short of a Prince Royal in picking out a suitable husband—or, more properly speaking, consort—for their only daughter, Maud Applegate Blithers, aged twenty.
Mrs. Blithers long ago had convinced her husband that no ordinary human being of the male persuasion was worthy of their daughter's hand, and had set her heart on having nothing meaner than a Duke on the family roll,—(Blithers alluded to it for a while as the pay- roll)—, with the choice lying between England and Italy. At first, Blithers, being an honest soul, insisted that a good American gentleman was all that anybody could ask for in the way of a son-in- law, and that when it came to a grandchild it would be perfectly proper to christen him Duke—lots of people did!—and that was about all that a title amounted to anyway. She met this with the retort that Maud might marry a man named Jones, and how would Duke Jones sound? He weakly suggested that they could christen him Marmaduke and—but she reminded him of his oft-repeated boast that there was nothing in the world too good for Maud and instituted a pictorial campaign against his prejudices by painting in the most alluring colours the picture of a ducal palace in which the name of Jones would never be uttered except when employed in directing the fifth footman or the third stable-boy—or perhaps a scullery maid—to do this, that or the other thing at the behest of her Grace, the daughter of William W. Blithers. This eventually worked on his imagination to such an extent that he forgot his natural pride and admitted that perhaps she was right.
But now, just as they were on the point of accepting, in lieu of a Duke, an exceptionally promising Count, the aforesaid event conspired to completely upset all of their plans—or notions, so to speak. It was nothing less than the arrival in America of an eligible Prince of the royal blood, a ruling Prince at that. As a matter of fact he had not only arrived in America but upon the vast estate adjoining their own in the Catskills.
Fortunately nothing definite had been arranged with the Count. Mrs. Blithers now advised waiting a while before giving a definite answer to his somewhat eager proposal, especially as he was reputed to have sufficient means of his own to defend the chateau against any immediate peril of profligacy. She counselled Mr. Blithers to notify him that he deemed it wise to take the matter under advisement for a couple of weeks at least, but not to commit himself to anything positively negative.
Mr. Blithers said that he had never heard anything so beautifully adroit as "positively negative," and directed his secretary to submit to him without delay the draft of a tactful letter to the anxious nobleman. They were agreed that a Prince was more to be desired than a Count and, as long as they were actually about it, they might as well aim high. Somewhat hazily Mr. Blithers had Inquired if it wouldn't be worth while to consider a King, but his wife set him straight in short order.
Peculiarly promising their hopes was the indisputable fact that the Prince's mother had married an American, thereby establishing a precedent behind which no constitutional obstacle could thrive, and had lived very happily with the gentleman in spite of the critics. Moreover, she had met him while sojourning on American soil, and that was certainly an excellent augury for the success of the present enterprise. What could be more fitting than that the son should follow in the footsteps of an illustrious mother? If an American gentleman was worthy of a princess, why not the other way about? Certainly Maud Blithers was as full of attributes as any man in America.
It appears that the Prince, after leisurely crossing the continent on his way around the world, had come to the Truxton Kings for a long- promised and much-desired visit, the duration of which depended to some extent on his own inclinations, and not a little on the outcome of the war-talk that affected two great European nations—Russia and Austria. Ever since the historic war between the Balkan allies and the Turks, in 1912 and 1913, there had been mutterings, and now the situation had come to be admittedly precarious. Mr. Blithers was in a position to know that the little principality over which the young man reigned was bound to be drawn into the cataclysm, not as a belligerent or an ally, but in the matter of a loan that inconveniently expired within the year and which would hardly be renewed by Russia with the prospect of vast expenditures of war threatening her treasury. The loan undoubtedly would be called and Graustark was not in a position to pay out of her own slender resources, two years of famine having fallen upon the people at a time when prosperity was most to be desired.
He was in touch with the great financial movements in all the world's capitals, and he knew that retrenchment was the watchword. It would be no easy matter for the little principality to negotiate a loan at this particular time, nor was there even a slender chance that Russia would be benevolently disposed toward her debtors, no matter how small their obligations. They who owed would be called upon to pay, they who petitioned would be turned away with scant courtesy. It was the private opinion of Mr. Blithers that the young Prince and the trusted agents who accompanied him on his journey, were in the United States solely for the purpose of arranging a loan through sources that could only be reached by personal appeal. But, naturally, Mr. Blithers couldn't breathe this to a soul. Under the circumstances he couldn't even breathe it to his wife who, he firmly believed, was soulless.
But all this is beside the question. The young Prince of Graustark was enjoying American hospitality, and no matter what he owed to Russia, America owed to him its most punctillious consideration. If Mr. Blithers was to have anything to say about the matter, it would be for the ear of the Prince alone and not for the busybodies.
The main point is that the Prince was now rusticating within what you might call a stone's throw of the capacious and lordly country residence of Mr. Blithers; moreover, he was an uncommonly attractive chap, with a laugh that was so charged with heartiness that it didn't seem possible that he could have a drop of royal blood in his vigorous young body. And the perfectly ridiculous part of the whole situation was that Mr. and Mrs. King lived in a modest, vine-covered little house that could have been lost in the servants' quarters at Blitherwood. Especially aggravating, too, was the attitude of the Kings. They were really nobodies, so to speak, and yet they blithely called their royal guest "Bobby" and allowed him to fetch and carry for their women-folk quite as if he were an ordinary whipper-snapper up from the city to spend the week-end.
The remark with which Mr. Blithers introduces this chapter was in response to an oft-repeated declaration made by his wife in the shade of the red, white and blue awning of the terrace overlooking, from its despotic heights, the modest red roof of the King villa in the valley below. Mrs. Blithers merely had stated—but over and over again—that money couldn't buy everything in the world, referring directly to social eminence and indirectly to their secret ambition to capture a Prince of the royal blood for their daughter Maud. She had prefaced this opinion, however, with the exceedingly irritating insinuation that Mr. Blithers was not in his right mind when he proposed inviting the Prince to spend a few weeks at Blitherwood, provided the young man could cut short his visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. King, who, he had asseverated, were not in a position to entertain royalty as royalty was in the habit of being entertained.
Long experience had taught Mr. Blithers to read the lip and eye language with some degree of certainty, so by watching his wife's indignant face closely he was able to tell when she was succumbing to reason. He was a burly, domineering person who reasoned for every one within range of his voice, and it was only when his wife became coldly sarcastic that he closed his ears and boomed his opinions into her very teeth, so to say, joyfully overwhelming her with facts which it were futile for her to attempt to deny. He was aware, quite as much so as if he had heard the words, that she was now saying:
"Well, there is absolutely no use arguing with you, Will. Have it your way if it pleases you."
Eying her with some uneasiness, he cautiously inserted his thumbs in the armholes of his brocaded waistcoat, and proclaimed:
"As I said before, Lou, there isn't a foreign nobleman, from the Emperor down, who is above grabbing a few million dollars. They're all hard up, and what do they gain by marrying ladies of noble birth if said ladies are the daughters of noblemen who are as hard up as all the rest of 'em? Besides, hasn't Maud been presented at Court? Didn't you see to that? How about that pearl necklace I gave her when she was presented? Wasn't it the talk of the season? There wasn't a Duke in England who didn't figure the cost of that necklace to within a guinea or two. No girl ever had better advertising than—"
"We were speaking of Prince Robin," remarked his wife, with a slight shudder. Mrs. Blithers came of better stock than her husband. His gaucheries frequently set her teeth on edge. She was born in Providence and sometimes mentioned the occurrence when particularly desirous of squelching him, not unkindly perhaps but by way of making him realise that their daughter had good blood in her veins. Mr. Blithers had heard, in a round-about way, that he first saw the light of day in Jersey City, although after he became famous Newark claimed him. He did not bother about the matter.
"Well, he's like all the rest of them," said he, after a moment of indecision. Something told him that he really ought to refrain from talking about the cost of things, even in the bosom of his family. He had heard that only vulgarians speak of their possessions. "Now, there's no reason in the world why we shouldn't consider his offer. He—"
"Offer?" she cried, aghast. "He has made no offer, Will. He doesn't even know that Maud is in existence. How can you say such a thing?"
"I was merely looking ahead, that's all. My motto is 'Look Ahead.' You know it as well as I do. Where would I be to-day if I hadn't looked ahead and seen what was going to happen before the other fellow had his eyes open? Will you tell me that? Where, I say? What's more, where would I be now if I hadn't looked ahead and seen what a marriage with the daughter of Judge Morton would mean to me in the long run?" He felt that he had uttered a very pretty and convincing compliment." I never made a bad bargain in my life, Lou, and it wasn't guess-work when I married you. You, my dear old girl, you were the solid foundation on which I—"
"I know," she said wearily; "you've said it a thousand times: 'The foundation on which I built my temple of posterity'—yes, I know, Will. But I am still unalterably opposed to making ourselves ridiculous in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. King."
"Ridiculous? I don't understand you."
"Well, you will after you think it over," she said quietly, and he scowled in positive perplexity.
"Don't you think he'd be a good match for Maud?" he asked, after many minutes. He felt that he had thought it over.
"Are you thinking of kidnapping him, Will?" she demanded.
"Certainly not! But all you've got to do is to say that he's the man for Maud and I'll—I'll do the rest. That's the kind of a man I am, Lou. You say you don't want Count What's-His-Name,—that is, you don't want him as much as you did,—and you do say that it would be the grandest thing in the world if Maud could be the Princess of Grosstick—"
"That's what I said. Well, if you want her to be the Princess of THAT, I'll see that she is, providing this fellow is a gentleman and worthy of her. The only Prince I ever knew was a damned rascal, and I'm going to be careful about this one. You remember that measly—"
"There is no question about Prince Robin," said she sharply.
"I suppose the only question is, how much will he want?"
"Have you no romance in your soul, William Blithers?"
"I never believed in fairy stories," said he grimly. "And what's more, I don't take any stock in cheap novels in which American heroes go about marrying into royal families and all that sort of rot. It isn't done, Lou. If you want to marry into a royal family you've got to put up the coin."
"Prince Robin's mother, the poor Princess Yetive, married an American for love, let me remind you."
"Umph! Where is this Groostock anyway?"
"'Somewhere east of the setting sun,'" she quoted. "You must learn how to pronounce it."
"I never was good at foreign languages. By the way, where is Maud this afternoon?"
He waited for additional information. It was not vouchsafed, so he demanded somewhat fearfully:
He scowled. "He's a loafer, Lou. No good in the world. I don't like the way you let—"
"He is of a very good family, my dear. I—"
"Is he—er—in love with her?"
"And why not? Isn't every one she meets in love with her?"
"I—I suppose so," he admitted sheepishly. His face brightened. "And there's no reason why this Prince shouldn't fall heels over head, is there? Well, there you are! That will make a difference in the settlement, believe me—a difference of a couple of millions at least, if—"
She arose abruptly. "You are positively disgusting, Will. Can't you think of anything but—"
"Say, ain't that Maudie coming up the drive now? Sure it is! By gracious, did you ever see anything to beat her? She's got 'em all beat a mile when it comes to looks and style and—Oh, by the way," lowering his voice to a hoarse, confidential whisper, "—I wouldn't say anything to her about the marriage just yet if I were you. I want to look him over first."
TWO COUNTRIES DISCUSS MARRIAGE
Prince Robin of Graustark was as good-looking a chap as one would see in a week's journey. Little would one suspect him of being the descendant of a long and distinguished line of princes, save for the unmistakeable though indefinable something in his eye that exacted rather than invited the homage of his fellow man. His laugh was a free and merry one, his spirits as effervescent as wine, his manner blithe and boyish; yet beneath all this fair and guileless exposition of carelessness lay the sober integrity of caste. It looked out through the steady, unswerving eyes, even when they twinkled with mirth; it met the gaze of the world with a serene imperiousness that gave way before no mortal influence; it told without boastfulness a story of centuries. For he was the son of a princess royal, and the blood of ten score rulers of men had come down to him as a heritage of strength.
His mother, the beautiful, gracious and lamented Yetive, set all royal circles by the ears when she married the American, Lorry, back in the nineties. A special act of the ministry had legalised this union and the son of the American was not deprived of his right to succeed to the throne which his forebears had occupied for centuries. From his mother he had inherited the right of kings, from his father the spirit of freedom; from his mother the power of majesty, from his father the power to see beyond that majesty. When little more than a babe in arms he was orphaned and the affairs of state fell upon the shoulders of three loyal and devoted men who served as regents until he became of age.
Wisely they served both him and the people through the years that intervened between the death of the Princess and her consort and the day when he reached his majority. That day was a glorious one in Graustark. The people worshipped the little Prince when he was in knickerbockers and played with toys; they saw him grow to manhood with hearts that were full of hope and contentment; they made him their real ruler with the same joyous spirit that had attended him in the days when he sat in the great throne and "made believe" that he was one of the mighty, despite the fact that his little legs barely reached to the edge of the gold and silver seat,—and slept soundly through all the befuddling sessions of the cabinet. He was seven when the great revolt headed by Count Marlanx came so near to overthrowing the government, and he behaved like the Prince that he was. It was during those perilous times that he came to know the gallant Truxton King in whose home he was now a happy guest. But before Truxton King he knew the lovely girl who became the wife of that devoted adventurer, and who, to him, was always to be "Aunt Loraine."
As a very small boy he had paid two visits to the homeland of his father, but after the death of his parents his valuable little person was guarded so jealously by his subjects that not once had he set foot beyond the borders of Graustark, except on two widely separated occasions of great pomp and ceremony at the courts of Vienna and St. Petersburgh, and a secret journey to London when he was seventeen. (It appears that he was determined to see a great football match.) On each of these occasions he was attended by watchful members of the cabinet and certain military units in the now far from insignificant standing army. As a matter of fact, he witnessed the football match from the ordinary stands, surrounded by thousands of unsuspecting Britons, but carefully wedged in between two generals of his own army and flanked by a minister of police, a minister of the treasury and a minister of war, all of whom were excessively bored by the contest and more or less appalled by his unregal enthusiasm. He had insisted on going to the match incog, to enjoy it for all it was worth to the real spectators—those who sit or stand where the compression is not unlike that applied to a box of sardines.
The regency expired when he was twenty years of age, and he became ruler in fact, of himself as well as of the half-million subjects who had waited patiently for the great day that was to see him crowned and glorified. Not one was there in that goodly half million who stood out against him on that triumphant day; not one who possessed a sullen or resentful heart. He was their Prince, and they loved him well. After that wonderful coronation day he would never forget that he was a Prince or that the hearts of a half million were to throb with love for him so long as he was man as well as Prince.
Mr. Blithers was very close to the truth when he said (to himself, if you remember) that the financial situation in the far-off principality was not all that could be desired. It is true that Graustark was in Russia's debt to the extent of some twenty million gavvos,—about thirty millions of dollars, in other words,—and that the day of reckoning was very near at hand. The loan was for a period of twelve years, and had been arranged contrary to the advice of John Tullis, an American financier who long had been interested in the welfare of the principality through friendship for the lamented Prince Consort, Lorry. He had been farsighted enough to realise that Russia would prove a hard creditor, even though she may have been sincere in her protestations of friendship for the modest borrower.
A stubborn element in the cabinet overcame his opposition, however, and the debt was contracted, taxation increased by popular vote and a period of governmental thriftiness inaugurated. Railroads, highways, bridges and aqueducts were built, owned and controlled by the state, and the city of Edelweiss rebuilt after the devastation created during the revolt of Count Marlanx and his minions. There seemed to be some prospect of vindication for the ministry and Tullis, who lived in Edelweiss, was fair-minded enough to admit that their action appeared to have been for the best. The people had prospered and taxes were paid in full and without complaint. The reserve fund grew steadily and surely and there was every prospect that when the huge debt came due it would be paid in cash. But on the very crest of their prosperity came adversity. For two years the crops failed and a pestilence swept through the herds. The flood of gavvos that had been pouring into the treasury dwindled into a pitiful rivulet; the little that came in was applied, of necessity, to administration purposes and the maintenance of the army, and there was not so much as a penny left over for the so-called sinking fund.
A year of grace remained. The minister of finance had long since recovered from the delusion that it would be easy to borrow from England or France to pay the Russians, there being small prospect of a renewal by the Czar even for a short period at a higher rate of interest. The great nations of Europe made it plain to the little principality that they would not put a finger in Russia's pie at this stage of the game. Russia was ready to go to war with her great neighbour, Austria. Diplomacy—caution, if you will,—made it imperative that other nations should sit tight and look to their own knitting, so to say. Not one could afford to be charged with befriending, even in a round-about way, either of the angry grumblers.
It was only too well known in diplomatic circles that Russia coveted the railroads of Graustark, as a means of throwing troops into a remote and almost impregnable portion of Austria. If the debt were paid promptly, it would be impossible, according to international law, for the great White Bear to take over these roads and at least a portion of the western border of the principality. Obviously, Austria would be benefitted by the prompt lifting of the debt, but her own relations with Russia were so strained that an offer to come to the rescue of Graustark would be taken at once as an open affront and vigorously resented. Her hands were tied.
The northern and western parts of Graustark were rich with productive mines. The government had built railroads throughout these sections so that the yield of coal and copper might be given an outlet to the world at large. In making the loan, Russia had demanded these prosperous sections as security for the vast sum advanced, and Graustark in an evil hour had submitted, little suspecting the trick that Dame Nature was to play in the end.
Private banking institutions in Europe refused to make loans under the rather exasperating circumstances, preferring to take no chances. Money was not cheap in these bitter days, neither in Europe nor America. Caution was the watchword. A vast European war was not improbable, despite the sincere efforts on the part of the various nations to keep out of the controversy.
Nor was Mr. Blithers far from right in his shrewd surmise that Prince Robin and his agents were not without hope in coming to America at this particular time. Graustark had laid by barely half the amount required to lift the debt to Russia. It was not beyond the bounds of reason to expect her Prince to secure the remaining fifteen millions through private sources in New York City.
Six weeks prior to his arrival in New York, the young Prince landed in San Francisco. He had come by way of the Orient, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Graustark Army, Count Quinnox,—hereditary watch-dog to the royal family!—and a young lieutenant of the guard, Boske Dank. Two men were they who would have given a thousand lives in the service of their Prince. No less loyal was the body-servant who looked after the personal wants of the eager young traveller, an Englishman of the name of Hobbs. A very poor valet was he, but an exceptionally capable person when it came to the checking of luggage and the divining of railway time-tables. He had been an agent for Cook's. It was quite impossible to miss a train that Hobbs suspected of being the right one.
Prince Robin came unheralded and traversed the breadth of the continent without attracting more than the attention that is bestowed upon good-looking young men. Like his mother, nearly a quarter of a century before, he travelled incognito. But where she had used the somewhat emphatic name of Guggenslocker, he was known to the hotel registers as "Mr. R. Schmidt and servant."
There was romance in the eager young soul of Prince Robin. He revelled in the love story of his parents. The beautiful Princess Yetive first saw Grenfell Lorry in an express train going eastward from Denver. Their wonderful romance was born, so to speak, in a Pullman compartment car, and it thrived so splendidly that it almost upset a dynasty, for never—in all of nine centuries—had a ruler of Graustark stooped to marriage with a commoner.
And so when the far-sighted ministry and House of Nobles in Graustark set about to select a wife for their young ruler, they made overtures to the Prince of Dawsbergen whose domain adjoined Graustark on the south. The Crown Princess of Dawsbergen, then but fifteen, was the unanimous choice of the amiable match-makers in secret conclave. This was when Robin was seventeen and just over being fatuously in love with his middle-aged instructress in French.
The Prince of Dawsbergen despatched an embassy of noblemen to assure his neighbour that the match would be highly acceptable to him and that in proper season the betrothal might be announced. But alack! both courts overlooked the fact that there was independent American blood in the two young people. Neither the Prince of Graustark nor the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen,—whose mother was a Miss Beverly Calhoun of Virginia,—was disposed to listen to the voice of expediency; in fact, at a safe distance of three or four hundred miles, the youngsters figuratively turned up their noses at each other and frankly confessed that they hated each other and wouldn't be bullied into getting married, no matter what anybody said, or something of the sort.
"S'pose I'm going to say I'll marry a girl I've never seen?" demanded seventeen-year-old Robin, full of wrath. "Not I, my lords. I'm going to look about a bit, if you don't mind. The world is full of girls. I'll marry the one I happen to want or I'll not marry at all."
"But, highness," they protested, "you must listen to reason. There must be a successor to the throne of Graustark. You would not have the name die with you. The young Princess is—"
"Is fifteen you say," he interrupted loftily. "Come around in ten years and we'll talk it over again. But I'm not going to pledge myself to marry a child in short frocks, name or no name. Is she pretty?"
The lords did not know. They had not seen the young lady.
"If she is pretty you'd be sure to know it, my lords, so we'll assume she isn't. I saw her when she was three years old, and she certainly was a fright when she cried, and, my lords, she cried all the time. No, I'll not marry her. Be good enough to say to the Prince of Dawsbergen that I'm very much obliged to him, but it's quite out of the question."
And the fifteen-year-old Crown Princess, four hundred miles away, coolly informed her doting parents that she was tired of being a Princess anyway and very much preferred marrying some one who lived in a cottage. In fine, she stamped her little foot and said she'd jump into the river before she'd marry the Prince of Graustark.
"But he's a very handsome, adorable boy," began her mother.
"And half-American just as you are, my child," put in her father encouragingly. "Nothing could be more suitable than—"
"I don't intend to marry anybody until I'm thirty at least, so that ends it, daddy,—I mean, your poor old highness."
"Naturally we do not expect you to be married before you are out of short frocks, my dear," said Prince Dantan stiffly. "But a betrothal is quite another thing. It is customary to arrange these marriages years before—"
"Is Prince Robin in love with me?"
"I—ahem!—that's a very silly question. He hasn't seen you since you were a baby. But he will be in love with you, never fear."
"He may be in love with some one else, for all we know, so where do I come in?"
"Come in?" gasped her father.
"She's part American, dear," explained the mother, with her prettiest smile.
"Besides," said the Crown Princess, with finality, "I'm not even going to be engaged to a man I've never seen. And if you insist, I'll run away as sure as anything."
And so the matter rested. Five years have passed since the initial overtures were made by the two courts, and although several sly attempts were made to bring the young people to a proper understanding of their case, they aroused nothing more than scornful laughter on the part of the belligerents, as the venerable Baron Dangloss was wont to call them, not without pride in his sharp old voice.
"It all comes from mixing the blood," said the Prime Minister gloomily.
"Or improving it," said the Baron, and was frowned upon.
And no one saw the portentous shadow cast by the slim daughter of William W. Blithers, for the simple reason that neither Graustark nor Dawsbergen knew that it existed. They lived in serene ignorance of the fact that God, while he was about it, put Maud Applegate Blithers into the world on precisely the same day that the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen first saw the light of day.
On the twenty-second anniversary of his birth, Prince Robin fared forth in quest of love and romance, not without hope of adventure, for he was a valorous chap with the heritage of warriors in his veins. Said he to himself in dreamy contemplation of the long journey ahead of him: "I will traverse the great highways that my mother trod and I will look for the Golden Girl sitting by the wayside. She must be there, and though it is a wide world, I am young and my eyes are sharp. I will find her sitting at the roadside eager for me to come, not housed in a gloomy; castle surrounded by the spooks of a hundred ancestors. They who live in castles wed to hate and they who wed at the roadside live to love. Fortune attend me! If love lies at the roadside waiting, do not let me pass it by. All the princesses are not inside the castles. Some sit outside the gates and laugh with glee, for love is their companion. So away I go, la, la! looking for the princess with the happy heart and the smiling lips! It is a wide world but my eyes are sharp. I shall find my princess."
But, alas, for his fine young dream, he found no Golden Girl at the roadside nor anything that suggested romance. There were happy hearts and smiling lips—and all for him, it would appear—but he passed them by, for his eyes were sharp and his wits awake. And so, at last, he came to Gotham, his heart as free as the air he breathed, confessing that his quest had been in vain. History failed to repeat itself. His mother's romance would stand alone and shine without a flicker to the end of time. There could be no counterpart.
"Well, I had the fun of looking," he philosophised (to himself, for no man knew of his secret project) and grinned with a sort of amused tolerance for the sentimental side of his nature. "I'm a silly ass to have even dreamed of finding her as I passed along, and if I had found her what the deuce could I have done about it anyway? This isn't the day for mediaeval lady-snatching. I dare say I'm just as well off for not having found her. I still have the zest for hunting farther, and there's a lot in that." Then aloud: "Hobbs, are we on time?"
"We are, sir," said Hobbs, without even glancing at his watch. The train was passing 125th Street. "To the minute, sir. We will be in in ten minutes, if nothing happens. Mr. King will be at the station to meet you, sir. Any orders, sir?"
"Yes, pinch me, Hobbs."
"Pinch your Highness?" in amazement. "My word, sir, wot—"
"I just want to be sure that the dream is over, Hobbs. Never mind. You needn't pinch me. I'm awake," and to prove it he stretched his fine young body in the ecstasy of realisation.
That night he slept soundly in the Catskills.
MR. BLITHERS GOES VISITING
I repeat: Prince Robin was as handsome a chap as you'll see in a week's journey. He was just under six feet, slender, erect and strong in the way that a fine blade is strong. His hair was dark and straight, his eyes blue-black, his cheek brown and ruddy with the health of a life well-ordered. Nose, mouth and chin were clean-cut and indicative of power, while his brow was broad and smooth, with a surface so serene that it might have belonged to a woman. At first glance you would have taken him for a healthy, eager American athlete, just out of college, but that aforementioned seriousness in his deep-set, thoughtful eyes would have caused you to think twice before pronouncing him a fledgling. He had enjoyed life, he had made the most of his play-days, but always there had hung over his young head the shadow of the cross that would have to be supported to the end of his reign, through thick and thin, through joy and sorrow, through peace and strife.
He saw the shadow when he was little more than a baby; it was like a figure striding beside him always; it never left him. He could not be like other boys, for he was a prince, and it was a serious business being a prince! A thousand times, as a lad, he had wished that he could have a few "weeks off" from being what he was and be just a common, ordinary, harum scarum boy, like the "kids" of Petrove, the head stableman. He would even have put up with the thrashings they got from their father, just for the sake of enjoying the mischief that purchased the punishment. But alas! no one would ever dream of giving him the lovely "tannings" that other boys got when they were naughty. Such joys were not for him; he was mildly reproved and that was all. But his valiant spirit found release in many a glorious though secret encounter with boys both large and small, and not infrequently he sustained severe pummelings at the hands of plebeians who never were quite sure that they wouldn't be beheaded for obliging him in the matter of a "scrap," but who fought like little wild-cats while they were about it. They were always fair fights, for he fought as a boy and not as a prince. He took his lickings like a prince, however, and his victories like a boy. The one thing he wanted to do above all others was to play foot-ball. But they taught him fencing, riding, shooting and tennis instead, for, said they, foot-ball is only to be looked-at, not played,—fine argument, said Robin!
Be that as it may, he was physically intact and bodily perfect. He had no broken nose, smashed ribs, stiff shoulder joints or weak ankles, nor was he toothless. In all his ambitious young life he had never achieved anything more enduring than a bloody nose, a cracked lip or a purple eye, and he had been compelled to struggle pretty hard for even those blessings. And to him the pity of it all was that he was as hard as nails and as strong as a bullock—a sad waste, if one were to believe him in his bitter lamentations.
Toward the end of his first week at Red Roof, the summer home of the Truxton Kings, he might have been found on the broad lawn late one afternoon, playing tennis with his hostess, the lovely and vivacious "Aunt Loraine." To him, Mrs. King would always be "Aunt Loraine," even as he would never be anything but Bobby to her.
She was several years under forty and as light and active as a young girl. Her smooth cheek glowed with the happiness and thrill of the sport, and he was hard put to hold his own against her, even though she insisted that he play his level best.
Truxton King, stalwart and lazy, lounged on the turf, umpiring the game, attended by two pretty young girls, a lieutenant in flannels and the ceremonious Count Quinnox, iron grey and gaunt-faced battleman with the sabre scars on his cheek and the bullet wound in his side.
"Good work, Rainie," shouted the umpire as his wife safely placed the ball far out of her opponent's reach.
"Hi!" shouted Robin, turning on him with a scowl. "You're not supposed to cheer anybody, d' you understand? You're only an umpire."
"Outburst of excitement, Kid," apologised the umpire complacently. "Couldn't help it. Forty thirty. Get busy."
"He called him 'kid,'" whispered one of the young girls to the other.
"Well I heard the Prince call Mr. King 'Truck' a little while ago," whispered the other.
"Isn't he good-looking?" sighed the first one.
They were sisters, very young, and lived in the cottage across the road with their widowed mother. Their existence was quite unknown to Mr. and Mrs. Blithers, although the amiable Maud was rather nice to them. She had once picked them up in her automobile when she encountered them walking to the station. After that she called them by their Christian names and generously asked them to call her Maud. It might appear from this that Maud suffered somewhat from loneliness in the great house on the hill. The Felton girls had known Robin a scant three-quarters of an hour and were deeply in love with him. Fannie was eighteen and Nellie but little more than sixteen. He was their first Prince.
"Whee-ee!" shrilled Mrs. King, going madly after a return that her opponent had lobbed over the net. She missed.
"Deuce," said her husband laconically. A servant was crossing the lawn with a tray of iced drinks. As he neared the recumbent group he paused irresolutely and allowed his gaze to shift toward the road below. Then he came on and as he drew alongside the interested umpire he leaned over and spoke in a low tone of voice.
"What?" demanded King, squinting.
"Just coming in the gate, sir," said the footman.
King shot a glance over his shoulder and then sat up in astonishment.
"Good Lord! Blithers! What the deuce can he be doing here? I say, Loraine! Hi!"
"Vantage in," cried his pretty wife, dashing a stray lock from her eyes.
Mr. King's astonishment was genuine. It might better have been pronounced bewilderment. Mr. Blithers was paying his first visit to Red Roof. Up to this minute it is doubtful if he ever had accorded it so much as a glance of interest in passing. He bowed to King occasionally at the station, but that was all.
But now his manner was exceedingly friendly as he advanced upon the group. One might have been pardoned for believing him to be a most intimate friend of the family and given to constantly dropping in at any and all hours of the day.
The game was promptly interrupted. It would not be far from wrong to say that Mrs. King's pretty mouth was open not entirely as an aid to breathing. She couldn't believe her eyes as she slowly abandoned her court and came forward to meet their advancing visitor.
"Take my racket, dear," she said to one of the Peltons, It happened to be Fannie and the poor child almost fainted with joy.
The Prince remained in the far court, idly twirling his racket.
"Afternoon, King," said Mr. Blithers, doffing his panama—to fan a heated brow. "Been watching the game from the road for a spell. Out for a stroll. Couldn't resist running in for a minute. You play a beautiful game, Mrs. King. How do you do! Pretty hot work though, isn't it?"
He was shaking hands with King and smiling genially upon the trim, panting figure of the Prince's adversary.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Blithers," said King, still staring." You—you know my wife?"
Mr. Blithers ignored what might have been regarded as an introduction, and blandly announced that tennis wasn't a game for fat people, patting his somewhat aggressive extension in mock dolefulness as he spoke.
"You should see my daughter play," he went on, scarcely heeding Mrs. King's tactless remark that she affected the game because she had a horror of getting fat. "Corking, she is, and as quick as a cat. Got a medal at Lakewood last spring. I'll fix up a match soon, Mrs. King, between you and Maud. Ought to be worth going miles to see, eh, King?"
"Oh, I am afraid, Mr. Blithers, that I am not in your daughter's class," said Loraine King, much too innocently.
"We've got a pretty fair tennis court up at Blitherwood," said Mr. Blithers calmly. "I have a professional instructor up every week to play with Maud. She can trim most of the amateurs so—"
"May I offer you a drink of some kind, Mr. Blithers?" asked King, recovering his poise to some extent. "We are having lemonades, but perhaps you'd prefer something—"
"Lemonade will do for me, thanks," said the visitor affably. "We ought to run in on each other a little more often than—thanks! By jove, it looks refreshing. Your health, Mrs. King. Too bad to drink a lady's health in lemonade but—the sentiment's the same."
He was looking over her shoulder at the bounding Prince in the far court as he spoke, and it seemed that he held his glass a trifle too high in proposing the toast.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Blithers," mumbled King. "Permit me to introduce Count Quinnox and Lieutenant Dank." Both of the foreigners had arisen and were standing very erect and soldierly a few yards away. "You know Miss Felton, of course."
"Delighted to meet you, Count," said Mr. Blithers, advancing with outstretched hand. He shook the hand of the lieutenant with a shade less energy. "Enjoying the game?"
"Immensely," said the Count." It is rarely played so well."
Mr. Blithers affected a most degage manner, squinting carelessly at the Prince.
"That young chap plays a nice game. Who is he?"
The two Graustarkians stiffened perceptibly, and waited for King to make the revelation to his visitor.
"That's Prince Robin of—" he began but Mr. Blithers cut him short with a genial wave of the hand.
"Of course," he exclaimed, as if annoyed by his own stupidity. "I did hear that you were entertaining a Prince. Slipped my mind, however. Well, well, we're coming up in the world, eh?—having a real nabob among us." He hesitated for a moment. "But don't let me interrupt the game," he went on, as if expecting King to end the contest in order to present the Prince to him.
"Won't you sit down, Mr. Blithers?" said Mrs. King. "Or would you prefer a more comfortable chair on the porch? We—"
"No, thanks, I'll stay here if you don't mind," said he hastily, and dragged up the camp chair that Lieutenant Dank had been occupying.
"Fetch another chair, Lucas," said King to the servant. "And another glass of lemonade for Miss Felton."
"Felton?" queried Mr. Blithers, sitting down very carefully on the rather fragile chair, and hitching up his white flannel trousers at the knees to reveal a pair of purple socks, somewhat elementary in tone.
"We know your daughter, Mr. Blithers," said little Miss Nellie eagerly.
"I was just trying to remember—"
"We live across the road—over there in the little white house with the ivy—"
"—where I'd heard the name," proceeded Mr. Blithers, still looking at the Prince. "By jove, I should think my daughter and the Prince would make a rattling good match. I mean," he added, with a boisterous laugh, "a good match at tennis. We'll have to get 'em together some day, eh, up at Blitherwood. How long is the Prince to be with you, Mrs. King?"
"It's rather uncertain, Mr. Blithers," said she, and no more.
Mr. Blithers fanned himself in patience for a moment or two. Then he looked at his watch.
"Getting along toward dinner-time up our way," he ventured. Everybody seemed rather intent on the game, which was extremely one-sided.
"Good work!" shouted King as Fannie Felton managed to return an easy service.
Lieutenant Dank applauded vigorously. "Splendid!" he cried out. "Capitally placed!"
"They speak remarkably good English, don't they?" said Mr. Blithers in an audible aside to Mrs. King. "Beats the deuce how quickly they pick it up."
She smiled. "Officers in the Graustark army are required to speak English, French and German, Mr., Blithers."
"It's a good idea," said he. "Maud speaks French and Italian like a native. She was educated in Paris and Rome, you know. Fact is, she's lived abroad a great deal."
"Is she at home now, Mr. Blithers?"
"Depends on what you'd call home, Mrs. King. We've got so many I don't know just which is the real one. If you mean Blitherwood, yes, she's there. Course, there's our town house in Madison Avenue, the place at Newport, one at Nice and one at Pasadena—California, you know—and a little shack in London. By the way, my wife says you live quite near our place in New York."
"We live in Madison Avenue, but it's a rather long street, Mr. Blithers. Just where is your house?" she inquired, rather spitefully.
He looked astonished. "You surely must know where the Blithers house is at—"
"Game!" shrieked Fannie Felton, tossing her racket in the air, a victor.
"They're through," said Mr. Blithers in a tone of relief. He shifted his legs and put his hands on his knees, suggesting a readiness to arise on an instant's notice.
"Shall we try another set?" called out the Prince.
"Make it doubles," put in Lieutenant Dank, and turned to Nellie. "Shall we take them on?"
And doubles it was, much to the disgust of Mr. Blithers. He sat through the nine games, manifesting an interest he was far from feeling, and then—as dusk fell across the valley—arose expectantly with the cry of "game and set." He had discoursed freely on the relative merits of various motor cars, stoutly maintaining that the one he drove was without question the best in the market (in fact, there wasn't another "make" that he would have as a gift); the clubs he belonged to in New York were the only ones that were worth belonging to (he wouldn't be caught dead in any of the others); his tailor was the only tailor in the country who knew how to make a decent looking suit of clothes (the rest of them were "the limit"); the Pomeranian that he had given his daughter was the best dog of its breed in the world (he was looking at Mrs. King's Pomeranian as he made the remark); the tennis court at Blitherwood was pronounced by experts to be the finest they'd, ever seen—and so on and so on, until the long-drawn-out set was ended.
To his utter amazement, at the conclusion of the game, the four players made a dash for the house without even so much as a glance in his direction. It was the Prince who shouted something that sounded like "now for a shower!" as he raced up the terrace, followed by the other participants.
Mr. Blithers said something violent under his breath, but resolutely retained his seat. It was King who glanced slyly at his watch this time, and subsequently shot a questioning look at his wife. She was frowning in considerable perplexity, and biting her firm red lips. Count Quinnox coolly arose and excused himself with the remark that he was off to dress for dinner. He also looked at his watch, which certainly was an act that one would hardly have expected of a diplomat.
"Well, well," said Mr. Blithers profoundly. Then he looked at his own watch—and settled back in his chair, a somewhat dogged compression about his jaws. He was not the man to be thwarted. "You certainly have a cosy little place here. King," he remarked after a moment or two.
"We like it," said King, twiddling his fingers behind his back. "Humble but homelike."
"Mrs. Blithers has been planning to come over for some time, Mrs. King. I told her she oughtn't to put it off—be neighbourly, don't you know. That's me. I'm for being neighbourly with my neighbours. But women, they—well, you know how it is, Mrs. King. Always something turning up to keep 'em from doing the things they want to do most. And Mrs. Blithers has so many sociable obli—I beg pardon?"
"I was just wondering if you would stay and have dinner with us, Mr. Blithers," said she, utterly helpless. She wouldn't look her husband in the eye—and it was quite fortunate that she was unable to do so, for it would have resulted in a laughing duet that could never have been explained.
"Why," said Mr. Blithers, arising and looking at his watch again, "bless my soul, it is past dinner time, isn't it? I had no idea it was so late. 'Pon my soul, it's good of you, Mrs. King. You see, we have dinner at seven up at Blitherwood and—I declare it's half-past now. I don't see where the time has gone. Thanks, I will stay if you really mean to be kind to a poor old beggar. Don't do anything extra on my account, though, just your regular dinner, you know. No frills, if you please. "He looked himself over in some uncertainty. "Will this rag of mine do?"
"We shan't notice it, Mr. Blithers," said she, and he turned the remark over in his mind several times as he walked beside her toward the house. Somehow it didn't sound just right to him, but for the life of him he couldn't tell why. "We are quite simple folk, you see," she went on desperately, making note of the fact that her husband lagged behind like the coward he was. "Red Roof is as nothing compared to Blitherwood, with its army of servants and—"
Mr. Blithers magnanimously said "Pooh!" and, continuing, remarked that he wouldn't say exactly how many they employed but he was sure there were not more than forty, including the gardeners. "Besides," he added gallantly, "what is an army of servants compared to the army of Grasstock? You've got the real article, Mrs. King, so don't you worry. But, I say, if necessary, I can telephone up to the house and have a dress suit sent down. It won't take fifteen minutes, Lou—er— Mrs. Blithers always has 'em laid out for me, in case of an emergency, and—"
"Pray do not think of it," she cried. "The men change, of course, after they've been playing tennis, but we—we—well, you see, you haven't been playing," she concluded, quite breathlessly.
At that instant the sprightly Feltons dashed pell mell down the steps and across the lawn homeward, shrieking something unintelligible to Mrs. King as they passed.
"Rather skittish," observed Mr. Blithers, glaring after them disapprovingly.
"They are dears," said Mrs. King.
"The—er—Prince attracted by either one of 'em?" he queried.
"He barely knows them, Mr. Blithers."
"I see. Shouldn't think they'd appeal to him. Rather light, I should say—I mean up here," and he tapped his forehead so that she wouldn't think that he referred to pounds and ounces. "I don't believe Maud knows 'em, as the little one said. Maud is rather—"
"It is possible they have mistaken some one else for your daughter," said she very gently.
"Impossible," said he with force.
"They are coming back here to dinner," she said, and her eyes sparkled with mischief. "I shall put you between them, Mr. Blithers. You will find that they are very bright, attractive girls."
"We'll see," said he succinctly.
King caught them up at the top of the steps. He seemed to be slightly out of breath.
"Make yourself at home, Mr. Blithers. I must get into something besides these duds I'm wearing," he said. "Would you like to—er— wash up while we're—"
"No, thanks," interposed Mr. Blithers. "I'm as clean as a whistle. Don't mind me, please. Run along and dress, both of you. I'll sit out here and—count the minutes," the last with a very elaborate bow to Mrs. King.
"Dinner's at half-past eight," said she, and disappeared. Mr. Blithers recalled his last glance at his watch, and calculated that he would have at least fifty minutes to count, provided dinner was served promptly on the dot.
"You will excuse me if I leave you—"
"Don't mention it, old man," said the new guest, rather more curtly than he intended. "I'll take it easy."
"Shall I have the butler telephone to Blitherwood to say that you won't be home to dinner?"
"It would be better if he were to say that I wasn't home to dinner," said Mr. Blithers. "It's over by this time."
"Something to drink while you're—"
"No, thanks. I can wait," and he sat down.
"You don't mind my—"
"Not at all."
Mr. Blithers settled himself in the big porch chair and glowered at the shadowy hills on the opposite side of the valley. The little cottage of the Feltons came directly in his line of vision. He scowled more deeply than before. At the end of fifteen minutes he started up suddenly and, after a quick uneasy glance about him, started off across the lawn, walking more rapidly than was his wont.
He had remembered that his chauffeur was waiting for him with the car just around a bend in the road—and had been waiting for two hours or more.
"Go home," he said to the man. "Come back at twelve. And don't use the cut-out going up that hill, either."
Later on, he met the Prince. Very warmly he shook the tall young man's hand,—he even gave it a prophetic second squeeze,—and said:
"I am happy to welcome you to the Catskills, Prince."
"Thank you," said Prince Robin.
PROTECTING THE BLOOD
"A most extraordinary person," said Count Quinnox to King, after Mr. Blithers had taken his departure, close upon the heels of the Feltons who were being escorted home by the Prince and Dank. The venerable Graustarkian's heroic face was a study. He had just concluded a confidential hour in a remote corner of the library with the millionaire while the younger people were engaged in a noisy though temperate encounter with the roulette wheel at the opposite end of the room. "I've never met any one like him, Mr. King." He mopped his brow, and still looked a trifle dazed.
King laughed. "There isn't any one like him, Count. He is the one and only Blithers."
"He is very rich?"
"Millions and millions," said Mrs. King. "Didn't he tell you how many?"
"I am not quite sure. This daughter of his—is she attractive?"
"He informed me that her dot would be twenty millions if she married the right man. Moreover, she is his only heir. 'Pon my soul, Mrs. King, he quite took my breath away when he announced that he knew all about our predicament in relation to the Russian loan. It really sounded quite—you might say significant. Does—does he imagine that— good heaven, it's almost stupefying!"
King smoked in silence for many seconds. There was a pucker of annoyance on his wife's fair brow as she stared reflectively through the window at the distant lights of Blitherwood, far up the mountain side.
"Sounds ominous to me," said King drily. "Is Bobby for sale?"
The Count favoured him with a look of horror. "My dear Mr. King!" Then as comprehension came, he smiled. "I see. No, he isn't for sale. He is a Prince, not a pawn. Mr. Blithers may be willing to buy but—" he proudly shook his head.
"He was feeling you out, however," said King, ruminating. "Planting the seed, so to speak."
"There is a rumour that she is to marry Count Lannet," said his wife. "A horrid creature. There was talk in the newspapers last winter of an Italian duke. Poor girl! From what I hear of her, she is rather a good sort, sensible and more genuinely American in her tastes than might be, expected after her bringing-up. And she is pretty."
"How about this young Scoville, Rainie?"
"He's a nice boy but—he'll never get her. She is marked up too high for him. He doesn't possess so much as the title to an acre of land."
"Extraordinary, the way you Americans go after our titles," said the Count good-naturedly.
"No more extraordinary than the way you Europeans go after our money," was her retort.
"I don't know which is the cheaper, titles or money in these days," said King. "I understand one can get a most acceptable duke for three or four millions, a nice marquis or count for half as much, and a Sir on tick." He eyed the Count speculatively. "Of course a prince of the royal blood comes pretty high."
"Pretty high," said the Count grimly. He seemed to be turning something over in his mind. "Your amazing Mr. Blithers further confided to me that he might be willing to take care of the Russian obligation for us if no one else turns up in time. As a matter of fact, without waiting for my reply, he said that he would have his lawyers look into the matter of security at once. I was somewhat dazed, but I think he said that it would be no trouble at all for him to provide the money himself and he would be glad to accommodate us if we had no other plan in mind. Amazing, amazing!"
"Of course, you told him it was not to be considered," said King sharply.
"I endeavoured to do so, but I fear he did not grasp what I was saying. Moreover, I tried to tell him that it was a matter I was not at liberty to discuss. He didn't hear that, either."
"He is not in the habit of hearing any one but himself, I fear," said King.
"I am afraid poor Robin is in jeopardy," said his wife, ruefully. "The Bogieman is after him."
"Does the incomprehensible creature imagine—" began the Count loudly, and then found it necessary to pull his collar away from his throat as if to save himself from immediate strangulation.
"Mr. Blithers is not blessed with an imagination, Count," said she. "He doesn't imagine anything."
"If he should presume to insult our Prince by—" grated the old soldier, very red in the face and erect—"if he should presume to—" Words failed him and an instant later he was laughing, but somewhat uncertainly, with his amused host and hostess.
Mr. Blithers reached home in high spirits. His wife was asleep, but he awoke her without ceremony.
"I say, Lou, wake up. Got some news for you. We'll have a prince in the family before you can say Jack Robinson."
She sat up in bed, blinking with dismay. "In heaven's name, Will, what have you been doing? What—have you been—"
"Cutting bait," said he jovially. "In a day or two I'll throw the hook in, and you'll see what I land. He's as good as caught right now, but we'll let him nibble a while before we jerk. And say, he's a corker, Lou. Finest young fellow I've seen in many a day. He—"
"You don't mean to say that you—you actually said anything to him about—about—Oh, my God, Will, don't tell me that you were crazy enough to—" cried the poor woman, almost in tears.
"Now cool down, cool down," he broke in soothingly. "I'm no fool, Lou. Trust me to do the fine work in a case like this. Sow the right kind of seeds and you'll get results every time. I merely dropped a few hints, that's all,—and in the right direction, believe me. Count Equinox will do the rest. I'll bet my head we'll have this prince running after Maud so—"
"What did you say?" she demanded. There was a fine moisture on her upper lip. He sat down on the edge of the bed and talked for half an hour without interruption. When he came to the end of his oration, she turned over with her face to the wall and fairly sobbed: "What will the Kings think of us? What will they think?"
"Who the dickens cares what the Kings think?" he roared, perfectly aghast at the way she took it. "Who are the Kings? Tell me that! who are they?"
"I—I can't bear to talk about it. Go to bed."
He wiped his brow helplessly. "You beat anything I've ever seen. What's the matter with you? Don't you want this prince for Maud? Well, then, what the deuce are you crying about? You said you wanted him, didn't you? Well, I'm going to get him. If I say I'll do a thing, you can bet your last dollar I'll do it. That's the kind of a man William W. Blithers is. You leave it to me. There's only one way to land these foreign noblemen, and I'm—"
She faced him once more, and angrily. "Listen to me," she said. "I've had a talk with Maud. She has gone to bed with a splitting headache and I'm not surprised. Don't you suppose the poor child has a particle of pride? She guessed at once just what you had gone over there for and she cried her eyes out. Now she declares she will never be able to look the Prince in the face, and as for the Kings—Oh, it's sickening. Why can't you leave these things to me? You go about like a bull in a china shop. You might at least have waited until the poor child had an opportunity to see the man before rushing in with your talk about money. She—"
"Confound it, Lou, don't blame me for everything. We all three agreed at lunch that he was a better bargain than this measly count we've been considering. Maud says she won't marry the count, anyhow, and she did say that if this prince was all that he's cracked up to be, she wouldn't mind being the Princess of Groostock. You can't deny that, Lou. You heard her say it. You—"
"She didn't say Groostock," said his wife shortly. "And you forget that she said she wouldn't promise anything until she'd met him and decided whether she liked him."
"She'll like him all right," said he confidently.
"She will refuse to even meet him, if she hears of your silly blunder to-night."
"Refuse to meet him?" gasped Mr. Blithers.
"I may be able to reason with her, Will, but—but she's stubborn, as well you know. I'm afraid you've spoiled everything."
His face brightened. Lowering his voice to a half-whisper, he said: "We needn't tell her what I said to that old chap, Lou. Just let her think I sat around like a gump and never said a word to anybody. We can—"
"But she'll pin you down, Will, and you know you can't lie with a straight face."
"Maybe—maybe I'd better run down to New York for a few days," he muttered unhappily. "You can square it better than I can."
"In other words, I can lie with a straight face," she said ironically.
"I never thought she'd balk like this," said he, ignoring the remark.
"I fancy you'd better go to New York," she said mercilessly.
"I've got business there anyhow," muttered he. "I—I think I'll go before she's up in the morning."
"You can save yourself a bad hour or two if you leave before breakfast," said she levelly.
"Get around her some way, Lou," he pleaded. "Tell her I'm sorry I had to leave so early, and—and that I love her better than anything on earth, and that I'll be back the end of the week. If—if she wants anything in New York, just have her wire me. You say she cried?"
"She did, and I don't blame her."
Mr. Blithers scowled. "Well—well, you see if you can do any better than I did. Arrange it somehow for them to meet. She'll—she'll like him and then—by George, she'll thank us both for the interest we take in her future. It wouldn't surprise me if she fell in love with him right off the reel. And you may be sure he'll fall in love with her. He can't help it. The knowledge that she'll have fifty millions some day won't have anything to do with his feeling for her, once he— "
"Don't mention the word millions again. Will Blithers."
"All right," said he, more humbly than he knew, "But listen to this, old girl; I'm going to get this prince for her if it's the last act of my life. I never failed in anything and I won't fail in this."
"Well, go to bed, dear, and don't worry. I may be able to undo the mischief. It—it isn't hopeless, of course."
"I'll trust you, Lou, to do your part. Count on me to do mine when the time comes. And I still insist that I have sowed the right sort of seed to-night. You'll see. Just wait."
Sure enough, Mr. Blithers was off for New York soon after daybreak the next morning, and with him went a mighty determination to justify himself before the week was over. His wily brain was working as it had never worked before.
Two days later, Count Quinnox received a message from New York bearing the distressing information that the two private banking institutions on which he had been depending for aid in the hour of trouble had decided that it would be impossible for them to make the loan under consideration. The financial agents who had been operating in behalf of the Graustark government confessed that they were unable to explain the sudden change of heart on the part of the bankers, inasmuch as the negotiations practically had been closed with them. The decision of the directors was utterly incomprehensible under the circumstances.
Vastly disturbed, Count Quinnox took the first train to New York, accompanied by Truxton King, who was confident that outside influences had been brought to bear upon the situation, influences inimical to Graustark. Both were of the opinion that Russia had something to do with it, although the negotiations had been conducted with all the secrecy permissible in such cases.
"We may be able to get to the banks through Blithers," said King.
"How could he possibly be of assistance to us?" the Count inquired.
"He happens to be a director in both concerns, besides being such a power in the financial world that his word is almost law when it comes to the big deals."
All the way down to the city Count Quinnox was thoughtful, even pre- occupied. They were nearing the Terminal when he leaned over and, laying his hand on King's knee, said, after a long interval of silence between them:
"I suppose you know that Graustark has not given up hope that Prince Robin may soon espouse the daughter of our neighbour, Dawsbergen."
King gave him a queer look. "By jove, that's odd. I was thinking of that very thing when you spoke."
"The union would be of no profit to us in a pecuniary way, my friend," explained the Count. "Still it is most desirable for other reasons. Dawsbergen is not a rich country, nor are its people progressive. The reigning house, however, is an old one and rich in traditions. Money, my dear King, is not everything in this world. There are some things it cannot buy. It is singularly ineffective when opposed to an honest sentiment. Even though the young Princess were to come to Graustark without a farthing, she would still be hailed with the wildest acclaim. We are a race of blood worshippers, if I may put it in that way. She represents a force that has dominated our instincts for a great many centuries, and we are bound hand and foot, heart and soul, by the so-called fetters of imperialism. We are fierce men, but we bend the knee and we wear the yoke because the sword of destiny is in the hand that drives us. To- day we are ruled by a prince whose sire was not of the royal blood. I do not say that we deplore this infusion, but it behooves us to protect the original strain. We must conserve our royal blood. Our prince assumes an attitude of independence that we find difficult to overcome. He is prepared to defy an old precedent in support of a new one. In other words, he points out the unmistakably happy union of his own mother, the late Princess Yetive, and the American Lorry, and it is something we cannot go behind. He declares that his mother set an example that he may emulate without prejudice to his country if he is allowed a free hand in choosing his mate.
"But we people of Graustark cannot look with complaisance on the possible result of his search for a sharer of the throne. Traditions must be upheld—or we die. True, the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen has American blood in her veins but her sire is a prince royal. Her mother, as you know, was an American girl. She who sits on the throne with Robin must be a princess by birth or the grip on the sword of destiny is weakened and the dynasty falters. I know what is in your mind. You are wondering why our Prince should not wed one of your fabulously rich American girls—"
"My dear Count," said King warmly, "I am not thinking anything of the sort. Naturally I am opposed to your pre-arranged marriages and all that sort of thing, but still I appreciate what it means as a safe- guard to the crown you support. I sincerely hope that Robin may find his love-mate in the small circle you draw for him, but I fear it isn't likely. He is young, romantic, impressionable, and he abhors the thought of marriage without love. He refuses to even consider the princess you have picked out for him. Time may prove to him that his ideals are false and he may resign himself to the—I was about to say the inevitable."
"Inevitable is the word, Mr. King," said Count Quinnox grimly. "'Pon my word, sir, I don't know what our princes and princesses are coming to in these days. There seems to be a perfect epidemic of independence among them. They marry whom they please in spite of royal command, and the courts of Europe are being shorn of half their glory. It wouldn't surprise me to see an American woman on the throne of England one of these days. 'Gad, sir, you know what happened in Axphain two years ago. Her crown prince renounced the throne and married a French singer."
"And they say he is a very happy young beggar," said King drily.
"It is the prerogative of fools to be happy," said Count Quinnox.
"Not so with princes, eh?"
"It is a duty with princes, Mr. King."
They had not been in New York City an hour before they discovered that William W. Blithers was the man to whom they would have to appeal if they expected to gain a fresh hearing with the banks. The agents were in a dismal state of mind. The deal had been blocked no later than the afternoon of the day before and at a time when everything appeared to be going along most swimmingly. Blithers was the man to see; he and he alone could bring pressure to bear on the directorates that might result in a reconsideration of the surprising verdict. Something had happened during the day to alter the friendly attitude of the banks; they were now politely reluctant, as one of the agents expressed it, which really meant that opposition to the loan had appeared from some unexpected source, as a sort of eleventh hour obstacle. The heads of the two banks had as much as said that negotiations were at an end, that was the long and short of it; it really didn't matter what was back of their sudden change of front, the fact still remained that the transaction was as "dead as a door nail" unless it could be revived by the magnetic touch of a man like Blithers.
"What can have happened to cause them to change their minds so abruptly?" cried the perplexed Count. "Surely our prime minister and the cabinet have left nothing undone to convince them of Graustark's integrity and—"
"Pardon me. Count," interrupted one of the brokers, "shall I try to make an appointment for you with Mr. Blithers? I hear he is in town for a few days."
Count Quinnox looked to Truxton King for inspiration and that gentleman favoured him with a singularly dis-spiriting nod of the head. The old Graustarkian cleared his throat and rather stiffly announced that he would receive Mr. Blithers if he would call on him at the Ritz that afternoon.
"What!" exclaimed both agents, half-starting from their chairs in amazement.
The Count stared hard at them. "You may say to him that I will be in at four."
"He'll tell you to go to—ahem!" The speaker coughed just in time. "Blithers isn't in the habit of going out of his way to—to oblige anybody. He wouldn't do it for the Emperor of Germany."
"But," said the Count with a frosty smile, "I am not the Emperor of Germany."
"Better let me make an appointment for you to see him at his office. It's just around the corner." There was a pleading note in the speaker's voice.
"You might save your face, Calvert, by saying that the Count will be pleased to have him take tea with him at the Ritz," suggested King.
"Tea!" exclaimed Calvert scornfully. "Blithers, doesn't drink the stuff."
"It's a figure of speech," said King patiently.
"All right, I'll telephone," said the other dubiously.
He came back a few minutes later with a triumphant look in his eye.
"Blithers says to tell Count Quinnox he'll see him to-morrow morning at half-past eight at his office. Sorry he's engaged this afternoon."
"But did you say I wanted him to have tea with us!" demanded the Count, an angry flush leaping to his cheek.
"I did. I'm merely repeating what he said in reply. Half-past eight, at his office, Count. Those were his words."
"It is the most brazen exhibition of insolence I've ever—" began the Count furiously, but checked himself with an effort. "I—I hope you did not say that I would come, sir!"
"Yes. It's the only way—"
"Well, be good enough to call him up again and say to him that I'll— I'll see him damned before I'll come to his office to-morrow at eight-thirty or at any other hour." And with that the Count got up and stalked out of the office, putting on his hat as he did so.
"Count," said King, as they descended in the elevator, "I've got an idea in my head that Blithers will be at the Ritz at four."
"Do you imagine, sir, that I will receive him?"
"Certainly. Are you not a diplomat?"
"I am a Minister of War," said the Count, and his scowl was an indication of absolute proficiency in the science.
"And what's more," went on King, reflectively, "it wouldn't in the least surprise me if Blithers is the man behind the directors in this sudden move of the banks."
"My dear King, he displayed the keenest interest and sympathy the other night at your house. He—"
"Of course I may be wrong," admitted King, but his brow was clouded.
Shortly after luncheon that day, Mrs. Blithers received a telegram from her husband. It merely stated that he was going up to have tea with the Count at four o'clock, and not to worry as "things were shaping themselves nicely."
PRINCE ROBIN IS ASKED TO STAND UP
Late the same evening. Prince Robin, at Red Roof, received a long distance telephone communication from New York City. The Count was on the wire. He imparted the rather startling news that William W. Blithers had volunteered to take care of the loan out of his own private means! Quinnox was cabling the Prime Minister for advice and would remain in New York for further conference with the capitalist, who, it was to be assumed, would want time to satisfy himself as to the stability of Graustark's resources.
Robin was jubilant. The thought had not entered his mind that there could be anything sinister in this amazing proposition of the great financier.
If Count Quinnox himself suspected Mr. Blithers of an ulterior motive, the suspicion was rendered doubtful by the evidence of sincerity on the part of the capitalist who professed no sentiment in the matter but insisted on the most complete indemnification by the Graustark government. Even King was impressed by the absolute fairness of the proposition. Mr. Blithers demanded no more than the banks were asking for in the shape of indemnity; a first lien mortgage for 12 years on all properties owned and controlled by the government and the deposit of all bonds held by the people with the understanding that the interest would be paid to them regularly, less a small per cent as commission. His protection would be complete,— for the people of Graustark owned fully four-fifths of the bonds issued by the government for the construction of public service institutions; these by consent of Mr. Blithers were to be limited to three utilities: railroads, telegraph and canals. These properties, as Mr. Blithers was by way of knowing, were absolutely sound and self-supporting. According to his investigators in London and Berlin, they were as solid as Gibraltar and not in need of one-tenth the protection required by the famous rock.
Robin inquired whether he was to come to New York at once in relation to the matter, and was informed that it would not be necessary at present. In fact, Mr. Blithers preferred to let the situation remain in statu quo (as he expressed it to the Count), until it was determined whether the people were willing to deposit their bonds, a condition which was hardly worth while worrying about in view of the fact that they had already signified their readiness to present them for security in the original proposition to the banks. Mr. Blithers, however, would give himself the pleasure of calling upon the Prince at Red Roof later in the week, when the situation could be discussed over a dish of tea or a cup of lemonade. That is precisely the way Mr. Blithers put it.
The next afternoon Mrs. Blithers left cards at Red Roof—or rather, the foot-man left them—and on the day following the Kings and their guests received invitations to a ball at Blitherwood on the ensuing Friday, but four days off. While Mrs. King and the two young men were discussing the invitation the former was called to the telephone. Mrs. Blithers herself was speaking.
"I hope you will pardon me for calling you up, Mrs. King, but I wanted to be sure that you can come on the seventeenth. We want so much to have the Prince and his friends with us. Mr. Blithers has taken a great fancy to Prince Robin and Count Quinnox, and he declares the whole affair will be a fiasco if they are not to be here."
"It is good of you to ask us, Mrs. Blithers. The Prince is planning to leave for Washington within the next few days and I fear—"
"Oh, you must prevail upon him to remain over, my Dear Mrs. King. We are to have a lot of people up from Newport and Tuxedo—you know the crowd—it's the real crowd—and I'm sure he will enjoy meeting them. Mr. Blithers has arranged for a special train to bring them up—a train de luxe, you may be sure, both as to equipment and occupant. Zabo's orchestra, too. A notion seized us last night to give the ball, which accounts for the short notice. It's the way we do everything—on a minute's notice. I think they're jollier if one doesn't go through the agony of a month's preparation, don't you? Nearly every one has wired acceptance, so we're sure to have a lot of nice people. Loads of girls,—you know the ones I mean,—and Mr. Blithers is trying to arrange a sparring match between those two great prizefighters,—you know the ones, Mrs. King,—just to give us poor women a chance to see what a real man looks like in—I mean to say, what marvellous specimens they are, don't you know. Now please tell the Prince that he positively cannot afford to miss a real sparring match. Every one is terribly excited over it, and naturally we are keeping it very quiet. Won't it be a lark? My daughter thinks it's terrible, but she is finicky. One of them is a negro, isn't he?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"You can imagine how splendid they must be when I tell you that Mr. Blithers is afraid they won't come up for less than fifteen thousand dollars. Isn't it ridiculous?"
"Perfectly," said Mrs. King.
"Of course, we shall insist on the Prince receiving with us. He is our piece de resistance. You—"