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The Complete Collection of George Barr McCutcheon
A Fool and His Money
Anderson Crow, Detective
Beverly of Graust Ark
From the Housetops
Her Weight in Gold
The City Of Masks
The Daughter of Anderson Crow
The Day of the Dog
The Hollow of Her Hand
The Husbands of Edith
The Man From Brodney's
The Prince of Graustark
The Purple Parasol
The Rose in the Ring
West Wind Drift
A Fool and His Money
A FOOL AND HIS MONEY
GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
I. I MAKE NO EFFORT TO DEFEND MYSELF
II. I DEFEND MY PROPERTY
III. I CONVERSE WITH A MYSTERY
IV. I BECOME AN ANCESTOR
V. I MEET THE FOE AND FALL
VI. I DISCUSS MATRIMONY
VII. I RECEIVE VISITORS
VIII. I RESORT TO DIPLOMACY
IX. I AM INVITED OUT TO DINNER
X. I AGREE TO MEET THE ENEMY
XI. I AM INVITED TO LEND MONEY
XII. I AM INFORMED THAT I AM IN LOVE
XIII. I VISIT AND AM VISITED
XIV. I AM FORCED INTO BEING A HERO
XV. I TRAVERSE THE NIGHT
XVI. I INDULGE IN PLAIN LANGUAGE
XVII. I SEE TO THE BOTTOM OF THINGS
XVIII. I SPEED THE PARTING GUEST
XIX. I BURN A FEW BRIDGES
XX. I CHANGE GARDEN SPOTS
XXI. SHE PROPOSES
In the aperture stood my amazing neighbour ... Frontispiece
I found myself staring as if stupefied at the white figure of a woman who stood in the topmost balcony.
I sat bolt upright and yelled: "Get out!"
We faced each other across the bowl of roses
Up to that moment I had wondered whether I could do it with my left hand
I MAKE NO EFFORT TO DEFEND MYSELF
I am quite sure it was my Uncle Rilas who said that I was a fool. If memory serves me well he relieved himself of that conviction in the presence of my mother--whose brother he was--at a time when I was least competent to acknowledge his wisdom and most arrogant in asserting my own. I was a freshman in college: a fact--or condition, perhaps,--which should serve as an excuse for both of us. I possessed another uncle, incidentally, and while I am now convinced that he must have felt as Uncle Rilas did about it, he was one of those who suffer in silence. The nearest he ever got to openly resenting me as a freshman was when he admitted, as if it were a crime, that he too had been in college and knew less when he came out than when he entered. Which was a mild way of putting it, I am sure, considering the fact that he remained there for twenty-three years as a distinguished member of the faculty.
I assume, therefore, that it was Uncle Rilas who orally convicted me, an assumption justified to some extent by putting two and two together after the poor old gentleman was laid away for his long sleep. He had been very emphatic in his belief that a fool and his money are soon parted. Up to the time of his death I had been in no way qualified to dispute this ancient theory. In theory, no doubt, I was the kind of fool he referred to, but in practice I was quite an untried novice. It is very hard for even a fool to part with something he hasn't got. True, I parted with the little I had at college with noteworthy promptness about the middle of each term, but that could hardly have been called a fair test for the adage. Not until Uncle Rilas died and left me all of his money was I able to demonstrate that only dead men and fools part with it. The distinction lies in the capacity for enjoyment while the sensation lasts. Dead men part with it because they have to, fools because they want to.
In any event, Uncle Rilas did not leave me his money until my freshman days were far behind me, wherein lies the solace that he may have outgrown an opinion while I was going through the same process. At twenty-three I confessed that all freshmen were insufferable, and immediately afterward took my degree and went out into the world to convince it that seniors are by no means adolescent. Having successfully passed the age of reason, I too felt myself admirably qualified to look with scorn upon all creatures employed in the business of getting an education. There were times when I wondered how on earth I could have stooped so low as to be a freshman. I still have the disquieting fear that my uncle did not modify his opinion of me until I was thoroughly over being a senior. You will note that I do not say he changed his opinion. Modify is the word.
His original estimate of me, as a freshman, of course,--was uttered when I, at the age of eighteen, picked out my walk in life, so to speak. After considering everything, I decided to be a literary man. A novelist or a playwright, I hadn't much of a choice between the two, or perhaps a journalist. Being a journalist, of course, was preliminary; a sort of makeshift. At any rate, I was going to be a writer. My Uncle Rilas, a hard-headed customer who had read Scott as a boy and the Wall Street news as a man,--without being misled by either,--was scornful. He said that I would outgrow it, there was some consolation in that. He even admitted that when he was seventeen he wanted to be an actor. There you are, said he! I declared there was a great difference between being an actor and being a writer. Only handsome men can be actors, while I--well, by nature I was doomed to be nothing more engaging than a novelist, who doesn't have to spoil an illusion by showing himself in public.
Besides, I argued, novelists make a great deal of money, and playwrights too, for that matter. He said in reply that an ordinarily vigorous washerwoman could make more money than the average novelist, and she always had a stocking without a hole to keep it in, which was more to the point.
Now that I come to think of it, it was Uncle Rilas who oracularly prejudged me, and not Uncle John, who was by way of being a sort of literary chap himself and therefore lamentably unqualified to guide me in any course whatsoever, especially as he had all he could do to keep his own wolf at bay without encouraging mine, and who, besides teaching good English, loved it wisely and too well. I think Uncle Rilas would have held Uncle John up to me as an example,--a scarecrow, you might say,--if it hadn't been for the fact that he loved him in spite of his English. He must have loved me in spite of mine.
My mother felt in her heart that I ought to be a doctor or a preacher, but she wasn't mean: she was positive I could succeed as a writer if I set my mind to it. She was also sure that I could be President of the United States or perhaps even a Bishop. We were Episcopalian.
When I was twenty-seven my first short story appeared in a magazine of considerable weight, due to its advertising pages, but my Uncle Rilas didn't read it until I had convinced him that the honorarium amounted to three hundred dollars. Even then I was obliged to promise him a glimpse of the check when I got it. Somewhat belated, it came in the course of three or four months with a rather tart letter in which I was given to understand that it wasn't quite the thing to pester a great publishing house with queries of the kind I had been so persistent in propounding. But at last Uncle Rilas saw the check and was properly impressed. He took back what he said about the washerwoman, but gave me a little further advice concerning the stocking.
In course of time my first novel appeared. It was a love story. Uncle Rilas read the first five chapters and then skipped over to the last page. Then he began it all over again and sat up nearly all night to finish it. The next day he called it "trash" but invited me to have luncheon with him at the Metropolitan Club, and rather noisily introduced me to a few old cronies of his, who were not sufficiently interested in me to enquire what my name was--a trifling detail he had overlooked in presenting me as his nephew--but who did ask me to have a drink.
A month later, he died. He left me a fortune, which was all the more staggering in view of the circumstance that had seen me named for my Uncle John and not for him.
It was not long afterward that I made a perfect fool of myself by falling in love. It turned out very badly. I can't imagine what got into me to want to commit bigamy after I had already proclaimed myself to be irrevocably wedded to my profession. Nevertheless, I deliberately coveted the experience, and would have attained to it no doubt had it not been for the young woman in the case. She would have none of me, but with considerable independence of spirit and, I must say, noteworthy acumen, elected to wed a splendid looking young fellow who clerked in a jeweller's shop in Fifth Avenue. They had been engaged for several years, it seems, and my swollen fortune failed to disturb her sense of fidelity. Perhaps you will be interested enough in a girl who could refuse to share a fortune of something like three hundred thousand dollars--(not counting me, of course)--to let me tell you briefly who and what she was. She was my typist. That is to say, she did piece-work for me as I happened to provide substance for her active fingers to work upon when she wasn't typing law briefs in the regular sort of grind. Not only was she an able typist, but she was an exceedingly wholesome, handsome and worthy young woman. I think I came to like her with genuine resolution when I discovered that she could spell correctly and had the additional knack of uniting my stray infinitives with stubborn purposefulness, as well as the ability to administer my grammar with tact and discretion.
Unfortunately she loved the jeweller's clerk. She tried to convince me, with a sweetness I shall never forget, that she was infinitely better suited to be a jeweller's wife than to be a weight upon the neck of a genius. Moreover, when I foolishly mentioned my snug fortune as an extra inducement, she put me smartly in my place by remarking that fortunes like wine are made in a day while really excellent jeweller's clerks are something like thirty years in the making. Which, I take it, was as much as to say that there is always room for improvement in a man. I confess I was somewhat disturbed by one of her gentlest remarks. She seemed to be repeating my Uncle Rilas, although I am quite sure she had never heard of him. She argued that the fortune might take wings and fly away, and then what would be to pay! Of course, it was perfectly clear to me, stupid as I must have been, that she preferred the jeweller's clerk to a fortune.
I was loth to lose her as a typist. The exact point where I appear to have made a fool of myself was when I first took it into my head that I could make something else of her. I not only lost a competent typist, but I lost a great deal of sleep, and had to go abroad for awhile, as men do when they find out unpleasant things about themselves in just that way.
I gave her as a wedding present a very costly and magnificent dining-room set, fondly hoping that the jeweller's clerk would experience a great deal of trouble in living up to it. At first I had thought of a Marie Antoinette bedroom set, but gave it up when I contemplated the cost.
If you will pardon me, I shall not go any further into this lamentable love affair. I submit, in extenuation, that people do not care to be regaled with the heartaches of past affairs; they are only interested in those which appear to be in the process of active development or retrogression. Suffice to say, I was terribly cut up over the way my first serious affair of the heart turned out, and tried my best to hate myself for letting it worry me. Somehow I was able to attribute the fiasco to an inborn sense of shyness that has always made me faint-hearted, dilatory and unaggressive. No doubt if I had gone about it roughshod and fiery I could have played hob with the excellent jeweller's peace of mind, to say the least, but alas! I succeeded only in approaching at a time when there was nothing left for me to do but to start him off in life with a mild handicap in the shape of a dining-room set that would not go with anything else he had in the apartment.
Still, some men, no matter how shy and procrastinating they may be--or reluctant, for that matter--are doomed to have love affairs thrust upon them, as you will perceive if you follow the course of this narrative to the bitter end.
In order that you may know me when you see me struggling through these pages, as one might struggle through a morass on a dark night, I shall take the liberty of describing myself in the best light possible under the circumstances.
I am a tallish sort of person, moderately homely, and not quite thirty-five. I am strong but not athletic. Whatever physical development I possess was acquired through the ancient and honourable game of golf and in swimming. In both of these sports I am quite proficient. My nose is rather long and inquisitive, and my chin is considered to be singularly firm for one who has no ambition to become a hero. My thatch is abundant and quite black. I understand that my eyes are green when I affect a green tie, light blue when I put on one of that delicate hue, and curiously yellow when I wear brown about my neck. Not that I really need them, but I wear nose glasses when reading: to save my eyes, of course. I sometimes wear them in public, with a very fetching and imposing black band draping across my expanse of shirt front. I find this to be most effective when sitting in a box at the theatre. My tailor is a good one. I shave myself clean with an old-fashioned razor and find it to be quite safe and tractable. My habits are considered rather good, and I sang bass in the glee club. So there you are. Not quite what yon would call a lady killer, or even a lady's man, I fancy you'll say.
You will be surprised to learn, however, that secretly I am of a rather romantic, imaginative turn of mind. Since earliest childhood I have consorted with princesses and ladies of high degree,--mentally, of course,--and my bosom companions have been knights of valour and longevity. Nothing could have suited me better than to have been born in a feudal castle a few centuries ago, from which I should have sallied forth in full armour on the slightest provocation and returned in glory when there was no one left in the neighbourhood to provoke me.
Even now, as I make this astounding statement, I can't help thinking of that confounded jeweller's clerk. At thirty-five I am still unattached and, so far as I can tell, unloved. What more could a sensible, experienced bachelor expect than that? Unless, of course, he aspired to be a monk or a hermit, in which case he reasonably could be sure of himself if not of others.
Last winter in London my mother went to a good bit of trouble to set my cap for a lady who seemed in every way qualified to look after an only son as he should be looked after from a mother's point of view, and I declare to you I had a wretchedly close call of it. My poor mother, thinking it was quite settled, sailed for America, leaving me entirely unprotected, whereupon I succeeded in making my escape. Heaven knows I had no desperate longing to visit Palestine at that particular time, but I journeyed thither without a qualm of regret, and thereby avoided the surrender without love or honour.
For the past year I have done little or no work. My books are few and far between, so few in fact that more than once I have felt the sting of dilettantism inflicting my labours with more or less increasing sharpness. It is not for me to say that I despise a fortune, but I am constrained to remark that I believe poverty would have been a fairer friend to me. At any rate I now pamper myself to an unreasonable extent. For one thing, I feel that I cannot work,--much less think,--when opposed by distracting conditions such as women, tea, disputes over luggage, and things of that sort. They subdue all the romantic tendencies I am so parsimonious about wasting. My best work is done when the madding crowd is far from me. Hence I seek out remote, obscure places when I feel the plot boiling, and grind away for dear life with nothing to distract me save an unconquerable habit acquired very early in life which urges me to eat three meals a day and to sleep nine hours out of twenty-four.
A month ago, in Vienna, I felt the plot breaking out on me, very much as the measles do, at a most inopportune time for everybody concerned, and my secretary, more wide-awake than you'd imagine by looking at him, urged me to coddle the muse while she was willing and not to put her off till an evil day, as frequently I am in the habit of doing.
It was especially annoying, coming as it did, just as I was about to set off for a fortnight's motor-boat trip up the Danube with Elsie Hazzard and her stupid husband, the doctor. I compromised with myself by deciding to give them a week of my dreamy company, and then dash off to England where I could work off the story in a sequestered village I had had in mind for some time past.
The fourth day of our delectable excursion brought us to an ancient town whose name you would recall in an instant if I were fool enough to mention it, and where we were to put up for the night. On the crest of a stupendous crag overhanging the river, almost opposite the town, which isn't far from Krems, stood the venerable but unvenerated castle of that highhanded old robber baron, the first of the Rothhoefens. He has been in his sarcophagus these six centuries, I am advised, but you wouldn't think so to look at the stronghold. At a glance you can almost convince yourself that he is still there, with battle-axe and broad-sword, and an inflamed eye at every window in the grim facade.
We picked up a little of its history while in the town, and the next morning crossed over to visit the place. Its antiquity was considerably enhanced by the presence of a caretaker who would never see eighty again, and whose wife was even older. Their two sons lived with them in the capacity of loafers and, as things go in these rapid times of ours, appeared to be even older and more sere than their parents.
It is a winding and tortuous road that leads up to the portals of this huge old pile, and I couldn't help thinking how stupid I have always been in execrating the spirit of progress that conceives the funicular and rack-and-pinion railroads which serve to commercialise grandeur instead of protecting it. Half way up the hill, we paused to rest, and I quite clearly remember growling that if the confounded thing belonged to me I'd build a funicular or install an elevator without delay. Poor Elsie was too fatigued to say what she ought to have said to me for suggesting and even insisting on the visit.
The next day, instead of continuing our delightful trip down the river, we three were scurrying to Saalsburg, urged by a sudden and stupendous whim on my part, and filled with a new interest in life.
I had made up my mind to buy the castle!
The Hazzards sat up with me nearly the whole of the night, trying to talk me out of the mad design, but all to no purpose. I was determined to be the sort of fool that Uncle Rilas referred to when he so frequently quoted the old adage. My only argument in reply to their entreaties was that I had to have a quiet, inspirational place in which to work and besides I was quite sure we could beat the impoverished owner down considerably in the price, whatever it might turn out to be. While the ancient caretaker admitted that it was for sale, he couldn't give me the faintest notion what it was expected to bring, except that it ought to bring more from an American than from any one else, and that he would be proud and happy to remain in my service, he and his wife and his prodigiously capable sons, either of whom if put to the test could break all the bones in a bullock without half trying, Moreover, for such strong men, they ate very little and seldom slept, they were so eager to slave in the interests of the master. We all agreed that they looked strong enough, but as they were sleeping with some intensity all the time we were there, and making dreadful noises in the courtyard, we could only infer that they were making up for at least a week of insomnia.
I had no difficulty whatever in striking a bargain with the abandoned wretch who owned the Schloss. He seemed very eager to submit to my demand that he knock off a thousand pounds sterling, and we hunted up a notary and all the other officials necessary to the transfer of property. At the end of three days, I was the sole owner and proprietor of a feudal stronghold on the Danube, and the joyous Austrian was a little farther on his way to the dogs, a journey he had been negotiating with great ardour ever since coming into possession of an estate once valued at several millions. I am quite sure I have never seen a spendthrift with more energy than this fellow seems to have displayed in going through with his patrimony. He was on his uppers, so to speak, when I came to his rescue, solely because he couldn't find a purchaser or a tenant for the castle, try as he would. Afterwards I heard that he had offered the place to a syndicate of Jews for one-third the price I paid, but luckily for me the Hebraic instinct was not so keen as mine. They let a very good bargain get away from them. I have not told my most intimate friends what I paid for the castle, but they are all generous enough to admit that I could afford it, no matter what it cost me. Their generosity stops there, however. I have never had so many unkind things said to me in all my life as have been said about this purely personal matter.
Well, to make the story short, the Hazzards and I returned to Schloss Rothhoefen in some haste, primarily for the purpose of inspecting it from dungeon to battlement. I forgot to mention that, being very tired after the climb up the steep, we got no further on our first visit than the great baronial hall, the dining-room and certain other impressive apartments customarily kept open for the inspection of visitors. An interesting concession on the part of the late owner (the gentleman hurrying to catch up with the dogs that had got a bit of a start on him),--may here be mentioned. He included all of the contents of the castle for the price paid, and the deed, or whatever you call it, specifically set forth that I, John Bellamy Smart, was the sole and undisputed owner of everything the castle held. This made the bargain all the more desirable, for I have never seen a more beautiful assortment of antique furniture and tapestry in Fourth Avenue than was to be found in Schloss Rothhoefen.
Our second and more critical survey of the lower floors of the castle revealed rather urgent necessity for extensive repairs and refurbishing, but I was not dismayed. With a blithesome disregard for expenses, I despatched Rudolph, the elder of the two sons to Linz with instructions to procure artisans who could be depended upon to undo the ravages of time to a certain extent and who might even suggest a remedy for leaks.
My friends, abhorring rheumatism and like complaints, refused to sleep over night in the drafty, almost paneless structure. They came over to see me on the ensuing day and begged me to return to Vienna with them. But, full of the project in hand, I would not be moved. With the house full of carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, locksmiths, tinsmiths, plumbers, plasterers, glaziers, joiners, scrub-women and chimneysweeps, I felt that I couldn't go away and leave it without a controlling influence.
They promised to come and make me a nice short visit, however, after I'd got the castle primped up a bit: the mould off the walls of the bedrooms and the great fireplaces thoroughly cleared of obstructive swallows' nests, the beds aired and the larder stocked. Just as they were leaving, my secretary and my valet put in an appearance, having been summoned from Vienna the day before. I confess I was glad to see them. The thought of spending a second night in that limitless bed-chamber, with all manner of night-birds trying to get in at the windows, was rather disturbing, and I welcomed my retainers with open arms.
My first night had been spent in a huge old bed, carefully prepared for occupancy by Herr Schmick's frau; and the hours, which never were so dark, in trying to fathom the infinite space that reached above me to the vaulted ceiling. I knew there was a ceiling, for I had seen its beams during the daylight hours, but to save my soul I couldn't imagine anything so far away as it seemed to be after the candles had been taken away by the caretaker's wife, who had tucked me away in the bed with ample propriety and thoroughness combined.
Twice during that interminable night I thought I heard a baby crying. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that I was more than glad to see Poopendyke clambering up the path with his typewriter in one hand and his green baise bag in the other, followed close behind by Britton and the Gargantuan brothers bearing trunks, bags, boxes and my golf clubs.
"Whew!" said Poopendyke, dropping wearily upon my doorstep--which, by the way, happens to be a rough hewn slab some ten feet square surmounted by a portcullis that has every intention of falling down unexpectedly one of these days and creating an earthquake. "Whew!" he repeated.
My secretary is a youngish man with thin, stooping shoulders and a habit of perpetually rubbing his knees together when he walks. I shudder to think of what would happen to them if he undertook to run. I could not resist a glance at them now.
"It is something of a climb, isn't it?" said I beamingly.
"In the name of heaven, Mr. Smart, what could have induced you to--" He got no farther than this, and to my certain knowledge this unfinished reproof was the nearest he ever came to openly convicting me of asininity.
"Make yourself at home, old fellow," said I in some haste. I felt sorry for him. "We are going to be very cosy here."
"Cosy?" murmured he, blinking as he looked up, not at me but at the frowning walls that seemed to penetrate the sky.
"I haven't explored those upper regions," I explained nervously, divining his thoughts. "We shall do it together, in a day or two."
"It looks as though it might fall down if we jostled it carelessly," he remarked, having recovered his breath.
"I am expecting masons at any minute," said I, contemplating the unstable stone crest of the northeast turret with some uneasiness. My face brightened suddenly. "That particular section of the castle is uninhabitable, I am told. It really doesn't matter if it collapses. Ah, Britton! Here you are, I see. Good morning."
Britton, a very exacting servant, looked me over critically.
"Your coat and trousers need pressing, sir," said he. "And where am I to get the hot water for shaving, sir?"
"Frau Schmick will supply anything you need, Britton," said I, happy on being able to give the information.
"It is not I as needs it, sir," said he, feeling of his smoothly shaven chin.
"Come in and have a look about the place," said I, with a magnificent sweep of my arm to counteract the feeling of utter insignificance I was experiencing at the moment. I could see that my faithful retinue held me in secret but polite disdain.
A day or two later the castle was swarming with workmen; the banging of hammers, the rasp of saws, the spattering of mortar, the crashing of stone and the fumes of charcoal crucibles extended to the remotest recesses; the tower of Babel was being reconstructed in the language of six or eight nations, and everybody was happy. I had no idea there were so many tinsmiths in the world. Every artisan in the town across the river seems to have felt it his duty to come over and help the men from Linz in the enterprise. There were so many of them that they were constantly getting in each other's way and quarrelling over matters of jurisdiction with even more spirit than we might expect to encounter among the labour unions at home.
Poopendyke, in great distress of mind, notified me on the fourth day of rehabilitation that the cost of labour as well as living had gone up appreciably since our installation. In fact it had doubled. He paid all of my bills, so I suppose he knew what he was talking about.
"You will be surprised to know, Mr. Smart," he said, consulting his sheets, "that scrub-women are getting more here than they do in New York City, and I am convinced that there are more scrub-women. Today we had thirty new ones scrubbing the loggia on the gun-room floor, and they all seem to have apprentices working under them. The carpenters and plasterers were not so numerous to-day. I paid them off last night, you see. It may interest you to hear that their wages for three days amounted to nearly seven hundred dollars in our money, to say nothing of materials--and breakage."
"Breakage?" I exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, sir, breakage. They break nearly as much as they mend. We'll--we'll go bankrupt, sir, if we're not careful."
I liked his pronoun. "Never mind," I said, "we'll soon be rid of them."
"They've got it in their heads, sir, that it will take at least a year to finish the--"
"You tell the foremen that if this job isn't finished to our satisfaction by the end of the month, I'll fire all of them," said I, wrathfully.
"That's less than three weeks off, Mr. Smart. They don't seem to be making much headway."
"Well, you tell 'em, just the same." And that is how I dismissed it. "Tell 'em _we've_ got to go to work ourselves."
"By the way, old man Schmick and his family haven't been paid for nearly two years. They have put in a claim. The late owner assured them they'd get their money from the next--"
"Discharge them at once," said I.
"We can't get on without them," protested he. "They know the ropes, so to speak, and, what's more to the point, they know all the keys. Yesterday I was nearly two hours in getting to the kitchen for a conference with Mrs. Schmick about the market-men. In the first place, I couldn't find the way, and in the second place all the doors are locked."
"Please send Herr Schmick to me in the--in the--" I couldn't recall the name of the administration chamber at the head of the grand staircase, so I was compelled to say: "I'll see him here."
"If we lose them we also are lost," was his sententious declaration. I believed him.
On the fifth day of our occupancy, Britton reported to me that he had devised a plan by which we could utilise the tremendous horse-power represented by the muscles of those lazy giants, Rudolph and Max. He suggested that we rig up a huge windlass at the top of the incline, with stout steel cables attached to a small car which could be hauled up the cliff by a hitherto wasted human energy, and as readily lowered. It sounded feasible and I instructed him to have the extraordinary railway built, but to be sure that the safety device clutches in the cog wheels were sound and trusty. It would prove to be an infinitely more graceful mode of ascending the peak than riding up on the donkeys I had been persuaded to buy, especially for Poopendyke and me, whose legs were so long that when we sat in the saddles our knees either touched our chins or were spread out so far that we resembled the Prussian coat-of-arms.
[Illustration: I found myself staring as if stupefied at the white figure of a woman who stood in the topmost balcony]
That evening, after the workmen had filed down the steep looking for all the world like an evacuating army, I sought a few moments of peace and quiet in the small balcony outside my bedroom windows. My room was in the western wing of the castle, facing the river. The eastern wing mounted even higher than the one in which we were living, and was topped by the loftiest watch tower of them all. We had not attempted to do any work over in that section as yet, for the simple reason that Herr Schmick couldn't find the keys to the doors.
The sun was disappearing beyond the highlands and a cool, soft breeze swept up through the valley. I leaned back in a comfortable chair that Britton had selected for me, and puffed at my pipe, not quite sure that my serenity was real or assumed. This was all costing me a pretty penny. Was I, after all, parting with my money in the way prescribed for fools? Was all this splendid antiquity worth the--
My reflections terminated sharply at that critical instant and I don't believe I ever felt called upon after that to complete the inquiry.
I found myself staring as if stupefied at the white figure of a woman who stood in the topmost balcony of the eastern wing, fully revealed by the last glow of the sun and apparently as deep in dreams as I had been the instant before.
I DEFEND MY PROPERTY
For ten minutes I stood there staring up at her, completely bewildered and not a little shaken. My first thought had been of ghosts, but it was almost instantly dispelled by a significant action on the part of the suspected wraith. She turned to whistle over her shoulder, and to snap her fingers peremptorily, and then she stooped and picked up a rather lusty chow dog which promptly barked at me across the intervening space, having discovered me almost at once although I was many rods away and quite snugly ensconced among the shadows. The lady in white muzzled him with her hand and I could almost imagine I heard her reproving whispers. After a few minutes, she apparently forgot the dog and lifted her hand to adjust something in her hair. He again barked at me, quite ferociously for a chow. This time it was quite plain to her that he was not barking at the now shadowy moon. She peered over the stone balustrade and an instant later disappeared from view through the high, narrow window.
Vastly exercised, I set out in quest of Herr Schmick, martialing Poopendyke as I went along, realising that I would have to depend on his German, which was less halting than mine and therefore, more likely to dovetail with that of the Schmicks, neither of whom spoke German because they loved it but because they had to,--being Austrians. We found the four Schmicks in the vast kitchen, watching Britton while he pressed my trousers on an oak table so large that the castle must have been built around it.
Herr Schmick was weighted down with the keys of the castle, which never left his possession day or night.
"Herr Schmick," said I, "will you be so good as to inform me who the dickens that woman is over in the east wing of the castle?"
"Woman, mein herr?" He almost dropped his keys. His big sons said something to each other that I couldn't quite catch, but it sounded very much like "der duyvil."
"A woman in a white dress,--with a dog."
"A dog?" he cried. "But, mein herr, dogs are not permitted to be in the castle."
"Who is she? How did she get there?"
"Heaven defend us, sir! It must have been the ghost of--"
"Ghost, your granny!" I cried, relapsing into English. "Please don't beat about the bush, Mr. Schmick. She's over there in the unused wing, which I haven't been allowed to penetrate in spite of the fact that it belongs to me. You say you can't find the keys to that side of the castle. Will you explain how it is that it is open to strange women and--and dogs?"
"You must be mistaken, mein herr," he whined abjectly. "She cannot be there. She--Ah, I have it! It may have been my wife. Gretel! Have you been in the east--"
"Nonsense!" I cried sharply. "This won't do, Mr. Schmick. Give me that bunch of keys. We'll investigate. I can't have strange women gallivanting about the place as if they owned it. This is no trysting place for Juliets, Herr Schmick. We'll get to the bottom of this at once. Here, you Rudolph, fetch a couple of lanterns. Max, get a sledge or two from the forge. There is a forge. I saw it yesterday out there back of the stables. So don't try to tell me there isn't one. If we can't unlock the doors, we'll smash 'em in. They're mine, and I'll knock 'em to smithereens if I feel like it."
The four Schmicks wrung their hands and shook their heads and, then, repairing to the scullery, growled and grumbled for fully ten minutes before deciding to obey my commands. In the meantime, I related my experience to Poopendyke and Britton.
"That reminds me, sir," said Britton, "that I found a rag-doll in the courtyard yesterday, on that side of the building, sir--I should say castle, sir."
"I am quite sure I heard a baby crying the second night we were here, Mr. Smart," said my secretary nervously.
"And there was smoke coming from one of the back chimney pots this morning," added Britton.
I was thoughtful for a moment. "What became of the rag-doll, Britton?" I enquired shrewdly.
"I turned it over to old Schmick, sir," said he. He grinned. "I thought as maybe it belonged to one of his boys."
On the aged caretaker's reappearance, I bluntly inquired what had become of the doll-baby. He was terribly confused.
"I know nothing, I know nothing," he mumbled, and I could see that he was miserably upset. His sons towered and glowered and his wife wrapped and unwrapped her hands in her apron, all the time supplicating heaven to be good to the true and the faithful.
From what I could gather, they all seemed to be more disturbed over the fact that my hallucination included a dog than by the claim that I had seen a woman.
"But, confound you, Schmick," I cried in some heat, "it barked at me."
"Gott in himmel!" they all cried, and, to my surprise, the old woman burst into tears.
"It is bad to dream of a dog," she wailed. "It means evil to all of us. Evil to--"
"Come!" said I, grabbing the keys from the old man's unresisting hand. "And, Schmick, if that dog bites me, I'll hold you personally responsible. Do you understand?"
Two abreast we filed through the long, vaulted halls, Rudolph carrying a gigantic lantern and Max a sledge. We traversed extensive corridors, mounted tortuous stairs and came at length to the sturdy oak door that separated the east wing from the west: a huge, formidable thing strengthened by many cross-pieces and studded with rusty bolt-heads. Padlocks as large as horse-shoes, corroded by rust and rendered absolutely impracticable by age, confronted us.
"I have not the keys," said old Conrad Schmick sourly. "This door has not been opened in my time. It is no use."
"It is no use," repeated his grizzly sons, leaning against the mouldy walls with weary tolerance.
"Then how did the woman and her dog get into that part of the castle?" I demanded. "Tell me that!"
They shook their heads, almost compassionately, as much as to say, "It is always best to humour a mad man."
"And the baby," added Poopendyke, turning up his coat collar to protect his thin neck from the draft that smote us from the halls.
"Smash those padlocks, Max," I commanded resolutely.
Max looked stupidly at his father and the old man looked at his wife, and then all four of them looked at me, almost imploringly.
"Why destroy a perfectly good padlock, mein herr?" began Max, twirling the sledge in his hand as if it were a bamboo cane.
"Hi! Look out there!" gasped Britton, in some alarm. "Don't let that thing slip!"
"Doesn't this castle belong to me?" I demanded, considerably impressed by the ease with which he swung the sledge. A very dangerous person, I began to perceive.
"It does, mein herr," shouted all of them gladly, and touched their forelocks.
"Everything is yours," added old Conrad, with a comprehensive sweep of his hand that might have put the whole universe in my name.
"Smash that padlock, Max," I said after a second's hesitation.
"I'll bet he can't do it," said Britton, ingeniously.
Very reluctantly Max bared his great arms, spit upon his hands, and, with a pitiful look at his parents, prepared to deal the first blow upon the ancient padlock. The old couple turned their heads away, and put their fingers to their ears, cringing like things about to be whipped.
"Now, one--two--three!" cried I, affecting an enthusiasm I didn't feel.
The sledge fell upon the padlock and rebounded with almost equal force. The sound of the crash must have disturbed every bird and bat in the towers of the grim old pile. But the padlock merely shed a few scabs of rust and rattled back into its customary repose.
"See!" cried Max, triumphantly. "It cannot be broken." Rudolph, his broad face beaming, held the lantern close to the padlock and showed me that it hadn't been dented by the blow.
"It is a very fine lock," cried old Conrad, with a note of pride in his voice.
I began to feel some pride in the thing myself. "It is, indeed," I said. "Try once more, Max."
It seemed to me that he struck with a great deal more confidence than before, and again they all uttered ejaculations of pleasure. I caught Dame Schmick in the act of thanking God with her fingers.
"See here," I exclaimed, facing them angrily, "what does all this mean? You are deceiving me, all of you. Now, let's have the truth--every word of it--or out you go to-morrow, the whole lot of you. I insist on knowing who that woman is, why she is here in my hou--my castle, and--everything, do you understand?"
Apparently they didn't understand, for they looked at me with all the stupidity they could command.
"You try, Mr. Poopendyke," I said, giving it up in despair. He sought to improve on my German, but I think he made it worse. They positively refused to be intelligent.
"Give me the hammer," I said at last in desperation. Max surrendered the clumsy, old-fashioned instrument with a grin and I motioned for them all to stand back. Three successive blows with all the might I had in my body failed to shatter the lock, whereupon my choler rose to heights hitherto unknown, I being a very mild-mannered, placid person and averse to anything savouring of the tempestuous. I delivered a savage and resounding thwack upon the broad oak panel of the door, regardless of the destructiveness that might attend the effort. If any one had told me that I couldn't splinter an oak board with a sledge-hammer at a single blow I should have laughed in his face. But as it turned out in this case I not only failed to split the panel but broke off the sledge handle near the head, putting it wholly out of commission for the time being as well as stinging my hands so severely that I doubled up with pain and shouted words that Dame Schmick could not put into her prayers.
The Schmicks fairly glowed with joy! Afterwards Max informed me that the door was nearly six inches thick and often had withstood the assaults of huge battering rams, back in the dim past when occasion induced the primal baron to seek safety in the east wing, which, after all, appears to have been the real, simon pure fortress. The west wing was merely a setting for festal amenities and was by no means feudal in its aspect or appeal. Here, as I came to know, the old barons received their friends and feasted them and made merry with the flagon and the horn of plenty; here the humble tithe payer came to settle his dues with gold and silver instead of with blood; here the little barons and baronesses romped and rioted with childish glee; and here the barons grew fat and gross and soggy with laziness and prosperity, and here they died in stupid quiescence. On the other side of that grim, staunch old door they simply went to the other extreme in every particular. There they killed their captives, butchered their enemies, and sometimes died with the daggers of traitors in their shivering backs.
As we trudged back to the lower halls, defeated but none the less impressed by our failure to devastate our stronghold, I was struck by the awful barrenness of the surroundings. There suddenly came over me the shocking realisation: the "contents" of the castle, as set forth rather vaguely in the bill of sale, were not what I had been led to consider them. It had not occurred to me at the time of the transaction to insist upon an inventory, and I had been too busy since the beginning of my tenancy to take more than a passing account of my belongings. In excusing myself for this rather careless oversight, I can only say that during daylight hours the castle was so completely stuffed with workmen and their queer utensils that I couldn't do much in the way of elimination, and by night it was so horribly black and lonesome about the place and the halls were so littered with tools and mops and timber that it was extremely hazardous to go prowling about, so I preferred to remain in my own quarters, which were quite comfortable and cosy in spite of the distance between points of convenience.
Still I was vaguely certain that many articles I had seen about the halls on my first and second visits were no longer in evidence. Two or three antique rugs, for instance, were missing from the main hall, and there was a lamentable suggestion of emptiness at the lower end where we had stacked a quantity of rare old furniture in order to make room for the workmen.
"Herr Schmick," said I, abruptly halting my party in the centre of the hall, "what has become of the rugs that were here last week, and where is that pile of furniture we had back yonder?"
Rudolph allowed the lantern to swing behind his huge legs, intentionally I believe, and I was compelled to relieve him of it in order that we might extract ourselves from his shadow. I have never seen such a colossal shadow as the one he cast.
Old Conrad was not slow in answering.
"The gentlemen called day before yesterday, mein herr, and took much away. They will return to-morrow for the remainder."
"Gentlemen?" I gasped. "Remainder?"
"The gentlemen to whom the Herr Count sold the rugs and chairs and chests and--"
"What!" I roared. Even Poopendyke jumped at this sudden exhibition of wrath. "Do you mean to tell me that these things have been sold and carried away without my knowledge or consent? I'll have the law--"
Herr Poopendyke intervened. "They had bills of sale and orders for removal of property dated several weeks prior to your purchase, Mr. Smart. We had to let the articles go. You surely remember my speaking to you about it."
"I don't remember anything," I snapped, which was the truth. "Why--why, I bought everything that the castle contained. This is robbery! What the dickens do you mean by--"
Old Conrad held up his hands as if expecting to pacify me. I sputtered out the rest of the sentence, which really amounted to nothing.
"The Count has been selling off the lovely old pieces for the past six months, sir. Ach, what a sin! They have come here day after day, these furniture buyers, to take away the most priceless of our treasures, to sell them to the poor rich at twenty prices. I could weep over the sacrifices. I have wept, haven't I, Gretel? Eh, Rudolph? Buckets of tears have I shed, mein herr. Oceans of them. Time after time have I implored him to deny these rascally curio hunters, these blood-sucking--"
"But listen to me," I broke in. "Do you mean to say that articles have been taken away from the castle since I came into possession?"
"Many of them, sir. Always with proper credentials, believe me. Ach, what a spendthrift he is! And his poor wife! Ach, Gott, how she must suffer. Nearly all of the grand paintings, the tapestries that came from France and Italy hundreds of years ago, the wonderful old bedsteads and tables that were here when the castle was new--all gone! And for mere songs, mein herr,--the cheapest of songs! I--I--"
"Please don't weep now, Herr Schmick," I made haste to exclaim, seeing lachrymose symptoms in his blear old eyes. Then I became firm once more. This knavery must cease, or I'd know the reason why. "The next man who comes here to cart away so much as a single piece is to be kicked out. Do you understand? These things belong to me. Kick him into the river. Or, better still, notify me and I'll do it. Why, if this goes on we'll soon be deprived of anything to sit on or sleep in or eat from! Lock the doors, Conrad, and don't admit any one without first consulting me. By Jove, I'd like to wring that rascal's neck. A Count! Umph!"
"Ach, he is of the noblest family in all the land," sighed old Gretel. "His grandfather was a fine man." I contrived to subdue my rage and disappointment and somewhat loudly returned to the topic from which we were drifting.
"As for those beastly padlocks, I shall have them filed off to-morrow. I give you warning, Conrad, if the keys are not forthcoming before noon to-morrow, I'll file 'em off, so help me."
"They are yours to destroy, mein herr, God knows," said he dismally. "It is a pity to destroy fine old padlocks--"
"Well, you wait and see," said I, grimly.
His face beamed once more. "Ach, I forgot to say that there are padlocks on the other side of the door, just as on this side. It will be of no use to destroy these. The door still could not be forced. Mein Gott! How thankful I am to have remembered it in time."
"Confound you, Schmick, I believe you actually want to keep me out of that part of the castle," I exploded.
The four of them protested manfully, even Gretel.
"I have a plan, sir," said Britton. "Why not place a tall ladder in the courtyard and crawl in through one of the windows?"
"Splendid! That's what we'll do!" I cried enthusiastically. "And now let's go to bed! We will breakfast at eight, Mrs. Schmick. The early bird catches the worm, you know."
"Will you see the American ladies and gentlemen who are coming to-morrow to pick out the--"
"Yes, I'll see them," said I, compressing my lips. "Don't let me over-sleep, Britton."
"I shan't, sir," said he.
Sleep evaded me for hours. What with the possible proximity of an undesirable feminine neighbour, mysterious and elusive though she may prove to be, and the additional dread of dogs and babies, to say nothing of the amazing delinquencies to be laid to the late owner of the place, and the prospect of a visit from coarse and unfeeling bargain-hunters on the morrow, it is really not surprising that I tossed about in my baronial bed, counting sheep backwards and forwards over hedges and fences until the vociferous cocks in the stable yard began to send up their clarion howdy-dos to the sun. Strangely enough, with the first peep of day through the decrepit window shutters I fell into a sound sleep. Britton got nothing but grunts from me until half-past nine. At that hour he came into my room and delivered news that aroused me more effectually than all the alarm clocks or alarm cocks in the world could have done.
"Get up, sir, if you please," he repeated the third time. "The party of Americans is below, sir, rummaging about the place. They have ordered the workmen to stop work, sir, complaining of the beastly noise they make, and the dust and all that, sir. They have already selected half a dozen pieces and they have brought enough porters and carriers over in the boats to take the stuff away in--"
"Where is Poopendyke?" I cried, leaping out of bed. "I don't want to be shaved, Britton, and don't bother about the tub." He had filled my twentieth century portable tub, recently acquired, and was nervously creating a lather in my shaving mug,
"You look very rough, sir."
"So much the better."
"Mr. Poopendyke is in despair, sir. He has tried to explain that nothing is for sale, but the gentlemen say they are onto his game. They go right on yanking things about and putting their own prices on them and reserving them. They are perfectly delighted, sir, to have found so many old things they really want for their new houses."
"I'll--I'll put a stop to all this," I grated, seeing red for an instant.
"And the ladies, sir! There are three of them, all from New York City, and they keep on saying they are completely ravished, sir,--with joy, I take it. Your great sideboard in the dining-room is to go to Mrs. Riley-Werkheimer, and the hall-seat that the first Baron used to throw his armour on when he came in from--"
"Great snakes!" I roared. "They haven't moved it, have they? It will fall to pieces!"
"No, sir. They are piling sconces and candelabra and andirons on it, regardless of what Mr. Poopendyke says. You'd better hurry, sir. Here is your collar and necktie--"
"I don't want 'em. Where the dickens are my trousers?"
His face fell. "Being pressed, sir, God forgive me!"
"Get out another pair, confound you, Britton. What are we coming to?"
He began rummaging in the huge clothespress, all the while regaling me with news from the regions below.
"Mr. Poopendyke has gone up to his room, sir, with his typewriter. The young lady insisted on having it. She squealed with joy at seeing an antique typewriter and he--he had to run away with it, 'pon my soul he did, sir."
I couldn't help laughing.
"And your golf clubs, Mr. Smart. The young gentleman of the party is perfectly carried away with them. He says they're the real thing, the genuine sixteenth century article. They are a bit rusted, you'll remember. I left him out in the courtyard trying your brassie and mid-iron, sir, endeavouring to loft potatoes over the south wall. I succeeded in hiding the balls, sir. Just as I started upstairs I heard one of the new window panes in the banquet hall smash, sir, so I take it he must have sliced his drive a bit."
"Who let these people in?" I demanded in smothered tones from the depths of a sweater I was getting into in order to gain time by omitting a collar.
"They came in with the plumbers, sir, at half-past eight. Old man Schmick tried to keep them out, but they said they didn't understand German and walked right by, leaving their donkeys in the roadway outside."
"Couldn't Rudolph and Max stop them?" I cried, as my head emerged.
"They were still in bed, sir. I think they're at breakfast now."
"Good lord!" I groaned, looking at my watch. "Nine-thirty! What sort of a rest cure am I conducting here?"
We hurried downstairs so fast that I lost one of my bedroom slippers. It went clattering on ahead of us, making a shameful racket on the bare stones, but Britton caught it up in time to save it from the clutches of the curio-vandals. My workmen were lolling about the place, smoking vile pipes and talking in guttural whispers. All operations appeared to have ceased in my establishment at the command of the far from idle rich. Two portly gentlemen in fedoras were standing in the middle of the great hall, discussing the merits of a dingy old spinet that had been carried out of the music room by two lusty porters from the hotel. From somewhere in the direction of the room where the porcelains and earthenware were stored came the shrill, excited voices of women. The aged Schmicks were sitting side by side on a window ledge, with the rigid reticence of wax figures.
As I came up, I heard one of the strangers say to the other:
"Well, if you don't want it, I'll take it. My wife says it can be made into a writing desk with a little--"
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," said I confronting them. "Will you be good enough to explain this intrusion?"
They stared at me as if I were a servant asking for higher wages. The speaker, a fat man with a bristly moustache and a red necktie, drew himself up haughtily.
"Who the devil are you?" he demanded, fixing me with a glare.
I knew at once that he was the kind of an American I have come to hate with a zest that knows no moderation; the kind that makes one ashamed of the national melting pot. I glared back at him.
"I happen to be the owner of this place, and you'll oblige me by clearing out."
"What's that? Here, here, none of that sort of talk, my friend. We're here to look over your stuff, and we mean business, but you won't get anywhere by talking like--"
"There is nothing for sale here," I said shortly. "And you've got a lot of nerve to come bolting into a private house--"
"Say," said the second man, advancing with a most insulting scowl, "we'll understand each other right off the reel, my friend. All you've got to do is to answer us when we ask for prices. Now, bear that in mind, and don't try any of your high-and-mighty tactics on us."
"Just remember that you're a junk-dealer and we'll get along splendidly," said the other, in a tone meant to crush me. "What do you ask for this thing?" tapping the dusty spinet with his walking-stick.
It suddenly occurred to me that the situation was humorous.
"You will have to produce your references, gentlemen, before I can discuss anything with you," I said, after swallowing very hard. (It must have been my pride.)
They stared. "Good Lord!" gasped the bristly one, blinking his eyes. "Don't you know who this gentleman is? You--you appear to be an American. You must know Mr. Riley-Werkheimer of New York."
"I regret to say that I have never heard of Mr. Riley-Werkheimer. I did not know that Mrs. Riley-Werkheimer's husband was living. And may I ask who you are?"
"Oh, I am also a nobody," said he, with a wink at his purple-jowled companion. "I am only poor old Rocksworth, the president of the--"
"Oh, don't say anything more, Mr. Rocksworth," I cried. "I have heard of you. This fine old spinet? Well, it has been reduced in price. Ten thousand dollars, Mr. Rocksworth."
"Ten thousand nothing! I'll take it at seventy-five dollars. And now let's talk about this here hall-seat. My wife thinks it's a fake. What is its history, and what sort of guarantee can you--"
"A fake!" I cried in dismay. "My dear Mr. Rocksworth, that is the very hall-seat that Pontius Pilate sat in when waiting for an audience with the first of the great Teutonic barons. The treaty between the Romans and the Teutons was signed on that table over there,--the one you have so judiciously selected, I perceive. Of course, you know that this was the Saxon seat of government. Charlemagne lived here with all his court."
They tried not to look impressed, but rather overdid it.
"That's the sort of a story you fellows always put up, you skinflints from Boston. I'll bet my head you are from Boston," said Mr. Rocksworth shrewdly.