Uzyskaj dostęp do tej i ponad 60000 książek od 6,99 zł miesięcznie
On the contrary, it is, very much. I happen to have some self-respect. I've only just found it out, it's true, but it's there all right. I don't want to be a prince--take it from me, it's a much overrated profession--but if I've got to be one, I'll specialize. I won't combine it with being a bunco steerer on the side. As long as I am on the throne, this high-toned crap-shooting will continue a back number.
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 339
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
THE PRINCE AND BETTY
by P.G. Wodehouse
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Please visit us at www.blackmoredennett.com to see our latest offerings.
1 2 3 4 10 8 7 6 5 00 000
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A pretty girl in a blue dress came out of the house, and began to walk slowly across the terrace to where Elsa Keith sat with Marvin Rossiter in the shade of the big sycamore. Elsa and Marvin had become engaged some few days before, and were generally to be found at this time sitting together in some shaded spot in the grounds of the Keith's Long Island home.
"What's troubling Betty, I wonder," said Elsa. "She looks worried."
Marvin turned his head.
"Is that your friend, Miss Silver?"
"That's Betty. We were at college together. I want you to like Betty."
"Then I will. When did she arrive?"
"Last night. She's here for a month. What's the matter, Betty? This isMarvin. I want you to like Marvin."
Betty Silver smiled. Her face, in repose, was rather wistful, but it lighted up when she smiled, and an unsuspected dimple came into being on her chin.
"Of course I shall," she said.
Her big gray eyes seemed to search Marvin's for an instant and Marvin had, almost subconsciously, a comfortable feeling that he had been tested and found worthy.
"What were you scowling at so ferociously, Betty?" asked Elsa.
"Was I scowling? I hope you didn't think it was at you. Oh, Elsa, I'm miserable! I shall have to leave this heavenly place."
"At once. And I was meaning to have the most lovely time. See what has come!"
She held out some flimsy sheets of paper.
"A cable!" said Elsa.
"Great Scott! it looks like the scenario of a four-act play," said Marvin. "That's not all one cable, surely? Whoever sent it must be a millionaire."
"He is. It's from my stepfather. Read it out, Elsa. I want Mr. Rossiter to hear it. He may be able to tell me where Mervo is. Did you ever hear of Mervo, Mr. Rossiter?"
"Never. What is it?"
"It's a place where my stepfather is, and where I've got to go. I do call it hard. Go on, Elsa."
Elsa, who had been skimming the document with raised eyebrows, now read it out in its spacious entirety.
On receipt of this come instantly Mervo without moment delay vital importance presence urgently required come wherever you are cancel engagements urgent necessity hustle have advised bank allow you draw any money you need expenses have booked stateroom Mauretania sailing Wednesday don't fail catch arrive Fishguard Monday train London sleep London catch first train Tuesday Dover now mind first train no taking root in London and spending a week shopping mid-day boat Dover Calais arrive Paris Tuesday evening Dine Paris catch train de luxe nine-fifteen Tuesday night for Marseilles have engaged sleeping coupe now mind Tuesday night no cutting loose around Paris stores you can do all that later on just now you want to get here right quick arrive Marseilles Wednesday morning boat Mervo Wednesday night will meet you Mervo now do you follow all that because if not cable at once and say which part of journey you don't understand now mind special points to be remembered firstly come instantly secondly no cutting loose around London Paris stores see.
"Well!" said Elsa, breathless.
"By George!" said Marvin. "He certainly seems to want you badly enough. He hasn't spared expense. He has put in about everything you could put into a cable."
"Except why he wants me," said Betty.
"Yes," said Elsa. "Why does he want you? And in such a desperate hurry, too!"
Marvin was re-reading the message.
"It isn't a mere invitation," he said. "There's no come-right-along-you'll-like-this-place-it's-fine about it. He seems to look on your company more as a necessity than a luxury. It's a sort of imperious C.Q.D."
"That's what makes it so strange. We have hardly met for years. Why, he didn't even know where I was. The cable was sent to the bank and forwarded on. And I don't know where he is!"
"Which brings us back," said Marvin, "to mysterious Mervo. Let us reason inductively. If you get to the place by taking a boat from Marseilles, it can't be far from the French coast. I should say at a venture that Mervo is an island in the Mediterranean. And a small island for if it had been a big one we should have heard of it."
"Marvin!" cried Elsa, her face beaming with proud affection. "How clever you are!"
"A mere gift," he said modestly. "I have been like that from a boy." He got up from his chair. "Isn't there an encyclopaedia in the library, Elsa?"
"Yes, but it's an old edition."
"It will probably touch on Mervo. I'll go and fetch it."
As he crossed the terrace, Elsa turned quickly to Betty.
"Well?" she said.
Betty smiled at her.
"He's a dear. Are you very happy, Elsa?"
Elsa's eyes danced. She drew in her breath softly. Betty looked at her in silence for a moment. The wistful expression was back on her face.
"Elsa," she said, suddenly. "What is it like? How does it feel, knowing that there's someone who is fonder of you than anything—?"
Elsa closed her eyes.
"It's like eating berries and cream in a new dress by moonlight on a summer night while somebody plays the violin far away in the distance so that you can just hear it," she said.
Her eyes opened again.
"And it's like coming along on a winter evening and seeing the windows lit up and knowing you've reached home."
Betty was clenching her hands, and breathing quickly.
"And it's like—"
"Elsa, don't! I can't bear it!"
"Betty! What's the matter?"
Betty smiled again, but painfully.
"It's stupid of me. I'm just jealous, that's all. I haven't got aMarvin, you see. You have."
"Well, there are plenty who would like to be your Marvin."
Betty's face grew cold.
"There are plenty who would like to be Benjamin Scobell's son-in-law," she said.
"Betty!" Elsa's voice was serious. "We've been friends for a good long time, so you'll let me say something, won't you? I think you're getting just the least bit hard. Now turn and rend me," she added good-humoredly.
"I'm not going to rend you," said Betty. "You're perfectly right. I am getting hard. How can I help it? Do you know how many men have asked me to marry them since I saw you last? Five."
"And not one of them cared the slightest bit about me."
"But, Betty, dear, that's just what I mean. Why should you say that?How can you know?"
"How do I know? Well, I do know. Instinct, I suppose. The instinct of self-preservation which nature gives hunted animals. I can't think of a single man in the world—except your Marvin, of course—who wouldn't do anything for money." She stopped. "Well, yes, one."
Elsa leaned forward eagerly.
"You don't know him."
"But what's his name?"
"Well, if I am on the witness-stand—Maude."
"Maude? I thought you said a man?"
"It's his name. John Maude."
"But, Betty! Why didn't you tell me before? This is tremendously interesting."
Betty laughed shortly.
"Not so very, really. I only met him two or three times, and I haven't seen him for years, and I don't suppose I shall ever see him again. He was a friend of Alice Beecher's brother, who was at Harvard. Alice took me over to meet her brother, and Mr. Maude was there. That's all."
Elsa was plainly disappointed.
"But how do you know, then—? What makes you think that he—?"
"Instinct, again, I suppose. I do know."
"And you've never met him since?"
Betty shook her head. Elsa relapsed into silence. She had a sense of pathos.
At the further end of the terrace Marvin Rossiter appeared, carrying a large volume.
"Here we are," he said. "Scared it up at the first attempt. Now then."
He sat down, and opened the book.
"You don't want to hear all about how Jason went there in search of the Golden Fleece, and how Ulysses is supposed to have taken it in on his round-trip? You want something more modern. Well, it's an island in the Mediterranean, as I said, and I'm surprised that you've never heard of it, Elsa, because it's celebrated in its way. It's the smallest independent state in the world. Smaller than Monaco, even. Here are some facts. Its population when this encyclopaedia was printed—there may be more now—was eleven thousand and sixteen. It was ruled over up to 1886 by a prince. But in that year the populace appear to have said to themselves, 'When in the course of human events….' Anyway, they fired the prince, and the place is now a republic. So that's where you're going, Miss Silver. I don't know if it's any consolation to you, but the island, according to this gentleman, is celebrated for the unspoilt beauty of its scenery. He also gives a list of the fish that can be caught there. It takes up about three lines."
"But what can my stepfather be doing there? I last heard of him inLondon. Well, I suppose I shall have to go."
"I suppose you will," said Elsa mournfully. "But, oh, Betty, what a shame!"
"By heck!" cried Mr. Benjamin Scobell.
He wheeled round from the window, and transferred his gaze from the view to his sister Marion; losing by the action, for the view was a joy to the eye, which his sister Marion was not.
Mervo was looking its best under the hot morning sun. Mr. Scobell's villa stood near the summit of the only hill the island possessed, and from the window of the morning-room, where he had just finished breakfast, he had an uninterrupted view of valley, town, and harbor—a two-mile riot of green, gold and white, and beyond the white the blue satin of the Mediterranean. Mr. Scobell did not read poetry except that which advertised certain breakfast foods in which he was interested, or he might have been reminded of the Island of Flowers in Tennyson's "Voyage of Maeldive." Violets, pinks, crocuses, yellow and purple mesembryanthemum, lavender, myrtle, and rosemary … his two-mile view contained them all. The hillside below him was all aglow with the yellow fire of the mimosa. But his was not one of those emotional natures to which the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. A primrose by the river's brim a simple primrose was to him—or not so much a simple primrose, perhaps, as a basis for a possible Primrosina, the Soap that Really Cleans You.
He was a nasty little man to hold despotic sway over such a Paradise: a goblin in Fairyland. Somewhat below the middle height, he was lean of body and vulturine of face. He had a greedy mouth, a hooked nose, liquid green eyes and a sallow complexion. He was rarely seen without a half-smoked cigar between his lips. This at intervals he would relight, only to allow it to go out again; and when, after numerous fresh starts, it had dwindled beyond the limits of convenience, he would substitute another from the reserve supply that protruded from his vest-pocket.
* * * * *
How Benjamin Scobell had discovered the existence of Mervo is not known. It lay well outside the sphere of the ordinary financier. But Mr. Scobell took a pride in the versatility of his finance. It distinguished him from the uninspired who were content to concentrate themselves on steel, wheat and such-like things. It was Mr. Scobell's way to consider nothing as lying outside his sphere. In a financial sense he might have taken Terence's Nihil humanum alienum as his motto. He was interested in innumerable enterprises, great and small. He was the power behind a company which was endeavoring, without much success, to extract gold from the mountains of North Wales, and another which was trying, without any success at all, to do the same by sea water. He owned a model farm in Indiana, and a weekly paper in New York. He had financed patent medicines, patent foods, patent corks, patent corkscrews, patent devices of all kinds, some profitable, some the reverse.
Also—outside the ordinary gains of finance—he had expectations. He was the only male relative of his aunt, the celebrated Mrs. Jane Oakley, who lived in a cottage on Staten Island, and was reputed to spend five hundred dollars a year—some said less—out of her snug income of eighteen million. She was an unusual old lady in many ways, and, unfortunately, unusually full of deep-rooted prejudices. The fear lest he might inadvertently fall foul of these rarely ceased to haunt Mr. Scobell.
This man of many projects had descended upon Mervo like a stone on the surface of some quiet pool, bubbling over with modern enterprise in general and, in particular, with a scheme. Before his arrival, Mervo had been an island of dreams and slow movement and putting things off till to-morrow. The only really energetic thing it had ever done in its whole history had been to expel his late highness, Prince Charles, and change itself into a republic. And even that had been done with the minimum of fuss. The Prince was away at the time. Indeed, he had been away for nearly three years, the pleasures of Paris, London and Vienna appealing to him more keenly than life among his subjects. Mervo, having thought the matter over during these years, decided that it had no further use for Prince Charles. Quite quietly, with none of that vulgar brawling which its neighbor, France, had found necessary in similar circumstances, it had struck his name off the pay-roll, and declared itself a republic. The royalist party, headed by General Poineau, had been distracted but impotent. The army, one hundred and fifteen strong, had gone solid for the new regime, and that had settled it. Mervo had then gone to sleep again. It was asleep when Mr. Scobell found it.
The financier's scheme was first revealed to M. d'Orby, the President of the Republic, a large, stout statesman with even more than the average Mervian instinct for slumber. He was asleep in a chair on the porch of his villa when Mr. Scobell paid his call, and it was not until the financier's secretary, who attended the seance in the capacity of interpreter, had rocked him vigorously from side to side for quite a minute that he displayed any signs of animation beyond a snore like the growling of distant thunder. When at length he opened his eyes, he perceived the nightmare-like form of Mr. Scobell standing before him, talking. The financier, impatient of delay, had begun to talk some moments before the great awakening.
"Sir," Mr. Scobell was saying, "I gotta proposition to which I'd like you to give your complete attention. Shake him some more, Crump. Sir, there's big money in it for all of us, if you and your crowd'll sit in. Money. Lar' monnay. No, that means change. What's money, Crump? Arjong? There's arjong in it, Squire. Get that? Oh, shucks! Hand it to him in French, Crump."
Mr. Secretary Crump translated. The President blinked, and intimated that he would hear more. Mr. Scobell relighted his cigar-stump, and proceeded.
"Say, you've heard of Moosieer Blonk? Ask the old skeesicks if he's ever heard of Mersyaw Blonk, Crump, the feller who started the gaming-tables at Monte Carlo."
Filtered through Mr. Crump, the question became intelligible to the President. He said he had heard of M. Blanc. Mr. Crump caught the reply and sent it on to Mr. Scobell, as the man on first base catches the ball and throws it to second.
Mr. Scobell relighted his cigar.
"Well, I'm in that line. I'm going to put this island on the map just like old Doctor Blonk put Monte Carlo. I've been studying up all about the old man, and I know just what he did and how he did it. Monte Carlo was just such another jerkwater little place as this is before he hit it. The government was down to its last bean and wondering where the Heck its next meal-ticket was coming from, when in blows Mr. Man, tucks up his shirt-sleeves, and starts the tables. And after that the place never looked back. You and your crowd gotta get together and pass a vote to give me a gambling concession here, same as they did him. Scobell's my name. Hand him that, Crump."
Mr. Crump obliged once more. A gleam of intelligence came into thePresident's dull eye. He nodded once or twice. He talked volubly inFrench to Mr. Crump, who responded in the same tongue.
"The idea seems to strike him, sir," said Mr. Crump.
"It ought to, if he isn't a clam," replied Mr. Scobell. He started to relight his cigar, but after scorching the tip of his nose, bowed to the inevitable and threw the relic away.
"See here," he said, having bitten the end off the next in order; "I've thought this thing out from soup to nuts. There's heaps of room for another Monte Carlo. Monte's a dandy place, but it's not perfect by a long way. To start with, it's hilly. You have to take the elevator to get to the Casino, and when you've gotten to the end of your roll and want to soak your pearl pin, where's the hock-shop? Half a mile away up the side of a mountain. It ain't right. In my Casino there's going to be a resident pawnbroker inside the building, just off the main entrance. That's only one of a heap of improvements. Another is that my Casino's scheduled to be a home from home, a place you can be real cosy in. You'll look around you, and the only thing you'll miss will be mother's face. Yes, sir, there's no need for a gambling Casino to look and feel and smell like the reading-room at the British Museum. Comfort, coziness and convenience. That's the ticket I'm running on. Slip that to the old gink, Crump."
A further outburst of the French language from Mr. Crump, supplemented on the part of the "old gink" by gesticulations, interrupted the proceedings.
"What's he saying now?" asked Mr. Scobell.
"He wants to know—"
"Don't tell. Let me guess. He wants to know what sort of a rake-off he and the other somnambulists will get—the darned old pirate! Is that it?"
Mr. Crump said that that was just it.
"That'll be all right," said Mr. Scobell. "Old man Blong's offer to the Prince of Monaco was five hundred thousand francs a year—that's somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars in real money—and half the profits made by the Casino. That's my offer, too. See how that hits him, Crump."
Mr. Crump investigated.
"He says he accepts gladly, on behalf of the Republic, sir," he announced.
M. d'Orby confirmed the statement by rising, dodging the cigar, and kissing Mr. Scobell on both cheeks.
"Cut it out," said the financier austerely, breaking out of the clinch. "We'll take the Apache Dance as read. Good-by, Squire. Glad it's settled. Now I can get busy."
He did. Workmen poured into Mervo, and in a very short time, dominating the town and reducing to insignificance the palace of the late Prince, once a passably imposing mansion, there rose beside the harbor a mammoth Casino of shining stone.
Imposing as was the exterior, it was on the interior that Mr. Scobell more particularly prided himself, and not without reason. Certainly, a man with money to lose could lose it here under the most charming conditions. It had been Mr. Scobell's object to avoid the cheerless grandeur of the rival institution down the coast. Instead of one large hall sprinkled with tables, each table had a room to itself, separated from its neighbor by sound-proof folding-doors. And as the building progressed, Mr. Scobell's active mind had soared above the original idea of domestic coziness to far greater heights of ingenuity. Each of the rooms was furnished and arranged in a different style. The note of individuality extended even to the croupiers. Thus, a man with money at his command could wander from the Dutch room, where, in the picturesque surroundings of a Dutch kitchen, croupiers in the costume of Holland ministered to his needs, to the Japanese room, where his coin would be raked in by quite passable imitations of the Samurai. If he had any left at this point, he was free to dispose of it under the auspices of near-Hindoos in the Indian room, of merry Swiss peasants in the Swiss room, or in other appropriately furnished apartments of red-shirted, Bret Harte miners, fur-clad Esquimaux, or languorous Spaniards. He could then, if a man of spirit, who did not know when he was beaten, collect the family jewels, and proceed down the main hall, accompanied by the strains of an excellent band, to the office of a gentlemanly pawnbroker, who spoke seven languages like a native and was prepared to advance money on reasonable security in all of them.
It was a colossal venture, but it suffered from the defect from which most big things suffer; it moved slowly. That it also moved steadily was to some extent a consolation to Mr. Scobell. Undoubtedly it would progress quicker and quicker, as time went on, until at length the Casino became a permanent gold mine. But at present it was being conducted at a loss. It was inevitable, but it irked Mr. Scobell. He paced the island and brooded. His mind dwelt incessantly on the problem. Ideas for promoting the prosperity of his nursling came to him at all hours—at meals, in the night watches, when he was shaving, walking, washing, reading, brushing his hair.
And now one had come to him as he stood looking at the view from the window of his morning-room, listening absently to his sister Marion as she read stray items of interest from the columns of the New York Herald, and had caused him to utter the exclamation recorded at the beginning of the chapter.
* * * * *
"By Heck!" he said. "Read that again, Marion. I gottan idea."
Miss Scobell, deep in her paper, paid no attention. Few people would have taken her for the sister of the financier. She was his exact opposite in almost every way. He was small, jerky and aggressive; she, tall, deliberate and negative. She was one of those women whom nature seems to have produced with the object of attaching them to some man in a peculiar position of independent dependence, and who defy the imagination to picture them in any other condition whatsoever. One could not see Miss Scobell doing anything but pour out her brother's coffee, darn his socks, and sit placidly by while he talked. Yet it would have been untrue to describe her as dependent upon him. She had a detached mind. Though her whole life had been devoted to his comfort and though she admired him intensely, she never appeared to give his conversation any real attention. She listened to him much as she would have listened to a barking Pomeranian.
"Marion!" cried Mr. Scobell.
"A five-legged rabbit has been born in Carbondale, Southern Illinois," she announced.
Mr. Scobell cursed the five-legged rabbit.
"Never mind about your rabbits. I want to hear that piece you read before. The one about the Prince of Monaco. Will—you—listen, Marion!"
"The Prince of Monaco, dear? Yes. He has caught another fish or something of that sort, I think. Yes. A fish with 'telescope eyes,' the paper says. And very convenient too, I should imagine."
Mr. Scobell thumped the table.
"I've got it. I've found out what's the matter with this darned place.I see why the Casino hasn't struck its gait."
"I think it must be the croupiers, dear. I'm sure I never heard of croupiers in fancy costume before. It doesn't seem right. I'm sure people don't like those nasty Hindoos. I am quite nervous myself when I go into the Indian room. They look at me so oddly."
"Nonsense! That's the whole idea of the place, that it should be different. People are sick and tired of having their money gathered in by seedy-looking Dagoes in second-hand morning coats. We give 'em variety. It's not the Casino that's wrong: it's the darned island. What's the use of a republic to a place like this? I'm not saying that you don't want a republic for a live country that's got its way to make in the world; but for a little runt of a sawn-off, hobo, one-night stand like this you gotta have something picturesque, something that'll advertise the place, something that'll give a jolt to folks' curiosity, and make 'em talk! There's this Monaco gook. He snoops around in his yacht, digging up telescope-eyed fish, and people talk about it. 'Another darned fish,' they say. 'That's the 'steenth bite the Prince of Monaco has had this year.' It's like a soap advertisement. It works by suggestion. They get to thinking about the Prince and his pop-eyed fishes, and, first thing they know, they've packed their grips and come along to Monaco to have a peek at him. And when they're there, it's a safe bet they aren't going back again without trying to get a mess of easy money from the Bank. That's what this place wants. Whoever heard of this blamed Republic doing anything except eat and sleep? They used to have a prince here 'way back in eighty-something. Well, I'm going to have him working at the old stand again, right away."
Miss Scobell looked up from her paper, which she had been reading with absorbed interest throughout tins harangue.
"Dear?" she said enquiringly.
"I say I'm going to have him back again," said Mr. Scobell, a little damped. "I wish you would listen."
"I think you're quite right, dear. Who?"
"The Prince. Do listen, Marion. The Prince of this island, His Highness, the Prince of Mervo. I'm going to send for him and put him on the throne again."
"You can't, dear. He's dead."
"I know he's dead. You can't faze me on the history of this place. He died in ninety-one. But before he died he married an American girl, and there's a son, who's in America now, living with his uncle. It's the son I'm going to send for. I got it all from General Poineau. He's a royalist. He'll be tickled to pieces when Johnny comes marching home again. Old man Poineau told me all about it. The Prince married a girl called Westley, and then he was killed in an automobile accident, and his widow went back to America with the kid, to live with her brother. Poineau says he could lay his hand on him any time he pleased."
"I hope you won't do anything rash, dear," said his sister comfortably. "I'm sure we don't want any horrid revolution here, with people shooting and stabbing each other."
"Revolution?" cried Mr. Scobell. "Revolution! Well, I should say nix! Revolution nothing. I'm the man with the big stick in Mervo. Pretty near every adult on this island is dependent on my Casino for his weekly envelope, and what I say goes—without argument. I want a prince, so I gotta have a prince, and if any gazook makes a noise like a man with a grouch, he'll find himself fired."
Miss Scobell turned to her paper again.
"Very well, dear," she said. "Just as you please. I'm sure you know best."
"Sure!" said her brother. "You're a good guesser. I'll go and beat up old man Poineau right away."
Ten days after Mr. Scobell's visit to General Poineau, John, Prince of Mervo, ignorant of the greatness so soon to be thrust upon him, was strolling thoughtfully along one of the main thoroughfares of that outpost of civilization, Jersey City. He was a big young man, tall and large of limb. His shoulders especially were of the massive type expressly designed by nature for driving wide gaps in the opposing line on the gridiron. He looked like one of nature's center-rushes, and had, indeed, played in that position for Harvard during two strenuous seasons. His face wore an expression of invincible good-humor. He had a wide, good-natured mouth, and a pair of friendly gray eyes. One felt that he liked his follow men and would be surprised and pained if they did not like him.
As he passed along the street, he looked a little anxious. Sherlock Holmes—and possibly even Doctor Watson—would have deduced that he had something on his conscience.
At the entrance to a large office building, he paused, and seemed to hesitate. Then, as if he had made up his mind to face an ordeal, he went in and pressed the button of the elevator.
Leaving the elevator at the third floor, he went down the passage, and pushed open a door on which was inscribed the legend, "Westley, Martin & Co."
A stout youth, walking across the office with his hands full of papers, stopped in astonishment.
"Hello, John Maude!" he cried.
The young man grinned.
"Say, where have you been? The old man's been as mad as a hornet since he found you had quit without leave. He was asking for you just now."
"I guess I'm up against it," admitted John cheerfully.
"Where did you go yesterday?"
John put the thing to him candidly, as man to man.
"See here, Spiller, suppose you got up one day and found it was a perfectly bully morning, and remembered that the Giants were playing the Athletics, and looked at your mail, and saw that someone had sent you a pass for the game—"
"Were you at the ball-game? You've got the nerve! Didn't you know there would be trouble?"
"Old man," said John frankly, "I could no more have turned down that pass— Oh, well, what's the use? It was just great. I suppose I'd better tackle the boss now. It's got to be done."
It was not a task to which many would have looked forward. Most of those who came into contact with Andrew Westley were afraid of him. He was a capable rather than a lovable man, and too self-controlled to be quite human. There was no recoil in him, no reaction after anger, as there would have been in a hotter-tempered man. He thought before he acted, but, when he acted, never yielded a step.
John, in all the years of their connection, had never been able to make anything of him. At first, he had been prepared to like him, as he liked nearly everybody. But Mr. Westley had discouraged all advances, and, as time went by, his nephew had come to look on him as something apart from the rest of the world, one of those things which no fellow could understand.
On Mr. Westley's side, there was something to be said in extenuation of his attitude. John reminded him of his father, and he had hated the late Prince of Mervo with a cold hatred that had for a time been the ruling passion of his life. He had loved his sister, and her married life had been one long torture to him, a torture rendered keener by the fact that he was powerless to protect either her happiness or her money. Her money was her own, to use as she pleased, and the use which pleased her most was to give it to her husband, who could always find a way of spending it. As to her happiness, that was equally out of his control. It was bound up in her Prince, who, unfortunately, was a bad custodian for it. At last, an automobile accident put an end to His Highness's hectic career (and, incidentally, to that of a blonde lady from the Folies Bergeres), and the Princess had returned to her brother's home, where, a year later, she died, leaving him in charge of her infant son.
Mr. Westley's desire from the first had been to eliminate as far as possible all memory of the late Prince. He gave John his sister's name, Maude, and brought him up as an American, in total ignorance of his father's identity. During all the years they had spent together, he had never mentioned the Prince's name.
He disliked John intensely. He fed him, clothed him, sent him to college, and gave him a place in his office, but he never for a moment relaxed his bleakness of front toward him. John was not unlike his father in appearance, though built on a larger scale, and, as time went on, little mannerisms, too, began to show themselves, that reminded Mr. Westley of the dead man, and killed any beginnings of affection.
John, for his part, had the philosophy which goes with perfect health. He fitted his uncle into the scheme of things, or, rather, set him outside them as an irreconcilable element, and went on his way enjoying life in his own good-humored fashion.
It was only lately, since he had joined the firm, that he had been conscious of any great strain. College had given him a glimpse of a larger life, and the office cramped him. He felt vaguely that there were bigger things in the world which he might be doing. His best friends, of whom he now saw little, were all men of adventure and enterprise, who had tried their hand at many things; men like Jimmy Pitt, who had done nearly everything that could be done before coming into an unexpected half-million; men like Rupert Smith, who had been at Harvard with him and was now a reporter on the News; men like Baker, Faraday, Williams—he could name half-a-dozen, all men who were doing something, who were out on the firing line.
He was not a man who worried. He had not that temperament. But sometimes he would wonder in rather a vague way whether he was not allowing life to slip by him a little too placidly. An occasional yearning for something larger would attack him. There seemed to be something in him that made for inaction. His soul was sleepy.
If he had been told of the identity of his father, it is possible that he might have understood. The Princes of Mervo had never taken readily to action and enterprise. For generations back, if they had varied at all, son from father, it had been in the color of hair or eyes, not in character—a weak, shiftless procession, with nothing to distinguish them from the common run of men except good looks and a talent for wasting money.
John was the first of the line who had in him the seeds of better things. The Westley blood and the bracing nature of his education had done much to counteract the Mervo strain. He did not know it, but the American in him was winning. The desire for action was growing steadily every day.
It had been Mervo that had sent him to the polo grounds on the previous day. That impulse had been purely Mervian. No prince of that island had ever resisted a temptation. But it was America that was sending him now to meet his uncle with a quiet unconcern as to the outcome of the interview. The spirit of adventure was in him. It was more than possible that Mr. Westley would sink the uncle in the employer and dismiss him as summarily as he would have dismissed any other clerk in similar circumstances. If so, he was prepared to welcome dismissal. Other men fought an unsheltered fight with the world, so why not he?
He moved towards the door of the inner office with a certain exhilaration.
As he approached, it flew open, disclosing Mr. Westley himself, a tall, thin man, at the sight of whom Spiller shot into his seat like a rabbit.
John went to meet him.
"Ah," said Mr. Westley; "come in here. I want to speak to you."
John followed him into the room.
"Sit down," said his uncle.
John waited while he dictated a letter. Neither spoke till the stenographer had left the room. John met the girl's eye as she passed. There was a compassionate look in it. John was popular with his fellow employes. His absence had been the cause of discussion and speculation among them, and the general verdict had been that there would be troublous times for him on the morrow.
When the door closed, Mr. Westley leaned back in his chair, and regarded his nephew steadily from under a pair of bushy gray eyebrows which lent a sort of hypnotic keenness to his gaze.
"You were at the ball-game yesterday?" he said.
The unexpectedness of the question startled John into a sharp laugh.
"Yes," he said, recovering himself.
"It didn't seem worth while asking for leave."
"You mean that you relied so implicitly on our relationship to save you from the consequences?"
"No, I meant—"
"Well, we need not try and discover what you may have meant. What claim do you put forward for special consideration? Why should I treat you differently from any other member of the staff?"
John had a feeling that the interview was being taken at too rapid a pace. He felt confused.
"I don't want you to treat me differently," he said.
Mr. Westley did not reply. John saw that he had taken a check-book from its pigeonhole.
"I think we understand each other," said Mr. Westley. "There is no need for any discussion. I am writing you a check for ten thousand dollars—"
"Ten thousand dollars!"
"It happens to be your own. It was left to me in trust for you by your mother. By a miracle your father did not happen to spend it."
John caught the bitter note which the other could not keep out of his voice, and made one last attempt to probe this mystery. As a boy he had tried more than once before he realized that this was a forbidden topic.
"Who was my father?" he said.
Mr. Westley blotted the check carefully.
"Quite the worst blackguard I ever had the misfortune to know," he replied in an even tone. "Will you kindly give me a receipt for this? Then I need not detain you. You may return to the ball-game without any further delay. Possibly," he went on, "you may wonder why you have not received this money before. I persuaded your mother to let me use my discretion in choosing the time when it should be handed over to you. I decided to wait until, in my opinion, you had sense enough to use it properly. I do not think that time has arrived. I do not think it will ever arrive. But as we are parting company and shall, I hope, never meet again, you had better have it now."
John signed the receipt in silence.
"Thank you," said Mr. Westley. "Good-by."
At the door John hesitated. He had looked forward to this moment as one of excitement and adventure, but now that it had come it had left him in anything but an uplifted mood. He was naturally warm-hearted, and his uncle's cold anger hurt him. It was so different from anything sudden, so essentially not of the moment. He felt instinctively that it had been smoldering for a long time, and realized with a shock that his uncle had not been merely indifferent to him all these years, but had actually hated him. It was as if he had caught a glimpse of something ugly. He felt that this was the last scene of some long drawn-out tragedy.
Something made him turn impulsively back towards the desk.
"Uncle—" he cried.
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks