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The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 25531

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


SO the lovers were reconciled, although the question of marriage was farther off than ever, and the Princess and Miss Winwood wept on each other's shoulders after the way of good women, and Paul declared that he needed no rest, and was eager to grapple with the world. He had much to do. First, he buried his dead, the Princess sending a great wreath and her carriage, after having had a queer interview with Jane, of which neither woman would afterwards speak a word; but it was evident that they had parted on terms of mutual respect and admiration. Then Paul went through the task of settling his father's affairs. Jane having expressed a desire to take over the management of a certain department of the business, he gladly entrusted it to her capable hands. He gave her the house at Hickney Heath, and Barney Bill took up his residence there as a kind of old watch-dog. Meanwhile, introduced by Frank Ayres and Colonel Winwood, he faced the ordeal of a chill reception by the House of Commons and took his seat. After that the nine-days' wonder of the scandal came to an end; the newspapers ceased talking of it and the general public forgot all about him. He only had to reckon with his fellow-members and with social forces. His own house too he had to put in order. He resigned his salary and position as Organizing Secretary of the Young England League, but as Honorary Secretary he retained control. To assure his position he applied for Royal Letters Patent and legalized his name of Savelli, Finally, he plunged into the affairs of Fish Palaces Limited, and learned the many mysteries connected with that outwardly unromantic undertaking.

These are facts in Paul's career which his chronicler is bound to mention. But on Paul's development they exercised but little influence. He walked now, with open eyes, in a world of real things. The path was difficult, but he was strong. Darkness lay ahead, but he neither feared it nor dreamed dreams of brightness beyond. The Vision Splendid had crystallized into an unconquerable purpose of which he felt the thrill. Without Sophie Zobraska's love he would have walked on doggedly, obstinately, with set teeth. He had proved himself fearless, scornful of the world's verdict. But he would have walked in wintry gloom with a young heart frozen dead. Now his path was lit by warm sunshine and the burgeon of spring was in his heart. He could laugh again in his old joyous way; yet the laughter was no longer that of the boy, but of the man who knew the place that laughter should hold in a man's life.

On the day when he, as chairman, had first presided over a meeting of the Board of Directors of Fish Palaces Limited, he went to the Princess and said: "If I bring with me 'an ancient and fish-like smell, a kind of, not of the newest, Poor-John,' send me about my business."

She bade him not talk foolishly.

"I'm talking sense," said he. "I'm going through with it. I'm in trade. I know to the fraction of a penny how much fat ought to be used to a pound of hake, and I'm concentrating all my intellect on that fraction of a penny of fat."

"Tu as raison," she said.

"N'est-ce-pas? It's funny, isn't it? I've often told you I once thought myself the man born to be king. My dreams have come true. I am a king. The fried-fish king."

Sophie looked at him from beneath her long lashes. "And I am a princess. We meet at last on equal terms."

Paul sprang forward impulsively and seized her hands. "Oh, you dear, wonderful woman! Doesn't it matter to you that I'm running fried-fish shops?"

"I know why you're doing it," she said. "I wouldn't have you do otherwise. You are you, Paul. I should love to see you at it. Do you wait at table and hand little dishes to coster-mongers, ancien regime, en emigre?"

She laughed deliciously. Suddenly she paused, regarded him wide-eyed, with a smile on her lips.

"Tiens! I have an idea. But a wonderful ideal Why should I not be the fried-fish queen? Issue new shares. I buy them all up. We establish fish palaces all over the world? But why not? I am in trade already. Only yesterday my homme d'affaires sent me for signature a dirty piece of blue paper all covered with execrable writing and imitation red seals all the way down, and when I signed it I saw I was interested in Messrs. Jarrods Limited, and was engaged in selling hams and petticoats and notepaper and furniture and butter and-remark this-and fish. But raw fish. Now what the difference is between selling raw fish and fried fish, I do not know. Moi, je suis deja marchande de poissons, voila!"

She laughed and Paul laughed too. They postponed, however, to an indefinite date, consideration of the business proposal.

As Paul had foreseen, Society manifested no eagerness to receive him. Invitations no longer fell upon him in embarrassing showers. Nor did he make any attempt to pass through the once familiar doors. For one thing, he was proud: for another he was too busy. When the Christmas recess came he took a holiday, went off by himself to Algiers. He returned bronzed and strong, to the joy of his Sophie.

"My dear," said Miss Winwood one day to the curiously patient lady, "what is to come of it all? You can't go on like this for ever and ever."

"We don't intend to," smiled the Princess. "Paul is born to great things. He cannot help it. It is his destiny, I believe in Paul."

"So do I," replied Ursula. "But it's obvious that it will take him a good many years to achieve them. You surely aren't going to wait until he's a Cabinet Minister."

The Princess lay back among her cushions and laughed. "Mais non. It will all come in woman's good time. Laissez-moi faire. He will soon begin to believe in himself again."

At last Paul's opportunity arrived. The Whips had given him his chance to speak. His luck attended him, in so far that when his turn came he found a full House. It was on a matter of no vital importance; but he had prepared his speech carefully. He stood up for the first time in that strangely nerve-shaking assembly in which he had been received so coldly and in which he was still friendless, and saw the beginning of the familiar exodus into the lobbies. A sudden wave of anger swept through him and he tore the notes of his speech across and across, and again he metaphorically kicked Billy Goodge. He plunged into his speech, forgetful of what he had written, with a passion queerly hyperbolic in view of the subject. At the arresting tones of his voice many of the withdrawing members stopped at the bar and listened, then as he proceeded they gradually slipped back into their places. Curiosity gave place to interest. Paul had found his gift again, and his anger soon lost itself completely in the joy of the artist. The House is always generous to performance. There was something novel in the spectacle of this young man, who had come there under a cloud, standing like a fearless young Hermes before them, in the ring of his beautiful voice, in the instinctive picturesqueness of phrase, in the winning charm of his personality. It was but a little point in a Government Bill that he had to deal with, and he dealt with it shortly. But he dealt with it in an unexpected, dramatic way, and he sat down amid comforting applause and circumambient smiles and nods. The old government hand who rose to reply complimented him gracefully and proceeded of course to tear his argument to tatters. Then an ill-conditioned Socialist Member got up, and, blundering and unconscious agent of Destiny in a fast-emptying House, began a personal attack on Paul. Whereupon there were cries of "Shame!" and "Sit down!" and the Speaker, in caustic tones, counselled relevancy, and the sympathy of the House went out to the Fortunate Youth; so that when he went soon afterwards into the outer lobby-it was the dinner hour-he found himself surrounded by encouraging friends. He did not wait long among them, for up in the Ladies' Gallery was his Princess. He tore up the stairs and met her outside. Her face was pale with anger.

"The brute!" she whispered. "The cowardly brute!"

He snapped his fingers. "Canaille, canaille! He counts for nothing. But I've got them!" he cried exultingly, holding out clenched fists. "By God, darling, I've got them! They'll listen to me now!"

She looked at him and the sudden tears came. "Thank God," she said, "I can hear you talk like that at last."

He escorted her down the stone stairs and through the lobby to her car, and they were objects of many admiring eyes. When they reached it she said, with a humorous curl of the lip, "Veux-tu m'epouser maintenant?"

"Wait, only wait," said he. "These are only fireworks. Very soon we'll get to the real thing."

"We shall, I promise you," she replied enigmatically; and she drove off.

One morning, a fortnight later, she rang him up. "You're coming to dine with me on Friday, as usual, aren't you?"

"Of course," said he. "Why do you ask?"

"Just to make sure. And yes-also-to tell you not to come till half-past eight."

She rang off. Paul thought no more of the matter. Ever since he had taken his seat in the House he had dined with her alone every Friday evening. It was their undisturbed hour of intimacy and gladness in the busy week. Otherwise they rarely met, for Paul was a pariah in her social world.

On the Friday in question his taxi drew up before an unusual-looking house in Berkeley Square. An awning projected from the front door and a strip of carpet ran across the pavement. At the sound of the taxi, the door opened and revealed the familiar figures of the Princess's footmen in their state livery. He entered, somewhat dazed.

"Her Highness has a party?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. A very large dinner party."

Paul passed his hand over his forehead. What did it mean? "This is Friday, isn't it?"

"Of course, sir."

Paul grew angry. It was a woman's trap to force him on society. For a moment he struggled with the temptation to walk away after telling the servant that it was a mistake and that he had not been invited. At once, however, came realization of social outrage. He surrendered hat and coat and let himself be announced. The noise of thirty voices struck his ear as he entered the great drawing-room. He was confusedly aware of a glitter of jewels, and bare arms and shoulders and the black and white of men. But radiant in the middle of the room stood his Princess, with a tiara of diamonds on her head, and beside her stood a youngish man whose face seemed oddly familiar.

Paul advanced, kissed her hand.

She laughed gaily. "You are late, Paul."

"You said half-past, Princess. I am here to the minute."

"Je te dirai apres," she said, and the daring of the intimate speech took his breath away.

"Your Royal Highness," she turned to the young man beside her-and then Paul suddenly recognized a prince of the blood royal of England-"may I present Mr. Savelli."

"I'm very pleased to meet you," said the Prince graciously. "Your Young England League has interested me greatly. We must have a talk about it one of these days, if you can spare the time. And I must congratulate you on your speech the other night."

"You are far too kind, sir," said Paul.

They chatted for a minute or two. Then the Princess said: "You'll take in the Countess of Danesborough. I don't think you've met her; but you'll find she's an old friend."

"Old friend?" echoed Paul.

She smiled and turned to a pretty and buxom woman of forty standing near. "My dear Lady Danesborough. Here is Mr. Savelli, whom you are so anxious to meet."

Paul bowed politely. His head being full of his Princess, he was vaguely puzzled as to the reasons for which Lady Danesborough desired his acquaintance.

"You don't remember me," she said.

He looked at her squarely for the first time; then started back. "Good God!" he cried involuntarily. "Good God! I've been wanting to find you all my life. I never knew your name. But here's the proof."

And he whipped out the cornelian heart from his waistcoat pocket. She took it in her hand, examined it, handed it back to him with a smile, a very sweet and womanly smile, with just the suspicion of mist veiling her eyes.

"I know. The Princess has told me."

"But how did she find you out-I mean as my first patroness?"

"She wrote to the vicar, Mr. Merewether-he is still at Bludston-asking who his visitor was that year and what had become of her. So she found out it was I. I've known her off and on ever since my marriage."

"You were wonderfully good to me," said Paul. "I must have been a funny little wretch."

"You've travelled far since then."

"It was you that gave me my inspiration," said he.

The announcement of dinner broke

the thread of the talk. Paul looked around him and saw that the room was filled with very great people indeed. There were chiefs of his party and other exalted personages. There was Lord Francis Ayres. Also the Winwoods. The procession was formed.

"I've often wondered about you," said Lady Danesborough, as they were walking down the wide staircase. "Several things happened to mark that day. For one, I had spilled a bottle of awful scent all over my dress and I was in a state of odoriferous misery."

Paul laughed boyishly. "The mystery of my life is solved at last." He explained, to her frank delight. "You've not changed a bit," said he. "And oh! I can't tell you how good it is to meet you after all these years."

"I'm very, very glad you feel so," she said significantly. "More than glad. I was wondering ... but our dear Princess was right."

"It seems to me that the Princess has been playing conspirator," said Paul.

They entered the great dining-room, very majestic with its long, glittering table, its service of plate, its stately pictures, its double row of powdered and liveried footmen, and Paul learned, to his amazement, that in violation of protocols and tables of precedence, his seat was on the right hand of the Princess. Conspiracy again. Hitherto at her parties he had occupied his proper place. Never before had she publicly given him especial mark of her favour.

"Do you think she's right in doing this?" he murmured to Lady Danesborough.

It seemed so natural that he should ask her-as though she were fully aware of all his secrets.

"I think so," she smiled-as though she too were in the conspiracy.

They halted at their places, and there, at the centre of the long table, on the right of the young Prince stood the Princess, with flushed face and shining eyes, looking very beautiful and radiantly defiant.

"Mechante," Paul whispered, as they sat down. "This is a trap."

"Je le sais. Tu est bien prise, petite souris."

It pleased her to be gay. She confessed unblushingly. Her little mouse was well caught. The little mouse grew rather stern, and when the great company had settled down, and the hum of talk arisen, he deliberately scanned the table. He met some friendly glances-a Cabinet Minister nodded pleasantly. He also met some that were hostile. His Sophie had tried a dangerous experiment. In Lady Danesborough, the Maisie Shepherd of his urchindom, whose name he had never known, she had assured him a sympathetic and influential partner. Also, although he had tactfully not taken up that lady's remark, he felt proud of his Princess's glorious certainty that he would have no false and contemptible shame in the encounter. She had known that it would be a joy to him; and it was. The truest of the man was stirred. They talked and laughed about the far-off day. Incidents flaming in his mind had faded from hers. He recalled forgotten things. Now and then she said: "Yes, I know that. The Princess has told me." Evidently his Sophie was a conspirator of deepest dye.

"And now you're the great Paul Savelli," she said.

"Great?" He laughed. "In what way?"

"Before this election you were a personage. I've never run across you because we've been abroad so much, you know-my husband has a depraved taste for governing places-but a year or two ago we were asked to the Chudleys, and you were held out as an inducement."

"Good Lord!" said Paul, astonished.

"And now, of course, you're the most-discussed young man in London. Is he damned or isn't he? You know what I refer to."

"Well, am I?' he asked pleasantly.

"I'm glad to see you take it like that. It's not the way of the little people. Personally, I've stuck up for you, not knowing in the least who you were. I thought you did the big, spacious thing. It gave me a thrill when I read about it. Your speech in the House has helped you a lot. Altogether-and now considering our early acquaintance-I think I'm justified in calling you 'the great Paul Savelli.'"

Then came the shifting of talk. The Prince turned to his left-hand neighbour; Lady Danesborough to her right. Paul and the Princess had their conventional opportunity for conversation. She spoke in French, daringly using the intimate "tu"; but of all sorts of things-books, theatres, picture shows. Then tactfully she drew the Prince and his neighbour and Lady Danesborough into their circle, and, pulling the strings, she at last brought Paul and the Prince into a discussion over the pictures of the Doges in the Ducal Palace in Venice. The young Prince was gracious. Paul, encouraged to talk and stimulated by precious memories, grew interesting. The Princess managed to secure a set of listeners at the opposite side of the table. Suddenly, as if carrying on the theme, she said in a deliberately loud voice, compelling attention: "Your Royal Highness, I am in a dilemma."

"What is it?"

She paused, looked round and widened her circle. "For the past year I have been wanting Mr. Savelli to ask me to marry him, and he obstinately refuses to do so. Will you tell me, sir, what a poor woman is to do?"

She addressed herself exclusively to the young Prince; but her voice, with its adorable French intonation, rang high and clear. Paul, suddenly white and rigid, clenched the hand of the Princess which happened to lie within immediate reach. A wave of curiosity, arresting talk, spread swiftly down. There was an uncanny, dead silence, broken only by a raucous voice proceeding from a very fat Lord of Appeal some distance away:

"After my bath I always lie flat on my back and bring my knees up to my chin."

There was a convulsive, shrill gasp of laughter, which would have instantly developed into an hysterical roar, had not the young Prince, with quick, tactful disregard of British convention, sprung to his feet, and with one hand holding champagne glass, and the other uplifted, commanded silence. So did the stars in their courses still fight for Paul. "My lords, ladies and gentlemen," said the Prince, "I have the pleasure to announce the engagement of Her Highness the Princess Sophie Zobraska and Mr. Paul Savelli. I ask you to drink to their health and wish them every happiness."

He bowed to the couple, lifted his glass, and standing, swept a quick glance round the company, and at the royal command the table rose, dukes and duchesses and Cabinet Ministers, the fine flowers of England, and drank to Paul and his Princess.

"Attrape!" she whispered, as they got up together, hand in hand. And as they stood, in their superb promise of fulfilment, they conquered. The Princess said: "Mais dis quelque chose, toi."

And Paul met the flash in her eyes, and he smiled. "Your Royal Highness, my lords, ladies and gentlemen," said he, while all the company were racking their brains to recall a precedent for such proceedings at a more than formal London dinner party; "the Princess and myself thank you from our hearts. For me this might almost seem the end of the fairy-tale of my life, in which-when I was eleven years old-her ladyship the Countess of Danesborough" (he bowed to the Maisie of years ago), "whom I have not seen from that day to this, played the part of Fairy Godmother. She gave me a talisman then to help me in my way through the world. I have it still." He held up the cornelian heart. "It guided my steps to my dearest lady, Miss Winwood, in whose beloved service I lived so long. It has brought me to the feet of my Fairy Princess. But now the fairy-tale is over. I begin where the fairy-tales end"-he laughed into his Sophie's eyes-"I begin in the certain promise of living happy ever afterwards."

In this supreme hour of his destiny there spoke the old, essential Paul, the believer in the Vision Splendid. The instinctive appeal to the romantic ringing so true and so sincere awoke responsive chords in hearts which, after all, as is the simple way of hearts of men and women, were very human.

He sat down a made man, amid pleasant laughter and bowings and lifting of glasses, the length of the long table.

Lady Danesborough said gently: "It was charming of you to bring me in. But I shall be besieged with questions. What on earth shall I tell them?"

"The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," he replied. "What do the Princess and I care?"

Later in the evening he managed to find himself alone for a moment with the Princess. "My wonderful Sophie, what can I say to you?"

She smiled victoriously. "Cry quits. Confess that you have not the monopoly of the grand manner. You have worked in your man's way-I in my woman's way."

"You took a great risk," said he.

Her eyes softened adorably. "Non, mon Paul, cheri. C'etait tout arrange. It was a certainty."

And then, Paul's dearest lady came up and pressed both their hands. "I am so glad. Oh, so glad." The tears started. "But it is something like a fairy-tale, isn't it?"

Well, as far as his chronicler can say at present, that is the end of the Fortunate Youth. But it is really only a beginning. Although his party is still in opposition, he is still young; his sun is rising and he is rich in the glory thereof. A worldful of great life lies before him and his Princess. What limit can we set to their achievement? Of course he was the Fortunate Youth. Of that there is no gainsaying. He had his beauty, his charm, his temperament, his quick southern intelligence-all his Sicilian heritage-and a freakish chance had favoured him from the day that, vagabond urchin, he attended his first and only Sunday-school treat. But personal gifts and favouring chance are not everything in this world.

On the day before his wedding he had a long talk with Barney Bill.

"Sonny," said the old man, scratching his white poll, "when yer used to talk about princes and princesses, I used to larf-larf fit to bust myself. I never let yer seen me do it, sonny, for all the time you was so dead serious. And now it has come true. And d'yer know why it's come true, sonny?" He cocked his head on one side, his little diamond eyes glittering, and laid a hand on Paul's knee. "D'yer know why? Because yer believed in it. I ain't had much religion, not having, so to speak, much time for it, also being an old crock of a pagan-but I do remember as what Christ said about faith-just a mustard seed of it moving mountains. That's it, sonny. I've observed lots of things going round in the old 'bus. Most folks believe in nothing. What's the good of 'em? Move mountains? They're paralytic in front of a dunghill. I know what I'm talking about, bless yer. Now you come along believing in yer 'igh-born parents. I larfed, knowing as who yer parents were. But you believed, and I had to let you believe. And you believed in your princes and princesses, and your being born to great things. And I couldn't sort of help believing in it too."

Paul laughed. "Things happen to have come out all right, but God knows why."

"He does," said Barney Bill very seriously. "That's just what He does know. He knows you had faith."

"And you, dear old man?" asked Paul, "what have you believed in?"

"My honesty, sonny," replied Barney Bill, fixing him with his bright eyes. "'Tain't much. 'Tain't very ambitious-like. But I've had my temptations. I never drove a crooked bargain in my life."

Paul rose and walked a step or two.

"You're a better man than I am, Bill."

Barney Bill rose too, rheumatically, and laid both hands on the young man's shoulders. "Have you ever been false to what you really believed to be true?"

"Not essentially," said Paul.

"Then it's all right, sonny," said the old man very earnestly, his bent, ill-clad figure, his old face wizened by years of exposure to suns and frosts, contrasting oddly with the young favourite of fortune. "It's all right. Your father believed in one thing. I believe in another. You believe in something else. But it doesn't matter a tuppenny damn what one believes in, so long as it's worth believing in. It's faith, sonny, that does it. Faith and purpose."

"You're right," said Paul. "Faith and purpose."

"I believed in yer from the very first, when you were sitting down reading Sir Walter with the bead and tail off. And I believed in yer when yer used to tell about being 'born to great things!"

Paul laughed. "That was all childish rubbish," said he.

"Rubbish?" cried the old man, his head more crooked, his eyes more bright, his gaunt old figure more twisted than ever. "Haven't yer got the great things yer believed yer were born to? Ain't yer rich? Ain't yer famous? Ain't yer a Member of Parliament? Ain't yer going to marry a Royal Princess? Good God Almighty! what more d'yer want?"

"Nothing in the wide, wide world!" laughed Paul.

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