WINSOME WINNIE AND OTHER NEW NONSENSE NOVELS
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE HOHENZOLLERNS IN AMERICA AND OTHER IMPOSSIBILITIES
SUNSHINE SKETCHES OF A LITTLE TOWN. With a Frontispiece by Cyrus Cuneo
BEHIND THE BEYOND AND OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS TO HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. With 17 Illustrations by "FISH"
ARCADIAN ADVENTURES WITH THE IDLE RICH
MOONBEAMS FROM THE LARGER LUNACY
ESSAYS AND LITERARY STUDIES
FURTHER FOOLISHNESS: SKETCHES AND SATIRES ON THE FOLLIES OF THE DAY. With coloured Frontispiece by "FISH" and 5 other Plates by M. BLOOD.
THE UNSOLVED RIDDLE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE.
THE BODLEY HEAD
WINSOME WINNIE AND OTHER NEW NONSENSE NOVELS
BY STEPHEN LEACOCK
LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY MCMXXI
Printed in Great Britain by R. Clay & Sons, Ltd., London and Bungay
I. WINSOME WINNIE; OR, TRIAL AND TEMPTATION I. THROWN ON THE WORLD II. A RENCOUNTER III. FRIENDS IN DISTRESS IV. A GAMBLING PARTY IN ST. JAMES'S CLOSE V. THE ABDUCTION VI. THE UNKNOWN VII. THE PROPOSAL VIII. WEDDED AT LAST
II. JOHN AND I; OR, HOW I NEARLY LOST MY HUSBAND
III. THE SPLIT IN THE CABINET; OR, THE FATE OF ENGLAND
IV. WHO DO YOU THINK DID IT? OR, THE MIXED-UP MURDER MYSTERY I. HE DINED WITH ME LAST NIGHT II. I MUST SAVE HER LIFE III. I MUST BUY A BOOK ON BILLIARDS IV. THAT IS NOT BILLIARD CHALK V. HAS ANYBODY HERE SEEN KELLY? VI. SHOW ME THE MAN WHO WORE THOSE BOOTS VII. OH, MR. KENT, SAVE ME! VIII. YOU ARE PETER KELLY IX. LET ME TELL YOU THE STORY OF MY LIFE X. SO DO I
V. BROKEN BARRIERS; OR, RED LOVE ON A BLUE ISLAND
VI. THE KIDNAPPED PLUMBER: A TALE OF THE NEW TIME
VII. THE BLUE AND THE GREY: A PRE-WAR WAR STORY
VIII. BUGGAM GRANGE: A GOOD OLD GHOST STORY
OR, TRIAL AND TEMPTATION
(Narrated after the best models of 1875)
I.—Winsome Winnie; or, Trial and Temptation.
THROWN ON THE WORLD
"Miss Winnifred," said the Old Lawyer, looking keenly over and through his shaggy eyebrows at the fair young creature seated before him, "you are this morning twenty-one."
Winnifred Clair raised her deep mourning veil, lowered her eyes and folded her hands.
"This morning," continued Mr. Bonehead, "my guardianship is at an end."
There was a tone of something like emotion in the voice of the stern old lawyer, while for a moment his eye glistened with something like a tear which he hastened to remove with something like a handkerchief. "I have therefore sent for you," he went on, "to render you an account of my trust."
He heaved a sigh at her, and then, reaching out his hand, he pulled the woollen bell-rope up and down several times.
An aged clerk appeared.
"Did the bell ring?" he asked.
"I think it did," said the Lawyer. "Be good enough, Atkinson, to fetch me the papers of the estate of the late Major Clair defunct."
"I have them here," said the clerk, and he laid upon the table a bundle of faded blue papers, and withdrew.
"Miss Winnifred," resumed the Old Lawyer, "I will now proceed to give you an account of the disposition that has been made of your property. This first document refers to the sum of two thousand pounds left to you by your great uncle. It is lost."
"Pray give me your best attention and I will endeavour to explain to you how I lost it."
"Oh, sir," cried Winnifred, "I am only a poor girl unskilled in the ways of the world, and knowing nothing but music and French; I fear that the details of business are beyond my grasp. But if it is lost, I gather that it is gone."
"It is," said Mr. Bonehead. "I lost it in a marginal option in an undeveloped oil company. I suppose that means nothing to you."
"Alas," sighed Winnifred, "nothing."
"Very good," resumed the Lawyer. "Here next we have a statement in regard to the thousand pounds left you under the will of your maternal grandmother. I lost it at Monte Carlo. But I need not fatigue you with the details."
"Pray spare them," cried the girl.
"This final item relates to the sum of fifteen hundred pounds placed in trust for you by your uncle. I lost it on a horse race. That horse," added the Old Lawyer with rising excitement, "ought to have won. He was coming down the stretch like blue—but there, there, my dear, you must forgive me if the recollection of it still stirs me to anger. Suffice it to say the horse fell. I have kept for your inspection the score card of the race, and the betting tickets. You will find everything in order."
"Sir," said Winnifred, as Mr. Bonehead proceeded to fold up his papers, "I am but a poor inadequate girl, a mere child in business, but tell me, I pray, what is left to me of the money that you have managed?"
"Nothing," said the Lawyer. "Everything is gone. And I regret to say, Miss Clair, that it is my painful duty to convey to you a further disclosure of a distressing nature. It concerns your birth."
"Just Heaven!" cried Winnifred, with a woman's quick intuition. "Does it concern my father?"
"It does, Miss Clair. Your father was not your father."
"Oh, sir," exclaimed Winnifred. "My poor mother! How she must have suffered!"
"Your mother was not your mother," said the Old Lawyer gravely. "Nay, nay, do not question me. There is a dark secret about your birth."
"Alas," said Winnifred, wringing her hands, "I am, then, alone in the world and penniless."
"You are," said Mr. Bonehead, deeply moved. "You are, unfortunately, thrown upon the world. But, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need help and advice, do not scruple to come to me. Especially," he added, "for advice. And meantime let me ask you in what way do you propose to earn your livelihood?"
"I have my needle," said Winnifred.
"Let me see it," said the Lawyer.
Winnifred showed it to him.
"I fear," said Mr. Bonehead, shaking his head, "you will not do much with that."
Then he rang the bell again.
"Atkinson," he said, "take Miss Clair out and throw her on the world."
As Winnifred Clair passed down the stairway leading from the Lawyer's office, a figure appeared before her in the corridor, blocking the way. It was that of a tall, aristocratic-looking man, whose features wore that peculiarly saturnine appearance seen only in the English nobility. The face, while entirely gentlemanly in its general aspect, was stamped with all the worst passions of mankind.
Had the innocent girl but known it, the face was that of Lord Wynchgate, one of the most contemptible of the greater nobility of Britain, and the figure was his too.
"Ha!" exclaimed the dissolute Aristocrat, "whom have we here? Stay, pretty one, and let me see the fair countenance that I divine behind your veil."
"Sir," said Winnifred, drawing herself up proudly, "let me pass, I pray."
"Not so," cried Wynchgate, reaching out and seizing his intended victim by the wrist, "not till I have at least seen the colour of those eyes and imprinted a kiss upon those fair lips."
With a brutal laugh, he drew the struggling girl towards him.
In another moment the aristocratic villain would have succeeded in lifting the veil of the unhappy girl, when suddenly a ringing voice cried, "Hold! stop! desist! begone! lay to! cut it out!"
With these words a tall, athletic young man, attracted doubtless by the girl's cries, leapt into the corridor from the street without. His figure was that, more or less, of a Greek god, while his face, although at the moment inflamed with anger, was of an entirely moral and permissible configuration.
"Save me! save me!" cried Winnifred.
"I will," cried the Stranger, rushing towards Lord Wynchgate with uplifted cane.
But the cowardly Aristocrat did not await the onslaught of the unknown.
"You shall yet be mine!" he hissed in Winnifred's ear, and, releasing his grasp, he rushed with a bound past the rescuer into the street.
"Oh, sir," said Winnifred, clasping her hands and falling on her knees in gratitude. "I am only a poor inadequate girl, but if the prayers of one who can offer naught but her prayers to her benefactor can avail to the advantage of one who appears to have every conceivable advantage already, let him know that they are his."
"Nay," said the stranger, as he aided the blushing girl to rise, "kneel not to me, I beseech. If I have done aught to deserve the gratitude of one who, whoever she is, will remain for ever present as a bright memory in the breast of one in whose breast such memories are all too few, he is all too richly repaid. If she does that, he is blessed indeed."
"She does. He is!" cried Winnifred, deeply moved. "Here on her knees she blesses him. And now," she added, "we must part. Seek not to follow me. One who has aided a poor girl in the hour of need will respect her wish when she tells him that, alone and buffeted by the world, her one prayer is that he will leave her."
"He will!" cried the Unknown. "He will. He does."
"Leave me, yes, leave me," exclaimed Winnifred.
"I will," said the Unknown.
"Do, do," sobbed the distraught girl. "Yet stay, one moment more. Let she, who has received so much from her benefactor, at least know his name."
"He cannot! He must not!" exclaimed the Indistinguishable. "His birth is such—but enough!"
He tore his hand from the girl's detaining clasp and rushed forth from the place.
Winnifred Clair was alone.
FRIENDS IN DISTRESS
Winnifred was now in the humblest lodgings in the humblest part of London. A simple bedroom and sitting-room sufficed for her wants. Here she sat on her trunk, bravely planning for the future.
"Miss Clair," said the Landlady, knocking at the door, "do try to eat something. You must keep up your health. See, I've brought you a kippered herring."
Winnifred ate the herring, her heart filled with gratitude. With renewed strength she sallied forth on the street to resume her vain search for employment. For two weeks now Winnifred Clair had sought employment even of the humblest character. At various dress-making establishments she had offered, to no purpose, the services of her needle. They had looked at it and refused it.
In vain she had offered to various editors and publishers the use of her pen. They had examined it coldly and refused it.
She had tried fruitlessly to obtain a position of trust. The various banks and trust companies to which she had applied declined her services. In vain she had advertised in the newspapers offering to take sole charge of a little girl. No one would give her one.
Her slender stock of money which she had in her purse on leaving Mr. Bonehead's office was almost consumed.
Each night the unhappy girl returned to her lodging exhausted with disappointment and fatigue.
Yet even in her adversity she was not altogether friendless.
Each evening, on her return home, a soft tap was heard at the door.
"Miss Clair," said the voice of the Landlady, "I have brought you a fried egg. Eat it. You must keep up your strength."
Then one morning a terrible temptation had risen before her.
"Miss Clair," said the manager of an agency to which she had applied, "I am glad to be able at last to make you a definite offer of employment. Are you prepared to go upon the stage?"
A flush of shame and indignation swept over the girl. Had it come to this? Little versed in the world as Winnifred was, she knew but too well the horror, the iniquity, the depth of degradation implied in the word.
"Yes," continued the agent, "I have a letter here asking me to recommend a young lady of suitable refinement to play the part of Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Will you accept?"
"Sir," said Winnifred proudly, "answer me first this question fairly. If I go upon the stage, can I, as Eliza, remain as innocent, as simple as I am now?"
"You can not," said the manager.
"Then, sir," said Winnifred, rising from her chair, "let me say this. Your offer is doubtless intended to be kind. Coming from the class you do, and inspired by the ideas you are, you no doubt mean well. But let a poor girl, friendless and alone, tell you that rather than accept such a degradation she will die."
"Very good," said the manager.
"I go forth," cried Winnifred, "to perish."
"All right," said the manager.
The door closed behind her. Winnifred Clair, once more upon the street, sank down upon the steps of the building in a swoon.
But at this very juncture Providence, which always watches over the innocent and defenceless, was keeping its eye direct upon Winnifred.
At that very moment when our heroine sank fainting upon the doorstep, a handsome equipage, drawn by two superb black steeds, happened to pass along the street.
Its appearance and character proclaimed it at once to be one of those vehicles in which only the superior classes of the exclusive aristocracy are privileged to ride. Its sides were emblazoned with escutcheons, insignia and other paraphernalia. The large gilt coronet that appeared up its panelling, surmounted by a bunch of huckleberries, quartered in a field of potatoes, indicated that its possessor was, at least, of the rank of marquis. A coachman and two grooms rode in front, while two footmen, seated in the boot, or box at the rear, contrived, by the immobility of their attitude and the melancholy of their faces, to inspire the scene with an exclusive and aristocratic grandeur.
The occupants of the equipage—for we refuse to count the menials as being such—were two in number, a lady and gentleman, both of advanced years. Their snow-white hair and benign countenances indicated that they belonged to that rare class of beings to whom rank and wealth are but an incentive to nobler things. A gentle philanthropy played all over their faces, and their eyes sought eagerly in the passing scene of the humble street for new objects of benefaction.
Those acquainted with the countenances of the aristocracy would have recognized at once in the occupants of the equipage the Marquis of Muddlenut and his spouse, the Marchioness.
It was the eye of the Marchioness which first detected the form of Winnifred Clair upon the doorstep.
"Hold! pause! stop!" she cried, in lively agitation.
The horses were at once pulled in, the brakes applied to the wheels, and with the aid of a powerful lever, operated by three of the menials, the carriage was brought to a standstill.
"See! Look!" cried the Marchioness. "She has fainted. Quick, William, your flask. Let us hasten to her aid."
In another moment the noble lady was bending over the prostrate form of Winnifred Clair, and pouring brandy between her lips.
Winnifred opened her eyes. "Where am I?" she asked feebly.
"She speaks!" cried the Marchioness. "Give her another flaskful."
After the second flask the girl sat up.
"Tell me," she cried, clasping her hands, "what has happened? Where am I?"
"With friends!" answered the Marchioness. "But do not essay to speak. Drink this. You must husband your strength. Meantime, let us drive you to your home."
Winnifred was lifted tenderly by the menservants into the aristocratic equipage. The brake was unset, the lever reversed, and the carriage thrown again into motion.
On the way Winnifred, at the solicitation of the Marchioness, related her story.
"My poor child!" exclaimed the lady, "how you must have suffered. Thank Heaven it is over now. To-morrow we shall call for you and bring you away with us to Muddlenut Chase."
Alas, could she but have known it, before the morrow should dawn, worse dangers still were in store for our heroine. But what these dangers were, we must reserve for another chapter.
A GAMBLING PARTY IN ST. JAMES'S CLOSE
We must now ask our readers to shift the scene—if they don't mind doing this for us—to the apartments of the Earl of Wynchgate in St. James's Close. The hour is nine o'clock in the evening, and the picture before us is one of revelry and dissipation so characteristic of the nobility of England. The atmosphere of the room is thick with blue Havana smoke such as is used by the nobility, while on the green baize table a litter of counters and cards, in which aces, kings, and even two spots are heaped in confusion, proclaim the reckless nature of the play.
Seated about the table are six men, dressed in the height of fashion, each with collar and white necktie and broad white shirt, their faces stamped with all, or nearly all, of the baser passions of mankind.
Lord Wynchgate—for he it was who sat at the head of the table—rose with an oath, and flung his cards upon the table.
All turned and looked at him, with an oath. "Curse it, Dogwood," he exclaimed, with another oath, to the man who sat beside him. "Take the money. I play no more to-night. My luck is out."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Lord Dogwood, with a third oath, "your mind is not on the cards. Who is the latest young beauty, pray, who so absorbs you? I hear a whisper in town of a certain misadventure of yours——"
"Dogwood," said Wynchgate, clenching his fist, "have a care, man, or you shall measure the length of my sword."
Both noblemen faced each other, their hands upon their swords.
"My lords, my lords!" pleaded a distinguished-looking man of more advanced years, who sat at one side of the table, and in whose features the habitues of diplomatic circles would have recognized the handsome lineaments of the Marquis of Frogwater, British Ambassador to Siam, "let us have no quarrelling. Come, Wynchgate, come, Dogwood," he continued, with a mild oath, "put up your swords. It were a shame to waste time in private quarrelling. They may be needed all too soon in Cochin China, or, for the matter of that," he added sadly, "in Cambodia or in Dutch Guinea."
"Frogwater," said young Lord Dogwood, with a generous flush, "I was wrong. Wynchgate, your hand."
The two noblemen shook hands.
"My friends," said Lord Wynchgate, "in asking you to abandon our game, I had an end in view. I ask your help in an affair of the heart."
"Ha! excellent!" exclaimed the five noblemen. "We are with you heart and soul."
"I propose this night," continued Wynchgate, "with your help, to carry off a young girl, a female!"
"An abduction!" exclaimed the Ambassador somewhat sternly. "Wynchgate, I cannot countenance this."
"Mistake me not," said the Earl, "I intend to abduct her. But I propose nothing dishonourable. It is my firm resolve to offer her marriage."
"Then," said Lord Frogwater, "I am with you."
"Gentlemen," concluded Wynchgate, "all is ready. The coach is below. I have provided masks, pistols, and black cloaks. Follow me."
A few moments later, a coach, with the blinds drawn, in which were six noblemen armed to the teeth, might have been seen, were it not for the darkness, approaching the humble lodging in which Winnifred Clair was sheltered.
But what it did when it got there, we must leave to another chapter.
The hour was twenty minutes to ten on the evening described in our last chapter.
Winnifred Clair was seated, still fully dressed, at the window of the bedroom, looking out over the great city.
A light tap came at the door.
"If it's a fried egg," called Winnifred softly, "I do not need it. I ate yesterday."
"No," said the voice of the Landlady. "You are wanted below."
"I!" exclaimed Winnifred, "below!"
"You," said the Landlady, "below. A party of gentlemen have called for you."
"Gentlemen," exclaimed Winnifred, putting her hand to her brow in perplexity, "for me! at this late hour! Here! This evening! In this house?"
"Yes," repeated the Landlady, "six gentlemen. They arrived in a closed coach. They are all closely masked and heavily armed. They beg you will descend at once."
"Just Heaven!" cried the Unhappy Girl. "Is it possible that they mean to abduct me?"
"They do," said the Landlady. "They said so!"
"Alas!" cried Winnifred, "I am powerless. Tell them"—she hesitated—"tell them I will be down immediately. Let them not come up. Keep them below on any pretext. Show them an album. Let them look at the goldfish. Anything, but not here! I shall be ready in a moment."
Feverishly she made herself ready. As hastily as possible she removed all traces of tears from her face. She threw about her shoulders an opera cloak, and with a light Venetian scarf half concealed the beauty of her hair and features. "Abducted!" she murmured, "and by six of them! I think she said six. Oh, the horror of it!" A touch of powder to her cheeks and a slight blackening of her eyebrows, and the courageous girl was ready.
Lord Wynchgate and his companions—for they it was, that is to say, they were it—sat below in the sitting-room looking at the albums. "Woman," said Lord Wynchgate to the Landlady, with an oath, "let her hurry up. We have seen enough of these. We can wait no longer."
"I am here," cried a clear voice upon the threshold, and Winnifred stood before them. "My lords, for I divine who you are and wherefore you have come, take me, do your worst with me, but spare, oh, spare this humble companion of my sorrow."
"Right-oh!" said Lord Dogwood, with a brutal laugh.
"Enough," exclaimed Wynchgate, and seizing Winnifred by the waist, he dragged her forth out of the house and out upon the street.
But something in the brutal violence of his behaviour seemed to kindle for the moment a spark of manly feeling, if such there were, in the breasts of his companions.
"Wynchgate," cried young Lord Dogwood, "my mind misgives me. I doubt if this is a gentlemanly thing to do. I'll have no further hand in it."
A chorus of approval from his companions endorsed his utterance. For a moment they hesitated.
"Nay," cried Winnifred, turning to confront the masked faces that stood about her, "go forward with your fell design. I am here. I am helpless. Let no prayers stay your hand. Go to it."
"Have done with this!" cried Wynchgate, with a brutal oath. "Shove her in the coach."
But at the very moment the sound of hurrying footsteps was heard, and a clear, ringing, manly, well-toned, vibrating voice cried, "Hold! Stop! Desist! Have a care, titled villain, or I will strike you to the earth."
A tall aristocratic form bounded out of the darkness.
"Gentlemen," cried Wynchgate, releasing his hold upon the frightened girl, "we are betrayed. Save yourselves. To the coach."
In another instant the six noblemen had leaped into the coach and disappeared down the street.
Winnifred, still half inanimate with fright, turned to her rescuer, and saw before her the form and lineaments of the Unknown Stranger, who had thus twice stood between her and disaster. Half fainting, she fell swooning into his arms.
"Dear lady," he exclaimed, "rouse yourself. You are safe. Let me restore you to your home!"
"That voice!" cried Winnifred, resuming consciousness. "It is my benefactor."
She would have swooned again, but the Unknown lifted her bodily up the steps of her home and leant her against the door.
"Farewell," he said, in a voice resonant with gloom.
"Oh, sir!" cried the unhappy girl, "let one who owes so much to one who has saved her in her hour of need at least know his name."
But the stranger, with a mournful gesture of farewell, had disappeared as rapidly as he had come.
But, as to why he had disappeared, we must ask our reader's patience for another chapter.
The scene is now shifted, sideways and forwards, so as to put it at Muddlenut Chase, and to make it a fortnight later than the events related in the last chapter.
Winnifred is now at the Chase as the guest of the Marquis and Marchioness. There her bruised soul finds peace.
The Chase itself was one of those typical country homes which are, or were till yesterday, the glory of England. The approach to the Chase lay through twenty miles of glorious forest, filled with fallow deer and wild bulls. The house itself, dating from the time of the Plantagenets, was surrounded by a moat covered with broad lilies and floating green scum. Magnificent peacocks sunned themselves on the terraces, while from the surrounding shrubberies there rose the soft murmur of doves, pigeons, bats, owls and partridges.
Here sat Winnifred Clair day after day upon the terrace recovering her strength, under the tender solicitude of the Marchioness.
Each day the girl urged upon her noble hostess the necessity of her departure. "Nay," said the Marchioness, with gentle insistence, "stay where you are. Your soul is bruised. You must rest."
"Alas," cried Winnifred, "who am I that I should rest? Alone, despised, buffeted by fate, what right have I to your kindness?"
"Miss Clair," replied the noble lady, "wait till you are stronger. There is something that I wish to say to you."
Then at last, one morning when Winnifred's temperature had fallen to ninety-eight point three, the Marchioness spoke.
"Miss Clair," she said, in a voice which throbbed with emotion, "Winnifred, if I may so call you, Lord Muddlenut and I have formed a plan for your future. It is our dearest wish that you should marry our son."
"Alas," cried Winnifred, while tears rose in her eyes, "it cannot be!"
"Say not so," cried the Marchioness. "Our son, Lord Mordaunt Muddlenut, is young, handsome, all that a girl could desire. After months of wandering he returns to us this morning. It is our dearest wish to see him married and established. We offer you his hand."
"Indeed," replied Winnifred, while her tears fell even more freely, "I seem to requite but ill the kindness that you show. Alas, my heart is no longer in my keeping."
"Where is it?" cried the Marchioness.
"It is another's. One whose very name I do not know holds it in his keeping."
But at this moment a blithe, gladsome step was heard upon the flagstones of the terrace. A manly, ringing voice, which sent a thrill to Winnifred's heart, cried "Mother!" and in another instant Lord Mordaunt Muddlenut, for he it was, had folded the Marchioness to his heart.
Winnifred rose, her heart beating wildly. One glance was enough. The newcomer, Lord Mordaunt, was none other than the Unknown, the Unaccountable, to whose protection she had twice owed her life.
With a wild cry Winnifred Clair leaped across the flagstones of the terrace and fled into the park.
They stood beneath the great trees of the ancestral park, into which Lord Mordaunt had followed Winnifred at a single bound. All about them was the radiance of early June.
Lord Mordaunt knelt on one knee on the greensward, and with a touch in which respect and reverence were mingled with the deepest and manliest emotion, he took between his finger and thumb the tip of the girl's gloved hand.
"Miss Clair," he uttered, in a voice suffused with the deepest yearning, yet vibrating with the most profound respect, "Miss Clair—Winnifred—hear me, I implore!"
"Alas," cried Winnifred, struggling in vain to disengage the tip of her glove from the impetuous clasp of the young nobleman, "alas, whither can I fly? I do not know my way through the wood, and there are bulls in all directions. I am not used to them! Lord Mordaunt, I implore you, let the tears of one but little skilled in the art of dissimulation——"
"Nay, Winnifred," said the Young Earl, "fly not. Hear me out!"
"Let me fly," begged the unhappy girl.
"You must not fly," pleaded Mordaunt. "Let me first, here upon bended knee, convey to you the expression of a devotion, a love, as ardent and as deep as ever burned in a human heart. Winnifred, be my bride!"
"Oh, sir," sobbed Winnifred, "if the knowledge of a gratitude, a thankfulness from one whose heart will ever treasure as its proudest memory the recollection of one who did for one all that one could have wanted done for one—if this be some poor guerdon, let it suffice. But, alas, my birth, the dark secret of my birth forbids——"
"Nay," cried Mordaunt, leaping now to his feet, "your birth is all right. I have looked into it myself. It is as good—or nearly as good—as my own. Till I knew this, my lips were sealed by duty. While I supposed that you had a lower birth and I an upper, I was bound to silence. But come with me to the house. There is one arrived with me who will explain all."
Hand in hand the lovers, for such they now were, returned to the Chase. There in the great hall the Marquis and the Marchioness were standing ready to greet them.
"My child!" exclaimed the noble lady, as she folded Winnifred to her heart. Then she turned to her son. "Let her know all!" she cried.
Lord Mordaunt stepped across the room to a curtain. He drew it aside, and there stepped forth Mr. Bonehead, the old lawyer who had cast Winnifred upon the world.
"Miss Clair," said the Lawyer, advancing and taking the girl's hand for a moment in a kindly clasp, "the time has come for me to explain all. You are not, you never were, the penniless girl that you suppose. Under the terms of your father's will, I was called upon to act a part and to throw you upon the world. It was my client's wish, and I followed it. I told you, quite truthfully, that I had put part of your money into options in an oil-well. Miss Clair, that well is now producing a million gallons of gasolene a month!'
"A million gallons!" cried Winnifred. "I can never use it."
"Wait till you own a motor-car, Miss Winnifred," said the Lawyer.
"Then I am rich!" exclaimed the bewildered girl.
"Rich beyond your dreams," answered the Lawyer. "Miss Clair, you own in your own right about half of the State of Texas—I think it is in Texas, at any rate either Texas or Rhode Island, or one of those big states in America. More than this, I have invested your property since your father's death so wisely that even after paying the income tax and the property tax, the inheritance tax, the dog tax and the tax on amusements, you will still have one half of one per cent to spend."
Winnifred clasped her hands.
"I knew it all the time," said Lord Mordaunt, drawing the girl to his embrace, "I found it out through this good man."
"We knew it too," said the Marchioness. "Can you forgive us, darling, our little plot for your welfare? Had we not done this Mordaunt might have had to follow you over to America and chase you all around Newport and Narragansett at a fearful expense."
"How can I thank you enough?" cried Winnifred. Then she added eagerly, "And my birth, my descent?"
"It is all right," interjected the Old Lawyer. "It is A 1. Your father, who died before you were born, quite a little time before, belonged to the very highest peerage of Wales. You are descended directly from Claer-ap-Claer, who murdered Owen Glendower. Your mother we are still tracing up. But we have already connected her with Floyd-ap-Floyd, who murdered Prince Llewellyn."
"Oh, sir," cried the grateful girl. "I only hope I may prove worthy of them!"
"One thing more," said Lord Mordaunt, and stepping over to another curtain he drew it aside and there emerged Lord Wynchgate.
He stood before Winnifred, a manly contrition struggling upon features which, but for the evil courses of he who wore them, might have been almost presentable.
"Miss Clair," he said, "I ask your pardon. I tried to carry you off. I never will again. But before we part let me say that my acquaintance with you has made me a better man, broader, bigger and, I hope, deeper."
With a profound bow, Lord Wynchgate took his leave.
WEDDED AT LAST
Lord Mordaunt and his bride were married forthwith in the parish church of Muddlenut Chase. With Winnifred's money they have drained the moat, rebuilt the Chase, and chased the bulls out of the park. They have six children, so far, and are respected, honoured and revered in the countryside far and wide, over a radius of twenty miles in circumference.
JOHN AND I
OR, HOW I NEARLY LOST MY HUSBAND
(Narrated after the approved fashion of the best Heart and Home Magazines)
II.—John and I; or, How I Nearly Lost My Husband.
It was after we had been married about two years that I began to feel that I needed more air. Every time I looked at John across the breakfast-table, I felt as if I must have more air, more space.
I seemed to feel as if I had no room to expand. I had begun to ask myself whether I had been wise in marrying John, whether John was really sufficient for my development. I felt cramped and shut in. In spite of myself the question would arise in my mind whether John really understood my nature. He had a way of reading the newspaper, propped up against the sugar-bowl, at breakfast, that somehow made me feel as if things had gone all wrong. It was bitter to realize that the time had come when John could prefer the newspaper to his wife's society.
But perhaps I had better go back and tell the whole miserable story from the beginning.
I shall never forget—I suppose no woman ever does—the evening when John first spoke out his love for me. I had felt for some time past that it was there. Again and again, he seemed about to speak. But somehow his words seemed to fail him. Twice I took him into the very heart of the little wood beside Mother's house, but it was only a small wood, and somehow he slipped out on the other side. "Oh, John," I had said, "how lonely and still it seems in the wood with no one here but ourselves! Do you think," I said, "that the birds have souls?" "I don't know," John answered, "let's get out of this." I was sure that his emotion was too strong for him. "I never feel a bit lonesome where you are, John," I said, as we made our way among the underbrush. "I think we can get out down that little gully," he answered. Then one evening in June after tea I led John down a path beside the house to a little corner behind the garden where there was a stone wall on one side and a high fence right in front of us, and thorn bushes on the other side. There was a little bench in the angle of the wall and the fence, and we sat down on it.
"Minnie," John said, "there's something I meant to say——"
"Oh, John," I cried, and I flung my arms round his neck. It all came with such a flood of surprise.
"All I meant, Minn——" John went on, but I checked him.
"Oh, don't, John, don't say anything more," I said. "It's just too perfect." Then I rose and seized him by the wrist. "Come," I said, "come to Mother," and I rushed him along the path.
As soon as Mother saw us come in hand in hand in this way, she guessed everything. She threw both her arms round John's neck and fairly pinned him against the wall. John tried to speak, but Mother wouldn't let him. "I saw it all along, John," she said. "Don't speak. Don't say a word. I guessed your love for Minn from the very start. I don't know what I shall do without her, John, but she's yours now; take her." Then Mother began to cry and I couldn't help crying too. "Take him to Father," Mother said, and we each took one of John's wrists and took him to Father on the back verandah. As soon as John saw Father he tried to speak again—"I think I ought to say," he began, but Mother stopped him. "Father," she said, "he wants to take our little girl away. He loves her very dearly, Alfred," she said, "and I think it our duty to let her go, no matter how hard it is, and oh, please Heaven, Alfred, he'll treat her well and not misuse her, or beat her," and she began to sob again.
Father got up and took John by the hand and shook it warmly.
"Take her, boy," he said. "She's all yours now, take her."
So John and I were engaged, and in due time our wedding day came and we were married. I remember that for days and days before the wedding day John seemed very nervous and depressed; I think he was worrying, poor boy, as to whether he could really make me happy and whether he could fill my life as it should be filled. But I told him that he was not to worry, because I meant to be happy, and was determined just to make the best of everything.
Father stayed with John a good deal before the wedding day, and on the wedding morning he went and fetched him to the church in a closed carriage and had him there all ready when we came. It was a beautiful day in September, and the church looked just lovely. I had a beautiful gown of white organdie with tulle at the throat, and I carried a great bunch of white roses, and Father led John up the aisle after me.
I remember that Mother cried a good deal at the wedding, and told John that he had stolen her darling and that he must never misuse me or beat me. And I remember that the clergyman spoke very severely to John, and told him he hoped he realized the responsibility he was taking and that it was his duty to make me happy. A lot of our old friends were there, and they all spoke quite sharply to John, and all the women kissed me and said they hoped I would never regret what I had done, and I just kept up my spirits by sheer determination, and told them that I had made up my mind to be happy and that I was going to be so.
So presently it was all over and we were driven to the station and got the afternoon train for New York, and when we sat down in the compartment among all our bandboxes and flowers, John said, "Well, thank God, that's over." And I said, "Oh, John, an oath! on our wedding day, an oath!" John said, "I'm sorry, Minn, I didn't mean——" but I said, "Don't, John, don't make it worse. Swear at me if you must, but don't make it harder to bear."
* * * * *
We spent our honeymoon in New York. At first I had thought of going somewhere to the great lonely woods, where I could have walked under the great trees and felt the silence of nature, and where John should have been my Viking and captured me with his spear, and where I should be his and his alone and no other man should share me; and John had said all right. Or else I had planned to go away somewhere to the seashore, where I could have watched the great waves dashing themselves against the rocks. I had told John that he should be my cave man, and should seize me in his arms and carry me whither he would. I felt somehow that for my development I wanted to get as close to nature as ever I could—that my mind seemed to be reaching out for a great emptiness. But I looked over all the hotel and steamship folders I could find and it seemed impossible to get good accommodation, so we came to New York. I had a great deal of shopping to do for our new house, so I could not be much with John, but I felt it was not right to neglect him, so I drove him somewhere in a taxi each morning and called for him again in the evening. One day I took him to the Metropolitan Museum, and another day I left him at the Zoo, and another day at the aquarium. John seemed very happy and quiet among the fishes.
So presently we came back home, and I spent many busy days in fixing and arranging our new house. I had the drawing-room done in blue, and the dining-room all in dark panelled wood, and a boudoir upstairs done in pink and white enamel to match my bedroom and dressing-room. There was a very nice little room in the basement next to the coal cellar that I turned into a "den" for John, so that when he wanted to smoke he could go down there and do it. John seemed to appreciate his den at once, and often would stay down there so long that I had to call to him to come up.
When I look back on those days they seem very bright and happy. But it was not very long before a change came. I began to realize that John was neglecting me. I noticed it at first in small things. I don't know just how long it was after our marriage that John began to read the newspaper at breakfast. At first he would only pick it up and read it in little bits, and only on the front page. I tried not to be hurt at it, and would go on talking just as brightly as I could, without seeming to notice anything. But presently he went on to reading the inside part of the paper, and then one day he opened up the financial page and folded the paper right back and leant it against the sugar-bowl.
I could not but wonder whether John's love for me was what it had been. Was it cooling? I asked myself. And what was cooling it? It hardly seemed possible, when I looked back to the wild passion with which he had proposed to me on the garden bench, that John's love was waning. But I kept noticing different little things. One day in the spring-time I saw John getting out a lot of fishing tackle from a box and fitting it together. I asked him what he was going to do, and he said that he was going to fish. I went to my room and had a good cry. It seemed dreadful that he could neglect his wife for a few worthless fish.
So I decided to put John to the test. It had been my habit every morning after he put his coat on to go to the office to let John have one kiss, just one weeny kiss, to keep him happy all day. So this day when he was getting ready I bent my head over a big bowl of flowers and pretended not to notice. I think John must have been hurt, as I heard him steal out on tiptoe.
Well, I realized that things had come to a dreadful state, and so I sent over to Mother, and Mother came, and we had a good cry together. I made up my mind to force myself to face things and just to be as bright as ever I could. Mother and I both thought that things would be better if I tried all I could to make something out of John. I have always felt that every woman should make all that she can out of her husband. So I did my best first of all to straighten up John's appearance. I shifted the style of collar he was wearing to a tighter kind that I liked better, and I brushed his hair straight backward instead of forward, which gave him a much more alert look. Mother said that John needed waking up, and so we did all we could to wake him up. Mother came over to stay with me a good deal, and in the evenings we generally had a little music or a game of cards.
About this time another difficulty began to come into my married life, which I suppose I ought to have foreseen—I mean the attentions of other gentlemen. I have always called forth a great deal of admiration in gentlemen, but I have always done my best to act like a lady and to discourage it in every possible way. I had been innocent enough to suppose that this would end with married life, and it gave me a dreadful shock to realize that such was not the case. The first one I noticed was a young man who came to the house, at an hour when John was out, for the purpose, so he said at least, of reading the gas meter. He looked at me in just the boldest way and asked me to show him the way to the cellar. I don't know whether it was a pretext or not, but I just summoned all the courage I had and showed him to the head of the cellar stairs. I had determined that if he tried to carry me down with him I would scream for the servants, but I suppose something in my manner made him desist, and he went alone. When he came up he professed to have read the meter and he left the house quite quietly. But I thought it wiser to say nothing to John of what had happened.
There were others too. There was a young man with large brown eyes who came and said he had been sent to tune the piano. He came on three separate days, and he bent his ear over the keys in such a mournful way that I knew he must have fallen in love with me. On the last day he offered to tune my harp for a dollar extra, but I refused, and when I asked him instead to tune Mother's mandoline he said he didn't know how. Of course I told John nothing of all this.
Then there was Mr. McQueen, who came to the house several times to play cribbage with John. He had been desperately in love with me years before—at least I remember his taking me home from a hockey match once, and what a struggle it was for him not to come into the parlour and see Mother for a few minutes when I asked him; and, though he was married now and with three children, I felt sure when he came to play cribbage with John that it meant something. He was very discreet and honourable, and never betrayed himself for a moment, and I acted my part as if there was nothing at all behind. But one night, when he came over to play and John had had to go out, he refused to stay even for an instant. He had got his overshoes off before I told him that John was out, and asked him if he wouldn't come into the parlour and hear Mother play the mandoline, but he just made one dive for his overshoes and was gone. I knew that he didn't dare to trust himself.
Then presently a new trouble came. I began to suspect that John was drinking. I don't mean for a moment that he was drunk, or that he was openly cruel to me. But at times he seemed to act so queerly, and I noticed that one night when by accident I left a bottle of raspberry vinegar on the sideboard overnight, it was all gone in the morning. Two or three times when McQueen and John were to play cribbage, John would fetch home two or three bottles of bevo with him and they would sit sipping all evening.
I think he was drinking bevo by himself, too, though I could never be sure of it. At any rate he often seemed queer and restless in the evenings, and instead of staying in his den he would wander all over the house. Once we heard him—I mean Mother and I and two lady friends who were with us that evening—quite late (after ten o'clock) apparently moving about in the pantry. "John," I called, "is that you?" "Yes, Minn," he answered, quietly enough, I admit. "What are you doing there?" I asked. "Looking for something to eat," he said. "John," I said, "you are forgetting what is due to me as your wife. You were fed at six. Go back."
He went. But yet I felt more and more that his love must be dwindling to make him act as he did. I thought it all over wearily enough and asked myself whether I had done everything I should to hold my husband's love. I had kept him in at nights. I had cut down his smoking. I had stopped his playing cards. What more was there that I could do?
* * * * *
So at last the conviction came to me that I must go away. I felt that I must get away somewhere and think things out. At first I thought of Palm Beach, but the season had not opened and I felt somehow that I couldn't wait. I wanted to get away somewhere by myself and just face things as they were. So one morning I said to John, "John, I think I'd like to go off somewhere for a little time, just to be by myself, dear, and I don't want you to ask to come with me or to follow me, but just let me go." John said, "All right, Minn. When are you going to start?" The cold brutality of it cut me to the heart, and I went upstairs and had a good cry and looked over steamship and railroad folders. I thought of Havana for a while, because the pictures of the harbour and the castle and the queer Spanish streets looked so attractive, but then I was afraid that at Havana a woman alone by herself might be simply persecuted by attentions from gentlemen. They say the Spanish temperament is something fearful. So I decided on Bermuda instead. I felt that in a beautiful, quiet place like Bermuda I could think everything all over and face things, and it said on the folder that there were always at least two English regiments in garrison there, and the English officers, whatever their faults, always treat a woman with the deepest respect.
So I said nothing more to John, but in the next few days I got all my arrangements made and my things packed. And when the last afternoon came I sat down and wrote John a long letter, to leave on my boudoir table, telling him that I had gone to Bermuda. I told him that I wanted to be alone: I said that I couldn't tell when I would be back—that it might be months, or it might be years, and I hoped that he would try to be as happy as he could and forget me entirely, and to send me money on the first of every month.
* * * * *
Well, it was just at that moment that one of those strange coincidences happen, little things in themselves, but which seem to alter the whole course of a person's life. I had nearly finished the letter to John that I was to leave on the writing-desk, when just then the maid came up to my room with a telegram. It was for John, but I thought it my duty to open it and read it for him before I left. And I nearly fainted when I saw that it was from a lawyer in Bermuda—of all places—and it said that a legacy of two hundred thousand dollars had been left to John by an uncle of his who had died there, and asking for instructions about the disposition of it.
A great wave seemed to sweep over me, and all the wicked thoughts that had been in my mind—for I saw now that they were wicked—were driven clean away. I thought how completely lost poor old John would feel if all this money came to him and he didn't have to work any more and had no one at his side to help and guide him in using it.
I tore up the wicked letter I had written, and I hurried as fast as I could to pack up a valise with John's things (my own were packed already, as I said). Then presently John came in, and I broke the news to him as gently and as tenderly as I could about his uncle having left him the money and having died. I told him that I had found out all about the trains and the Bermuda steamer, and had everything all packed and ready for us to leave at once. John seemed a little dazed about it all, and kept saying that his uncle had taught him to play tennis when he was a little boy, and he was very grateful and thankful to me for having everything arranged, and thought it wonderful.
I had time to telephone to a few of my women friends, and they just managed to rush round for a few minutes to say good-bye. I couldn't help crying a little when I told them about John's uncle dying so far away with none of us near him, and I told them about the legacy, and they cried a little to hear of it all; and when I told them that John and I might not come back direct from Bermuda, but might take a run over to Europe first, they all cried some more.
We left for New York that evening, and after we had been to Bermuda and arranged about a suitable monument for John's uncle and collected the money, we sailed for Europe.
All through the happy time that has followed, I like to think that through all our trials and difficulties affliction brought us safely together at last.
THE SPLIT IN THE CABINET
OR, THE FATE OF ENGLAND
(A political novel of the Days that Were)
III.—The Split in the Cabinet; or, The Fate of England.
"The fate of England hangs upon it," murmured Sir John Elphinspoon, as he sank wearily into an armchair. For a moment, as he said "England," the baronet's eye glistened and his ears lifted as if in defiance, but as soon as he stopped saying it his eye lost its brilliance and his ears dropped wearily at the sides of his head.
Lady Elphinspoon looked at her husband anxiously. She could not conceal from herself that his face, as he sank into his chair, seemed somehow ten years older than it had been ten years ago.
"You are home early, John?" she queried.
"The House rose early, my dear," said the baronet.
"For the All England Ping-Pong match?"
"No, for the Dog Show. The Prime Minister felt that the Cabinet ought to attend. He said that their presence there would help to bind the colonies to us. I understand also that he has a pup in the show himself. He took the Cabinet with him."
"And why not you?" asked Lady Elphinspoon.
"You forget, my dear," said the baronet, "as Foreign Secretary my presence at a Dog Show might be offensive to the Shah of Persia. Had it been a Cat Show——"
The baronet paused and shook his head in deep gloom.
"John," said his wife, "I feel that there is something more. Did anything happen at the House?"
Sir John nodded.
"A bad business," he said. "The Wazuchistan Boundary Bill was read this afternoon for the third time."
No woman in England, so it was generally said, had a keener political insight than Lady Elphinspoon.
"The third time," she repeated thoughtfully, "and how many more will it have to go?"
Sir John turned his head aside and groaned.
"You are faint," exclaimed Lady Elphinspoon, "let me ring for tea."
The baronet shook his head.
"An egg, John—let me beat you up an egg."
"Yes, yes," murmured Sir John, still abstracted, "beat it, yes, do beat it."
Lady Elphinspoon, in spite of her elevated position as the wife of the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, held it not beneath her to perform for her husband the plainest household service. She rang for an egg. The butler broke it for her into a tall goblet filled with old sherry, and the noble lady, with her own hands, beat the stuff out of it. For the veteran politician, whose official duties rarely allowed him to eat, an egg was a sovereign remedy. Taken either in a goblet of sherry or in a mug of rum, or in half a pint of whisky, it never failed to revive his energies.
The effect of the egg was at once visible in the brightening of his eye and the lengthening of his ears.
"And now explain to me," said his wife, "what has happened. What is this Boundary Bill?"
"We never meant it to pass," said Sir John. "It was introduced only as a sop to public opinion. It delimits our frontier in such a way as to extend our suzerainty over the entire desert of El Skrub. The Wazoos have claimed that this is their desert. The hill tribes are restless. If we attempt to advance the Wazoos will rise. If we retire it deals a blow at our prestige."
Lady Elphinspoon shuddered. Her long political training had taught her that nothing was so fatal to England as to be hit in the prestige.
"And on the other hand," continued Sir John, "if we move sideways, the Ohulis, the mortal enemies of the Wazoos, will strike us in our rear."
"In our rear!" exclaimed Lady Elphinspoon in a tone of pain. "Oh, John, we must go forward. Take another egg."
"We cannot," groaned the Foreign Secretary. "There are reasons which I cannot explain even to you, Caroline, reasons of State, which absolutely prevent us from advancing into Wazuchistan. Our hands are tied. Meantime if the Wazoos rise, it is all over with us. It will split the Cabinet."
"Split the Cabinet!" repeated Lady Elphinspoon in alarm. She well knew that next to a blow in the prestige the splitting of the Cabinet was about the worst thing that could happen to Great Britain. "Oh, John, they must be held together at all costs. Can nothing be done?"
"Everything is being done that can be. The Prime Minister has them at the Dog Show at this moment. To-night the Chancellor is taking them to moving pictures. And to-morrow—it is a State secret, my dear, but it will be very generally known in the morning—we have seats for them all at the circus. If we can hold them together all is well, but if they split we are undone. Meantime our difficulties increase. At the very passage of the Bill itself a question was asked by one of the new labour members, a miner, my dear, a quite uneducated man——"
"Yes?" queried Lady Elphinspoon.
"He asked the Colonial Secretary"—Sir John shuddered—"to tell him where Wazuchistan is. Worse than that, my dear," added Sir John, "he defied him to tell him where it is."
"What did you do? Surely he has no right to information of that sort?"
"It was a close shave. Luckily the Whips saved us. They got the Secretary out of the House and rushed him to the British Museum. When he got back he said that he would answer the question a month from Friday. We got a great burst of cheers, but it was a close thing. But stop, I must speak at once with Powers. My despatch box, yes, here it is. Now where is young Powers? There is work for him to do at once."
"Mr. Powers is in the conservatory with Angela," said Lady Elphinspoon.
"With Angela!" exclaimed Sir John, while a slight shade of displeasure appeared upon his brow. "With Angela again! Do you think it quite proper, my dear, that Powers should be so constantly with Angela?"
"John," said his wife, "you forget, I think, who Mr. Powers is. I am sure that Angela knows too well what is due to her rank, and to herself, to consider Mr. Powers anything more than an instructive companion. And I notice that, since Mr. Powers has been your secretary, Angela's mind is much keener. Already the girl has a wonderful grasp on foreign policy. Only yesterday I heard her asking the Prime Minister at luncheon whether we intend to extend our Senegambian protectorate over the Fusees. He was delighted."
"Oh, very well, very well," said Sir John. Then he rang a bell for a manservant.
"Ask Mr. Powers," he said, "to be good enough to attend me in the library."
Angela Elphinspoon stood with Perriton Powers among the begonias of the conservatory. The same news which had so agitated Sir John lay heavy on both their hearts.
"Will the Wazoo rise?" asked Angela, clasping her hands before her, while her great eyes sought the young man's face and found it. "Oh, Mr. Powers! Tell me, will they rise? It seems too dreadful to contemplate. Do you think the Wazoo will rise?"
"It is only too likely," said Powers. They stood looking into one another's eyes, their thoughts all on the Wazoo.
Angelina Elphinspoon, as she stood there against the background of the begonias, made a picture that a painter, or even a plumber, would have loved. Tall and typically English in her fair beauty, her features, in repose, had something of the hauteur and distinction of her mother, and when in motion they recalled her father.
Perriton Powers was even taller than Angela. The splendid frame and stern features of Sir John's secretary made him a striking figure. Yet he was, quite frankly, sprung from the people, and made no secret of it. His father had been simply a well-to-do London surgeon, who had been knighted for some mere discoveries in science. His grandfather, so it was whispered, had been nothing more than a successful banker who had amassed a fortune simply by successful banking. Yet at Oxford young Powers had carried all before him. He had occupied a seat, a front seat, in one of the boats, had got his blue and his pink, and had taken a double final in Sanscrit and Arithmetic.
He had already travelled widely in the East, spoke Urdu and Hoodoo with facility, while as secretary to Sir John Elphinspoon, with a seat in the House in prospect, he had his foot upon the ladder of success.
"Yes," repeated Powers thoughtfully, "they may rise. Our confidential despatches tell us that for some time they have been secretly passing round packets of yeast. The whole tribe is in a ferment."
"But our sphere of influence is at stake," exclaimed Angela.
"It is," said Powers. "As a matter of fact, for over a year we have been living on a mere modus vivendi."
"Oh, Mr. Powers," cried Angela, "what a way to live."
"We have tried everything," said the secretary. "We offered the Wazoo a condominium over the desert of El Skrub. They refused it."
"But it's our desert," said Angela proudly.
"It is. But what can we do? The best we can hope is that El Boob will acquiesce in the status quo."
At that moment a manservant appeared in the doorway of the conservatory.
"Mr. Powers, sir," he said, "Sir John desires your attendance, sir, in the library, sir."
Powers turned to Angela, a new seriousness upon his face.
"Miss Elphinspoon," he said, "I think I know what is coming. Will you wait for me here? I shall be back in half an hour."
"I will wait," said the girl. She sat down and waited among the begonias, her mind still on the Wazoo, her whole intense nature strung to the highest pitch. "Can the modus vivendi hold?" she murmured.
In half an hour Powers returned. He was wearing now his hat and light overcoat, and carried on a strap round his neck a tin box with a white painted label, "British Foreign Office. Confidential Despatches. This Side Up With Care."
"Miss Elphinspoon," he said, and there was a new note in his voice, "Angela, I leave England to-night——"
"To-night!" gasped Angela.
"On a confidential mission."
"To Wazuchistan!" exclaimed the girl.
Powers paused a moment. "To Wazuchistan," he said, "yes. But it must not be known. I shall return in a month—or never. If I fail"—he spoke with an assumed lightness—"it is only one more grave among the hills. If I succeed, the Cabinet is saved, and with it the destiny of England."
"Oh, Mr. Powers," cried Angela, rising and advancing towards him, "how splendid! How noble! No reward will be too great for you."
"My reward," said Powers, and as he spoke he reached out and clasped both of the girl's hands in his own, "yes, my reward. May I come and claim it here?"
For a moment he looked straight into her eyes. In the next he was gone, and Angela was alone.
"His reward!" she murmured. "What could he have meant? His reward that he is to claim. What can it be?"
But she could not divine it. She admitted to herself that she had not the faintest idea.
In the days that followed all England was thrilled to its base as the news spread that the Wazoo might rise at any moment.
"Will the Wazoos rise?" was the question upon every lip.
In London men went to their offices with a sense of gloom. At lunch they could hardly eat. A feeling of impending disaster pervaded all ranks.
Sir John as he passed to and fro to the House was freely accosted in the streets.
"Will the Wazoos rise, sir?" asked an honest labourer. "Lord help us all, sir, if they do."
Sir John, deeply touched, dropped a shilling in the honest fellow's hat, by accident.
At No. 10 Downing Street, women of the working class, with children in their arms, stood waiting for news.
On the Exchange all was excitement. Consols fell two points in twenty-four hours. Even raising the Bank rate and shutting the door brought only a temporary relief.
Lord Glump, the greatest financial expert in London, was reported as saying that if the Wazoos rose England would be bankrupt in forty-eight hours.
Meanwhile, to the consternation of the whole nation, the Government did nothing. The Cabinet seemed to be paralysed.
On the other hand the Press became all the more clamorous. The London Times urged that an expedition should be sent at once. Twenty-five thousand household troops, it argued, should be sent up the Euphrates or up the Ganges or up something without delay. If they were taken in flat boats, carried over the mountains on mules, and lifted across the rivers in slings, they could then be carried over the desert on jackasses. They could reach Wazuchistan in two years. Other papers counselled moderation. The Manchester Guardian recalled the fact that the Wazoos were a Christian people. Their leader, El Boob, so it was said, had accepted Christianity with childlike simplicity and had asked if there was any more of it. The Spectator claimed that the Wazoos, or more properly the Wazi, were probably the descendants of an Iranic or perhaps Urgumic stock. It suggested the award of a Rhodes Scholarship. It looked forward to the days when there would be Wazoos at Oxford. Even the presence of a single Wazoo, or, more accurately, a single Wooz, would help.
With each day the news became more ominous. It was reported in the Press that a Wazoo, inflamed apparently with ghee, or perhaps with bhong, had rushed up to the hills and refused to come down. It was said that the Shriek-el-Foozlum, the religious head of the tribe, had torn off his suspenders and sent them to Mecca.
That same day the Illustrated London News published a drawing "Wazoo Warriors Crossing a River and Shouting, Ho!" and the general consternation reached its height.
Meantime, for Sir John and his colleagues, the question of the hour became, "Could the Cabinet be held together?" Every effort was made. The news that the Cabinet had all been seen together at the circus, for a moment reassured the nation. But the rumour spread that the First Lord of the Admiralty had said that the clowns were a bum lot. The Radical Press claimed that if he thought so he ought to resign.
On the fatal Friday the question already referred to was scheduled for its answer. The friends of the Government counted on the answer to restore confidence. To the consternation of all, the expected answer was not forthcoming. The Colonial Secretary rose in his place, visibly nervous. Ministers, he said, had been asked where Wazuchistan was. They were not prepared, at the present delicate stage of negotiations, to say. More hung upon the answer than Ministers were entitled to divulge. They could only appeal to the patriotism of the nation. He could only say this, that wherever it was, and he used the word wherever with all the emphasis of which he was capable, the Government would accept the full responsibility for its being where it was.
The House adjourned in something like confusion.
Among those seated behind the grating of the Ladies' Gallery was Lady Elphinspoon. Her quick instinct told her the truth. Driving home, she found her husband seated, crushed, in his library.
"John," she said, falling on her knees and taking her husband's hands in hers, "is this true? Is this the dreadful truth?"
"I see you have divined it, Caroline," said the statesman sadly. "It is the truth. We don't know where Wazuchistan is."
For a moment there was silence.
"But, John, how could it have happened?"
"We thought the Colonial Office knew. We were confident that they knew. The Colonial Secretary had stated that he had been there. Later on it turned out that he meant Saskatchewan. Of course they thought we knew. And we both thought that the Exchequer must know. We understood that they had collected a hut tax for ten years."
"And hadn't they?"
"Not a penny. The Wazoos live in tents."
"But, surely," pleaded Lady Elphinspoon, "you could find out. Had you no maps?"
Sir John shook his head.
"We thought of that at once, my dear. We've looked all through the British Museum. Once we thought we had succeeded. But it turned out to be Wisconsin."
"But the map in the Times? Everybody saw it."
Again the baronet shook his head. "Lord Southcliff had it made in the office," he said. "It appears that he always does. Otherwise the physical features might not suit him."
"But could you not send some one to see?"
"We did. We sent Perriton Powers to find out where it was. We had a month to the good. It was barely time, just time. Powers has failed and we are lost. To-morrow all England will guess the truth and the Government falls."
The crowd outside of No. 10 Downing Street that evening was so dense that all traffic was at a standstill. But within the historic room where the Cabinet were seated about the long table all was calm. Few could have guessed from the quiet demeanour of the group of statesmen that the fate of an Empire hung by a thread.
Seated at the head of the table, the Prime Minister was quietly looking over a book of butterflies, while waiting for the conference to begin. Beside him the Secretary for Ireland was fixing trout flies, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer kept his serene face bent over upon his needlework. At the Prime Minister's right, Sir John Elphinspoon, no longer agitated, but sustained and dignified by the responsibility of his office, was playing spillikins.
The little clock on the mantel chimed eight.
The Premier closed his book of butterflies.
"Well, gentlemen," he said, "I fear our meeting will not be a protracted one. It seems we are hopelessly at variance. You, Sir Charles," he continued, turning to the First Sea Lord, who was in attendance, "are still in favour of a naval expedition?"
"Send it up at once," said Sir Charles.
"Up where?" asked the Premier.
"Up anything," answered the Old Sea Dog, "it will get there."
Voices of dissent were raised in undertones around the table.
"I strongly deprecate any expedition," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "I favour a convention with the Shriek. Let the Shriek sign a convention recognizing the existence of a supreme being and receiving from us a million sterling in acknowledgment."
"And where will you find the Shriek?" said the Prime Minister. "Come, come, gentlemen, I fear that we can play this comedy no longer. The truth is," he added with characteristic nonchalance, "we don't know where the bally place is. We can't meet the House to-morrow. We are hopelessly split. Our existence as a Government is at an end."
But, at that very moment, a great noise of shouting and clamour rose from the street without. The Prime Minister lifted his hand for silence. "Listen," he said. One of the Ministers went to a window and opened it, and the cries outside became audible. "A King's Messenger! Make way for the King's Messenger!"
The Premier turned quietly to Sir John.
"Perriton Powers," he said.
In another moment Perriton Powers stood before the Ministers.
Bronzed by the tropic sun, his face was recognizable only by the assured glance of his eye. An Afghan bernous was thrown back from his head and shoulders, while his commanding figure was draped in a long chibuok. A pair of pistols and a curved yasmak were in his belt.
"So you got to Wazuchistan all right," said the Premier quietly.
"I went in by way of the Barooda," said Powers. "For many days I was unable to cross it. The waters of the river were wild and swollen with rains. To cross it seemed certain death——"
"But at last you got over," said the Premier, "and then——"
"I struck out over the Fahuri desert. For days and days, blinded by the sun, and almost buried in sand, I despaired."
"But you got through it all right. And after that?"
"My first care was to disguise myself. Staining myself from head to foot with betel nut——"
"To look like a beetle," said the Premier. "Exactly. And so you got to Wazuchistan. Where is it and what is it?"
"My lord," said Powers, drawing himself up and speaking with emphasis, "I got to where it was thought to be. There is no such place!"
The whole Cabinet gave a start of astonishment.
"No such place!" they repeated.
"What about El Boob?" asked the Chancellor.
"There is no such person."
"And the Shriek-el-Foozlum?"
Powers shook his head.
"But do you mean to say," said the Premier in astonishment, "that there are no Wazoos? There you must be wrong. True we don't just know where they are. But our despatches have shown too many signs of active trouble traced directly to the Wazoos to disbelieve in them. There are Wazoos somewhere, there—there must be."
"The Wazoos," said Powers, "are there. But they are Irish. So are the Ohulis. They are both Irish."
"But how the devil did they get out there?" questioned the Premier. "And why did they make the trouble?"
"The Irish, my lord," interrupted the Chief Secretary for Ireland, "are everywhere, and it is their business to make trouble."
"Some years ago," continued Powers, "a few Irish families settled out there. The Ohulis should be properly called the O'Hooleys. The word Wazoo is simply the Urdu for McGinnis. El Boob is the Urdu for the Arabic El Papa, the Pope. It was my knowledge of Urdu, itself an agglutinative language——"
"Precisely," said the Premier. Then he turned to his Cabinet. "Well, gentlemen, our task is now simplified. If they are Irish, I think we know exactly what to do. I suppose," he continued, turning to Powers, "that they want some kind of Home Rule."
"They do," said Powers.
"Separating, of course, the Ohuli counties from the Wazoo?"
"Yes," said Powers.
"Precisely; the thing is simplicity itself. And what contribution will they make to the Imperial Exchequer?"
"And will they pay their own expenses?"
"They refuse to."
"Exactly. All this is plain sailing. Of course they must have a constabulary. Lord Edward," continued the Premier, turning now to the Secretary of War, "how long will it take to send in a couple of hundred constabulary? I think they'll expect it, you know. It's their right."
"Let me see," said Lord Edward, calculating quickly, with military precision, "sending them over the Barooda in buckets and then over the mountains in baskets—I think in about two weeks."
"Good," said the Premier. "Gentlemen, we shall meet the House to-morrow. Sir John, will you meantime draft us an annexation bill? And you, young man, what you have done is really not half bad. His Majesty will see you to-morrow. I am glad that you are safe."
"On my way home," said Powers, with quiet modesty, "I was attacked by a lion——"
"But you beat it off," said the Premier. "Exactly. Good night."
It was on the following afternoon that Sir John Elphinspoon presented the Wazoo Annexation Bill to a crowded and breathless House.
Those who know the House of Commons know that it has its moods. At times it is grave, earnest, thoughtful. At other times it is swept with emotion which comes at it in waves. Or at times, again, it just seems to sit there as if it were stuffed.
But all agreed that they had never seen the House so hushed as when Sir John Elphinspoon presented his Bill for the Annexation of Wazuchistan. And when at the close of a splendid peroration he turned to pay a graceful compliment to the man who had saved the nation, and thundered forth to the delighted ears of his listeners—
Arma virumque cano Wazoo qui primus ab oris,
and then, with the words "England, England," still on his lips, fell over backwards and was carried out on a stretcher, the House broke into wild and unrestrained applause.
The next day Sir Perriton Powers—for the King had knighted him after breakfast—stood again in the conservatory of the house in Carlton Terrace.
"I have come for my reward," he said. "Do I get it?"
"You do," said Angela.
Sir Perriton clasped her in his arms.
"On my way home," he said, "I was attacked by a lion. I tried to beat it——"
"Hush, dearest," she whispered, "let me take you to father."
WHO DO YOU THINK DID IT?
OR, THE MIXED-UP MURDER MYSTERY
(Done after the very latest fashion in this sort of thing)
IV.—Who Do You Think Did It? or, The Mixed-Up Murder Mystery.
NOTE.—Any reader who guesses correctly who did it is entitled (in all fairness) to a beautiful gold watch and chain.
HE DINED WITH ME LAST NIGHT
The afternoon edition of the Metropolitan Planet was going to press. Five thousand copies a minute were reeling off its giant cylinders. A square acre of paper was passing through its presses every hour. In the huge Planet building, which dominated Broadway, employes, compositors, reporters, advertisers, surged to and fro. Placed in a single line (only, of course, they wouldn't be likely to consent to it) they would have reached across Manhattan Island. Placed in two lines, they would probably have reached twice as far. Arranged in a procession they would have taken an hour in passing a saloon: easily that.
In the whole vast building all was uproar. Telephones, megaphones and gramophones were ringing throughout the building. Elevators flew up and down, stopping nowhere.
Only in one place was quiet—namely, in the room where sat the big man on whose capacious intellect the whole organization depended.
Masterman Throgton, the general manager of the Planet, was a man in middle life. There was something in his massive frame which suggested massiveness, and a certain quality in the poise of his great head which indicated a balanced intellect. His face was impenetrable and his expression imponderable.
The big chief was sitting in his swivel chair with ink all round him. Through this man's great brain passed all the threads and filaments that held the news of a continent. Snap one, and the whole continent would stop.
At the moment when our story opens (there was no sense in opening it sooner), a written message had just been handed in.
The Chief read it. He seemed to grasp its contents in a flash.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. It was the strongest expression that this solid, self-contained, semi-detached man ever allowed himself. Anything stronger would have seemed too near to profanity. "Good God!" he repeated, "Kivas Kelly murdered! In his own home! Why, he dined with me last night! I drove him home!"
For a brief moment the big man remained plunged in thought. But with Throgton the moment of musing was short. His instinct was to act.
"You may go," he said to the messenger. Then he seized the telephone that stood beside him (this man could telephone almost without stopping thinking) and spoke into it in quiet, measured tones, without wasting a word.
"Hullo, operator! Put me through to two, two, two, two, two. Is that two, two, two, two, two? Hullo, two, two, two, two, two; I want Transome Kent. Kent speaking? Kent, this is Throgton speaking. Kent, a murder has been committed at the Kelly residence, Riverside Drive. I want you to go and cover it. Get it all. Don't spare expense. The Planet is behind you. Have you got car-fare? Right."
In another moment the big chief had turned round in his swivel chair (at least forty degrees) and was reading telegraphic despatches from Jerusalem. That was the way he did things.
I MUST SAVE HER LIFE
Within a few minutes Transome Kent had leapt into a car (a surface car) and was speeding north towards Riverside Drive with the full power of the car. As he passed uptown a newsboy was already calling, "Club Man Murdered! Another Club Man Murdered!" Carelessly throwing a cent to the boy, Kent purchased a paper and read the brief notice of the tragedy.
Kivas Kelly, a well-known club man and bon vivant, had been found dead in his residence on Riverside Drive, with every indication—or, at least, with a whole lot of indications—of murder. The unhappy club man had been found, fully dressed in his evening clothes, lying on his back on the floor of the billiard-room, with his feet stuck up on the edge of the table. A narrow black scarf, presumably his evening tie, was twisted tightly about his neck by means of a billiard cue inserted in it. There was a quiet smile upon his face. He had apparently died from strangulation. A couple of bullet-holes passed through his body, one on each side, but they went out again. His suspenders were burst at the back. His hands were folded across his chest. One of them still held a white billiard ball. There was no sign of a struggle or of any disturbance in the room. A square piece of cloth was missing from the victim's dinner jacket.
In its editorial columns the same paper discussed the more general aspects of the murder. This, it said, was the third club man murdered in the last fortnight. While not taking an alarmist view, the paper felt that the killing of club men had got to stop. There was a limit, a reasonable limit, to everything. Why should a club man be killed? It might be asked, why should a club man live? But this was hardly to the point. They do live. After all, to be fair, what does a club man ask of society? Not much. Merely wine, women and singing. Why not let him have them? Is it fair to kill him? Does the gain to literature outweigh the social wrong? The writer estimated that at the rate of killing now going on the club men would be all destroyed in another generation. Something should be done to conserve them.
Transome Kent was not a detective. He was a reporter. After sweeping everything at Harvard in front of him, and then behind him, he had joined the staff of the Planet two months before. His rise had been phenomenal. In his first week of work he had unravelled a mystery, in his second he had unearthed a packing scandal which had poisoned the food of the entire nation for ten years, and in his third he had pitilessly exposed some of the best and most respectable people in the metropolis. Kent's work on the Planet consisted now almost exclusively of unravelling and unearthing, and it was natural that the manager should turn to him.
The mansion was a handsome sandstone residence, standing in its own grounds. On Kent's arrival he found that the police had already drawn a cordon around it with cords. Groups of morbid curiosity-seekers hung about it in twos and threes, some of them in fours and fives. Policemen were leaning against the fence in all directions. They wore that baffled look so common to the detective force of the metropolis. "It seems to me," remarked one of them to the man beside him, "that there is an inexorable chain of logic about this that I am unable to follow." "So do I," said the other.
The Chief Inspector of the Detective Department, a large, heavy-looking man, was standing beside a gate-post. He nodded gloomily to Transome Kent.
"Are you baffled, Edwards?" asked Kent.
"Baffled again, Mr. Kent," said the Inspector, with a sob in his voice. "I thought I could have solved this one, but I can't."
He passed a handkerchief across his eyes.
"Have a cigar, Chief," said Kent, "and let me hear what the trouble is."
The Inspector brightened. Like all policemen, he was simply crazy over cigars. "All right, Mr. Kent," he said, "wait till I chase away the morbid curiosity-seekers."
He threw a stick at them.
"Now, then," continued Kent, "what about tracks, footmarks? Had you thought of them?"
"Yes, first thing. The whole lawn is covered with them, all stamped down. Look at these, for instance. These are the tracks of a man with a wooden leg"—Kent nodded—"in all probability a sailor, newly landed from Java, carrying a Singapore walking-stick, and with a tin-whistle tied round his belt."
"Yes, I see that," said Kent thoughtfully. "The weight of the whistle weighs him down a little on the right side."
"Do you think, Mr. Kent, a sailor from Java with a wooden leg would commit a murder like this?" asked the Inspector eagerly. "Would he do it?"
"He would," said the Investigator. "They generally do—as soon as they land."
The Inspector nodded. "And look at these marks here, Mr. Kent. You recognize them, surely—those are the footsteps of a bar-keeper out of employment, waiting for the eighteenth amendment to pass away. See how deeply they sink in——"
"Yes," said Kent, "he'd commit murder."
"There are lots more," continued the Inspector, "but they're no good. The morbid curiosity-seekers were walking all over this place while we were drawing the cordon round it."
"Stop a bit," said Kent, pausing to think a moment. "What about thumb-prints?"
"Thumb-prints," said the Inspector. "Don't mention them. The house is full of them."
"Any thumb-prints of Italians with that peculiar incurvature of the ball of the thumb that denotes a Sicilian brigand?"
"There were three of those," said Inspector Edwards gloomily. "No, Mr. Kent, the thumb stuff is no good."
Kent thought again.
"Inspector," he said, "what about mysterious women? Have you seen any around?"
"Four went by this morning," said the Inspector, "one at eleven-thirty, one at twelve-thirty, and two together at one-thirty. At least," he added sadly, "I think they were mysterious. All women look mysterious to me."
"I must try in another direction," said Kent. "Let me reconstruct the whole thing. I must weave a chain of analysis. Kivas Kelly was a bachelor, was he not?"
"He was. He lived alone here."
"Very good, I suppose he had in his employ a butler who had been with him for twenty years——"
"I suppose you've arrested him?"
"At once," said the Inspector. "We always arrest the butler, Mr. Kent. They expect it. In fact, this man, Williams, gave himself up at once."
"And let me see," continued the Investigator. "I presume there was a housekeeper who lived on the top floor, and who had been stone deaf for ten years?"
"She had heard nothing during the murder?"
"Not a thing. But this may have been on account of her deafness."
"True, true," murmured Kent. "And I suppose there was a coachman, a thoroughly reliable man, who lived with his wife at the back of the house——"
"But who had taken his wife over to see a relation on the night of the murder, and who did not return until an advanced hour. Mr. Kent, we've been all over that. There's nothing in it."
"Were there any other persons belonging to the establishment?"
"There was Mr. Kelly's stenographer, Alice Delary, but she only came in the mornings."
"Have you seen her?" asked Kent eagerly. "What is she like?"
"I have seen her," said the Inspector. "She's a looloo."
"Ha," said Kent, "a looloo!" The two men looked into one another's eyes.
"Yes," repeated Edwards thoughtfully, "a peach."
A sudden swift flash of intuition, an inspiration, leapt into the young reporter's brain.
This girl, this peach, at all hazards he must save her life.
I MUST BUY A BOOK ON BILLIARDS
Kent turned to the Inspector. "Take me into the house," he said. Edwards led the way. The interior of the handsome mansion seemed undisturbed. "I see no sign of a struggle here," said Kent.
"No," answered the Inspector gloomily. "We can find no sign of a struggle anywhere. But, then, we never do."
He opened for the moment the door of the stately drawing-room. "No sign of a struggle there," he said. The closed blinds, the draped furniture, the covered piano, the muffled chandelier, showed absolutely no sign of a struggle.
"Come upstairs to the billiard-room," said Edwards. "The body has been removed for the inquest, but nothing else is disturbed."
They went upstairs. On the second floor was the billiard-room, with a great English table in the centre of it. But Kent had at once dashed across to the window, an exclamation on his lips. "Ha! ha!" he said, "what have we here?"
The Inspector shook his head quietly. "The window," he said in a monotonous, almost sing-song tone, "has apparently been opened from the outside, the sash being lifted with some kind of a sharp instrument. The dust on the sill outside has been disturbed as if by a man of extraordinary agility lying on his stomach——Don't bother about that, Mr. Kent. It's always there."
"True," said Kent. Then he cast his eyes upward, and again an involuntary exclamation broke from him. "Did you see that trap-door?" he asked.
"We did," said Edwards. "The dust around the rim has been disturbed. The trap opens into the hollow of the roof. A man of extraordinary dexterity might open the trap with a billiard cue, throw up a fine manila rope, climb up the rope and lie there on his stomach.
"No use," continued the Inspector. "For the matter of that, look at this huge old-fashioned fireplace. A man of extraordinary precocity could climb up the chimney. Or this dumb-waiter on a pulley, for serving drinks, leading down into the maids' quarters. A man of extreme indelicacy might ride up and down in it."
"Stop a minute," said Kent. "What is the meaning of that hat?"
A light gossamer hat, gay with flowers, hung on a peg at the side of the room.
"We thought of that," said Edwards, "and we have left it there. Whoever comes for that hat has had a hand in the mystery. We think——"
But Transome Kent was no longer listening. He had seized the edge of the billiard table.
"Look, look!" he cried eagerly. "The clue to the mystery! The positions of the billiard balls! The white ball in the very centre of the table, and the red just standing on the verge of the end pocket! What does it mean, Edwards, what does it mean?"
He had grasped Edwards by the arm and was peering into his face.
"I don't know," said the Inspector. "I don't play billiards."
"Neither do I," said Kent, "but I can find out. Quick! The nearest book-store. I must buy a book on billiards."
With a wave of the arm, Kent vanished.
The Inspector stood for a moment in thought.
"Gone!" he murmured to himself (it was his habit to murmur all really important speeches aloud to himself). "Now, why did Throgton telephone to me to put a watch on Kent? Ten dollars a day to shadow him! Why?"
THAT IS NOT BILLIARD CHALK
Meantime at the Planet office Masterman Throgton was putting on his coat to go home.
"Excuse me, sir," said an employe, "there's a lot of green billiard chalk on your sleeve."