PRETTY girl in a blue dress came out of the house, and began to walk slowly across the terrace to where Elsa Keith sat with Marvin Rossiter, in the shade of the big sycamore. Elsa and Marvin had become engaged some few days before, and were generally to be found at this time sitting together in some shaded spot in the grounds of the Keiths’ Long Island home.
“What’s troubling Betty, I wonder?” said Elsa. “She looks worried.”
Marvin turned his head.
“Is that your friend, Miss Silver?”
“That’s Betty. We were at college together.”
“When did she arrive?”
“Last night. She’s here for a month. What’s the matter, Betty? This is Marvin. I want you to like Marvin.”
Betty Silver smiled. Her face, in repose, was rather wistful, but it lit up when she smiled, and an unsuspected dimple came into being on her chin.
“Of course I shall,” she said.
“What were you scowling at so ferociously, Betty?” asked Elsa.
“Was I scowling? I hope you didn’t think it was at you. Oh, Elsa, I’m miserable! I shall have to leave this heavenly place.”
“At once, too. And I was meaning to have the most lovely time. See what has come!”
She held out some flimsy sheets of paper.
“A cable!” said Elsa.
“Great Scott! It looks like the scenario of a four-act play,” said Marvin. “That’s not all one cable, surely? Whoever sent it must be a millionaire.”
“He is. It’s from my stepfather. Read it out, Elsa.”
Elsa, who had been skimming the document with raised eyebrows, now read it out in its spacious entirety.
“On receipt of this come instantly to Mervo without moment’s delay. Vital importance. Presence urgently required. Come wherever you are. Cancel engagements. Urgent necessity. Hustle. Have advised bank allow you draw any money you need expenses. Have booked stateroom, Mauretania, sailing Wednesday. Don’t fail catch. Arrive Fishguard Monday train London. Sleep London. Catch first train Tuesday Dover. Now, mind, first train. No taking root in London, and spending a week shopping. Midday boat Dover Calais. Arrive Paris Tuesday evening. Dine Paris. Catch train de luxe nine-fifteen Tuesday night for Marseilles. Have engaged sleeping coupé. Now mind Tuesday night. No cutting loose around Paris stores. You can do all that later on. Just now you want to get here right quick. Arrive Marseilles Wednesday. Morning boat Mervo Wednesday night. Will meet you Mervo. Now do you follow all that? Because if not, cable at once and say which part of journey you don’t understand. Now mind special points to be remembered. Firstly, come instantly. Secondly, no cutting loose around London-Paris stores. See!
“Well!” said Elsa, breathless.
“By George!” said Marvin. “He certainly seems to want you badly enough. He hasn’t spared expense. He has put in about everything you could put into a cable.”
“Excepting why he wants me,” said Betty.
“Yes,” said Elsa. “Why does he want you? And in such a desperate hurry, too.”
“That’s what makes it so strange. We have hardly met for years. Why, he didn’t even know where I was. The cable was sent to the bank, and forwarded on. And I don’t know where he is.”
“Which brings us back,” said Marvin, “to mysterious Mervo.” He got up from his chair. “Isn’t there an encyclopedia in the library, Elsa?”
“Yes, but it’s an old edition.”
“It will probably touch on Mervo. I’ll go and fetch it.”
As he crossed the terrace, Elsa turned quickly to Betty.
“Well?” she said.
Betty smiled at her.
“He’s a dear. Are you very happy, Elsa?”
Elsa’s eyes danced. She drew in her breath softly. Betty looked at her in silence for a moment. The wistful expression was back on her face.
“Betty! What’s the matter?”
Betty smiled, but painfully.
“It’s stupid of me. I’m just jealous, that’s all. I haven’t got a Marvin, you see. You have.”
“Well, there are plenty who would like to be your Marvin.”
Betty’s face grew cold.
“There are plenty who would like to be Benjamin Scobell’s son-in-law,” she said.
“Betty”—Elsa’s voice was serious—“we’ve been friends for a good long time, so you’ll let me say something, won’t you? I think you’re getting just the least bit hard. Now, turn and rend me,” she added good-humoredly.
“I’m not going to rend you,” said Betty. “You’re perfectly right. I am getting hard. How can I help it? Do you know how many men have asked me to marry them since I saw you last? Five.”
“Betty! Who were they?”
“The only one you know was Lord Arthur Hayling. You remember him? He was the last. There were four others before him. And not one of them cared the slightest bit about me. I can’t think of a single man in the world—except your Marvin, of course—who wouldn’t do anything for money.” She stopped. “Well, yes, one.”
“You don’t know him.”
“But what’s his name?”
“Well, if I am on the witness stand—Maude.”
“Maude? I thought you said a man.”
“It’s his name. John Maude.”
“But, Betty! Why didn’t you tell me before? This is tremendously interesting.”
Betty laughed shortly.
“Not so very really. I only met him two or three times, and I haven’t seen him for years, and I don’t suppose I shall ever see him again. He was a friend of Alice Beecher’s brother, who was at Harvard. Alice took me over to meet her brother, and Mr. Maude was there. That’s all.”
Elsa was plainly disappointed.
“But how do you know, then? What makes you think that he——”
“Instinct again, I suppose. I do know.”
“And you’ve never met him since?”
Betty shook her head. Elsa relapsed into silence. She had a sense of bathos.
At the farther end of the terrace Marvin Rossiter appeared, carrying a large volume.
“Well, it’s an island in the Mediterranean, as I said, and I’m surprised that you’ve never heard of it, Elsa, because it’s celebrated in its way. It’s the smallest independent state in the world. Smaller than Monaco, even. Here are some facts: Its population when this encyclopedia was printed—there may be more now—was eleven thousand and sixteen. It was ruled over up to eighteen eighty-six by a prince. But in that year the populace appear to have said to themselves: ‘When, in the course of human events——’ Anyway, they fired the prince, and the place is now a republic. So that’s where you’re going, Miss Silver.”
“But what can my stepfather be doing there? I last heard of him in London. Well, I suppose I shall have to go.”
“I suppose you will,” said Elsa mournfully. “But, oh, Betty, what a shame!”
“By heck!” cried Mr. Benjamin Scobell.
He wheeled round from the window, and transferred his gaze from the view to his Sister Marion; losing by the action, for the view was a joy to the eye, which his Sister Marion was not.
Mervo was looking its best under the hot morning sun. Mr. Scobell’s villa stood near the summit of the only hill the island possessed, and from the window of the morning room, where he had just finished breakfast, he had an uninterrupted view of valley, town, and harbor—a two-mile riot of green, gold, and white, and beyond the white the blue satin of the Mediterranean.
Mr. Scobell was a nasty little man to hold despotic sway over such a paradise—a goblin in fairyland. Somewhat below the middle height, he was lean of body and vulturine of face. He had a greedy mouth, a hooked nose, liquid-green eyes, and a sallow complexion. He was rarely seen without a half-smoked cigar between his lips.
How Benjamin Scobell had discovered the existence of Mervo is not known. It lay well outside the sphere of the ordinary financier. But Mr. Scobell took a pride in the versatility of his finance. It was Mr. Scobell’s way to consider nothing as lying outside his sphere.
This man of many projects had descended upon Mervo like a stone on the surface of some quiet pool, bubbling over with modern enterprise in general and, in particular, with a scheme. Before his arrival, Mervo had been an island of dreams, and slow movement, and putting things off till to-morrow. The only really energetic thing it had ever done in its whole history had been to expel his late highness, Prince Charles, and change itself into a republic. And even that had been done with the minimum of fuss.
The prince was away at the time. Indeed, he had been away for nearly three years, the pleasures of Paris, London, and Vienna appealing to him more keenly than life among his subjects. Mervo, having thought the matter over during these years, decided that it had no further use for Prince Charles. Quite quietly, it had struck his name off the pay roll, and declared itself a republic.
Mervo had then gone to sleep again. It was asleep when Mr. Scobell found it.
The financier’s scheme was first revealed to Monsieur D’Orby, the president of the republic, a large, stout statesman with even more than the average Mervian instinct for slumber. He was asleep in a chair on the porch of his villa when Mr. Scobell paid his call, and it was not until the financier’s secretary, who had attended the séance in the capacity of interpreter, had rocked him vigorously from side to side for quite a minute that he displayed any signs of animation beyond a snore like the growling of distant thunder.
When at length he opened his eyes, he perceived the nightmarelike form of Mr. Scobell standing before him, talking. The financier, impatient of delay, had begun to talk some moments before the great awakening.
“Sir,” Mr. Scobell was saying, “I gotta proposition to which I’d like you to give your complete attention. Shake him some more, Crump. Sir, there’s big money in it for all of us, if you and your crowd’ll sit in. Money. Lar monnay. No, that means change. What’s money. Crump? Arjong? There’s arjong in it, squire. Get that? Oh, shucks! Hand it him in French, Crump.”
Mr. Secretary Crump translated. The president blinked, and intimated that he would hear more. Mr. Scobell relit his cigar stump, and proceeded.
“Say, you’ve heard of Mersyaw Blong? Ask the old skeesicks if he’s ever heard of Mersyaw Blong, Crump, the feller who started the gaming tables at Monte Carlo.”
Filtered through Mr. Crump, the question became intelligible to the president. He said he had heard of Monsieur Blanc.
Mr. Scobell relit his cigar.
“Well, I’m in that line. I’m going to put this island on the map, just like old Doctor Blong put Monte Carlo. I’ve been studying up all about the old man, and I know just what he did, and how he did it. Monte Carlo was just such another jerkwater little place as this is before he hit it. The government was down to its last bean, and wondering where the heck its next meal ticket was coming from, when in blows Mister Man, tucks up his shirt sleeves, and starts the tables. And after that the place never looked back. You and your crowd gotta get together, and pass a vote to give me a gambling concession here, same as they gave him. Scobell’s my name. Hand him that, Crump.”
Mr. Crump obliged once more. A gleam of intelligence came into the president’s dull eye. He nodded once or twice. He talked volubly in French to Mr. Crump, who responded in the same tongue.
“What’s he saying now?” asked Mr. Scobell.
“He wants to know——”
“Don’t tell. Let me guess. He wants to know what sort of a rake-off he and the other somnambulists will get, the darned old pirate! Is that it?”
Mr. Crump said that that was just it.
“That’ll be all right,” said Mr. Scobell. “Old man Blong’s offer to the Prince of Monaco was five hundred thousand francs a year—that’s somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars in real money—and half the profits made by the casino. That’s my offer, too. See how that hits him, Crump.”
Mr. Crump investigated.
“He says he accepts gladly, on behalf of the republic, sir,” he announced.
Monsieur D’Orby confirmed the statement by rising, dodging the cigar, and kissing Mr. Scobell on both cheeks.
“Cut it out!” said the financier austerely, breaking out of the clinch. “Good-by, squire. Glad it’s settled. Now I can get busy.”
He did. Workmen poured into Mervo, and in a very short time, dominating the town, and reducing to insignificance the palace of the late prince, once a passably imposing mansion, there rose beside the harbor a mammoth casino of shining stone.
It was a colossal venture, but it suffered from the defect from which most big things suffer: it moved slowly. That it also moved steadily was to some extent a consolation to Mr. Scobell. Undoubtedly it would progress quicker and quicker, as time went on, until at length the casino became a permanent gold mine. But at present it was being conducted at a loss. It was inevitable, but it irked Mr. Scobell. He paced the island, and brooded. His mind dwelt incessantly on the problem. Ideas for promoting the prosperity of his nursling came to him as he stood looking at the view from the window of his morning room, listening absently to his Sister Marion as she read stray items of interest from the columns of the New York Herald, and had caused him to utter the exclamation recorded at the beginning of the chapter.
“By heck!” he said. “Marion, I got an idea.”
Miss Scobell, deep in her paper, paid no attention. Few people would have taken her for the sister of the financier. She was his exact opposite in almost every way. He was small, jerky, and aggressive; she, tall, deliberate, and negative.
Mr. Scobell thumped the table.
“I’ve got it. I’ve found out what’s the matter with this darned place. I see why the casino hasn’t struck its gait.”
“I think it must be the croupiers, dear. They look at me so oddly.”
“Nonsense! It’s not the casino that’s wrong; it’s the darned island. What’s the use of a republic to a place like this? I’m not saying that you don’t want a republic for a live country that’s got its way to make in the world; but for a little runt of a sawn-off, hobo, one-night stand like this you gotta have something picturesque, something that’ll advertise the place, something that’ll give a jolt to folks’ curiosity, and make ’em talk.
“There’s this Monaco gook. He snoops around in his yacht, and people talk about it. It’s like a soap advertisement. It works by suggestion. They get to thinking about the prince, and, first thing they know, they’ve packed their grips, and come along to Monaco to have a peek at him.
“That’s what this place wants. Whoever heard of this blamed republic doing anything except eat and sleep? They used to have a prince here way back in eighty-something. Well, I’m going to have him working at the old stand again, right away.”
Miss Scobell looked up from her paper, which she had been reading with absorbed interest throughout this harangue.
“I think you’re quite right, dear. Who?”
“The prince. Do listen, Marion. The prince of this island. His highness, the Prince of Mervo. I’m going to send for him, and put him on the throne again.”
“You can’t, dear. He’s dead.”
“I know he’s dead. You can’t faze me on the history of this place. He died in ninety-one. But before he died he married an American girl, and there’s a son, who’s in America now, living with his uncle. It’s the son I’m going to send for. I got it all from General Poineau. He’s a royalist. He’ll be tickled to pieces when Johnny comes marching home again. Old man Poineau told me all about it. The prince married a girl called Westley, and then he was killed in an automobile accident, and his widow went back to America with the kid, to live with her brother. Poineau says he could lay his hand on him any time he pleased.”
“I hope you won’t do anything rash, dear,” said his sister comfortably. “I’m sure we don’t want any horrid revolution here, with people shooting and stabbing each other.”
“Revolution?” cried Mr. Scobell. “Revolution! Well, I should say nix! Revolution nothing! I’m the man with the big stick in Mervo. Pretty near every adult on this island is dependent on my casino for his weekly envelope, and what I say goes without argument. I want a prince, so I gotta have a prince, and if any gazook makes a noise like a man with a grouch, he’ll find himself fired.”
Miss Scobell turned to her paper again.
“Very well, dear,” she said. “Just as you please. I’m sure you know best.”
“Sure!” said her brother. “You’re a good guesser. I’ll go and beat up old man Poineau right away.”
About the time of Mr. Scobell’s visit to General Poineau, John, Prince of Mervo, ignorant of the greatness so soon to be thrust upon him, was strolling thoughtfully along one of the main thoroughfares of that outpost of civilization, Jersey City.
He was a big young man, tall, and large of limb. His shoulders especially were of the massive type expressly designed by nature for driving wide gaps in the opposing line on the gridiron. He looked like one of nature’s center rushes, and had, indeed, played in that portion for Harvard during two strenuous seasons. His face wore an expression of invincible good humor. He had a wide, good-natured mouth, and a pair of friendly gray eyes. One felt that he liked his fellow men, and would be surprised and pained if they did not like him.
At the entrance to a large office building he paused, and seemed to hesitate. Then, as if he had made up his mind to face an ordeal, he went in, and pressed the button of the elevator.
Leaving the elevator at the third floor, he went down the passage, and pushed open a door on which was inscribed the legend: “Westley, Martin, & Co.”
A thickset youth, walking across the office with his hands full of papers, stopped in astonishment.
“Hello, John Maude!” he cried.
The young man grinned.
“Say, where have you been? The old man’s been as mad as a hornet since he found you had quit without leave. He was asking for you just now.”
John put the thing to him candidly, as man to man.
“See here, Spiller, suppose you got up one day, and found it was a perfectly bully morning, and remembered that the Giants were playing the Cubs, and looked at your mail, and saw that some one had sent you a pass for the game, and——”
“Were you at the ball game? You’ve got the nerve! Didn’t you know there would be trouble?”
“Old man,” said John frankly, “I could no more have turned down that pass—— Oh, well! What’s the use? It’s got to be done.”
It was not a task to which many would have looked forward. Most of those who came into contact with Andrew Westley were afraid of him. He was a capable rather than a lovable man, and too self-controlled to be quite human.
John, in all the years of their connection, had never been able to make anything of him. At first, he had been prepared to like him, as he liked nearly everybody. But Mr. Westley had discouraged all advances, and, as time went by, his nephew had come to look on him as something apart from the rest of the world, one of those things which no fellow could understand.
On Mr. Westley’s side, there was something to be said in extenuation of his attitude. John reminded him of his father, and he had hated the late Prince of Mervo with a cold hatred that had for a time been the ruling passion of his life. He had loved his sister, and her married life had been one long torture to him, a torture rendered keener by the fact that he was powerless to protect either her happiness or her money.
At last, an automobile accident put an end to his highness’ hectic career—and incidentally to that of a blond lady from the Folies Bergere—and the princess had returned to her brother’s home, where, a year later, she died, leaving him in charge of her infant son.
Mr. Westley’s desire from the first had been to eliminate as far as possible all memory of the late prince. He gave John his sister’s name, Maude, and brought him up as an American, in total ignorance of his father’s identity. During all the years they had spent together, he had never mentioned the prince’s name.
He disliked John intensely. He fed him, clothed him, sent him to college, and gave him a place in his office; but he never for a moment relaxed his bleakness of front toward him.
John, for his part, had the philosophy which goes with perfect health. He fitted his uncle into the scheme of things, or, rather, set him outside them, as an irreconcilable element, and went on his way enjoying life in his own good-humored fashion.
He was not a man who worried. He had not that temperament. But sometimes he would wonder in rather a vague way whether he was not allowing life to slip by him a little too placidly. An occasional yearning for something larger would attack him.
John moved toward the door of the inner office with a certain exhilaration.
As he approached, it flew open, disclosing Mr. Westley himself, a tall, thin man, at the sight of whom Spiller shot into his seat like a rabbit.
John went to meet him.
“Ah,” said Mr. Westley, “come in here. I want to speak to you.”
John followed him into the room.
“Sit down,” said his uncle. He turned to the stenographer. “Will you take down this letter, Miss Morrison?”
John waited while he dictated a letter. Neither spoke till the stenographer had left the room. John met the girl’s eye as she passed. There was a compassionate look in it. He and Della Morrison were good friends. John was, indeed, generally popular with his fellow employees.
When the door closed, Mr. Westley leaned back in his chair, and regarded his nephew steadily from under a pair of bushy gray eyebrows, which lent a sort of hypnotic keenness to his gaze.
“You were at the ball game yesterday?” he said.
The unexpectedness of the question startled John into a sharp laugh.
“Yes,” he said, recovering himself.
“It didn’t seem worth while asking for leave.”
“You mean that you relied so implicitly on our relationship to save you from the consequences?
“No, I meant——”
“Well, we need not try and discover what you may have meant. What claim do you put forward for special consideration? Why should I treat you differently from any other member of the staff?”
John had a feeling that the interview was being taken at too rapid a pace. He felt confused.
“I don’t want you to treat me differently,” he said.
“I think we understand each other,” said Mr. Westley. “I need not detain you. You may return to the ball game without further delay. As you go out, ask the cashier to give you your salary to the end of the month. Good-by.”
“Good-by,” said John.
The squarest man, deposited suddenly in New York, and faced with the prospect of earning his living there, is likely to quail for a moment. New York is not like other cities. London greets the stranger with a sleepy grunt. Paris giggles. New York howls. A gladiator, waiting in the center of the arena while the Colosseum officials fumbled with the bolts of the door behind which paced the noisy tiger he was to fight, must have had some of the emotions which John experienced during his first hour as a masterless man in Gotham.
A surface car carried him up Broadway. After a quarter of an hour’s ride the Hyperion Hotel loomed up on the left. It looked a pretty good hotel to John. He dismounted.
Half an hour later he decided that he was acclimated. He had secured a base of operations in the shape of a room on the seventh floor. The check for a month’s salary, his little all, was safely deposited in the hotel bank; and he was halfway through a lunch which had caused him already to look on New York not only as the finest city in the world, but also, on the whole, as the one city of all others in which a young man might make a fortune with the maximum of speed and the minimum of effort.
After lunch, having telegraphed his address to his uncle in case of mail, he took the latter’s excellent advice and went to the ball game.
It was characteristic of John—a trait inherited from a long line of ancestors whose views of finance had always been delightfully airy and casual—that forty-eight hours passed before the thought came fully home to him that one cannot spend one’s days at the American League Park and one’s nights in an expensive Broadway hotel indefinitely on a capital of two hundred dollars. In the intervals of urging athletic gentlemen in knickerbockers and spiked shoes to swat the stitching off the ball, he had occasionally observed this reflection flickering vaguely for an instant before his mental eye; but he was not a Prince of Mervo for nothing, and until lunch time on the third day he shirked the unpleasant problem of how he was to go on living after his last bill had broken into a shower of small silver as thoroughly and effectively as even his father, the amiable Prince Charles, could have done.
He turned at bay, and faced the future as he was smoking his after-dinner cigar. For a moment this same future seemed rosy. Everybody appeared to be making quite a comfortable living in this happy city. The only real difficulty seemed to lie in selecting the most congenial job.
Then, with unwonted good sense, he found himself asking himself what precisely were his qualifications for any job, congenial or otherwise, and it was here that doubts began to creep in. As far as he could see, the only thing he knew anything about—and he was no captain of industry at that—was office work of the type he had done when in the employment of his uncle; and the idea of returning to that dull gray existence in this wonderful city of movement and opportunities jarred on him.
His mind was still working with unnatural rapidity, but without practical results. And then the idea came.
At the farther end of the lobby, near the entrance to the dining room, was situated the news stand; and there, across a zareba of best sellers, John could see portions of a young man of his own age, seated in a chair.
There was for the moment a lull in the demand for literature among the patrons of the hotel, and the high priest of the shrine was very much at his ease. His whole poise was that of the leisured classes. His jaws moved rhythmically, busy with the gum within, and his eyes rested on an early edition of an evening paper. Plainly a happy young man, safely rooted in a job that, judging from appearances, made no excessive demands either on the energy or on the intelligence.
John envied him. That, he told himself, was precisely the kind of job which would exactly suit. And it was here that the idea came to him.
He bounded across the lobby, and addressed the young man.
“Say,” he remarked, “how much will you take for your job?”
The young man looked up from his paper, surprised.
“Huh?” he said.
John leaned across the zareba, upsetting a row of best sellers.
“Come along,” he said. “This is a business proposition. I want your job. How much will you take to quit?”
The young man was slow in taking in the situation. He frowned.
“I’m not joshing,” John assured him. “I want your job, and I’m willing to pay for it. I’ll give you fifty dollars.”
The young man laid down his paper. He looked at John reflectively, as who should say: “Your proposition interests us. Proceed.” It occurred to him as a possible solution that John was doing this for a bet.
“Fifty dollars,” he said.
“Fifty crackling bucks,” said John. “And here they are! Now, then?”
It takes a good deal to throw a news-stand clerk in a New York hotel off his balance for long. At the sight of the money the young man began to enter into the spirit of the thing.
“Well, I guess I could fix it for you with the boss,” he said. “And I guess, if I quit here, I could get another job. And,” he added, “fifty bucks are fifty bucks.”
“Sure thing,” corroborated John. “You can’t get away from that.”
“When do you want to start in?”
“Now. To-day. I shan’t feel safe till I’m on the other side of that counter.”
“Well, then, come on in; the water’s fine,” said the young man facetiously. “I’m not stopping you. I wonder if there are any more bughouse guys knocking around these parts.”
“Go and look,” said John. “And let me get into that chair. That’s all I want.”
The young man looked at him curiously, then at the roll of bills. He shook his head.
“I shall wake up before I get to spending this,” he said. “It always happens that way. But let’s hope not. Say, you draw twelve per for this job. They slip it to you Saturdays.”
“Fine!” said John. “Do they let you keep an automobile?”
The ease with which he fell into his new duties convinced John that he had found the walk in life for which nature had designed him. The mystery to him was that everybody was not a news-stand clerk.
The hustle and stir of the lobby fascinated him. To stand behind his intrenchment and watch the moving throng was as good as being in a theater—better, indeed, for the lobby provided a whole series of little dramas, each lasting just long enough to amuse without wearying.
It surprised him a little that, by the end of the first week, he had only seen one person of his acquaintance. In a thoroughfare like the lobby of a New York hotel he had expected to meet every day some old college friend or some one who had had dealings with Westley, Martin & Co., during his term of service. But if such visited the Hyperion, they did it when he was off duty, for his only encounter was with Miss Della Morrison, the stenographer, who had looked her sympathy at him as she left Mr. Westley’s private office before that final interview.
He saw her on the ninth day. She was so changed outwardly that, when he first caught sight of her across the lobby, he did not recognize her. The Della Morrison he had known had been a brisk, businesslike figure in a plain blue dress, bounded on the north by a nodding pompadour, on the south by shoes of gleaming tan. The girl in the lobby was wonderfully costumed, and both pompadour and tan shoes had disappeared in favor of less emphatic decorations. Not till she crossed to the news stand to buy a magazine did she reveal herself. Any lingering doubts John may have had were then definitely dispelled by what she said and the way she said it. The alterations in her had been purely external.
She faced John across the counter, caught his eye, stared, then smiled a huge smile of delighted surprise.
“Well!” she exclaimed.
“Can I do anything for you, madam?” said John. “We are selling a great number of this novel——”
“Well, you don’t sting me with it, John Maude,” said Della definitely. “And you don’t kid me, either, if I have come into a fortune.”
“Have you come into a fortune? Bully for you!”
“Pa did. The very same day you were fired. Say, that was a shame! I could have cried. The old cheap skate, turning his orphan nephew out into—into——”
“Not the snow,” said John, “because there wasn’t any.”
“He’d have liked there to have been,” said Miss Morrison. “He’d have been tickled to death if he’d fired you out to starve in a howling blizzard. He’s mean right through. Say, how d’you like work here? Got a good job?”
“The ideal job. I wouldn’t go back to the office if my uncle begged me with tears in his eyes.”
“You like gilded ease, then?”
“Gilded ease,” said Miss Morrison, with decision, “is the greatest invention since chewing gum. I’ve had to cut that out,” she added sadly.
“There’s always something,” said John sympathetically.
“Ma says it ain’t ladylike. Ma’s rooting hard for the ladylike thing all the time now. Say, it’s funny about that. You never met ma, but, believe me, before this happened, you’d have said that she hadn’t a drop of ambition in her. She was just a good fellow, contented to stay at home and look after things. Whereas pa and I were always saying if we were rich we’d do this and that. Well, the day you were fired, along comes a lawyer’s letter for pa, saying that my Uncle Jim—the old gentleman’s brother, whom we hadn’t heard of in years, and who had fussed with ma and gone off West, and seemed like he’s cut us out for fair, and even when he was with us hadn’t had a cent to his name, and had just jogged along panhandling pa, and that was really what the trouble between ma and him was about—well—— Say, where had I got to?”
“I don’t know. Start again.”
“Well, anyway, somehow or other he’d made more than a million out West, in Montana, or them wild parts, and he’d left it all to pa. And now—this was what I was starting out to tell you—the thing has just scared all the nerve out of pa and me, who were always saying what we’d do if we had money, so that all we want is to sit and think for a spell; but ma, who used to be so quiet, has suddenly begun to show a flash of speed that would make you wonder why something don’t catch fire. Believe me, ma is going some. She dragged the old gentleman and me out of the corners we were hiding in, rushed us off to be fitted with glad rags. Say, how do you like them?”
“Brought us to the Plaza, hanging back like two pups at the end of a string, and is going to take us over to England right away, to butt in among all the dukes, and earls, and lord-high main squeezes over there.”
“Sure! Ma’s wise. I voted for Newport. ‘Nix on Newport,’ says ma. “We’ll go where we can start fresh, where folks won’t know we were ever in the bush league!’ She didn’t say just that, but that’s what she meant. So off we’re going to go. Paris first. Then England. And I can tell you, the old gentleman and I are scared. Scared stiff. Say, how do you talk to a king?”
“Oh, any old way. Put him at his ease. Say: ‘Oh, you kink!’ or something of the sort. Why?”
“Because I’m to be presented at court. Have you seen an English fellow hanging around here, looking as if he’d bought the hotel, and didn’t think much of it? He’s a lord. Hayling’s his name. Lord Arthur Hayling. Well, ma’s got acquainted, and roped him in to be our barker. We’re lunching with him here to-day.”
“Our barker. Like at Coney. His job’s to stand in front of us with a megaphone, and holler to Duke Percy and Lady Mabel to come in and see us. We’re going to take a fine big house somewhere, and Kid Hayling’s promised to see that folks are sociable. He’s gotten a pull among the social headliners over there. If he had been born a year earlier, he’d have been a duke; but his brother beat him to it. I don’t wonder. He’s a slow sort of a guy. Well, he’s going to get me presented at court, and how I’m to go through it without throwing fits, John Maude, is more than I can tell you. Hello, there’s ma and his lordship, looking for me. Good-by. Pleasant dreams!”
And the heiress rustled off.
A few days after Fate altered John’s lookout on things in her unsettling way by sending him, first, the letter from his uncle, and, secondly, Mr. Crump, of Mervo.
Both arrived on the same day. The letter came by the morning mail. Before he opened it, John recognized the handwriting, and had visions of avuncular remorse which had culminated in a tear-stained appeal for his return. The contents of the letter, after the first sentence, removed this notion. It ran:
My Dear John: Inclosed please find a check for ten thousand dollars, payable to your order. It was left to me in trust by your mother. By a miracle your father did not happen to spend it. Possibly you may wonder why you have not received this money before. I persuaded your mother to allow me to use my discretion in choosing the time when it should be handed over to you. I decided to wait until, in my opinion, you had sense enough to use it properly. I do not think that time has arrived. I do not think it will ever arrive. But as we have parted company and shall, I hope, never meet again, you had better have it now. Do not trouble to send a receipt. Your indorsement of the check will be sufficient.
John read the letter thoroughly twice before he quite grasped his good fortune. Ten thousand dollars! It was wealth! He must give up this news-stand business at once. It was all very well in its way for an impecunious young man, anxious to earn his living, but for a plutocrat it offered too little scope.
John was smoking his after-dinner cigar that night in the lobby, dreamily eying his successor at the news stand, and wondering idly whether the possible pleasure of seeing a musical comedy would compensate for the certain trouble of getting to the theater, when he was aware that he was being “paged.” A small boy in uniform was meandering through the lobby, chanting his name.
“Gent wants five minutes wit’ you,” announced the stripling, intercepted. “Here’s his card. Business, he says.”
John looked at the card. “Edwin Crump,” it read. The name was strange to him.
“Send him along,” he said.
The boy disappeared, and presently John observed him threading his way back among the tables, followed by a young man of extraordinary gravity of countenance, who was looking about him with an intent gaze through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
John got up to meet him.
“Mr. Crump?” he said. “My name is Maude. Won’t you sit down? Have you had dinner?”
“Thank you, yes,” said the spectacled young man.
“You’ll have a cigar and coffee, then?”
“Thank you, yes.”
The young man remained silent until the waiter had filled his cup.
“You will be wondering what my business is,” he said. “I am Mr. Benjamin Scobell’s private secretary.”
“Yes?” said John. “Snug job?”
The other seemed to miss something in his voice.
“You have heard of Mr. Scobell?” he asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” said John.
“Ah! You have lost touch very much with Mervo, of course.”
It sounded like some patent medicine.
“I have been instructed,” said Mr. Crump solemnly, “to inform your highness that the republic has been dissolved, and that your subjects offer you the throne of your ancestors.”
John leaned back in his chair, and looked at him in dumb amazement. The thought flashed across him that Mr. Crump had been perfectly correct in saying that he had dined.
His attitude appeared to astound Mr. Crump. He goggled at John through his spectacles. He reminded him of some rare fish.
“You are John Maude? You said you were.”
“I’m John Maude, right enough. We’re solid on that point.”
“And your mother was the only sister of Mr. Andrew Westley?”
“You’re right there, too.”
“Then there is no mistake. I say the republic——” He paused, as if struck with an idea. “Don’t you know?” he said. “Your father——”
John became suddenly interested.
“If you’ve got anything to tell me about my father, go right ahead. You’ll be the only man I’ve ever met who has said a word about him. Who the deuce was he, anyway?”
Mr. Crump’s face cleared.
“I understand. I had not expected this. You have been kept in ignorance. Your father, Mr. Maude, was the late Prince Charles, of Mervo.”
It was not easy to astonish John, but this announcement did so. He dropped his cigar in a shower of gray ash upon his trousers, and retrieved it almost mechanically, his wide-open eyes fixed on the other’s face.
“What!” he cried.
Mr. Crump nodded gravely.
“You are Prince John, of Mervo, and I am here”—he got into his stride as he reached the familiar phrase—“to inform your highness that the republic has been dissolved, and that your subjects offer you the throne of your ancestors.”
A horrid doubt seized John.
“You’re stringing me. Some one has put you up to this.”
Mr. Crump appeared wounded.
“If your highness would glance at these documents. This is a copy of the register of the church in which your mother and father were married.”
John glanced at the document. It was perfectly lucid.
“Then—then it’s true!” he said.
“Perfectly true, your highness. And I am here to inform——”
“But where the deuce is Mervo? I never heard of the place.”
“It is an island principality in the Mediterranean, your high——”
“For goodness sake, old man, don’t keep calling me ‘your highness.’ It may be fun to you, but it makes me feel a perfect ass. Let me get into the thing gradually.”
Mr. Crump felt in his pocket.
“Mr. Scobell,” he said, producing a roll of bills, “intrusted me with money to defray any expenses——”
More than any words, this spectacle removed any lingering doubt which John might have had as to the possibility of this being some intricate practical joke.
“Are these for me?” he said.
Mr. Crump passed them across to him.
“There are a thousand dollars here,” he said. “I am also instructed to say that you are at liberty to draw further against Mr. Scobell’s account at the Wall Street office of the European and Asiatic Bank.”
The name Scobell had been recurring like a leit motif in Mr. Crump’s conversation. This suddenly came home to John.
“Before we go any further,” he said, “let’s get one thing clear. Who is this Mr. Scobell? How does he get mixed up in this?”
“He is the proprietor of the casino at Mervo.”
“He seems to be one of those generous, open-handed fellows. Nothing of the tightwad about him.”
“He is deeply interested in your high—— In your return.”
John laid the roll of bills beside his coffee cup, and relit his cigar.
“That’s mighty good of him,” he said. “It strikes me, old man, that I am not absolutely up to date as regards the internal affairs of this important little kingdom of mine. How would it be if you were to put me next to one or two facts? Start at the beginning.”
When Mr. Crump had finished a condensed history of Mervo and Mervian politics, John smoked in silence.
“Life, Crump,” he said at last, “is certainly speeding up as far as I am concerned. Up till now nothing in particular has ever happened to me. A week ago I lost my job; this morning I was given ten thousand dollars that I didn’t know existed; and now you tell me I’m a prince. Well, well! These are stirring times. When do we start for the old homestead?”
“Mr. Scobell was exceedingly anxious that we should return by Saturday’s boat.”
“Saturday? What, to-morrow?”
“Perhaps it is too soon. You will not be able to settle your affairs?”
“I guess I can settle my affairs, all right. I’ve only got to pack a toothbrush and tip the bell hops. And as Scobell seems to be financing this show, perhaps it’s up to me to step lively if he wants it. But it’s a pity. I was just beginning to like this place. There is generally something doing along the White Way after twilight, Crump.”
The gravity of Mr. Scobell’s secretary broke up unexpectedly into a slow, wide smile. His eyes behind their glasses gleamed with a wistful light.
“Gee!” he murmured.
John looked at him, amazed.
“Crump,” he cried. “Crump, I believe you’re a sport! Grab your hat, and come along. The occasion wants celebrating. Are you with me, Crump, old scout?”
“Sure thing!” said the envoy ecstatically.
Thus did Prince John formally enter into his kingdom.
Owing to collaboration between Fate and Mr. Scobell, John’s state entry into Mervo was an interesting blend between a pageant and a vaudeville sketch. The pageant idea was Mr. Scobell’s. Fate supplied the vaudeville.
The reception at the quay, when the little steamer that plied between Marseilles and the island principality gave up its precious freight, was not on quite so impressive a scale as might have been given to the monarch of a more powerful kingdom; but John was not disappointed.
Mr. Scobell was exceedingly pleased with the scale of the reception, which, to his mind, amounted practically to pomp. The palace guard, forty strong, lined the quay. Besides these, there were four officers, a band, and sixteen mounted carbineers. The rest of the army was dotted along the streets. In addition to the military, there was a gathering of a hundred and fifty civilians, mainly drawn from fishing circles. The majority of these remained stolidly silent throughout, but a few, more emotional, cheered vigorously as two young men were seen to step onto the gangway, carrying grips, and make for the shore.
General Poineau, a white-haired warrior with a fierce mustache, strode forward and saluted. The palace guards presented arms. The band struck up the Mervian national anthem. General Poineau, lowering his hand, put on a pair of pince-nez, and began to unroll an address of welcome.
At this point Mr. Scobell made his presence felt.
“Glad to meet you, prince,” he said, coming forward. “Scobell’s my name. Shake hands with General Poineau. No, that’s wrong. I guess he kisses your hand, don’t he?”
“I’ll swing on him if he does,” said John cheerfully.
Mr. Scobell eyed him doubtfully. His highness did not appear to him to be treating the inaugural ceremony with that reserved dignity which we like to see in princes on these occasions. Mr. Scobell was a business man. He wanted his money’s worth.
General Poineau, meanwhile, had embarked on the address of welcome. John regarded him thoughtfully.
“I can see,” he said to Mr. Scobell, “that the gentleman is making a good speech, but what is he saying? That is what gets past me.”
“He is welcoming your highness,” said Mr. Crump, the linguist, “in the name of the people of Mervo.”
“Who, I notice, have had the bully good sense to stay in bed. I guess they knew that the boy orator would do all that was necessary. He hasn’t said anything about a bite of breakfast, has he? Has his address happened to work around to the subject of shredded wheat and shirred eggs yet? That’s the part that’s going to make a hit with me.”
“There’ll be breakfast at my villa, your highness,” said Mr. Scobell. “My automobile is waiting along there.”
The general reached his peroration, worked his way through it, and finished with a military clash of heels and a salute. The band rattled off the national anthem once more.
“Now, what?” said John, turning to Mr. Scobell. “Breakfast?”
“I guess you’d better say a few words to them, your highness; they’ll expect it.”
“But I can’t speak the language, and they can’t understand English. The thing’ll be a stand-off.”
“Crump will hand it to ’em. Here, Crump.”
“Line up, and shoot his highness’ remarks into ’em.”
“It’s all very well for you, Crump,” said John. “You probably enjoy this sort of thing. I don’t. Are you ready? No, it’s no good. I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell ’em you’re tickled to death,” advised Mr. Scobell anxiously.
John smiled in a friendly manner at the populace. Then he coughed.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “and more particularly the sport on my left who has just spoken his piece whose name I can’t remember, I thank you for the warm welcome you have given me. If it is any satisfaction to you to know that it has made me feel like thirty cents, you may have that satisfaction. Thirty is a liberal estimate.”
“His highness is overwhelmed by your loyal welcome. He thanks you warmly,” translated Mr. Crump tactfully.
“I feel that we shall get along nicely together,” continued John. “If you are chumps enough to turn out of your comfortable beds at this time of the morning simply to see me, you can’t be very hard to please; we shall hit it off fine.”
Mr. Crump: “His highness hopes and believes that he will always continue to command the affection of his people.”
“I——” John paused. “That’s the lot,” he said. “The flow of inspiration has ceased. The magic fire has gone out. Break it to ’em, Crump. For me, breakfast.”
During the early portion of the ride, Mr. Scobell was silent and thoughtful. John’s speech had impressed him neither as oratory nor as an index to his frame of mind. He had not interrupted him, because he knew that none of those present could understand what was being said, and that Mr. Crump was to be relied on as an editor. But he had not enjoyed it. He did not take the people of Mervo seriously himself, but in the prince such an attitude struck him as unbecoming.
Then he cheered up. After all, John had given evidence of having a certain amount of what he would have called “get-up” in him. For the purposes for which he needed him, a tendency to make light of things was not amiss.
His face cleared.
“Have a good cigar, prince?” he said cordially, inserting two fingers in his vest pocket.
“Sure, Mike!” said his highness affably.
Breakfast over, Mr. Scobell replaced the remains of his cigar between his lips, and turned to business.
“Eh, prince?” he said.
“I want you, prince,” said Mr. Scobell, “to help boom this place. That’s where you come in.”
“Sure,” said John.
“As to ruling and all that,” continued Mr. Scobell, “there isn’t any to do. The place runs itself. Some guy gave it a shove a thousand years ago, and it’s been rolling along ever since. What I want you to do is the picturesque stunts. Get a yacht, and catch rare fishes. Whoop it up. Entertain swell guys when they come here. Have a court—see what I mean?—same as over in England. Go around in aëroplanes, and that style of thing. Don’t you worry about money. That’ll be all right. You draw your steady hundred thousand a year, and a good chunk more besides, when we begin to get a move on, so the dough proposition doesn’t need to scare you any.”
“Do I, by George?” said John. “It seems to me that I’ve fallen into a pretty soft thing here. There’ll be a joker in the deck somewhere, I guess. There always is in these good things. But I don’t see it yet. You can count me in, all right.”
“Good boy!” said Mr. Scobell. “And now you’ll be wanting to get to the palace. I’ll have them bring the automobile round.”
The council of state broke up.
Having seen John off in the car, the financier proceeded to his sister’s sitting room. Miss Scobell had breakfasted apart that morning, by request, her brother giving her to understand that matters of state, unsuited to the ear of a third party, must be discussed at the meal. She was reading her New York paper.
“Well,” said Mr. Scobell, “he’s come.”
“And he’s just the sort I want. Saw the idea of the thing right away, and is ready to go the limit. No nonsense about him.”
“Is he nice looking, Bennie?”
“Sure! All these Mervo princes have been good lookers, I hear, and this one must be near the top of the list. You’ll like him, Marion. All the girls will be crazy about him in a week.”
Miss Scobell turned a page.
“Is he married?”
Her brother started.
“Married? I never thought of that. But no, I guess he’s not. He’d have mentioned it. He’s not the sort to hush up a thing like that. I——”
He stopped short. His green eyes gleamed excitedly.
“Marion!” he cried. “Marion!”
“Listen. Gee, this thing is going to be the biggest ever. I gotta new idea. It just came to me. Your saying that put it into my head. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to cable over to Betty to come right along here, and I’m going to have her marry this prince guy. Yes, sir!”
For once Miss Scobell showed signs that her brother’s conversation really interested her. She laid down her paper, and stared at him.
“Sure, Betty. Why not? She’s a pretty girl. Clever, too. The prince’ll be lucky to get such a wife, for all his darned ancestors away back to the flood.”
“But suppose Betty does not like him?”
“Like him? She’s got to like him. Say, can’t you make your mind soar, or won’t you? Can’t you see that a thing like this has gotta be fixed different from a marriage between—between a ribbon-counter clerk and the girl who takes the money at a twenty-five-cent hash restaurant in Flatbush? This is a royal alliance. Do you suppose that when a European princess is introduced to the prince she’s going to marry, they let her say: ‘Nothing doing. I don’t like the shape of his nose?’ ”
He gave a spirited imitation of a European princess objecting to the shape of her selected husband’s nose.
Miss Scobell sighed.
“Very well, dear. I suppose you know best. But perhaps the prince won’t like Betty.”
Mr. Scobell gave a snort of disgust.
“Marion,” he said, “you’ve got a mind like a chunk of wet dough. Can’t you understand that the prince is just as much in my employment as the man who scrubs the casino steps? I’m hiring him to be Prince of Mervo; and his first job as Prince of Mervo will be to marry Betty. I’d like to see him kick.” He began to pace the room. “By heck, it’s going to make this place boom to beat the band. It’ll be the biggest kind of advertisement. Restoration of royalty at Mervo! That’ll make them take notice by itself. Then, biff! Right on top of that, royal romance—prince weds American girl—love at first sight—picturesque wedding! Gee, we’ll wipe Monte Carlo clean off the map. We’ll have ’em licked to a splinter. We—it’s the greatest scheme on earth!”
“I have no doubt you are right, Bennie,” said Miss Scobell, “but”—her voice became dreamy again—“it’s not very romantic.”
“Oh, shucks!” said the schemer impatiently. “Here, where’s a cable form?”
On a red-sandstone rock at the edge of the water, where the island curved sharply out into the sea, Prince John, of Mervo, sat and brooded on first causes. For nearly an hour and a half he had been engaged in an earnest attempt to trace to its source the acute fit of depression which had come—apparently from nowhere—to poison his existence that morning.
It was his seventh day on the island, and he could remember every incident of his brief reign. The only thing that eluded him was the recollection of the exact point when the shadow of discontent had begun to spread itself over his mind.
The days following his arrival had been peaceful and amusing. He could not detect in any one of them a sign of the approaching shadow. They had been lazy days. His duties had been much more simple than he had anticipated. He had not known, before he tried it, that it was possible to be a prince with so small an expenditure of mental energy. As Mr. Scobell had hinted, to all intents and purposes he was a mere ornament.
No, it had been something else that had worked the mischief, and in another moment the thing stood revealed, beyond all question of doubt. What had unsettled him was that unexpected meeting with Betty Silver last night at the casino.
He had been sitting at one of the tables. He generally visited the casino after dinner. The light and movement of the place interested him. As a rule, he merely strolled through the rooms, watching the play; but last night he had slipped into a vacant seat. He had only just settled himself when he was aware of a girl standing beside him. He got up.
“Would you care——” he had begun, and then he saw her face.
It had all happened in an instant. Some chord in him, numbed till then, had begun to throb. It was as if he had wakened from a dream, or returned to consciousness after being stunned.
How long was it since he had seen her last? Not more than a couple of years. It seemed centuries. It all came back to him. It was during his last winter at Harvard that they had met. A college friend of hers had been the sister of a college friend of his. They had met several times, but he could not recollect having taken any particular notice of her then, beyond recognizing that she was certainly pretty. The world had been full of pretty American girls then. But now——
He looked at her. And, as he looked, he heard America calling to him. Mervo, by the appeal of its novelty, had caused him to forget. But now, quite suddenly, he knew that he was homesick; and it astonished him, the readiness with which he had permitted Mr. Crump to lead him away into bondage. It seemed incredible that he had not foreseen what must happen.
Love comes to some gently, imperceptibly, creeping in as the tide, through unsuspected creeks and inlets, creeps on a sleeping man, until he wakes to find himself surrounded. But to others it comes as a wave, breaking on them, beating them down, whirling them away.
It was so with John. In that instant, when their eyes met, the miracle must have happened. It seemed to him, as he recalled the scene now, that he had loved her before he had had time to frame his first remark. It amazed him that he could ever have been blind to the fact that he loved her, she was so obviously the only girl in the world.
“You—you don’t remember me,” he stammered. She was flushing a little under his stare, but her eyes were shining.
“I remember you very well, Mr. Maude,” she said, with a smile. “I thought I knew your shoulders before you turned round. What are you doing here?”
There was a hush. The croupier had set the ball rolling. A wizened little man and two ladies of determined aspect were looking up disapprovingly. John realized that he was the only person in the room not silent. It was impossible to tell her the story of the change in his fortunes in the middle of this crowd. He stopped, and the moment passed.
The ball dropped with a rattle. The tension relaxed.
“Won’t you take this seat?” said John.
“No, thank you. I’m not playing. I only just stopped to look on. My aunt is in one of the rooms, and I want to make her come home. I’m tired.”
He caught the eye of the wizened man, and stopped again.
“Have you been in Mervo long?” he said, as the ball fell.
“I only arrived this morning. I was in America, and my stepfather—I wonder if you know him—Mr. Scobell?”
“Mr. Scobell! Is he your stepfather?”
“Yes. He cabled me to come here, and I’m glad he did. It seems lovely. I must explore to-morrow.” She was beginning to move off.
“Er——” John coughed to remove what seemed to him a deposit of sawdust and unshelled nuts in his throat. “Er, may I—will you let me show you—some of the place to-morrow?”
“I should like it very much,” she said.
John made his big effort. He attacked the nuts and sawdust, which had come back and settled down again in company with a large lump of some unidentified material, as if he were bucking center. They broke before him as, long ago, the Yale line had done; and his voice rang out as if through a megaphone, to the unconcealed disgust of the neighboring gamesters.
“If you go along the path at the foot of the hill,” he bellowed rapidly, “and follow it down to the sea, you can get to a little bay full of red-sandstone rocks—you can’t miss it—and there’s a fine view of the island from there. I’d like awfully well to show that to you. It’s great.”
“Then shall we meet there?” she said. “When?”
John was in no mood to postpone the event.
“As early as ever you like,” he roared.
“At about ten, then. Good night, Mr. Maude.”
John had reached the bay at half past eight, and had been on guard there ever since. It was now past ten, but still there were no signs of Betty. His depression increased. He told himself that she had forgotten. Then, that she had remembered, but had changed her mind. Then, that she had never meant to come at all. He could not decide which of the three theories was the most distressing.
His mood became morbidly introspective. He was weighed down by a sense of his own unworthiness. He submitted himself to a thorough examination, and the conclusion to which he came was that, as an aspirant to the regard of a girl like Betty, he did not score a single point. No wonder she had ignored the appointment.
John, in his time, had thought and read a good deal about love. Ever since he had grown up, he had wanted to fall in love. He had imagined love as a perpetual exhilaration, something that flooded life with a golden glow, as if by the pressing of a button or the pulling of a switch, and automatically removed from it everything mean, and hard, and uncomfortable; a something that made a man feel grand and godlike, looking down—benevolently, of course—on his fellow men as from some lofty mountain.
That it should make him feel a worm-like humility had not entered his calculations. He was beginning to see something of the possibilities of love. His tentative excursions into the unknown emotion, while at college, had never really deceived him. Even at the time a sort of second self had looked on, and sneered at the poor imitation.
This was different. This had nothing to do with moonlight and soft music. It was raw and hard. It hurt. It was a thing sharp and jagged, tearing at the roots of his soul.
He looked at his watch again, and the world grew black. It was half past ten. He looked up the path for the hundredth time. Above him lay the hillside, dozing in the morning sun; below, the Mediterranean, sleepy and blue, without a ripple. But of Betty there was no sign. He stood alone in a land of silence and sleep.
Much may happen in these rapid times in the course of an hour and a half. While John was keeping his vigil on the sandstone rock, Betty was having an interview with Mr. Scobell which was to produce far-reaching results, and which incidentally was to leave her angrier and more at war with the whole of her world than she could remember to have been in the entire course of her life.
The interview began, shortly after breakfast, in a gentle and tactful manner, with Aunt Marion at the helm. But Mr. Scobell was not the man to stand by silently while people were being tactful. At the end of the second minute he had plunged through his sister’s mild monologue like a rhinoceros through a cobweb, and had stated definitely, with an economy of words, the exact part which Betty was to play in Mervian affairs.
“You say you want to know why you were cabled for. I’ll tell you. There’s no use talking for half a day before you get to the point. I guess you’ve heard that there’s a prince here instead of a republic now? Well, that’s where you come in.”
“Do you mean——” She hesitated.
“Yes, I do,” said Mr. Scobell. There was a touch of doggedness in his voice. He was not going to stand any nonsense, by heck, but there was no doubt that Betty’s wide-open eyes were not very easy to meet. He went on rapidly: “Cut out any fool notions about romance.”
Miss Scobell, who was knitting a sock, checked her needles for a moment in order to sigh. Her brother eyed her morosely, then resumed his remarks:
“This is a matter of state. That’s it. You gotta cut out fool notions and act for good of state. You gotta look at it in the proper spirit. Great honor, see what I mean? Princess, and all that. Chance of a lifetime. Dynasty. You gotta look at it that way.”
Betty had not taken her eyes off him from his first word. An unbiased observer would have said that she made a pretty picture, standing there in her white dress; but, in the matter of pictures, still life was evidently what Mr. Scobell preferred, for his gaze never wandered from the cigar stump which he had removed from his mouth in order to knock off the ash.
Betty continued to regard him steadfastly. The shock of his words had to some extent numbed her. At this moment she was merely thinking, quite dispassionately, what a singularly nasty little man he looked, and wondering—not for the first time—what strange quality, invisible to everybody else, it had been in him that had made her mother his adoring slave during the whole of their married life.
Then her mind began to work actively once more. All her life an insistence on freedom had been the first article in her creed. A great rush of anger filled her, that this man should set himself up to dictate to her.
“Do you mean that you want me to marry this prince?” she said.
“I won’t do anything of the sort.”
“Pshaw! Don’t be foolish. You make me tired.”
Betty’s eye shone mutinously. Her cheeks were flushed, and her slim, boyish figure quivered. Her chin, always determined, became a silent Declaration of Independence.
“I won’t,” she said.
Aunt Marion, suspending operations on the sock, went on with tact at the point where her brother’s interruption had forced her to leave off.
“I’m sure he’s a very nice young man. I have not seen him, but everybody says so. You like him, Bennie, don’t you?”
“Sure, I like him. He’s a corker. Wait till you see him, Betty. Nobody’s asking you to marry him before lunch. You’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted. It beats me what you’re kicking at. You give me a pain in the neck. Be reasonable.”
Betty sought for arguments to clinch her refusal.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “You talk as if you had just to wave your hand. Why should your prince want to marry a girl he has never seen?”
“He will,” said Mr. Scobell confidently.
“How do you know?”
“Because I know he’s a sensible young skeesicks. That’s how. See here, Betty, you’ve gotten hold of wrong ideas about this place. You don’t understand the position of affairs. Your aunt didn’t till I put her wise.”
“He bit my head off, my dear,” murmured Miss Scobell, knitting placidly.
“You’re thinking that Mervo is an ordinary state, and that the prince is one of those independent, all-wool, off-with-his-darned head rulers like you read about in the best sellers. Well, you’ve got another guess coming. If you want to know who’s the big noise here, it’s me—me! This prince guy is my hired man. See? Who sent for him? I did. Who put him on the throne? I did. Who pays him his salary? I do, from the profits of the casino. Now do you understand? He knows his job. He knows which side his bread’s buttered. When I tell him about this marriage, do you know what he’ll say? He’ll say ‘Thank you, sir!’ That’s how things are in this island.”
Betty shuddered. Her face was white with humiliation. She half raised her hands with an impulsive movement to hide it.
“I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!” she gasped.
Mr. Scobell was pacing the room in an ecstasy of triumphant rhetoric.
“There’s another thing,” he said, swinging round suddenly, and causing his sister to drop another stitch. “Maybe you think he’s some kind of a dago, this guy. Maybe that’s what’s biting you. Let me tell you that he’s an American—pretty near as much an American as you are yourself.”
Betty stared at him.
“Don’t believe it, eh? Well, let me tell you that his mother was born and raised in Jersey, and that he has lived all his life in the States. He’s no little runt of a dago. No, sir. He’s a Harvard man, six foot high, and weighs two hundred pounds. That’s the sort of man he is. I guess that’s not American enough for you, maybe? No?”
Betty uttered a cry. Something had told her who he was, this Harvard man who had sold himself.
“Who is he?” she cried. “What was his name before he—when he——”
“His name?” said Mr. Scobell. “John Maude. Maude was his mother’s name. She was a Miss Westley. Here, where are you going?”
Betty was walking slowly toward the door. Something in her face checked Mr. Scobell.
“I want to think,” she said quietly. “I’m going out.”
At half past twelve that morning business took Mr. Benjamin Scobell to the royal palace. He was not a man who believed in letting the grass grow under his feet. He prided himself on his briskness of attack.
In this matter of the royal alliance, it was his intention to have at it, and clear it up at once. Having put his views clearly before Betty, he now proposed to lay them with equal clarity before the prince.
That Betty had not received his information with joy did not distress him. He had a poor opinion of the feminine intelligence. Girls got their minds full of nonsense from reading novels and seeing plays. Like Betty. Betty objected to those who were wiser than herself providing a perfectly good prince for her to marry. Some fool notion of romance, of course.
Not that he was angry. He did not blame her. He saw his way to managing Betty.
Nor did he anticipate trouble with John. He had taken an estimate of John’s character, and it did not seem to him likely that it contained unsuspected depths. He set John down, as he had told Betty, as a young man acute enough to know when he had a good job, and sufficiently sensible to make concessions in order to retain it. Betty, after the manner of woman, might make a fuss before yielding to the inevitable, but from level-headed John he looked for placid acquiescence.
His mood, as the automobile whirred its way down the hill toward the town, was sunny. He looked on life benevolently, and found it good. The view appealed to him more than it had managed to do on other days.
The sight of the steamboat leaving the harbor on its journey to Marseilles gave him an idea. Now that Mervo was a going concern, a real live proposition, it was high time that it should have an adequate service of boats. The present system of one a day was absurd. He made a note to look into the matter. These people wanted waking up.
Arriving at the palace, he was informed that his highness had gone out shortly after breakfast, and had not returned.
Mr. Scobell received the news equably, and directed his chauffeur to return to the villa. He could not have done better, for, on his arrival, he was met with the information that his highness was waiting in the morning room. The sound of footsteps came to Mr. Scobell’s ears as he approached the room. His highness appeared to be pacing the floor like a caged animal at the luncheon hour. The resemblance was heightened by the expression in the royal eye as his highness swung round at the opening of the door and faced the financier. John wanted news of Betty, and he had come straight to the fountain head for it. His long wait in the morning room, following upon that black vigil on the seashore, had reduced him to a state of impatience bordering on frenzy.
“Say——” he began.
“Why, say, prince,” said Mr. Scobell, “this is lucky. I have been looking for you. I just been to the palace, and the main guy there told me you had gone out.”
“Where’s Miss Silver?” said John.
Mr. Scobell looked astonished.
“Do you know Betty?”
“I used to know her in America. We met last night at the casino. I was to have met her again this morning, but”—he gulped—“but she didn’t come. I thought I should find her here.”
Mr. Scobell’s green eyes sparkled. There was no mistaking the tone of John’s voice. Fate was certainly smoothing his way. If John loved Betty, why, there would be no need for the iron hand, after all.
“She’ll be here, all right,” he said consolingly. “I guess she forgot to keep the date. Now I think of it, she did seem as if she had something on her mind this morning. I guess she’s worrying about something. But she’ll be right back, and——”
There was a knock at the door. A footman entered, bearing, with a detached air, as if he disclaimed all responsibility, a letter on a silver tray.
Mr. Scobell slit the envelope, and began to read. As he did so, his eyes grew round, and his mouth slowly opened till his cigar stump, after hanging for a moment from his lower lip, dropped off like an exhausted bivalve, and rolled along the carpet.
“Prince!” he gasped. “She’s gone! Betty!”
“Gone! What do you mean?”
“She’s beaten it. She’s halfway to Marseilles by now. Gee, and I saw the darned boat going out!”
“This is from her. Listen what she says:
“By the time you read this I shall be gone. I am giving this to a boy to take to you after the boat has started. Please do not try and follow me, to bring me back, for it will be no use. I shall never come back. I am going right away.
“Prince, this beats the band. The girl’s mad.”
John was still staring.
“But why? Why should she go away like that? What could have made her do it?”
Mr. Scobell’s mouth had opened to explain, when a prudent instinct closed it. Something told him that this was no moment to reveal to John the scheme in which he was to have figured.
“Some fool notion, I guess,” he said. “Girls are like that.”
John had begun to pace the room again. He stopped.
“I’m going after her,” he said.
Mr. Scobell beamed approval.
“Bully for you, prince!” he said. “Get busy!”
The idea of flight had not occurred to Betty immediately. On leaving Mr. Scobell’s villa she had walked aimlessly out along the hillside. At first her mind was stunned, but gradually, as blood begins to circulate in a frozen limb, thought had returned, slowly at first, then in a wave that seethed and burned and tortured. She realized now, as she had never realized before, the place John had held in her life. Little by little, in the years that had passed since their first meeting, she had put him upon a pedestal in her mind, and now that her stepfather’s words had hurled him from that pedestal, she saw from what a height he had fallen. That it should have been he, of all men—that it should have been John who was Mr. Scobell’s hired man, the man whom the casino was paying to marry her, complacently ready to earn his wages by counterfeiting love!
Gradually Betty had come to the conclusion that love, in the full sense of the word, was one of the things that did not happen. And now, as if to punish her presumption, it had leaped from hiding and seized her.
And she must fly from him. That decision stood out, clear and definite, in the chaos of her thoughts. She shuddered as she conjured up the scene which must take place if she remained. To meet him, to see the man she loved plunging into shame before her eyes would be pain beyond bearing. She must go, anywhere, so that she could escape and hide herself.
Below, across the valley of vineyard and glowing mimosa, the dome of the casino caught the sun, and flashed out in a blaze of gold. Beyond it, in the little harbor, lay the Marseilles packet, lazily breathing smoke as it prepared for its journey to the mainland. The sight brought Betty to a practical consideration of her position. She looked at her watch. She would only just have time to catch the boat.
She turned, and hurried back the way she had come.
It was not till she was seated in the train that roared its way across southern France that she found herself sufficiently composed to review her situation and make plans. The overmastering desire for escape which had caught her up and swept her away had left no room in her mind for thought of the morrow.
She would not go back. Nothing would make her go back. But, that settled, what then? What was she to do?
What was her market value? What could she do? She looked back at her life, and saw that she had dabbled. She could sketch a little, play a little, sing a little, she had a little of most things—enough of nothing. She was an amateur in a world of professionals.
Her courage suddenly broke. She drooped forlornly; and, hiding her face on the cushioned arm rest, she began to cry.
Paris, when she arrived at the Gare du Lyon in the gray of a rainy morning, had much the same effect on Betty as New York had had on John during the first morning of independence. She had been in Paris before, but then she had been rich, and the city had smiled upon her. Now there seemed to be something formidable and menacing in the place. She was frightened. She thought of London with a kind of longing. It would not be home, but it would be better than this.
Fortunately there was no need to linger in Paris. The boat train from the Gare du Nord would be starting in another hour.
At the Gare du Nord all was movement and confusion. To Betty, comforted with breakfast, and strong in the knowledge that her own carefully acquired French was the French of Paris and understandable of the native, the process of getting herself and her grip aboard the Calais train held no mysteries.
Presently a group of four attracted her attention. Three were plainly Americans, a typical doing-Europe family—the father gray, patient, and a little bent; the mother, flying the brown veil—the Jolly Roger of the traveling American—resolute and unbeaten, but for the moment flustered; the daughter slim, trim, straight, jaunty, and clean-cut, with that indefinable glitter that stamps the American girl.
The fourth member of the group was a polite semaphore in a blue blouse, and from the attitude of the three travelers it seemed that the kindly feelings which every good American harbors toward the French, in return for benefits received from the late Mr. Lafayette, were, in the case of this particular member of the nation, in danger of being forgotten.
Betty’s heart went out to the exiles. She stopped as she reached them, and hesitated. Then she caught the distracted eye of the lady in the brown veil, and answered its unspoken appeal.
“Can I help you?” she said. “I speak French.”
No shipwrecked mariners, sighting a sail, could have exhibited more animation than did the rescued family. The father’s patient face lit up as if somebody had pressed a switch. His wife’s eyes lost their haggard look. The daughter, who was nearest, seized Betty unaffectedly in her arms, and hugged her. After which she drew back, and apologized.
“I couldn’t help it,” she said. “Gee, I’d made up my mind we were going to spend the rest of our lives here.”
“Della!” said the lady in the brown veil reprovingly.
“Eh? Oh! Ma says I must cut out saying ‘Gee!’ ” she explained, aside, to Betty. “It ain’t ladylike. But, gee! What else could I have said?”
“What is the trouble?” she asked. “What do you want me to tell the porter?”
“We want our baggage,” said the patient man pathetically. “We let ’em separate us from it at the hotel, and that’s the last we’ve seen of it.”
“Oh, that is quite simple. I’ll explain to him in a moment. Are you going by the boat train?”
“That’s right. We want to get to England, if they’ll let us. Lord, what fools we were ever to come to a country where they can’t understand you if you ask them a plain question.”
Betty explained matters to the porter.
“It will be all right now,” she said. “Just go with him, and he’ll do everything that’s necessary.”
She turned to move away, but a universal exclamation of dismay stopped her.
“Say, you aren’t going to leave us?” queried the head of the family anxiously.
“You want to take command of this outfit,” said his daughter, “or we don’t stand a dog’s chance. Are you traveling by the boat train, too? Well, won’t you join us? This country’s got us all scared so that we don’t know what we’re doing. Won’t you be the wise guide? Or are you traveling with a party that you have to stick to?”
“No. I’m all alone. If you really think I should be any help——”
“Help!” echoed the three ecstatically.
“Then I will,” said Betty. “But there really isn’t anything for me to do.”
“Don’t you believe it,” said the girl. “You’ll save our lives. This is going to put you in the Carnegie Medal class.”
“Let’s get away into another compartment, where we can talk,” suggested the girl called Della, when every obstacle had been successfully negotiated, and they had won through to the train. “Ma likes to read on a journey, and the old gentleman will have to have a smoke to steady him after all this.”
They moved down the corridor till they found an empty compartment. Della removed her large hat, settled her hair at the mirror, and sat down with a sigh of content.
“Thank goodness!” she said, as the train gathered speed. “No more Paris for me till I’ve had a squad of professors put me next to the language. It’s a funny thing. I used to tell people I was crazy to go to Paris—and now I guess that I must have been. But, say, let’s get acquainted. What’s your name? Mine’s Della Morrison.”
“Mine——” Betty stopped. The thought had occurred to her that she had better change her name. She must leave as few traces as possible, if she wished to avoid discovery by her stepfather. And these people might know the name Silver, for it had appeared somewhat frequently in the society pages of the newspapers under her photograph.
“Mine is Brown,” she said.
“What’s your first name?”
“I shall call you Betty, and you call me Della. Say, are you on the stage?”
“The stage? No.”
“I thought I’d seen your picture somewhere. Some one else, I guess. What was I saying before we—— Oh, yes. We’re going to stay in London for a while, then we’re going to rent a swell place in the country somewhere. A friend of ours is fixing it for us now. Something Castle’s the place he’s trying to get. Fancy me in a castle! What ho, varlet, bid the seneschal bring hither a dill pickle! Oh, well,” she said resignedly, “it’s all in a lifetime!”
“Surely you’ll like the castle?” said Betty, smiling.
Della looked doubtful.
“I’m not so sure,” she said. “You see, it’s this way: We are fighting out of our class, and that generally means the same as asking for trouble.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s like this: I don’t know much about castles, but I do know that we aren’t in the castle class. A month ago the old gentleman was paying teller in a bank, and I was keeping one eye on the boss, and the other on the pad, or playing ragtime on the typewriter. Well, we were as good at our jobs as the next person, but that’s no reason why we should make any particular hit with the effete aristocracy, is it? Pa and I have tried to make that plain to ma, but you couldn’t stop ma now with an ax from taking a whirl at society, so we’ve quit trying. But, if you ask me, our team’s going to get the hook before we know what’s hit us. And I haven’t any use for society, either. I’m not saying I’m not glad to be quit of working at the office, but outside of that I don’t seem to care much. And there’s another thing.”
“There seem to be a good many things,” said Betty.
“There are. And this is the worst of them all. Just before the news came that pa had all that money left him, I got engaged.”
“Yes?” said Betty encouragingly.
“To a boy in the office,” continued Della. “Tom Spiller, his name is. He was bill clerk there. Say, do you like red hair?” She broke off. “In a man, I mean. Tom’s got red hair. You’d like Tom.”
“I wish I could meet him.”
“Gee, I wish I could, too!” sighed Della. “You see, pa and ma don’t know anything about me being engaged. I was getting myself worked up to tell them, and, just as I was good and ready, along comes all this sudden wealth. And now I don’t know what to do about it. I daren’t tell them now. Ma’s got such large ideas. She don’t think about anybody lower than an earl these days. If she knew I was engaged to a bill clerk, she’d throw sixteen fits. But, say, nobody’s going to make me give Tom up.”
“Of course not.”
“If I was good enough for him to marry when I was a stenog. he’s good enough for me to marry when I’m a plute.”
“But ma won’t see it that way. I guess I’ll have to wait a while, and break it gently.”
“I shouldn’t worry,” said Betty. “Everything’s sure to come out all right.”
Della looked at her affectionately.
“You’re a comfort, Betty,” she said. “I’m mighty glad I met you.” She sat up, struck with an idea. “Say, what are you going to do when you get to England?”
“I don’t know.”
“You aren’t fixed up with visits and things?”
Betty smiled ruefully.
“Then, say, you’ve got to stay with us as long as ever you can. In London first, and then at old Bai-Jove Castle, or whatever its name. It’ll be a comfort having you around.”
Betty flushed. It would have been pleasant to accept an invitation so sincerely offered, but she felt that to do so would be to receive hospitality under false pretenses. Della evidently imagined her to be a wealthy girl, traveling for pleasure. She shrank from the inevitable explanations.
“I’m afraid——” she began. “I don’t think—I’m afraid I can’t, Della,” she said. “You don’t understand,” she went on nervously. “You think I’m—I mustn’t pay visits—I have got to find some way of earning my living.”
“Earning your living?”
“Except for the little money I have with me,” she said, “I haven’t a penny in the world.”
“Gee!” said Della.
She thought for a moment.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I don’t know. That’s what I’ve got to think over.”
“You’ve got to look around some?”
“Well, then, that’s all right. Stay with us while you’re doing it. You must stay somewhere. What’s the matter with the castle?”
Betty’s eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, Della, you are a dear,” she said impulsively. “But I couldn’t.”
“For the Lord’s sake! Why not?”
Betty shook her head.
“I couldn’t,” she said.
Della sat thinking.
“I’ve got it,” she cried. “Lord Arthur said I’d better have one when I got to England. He’s the guy—the lord, I mean—who’s fixing the deal about the castle. He said that I should want a companion—some one to go around with, because ma couldn’t always be tagging along. You’re it!”
“Don’t make objections. It’s settled. So you’ll come to the castle, after all. We’ll have the greatest time. I’ll go and tell ma.”
“Della, are you sure——”
But Della had gone.
Mr. and Mrs. Morrison received the news with flattering approval.
“They fell for you right away,” reported Della, returning from her mission.
The rest of the journey passed swiftly for Betty. A great weight had been lifted from her mind.
It being the only London hotel they had ever heard of, the Morrisons had engaged rooms at the Cecil. Della, her magnificent energy proof against the fatigue of a journey from Paris, took Betty off to a theater after dinner, and, on their return, sat on her bed, talking, till Betty’s answers became drowsy and disconnected. She then, having forbidden her to dream of getting up before lunch, went to her own room.
It was late on the following morning when Betty came downstairs. Inquiring for the Morrisons, she was handed a note from Della, informing her that they had gone off to do Westminster Abbey, but would be back to lunch at one.
With more than an hour to pass, Betty wandered out into the Strand. It was nearly one o’clock when she returned. As she began to mount the hotel steps, a taxicab drew up, and a man with a pale mustache emerged. He paid the driver, and turned to enter the hotel. Then he saw Betty, and a look of recognition came into his face.
“Miss Silver!” he said.
It was Lord Arthur Hayling.
Betty took his outstretched hand, and forced a smile, but she was disconcerted. If Lord Arthur was not the one man in the world whom she would have preferred not to meet, he was not far from being that. Even had her circumstances been other than they were, she would have wished to avoid him, for it had been at their last meeting that she had refused his stately and well-expressed offer of marriage.
And now, in the altered state of her affairs, when she was anxious to leave no traces in her flight, and had changed her name in order to effect this the more thoroughly, meetings with those who had known her in the life she had abandoned were something more than inconvenient.
Then it struck her that she was disturbing herself unnecessarily. This was nothing more than a chance meeting by the way. A few minutes’ casual talk, and she would go her way and he his; and the probabilities of their encountering each other again were remote.
“I didn’t know you were in England, Lord Arthur,” she said.
“Nor I that you were, Miss Silver. It is a most delightful surprise.” He stroked his pale mustache. “Are you staying in the hotel?”
The recollection that her name was entered in the hotel book as Miss Brown checked Betty’s reply for a moment; but she reflected that his lordship was not likely to search the register.
“Yes,” she said. “Are you?”
“I am at my club. I have an engagement to meet some people here for lunch at one. Fellow countryfolk of yours, by the way, though I do not suppose that you know them. A Mr. Morrison and his family.”
“You know them? I should not have imagined that you would have come across them in your set. They are excellent people,” he said, with that subtinkle of disapproval which enters the voice of a certain type of Englishman when he mentions persons whose social status is, in his opinion, doubtful, “excellent people in every way, but, don’t you know—hardly——” He paused, leaving an eloquent gap. “But, perhaps,” he went on hopefully, as it were, “these are not the same Morrisons that you know. The name is not an uncommon one. My—acquaintance is a Mr. Richard Morrison. He was—ah—employed till recently, I believe, in some bank in New York. He inherited a fortune not long ago. His wife and daughter——”
Betty interrupted, speaking rapidly:
“Yes, those are my Morrisons. I am traveling with them. That is to say, I am——”
Lord Arthur’s blond eyebrows rose the fraction of an inch. The society in which he had met Betty in America had not been composed of people, who, however excellent, were hardly—— Although he himself was clinging to the Morrisons with the assiduity of a leech, and had for some time been turning over in his mind the idea of making Della the same handsome offer which Betty had declined at their last meeting, his caste prejudice had remained unaltered.
“Really?” he said again. Then, with tactful condescension: “They are most interesting people, are they not? Miss Morrison is charmingly quaint and lively——”
“Della is a dear,” said Betty defiantly, in answer to the subtinkle.
“Quite so,” said his lordship.
He stroked his mustache, and Betty flushed. He had the gift of saying more with one stroke than another man could have said in a two-minute speech.
His attitude had the effect of ridding Betty of the nervousness which she had been feeling. She looked forward with a sort of grim pleasure to the effect of the bomb she was about to explode under his lordship’s nose. It would be interesting to see what effect it would have on his gentlemanly placidity.
“When I say I am traveling with the Morrisons,” she said coolly, “I don’t mean as a friend. I am Miss Morrison’s paid companion.”
She was not disappointed. Lord Arthur Hayling, from boyhood up, had been steeped in the British upper-class tradition that to display emotion is bad form, and one of the things that are not done; but this piece of information cracked the shell of detached calm in which the years had encased him, and for a moment his jaw dropped, and he gaped at Betty like any ordinary fellow whose father had been connected with trade.
He was badly shaken. He put the natural construction on her statement. If Betty was in the position of having to earn her living as a paid companion, it meant that Mr. Benjamin Scobell must have lost his fortune.
The narrowness of his escape shocked Lord Arthur. Suppose she had accepted him over there in America, and then this had happened!
Betty stood waiting for him to recover. When signs showed themselves that he was beginning to do so, she went on to touch on an important point, which it was necessary to settle at once before his lordship should have the opportunity of addressing her as Miss Silver in the presence of the Morrisons.
“They know me as Miss Brown,” she said. “Will you please remember that I am not Miss Silver any longer?”
“You have changed your name? Just so. Exactly.” That, too, struck him as intelligible; indeed, as the obvious step.
“Thank you,” said Betty.
There was an awkward silence. Lord Arthur wanted to find out all about Mr. Scobell’s downfall, but it was not easy; to start sympathy would have been the line of least resistance, if Betty had given him the slightest cue to become sympathetic; but she had not. He was casting about in his mind for an opening, when a taxicab drew up beside them, and the Morrison party got out.
“Hello!” said Della. “Do you two know each other?”
Lord Arthur prevaricated smoothly.
“I inquired for you in the hotel, and they told me that Miss Brown was the only member of your party who had not gone out, so we made each other’s acquaintance.”
“She can talk French,” said Della irrelevantly. “Say, I’m starving. Let’s go scare up some lunch. Come along, pa. First call for luncheon!”
During the meal, Lord Arthur was silent. He had not yet adjusted himself to the alteration in Betty.
Regarding the business negotiations which he had been conducting, he vouchsafed in jerks the information that the arrangements were practically completed. A few necessary formalities, and Norworth Court, in Hampshire, would be at the wanderers’ disposal. It was one of the show places of England, he went on to explain—quite the stateliest pile in the country, and more to the same effect.
After lunch, his lordship found himself left alone with Mr. Morrison, for the purpose of discussing those few formalities which he had mentioned.
Having disposed of these, he turned to the subject which was uppermost in his mind. He did not suppose that Mr. Morrison was acquainted personally with Mr. Scobell, but, as a member of the staff of a bank, he would probably have been in a position to know the cause of the latter’s downfall.
“Very sad about Mr. Scobell,” he said.
“Hey?” said Mr. Morrison nervously.
He hated being left alone with Lord Arthur, of whom he stood in awe, and had been hoping to make a rapid retreat. But his lordship had helped himself to another cognac, and lit a fresh cigarette, and was plainly rooted to his chair.
“Mr. Benjamin Scobell, the financier,” explained Lord Arthur. “I met his stepdaughter when I was in America. A charming girl. It must have come as a great blow to her.”
“Great blow?” repeated the other, puzzled.
“When he lost all his money.”
Mr. Morrison’s look of bewilderment deepened.
“Lost all his money?”
“I understood that he had become bankrupt.”
Mr. Morrison shook his head.
“Not old man Scobell. I guess you’re thinking of some one else. Old man Scobell’s no bankrupt. At least, he wasn’t when I was in the European and Asiatic. He kept a six-figure account with us, and it was still there when I quit. And I’d have heard of it if he had smashed since then. Why, if Scobell smashed there’d be a noise like the Singer Building had fallen onto a sheet of tin. You must have gotten hold of the wrong name.”
Lord Arthur stared.
“Very possibly,” he said slowly. “Very possibly.”
He rose from the table in a state of utter bewilderment. If her stepfather was still a rich man, what conceivable reason could there be why Betty should be traveling as a paid companion with these Morrisons? The mystery completely baffled him, and continued to baffle him long after he had left the hotel and returned to his club, where he sat in a quiet corner of the smoking room, chewing an unlighted cigar, all through the afternoon.
He dined at the club; and it was while he was sipping his coffee that his tired brain yielded a solution of the mystery, which, however fantastic, seemed to him the only one conceivable.
It was a trick! She was testing him. His dull eyes glowed with excitement as the thing seemed to piece itself together like the scattered sections of a child’s puzzle. It was, he told himself, precisely the scheme which a romantic girl would have devised. She was testing him. He had proposed to her when she was rich. Would she be the same in his eyes when she was a penniless girl, earning her own living? It was to decide that question that she had joined the Morrisons. There were a hundred ways in which she could have found out that he had attached himself to them. But, he reflected, she had made one miscalculation, when she had assumed that he would not ascertain the truth concerning her stepfather’s financial status.
The little party gathered under the banner of Mrs. Morrison at the Hotel Cecil dealt with the city each in his or her own way. Della and her mother were there to “do” the place, and they “did” it with that grim thoroughness which is the peculiar property of a certain type of American traveler. Guidebook in hand, they swooped from spot to spot, devouring like locusts the Tower, London Bridge, St. Paul’s, the Zoo, the Crystal Palace, Kew Gardens, the Cheshire Cheese, and the rest, at the rate of two or three a day.
On these expeditions they generally took Betty, but Mr. Morrison stoutly refused to broaden his mind. He was frankly anti-London. He pointed out, with some justice, that London had had nearly a thousand years in which to make itself into some kind of a town, and it hadn’t got as much open plumbing and real comfort as Squeedunk.
As for Betty, even if she had had no private troubles to weigh on her mind, it is doubtful whether she would have been happy in London. As it was, she passed what was probably the most miserable week of her life. The first excitement of her escape from Mervo was over, and her eyes were looking down the interminable vista of the years to come, a vista of drab grayness, without hope or joy to color it. London had the effect of accentuating this mood. Leaden skies, grimy houses, and a peculiar note of melancholy in the crowds that drifted in the streets were the leading features in her impression of the great city during that week.
Della, resolutely determined to enjoy herself, professed to find quaintness where Betty found only squalor; but even Della did not display any regret when Lord Arthur announced one morning that Mrs. Morrison’s “little place” was ready for its new tenants, and it was decided that the invaders should move on Hampshire on the following day.
Lord Arthur, during the week, had comported himself like a Galahad. Ever courteous, ever on hand, ever ready to be of assistance, he had completely won over Mrs. Morrison, who at first had been inclined to consider him arrogant.
Toward Betty his manner was such as recalled the old days of chivalry. His restrained devotion was admirable. He was humble, yet protective—a highly effective combination of worshiping knight and guardian angel.
Betty was genuinely surprised. She had fancied that his lordship’s mind was an open book to her. When he had proposed to her in America, she had set him down without hesitation as a fortune hunter. And she had expected that her announcement that she was employed by Mrs. Morrison as a paid companion would have had a chilling effect on his ardor. But now a week had gone by, and here he was, apparently unchanged by changing circumstances, more than ever the devout lover. There was no mistaking the subtle difference in his manner toward her and toward Della.
Her feelings began to alter. She was aching for friendship. She welcomed anything that would color ever so slightly that gray vista down which she was looking. His lordship would have been vastly encouraged, could he have guessed how high he stood in her estimation. He did not guess, for Betty, womanlike, felt more than she seemed to feel, and she struck his lordship at this early stage in the proceedings as regrettably unresponsive.
He hoped for better things, however, when the scene should be shifted to Norworth Court.
The opening performance of a new musical comedy was due on the party’s last night in London; and Mrs. Morrison had bought a box. Lord Arthur was to meet them at the theater. The head of the family had decided to remain in slippered ease at the hotel.
Leaving him to carry out this homely program, the rest of the expedition went off in a taxicab.
The musical comedy proved to be much like other musical comedies, of which Betty had seen two that week, and the first act had not been in progress long, when her attention began to wander. She looked at the audience. The house was crowded. She ran her eye slowly over the orchestra chairs below.
And then suddenly her heart leaped, and she shrank back quickly into the corner of the box, where the hanging curtain hid her. She had seen John.
He was sitting at the end of the ninth row, evidently in the company of the man seated next to him, a light-haired young man with glasses; for as Betty caught sight of him, this young man bent across to make some remark.
He had not seen her. When she looked cautiously from behind the curtain a moment later, his eyes were on the stage.
She sat on in a dream. The figures on the other side of the footlights seemed blurred and far away. She felt as if she were choking. The sight of him had quickened into life a host of emotions which till then had been numbed.
She was conscious of a noise of clapping, and realized that the first act was over, and that the curtain had fallen. Lord Arthur rose, and went out to smoke a cigarette. She moved back farther into her corner, till her chair pressed against the wall.
Della turned to her with some question that she did not hear, and, as she did so, there was a knock at the door.
“May I come in?” said a voice in the doorway. “I caught sight of you at the end of the act, Della, and came around to see if you would still shake hands with your old friends.”
Della uttered a cry of surprise.
“Why, John Maude! Whatever are you doing in London? Mother, this is Mr. Maude, whom I used to know in New York. John Maude, I want you to know my friend, Betty Brown.”
John had parted from Mr. Scobell on the quay at Mervo full of determination, but, as he discovered when he came to consider his plan of action, with only the vaguest ideas as to how he was to find the object of his search.
As far as Paris the trail was broad and clear; but there, had it not been that Mr. Scobell had placed no limit on the expenses of the expedition, it might well have been lost altogether. Unhampered, however, by financial obstacles, John had been able to make exhaustive inquiries, which had led him to the Gare du Nord, and there the trail had become clear again. Among the scores of employees interviewed by John and a private investigation agent, who acted as interpreter, and was inclined, at first—till discouraged by the latter’s forbidding attitude—to adopt a slightly roguish manner toward John, was the blue-bloused semaphore who had so harassed Della and her parents.
From him the investigation agent, in the course of a conversation which sounded to John like a bitter quarrel between two gramophones with defective needles, elicited the fact that the young lady had left the Gare du Nord in the Calais boat train in the company of an American family of three—a father, a mother, and a daughter.
It was this clew that had brought John to London. When he first heard it, he had indulged in rejoicings which proved to be premature, and had presented the blue-bloused one with a pourboire which led to his absence from duty for two days. It had seemed to him that his search was as good as finished.
London had corrected this impression. That the party had gone there was practically certain. American travelers, leaving Calais by the cross-channel boat, may be presumed to have London as their destination. John had hurried to the metropolis, and there the trail had lost itself again.
He had engaged a room at the Savoy Hotel, and had spent his time wandering through the streets, and dining and lunching at the most popular restaurants, in the hope of an accidental meeting.
London is the city of accidental meetings, but he had not been successful. London is also the city where people may live next door to each other for a year and never meet. Though John and Betty moved for nearly a week in the same orbit, they did not cross each other’s path.
John was discouraged. He had no means of knowing whether the Morrisons had remained in London, or merely passed through on their way to the country.
But London was to live up to its reputation as an engineer of accidental meetings. One afternoon, as he turned into the Cheshire Cheese for lunch—it had occurred to him that his party, being Americans, might possibly visit this famous spot; as, indeed, they had done, two days before—he heard somebody call him by name, and recognized the light-haired young man whom Betty was to see subsequently in his company at the theater.
This was Faraday, one of those friends whom, in his Westley, Martin & Co. days, he had envied as living full and interesting lives. Faraday had been at Harvard with him, and, after trying many professions, was now in charge of the London office of the leading New York dramatists’ representative.
They lunched together, and by the end of the meal John had promised to accompany Faraday to the opening performance of a new musical comedy, for which the latter had been given seats.
“I hear the music’s good,” said Faraday. “And you’ll meet some interesting people in the intermission.”
John, deep in his own thoughts, could not have testified to the accuracy of the first part of the prediction; but the second portion had certainly been fulfilled beyond his imagining.
Della had begun to speak again as Betty turned, and her rapid fire of questions and views on London and descriptions of her adventures, jumbled together in a breathless monologue, served to bridge over what would otherwise have been a notable silence.
Betty’s temples were throbbing. She was incapable of speech. And John stood in the doorway, motionless. Him, too, the situation had deprived of words.
“Betty Brown saved our lives in Paris,” said Della. “We shouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t ’a’ been for her. There was a porter guy refusing to understand a word we said to him, and goodness knows we all said plenty, when along comes Betty, and fixes him in about three seconds. Say, you should hear her talk French. She’s just it. How’d you like London? We’ve been here a week, and we’ve seen everything. We’ve been through the place with a fine-tooth comb. We’re at the Hotel Cecil. We’re going down to Hampshire to-morrow to——”
“We have taken a little place, Mr. Maude,” said Mrs. Morrison languidly. “A friend of ours, Lord Arthur Hayling—— Do you know him? He is the brother of the Duke of——”
“I know his name,” mumbled John, his eyes still on Betty, sitting looking at him from the shadow of the curtain.
The door opened.
“Ah, Lord Arthur,” said Mrs. Morrison, “I want you to meet Mr. Maude, a fellow countryman of ours.”
Lord Arthur inclined his head with well-bred ease.
The orchestra had begun to tune up. All over the house people were returning to their seats. John muttered vaguely, and opened the door. He was still dazed.
As the door closed, Della jumped up.
“Gee!” she said, by way of explanation, and ran out into the corridor.
John’s back was disappearing round the corner. He stopped as she called to him, and came back.
“Say, John Maude,” said Della rapidly, “for goodness’ sake don’t tell them that you were ever a news-stand clerk, will you? Ma’s that exclusive now, it would be back to the bench for yours if she got wise. And I’d hate for that to happen. I want to see a lot of you. I want all the old pals I can get around me these days. I feel like I was on the edge of a cold pool, and somebody going to push me in. That’s how English society strikes me. I’ve been rubbering at them down below there in the orchestra chairs, and my, they look the cold propositions. I need somebody to hold my hand, and see me through this, and you’re the man to do it, John Maude. There’s something kind of solid and New Yorky about you. Say, you’ve got to come down with us to this castle place to-morrow. Will you? Promise!”
“By George, Della,” cried John gratefully, “I should just guess I would.”
She had solved all his difficulties. The news that the party were to leave London next morning had filled him with dismay. He must see Betty again, and talk with her alone, but he had not seen how it was to be managed. This invitation was salvation to him.
“Della,” he said, “you’re an angel. There’s nothing I’d like better in the world.”
“That’s a promise, then. I’ll fix it with ma. You’re ace-high with her at present, because you look swell. But if she finds out about the news stand! Say, Betty’s a pretty girl, isn’t she? I want you two to be pals. She’s a dear. Say, there’s something queer about her. You can see she’s one of the Four Hundred, but we found her wandering about alone in Paris with hardly a penny, and she took a job with us as my companion. It don’t make any difference to me, though. She’s more of a lady than I’ll ever be in a million years. Oh, gee, there’s the opening chorus. I must be getting back. Come around to the hotel to-morrow. And don’t you go sidestepping that castle proposition.”
Lord Arthur Hayling sipped his tea, and, looking out upon the world, found it good. He felt in tune with the soft peace of the summer evening.
It was the third day of the invasion of Hampshire. The six members of the army of occupation were seated on the upper terrace at Norworth Court, in a group of which Mrs. Morrison, in command of the tea table, formed the center. Conversation, after a few disconnected efforts, had ceased, and each of those present was occupied with his or her own thoughts. And in every case, except that of his lordship, the thoughts were unpleasant.
Norworth Court was one of those English country houses which convey the impression of immemorial antiquity more effectively than other buildings beside which they are mere parvenus. Westminster Abbey was old and gray before the great-great-great-grandfather of the architect of Norworth Court was born or thought of; yet Westminster Abbey had left the Morrisons cheerful and undaunted. It was the superciliousness of Norworth that crushed them.
Mr. Morrison was frankly miserable. Since his arrival, he had worn the furtive and anxious look of a cat in a strange yard. He was loathing his new surroundings with a whole-heartedness which, though he fancied that his demeanor was one of stoic cheeriness, showed plainly in his every movement. Della was unwontedly silent and out of spirits, and even Mrs. Morrison’s courage was showing signs of failing. On all three the shadow of the court had begun to fall like a miasma.
Betty’s emotions were of a different order. The court did not affect her unpleasantly. In other circumstances she would have loved its old-world calm. But the thought that, postpone it as she might, sooner or later there must come that meeting alone with John killed her enjoyment. Wherever she looked, she seemed to meet his eyes, hurt and puzzled. A hundred times she had made up her mind to avoid the inevitable no longer, only to alter it at the last moment. She was afraid—afraid of him, afraid of herself; afraid of the pain which she must inflict, and the pain which she must suffer.
To John the world had never seemed so bleak. Things had passed completely beyond his comprehension. Betty’s flight from Mervo had been only less intelligible than her avoidance of him now. His mind refused to grapple with the problem. What had he done? How had he offended her? What could have caused her feelings toward him to alter so completely in a single night?
His mind kept returning to that meeting in the casino. Every detail of it stood out clearly in his memory. She had been friendly then. There were moments when he had almost persuaded himself that she had shown signs of being something more. Yet now she was making the most obvious efforts to avoid being alone with him for an instant. Time after time, in the brief period of this visit, she had done it. Sometimes Della was the unconscious buffer between them; but more frequently Lord Arthur.
John cast a furtive glance at his lordship as he sat contentedly sipping tea, and jealousy raged within him. Perhaps, suggested jealousy, it was not merely to avoid being alone with him that Betty attached herself so closely to Lord Arthur.
This identical thought was occupying his lordship’s mind at that very moment, and to it were due his feeling of peace and that appreciation of the world and the summer evening. The plan of campaign which he had mapped out for himself appeared to be succeeding beyond his expectations. At first he had regarded John with suspicion, as a possible obstacle to the success of his scheme, but now he had dismissed him from his calculations. Not once, nor twice, but several times had Betty made it plain whose company she preferred. A little more, and the time would be ripe for that second attack which was to carry the position.
He finished his tea, and lit a cigarette. It was the cool of the evening, and the surface of the little reed-fringed lake at the foot of the terraces glittered with the last rays of the setting sun. Mrs. Morrison had gone indoors, and her husband had pottered off to smoke a cigar in a part of the grounds where there was least chance of meeting a gardener. Della had just broken a long silence with a remark to John.
Lord Arthur turned to Betty, who was sitting between him and Della.
“Would you care to go out on the lake before the sun goes down, Miss Brown?” he said.
Betty looked round. John was talking to Della. It would put off the moment she was dreading for another day.
“Yes,” she said.
They had reached the second terrace before Della noticed them.
“Where are they going?” she said.
John did not reply. He was watching the pair as they made their way across the turf, absorbed in hard feelings toward his lordship.
“Gee,” said Della, “they’re going out in the punt.”
“It looks like it,” said John.
“Shout to them.”
“That punt pole’s on the blink. I tried it yesterday, and it creaked. It cracked or something. He’ll go smashing it and falling in.”
“Will he?” said John, with grim satisfaction. “Do you object?”
Della looked at him quickly, and laughed.
“Well,” she said, “now that you mention it, I guess I don’t. Say, John, how d’you like him?” She jerked her head toward the lake, where his lordship, wielding the suspected pole, was propelling the punt slowly across the water. “I don’t fall for him,” she went on, without waiting for an answer. “And the old gentleman don’t, either. His lordship’s like this place. He gives me cold feet. Does the place get you that way, too? Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been wondering whether I’m not some sort of a worm. Pa says the place makes him feel as if he was walking down Broadway in a straw hat in April.” She looked unhappily at the gray walls of the house. “Kind of disapproving it looks, don’t it? Those windows look just like a lot of eyes, staring at you, and wondering what right you’ve got sitting around poisoning the atmosphere.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“Not in a million years,” she said emphatically. “And I don’t want to, either. Why should I? What are we doing here, anyway? What’s the matter with America?”
“ ‘My country, ’tis of thee,’ ” murmured John encouragingly.
“ ‘My Tom Spiller, ’tis of thee’ is more like it,” said Della. “It’s Tom I’m worrying myself to a half portion about.”
“Sure. That’s the whole trouble. I’m engaged to him, and pa and ma don’t know it, and I daren’t tell them. Ma wouldn’t think him class enough. Don’t you say a word about it, will you? I’ve just got to wait till ma comes down to earth again. Say, you were always a friend of Tom’s, weren’t you?”
“Tom’s to the good,” said John.
“That’s right,” said Della. “Say, between you and Betty, I may manage to bear up. You’re both comforts. What do you think of her, John?”
“Of—of Miss Brown?”
“That’s not her name,” said Della, shaking her head. “I tell you there’s some mystery about that girl. My idea is that she’s cut loose from some swell home for some reason, and is traveling in—what do you call it? Incog. Say! I guess her pa wanted her to marry some guy she didn’t love, and Betty said ‘No, sir!’ and beat it.”
John started. Could that be the reason? He had never thought of that. Could he be the man? Then he saw that that was impossible, for, when Betty ran away from Mervo, her stepfather had not been aware that they had ever met.
“It couldn’t be,” he said.
“Bet you what you like,” insisted Della. “You wait and see if I’m not right. Why, if pa and ma tried to make me marry a guy I didn’t love, I’d be off that quick you’d only see a cloud of dust and a sort of blur. Tom for mine!” She rose. “I’ll go in, and write to him now. Just through thinking of that, I have to, so as to feel he’s still there.”
John remained where he was, his eyes fixed on the pair in the punt. He thought again over what Della had said. Could there be any truth in her theory? It had this to support it, that it was the only theory that offered a solution of the mystery of her flight. But it was impossible.
He rose from his chair, and began to walk toward the house.
He had hardly started when there came from the lake a cry and a splash. He wheeled quickly. The punt was rocking from side to side, and, two feet from it, hatless and up to his waist in water, stood Lord Arthur, grasping a fragment of the pole. Della’s suspicions of its stability had been confirmed.
He ran easily toward the water’s edge. There was no danger, for the lake was shallow. He arrived as his lordship, towing the punt with one hand, waded ashore.
“The pole broke,” said his lordship complainingly, clambering onto dry land.
John held the punt steady for Betty to get out.
“Lucky the water wasn’t deep,” he said. “You had better run up to the house and change your clothes. We’ll follow.”
“Oh——” she began, and stopped.
“I think I had better,” said his lordship, stepping out of his puddle, and starting a fresh one.
He galloped moistily up the terrace. John watched for a moment, then turned to Betty. She had not moved.
For many days John had been scheming for just this moment, nerving himself for it, rehearsing the attitude that he would assume; but now that it had come, he found himself unprepared. He was unequal to the situation. She was looking at him, her face cold and pale, and there was that in her look which set a chill wind blowing through the world, and robbed him of speech. He searched in his brain for words, and came empty away. He was dumb.
Suddenly Betty spoke.
“We shall be late,” she said nervously.
John took a swift step toward her. Somehow the sound of her voice had broken the spell, and set him free. The cloud still weighed on his mind, but strength and the power to act had returned to him.
She shrank back as he moved, and he saw that there were tears in her eyes. A thrill went through him.
The next moment—the action was almost automatic—his fingers had touched her arm and closed on it.
She wrenched herself free.
“Betty!” he muttered.
They stood facing each other. He could hear her quick breathing. Her face was dim and indistinct, but her eyes shone in the darkness.
A strange weakness came upon John. He trembled. The contact of her soft flesh through the thin sleeve had set loose in him a whirl of primitive emotions. He longed to seize her in his arms, to be brutal, to hurt her. The black outlines of the tree tops flickered before his eyes for an instant. He clenched his fists to steady himself.
“I love you!” he said, in a low voice.
Even to himself the words, as he spoke them, sounded bald and meaningless. To Betty, shaken by what had passed between her and Mr. Scobell, they sounded artificial, as if he were forcing himself to repeat a lesson. They jarred upon her.
“Don’t!” she said sharply. “Oh, don’t!”
Her voice stabbed him. It could not have stirred him more if she had uttered a cry of physical pain.
“Don’t! I know. I’ve been told.”
She went on quickly, in gasps:
“I know all about it. My stepfather told me. He said—he said you were his”—she choked—“his hired man; that he paid you to stay and advertise the casino. Oh, it’s too horrible. That it should be you! You, who have been—you can’t understand what you have been to me—ever since we met. You couldn’t understand. I can’t tell you. A sort of help. Something—something that—I can’t put it into words. Only it used to help me just to think of you. I didn’t mind if I never saw you again. I didn’t expect ever to see you again. It was just being able to think of you. It helped. You were something I could trust. Something strong—solid.” She laughed bitterly. “I suppose I made a hero of you. Girls are fools. But it helped me, to feel that there was one man alive who—who put his honor above money.”
She broke off. John stood motionless, staring into the shadows. For the first time in his easy-going life he knew shame. Even now he had not grasped to the full the purport of her words. The scales were falling from his eyes, but as yet he saw but dimly.
She began to speak again, in a low, monotonous voice, almost as if she were talking to herself:
“I’m so tired of money—money—money! Everything’s money. Isn’t there a man in the world who won’t sell himself? I thought that you—I suppose I’m stupid. One expects too much.”
Her voice was very weary.
He did not move. His mind was occupied with what she had been saying. Gradually he was beginning to understand.
She turned, and went slowly up the terrace toward the house. Still he made no movement.
A spell seemed to be on him. His eyes never left her. He could just see her white dress in the darkness. Once she stopped. With his whole soul he prayed that she would come back. But she moved on again, and was gone.
Then his brain cleared, and he began to think swiftly. He could not let her go like this. He must overtake her. He must stop her. He must speak to her. He must say—he did not know what it was that he would say—anything, so that he spoke to her again.
He ran up the sloping turf till he reached the upper terrace. She was not there.
Presently his thoughts detached themselves. He began to think with a curious coolness. It was one of those rare moments in a man’s life when, from the outside, through a breach in that wall of excuses and self-deception which he has been at such pains to build, he looks at himself impartially.
The sight that John saw through the wall was not comforting. It was not a heroic soul that, stripped of its defense, shivered beneath the scrutiny. In another mood he would have mended the breach, excusing and extenuating, but not now. He looked at himself without pity, and saw himself weak, slothful, devoid of all that was clean and fine; and a bitter contempt filled him.
He must do something. He must show her that he was not the man she thought him. And then it came to him that there was only one way. If he was to prove that he was not the casino’s hired man, he must destroy the casino. Not till he had done that could he face her again and say to her what he wished to say. He would prove to her that her first judgment of him had been the true one, that he was a man who could put his honor above money.
That was the way out. He glowed at the thought.
She loved him. She had not tried to hide it. He would show her that he was worthy of her love.
He must return to Mervo at once. Every moment would be a year till he had made himself a free man.
Betty was not in the drawing-room when the gong sounded for dinner.
“Betty’s not feeling good,” explained Della. “She’s got a headache or a chill or something, poor kid. She was looking as pale as a sheet, so I made her go to bed. She’ll be all right there. I’ll go and sit with her.”
John went out onto the terrace after dinner. He felt more keenly than ever the imperative need for instant action. Would it be possible for him to leave to-night? If he could reach London early in the morning, he would be able to catch the noonday boat at Dover.
He threw away his cigar, and went back into the house to find a time-table. Yes, there was a slow train that would bring him to London in the small hours of the morning. He went up to his room, changed his clothes, and packed a grip. Then, walking warily by back stairs, he stole out of the house, and began his five-mile walk to the station.
While John, in the little steamer from Marseilles, was nearing the end of his impulsive dash across Europe, Mr. Scobell was breakfasting with his Sister Marion in the morning room of their villa on the Mervo hillside. The financier’s days were full now, and he started them early.
A frown of displeasure furrowed Mr. Scobell’s brow.
“Marion,” he was saying, “who was the guy with the Yiddish name who made an automaton, and got in bad all round through it? It’s on the tip of my tongue.”
“You mean Frankenstein, dear. He was the hero of a novel by Mrs. Shelley. According to the story, he created a monster in the shape of a man, who brought a great deal of trouble and misfortune upon him in various ways. The moral of the story is supposed to be that we should——”
“All right, all right, all right!” interrupted her brother rudely. “I know all that—I only wanted to remember the name. Well, say, I’m Frankenstein, and this prince guy’s the monster.”
“I don’t know why you should say that, Bennie,” protested his sister. “I’m sure he’s a very nice young man.”
“He’s such a darned nice young man,” said Mr. Scobell, “that I’d feel a lot easier in my mind if I had him tied to a tree by a string, instead of having let him go off all alone to wander around with a roll of bills big enough to buy suppers for all the chorus girls in London for about ten years.”
“I’m sure he’s not that sort of young man, Bennie. He seemed so nice, and quiet, and pleasant-mannered.”
Mr. Scobell snorted.
“Did you ever watch one of those quiet, pleasant-mannered guys when he got to going some? I tell you, it’s Prince Charles over again. This fellow’s his son, and believe me, Prince Charles was one speed boy. No, I guess I’ve been stung. That honest, open face of his made such a hit with me that when Betty ran away and he said: ‘I’m going after her. Gimme the bank roll, for I may need to buy a sandwich on the journey,’ I fell for it like a rube. It was only when he’d been gone a day or so that I began to wonder what made him so plumb set on going after a girl he hardly knew by sight. He couldn’t have seen Betty more than about twice in his life.”
“Perhaps he fell in love with her at first sight,” suggested Miss Scobell dreamily.
“Pshaw! That don’t go. What he fell in love with at first sight was the idea of a vacation in London with all that money. Gee, I’ve been a sucker! I can just see him laughing. I guess I was the easiest thing that ever happened to him. I guess he’s making himself the life and soul of gay supper parties, telling the story.”
He smoked his cigar slump fiercely. The recapitulation of his wrongs had disturbed him.
“I’m sure——” began Miss Scobell, when the door opened, and a footman appeared.
“Well?” snapped the financier.
“His highness the Prince of Mervo desires to speak to you, sir.”
“What? Where is he?”
“His highness is walking up and down the road before the villa, sir. He declined to enter. He said that he desired to see You alone, sir.”
“All right,” said Mr. Scobell. The footman retired. He turned to his sister.
“There,” he said. “You see! Guilty conscience! Daren’t come in. He’s come to the end of his roll, and is wondering how he can work me for more. I’ll talk to him! By heck! I’ll give him his number!”
“Don’t be too hard on him, Bennie. He’s very young.”
“He won’t feel young by the time I’m through,” said Mr. Scobell truculently. “He’ll feel about a million.”
During the past forty-eight hours John had had the maximum of mental unrest, and the minimum of sleep. His eyes were red, and his chin covered with a day’s stubble. His clothes were creased and wrinkled. In other words, he looked like a young man who had just completed the concluding exercises of a prolonged debauch; and Mr. Scobell, emerging from the house at the moment when he was prowling past the front door, his shoulders bent and his thoughts far away in England, and coming face to face with him, saw in his appearance the confirmation of his worst suspicions. He glared, and his cigar rose slowly to an almost perpendicular position as his lower jaw protruded.
“So you’ve come back!” he said. John stopped.
“I wanted to see you,” he said.
The end of Mr. Scobell’s cigar approached an eighth of an inch nearer to his left eye.
“Wanted to see me? I guess you wanted to see me. Where have you been? Why isn’t Betty with you?”
“We won’t discuss that, if you don’t mind,” he said.
Mr. Scobell gasped for utterance. He bit through his cigar. His green eyes glowed dully, and the tip of his nose wriggled, as was its habit in crises of emotion.
“Won’t?” he stammered. “Won’t? Won’t discuss! Well, can you beat it? I ask you! Of all the gall! Won’t discuss it!”
He gasped. Then he found connected speech.
“Well, I guess!” he cried. “Say, you and me have got to have a talk, young man! You seem to have forgotten where you stand. You want making a head shorter, my bucko! Maybe your serene, imperial two-by-fourness will condescend to listen for a moment while I explain just whereabouts your royal, bush-league highness lines up in the scheme of things. See here. You were to find Betty, and bring her back, and marry her, weren’t you? Well, why haven’t you done it?”
John stared. Understanding was coming slowly to him.
“I fixed this thing up,” continued Mr. Scobell, “and it’s got to go through. I fetched Betty over here to marry you, and she’s gotta marry you. I explained the whole thing to her, but, being a fool girl, she tried to duck. That don’t go, though. She’s gotta come back, and I was chump enough to think that, when you went away, you meant to find her and fetch her back. Instead of which you go whooping it up all over London with my money, and——”
John cut through his explanation with a sudden, sharp cry. A blinding blaze of understanding had flashed upon him. It was as if he had been groping his way in a dark cavern, and had stumbled unexpectedly into brilliant sunlight. He understood everything now. Every word that Betty had spoken, every gesture that she had made, had become amazingly clear. He saw now why she had shrunk back from him, why her eyes had worn that look. He dared not face the picture of himself as he must have appeared in those eyes, the man whom Mr. Benjamin Scobell’s casino was paying to marry her, the hired man earning his wages by speaking words of love.
Suddenly his mind began to work quietly and coolly. He looked at the heated financier.
“Wait!” he said, and Mr. Scobell stopped in mid-sentence. “I found Miss Silver,” he went on.
“You found her!” The wrath died out of Mr. Scobell’s face. “Good boy! Forget anything I may have said in the heat of the moment, prince! I thought you’d been on the toot in London. So you really found her!”
“Yes. And she told me some of the things you said to her about me. They opened my eyes. Until I heard them, I had not quite understood my position. I do now. You said that I was your hired man.”
“It wasn’t intended for you to hear,” said Mr. Scobell handsomely, “and Betty shouldn’t oughter have handed it to you. I don’t wonder you feel raw. I wouldn’t say that sort of thing to a guy’s face. Sure, no. Tact’s my middle name. But, since you have heard it, well——”
“Don’t apologize. You were quite right. I was a fool not to see it before. No description could have been fairer. You might have said much more. You might have added that I was nothing more than a steerer for a gambling hell!”
“Oh, come, prince!” He felt in his vest pocket. “Have a good cigar,” he said.
John waved aside the olive branch.
“I object to being your hired man,” he said. “And I object to being a steerer for a gambling hell.”
“And I’m going to run you out of this place, Mr. Scobell.”
“Eh? What! How’s that?”
John met his astonished eye coolly.
“There’s going to be a cleaning up,” he said. “There will be no more gambling in Mervo.”
“You’re crazy with the heat!” gasped Mr. Scobell. “Abolish gambling? You can’t.”
“I can. That concession of yours isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The republic gave it to you. The republic’s finished. If you want to conduct a casino in Mervo, there’s only one man who can give you permission, and that’s myself. The acts of the republic are not binding on me. Since I arrived you have been gambling on this island without a concession, and now it’s going to stop. Do you understand?”
“But, prince, talk sense.” Mr. Scobell’s voice was almost tearful. “It’s you who don’t understand. Do, for the love of Mike, come down off the roof and talk sense. Do you suppose that these guys here will stand for this? Not on your life! Not for a minute! See here. I’m not blaming you. I know you don’t know what you’re saying. But you must cut out this kind of thing. You mustn’t get these ideas in your head. You stick to your job, and don’t butt in on other folks.”
John shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ve said all I have to say. You’ve had your notice to quit. After to-day the casino is closed.”
“But don’t I tell you the people won’t stand for it?”
“That’s for them to decide. They may have some sell-respect.”
“They’ll fire you!”
“Very well. That will prove that they have not.”
“Prince, talk sense! You can’t mean that you’ll throw away a hundred thousand dollars a year as if it was dirt!”
“It is dirt when it’s made that way. We needn’t discuss it any more.”
John strode off down the road.
He had been out of sight for several minutes before the financier recovered full possession of his faculties.
When he did, his remarks were brief and to the point.
“Bughouse!” he gasped. “Absolutely bughouse!”
Humor, if one looks into it, is principally a matter of retrospect. In after years John was wont to look back with amusement on the revolution which ejected him from the throne of his ancestors. But at the time its mirthfulness did not appeal to him. He was in a frenzy of restlessness. He wanted Betty. He wanted to see her and explain. Mervo had become a prison. But he must stay in it till this matter of the casino should be settled.
It was obvious that it could only be settled in one way. He did not credit his subjects with the high-mindedness that puts ideals first and money after. That military and civilians alike would rally to a man round Mr. Scobell and the casino he was well aware.
But this did not affect his determination to remain till the last. If he went now, he would be like a boy who makes a runaway ring at a doorbell. Until he should receive formal notice of dismissal, he must stay, although every day had forty-eight hours, and every hour twice its complement of weary minutes.
So he waited, chafing, while Mervo examined the situation, turned it over in its mind, discussed it, slept upon it, discussed it again, and displayed generally that ponderous leisureliness which is the Mervian’s birthright.
One morning there came a note from Mr. Scobell. It was brief:
Come on down before the shooting begins.
John tore it up.
It was on the same evening that definite hostilities may be said to have begun.
Between the palace and the market place there was a narrow street of flagged stones, which was busy during the early part of the day, but deserted after sundown. Along this street, at about seven o’clock, John was strolling with a cigarette, when he was aware of a man crouching, with his back toward him. So absorbed was the man in something he was writing on the stones that he did not hear John’s approach, and the latter, coming up from behind, was enabled to see over his shoulder. In large letters of chalk he read the words: “Conspuez le Prince.”
John’s knowledge of French was not profound, but he could understand this, and it annoyed him.
As he looked, the man, squatting on his heels, bent forward to touch up one of the letters. If he had been deliberately posing, he could not have assumed a more convenient attitude.
John had been a footballer before he was a prince. The temptation was too much for him. He drew back his foot.
There was a howl and a thud, and John resumed his stroll. The first gun from Fort Sumter had been fired.
Early next morning a window at the rear of the palace was broken by a stone, and toward noon one of the soldiers on guard in front of the casino was narrowly missed by an anonymous orange. For Mervo this was practically equivalent to the attack on the Bastille, and John, when the report of the atrocities was brought to him, became hopeful.
But the effort seemed temporarily to have exhausted the fury of the mob. The rest of that day and the whole of the next passed without sensation.
After breakfast on the following morning, Mr. Crump paid a visit to the palace. John was glad to see him. The staff of the palace were loyal, but considered as cheery companions, they were handicapped by the fact that they spoke no English, while John spoke no French.
Mr. Crump was the bearer of another note from Mr. Scobell. This time John tore it up unread, and, turning to the secretary, invited him to sit down and make himself at home.
Sipping a cocktail and smoking one of John’s cigars, Mr. Crump became confidential.
“This is a queer business,” he said. “Old Ben is chewing pieces out of the furniture up there. He’s mad clean through. He’s losing money all the while the people are making up their minds about this thing, and it beats him why they’re so slow.”
“It beats me, too. I don’t believe these hookworm victims ever turned my father out. Or, if they did, somebody must have injected radium into them first. I’ll give them another couple of days, and, if they haven’t fixed it by then, I’ll go, and leave them to do what they like about it.”
“Go! Do you want to go?”
“Of course I want to go! Do you think I like stringing along in this musical-comedy island? I don’t blame you, Crump, because it was not your fault, but, by George, if I had known what you were letting me in for when you carried me off here, I’d have called up the police reserves. Hello! What’s this?”
He rose to his feet as the sound of agitated voices came from the other side of the door. The next moment it flew open, revealing General Poineau and an assorted group of footmen and other domestics. Excitement seemed to be in the air.
General Poineau rushed forward into the room, and flung his arms above his head. Then he dropped them to his side, and shrugged his shoulders, finishing in an attitude reminiscent of the plate illustrating “Despair” in “The Home Reciter.”
“Mon prince!” he moaned.
A perfect avalanche of French burst from the group outside the door.
“Crump!” cried John. “Stand by me. Crump! Get busy! This is where you make your big play. Never mind the chorus gentlemen in the passage. Concentrate yourself on old General Dingbat. What’s he talking about? I believe he’s come to tell me the people have wakened up. Offer him a cocktail. What’s the French for corpse reviver? Get busy, Crump.”
The general had begun to speak rapidly, with a wealth of gestures. It astonished John that Crump could follow the harangue, as apparently he did.
“Well?” said John.
Mr. Crump looked grave.
“He says there is a large mob in the market place. They are talking——”
“They would be!”
“Of moving in force on the palace. The palace guards have gone over to the people. General Poineau urges you to disguise yourself, and escape while there is time. You will be safe at his villa till the excitement subsides, when you can be smuggled over to France during the night——”
“Not for mine,” said John, shaking his head. “It’s mighty good of you, general, and I appreciate it, but I can’t wait till night. The boat leaves for Marseilles in another hour. I catch that. I can manage it comfortably. I’ll go up and pack my grip. Crump, entertain the general while I’m gone, will you? I won’t be a moment.”
But as he left the room there came through the open window the mutter of a crowd. He stopped. General Poineau whipped out his sword, and brought it to the salute. John patted him on the shoulder.
“You’re a sport, general,” he said, “but we shan’t want it. Come along, Crump. Come and help me address the multitude.”
The window of the room looked out onto a square. There was a small balcony with a stone parapet. As John stepped out a howl of rage burst from the mob.
John walked onto the balcony, and stood looking down on them, resting his arms on the parapet. The howl was repeated, and from somewhere at the back of the crowd came the sharp crack of a rifle, and a shot, the first and last of the campaign, clipped a strip of flannel from the collar of his coat, and splashed against the wall.
A broad smile spread over his face.
If he had studied for a year, he could not have hit on a swifter or more effective method of quieting the mob. There was something so engaging and friendly in his smile that the howling died away, and fists that had been shaken unclenched themselves and fell. There was an expectant silence in the square.
John beckoned to Crump, who came onto the balcony with some reluctance, being mistrustful of the unseen sportsman with the rifle.
“Tell ’em it’s all right, Crump, and that there’s no call for any fuss. From their manner I gather that I am no longer needed on this throne. Ask them if that’s right.”
A small man, who appeared to be in command of the crowd, stepped forward as the secretary finished speaking, and shouted some words which drew a murmur of approval from his followers.
“He wants to know,” interpreted Mr. Crump, “if you will allow the casino to open again.”
“Tell him no, but add that I shall be tickled to death to abdicate, if that’s what they want. Speed them up, old man. Tell them to make up their minds on the jump, because I want to catch that boat. Don’t let them get to discussing it, or they’ll stand there talking till sunset. Yes or no. That’s the idea.”
There was a moment’s surprised silence when Mr. Crump had spoken. The Mervian mind was unused to being hustled in this way. Then a voice shouted, as it were tentatively: “Vive la République!” and at once the cry was taken up on all sides.
John beamed down on them.
“That’s right,” he said. “Bully! I knew you could get a move on as quick as any one else, if you gave your minds to it. This is what I call something of a revolution. It’s a model to every country in the world. But I guess we must close down the entertainment now, or I shall miss the boat. Will you tell them, Crump, that any citizen who cares for a drink and a cigar will find it in the palace? Tell the household staff to stand by to pull corks. It’s dry work revolutionizing. And now I really must be going. I’ve run it mighty fine. Slip one of these fellows down there a half dollar, and send him to fetch a cab. I must step lively.”
Five minutes later the revolutionists, obviously embarrassed and ill at case, were sheepishly gulping down their refreshment beneath the stony eye of the major-domo and his assistants, while upstairs in the state bedroom the deposed prince was whistling “Dixie,” and packing the royal pajamas into his suit case.
In moments of emotion, man has an unfortunate tendency to forget the conventionalities, especially if he be a man of John’s temperament. John was single-minded. Any strong impulse that came to him was apt to occupy his thoughts, to the exclusion of everything else. Thus, his mind, when he left Norworth Court, had been so full of the idea that he must go back to Mervo and abolish the gaming tables there, that there had been no room in it for the realization of what was due to his host and hostess.
And life had moved so swiftly for him from that moment that it was not till the Marseilles packet, bringing him back, stripped of his princely rank, but filled with the comfortable glow of the man who has asserted himself and recovered his self-respect, had nearly completed its journey, that he began to consider the position.
When he did so, it was borne in upon him with some vividness that he had fallen a little short in the performance of those courtesies which etiquette demands of the departing guest. He who wishes to conform to the manners and rules of good society rarely concludes his visits to country houses by creeping down the back stairs at ten o’clock at night, and sneaking out into the darkness through the tradesmen’s entrance, without a word of farewell to his host and hostess.
Della seemed to him his one hope. Her friendship would probably have remained intact even under the trying conditions. He determined to take up a position at the village inn, and see her before attempting anything else.
Accordingly, having arrived at the village, he sent off a messenger to her with a note, and presently, as he waited in the sleepy street outside the inn door, he saw her approaching briskly, her face one single note of interrogation.
“I’ll explain everything later,” he said, in answer to her rush of inquiries. “First, how do I stand? With your father and mother, I mean?”
“You’re in mighty bad with ma. Say, why did you want to rush off——”
“I meant to write from London. Honestly, Della, I had to go. I’ll tell you all about it later on. Of course, your mother never wants to set eyes on me again?”
“She don’t act as if she was counting the minutes to your return, and——”
“Della,” interrupted John, “I’ve just got to see Betty.”
“I’ve something to tell her. I must see her. Della, be a pal, as you always have been. Smuggle me into the house, and see that I have five minutes with Betty alone. Couldn’t you manage it to-day? I can’t wait.”
Della regarded him open-eyed.
“Are you in love with Betty, John Maude?”
“Of course I am.”
“Then, for goodness sake, what did you want to beat it like that for?”
John shook his head impatiently.
“It’s too long a story to tell now. It was something I had to do before I could see her again.”
“Well, I guess you know your own business,” said Della doubtfully. “But if I was a man in love with a girl, you wouldn’t catch me going off and leaving her alone with his lordship to prowl around and——”
“What do you mean?” cried John.
“Well, I may be wrong, but the way it looks to me is that you aren’t the only rubber plant in Brooklyn. I can’t understand it, though. I don’t see his lordship’s game. He’s out to marry for money, but—well, you ought to see him when Betty’s around. He’s Assiduous Willie, all right.”
“But Betty? Does she——”
“I can’t just make Betty out. Sometimes I think she falls for him, and then again sometimes she acts as if she hadn’t a friend in the world.”
“Della, can you get me into the house this afternoon?”
“I guess I could,” she said. “There are doings in the home this afternoon. We’re giving our first garden party. Say, I’m nervous, John Maude. His lordship has gathered in a bunch of his special pals. They’re just the advance guard. If we make good with them, as far as I can figure it, the rest of the swells in these parts will O. K. us, and come flocking in. It’s up to us. It’s our try-out. If you want to get into the house, to-day’s the day. Say, I know what you can do. You know my little room next to the drawing-room? Sneak in there, and, when I see a chance, I’ll ask Betty to fetch something from the drawing-room. Then you can go in and talk to her. You’d better be near the back door at about half past four, and watch your chance to get in. It’ll be safe about then, because we’ll be having tea with the bunch out on the terrace. All I say is, if you butt into trouble, keep me out of it.”
After a stealthy entrance into Norworth Court that afternoon, John found himself in Della’s sitting room, hot, uncomfortable, and with much the same emotions as he would have felt if he had managed to elude the conductor on a trolley car, and escaped paying his fare. He was deeply conscious of being in a thoroughly ignominious position.
He dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. He was acutely miserable. Only the thought that circumstances compelled him to this position, if he wished to see Betty, sustained him during his vigil.
The room he was in was on the second floor. It was small and brightly furnished. Della had chosen it for these qualities. It was a cheerful oasis in a dignified desert. The window looked out onto the lake, and through it, as John stood there, came the sounds of aristocratic revels on the terrace below. Peeping cautiously round the curtain, he had a view of the select company which Lord Arthur Hayling had gathered together to mingle with the invaders. Tea was in progress. The terrace, dotted with summer frocks, presented a gay and animated appearance.
So did Mrs. Morrison, seated in the center of it; but John, watching her, doubted the genuineness of her gayety. She was going through an ordeal such as she had never, he imagined, gone through before. He wished he could have been nearer, to hear the conversation. To one looking down from a second-story window, things appeared to be going well and smoothly; but second-story impressions of an English garden party are no criterion.
Official news from the front was brought, a few moments later, by Della. She looked cool and fresh in her light dress, as she burst into the room, but her eyes were weary.
“I just came up to cry for a few minutes,” she announced simply, sinking into a chair. “And I don’t want comforting, because that’ll make me worse. If you say one kind word, John Maude, I shall never stop. Promise you won’t.”
“Very well,” said John.
“Then I’ll start in.”
And she proceeded to sob quietly, drying her eyes from time to time with a tiny handkerchief. After a while she looked up, smiling contentedly.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m all right now. I feel as if I’d had a Turkish bath.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. Just nerves. John Maude, do you remember what Sherman said war was? Well, this society game is all that. Oh, gee! Oh, gee! Oh, gee!” She wriggled around in her chair.
“But about Betty——” suggested John.
“All right, I’ve not forgotten. I didn’t come up here only to cry. I just looked in on my way to the drawing-room to leave my handkerchief on the piano. In about five minutes, when I’m too busy to leave the tea table, I’ll ask Betty if she’d mind running up and getting——”
“Della, you’re a jewel. Isn’t there anything I can do for you?”
“Sure! If I freeze to death out there, tell Tom I died thinking of him. Good-by.”
She went out. John heard her open the drawing-room door. Then she returned and went downstairs, and there was silence.
John resumed his watch from behind the curtain. He saw Della go out onto the terrace, and return to the tea table. And then for the first time he distinguished Betty in the crowd below. She was talking to a woman in mauve. Close at hand hovered Lord Arthur Hayling.
The scene now began to be reminiscent of a moving-picture exhibition. Watching it, John could follow all that went on, though no word reached him. Della, busy at the tea table, spoke to Betty. Betty looked up at the drawing-room window, and began to move toward the house.
And then there was an unrehearsed effect. She had reached the front door, when Lord Arthur, detaching himself from the throng, moved off in the same direction. John watched him with the keenest disgust. It might be that his lordship was going about some private business of his own, but in John’s mind there was no doubt that he was following Betty.
A few minutes later, his suspicion was proved correct. Voices became audible on the stairs, and the two passed the door behind which John stood, and went on into the drawing-room. John sat down, and gave himself up to somber thought. His chance was gone. His lordship’s infernal adhesiveness had undone him.
He sat, waiting for them to pass his door on their outward journey. The moments went by, and still there was no sound in the passage. It was strange. It was not as if Della had hidden the handkerchief. He opened the door cautiously, and listened.
The drawing-room door was ajar, and in the silence of the house, his lordship’s voice was plainly audible, apparently delivering a monologue. Now and then he would pause, to continue again in the same low, earnest tones.
The transition of John’s mind from wonderment to complete understanding took place in an instant. A single word gave him the clew, and then all that had been mysterious grew clear. The monologue became intelligible to him. It was nothing less than one of Lord Arthur Hayling’s well-expressed proposals of marriage. In that cool drawing-room, not twelve feet from where he stood, his lordship was offering Betty his hand and title.
John clung to the door handle. In the drawing-room the monologue proceeded on its rhythmical way.
He released the door handle, and moved out into the passage.
In moments of emotion, as has been pointed out, John had a certain bias toward the impetuous. He was a little apt to treat any situation that had in it the elements of delicacy and embarrassment as if it were the enemy’s line in a football game. Where others might have stepped cautiously around such a situation, it was his practice to rush forward, and try to knock a hole through it.
The present was such a situation. Many men, faced by it, would have withdrawn in a quiet and gentlemanly way. John did not even begin to do that.
Getting swiftly off the mark, he covered the distance to the drawing-room in three rapid bounds, and burst in.
When John, full of admirable resolutions, had set out under cover of the night to put an end to gambling in Mervo, his abrupt departure had not only offended his hostess, but had been entirely misinterpreted by Betty. She had regarded it as a sign on his part that, if there had ever been any struggle in his mind between wealth and self-respect, he had decided it in favor of the former. He had come, she told herself, to carry out the commission which Scobell had assigned to him, and, having failed, had gone back to his employer.
There were moments when she tried to find some other explanation for his departure, but she did not succeed.
The silent devotion of Lord Arthur Hayling, at first a trial, became gradually, as the days went by, something of a consolation. She was lonely to her very soul, and he was a friend.
Unremitting kindness and chivalry cannot but have their effect in such a situation. A woman who has ceased to hope for her own happiness may come to regard herself as remaining in the world merely to give happiness to others—or to one other. And there were times when this feeling came to Betty.
A woman’s instinct prompts her to sacrifice herself for others. Gradually, faintly at first, then more definite, there grew in Betty’s mind the idea that it would be a great thing to do, to give herself to a man to whom she was of such vital importance. Her own life must remain forever empty, but she could make his full and happy.
It was a thought that tended to become an obsession, for she was shaken, and in a state to receive distorted ideas. Sometimes a sudden and vivid memory of John would sweep over her mind, and she would see clearly the impossibility of what she contemplated; but the thought would return, and she would weaken once more.
It was in one of these moods of weakness that Lord Arthur had found her as she was setting out in quest of Della’s handkerchief. His lordship’s practiced eye perceived it, and he knew that the moment was ripe for which he had been preparing, when he should put into words what till now had been mere hints.
He had anticipated everything—except an interruption. And rightly, an interruption should have been impossible. Everybody who had any right to be in the drawing-room was out on the terrace.
He embarked gracefully on his declaration. He neither stammered nor spoke too rapidly. Words proceeded from him in an easy, musical flow.
And then, at the very climax of his speech, the door flew open, revealing John.
His entry coincided with a point in the harangue where it had been his lordship’s intention to pause; and he did so. He stared at the intruder dumbly.
Betty rose to her feet, white and startled. And for an instant the silence in the room was so profound that the voices on the terrace sounded clear and distinct, and the ticks of the clock over the fireplace were like blows.
“Betty,” said John.
He stopped, and in the pause his lordship found speech:
“What—what the devil—what the devil are you doing here?”
“I want to speak to you, Betty,” said John. “I want to speak to Miss Silver,” he said, looking at Lord Arthur.
His lordship did not move.
“What are you doing here?”
His immobility maddened John.
“Beat it!” he said tersely.
It is possible that his lordship did not understand the expression, for he made no movement toward the door, and was about to speak again when John gave way to that impetuosity to which he was such a victim. He sprang forward, and picked his lordship up in his arms.
The window of the drawing-room, like most of the windows at Norworth Court, was broad and massive, and set well back in the thick wall, leaving outside a ledge some two feet in width. At present it was open, to allow the evening breeze to cool the room. The sight inspired John. He moved toward it.
Betty uttered a little cry of horror. For a moment the thing had taken on the aspect of tragedy. A horrible fear seized her that John had gone mad. He had reached the window, and was bundling Lord Arthur bodily through it. Already the other was on the ledge, calling noisily for help.
John’s designs, however, were not homicidal. Holding his lordship, now in a sitting position on the ledge, he reached up a hand, and began to draw down the heavy sash.
“I shouldn’t struggle,” he advised. “You won’t fall. At least, you’ll have to get out of your coat to do it,” he said.
And, pulling the tails of Lord Arthur’s coat into the room, he wedged the sash down tightly upon them. Then he stepped back, and rubbed his fingers.
From outside the window, curiously muffled, came the voice of his lordship, raising itself in a general appeal for help.
John crossed to the door, and locked it. Then he turned to Betty. She had not moved from where she stood. She did not move as he approached her.
“They’ll be coming in a moment,” he said, “so I must talk quick. Betty, I’ve come back to explain. All those things you said to me that night were true. But there was one thing you thought of me then, though you didn’t say it, which wasn’t true. I may have been a steerer for a gambling hell, but I wasn’t that!”
“I wasn’t that,” he said.
Footsteps sounded in the passage outside, running. Hands beat upon the panels. Excited voices made themselves heard.
“I had no suspicion,” he went on. “Perhaps I ought to have seen, but I didn’t. It never occurred to me. When I followed you from Mervo, I hadn’t a notion what was wrong. Then you told me, and I saw. I had never thought of my position in that way before. But I knew you were right, and I knew I couldn’t see you again till I had squared myself. I ought to have stopped, and told you what I meant to do, but I couldn’t face you till I had put things right. I went straight back to Mervo, and there I saw your stepfather, and he told me—what he had told you—and then I shut down the casino.”
Betty looked at him without speaking. Her heart was beating quickly. The rapidity with which he had spoken, and the distracting noises in the passage outside, confused her. As yet she did not fully comprehend.
“I abolished the gaming tables,” he went on.
Then she understood, and she trembled with the sudden rush of happiness that filled her. It was as if some physical change had taken place. A heavy weight seemed to have been lifted from her heart.
She made an impulsive movement toward him. She was conscious of a passionate longing to be near to him, to feel his arms round her.
She could not speak, but there was no need for words. She saw his face light up. And then he had gathered her into his arms, and was holding her there, clutching her to him fiercely. Her own, about his neck, tightened convulsively, forcing his head down until his face rested against hers. And so they stood, until at length her grip relaxed, and her hands dropped slowly to her side.
She leaned back against the circle of his arms, and looked up at him. He met her gaze silently, with glowing eyes.
She raised a small, cool hand to his face, and gently stroked his cheek. She performed it almost unconsciously, this half-formal gesture with which woman, from the days of Eve, has taken possession of the man she loves.
“I want you,” she said simply.
Meanwhile, as was not unnatural, the sudden appearance of Lord Arthur Hayling on a second-story window sill had had a marked effect on the dignified revelers on the terrace. His frantic demands for help disposed of the idea that he had assumed the position for his own amusement, and the phenomenon occasioned, in consequence, considerable mystification.
But Mrs. Morrison’s guests quickly recovered their poise. The well-bred Briton has two methods of coping with the unusual, and if one fails the other is always successful. His first step, when faced with any situation that promises to be embarrassing, is to ignore it. If it will not be ignored, he simply goes away.
The guests at the garden party adopted the latter method. The former was plainly out of the question. The best-bred person cannot go on for long ignoring a man who is shouting for help from a high window sill. They did not attempt the feat.
Even as Mrs. Morrison, her gallant spirit broken by this last misfortune, rose from her seat and gazed wildly at the apparition, there was a general movement, and the air became full of polite farewells. By the time the rescue party arrived, the tide had begun to ebb, and the terrace was emptying itself.
The advance guard of the rescue party, which had arrived almost immediately after his lordship had been sighted, consisted of Della, the butler, and one of the footmen.
Della, with her private information respecting John’s movements, was the only member of the party not surprised at the fact that the door would not open. The butler and the footman acknowledged themselves baffled by it. Plain men of common sense, they could not fathom the motives which could have led a sane member of the peerage to lock the door of a room, and then go and sit on the window sill and call for help. They stared mutely at each other.
The footman was the first to speak.
“Mr. Briggs,” he said deferentially, “I fancy I can ’ear somebody talkin’ inside.”
The butler listened.
“You’re right, Henry,” he said. “I can ’ear him plain.”
He listened again.
“Distinct,” he added, clinching the matter.
He rattled the handle briskly.
There came the sound of the key turning in the lock. The door opened, and John appeared.
At the sight of him both the butler and the footman stood paralyzed. His eccentric disappearance in the silence of the night had been the cause of much argument in the servants’ hall; and though no satisfactory conclusions had been arrived at as to his motives in the matter, it had been generally agreed that he had certainly gone forever. To find him at large in the house, and in such remarkable circumstances, was a shock to Mr. Briggs and his colleague.
Their paralysis was not of long duration. In the matter of tactful disappearance, the British servant is to the British guest as professional to amateur. Curiosity urged them to linger a while, and observe the developments of this very promising situation. But all their training and traditions told them that they were better away. Butlers, and, in a lesser degree, owing to their comparative youth and inexperience, footmen—neither walk nor run in such a crisis. They shimmer. Mr. Briggs and Henry shimmered now. Silently, and with unruffled calm, they faded away in the direction of the staircase.
“John Maude,” cried Della, “what in the name of goodness have you been doing? What’s his lordship——”
“By George! I’d completely forgotten him! Della,” he said ruefully. “I’m awfully sorry this should have happened.”
“You aren’t the only one! Aren’t you going to pull him in?”
“I guess I’d better.”
“I guess you had.”
John turned to the window.
There are moments in life too poignant for speech. Such a moment occurred when John, raising the sash, pulled Lord Arthur off his perch, and deposited him on the drawing-room carpet. It was a situation to which no words could have done justice, and his lordship did not attempt any. Under considerable disadvantages, for his face was red and his clothes soiled, he maintained an impressive dignity. Ignoring John, who had begun in friendly fashion to dust him down, he stood, stiffly erect, pulling his mustache.
It was one of those situations to which it seems at first sight impossible to add any further touch of embarrassment. This, however, Della contrived to do.
His lordship had not observed her presence for a moment, but now, catching sight of her, he turned sharply, and prepared to speak. Until her mother should appear, she represented authority, and he proposed to lay his complaint before her. Such, however, was the overwrought state of his mind that he hesitated, marshaling his thoughts, for an instant. And it was in that instant that Della did the unforgivable thing. She laughed.
Defending her conduct later, she said that the laugh was hysterical. It may have been so, but to the uninformed listener there is no substantial difference between a hysterical laugh and one of the more ordinary kind. Lord Arthur was no connoisseur of guffaws, able to note and classify. To him, a laugh was a laugh. And Della’s, ringing out in the silence, conveyed but one impression to him—namely, that he amused Della.
He started, and then, with a stiff bow, he walked abruptly out of the room.
“Oh, Della!” said Betty.
Della leaned against the piano, giggling helplessly.
“I didn’t mean to! I couldn’t help it! Honest, I didn’t mean to!”
She dried her eyes.
“I guess that’s put the lid on it,” she said. “It’s too bad about me! Making that kind of a break! Oh, well!”
Further sounds of movement came from the passage outside. Mr. and Mrs. Morrison entered. There was a strained look on the latter’s face. She sank down in a chair, and covered her eyes with her hands. The others looked at her in silent consternation.
Della crossed quickly to her side, and put an arm affectionately round her.
“We met his lordship on the stairs,” explained Mr. Morrison briefly. “He’s madder than a hornet. He’s beaten it. Never coming back.”
Della gave her mother a remorseful hug.
“I’m sorry,” she cried. “I am sorry, dear! Oh, gee!” she wailed despairingly. “Can’t I ever learn to act like a lady?”
Mrs. Morrison was sobbing quietly. She put out a hand, and patted Della’s arm.
She began to speak, her voice coming in broken gasps.
“I can’t!” she said. “I can’t do it. I thought I could, but I can’t. It’s too much. It’s killing me. Della, honey, I know it’s a hard thing to ask you, after letting you try it, and all, but I must. I know it’s hard on you and father. You had set your minds on mixing in good society. I’ve heard you say it so often. Often I’ve sat and listened to you talking of what you’d do if you were rich, and then all this money came, and—I did try, honey! It was hard, but I don’t think you ever guessed how hard it was. I didn’t want to spoil your pleasure, and I did try for your sakes to act as if all this society life suited me as much as it suited you. But—but I——”
“Ma!” cried Della. “You don’t mean that——”
“Yes, honey. I know it’s hard on you. I know how disappointed you’ll be. I’d go on if I could, but I can’t. I’ve tried and tried not to hate it, but I can’t help it. It’s killing me. I can’t stand it. I knew I couldn’t the moment the folks began to arrive for this party, and when I saw Lord Arthur s-sitting on the w-w-window——”
Della sprang to her feet.
“Ma! Do you mean to say you want to quit—to go back to America?”
Mrs. Morrison nodded miserably.
“I know it’s a disappointment for you, honey——”
She broke off. Della had flung herself upon her, and was hugging her rapturously.
“You dear! You darling!” she cried. “You angel!”
Mr. Morrison had begun to execute a species of dance. He revolved slowly, snapping his fingers, and uttering weird cries.
And Betty and John, skirting round him, passed unnoticed from the room.
On the following day, John wrote to Mr. Scobell, informing him of his engagement to Betty. It was a curt letter, and contained no suggestion that the writer regarded the financier’s approval or disapproval as in any way affecting the matter in hand. Only the feeling that, if war was to be waged, it must be waged openly and after due declaration, made him write at all.
An era of the deepest peace had now set in at Norworth Court. Lord Arthur was in London, at his club.
It was a peaceful, happy time. With the raising of the standard of revolt, the depressing spell of the court seemed to have vanished.
Mrs. Morrison, relieved of the burden of her social duties, had become a different woman. And Della was radiant. She had broken the facts in the case of Tom to her parents during the first moments of the revolution, and Mr. Morrison, having pointed out, in a speech which Patrick Henry, in an unusually inspired mood, might have equaled, but could not have surpassed, the various ways in which the American young man was superior to every other known variety of young man, had given his approval without a murmur of dissent.
John and Betty spent the days wandering about the grounds or exploring the little lake in the punt, for which another pole had been provided in place of that which had broken with such far-reaching results on a memorable occasion.
Betty, happy though she was in the present, was inclined to touch on the future more frequently than John liked. In these dreamy days the future was an uncongenial topic to him.
His views were unvaryingly optimistic.
“Leave it to me,” he said. “I’ve got ten thousand dollars. What more do we want? Rockefeller and all those guys started with about a nickel. We’ll go back to America with the Morrisons. I’ll get a job of some sort, if it’s shining shoes. And I’ll hold it down, too, if I get shoe-shiner’s cramp. I understand the beauty of honest toil now, all right. I’ll shine those shoes as nobody’s ever thought of shining them before. My polish will be the talk of New York.”
But fate had arranged a different destiny for him. Toward the end of the week he was strolling back along the main street of the village, whither he had been to buy tobacco, when from a window on the ground floor of the inn, a voice spoke.
“Hey!” said the voice.
It was Mr. Scobell, smiling amiably from behind a cigar stump.
John had wondered sometimes, when he did not happen to be thinking of anything else, what Mr. Scobell’s move would be on receipt of his letter. He had been a little surprised at not hearing from him. That he would come to Norworth he had not anticipated. And still less probable had it seemed that, if he came, he would smile amiably when they met.
“Come along in, prince,” said Mr. Scobell. “I gotta have a talk with you. Say, I like this place. I gotta good mind to butt in and speed it up. Build a hotel, see what I mean, and a store or two, and all that. These folks got no enterprise.”
John found the financier seated amid the remains of a late breakfast, still smiling and plainly resolved to let bygones be bygones.
“Say,” he began, “first, about you and Betty. Sure. Go right ahead. I’ve no kick coming.”
“That’s very good of you,” said John. “I thought that, after what had happened——”
“Oh, shucks!” interrupted the other. “That’s a back number. There’s no hard feelings about that. Why, say, prince, do you know that fool game of yours, putting the lid on the tables, and all that, was the bulliest kind of a thing that could possibly have happened. If we’d tried for a million years we couldn’t have thought of a better press-agent stunt. The revolution got into the papers, and all the smart guys in Paris and London have been writing the place up to beat the band. I guess you’ve been living out in the woods or something, if you haven’t seen it.”
“I haven’t seen a paper since I left Mervo.”
“Well, take it from me that the place has had a bigger advertisement than we could have got for it by working our heads off in any other way. The tables are booming. I guess those Monte Carlo guys aren’t feeling as if somebody had handed them a lemon, no! Why, say, if it goes on like this, we shall have to hang out the S. R. O. signs!”
“Well, if the world’s so full of chumps,” he said, “I don’t see why you shouldn’t have your share of them. So long as I’m not mixed up in it, you can do all the business you want.”
Mr. Scobell regarded him curiously.
“Say, prince,” he said, “it beats me, what you did. Do you mean to say you turned down a hundred thousand bucks a year just because you didn’t like the way they were made? You’re a wonder! Say, I’ve gotta proposition to make to you.”
“You aren’t going to try to restore me to the throne again, are you?”
“No, sir. Mervo’s running along as solid as Standard Oil with a republic. Besides, you wouldn’t stand for it.”
“You’re right there.”
Mr. Scobell leaned forward.
“Prince,” he said, “you’ve got no fixed ideas about what you’re going to do from now on, have you?”
“I’ve thought of one or two things. Shining shoes was the last. But I’ve settled nothing.”
“Good! Then this is where we talk business. Say, did you ever hear the story of the guys who were making a bet, and the guy who offered to hold the money, and then they wanted to know who was going to hold him?”
“Sure! When I was a baby I kicked my nurse for telling me that story.”
“Well, it’s that way with me. I’ve got a heap of interests over in America, and I’ve got a heap of fellows watching those interests for me. What I want now is some one to watch those fellows. See what I mean? I want some honest guy, some one I can trust. He doesn’t need to be a financial genius. All he wants to be is honest. And I’m going to offer the job to you. And I’ll pay you big.”
“Gee!” said John. “You’re going to do that?”
“Surest thing you know.”
John drew in his breath slowly.
“This listens pretty good to me,” he said.
“It’s yours if you’ll take it.”
“There’s no joker in the deck this time? You won’t want me to run a crap game on the side?”
“Nope. It’s a dead square deal. Does it go?”
John leaned across the table, and extended his hand.
“It goes,” he said. “And thanks for saving my life. I never did think much of that shoe-shining scheme.”
He sat back, and looked at Mr. Scobell.
“What you’ve done with your wings and harp, I can’t think,” he said meditatively. “It’s a wonderful disguise.”
John and Betty were married quietly—or as quietly as the village organist, a lusty performer, would permit—two weeks later at Norworth Church. The bride was given away by Mr. Scobell, who, with a delicacy of feeling of which few who knew him would have deemed him capable, refrained from smoking during the ceremony. The wedding breakfast was held at the court, after which the newly married pair set off in an automobile, the gift of the bride’s stepfather, for their honeymoon tour.
It was while the chauffeur was cranking up the machine that Mr. Benjamin Scobell exhibited the only trace of sentiment with which history credits him.
Betty was already in the car, and John, buttoning his automobile coat, was about to follow her, when the financier drew him aside.
“Say,” he said. “Jest a moment, prince.”
John bent an attentive ear.
“Say, prince,” said Mr. Scobell, puffing earnestly at his cigar, and keeping his eyes fixed on the distant hills. “I got something I want you to do for me.”
“Yes?” said John. “What’s that?”
Mr. Scobell continued to inspect the distant hills.
“I wish you’d name him Benjamin,” he said softly.
“Him?” said John, puzzled. “Who? Great Scott!”
He looked fixedly at the financier. His face wore a somewhat dazed expression.
“The papers call you Hustler Scobell, don’t they?” he said at last.
Mr. Scobell blushed with pleasure.
“Why, say, yes. That’s so.”
John nodded thoughtfully.
“I don’t wonder,” he said. “I don’t wonder. Good-by.”
He walked slowly to the automobile.
This previously uncollected text of the American magazine appearance of The Prince and Betty is significantly different from the British serialization in the Strand. It is quite a bit longer (31,759 words versus 19,425 words), although each has material not present in the other, and both book versions have material not present in either magazine.
Only the American book (W. J. Watt, 1912) mixes in a variant of Psmith, Journalist in which Cosy Moments becomes Peaceful Moments and Psmith becomes an American named Rupert Smith; in that subplot, Betty flees Mervo for New York and gets involved with the journalists rather than fleeing to England and getting involved with Della Morrison’s family and Lord Arthur Hayling. The British book (Mills & Boon, 1912) stays with the pure romance plot of the magazine versions, and contains material from both as well as new material.
The American magazine and book versions both begin just where “The Matrimonial Sweepstakes” leaves off, at the Keiths’ Long Island estate; most of the major characters are American except Lord Arthur Hayling (who does not appear in the American book) and the officials of Mervo. The British versions follow on from “The Good Angel” with their opening scene at the Keiths’ English country estate; in this version the Morrisons are the only major American characters. The American slang and some of the stronger expressions of Mr. Scobell are considerably revised in the British editions, in which Scobell grew up in Manchester.
The Ainslee’s story above is the only version to combine the American characters of John Maude and his uncle and Betty Silver and the Scobells with the romance subplot of the Morrisons and Betty getting involved with Lord Arthur Hayling and English society. Also, this version is the only one in which John and Della both work in the American office of Westley, Martin & Co., so that John’s office friend Spiller (ch. III) and Della’s beau Tom Spiller (ch. XIV) are the same person; the American book has no Della, and in British versions John and Della work in the London office while Tom Spiller is in New York. Only in the Ainslee’s story does John Maude take over the news stand in the New York hotel lobby.
The four versions of The Prince and Betty really deserve a variorum edition, with the texts laid out in parallel columns or otherwise presented for easy comparison. Until that can be done, a slightly inaccurate text of the American book version is at Project Gutenberg and scans of the book are at the Internet Archive. After publication, the American book was serialized in the Saturday magazine section of the New York Evening Mail; that serial closely (but not perfectly) followed the American book text, and is available on Madame Eulalie.
I am not aware of an online version of the British book, but there is now a modern reprint in the Everyman/Overlook series.
To complicate matters still further, a later substantially revised adaptation of novelette length, based in part on the plots combined in the American book version but with many new sensational scenes and changes to character motivations and actions, was serialized in 1931 in the Illustrated Love Magazine under the title of “A Prince for Hire.” Due to the post-1922 publication date, we cannot reprint that version on this site; a limited edition was published by Galahad Books in 2003.