The Prince of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1914

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George Barr McCutcheon

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Opis ebooka The Prince of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon

Fourth book of the Graustark series.

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Fragment ebooka The Prince of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon

About
Chapter 1 - MR. AND MRS. BLITHERS DISCUSS MATRIMONY
Chapter 2 - TWO COUNTRIES DISCUSS MARRIAGE

About McCutcheon:

George Barr McCutcheon (July 26, 1866–1928) was an American popular novelist and playwright. His best known works include the series of novels set in Graustark, a fictional East European country, Brewster's Millions, a play and several films. Born in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, McCutcheon's father, despite not receiving formal education, stressed the value of literature and encouraged his sons to write. During McCutcheon's childhood, his father had a number of jobs that required travel around the county in Indiana. McCutcheon studied at Purdue University and was a roommate of future humorist George Ade. During his college years, he was editor of the Lafayette Daily Courier and wrote a serial novel of satire about Wabash River life. Although McCutcheon became famous for the Graustark series (the first novel was published in 1901), he hated the characterization of being a Romantic and preferred to be identified with his playwriting. He was the older brother of noted cartoonist John T. McCutcheon.

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Chapter 1 MR. AND MRS. BLITHERS DISCUSS MATRIMONY

“My dear,” said Mr. Blithers, with decision,” you can’t tell me.”

“I know I can’t,” said his wife, quite as positively. She knew when she could tell him a thing and when she couldn’t.

It was quite impossible to impart information to Mr. Blithers when he had the tips of two resolute fingers embedded in his ears. That happened to be his customary and rather unfair method of conquering her when an argument was going against him, not for want of logic on his part, but because it was easier to express himself with his ears closed than with them open. By this means he effectually shut out the voice of opposition and had the discussion all to himself. Of course, it would have been more convincing if he had been permitted to hear the sound of his own eloquence; still, it was effective.

She was sure to go on talking for two or three minutes and then subside in despair. A woman will not talk to a stone wall. Nor will she wantonly allow an argument to die while there remains the slightest chance of its survival. Given the same situation, a man would get up and leave his wife sitting there with her fingers in her ears; and, as he bolted from the room in high dudgeon, he would be mean enough to call attention to her pig-headedness. In most cases, a woman is content to listen to a silly argument rather than to leave the room just because her husband elects to be childish about a perfectly simple elucidation of the truth.

Mrs. Blithers had lived with Mr. Blithers, more or less, for twenty-five years and she knew him like a book. He was a forceful person who would have his own way, even though he had to put his fingers in his ears to get it. At one period of their joint connubial agreement, when he had succeeded in accumulating a pitiful hoard amounting to but little more than ten millions of dollars, she concluded to live abroad for the purpose of educating their daughter, allowing him in the meantime to increase his fortune to something like fifty millions without having to worry about household affairs. But she had sojourned with him long enough, at odd times, to realise that, so long as he lived, he would never run away from an argument— unless, by some dreadful hook or crook, he should be so unfortunate as to be deprived of the use of both hands. She found room to gloat, of course, in the fact that he was obliged to stop up his ears in order to shut out the incontrovertible.

Moreover, when he called her “my dear” instead of the customary Lou, it was a sign of supreme obstinacy on his part and could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as an indication of placid affection. He always said “my dear” at the top of his voice and with a great deal of irascibility.

Mr. William W. Blithers was a self-made man who had begun his career by shouting lustily at a team of mules in a railway construction camp. Other drivers had tried to improve on his vocabulary but even the mules were able to appreciate the futility of such an ambition, and later on, when he came to own two or three railroads, to say nothing of a few mines and a steam yacht, his ability to drive men was even more noteworthy than his power over the jackasses had been. But driving mules and men was one thing, driving a wife another. What incentive has a man, said he, when after he gets through bullying a creature that very creature turns in and caresses him? No self-respecting mule ever did such a thing as that, and no man would think of it except with horror. There is absolutely no defence against a creature who will rub your head with loving, gentle fingers after she has worked you up to the point where you could kill her with pleasure— or at least so said Mr. Blithers with rueful frequency.

Mr. and Mrs. Blithers had been discussing royalty. Up to the previous week they had restricted themselves to the nobility, but as an event of unexampled importance had transpired in the interim, they now felt that it would be the rankest stupidity to consider any one short of a Prince Royal in picking out a suitable husband— or, more properly speaking, consort— for their only daughter, Maud Applegate Blithers, aged twenty.

Mrs. Blithers long ago had convinced her husband that no ordinary human being of the male persuasion was worthy of their daughter’s hand, and had set her heart on having nothing meaner than a Duke on the family roll,— (Blithers alluded to it for a while as the pay-roll)— , with the choice lying between England and Italy. At first, Blithers, being an honest soul, insisted that a good American gentleman was all that anybody could ask for in the way of a son-in-law, and that when it came to a grandchild it would be perfectly proper to christen him Duke— lots of people did!— and that was about all that a title amounted to anyway. She met this with the retort that Maud might marry a man named Jones, and how would Duke Jones sound? He weakly suggested that they could christen him Marmaduke and— but she reminded him of his oft-repeated boast that there was nothing in the world too good for Maud and instituted a pictorial campaign against his prejudices by painting in the most alluring colours the picture of a ducal palace in which the name of Jones would never be uttered except when employed in directing the fifth footman or the third stable-boy— or perhaps a scullery maid— to do this, that or the other thing at the behest of her Grace, the daughter of William W. Blithers. This eventually worked on his imagination to such an extent that he forgot his natural pride and admitted that perhaps she was right.

But now, just as they were on the point of accepting, in lieu of a Duke, an exceptionally promising Count, the aforesaid event conspired to completely upset all of their plans— or notions, so to speak. It was nothing less than the arrival in America of an eligible Prince of the royal blood, a ruling Prince at that. As a matter of fact he had not only arrived in America but upon the vast estate adjoining their own in the Catskills.

Fortunately nothing definite had been arranged with the Count. Mrs. Blithers now advised waiting a while before giving a definite answer to his somewhat eager proposal, especially as he was reputed to have sufficient means of his own to defend the chateau against any immediate peril of profligacy. She counselled Mr. Blithers to notify him that he deemed it wise to take the matter under advisement for a couple of weeks at least, but not to commit himself to anything positively negative.

Mr. Blithers said that he had never heard anything so beautifully adroit as “positively negative,” and directed his secretary to submit to him without delay the draft of a tactful letter to the anxious nobleman. They were agreed that a Prince was more to be desired than a Count and, as long as they were actually about it, they might as well aim high. Somewhat hazily Mr. Blithers had Inquired if it wouldn’t be worth while to consider a King, but his wife set him straight in short order.

Peculiarly promising their hopes was the indisputable fact that the Prince’s mother had married an American, thereby establishing a precedent behind which no constitutional obstacle could thrive, and had lived very happily with the gentleman in spite of the critics. Moreover, she had met him while sojourning on American soil, and that was certainly an excellent augury for the success of the present enterprise. What could be more fitting than that the son should follow in the footsteps of an illustrious mother? If an American gentleman was worthy of a princess, why not the other way about? Certainly Maud Blithers was as full of attributes as any man in America.

It appears that the Prince, after leisurely crossing the continent on his way around the world, had come to the Truxton Kings for a long-promised and much-desired visit, the duration of which depended to some extent on his own inclinations, and not a little on the outcome of the war-talk that affected two great European nations— Russia and Austria. Ever since the historic war between the Balkan allies and the Turks, in 1912 and 1913, there had been mutterings, and now the situation had come to be admittedly precarious. Mr. Blithers was in a position to know that the little principality over which the young man reigned was bound to be drawn into the cataclysm, not as a belligerent or an ally, but in the matter of a loan that inconveniently expired within the year and which would hardly be renewed by Russia with the prospect of vast expenditures of war threatening her treasury. The loan undoubtedly would be called and Graustark was not in a position to pay out of her own slender resources, two years of famine having fallen upon the people at a time when prosperity was most to be desired.

He was in touch with the great financial movements in all the world’s capitals, and he knew that retrenchment was the watchword. It would be no easy matter for the little principality to negotiate a loan at this particular time, nor was there even a slender chance that Russia would be benevolently disposed toward her debtors, no matter how small their obligations. They who owed would be called upon to pay, they who petitioned would be turned away with scant courtesy. It was the private opinion of Mr. Blithers that the young Prince and the trusted agents who accompanied him on his journey, were in the United States solely for the purpose of arranging a loan through sources that could only be reached by personal appeal. But, naturally, Mr. Blithers couldn’t breathe this to a soul. Under the circumstances he couldn’t even breathe it to his wife who, he firmly believed, was soulless.

But all this is beside the question. The young Prince of Graustark was enjoying American hospitality, and no matter what he owed to Russia, America owed to him its most punctillious consideration. If Mr. Blithers was to have anything to say about the matter, it would be for the ear of the Prince alone and not for the busybodies.

The main point is that the Prince was now rusticating within what you might call a stone’s throw of the capacious and lordly country residence of Mr. Blithers; moreover, he was an uncommonly attractive chap, with a laugh that was so charged with heartiness that it didn’t seem possible that he could have a drop of royal blood in his vigorous young body. And the perfectly ridiculous part of the whole situation was that Mr. and Mrs. King lived in a modest, vine-covered little house that could have been lost in the servants’ quarters at Blitherwood. Especially aggravating, too, was the attitude of the Kings. They were really nobodies, so to speak, and yet they blithely called their royal guest “Bobby” and allowed him to fetch and carry for their women-folk quite as if he were an ordinary whipper-snapper up from the city to spend the week-end.

The remark with which Mr. Blithers introduces this chapter was in response to an oft-repeated declaration made by his wife in the shade of the red, white and blue awning of the terrace overlooking, from its despotic heights, the modest red roof of the King villa in the valley below. Mrs. Blithers merely had stated— but over and over again— that money couldn’t buy everything in the world, referring directly to social eminence and indirectly to their secret ambition to capture a Prince of the royal blood for their daughter Maud. She had prefaced this opinion, however, with the exceedingly irritating insinuation that Mr. Blithers was not in his right mind when he proposed inviting the Prince to spend a few weeks at Blitherwood, provided the young man could cut short his visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. King, who, he had asseverated, were not in a position to entertain royalty as royalty was in the habit of being entertained.

Long experience had taught Mr. Blithers to read the lip and eye language with some degree of certainty, so by watching his wife’s indignant face closely he was able to tell when she was succumbing to reason. He was a burly, domineering person who reasoned for every one within range of his voice, and it was only when his wife became coldly sarcastic that he closed his ears and boomed his opinions into her very teeth, so to say, joyfully overwhelming her with facts which it were futile for her to attempt to deny. He was aware, quite as much so as if he had heard the words, that she was now saying:

“Well, there is absolutely no use arguing with you, Will. Have it your way if it pleases you.”

Eying her with some uneasiness, he cautiously inserted his thumbs in the armholes of his brocaded waistcoat, and proclaimed:

“As I said before, Lou, there isn’t a foreign nobleman, from the Emperor down, who is above grabbing a few million dollars. They’re all hard up, and what do they gain by marrying ladies of noble birth if said ladies are the daughters of noblemen who are as hard up as all the rest of ’em? Besides, hasn’t Maud been presented at Court? Didn’t you see to that? How about that pearl necklace I gave her when she was presented? Wasn’t it the talk of the season? There wasn’t a Duke in England who didn’t figure the cost of that necklace to within a guinea or two. No girl ever had better advertising than— ”

“We were speaking of Prince Robin,” remarked his wife, with a slight shudder. Mrs. Blithers came of better stock than her husband. His gaucheries frequently set her teeth on edge. She was born in Providence and sometimes mentioned the occurrence when particularly desirous of squelching him, not unkindly perhaps but by way of making him realise that their daughter had good blood in her veins. Mr. Blithers had heard, in a round-about way, that he first saw the light of day in Jersey City, although after he became famous Newark claimed him. He did not bother about the matter.

“Well, he’s like all the rest of them,” said he, after a moment of indecision. Something told him that he really ought to refrain from talking about the cost of things, even in the bosom of his family. He had heard that only vulgarians speak of their possessions. “Now, there’s no reason in the world why we shouldn’t consider his offer. He— ”

“Offer?” she cried, aghast. “He has made no offer, Will. He doesn’t even know that Maud is in existence. How can you say such a thing?”

“I was merely looking ahead, that’s all. My motto is ‘Look Ahead.’ You know it as well as I do. Where would I be to-day if I hadn’t looked ahead and seen what was going to happen before the other fellow had his eyes open? Will you tell me that? Where, I say? What’s more, where would I be now if I hadn’t looked ahead and seen what a marriage with the daughter of Judge Morton would mean to me in the long run?” He felt that he had uttered a very pretty and convincing compliment.” I never made a bad bargain in my life, Lou, and it wasn’t guess-work when I married you. You, my dear old girl, you were the solid foundation on which I— ”

“I know,” she said wearily; “you’ve said it a thousand times: ’The foundation on which I built my temple of posterity’— yes, I know, Will. But I am still unalterably opposed to making ourselves ridiculous in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. King.”

“Ridiculous? I don’t understand you.”

“Well, you will after you think it over,” she said quietly, and he scowled in positive perplexity.

“Don’t you think he’d be a good match for Maud?” he asked, after many minutes. He felt that he had thought it over.

“Are you thinking of kidnapping him, Will?” she demanded.

“Certainly not! But all you’ve got to do is to say that he’s the man for Maud and I’ll— I’ll do the rest. That’s the kind of a man I am, Lou. You say you don’t want Count What’s-His-Name,— that is, you don’t want him as much as you did,— and you do say that it would be the grandest thing in the world if Maud could be the Princess of Grosstick— ”

“Graustark, Will.”

“That’s what I said. Well, if you want her to be the Princess of THAT, I’ll see that she is, providing this fellow is a gentleman and worthy of her. The only Prince I ever knew was a damned rascal, and I’m going to be careful about this one. You remember that measly— ”

“There is no question about Prince Robin,” said she sharply.

“I suppose the only question is, how much will he want?”

“You mean— settlement?”

“Sure.”

“Have you no romance in your soul, William Blithers?”

“I never believed in fairy stories,” said he grimly. “And what’s more, I don’t take any stock in cheap novels in which American heroes go about marrying into royal families and all that sort of rot. It isn’t done, Lou. If you want to marry into a royal family you’ve got to put up the coin.”

“Prince Robin’s mother, the poor Princess Yetive, married an American for love, let me remind you.”

“Umph! Where is this Groostock anyway?”

“‘Somewhere east of the setting sun,’” she quoted. “You must learn how to pronounce it.”

“I never was good at foreign languages. By the way, where is Maud this afternoon?”

“Motoring.”

He waited for additional information. It was not vouchsafed, so he demanded somewhat fearfully:

“Who with?”

“Young Scoville.”

He scowled. “He’s a loafer, Lou. No good in the world. I don’t like the way you let— ”

“He is of a very good family, my dear. I— ”

“Is he— er— in love with her?”

“Certainly.”

“Good Lord!”

“And why not? Isn’t every one she meets in love with her?”

“I— I suppose so,” he admitted sheepishly. His face brightened. “And there’s no reason why this Prince shouldn’t fall heels over head, is there? Well, there you are! That will make a difference in the settlement, believe me— a difference of a couple of millions at least, if— ”

She arose abruptly. “You are positively disgusting, Will. Can’t you think of anything but— ”

“Say, ain’t that Maudie coming up the drive now? Sure it is! By gracious, did you ever see anything to beat her? She’s got ’em all beat a mile when it comes to looks and style and— Oh, by the way,” lowering his voice to a hoarse, confidential whisper, “— I wouldn’t say anything to her about the marriage just yet if I were you. I want to look him over first.”


Chapter 2 TWO COUNTRIES DISCUSS MARRIAGE

Prince Robin of Graustark was as good-looking a chap as one would see in a week’s journey. Little would one suspect him of being the descendant of a long and distinguished line of princes, save for the unmistakeable though indefinable something in his eye that exacted rather than invited the homage of his fellow man. His laugh was a free and merry one, his spirits as effervescent as wine, his manner blithe and boyish; yet beneath all this fair and guileless exposition of carelessness lay the sober integrity of caste. It looked out through the steady, unswerving eyes, even when they twinkled with mirth; it met the gaze of the world with a serene imperiousness that gave way before no mortal influence; it told without boastfulness a story of centuries. For he was the son of a princess royal, and the blood of ten score rulers of men had come down to him as a heritage of strength.

His mother, the beautiful, gracious and lamented Yetive, set all royal circles by the ears when she married the American, Lorry, back in the nineties. A special act of the ministry had legalised this union and the son of the American was not deprived of his right to succeed to the throne which his forebears had occupied for centuries. From his mother he had inherited the right of kings, from his father the spirit of freedom; from his mother the power of majesty, from his father the power to see beyond that majesty. When little more than a babe in arms he was orphaned and the affairs of state fell upon the shoulders of three loyal and devoted men who served as regents until he became of age.

Wisely they served both him and the people through the years that intervened between the death of the Princess and her consort and the day when he reached his majority. That day was a glorious one in Graustark. The people worshipped the little Prince when he was in knickerbockers and played with toys; they saw him grow to manhood with hearts that were full of hope and contentment; they made him their real ruler with the same joyous spirit that had attended him in the days when he sat in the great throne and “made believe” that he was one of the mighty, despite the fact that his little legs barely reached to the edge of the gold and silver seat,— and slept soundly through all the befuddling sessions of the cabinet. He was seven when the great revolt headed by Count Marlanx came so near to overthrowing the government, and he behaved like the Prince that he was. It was during those perilous times that he came to know the gallant Truxton King in whose home he was now a happy guest. But before Truxton King he knew the lovely girl who became the wife of that devoted adventurer, and who, to him, was always to be “Aunt Loraine.”

As a very small boy he had paid two visits to the homeland of his father, but after the death of his parents his valuable little person was guarded so jealously by his subjects that not once had he set foot beyond the borders of Graustark, except on two widely separated occasions of great pomp and ceremony at the courts of Vienna and St. Petersburgh, and a secret journey to London when he was seventeen. (It appears that he was determined to see a great football match.) On each of these occasions he was attended by watchful members of the cabinet and certain military units in the now far from insignificant standing army. As a matter of fact, he witnessed the football match from the ordinary stands, surrounded by thousands of unsuspecting Britons, but carefully wedged in between two generals of his own army and flanked by a minister of police, a minister of the treasury and a minister of war, all of whom were excessively bored by the contest and more or less appalled by his unregal enthusiasm. He had insisted on going to the match incog, to enjoy it for all it was worth to the real spectators— those who sit or stand where the compression is not unlike that applied to a box of sardines.

The regency expired when he was twenty years of age, and he became ruler in fact, of himself as well as of the half-million subjects who had waited patiently for the great day that was to see him crowned and glorified. Not one was there in that goodly half million who stood out against him on that triumphant day; not one who possessed a sullen or resentful heart. He was their Prince, and they loved him well. After that wonderful coronation day he would never forget that he was a Prince or that the hearts of a half million were to throb with love for him so long as he was man as well as Prince.

Mr. Blithers was very close to the truth when he said (to himself, if you remember) that the financial situation in the far-off principality was not all that could be desired. It is true that Graustark was in Russia’s debt to the extent of some twenty million gavvos,— about thirty millions of dollars, in other words,— and that the day of reckoning was very near at hand. The loan was for a period of twelve years, and had been arranged contrary to the advice of John Tullis, an American financier who long had been interested in the welfare of the principality through friendship for the lamented Prince Consort, Lorry. He had been farsighted enough to realise that Russia would prove a hard creditor, even though she may have been sincere in her protestations of friendship for the modest borrower.

A stubborn element in the cabinet overcame his opposition, however, and the debt was contracted, taxation increased by popular vote and a period of governmental thriftiness inaugurated. Railroads, highways, bridges and aqueducts were built, owned and controlled by the state, and the city of Edelweiss rebuilt after the devastation created during the revolt of Count Marlanx and his minions. There seemed to be some prospect of vindication for the ministry and Tullis, who lived in Edelweiss, was fair-minded enough to admit that their action appeared to have been for the best. The people had prospered and taxes were paid in full and without complaint. The reserve fund grew steadily and surely and there was every prospect that when the huge debt came due it would be paid in cash. But on the very crest of their prosperity came adversity. For two years the crops failed and a pestilence swept through the herds. The flood of gavvos that had been pouring into the treasury dwindled into a pitiful rivulet; the little that came in was applied, of necessity, to administration purposes and the maintenance of the army, and there was not so much as a penny left over for the so-called sinking fund.

A year of grace remained. The minister of finance had long since recovered from the delusion that it would be easy to borrow from England or France to pay the Russians, there being small prospect of a renewal by the Czar even for a short period at a higher rate of interest. The great nations of Europe made it plain to the little principality that they would not put a finger in Russia’s pie at this stage of the game. Russia was ready to go to war with her great neighbour, Austria. Diplomacy— caution, if you will,— made it imperative that other nations should sit tight and look to their own knitting, so to say. Not one could afford to be charged with befriending, even in a round-about way, either of the angry grumblers.

It was only too well known in diplomatic circles that Russia coveted the railroads of Graustark, as a means of throwing troops into a remote and almost impregnable portion of Austria. If the debt were paid promptly, it would be impossible, according to international law, for the great White Bear to take over these roads and at least a portion of the western border of the principality. Obviously, Austria would be benefitted by the prompt lifting of the debt, but her own relations with Russia were so strained that an offer to come to the rescue of Graustark would be taken at once as an open affront and vigorously resented. Her hands were tied.

The northern and western parts of Graustark were rich with productive mines. The government had built railroads throughout these sections so that the yield of coal and copper might be given an outlet to the world at large. In making the loan, Russia had demanded these prosperous sections as security for the vast sum advanced, and Graustark in an evil hour had submitted, little suspecting the trick that Dame Nature was to play in the end.

Private banking institutions in Europe refused to make loans under the rather exasperating circumstances, preferring to take no chances. Money was not cheap in these bitter days, neither in Europe nor America. Caution was the watchword. A vast European war was not improbable, despite the sincere efforts on the part of the various nations to keep out of the controversy.

Nor was Mr. Blithers far from right in his shrewd surmise that Prince Robin and his agents were not without hope in coming to America at this particular time. Graustark had laid by barely half the amount required to lift the debt to Russia. It was not beyond the bounds of reason to expect her Prince to secure the remaining fifteen millions through private sources in New York City.

Six weeks prior to his arrival in New York, the young Prince landed in San Francisco. He had come by way of the Orient, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Graustark Army, Count Quinnox,— hereditary watch-dog to the royal family!— and a young lieutenant of the guard, Boske Dank. Two men were they who would have given a thousand lives in the service of their Prince. No less loyal was the body-servant who looked after the personal wants of the eager young traveller, an Englishman of the name of Hobbs. A very poor valet was he, but an exceptionally capable person when it came to the checking of luggage and the divining of railway time-tables. He had been an agent for Cook’s. It was quite impossible to miss a train that Hobbs suspected of being the right one.

Prince Robin came unheralded and traversed the breadth of the continent without attracting more than the attention that is bestowed upon good-looking young men. Like his mother, nearly a quarter of a century before, he travelled incognito. But where she had used the somewhat emphatic name of Guggenslocker, he was known to the hotel registers as “Mr. R. Schmidt and servant.”

There was romance in the eager young soul of Prince Robin. He revelled in the love story of his parents. The beautiful Princess Yetive first saw Grenfell Lorry in an express train going eastward from Denver. Their wonderful romance was born, so to speak, in a Pullman compartment car, and it thrived so splendidly that it almost upset a dynasty, for never— in all of nine centuries— had a ruler of Graustark stooped to marriage with a commoner.

And so when the far-sighted ministry and House of Nobles in Graustark set about to select a wife for their young ruler, they made overtures to the Prince of Dawsbergen whose domain adjoined Graustark on the south. The Crown Princess of Dawsbergen, then but fifteen, was the unanimous choice of the amiable match-makers in secret conclave. This was when Robin was seventeen and just over being fatuously in love with his middle-aged instructress in French.

The Prince of Dawsbergen despatched an embassy of noblemen to assure his neighbour that the match would be highly acceptable to him and that in proper season the betrothal might be announced. But alack! both courts overlooked the fact that there was independent American blood in the two young people. Neither the Prince of Graustark nor the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen,— whose mother was a Miss Beverly Calhoun of Virginia,— was disposed to listen to the voice of expediency; in fact, at a safe distance of three or four hundred miles, the youngsters figuratively turned up their noses at each other and frankly confessed that they hated each other and wouldn’t be bullied into getting married, no matter what anybody said, or something of the sort.

“S’pose I’m going to say I’ll marry a girl I’ve never seen?” demanded seventeen-year-old Robin, full of wrath. “Not I, my lords. I’m going to look about a bit, if you don’t mind. The world is full of girls. I’ll marry the one I happen to want or I’ll not marry at all.”

“But, highness,” they protested, “you must listen to reason. There must be a successor to the throne of Graustark. You would not have the name die with you. The young Princess is— ”

“Is fifteen you say,” he interrupted loftily. “Come around in ten years and we’ll talk it over again. But I’m not going to pledge myself to marry a child in short frocks, name or no name. Is she pretty?”

The lords did not know. They had not seen the young lady.

“If she is pretty you’d be sure to know it, my lords, so we’ll assume she isn’t. I saw her when she was three years old, and she certainly was a fright when she cried, and, my lords, she cried all the time. No, I’ll not marry her. Be good enough to say to the Prince of Dawsbergen that I’m very much obliged to him, but it’s quite out of the question.”

And the fifteen-year-old Crown Princess, four hundred miles away, coolly informed her doting parents that she was tired of being a Princess anyway and very much preferred marrying some one who lived in a cottage. In fine, she stamped her little foot and said she’d jump into the river before she’d marry the Prince of Graustark.

“But he’s a very handsome, adorable boy,” began her mother.

“And half-American just as you are, my child,” put in her father encouragingly. “Nothing could be more suitable than— ”

“I don’t intend to marry anybody until I’m thirty at least, so that ends it, daddy,— I mean, your poor old highness.”

“Naturally we do not expect you to be married before you are out of short frocks, my dear,” said Prince Dantan stiffly. “But a betrothal is quite another thing. It is customary to arrange these marriages years before— ”

“Is Prince Robin in love with me?”

“I— ahem!— that’s a very silly question. He hasn’t seen you since you were a baby. But he will be in love with you, never fear.”

“He may be in love with some one else, for all we know, so where do I come in?”

“Come in?” gasped her father.

“She’s part American, dear,” explained the mother, with her prettiest smile.

“Besides,” said the Crown Princess, with finality, “I’m not even going to be engaged to a man I’ve never seen. And if you insist, I’ll run away as sure as anything.”

And so the matter rested. Five years have passed since the initial overtures were made by the two courts, and although several sly attempts were made to bring the young people to a proper understanding of their case, they aroused nothing more than scornful laughter on the part of the belligerents, as the venerable Baron Dangloss was wont to call them, not without pride in his sharp old voice.

“It all comes from mixing the blood,” said the Prime Minister gloomily.

“Or improving it,” said the Baron, and was frowned upon.

And no one saw the portentous shadow cast by the slim daughter of William W. Blithers, for the simple reason that neither Graustark nor Dawsbergen knew that it existed. They lived in serene ignorance of the fact that God, while he was about it, put Maud Applegate Blithers into the world on precisely the same day that the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen first saw the light of day.

On the twenty-second anniversary of his birth, Prince Robin fared forth in quest of love and romance, not without hope of adventure, for he was a valorous chap with the heritage of warriors in his veins. Said he to himself in dreamy contemplation of the long journey ahead of him: “I will traverse the great highways that my mother trod and I will look for the Golden Girl sitting by the wayside. She must be there, and though it is a wide world, I am young and my eyes are sharp. I will find her sitting at the roadside eager for me to come, not housed in a gloomy; castle surrounded by the spooks of a hundred ancestors. They who live in castles wed to hate and they who wed at the roadside live to love. Fortune attend me! If love lies at the roadside waiting, do not let me pass it by. All the princesses are not inside the castles. Some sit outside the gates and laugh with glee, for love is their companion. So away I go, la, la! looking for the princess with the happy heart and the smiling lips! It is a wide world but my eyes are sharp. I shall find my princess.”

But, alas, for his fine young dream, he found no Golden Girl at the roadside nor anything that suggested romance. There were happy hearts and smiling lips— and all for him, it would appear— but he passed them by, for his eyes were sharp and his wits awake. And so, at last, he came to Gotham, his heart as free as the air he breathed, confessing that his quest had been in vain. History failed to repeat itself. His mother’s romance would stand alone and shine without a flicker to the end of time. There could be no counterpart.

“Well, I had the fun of looking,” he philosophised (to himself, for no man knew of his secret project) and grinned with a sort of amused tolerance for the sentimental side of his nature. “I’m a silly ass to have even dreamed of finding her as I passed along, and if I had found her what the deuce could I have done about it anyway? This isn’t the day for mediaeval lady-snatching. I dare say I’m just as well off for not having found her. I still have the zest for hunting farther, and there’s a lot in that.” Then aloud: “Hobbs, are we on time?”

“We are, sir,” said Hobbs, without even glancing at his watch. The train was passing 125th Street. “To the minute, sir. We will be in in ten minutes, if nothing happens. Mr. King will be at the station to meet you, sir. Any orders, sir?”

“Yes, pinch me, Hobbs.”

“Pinch your Highness?” in amazement. “My word, sir, wot— ”

“I just want to be sure that the dream is over, Hobbs. Never mind. You needn’t pinch me. I’m awake,” and to prove it he stretched his fine young body in the ecstasy of realisation.

That night he slept soundly in the Catskills.