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   Chapter 4 PROTECTING THE BLOOD

The Prince of Graustark By George Barr McCutcheon Characters: 20360

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"A most extraordinary person," said Count Quinnox to King, after Mr. Blithers had taken his departure, close upon the heels of the Feltons who were being escorted home by the Prince and Dank. The venerable Graustarkian's heroic face was a study. He had just concluded a confidential hour in a remote corner of the library with the millionaire while the younger people were engaged in a noisy though temperate encounter with the roulette wheel at the opposite end of the room. "I've never met any one like him, Mr. King." He mopped his brow, and still looked a trifle dazed.

King laughed. "There isn't any one like him, Count. He is the one and only Blithers."

"He is very rich?"

"Millions and millions," said Mrs. King. "Didn't he tell you how many?"

"I am not quite sure. This daughter of his-is she attractive?"

"Rather. Why?"

"He informed me that her dot would be twenty millions if she married the right man. Moreover, she is his only heir. 'Pon my soul, Mrs. King, he quite took my breath away when he announced that he knew all about our predicament in relation to the Russian loan. It really sounded quite-you might say significant. Does-does he imagine that-good heaven, it's almost stupefying!"

King smoked in silence for many seconds. There was a pucker of annoyance on his wife's fair brow as she stared reflectively through the window at the distant lights of Blitherwood, far up the mountain side.

"Sounds ominous to me," said King drily. "Is Bobby for sale?"

The Count favoured him with a look of horror. "My dear Mr. King!" Then as comprehension came, he smiled. "I see. No, he isn't for sale. He is a Prince, not a pawn. Mr. Blithers may be willing to buy but-" he proudly shook his head.

"He was feeling you out, however," said King, ruminating. "Planting the seed, so to speak."

"There is a rumour that she is to marry Count Lannet," said his wife. "A horrid creature. There was talk in the newspapers last winter of an Italian duke. Poor girl! From what I hear of her, she is rather a good sort, sensible and more genuinely American in her tastes than might be, expected after her bringing-up. And she is pretty."

"How about this young Scoville, Rainie?"

"He's a nice boy but-he'll never get her. She is marked up too high for him. He doesn't possess so much as the title to an acre of land."

"Extraordinary, the way you Americans go after our titles," said the

Count good-naturedly.

"No more extraordinary than the way you Europeans go after our money," was her retort.

"I don't know which is the cheaper, titles or money in these days," said King. "I understand one can get a most acceptable duke for three or four millions, a nice marquis or count for half as much, and a Sir on tick." He eyed the Count speculatively. "Of course a prince of the royal blood comes pretty high."

"Pretty high," said the Count grimly. He seemed to be turning something over in his mind. "Your amazing Mr. Blithers further confided to me that he might be willing to take care of the Russian obligation for us if no one else turns up in time. As a matter of fact, without waiting for my reply, he said that he would have his lawyers look into the matter of security at once. I was somewhat dazed, but I think he said that it would be no trouble at all for him to provide the money himself and he would be glad to accommodate us if we had no other plan in mind. Amazing, amazing!"

"Of course, you told him it was not to be considered," said King sharply.

"I endeavoured to do so, but I fear he did not grasp what I was saying. Moreover, I tried to tell him that it was a matter I was not at liberty to discuss. He didn't hear that, either."

"He is not in the habit of hearing any one but himself, I fear," said

King.

"I am afraid poor Robin is in jeopardy," said his wife, ruefully. "The

Bogieman is after him."

"Does the incomprehensible creature imagine-" began the Count loudly, and then found it necessary to pull his collar away from his throat as if to save himself from immediate strangulation.

"Mr. Blithers is not blessed with an imagination, Count," said she. "He doesn't imagine anything."

"If he should presume to insult our Prince by-" grated the old soldier, very red in the face and erect-"if he should presume to-" Words failed him and an instant later he was laughing, but somewhat uncertainly, with his amused host and hostess.

Mr. Blithers reached home in high spirits. His wife was asleep, but he awoke her without ceremony.

"I say, Lou, wake up. Got some news for you. We'll have a prince in the family before you can say Jack Robinson."

She sat up in bed, blinking with dismay. "In heaven's name, Will, what have you been doing? What-have you been-"

"Cutting bait," said he jovially. "In a day or two I'll throw the hook in, and you'll see what I land. He's as good as caught right now, but we'll let him nibble a while before we jerk. And say, he's a corker, Lou. Finest young fellow I've seen in many a day. He-"

"You don't mean to say that you-you actually said anything to him about-about-Oh, my God, Will, don't tell me that you were crazy enough to-" cried the poor woman, almost in tears.

"Now cool down, cool down," he broke in soothingly. "I'm no fool, Lou. Trust me to do the fine work in a case like this. Sow the right kind of seeds and you'll get results every time. I merely dropped a few hints, that's all,-and in the right direction, believe me. Count Equinox will do the rest. I'll bet my head we'll have this prince running after Maud so-"

"What did you say?" she demanded. There was a fine moisture on her upper lip. He sat down on the edge of the bed and talked for half an hour without interruption. When he came to the end of his oration, she turned over with her face to the wall and fairly sobbed: "What will the Kings think of us? What will they think?"

"Who the dickens cares what the Kings think?" he roared, perfectly aghast at the way she took it. "Who are the Kings? Tell me that! who are they?"

"I-I can't bear to talk about it. Go to bed."

He wiped his brow helplessly. "You beat anything I've ever seen. What's the matter with you? Don't you want this prince for Maud? Well, then, what the deuce are you crying about? You said you wanted him, didn't you? Well, I'm going to get him. If I say I'll do a thing, you can bet your last dollar I'll do it. That's the kind of a man William W. Blithers is. You leave it to me. There's only one way to land these foreign noblemen, and I'm-"

She faced him once more, and angrily. "Listen to me," she said. "I've had a talk with Maud. She has gone to bed with a splitting headache and I'm not surprised. Don't you suppose the poor child has a particle of pride? She guessed at once just what you had gone over there for and she cried her eyes out. Now she declares she will never be able to look the Prince in the face, and as for the Kings-Oh, it's sickening. Why can't you leave these things to me? You go about like a bull in a china shop. You might at least have waited until the poor child had an opportunity to see the man before rushing in with your talk about money. She-"

"Confound it, Lou, don't blame me for everything. We all three agreed at lunch that he was a better bargain than this measly count we've been considering. Maud says she won't marry the count, anyhow, and she did say that if this prince was all that he's cracked up to be, she wouldn't mind being the Princess of Groostock. You can't deny that, Lou. You heard her say it. You-"

"She didn't say Groostock," said his wife shortly. "And you forget that she said she wouldn't promise anything until she'd met him and decided whether she liked him."

"She'll like him all right," said he confidently.

"She will refuse to even meet him, if she hears of your silly blunder to-night."

"Refuse to meet him?" gasped Mr. Blithers.

"I may be able to reason with her, Will, but-but she's stubborn, as well you know. I'm afraid you've spoiled everything."

His face brightened. Lowering his voice to a half-whisper, he said: "We needn't tell her what I said to that old chap, Lou. Just let her think I sat around like a gump and never said a word to anybody. We can-"

"But she'll pin you down, Will, and you know you can't lie with a straight face."

"Maybe-maybe I'd better run down to New York for a few days," he muttered unhappily. "You can square it better than I can."

"In other words, I can lie with a straight face," she said ironically.

"I never thought she'd balk like this," said he, ignoring the remark.

"I fancy you'd better go to New York," she said mercilessly.

"I've got business there anyhow," muttered he. "I-I think I'll go before she's up in the morning."

"You can save yourself a bad hour or two if you leave before breakfast," said she levelly.

"Get around her some way, Lou," he pleaded. "Tell her I'm sorry I had to leave so early, and-and that I love her better than anything on earth, and that I'll be back the end of the week. If-if she wants anything in New York, just have her wire me. You say she cried?"

"She did, and I don't blame her."

Mr. Blithers scowled. "Well-well, you see if you can do any better than I did. Arrange it somehow for them to meet. She'll-she'll like him and then-by George, she'll thank us both for the interest we take in her future. It wouldn't surprise me if she fell in love with him right off the reel. And you may be sure he'll fall in love with her. He can't help it. The knowledge that she'll have fifty millions some day won't have anything to do with his feeling for her, once he-"

"Don't mention the word millions again. Will Blithers."

"All right," said he, more humbly than he knew, "But listen to this, old girl; I'm going to get this prince for her if it's the last act of my life. I never failed in anything and I won't fail in this."

"Well, go to bed, dear, and don't worry. I may be able to undo the mischief. It-it isn't hopeless, of course."

"I'll trust you, Lou, to do your part. Count on me to do mine when the time comes. And I still insist that I have sowed the right

sort of seed to-night. You'll see. Just wait."

Sure enough, Mr. Blithers was off for New York soon after daybreak the next morning, and with him went a mighty determination to justify himself before the week was over. His wily brain was working as it had never worked before.

Two days later, Count Quinnox received a message from New York bearing the distressing information that the two private banking institutions on which he had been depending for aid in the hour of trouble had decided that it would be impossible for them to make the loan under consideration. The financial agents who had been operating in behalf of the Graustark government confessed that they were unable to explain the sudden change of heart on the part of the bankers, inasmuch as the negotiations practically had been closed with them. The decision of the directors was utterly incomprehensible under the circumstances.

Vastly disturbed, Count Quinnox took the first train to New York, accompanied by Truxton King, who was confident that outside influences had been brought to bear upon the situation, influences inimical to Graustark. Both were of the opinion that Russia had something to do with it, although the negotiations had been conducted with all the secrecy permissible in such cases.

"We may be able to get to the banks through Blithers," said King.

"How could he possibly be of assistance to us?" the Count inquired.

"He happens to be a director in both concerns, besides being such a power in the financial world that his word is almost law when it comes to the big deals."

All the way down to the city Count Quinnox was thoughtful, even pre-occupied. They were nearing the Terminal when he leaned over and, laying his hand on King's knee, said, after a long interval of silence between them:

"I suppose you know that Graustark has not given up hope that Prince

Robin may soon espouse the daughter of our neighbour, Dawsbergen."

King gave him a queer look. "By jove, that's odd. I was thinking of that very thing when you spoke."

"The union would be of no profit to us in a pecuniary way, my friend," explained the Count. "Still it is most desirable for other reasons. Dawsbergen is not a rich country, nor are its people progressive. The reigning house, however, is an old one and rich in traditions. Money, my dear King, is not everything in this world. There are some things it cannot buy. It is singularly ineffective when opposed to an honest sentiment. Even though the young Princess were to come to Graustark without a farthing, she would still be hailed with the wildest acclaim. We are a race of blood worshippers, if I may put it in that way. She represents a force that has dominated our instincts for a great many centuries, and we are bound hand and foot, heart and soul, by the so-called fetters of imperialism. We are fierce men, but we bend the knee and we wear the yoke because the sword of destiny is in the hand that drives us. To-day we are ruled by a prince whose sire was not of the royal blood. I do not say that we deplore this infusion, but it behooves us to protect the original strain. We must conserve our royal blood. Our prince assumes an attitude of independence that we find difficult to overcome. He is prepared to defy an old precedent in support of a new one. In other words, he points out the unmistakably happy union of his own mother, the late Princess Yetive, and the American Lorry, and it is something we cannot go behind. He declares that his mother set an example that he may emulate without prejudice to his country if he is allowed a free hand in choosing his mate.

"But we people of Graustark cannot look with complaisance on the possible result of his search for a sharer of the throne. Traditions must be upheld-or we die. True, the Crown Princess of Dawsbergen has American blood in her veins but her sire is a prince royal. Her mother, as you know, was an American girl. She who sits on the throne with Robin must be a princess by birth or the grip on the sword of destiny is weakened and the dynasty falters. I know what is in your mind. You are wondering why our Prince should not wed one of your fabulously rich American girls-"

"My dear Count," said King warmly, "I am not thinking anything of the sort. Naturally I am opposed to your pre-arranged marriages and all that sort of thing, but still I appreciate what it means as a safe-guard to the crown you support. I sincerely hope that Robin may find his love-mate in the small circle you draw for him, but I fear it isn't likely. He is young, romantic, impressionable, and he abhors the thought of marriage without love. He refuses to even consider the princess you have picked out for him. Time may prove to him that his ideals are false and he may resign himself to the-I was about to say the inevitable."

"Inevitable is the word, Mr. King," said Count Quinnox grimly. "'Pon my word, sir, I don't know what our princes and princesses are coming to in these days. There seems to be a perfect epidemic of independence among them. They marry whom they please in spite of royal command, and the courts of Europe are being shorn of half their glory. It wouldn't surprise me to see an American woman on the throne of England one of these days. 'Gad, sir, you know what happened in Axphain two years ago. Her crown prince renounced the throne and married a French singer."

"And they say he is a very happy young beggar," said King drily.

"It is the prerogative of fools to be happy," said Count Quinnox.

"Not so with princes, eh?"

"It is a duty with princes, Mr. King."

They had not been in New York City an hour before they discovered that William W. Blithers was the man to whom they would have to appeal if they expected to gain a fresh hearing with the banks. The agents were in a dismal state of mind. The deal had been blocked no later than the afternoon of the day before and at a time when everything appeared to be going along most swimmingly. Blithers was the man to see; he and he alone could bring pressure to bear on the directorates that might result in a reconsideration of the surprising verdict. Something had happened during the day to alter the friendly attitude of the banks; they were now politely reluctant, as one of the agents expressed it, which really meant that opposition to the loan had appeared from some unexpected source, as a sort of eleventh hour obstacle. The heads of the two banks had as much as said that negotiations were at an end, that was the long and short of it; it really didn't matter what was back of their sudden change of front, the fact still remained that the transaction was as "dead as a door nail" unless it could be revived by the magnetic touch of a man like Blithers.

"What can have happened to cause them to change their minds so abruptly?" cried the perplexed Count. "Surely our prime minister and the cabinet have left nothing undone to convince them of Graustark's integrity and-"

"Pardon me. Count," interrupted one of the brokers, "shall I try to make an appointment for you with Mr. Blithers? I hear he is in town for a few days."

Count Quinnox looked to Truxton King for inspiration and that gentleman favoured him with a singularly dis-spiriting nod of the head. The old Graustarkian cleared his throat and rather stiffly announced that he would receive Mr. Blithers if he would call on him at the Ritz that afternoon.

"What!" exclaimed both agents, half-starting from their chairs in amazement.

The Count stared hard at them. "You may say to him that I will be in at four."

"He'll tell you to go to-ahem!" The speaker coughed just in time. "Blithers isn't in the habit of going out of his way to-to oblige anybody. He wouldn't do it for the Emperor of Germany."

"But," said the Count with a frosty smile, "I am not the Emperor of

Germany."

"Better let me make an appointment for you to see him at his office. It's just around the corner." There was a pleading note in the speaker's voice.

"You might save your face, Calvert, by saying that the Count will be pleased to have him take tea with him at the Ritz," suggested King.

"Tea!" exclaimed Calvert scornfully. "Blithers, doesn't drink the stuff."

"It's a figure of speech," said King patiently.

"All right, I'll telephone," said the other dubiously.

He came back a few minutes later with a triumphant look in his eye.

"Blithers says to tell Count Quinnox he'll see him to-morrow morning at half-past eight at his office. Sorry he's engaged this afternoon."

"But did you say I wanted him to have tea with us!" demanded the Count, an angry flush leaping to his cheek.

"I did. I'm merely repeating what he said in reply. Half-past eight, at his office, Count. Those were his words."

"It is the most brazen exhibition of insolence I've ever-" began the Count furiously, but checked himself with an effort. "I-I hope you did not say that I would come, sir!"

"Yes. It's the only way-"

"Well, be good enough to call him up again and say to him that I'll-I'll see him damned before I'll come to his office to-morrow at eight-thirty or at any other hour." And with that the Count got up and stalked out of the office, putting on his hat as he did so.

"Count," said King, as they descended in the elevator, "I've got an idea in my head that Blithers will be at the Ritz at four."

"Do you imagine, sir, that I will receive him?"

"Certainly. Are you not a diplomat?"

"I am a Minister of War," said the Count, and his scowl was an indication of absolute proficiency in the science.

"And what's more," went on King, reflectively, "it wouldn't in the least surprise me if Blithers is the man behind the directors in this sudden move of the banks."

"My dear King, he displayed the keenest interest and sympathy the other night at your house. He-"

"Of course I may be wrong," admitted King, but his brow was clouded.

Shortly after luncheon that day, Mrs. Blithers received a telegram from her husband. It merely stated that he was going up to have tea with the Count at four o'clock, and not to worry as "things were shaping themselves nicely."

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