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   Chapter 16 No.16

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 17376

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"I LOVE you too much, my Sophie, to be called the Princess Zobraska's husband."

"And I love you too much, dear, to wish to be called anything else than Paul Savelli's wife."

That was their position, perfectly defined, perfectly understood. They had arrived at it after many arguments and kisses and lovers' protestations.

"Such as I am I am," cried Paul. "A waif and stray, an unknown figure coming out of the darkness. I have nothing to give you but my love."

"Are there titles or riches on earth of equal value?"

"But I must give you more. The name Paul Savelli itself must be a title of honour."

"It is becoming that," said the Princess. "And we can wait a little, Paul, can't we? We are so happy like this. Ah!" she sighed. "I have never been so happy in my life."

"Nor I," said Paul.

"And am I really the first?"

"The first. Believe it or not as you like. But it's a fact. I've told you my life's dream. I never sank below it; and that is why perhaps it has come true."

For once the assertion was not the eternal lie. Paul came fresh-hearted to his Princess.

"I wish I were a young girl, Paul."

"You are a star turned woman. The Star of my Destiny in which I always believed. The great things will soon come."

They descended to more commonplace themes. Until the great things came, what should be their mutual attitude before Society?

"Until I can claim you, let it be our dear and beautiful secret," said Paul. "I would not have it vulgarized by the chattering world for anything in life."

Then Paul proved himself to be a proud and delicate lover, and when London with its season and its duties and its pleasures absorbed them, he had his reward. For it was sweet to see her in great assemblies, shining like a queen and like a queen surrounded by homage, and to know that he alone of mortals was enthroned in her heart. It was sweet to meet her laughing glance, dear fellow-conspirator. It was sweet every morning and night to have the intimate little talk through the telephone. And it was sweetest of all to snatch a precious hour with her alone. Of such vain and foolish things is made all that is most beautiful in life.

He took his dearest lady-though Miss Winwood, now disclaimed the title-into his confidence. So did the Princess. It was very comforting to range Miss Winwood on their side; and to feel themselves in close touch with her wisdom and sympathy. And her sympathy manifested itself in practical ways-those of the woman confidante of every love affair since the world began. Why should the Princess Zobraska not interest herself in some of the philanthropic schemes of which the house in Portland Place was the headquarters? There was one, a Forlorn Widows' Fund, the presidency of which she would be willing to resign in favour of the Princess. The work was trivial: it consisted chiefly in consultation with Mr. Savelli and in signing letters. The Princess threw her arms round her neck, laughing and blushing and calling her delicieuse. You see it was obvious that Mr. Savelli could not be consulted in his official capacity or official letters signed elsewhere than in official precincts.

"I'll do what I can for the pair of you," said Miss Winwood to Paul. "But it's the most delightfully mad and impossible thing I've ever put my hand to."

Accepting the fact of their romance, however, she could not but approve Paul's attitude. It was the proud attitude of the boy who nearly six years ago was going, without a word, penniless and debonair out of her house. All the woman in her glowed over him.

"I'm not going to be called an adventurer," he had declared. "I shall not submit Sophie to the indignity of trailing a despised husband after her. I'm not going to use her rank and wealth as a stepping-stone to my ambitions. Let me first attain an unassailable position. I shall have owed it to you, to myself, to anybody you like-but not to my marriage. I shall be somebody. The rest won't matter. The marriage will then be a romantic affair, and romantic affairs are not unpopular dans le monde ou l'on s'ennuie."

This declaration was all very well; the former part all very noble, the latter exhibiting a knowledge of the world rather shrewd for one so young. But when would he be able to attain his unassailable position? Some years hence. Would Sophie Zobraska, who was only a few months younger than he, be content to sacrifice these splendid and irretrievable years of her youth? Ursula Winwood looked into the immediate future, and did not see it rosy. The first step toward an unassailable position was flight from the nest. This presupposed an income. If the party had been in power it would not have been difficult to find him a post. She worried herself exceedingly, for in her sweet and unreprehensible way she was more than ever in love with Paul. Meeting Frank Ayres one night at a large reception, she sought his advice.

"Do you mind a wrench?" he asked. "No? Well, then-you and Colonel Winwood send him about his business and get another secretary. Let Savelli give all his time to his Young England League. Making him mug up material for Winwood's speeches and write letters to constituents about football clubs is using a razor to cut butter. His League's the thing. It can surely afford to pay him a decent salary. If it can't I'll see to a guarantee."

"The last thing we see, my dear Frank," she said after she had thanked him, "is that which is right under our noses."

The next day she went to Paul full of the scheme. Had he ever thought of it? He took her hands and smiled in his gay, irresistible way. "Of course, dearest lady," he said frankly. "But I would have cut out my tongue sooner than suggest it."

"I know that, my dear boy."

"And yet," said he, "I can't bear the idea of tearing myself away from you. It seems like black ingratitude."

"It isn't. You forget that James and I have our little ambitions too-the ambition of a master for a favourite pupil. If you were a failure we should both be bitterly disappointed. Don't you see? And as for leaving us-why need you? We should miss you horribly. You've never been quite our paid servant. And now you're something like our son." Tears started in the sweet lady's clear eyes. "Even if you did go to your own chambers, I shouldn't let our new secretary have this room"-they were in what the household called "the office"-really Paul's luxuriously furnished private sitting room, which contained his own little treasures of books and pictures and bits of china and glass accumulated during the six years of easeful life-"He will have the print room, which nobody uses from one year's end to another, and which is far more convenient for the street door. And the same at Drane's Court. So when you no longer work for us, my dear boy, our home will be yours, as long as you're content to stay, just because we love you."

Her hand was on his shoulder and his head was bent. "God grant," said he, "that I may be worthy of your love."

He looked up and met her eyes. Her hand was still on his shoulder. Then very simply he bent down and kissed her on the cheek.

He told his Princess all about it. She listened with dewy eyes. "Ah, Paul," she said. "That 'precious seeing' of love-I never had it till you came. I was blind. I never knew that there were such beautiful souls as Ursula Winwood in the world."

"Dear, how I love you for saying that!" cried Paul.

"But it's true."

"That is why," said he.

So the happiest young man in London worked and danced through the season, knowing that the day of emancipation was at hand. His transference from the Winwoods to the League was fixed for October 1. He made great plans for an extension of the League's, activities, dreamed of a palace for headquarters with the banner of St. George flying proudly over it, an object-lesson for the nation. One day in July while he was waiting for Colonel Winwood in the lobby of the House of Commons, Frank Ayres stopped in the middle of a busy rush and shook hands.

"Been down to Hickney Heath again? I would if I were you. Rouse 'em up."

As the words of a Chief Whip are apt to be significant, Paul closeted himself with the President of the Hickney Heath Lodge, who called the Secretary of the local Conservative Association to the interview. The result was that Paul was invited to speak at an anti-Budget meeting convened by the Association. He spoke, and repeated his success. The Conservative newspapers the next morning gave a resume of his speech. His Sophie, coming to sign letters in her presidential capacity, brought him the cuttings, a proceeding which he thought adorable. The season

ended triumphantly.

For a while he lost his Princess. She went to Cowes, then to stay with French relations in a chateau in the Dordogne. Paul went off yachting with the Chudleys and returned for the shooting to Drane's Court. In the middle of September the Winwoods' new secretary arrived and received instruction in his duties. Then came the Princess to Morebury Park. "Dearest," she said, in his arms, "I never want to leave you again. France is no longer France for me since I have England in my heart."

"You remember that? My wonderful Princess!"

He found her more woman, more expansive, more bewitchingly caressing. Absence had but brought her nearer. When she laid her head on his shoulder and murmured in the deep and subtle tones of her own language: "My Paul, it seems such a waste of time to be apart," it took all his pride and will to withstand the maddening temptation. He vowed that the time would soon come when he could claim her, and went away in feverish search for worlds to conquer.

Then came October and London once more.

* * *

Paul was dressing for dinner one evening when a reply-paid telegram was brought to him.

"If selected by local committee will you stand for Hickney Heath? Ayres."

He sat on his bed, white and trembling, and stared at the simple question. The man-servant stood imperturbable, silver tray in hand. Seeing the reply-paid form, he waited for a few moments.

"Is there an answer, sir?"

Paul nodded, asked for a pencil, and with a shaky hand wrote the reply. "Yes," was all he said.

Then with reaction came the thrill of mighty exultation, and, throwing on his clothes, he rushed to the telephone in his sitting room. Who first to hear the wondrous news but his Princess? That there was a vacancy in Hickney Heath he knew, as all Great Britain knew; for Ponting, the Radical Member, had died suddenly the day before. But it had never entered his head that he could be chosen as a candidate.

"Mais j'y ai bien pense, moi," came the voice through the telephone. "Why did Lord Francis tell you to go to Hickney Heath last July?"

How a woman leaps at things! With all his ambition, his astuteness, his political intuition, he had not seen the opportunity. But it had come. Verily the stars in their courses were fighting for him. Other names, he was aware, were before the Committee of the Local Association, perhaps a great name suggested by the Central Unionist Organization; there was also that of the former Tory member, who, smarting under defeat at the General Election, had taken but a lukewarm interest in the constituency and was now wandering in the Far East. But Paul, confident in his destiny, did not doubt that he would be selected. And then, within the next fortnight-for bye-elections during a Parliamentary session are matters of sweeping swiftness-would come the great battle, the great decisive battle of his life, and he would win. He must win. His kingdom was at stake-the dream kingdom of his life into which he would enter with his loved and won Princess on his arm. He poured splendid foolishness through the telephone into an enraptured ear.

The lack of a sense of proportion is a charge often brought against women; but how often do men (as they should) thank God for it? Here was Sophie Zobraska, reared from childhood in the atmosphere of great affairs, mixing daily with folk who guided the destiny of nations, having two years before refused in marriage one of those who held the peace of Europe in his hands, moved to tense excitement of heart and brain and soul by the news that an obscure young man might possibly be chosen to contest a London Borough for election to the British Parliament, and thrillingly convinced that now was imminent the great momentous crisis in the history of mankind.

With a lack of the same sense of proportion, equal in kind, though perhaps not so passionate in degree, did Miss Winwood receive the world-shaking tidings. She wept, and, thinking Paul a phoenix, called Frank Ayres an angel. Colonel Winwood tugged his long, drooping moustache and said very little; but he committed the astounding indiscretion of allowing his glass to be filled with champagne; whereupon he lifted it, and said, "Here's luck, my dear boy," and somewhat recklessly gulped down the gout-compelling liquid. And after dinner, when Miss Winwood had left them together, he lighted a long Corona instead of his usual stumpy Bock, and discussed with Paul electioneering ways and means.

For the next day or two Paul lived in a whirl of telephones, telegrams, letters, scurryings across London, interviews, brain-racking questionings and reiterated declarations of political creed. But his selection was a foregone conclusion. His youth, his absurd beauty, his fire and eloquence, his unswerving definiteness of aim, his magic that had inspired so many with a belief in him and had made him the Fortunate Youth, captivated the imagination of the essentially unimaginative. Before a committee of wits and poets, Paul perhaps would not have had a dog's chance. But he appealed to the hard-headed merchants and professional men who chose him very much as the hero of melodrama appeals to a pit and gallery audience. He symbolized to them hope and force and predestined triumph. One or two at first sniffed suspiciously at his lofty ideals; but as there was no mistaking his political soundness, they let the ideals pass, as a natural and evanescent aroma.

So, in his thirtieth year, Paul was nominated as Unionist candidate for the Borough of Hickney Heath, and he saw himself on the actual threshold of the great things to which he was born. He wrote a little note to Jane telling her the news. He also wrote to Barney Bill: "You dear old Tory-did you ever dream that ragamuffin little Paul was going to represent you in Parliament? Get out the dear old 'bus and paint it blue, with 'Paul Savelli forever' in gold letters, and, instead of chairs and mats, hang it with literature, telling what a wonderful fellow P. S. is. And go through the streets of Hickney Heath with it, and say if you like: 'I knew him when' he was a nipper-that high.' And if you like to be mysterious and romantic you can say: 'I, Barney Bill, gave him his first chance,' as you did, my dear old friend, and Paul's not the man to forget it. Oh, Barney, it's too wonderful"-his heart went out to the old man. "If I get in I will tell you something that will knock you flat. It will be the realization of all the silly rubbish I talked in the old brickfield at Bludston. But, dear old friend, it was you and the open road that first set me on the patriotic lay, and there's not a voter in Hickney Heath who can vote as you can-for his own private and particular trained candidate."

Jane, for reasons unconjectured, did not reply. But from Barney Bill, who, it must be remembered, had leanings toward literature, he received a postcard with the following inscription: "Paul, Hif I can help you konker the Beastes of Effesus I will. Bill."

And then began the furious existence of an electioneering campaign. His side had a clear start of the Radicals, who found some hitch in the choice of their candidate. The Young England League leaped into practical enthusiasm over their champion. Seldom has young candidate had so glad a welcome. And behind him stood his Sophie, an inspiring goddess.

It so happened that for a date a few days hence had been fixed the Annual General Meeting of the Forlorn Widows' Fund, when Report and Balance Sheet were presented to the society. The control of this organization Paul had not allowed to pass into the alien hands of Townsend, the Winwoods' new secretary. Had not his Princess, for the most delicious reasons in the world, been made President? He scorned Ursula Winwood's suggestion that for this year he would allow Townsend to manage affairs. "What!" cried he, "leave my Princess in the lurch on her first appearance? Never!" By telephone he arranged an hour for the next day, when they could all consult together over this important matter.

"But, my dear boy," said Miss Winwood, "your time is not your own. Suppose you're detained at Hickney Heath?"

"The Conqueror," he cried, with a gay laugh, "belongs to the Detainers-not the Detained."

She looked at him out of her clear eyes, and shook an indulgent head.

"I know," said he, meeting her glance shrewdly. "He has got to use his detaining faculty with discretion. I've made a study of the little ways of conquerors. Ali! Dearest lady!" he burst out suddenly, in his impetuous way, "I'm talking nonsense; but I'm so uncannily happy!"

"It does me good to look at you," she said.

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