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   Chapter 12 No.12

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 25862

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


A FEW days afterwards you might have seen Paul dashing through the quiet main street of Morebury in a high dog-cart, on his way to call on the Princess. A less Fortunate Youth might have had to walk, risking boots impolitely muddy, or to hire a funereal cab from the local job-master; but Paul had only to give an order, and the cart and showy chestnut were brought round to the front door of Drane's Court. He loved to drive the showy chestnut, whose manifold depravities were the terror of Miss Winwood's life. Why didn't he take the cob? It was so much safer. Whereupon he would reply gaily that in the first place he found no amusement in driving woolly lambs, and in the second that if he did not take some of the devil out of the chestnut it would become the flaming terror of the countryside. So Paul, spruce in hard felt hat and box-cloth overcoat, clattered joyously through the Morebury streets, returning the salutations of the little notabilities of the town with the air of the owner not only of horse and cart, but of half the hearts in the place. He was proud of his popularity, and it scarcely entered his head that he was not the proprietor of his equipage. Besides, he was going to call on the Princess. He hoped that she would be alone: not that he had anything particular to say to her, or had any defined idea of love-making; but he was eight-and-twenty, an age at which desire has not yet failed and there is not the sign of a burdensome grasshopper anywhere about.

But the Princess was not alone. He found Mademoiselle de Cressy in charge of the tea-table and the conversation. Like many Frenchwomen, she had a high-pitched voice; she also had definite opinions on matter-of-fact subjects. Now when you have come to talk gossamer with an attractive and sympathetic woman, it is irritating to have to discuss Tariff Reform and the position of the working classes in Germany with somebody else, especially when the attractive and pretty woman does not give you in any way to understand that she would prefer gossamer to such arid topics. The Princess was as gracious as you please. She made him feel that he was welcome in her cosy boudoir; but there was no further exchange of mutually understanding glances. If a great lady entertaining a penniless young man can be demure, then demure was the Princess Sophie Zobraska. Paul, who prided himself on his knowledge of feminine subtlety, was at fault; but who was he to appreciate the repressive influence of a practical-minded convent friend, quickly formative and loudly assertive of opinions, on an impressionable lady awakening to curiosities? He was just a dunderhead, like any one of us-just as much as the most eminent feminine psychologist alive-which is saying a good deal. So he drove away disappointed, the sobriety of the chestnut's return trot through Morebury contrasting oddly with the dashing clatter of the former journey.

It was some time before he met the Princess again, for an autumn session of Parliament required migration to Portland Place. The Princess, indeed, came to London, shortly afterwards, to her great house in Berkeley Square; but it was not till late November that he was fortunate enough to see her. Then it was only a kiss of the hand and a hurried remark or two, at a large dinner-party at the Winwoods'. You see, there are such forces as rank and precedence at London dinner-parties, to which even princesses and fortunate youths have to yield.

On this occasion, as he bent over her hand, he murmured: "May I say how beautiful you are to-night, Princess?"

She wore a costume of silver and deep blue, and the blue intensified the blue depths of her eyes. "I am delighted to please monsieur," she said in French.

And that was their meeting. On parting she said again in French: "When are you coming to see me, fickle one?"

"Whenever you ask me. I have called in vain."

"You have a card for my reception next Tuesday?"

"I have replied that I do myself the honour of accepting the Princess's gracious invitation."

"I don't like London, do you?" she asked, allowing a touch of wistfulness to inflect her voice.

"It has its charms. A row on the Serpentine, for instance, or a bicycle ride in Battersea Park."

"How lovely it would be," she said, between laugh and sigh, "if only it could be kept out of the newspapers! I see it from here under the Fashionable Intelligence. 'The beautiful Princess Zobraska was observed in a boat on the ornamental water in Regent's Park with the well-known-tiens-what are you?-politician, say-with the well-known young politician, Mr. Paul Savelli.' Quel scandale, hein?"

"I must content myself with kissing your finger tips at your reception," said Paul.

She smiled. "We will find a means," she said.

At her reception, an assemblage glittering with the diamonds and orders of the great ones of the earth, she found only time to say: "Come to-morrow at five. I shall be alone."

Darkness descended on Paul as he replied: "Impossible, Princess. Colonel Winwood wants me at the House."

The next morning, greatly daring, he rang her up; for a telephone stood on the Fortunate Youth's table in his private sitting-room in Portland Place.

"It is I, Princess, Paul Savelli."

"What have you to say for yourself, Paul Savelli?"

"I am at your feet."

"Why can't you come to-day?"

He explained.

"But tell Colonel Winwood that I want you"-the voice was imperious.

"Would that be wise, Princess?"

"Wise?"

"Yes. Don't you see?"

He waited for an answer. There was blank electric current whirring faintly on his ear. He thought she had rung off-rung off not only this conversation, but all converse in the future. At last, after the waiting of despair, came the voice, curiously meek. "Can you come Friday?"

"With joy and delight." The words gushed out tempestuously.

"Good. At five o'clock. And leave your John Bull wisdom on the doorstep."

She rang off abruptly, and Paul stood ruminating puzzlewise on the audacious behest.

On Friday he presented himself at her house in Berkeley Square. He found her gracious, but ironical in attitude, very much on the defensive. She received him in the Empire drawing room-very stiff and stately in its appointments. It had the charm (and the intrinsic value) of a museum; it was as cosy as a room (under present arrangements) at Versailles. The great wood fire alone redeemed it from artistic bleakness. Tea was brought in by portentous, powdered footmen in scarlet and gold. She was very much the princess; the princess in her state apartments, a different personage from the pretty woman in a boudoir. Paul, sensitive as far as it is given man to be, saw that if he had obeyed her and left his John Bull wisdom on the doorstep, he would have regretted it. Obviously she was punishing him; perhaps herself; perhaps both of them. She kept a wary, appraising eye on him, as they talked their commonplaces. Paul's attitude had the correctness of a young diplomatist paying a first formal call. It was only when he rose to go that her glance softened. She laughed a queer little laugh.

"I hear that you are going to address a meeting in the North of London next week."

"That is so," said Paul; "but how can my unimportant engagements have come to the ears of Your Highness?"

"I read my newspapers like everybody else. Did you not know that there were announcements?"

Paul laughed. "I put them in myself. You see," he explained, "we want our Young England League to be as widely known as possible. The more lambs we can get into the fold, the better."

"Perhaps if you asked me very prettily," she said, "I might come and hear you speak."

"Princess!" His olive cheek flushed with pleasure and his eyes sparkled. "It would be an undreamed-of honour. It is such things that angels do."

"Eh bien, je viendrai. You ought to speak well. Couldn't you persuade them to give the place a better name? Hickney Heath! It hurts the roof of one's mouth. Tiens-would it help the Young England League if you announced my name in the newspapers?"

"Dear Princess, you overwhelm me. But-"

"Now, don't ask me if it is wise." She smiled in mockery. "You print the names of other people who are supporting you. Mr. John Felton, M.P., who will take the chair, Colonel Winwood, M.P., and Miss Winwood, the Dean of Halifax and Lady Harbury, et cetera, et cetera. Why not poor Princess Sophie Zobraska?"

"You have a good memory, Princess."

She regarded him lazily. "Sometimes. When does the meeting begin?"

"At eight. Oh, I forget." His face fell. "How can you manage it? You'll have to dine at an unearthly hour."

"What does it matter even if one doesn't dine-in a good cause?"

"You are everything that is perfect," said Paul fervently.

She dismissed a blissful youth. The Princess Zobraska cared as much for the Young England League as for an Anti-Nose-Ring Society in Central Africa. Would it help the Young England League, indeed! He laughed aloud on the lamp-lit pavement of decorous Berkeley Square. For what other man in the world would she dine at six and spend the evening in a stuffy hall in North London? He felt fired to great achievement. He would make her proud of him, his Princess, his own beautiful, stately, royal Princess. The dream had come true. He loved a Princess; and she-? If she cared naught for him, why was she cheerfully contemplating a six-o'clock dinner? And why did she do a thousand other things which crowded on his memory? Was he loved? The thought thrilled him. Here was no beautiful seductress of suspect title such as he had heard of during his sojourn in the Gotha Almanack world, but the lineal descendant of a princely house, the widow of a genuinely royal, though deboshed personage. Perhaps you may say that the hero of a fairy-tale never thinks of the mere rank of his beloved princess. If you do, you are committing all sorts of fallacies in your premises. For one thing, who said that Paul was a hero? For another, who said this was a fairy-tale? For yet another, I am not so sure that the swineherd is not impressed by the rank of his beloved. You must remember the insistent, lifelong dream of the ragged urchin. You must also reflect that the heart of any high-born youth in the land might well have been fluttered by signs of peculiar favour from Princess Sophie Zobraska. Why, then, should Paul be blamed for walking on air instead of greasy pavement on the way from Berkeley Square to Portland Place? Moreover, as sanity returned to him, his quick sense recognized in his Princess's offer to support him, a lovely indiscretion. Foreign ladies of high position must be chary of their public appearances. Between the row-boat on the Serpentine and the platform in the drill hall, Hickney Heath, the difference was but one of degree. And for him alone was this indiscretion about to be committed. His exultation was tempered by tender solicitude.

At dinner that evening-he was dining alone with the Winwoods-he said: "I've persuaded the Princess to come to our meeting on Friday. Isn't it good of her?"

"Very good," replied Colonel Winwood. "But what interest can she take in the lower walks of English politics?"

"It isn't English politics," said Paul. "It's world politics. The Princess is an aristocrat and is tremendously keen on the Conservative principle. She thinks our scheme for keeping the youth of the nation free from the taint of Socialism is magnificent."

"H'm!" said the Colonel.

"And I thought Miss Winwood would be pleased if I inveigled Her Highness on to the platform," said Paul.

"Why, of course it's a good thing," assented the Colonel. "But how the deuce did you get her?"

"Yes, how?" asked Miss Winwood, with a smile in her straight blue eyes.

"How does one get anything one wants in this world," said Paul, "except by going at it, hammer and tongs?"

A little later, when Paul opened the dining-room for her to pass out, she touched his shoulder affectionately and laughed. "Hammer and tongs to Sophie Zobraska! Oh, Paul, aren't you a bit of a humbug?"

Perhaps he was. But he was ingenuous in his desire to shield his Princess's action from vain conjecture. It were better that he should be supposed, in vulgar phrase, to have roped her in, as he had roped in a hundred other celebrities in his time. For there the matter ended. On the other hand, if he proclaimed the lady's spontaneous offer, it might be subjected to heaven knew how many interpretations. Paul owed much of his success in the world to such instinctive delicacies. He worked far into the night, composing his speech on England's greatness to the beautiful eyes of his French Princess.

The Young England League was his pet political interest. It had been inaugurated some years before he joined the Winwoods. Its objects were the training of the youth, the future electorate of England, in the d

octrines of Imperialism, Constitutionalism and sound civicism, as understood by the intellectual Conservatives. Its mechanical aims were to establish lodges throughout the country. Every town and rural district should have its lodge, in connection wherewith should be not only addresses on political and social subjects, but also football and cricket clubs, entertainments for both sexes such as dances, whist-drives, excursions of archaeological and educational interest, and lantern (and, later, cinematographic) lectures on the wide aspects of Imperial Britain. Its appeal was to the young, the recruit in the battle of life, who in a year or two would qualify for a vote and, except for blind passion and prejudice, not know what the deuce to do with it. The octogenarian Earl of Watford was President; Colonel Winwood was one of a long list of Vice-Presidents; Miss Winwood was on the Council; a General Hankin, a fussy, incompetent person past his prime, was Honorary Secretary.

Paul worked with his employers for a year on the League thinking little of its effectiveness. One day, when they spoke despairingly of progress, he said, not in so many words, but in effect: "Don't you see what's wrong? This thing is run for young people, and you've got old fossils like Lord Watford and General Hankin running it. Let me be Assistant Secretary to Hankin' and I'll make things hum."

And thinking the words of the youth were wise, they used their influence with the Council, and Paul became Assistant Secretary, and after a year or two things began to hum so disconcertingly that General Hankin resigned in order to take the Presidency of the Wellingtonian Defence Association, and almost automatically Paul slipped into his place. With the instinct of the man of affairs he persuaded the Council to change his title. An Honorary Secretary is but a dilettante, an amateur carrying no weight, whereas an Organizing Secretary is a devil of a fellow professedly dynamic. So Paul became Organizing Secretary of the Young England League, and made things hum all the louder. He put fresh life into local Committees and local Secretaries by a paternal interest in their doings, making them feel the pulsations of the throbbing heart of headquarters. If a local lodge was in need of speakers, he exercised his arts of persuasion and sent them down in trainloads. He visited personally as many lodges as his other work permitted. In fact, he was raising the League from a jejune experiment into a flourishing organization. To his secret delight, old Lord Watford resigned the chairmanship owing to the infirmities of old age, and Lord Harbury, a young and energetic peer whom Paul had recently driven into the ranks of the Vice-Presidents, was elected in his stead. Paul felt the future of the League was assured.

With a real Member of Parliament to preside, a real dean to propose the vote of thanks, another Member of Parliament and two ex-mayors of the borough to add silent dignity to the proceedings, well-known ladies, including, now, a real Princess to grace the assembly, this meeting of the Hickney Heath Lodge was the most important occasion on which Paul had appeared in public.

"I hope you won't be nervous," said Miss Winwood, on the morning of the meeting.

"I nervous?" He laughed. "What is there to be nervous about?"

"I've had over twenty years' experience of public speaking, and I'm always nervous when I get UP."

"It's only because you persistently refuse to realize what a wonderful woman you are," he said affectionately.

"And you," she teased, "are you always realizing what a wonderful man you are?"

He cried with his sunny boldness: "Why not? It's faith in oneself and one's destiny that gets things done."

The drill hall was full. Party feeling ran high in those days at Hickney Heath, for a Liberal had ousted a Unionist from a safe seat at the last General Election, and the stalwarts of the defeated party, thirsting for revenge, supported the new movement. If a child was not born a Conservative, he should be made one. That was the watchword of the League. They were also prepared to welcome the new star that had arisen to guide the younger generation out of the darkness. When, therefore, the Chairman, Mr. John Felton, M.P., who had held minor office in the last administration, had concluded his opening remarks, having sketched briefly the history of the League and introduced Mr. Paul Savelli, in the usual eulogistic terms, as their irresistible Organizing Secretary, and Paul in his radiant young manhood sprang up before them, the audience greeted him with enthusiastic applause. They had expected, as an audience does expect in an unknown speaker, any one of the usual types of ordinary looking politicians-perhaps bald, perhaps grey headed, perhaps pink and fat-it did not matter; but they did not expect the magnetic personality of this young man of astonishing beauty, with his perfect features, wavy black hair, athletic build and laughing eyes, who seemed the embodiment of youth and joy and purpose and victory.

Before he spoke a word, he knew that he had them under his control, and he felt the great thrill of it. Physically he had the consciousness of a blaze of light, of a bare barn of an ungalleried place, of thickly-set row upon row of faces, and a vast confused flutter of beating hands. The applause subsided. He turned with his "Mr. Chairman, Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen," to the circle behind him, caught Miss Winwood, his dearest lady's smile, caught and held for a hundredth part of a second the deep blue eyes of the Princess-she wore a great hat with a grey feather and a chinchilla coat thrown open, and looked the incarnation of all the beauty and all the desires of all his dreams-and with a flash of gladness faced the audience and plunged into his speech.

It began with a denunciation of the Little Englander. At that period one heard, perhaps, more of the Little Englander than one does nowadays-which to some people's way of thinking is a pity. The Little Englander (according to Paul) was a purblind creature, with political vision ice-bound by the economic condition of the labouring classes in Great Britain. The Little Englander had no sense of patriotism. The Little Englander had no sense of Empire. He had no sense of India, Australia, Canada. He had no sense of foreign nations' jealousy of England's secular supremacy. He had a distinct idea, however, of three nationalities; those of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The inhabitants of those three small nations took peculiar pains to hammer that idea into his head. But of England he had no conception save as a mere geographical expression, a little bit of red on a map of Europe, a vague place where certain sections of the population clamoured for-much pay and little work. His dream was a parochial Utopia where the Irish peasant, the Welsh farmer and the Scottish crofter should live in luxury, and when these were satisfied, the English operative should live in moderate comfort. The Little Englander, in his insensate altruism, dreamed of these three nations entirely independent of England, except in the trivial matter of financial support. He wanted Australia, Canada, South Africa, to sever their links from him and take up with America, Germany, Switzerland-anybody so long as they did not interfere with his gigantic scheme for providing tramps in Cromarty with motor cars and dissolute Welsh shepherds with champagne. As for India, why not give it up to a benign native government which would depend upon the notorious brotherly love between Hindoo and Mussulman? If Russia, foolish, unawakened Russia, took possession of it, what would it matter to the miner of Merthyr Tydvil? As for England, provided such a country existed, she would be perfectly happy. The rich would provide for the poor-and what did anyone want further? Paul took up the Little Englander in his arms and tossed him in the air, threw him on the ground and jumped upon him. He cast his mutilated fragments with rare picturesqueness upon a Guy Fawkes bonfire. The audience applauded vociferously. He waited with a gay smile for silence, scanning them closely for the first time; and suddenly the smile faded from his face. In the very centre of the third row sat two people who did not applaud. They were Barney Bill and Jane.

He looked at them fascinated. There could be no mistake. Barney Bill's cropped, shoe-brush hair was white as the driven snow; but the wry, bright-eyed face was unchanged. And Jane, quietly and decently dressed, her calm eyes fixed on him, was-Jane. These two curiously detached themselves against the human background. It was only the sudden stillness of the exhausted applause that brought him to consciousness of his environment; that, and a heaven-sent fellow at the back of the audience who shouted: "Go on, sonny!"

Whereupon he plucked himself together with a swift toss of the head, and laughed his gay laugh. "Of course I'm going on, if you will let me. This is only the beginning of what I've got to tell you of the Englishman who fouls the nest of England-who fouls the nest of all that matters in the future history of mankind."

There was more applause. It was the orator's appeal to the mass. It set Paul back into the stream of his argument. He forgot Barney Bill and Jane, and went on with his speech, pointedly addressing the young, telling them what England was, what England is, what Englishmen, if they are true to England, shall be. It was for the young, those who came fresh to life with the glories of England fresh in their memories, from Crecy to the Armada, from the Armada to Waterloo, to keep the banner of England flying over their topmost roofs.

It was a fighting, enthusiastic, hyperbolic speech, glowing, as did the young face of the speaker, with the divine fire of youth. It ended triumphantly. He sat down to an ovation. Smiles and handshakes and words of praise surrounded him on the platform. Miss Winwood pressed his hand and said, "Well done." The Princess regarded him with flushed cheeks and starry eyes. It was only when silence fell on the opening words of the Dean of Halifax that he searched the rows in front for Barney Bill and Jane. They were still there. Impulsively he scribbled a few lines on a scrap of paper torn from his rough notes: "I must see you. Wait outside the side entrance for me after the meeting is over. Love to you both. Paul." A glance round showed him an attendant of the hall lurking at the back of the platform. He slipped quietly from his seat by the Chairman's side and gave the man the paper with directions as to its destination. Then he returned. Just before the Dean ended, he saw the note delivered. Jane read it, whispered its contents to Bill and seemed to nod acquiescence. It was fitting that these two dear ghosts of the past should appear for the first time in his hour of triumph. He longed to have speech with them, The Dean of Halifax was brief, the concluding ceremonies briefer. The audience gave Paul a parting cheer and dispersed, while Paul, the hero of the evening, received the congratulations of his friends.

"Those are things that needed saying, but we're too cautious to say them," remarked the Chairman.

"We've got to be," said Colonel Winwood.

"The glory of irresponsibility," smiled the Dean.

"You don't often get this kind of audience," Paul answered with a laugh. "A political infants' school. One has to treat things in broad splashes."

"You almost persuade me to be an Englishwoman," said the Princess.

Paul bowed. "But what more beautiful thing can there be than a Frenchwoman with England in her heart? Je ne demande pas mieux."

And the Princess did not put her hands to her ears.

The group passed slowly from the platform through a sort of committee room at the back, and reached the side entrance, Here they lingered, exchanging farewells. The light streamed dimly through the door on the strip of pavement between two hedges of spectators, and on the panelling and brass-work of an automobile by the curb. A chauffeur, with rug on arm, stepped forward and touched his cap, as the Princess appeared, and opened the door of the car. Paul, bare-headed, accompanied her across the pavement. Half way she stopped for a second to adjust a slipping fur. He aided her quickly and received a bright smile of thanks. She entered the car-held out her hand for, his kiss.

"Come and see me soon. I'll write or telephone."

The car rolled away. The Winwoods' carriage drove up.

It was a fighting, enthusiastic, hyperbolic speech, glowing with the divine fire of youth.

"Can we give you a lift home, Paul?" asked Miss Winwood.

"No thanks, dearest lady. There are one or two little things I must do before I go."

"Good night."

"Good night, Paul," said Colonel Winwood, shaking hands. "A thundering good speech."

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