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   Chapter 5 PRINCE ROBIN IS ASKED TO STAND UP

The Prince of Graustark By George Barr McCutcheon Characters: 19301

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Late the same evening. Prince Robin, at Red Roof, received a long distance telephone communication from New York City. The Count was on the wire. He imparted the rather startling news that William W. Blithers had volunteered to take care of the loan out of his own private means! Quinnox was cabling the Prime Minister for advice and would remain in New York for further conference with the capitalist, who, it was to be assumed, would want time to satisfy himself as to the stability of Graustark's resources.

Robin was jubilant. The thought had not entered his mind that there could be anything sinister in this amazing proposition of the great financier.

If Count Quinnox himself suspected Mr. Blithers of an ulterior motive, the suspicion was rendered doubtful by the evidence of sincerity on the part of the capitalist who professed no sentiment in the matter but insisted on the most complete indemnification by the Graustark government. Even King was impressed by the absolute fairness of the proposition. Mr. Blithers demanded no more than the banks were asking for in the shape of indemnity; a first lien mortgage for 12 years on all properties owned and controlled by the government and the deposit of all bonds held by the people with the understanding that the interest would be paid to them regularly, less a small per cent as commission. His protection would be complete,-for the people of Graustark owned fully four-fifths of the bonds issued by the government for the construction of public service institutions; these by consent of Mr. Blithers were to be limited to three utilities: railroads, telegraph and canals. These properties, as Mr. Blithers was by way of knowing, were absolutely sound and self-supporting. According to his investigators in London and Berlin, they were as solid as Gibraltar and not in need of one-tenth the protection required by the famous rock.

Robin inquired whether he was to come to New York at once in relation to the matter, and was informed that it would not be necessary at present. In fact, Mr. Blithers preferred to let the situation remain in statu quo (as he expressed it to the Count), until it was determined whether the people were willing to deposit their bonds, a condition which was hardly worth while worrying about in view of the fact that they had already signified their readiness to present them for security in the original proposition to the banks. Mr. Blithers, however, would give himself the pleasure of calling upon the Prince at Red Roof later in the week, when the situation could be discussed over a dish of tea or a cup of lemonade. That is precisely the way Mr. Blithers put it.

The next afternoon Mrs. Blithers left cards at Red Roof-or rather, the foot-man left them-and on the day following the Kings and their guests received invitations to a ball at Blitherwood on the ensuing Friday, but four days off. While Mrs. King and the two young men were discussing the invitation the former was called to the telephone. Mrs. Blithers herself was speaking.

"I hope you will pardon me for calling you up, Mrs. King, but I wanted to be sure that you can come on the seventeenth. We want so much to have the Prince and his friends with us. Mr. Blithers has taken a great fancy to Prince Robin and Count Quinnox, and he declares the whole affair will be a fiasco if they are not to be here."

"It is good of you to ask us, Mrs. Blithers. The Prince is planning to leave for Washington within the next few days and I fear-"

"Oh, you must prevail upon him to remain over, my Dear Mrs. King. We are to have a lot of people up from Newport and Tuxedo-you know the crowd-it's the real crowd-and I'm sure he will enjoy meeting them. Mr. Blithers has arranged for a special train to bring them up-a train de luxe, you may be sure, both as to equipment and occupant. Zabo's orchestra, too. A notion seized us last night to give the ball, which accounts for the short notice. It's the way we do everything-on a minute's notice. I think they're jollier if one doesn't go through the agony of a month's preparation, don't you? Nearly every one has wired acceptance, so we're sure to have a lot of nice people. Loads of girls,-you know the ones I mean,-and Mr. Blithers is trying to arrange a sparring match between those two great prizefighters,-you know the ones, Mrs. King,-just to give us poor women a chance to see what a real man looks like in-I mean to say, what marvellous specimens they are, don't you know. Now please tell the Prince that he positively cannot afford to miss a real sparring match. Every one is terribly excited over it, and naturally we are keeping it very quiet. Won't it be a lark? My daughter thinks it's terrible, but she is finicky. One of them is a negro, isn't he?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"You can imagine how splendid they must be when I tell you that Mr. Blithers is afraid they won't come up for less than fifteen thousand dollars. Isn't it ridiculous?"

"Perfectly," said Mrs. King.

"Of course, we shall insist on the Prince receiving with us. He is our piece de resistance. You-"

"I'm sure it will be awfully jolly, Mrs. Blithers. What did you say?"

"I beg pardon?"

"I'm sorry. I was speaking to the Prince. He just called up stairs to me."

"What does he say?"

"It was really nothing. He was asking about Hobbs."

"Hobbs? Tell him, please, that if he has any friends he would like to have invited we shall be only too proud to-"

"Oh, thank you! I'll tell him."

"You must not let him go away before-"

"I shall try my best, Mrs. Blithers. It is awfully kind of you to ask us to-"

"You must all come up to dinner either to-morrow night or the night after. I shall be so glad if you will suggest anything that can help us to make the ball a success. You see, I know how terribly clever you are, Mrs. King."

"I am dreadfully stupid."

"Nonsense!"

"I'm sorry to say we're dining out to-morrow night and on Thursday we are having some people here for-"

"Can't you bring them all up to Blitherwood? We'd be delighted to have them, I'm sure."

"I'm afraid I couldn't manage it. They-well, you see, they are in mourning."

"Oh, I see. Well, perhaps Maud and I could run in and see you for a few minutes to-morrow or next day, just to talk things over a little-what's that, Maud? I beg your pardon, Mrs. King. Ahem! Well, I'll call you up to-morrow, if you don't mind being bothered about a silly old ball. Good-bye. Thank you so much."

Mrs. King confronted Robin in the lower hall a few seconds later and roundly berated him for shouting up the steps that Hobbs ought to be invited to the ball. Prince Robin rolled on a couch and roared with delight. Lieutenant Dank, as became an officer of the Royal Guard, stood at attention-in the bow window with his back to the room, very red about the ears and rigid to the bursting point.

"I suppose, however, we'll have to keep on the good side of the Blithers syndicate," said Robin soberly, after his mirth and subsided before her wrath. "Good Lord, Aunt Loraine, I simply cannot go up there and stand in line like a freak in a side show for all the ladies and girls to gape at I'll get sick the day of the party, that's what I'll do, and you can tell 'em how desolated I am over my misfortune."

"They've got their eyes on you, Bobby," she said flatly. "You can't escape so easily as all that. If you're not very, very careful they'll have you married to the charming Miss Maud before you can say Jack Rabbit."

"Think that's their idea?"

"Unquestionably."

He stretched himself lazily. "Well, it may be that she's the very one

I'm looking for, Auntie. Who knows?"

"You silly boy!"

"She may be the Golden Girl in every sense of the term," said he lightly. "You say she's pretty?"

"My notion of beauty and yours may not agree at all."

"That's not an answer."

"Well, I consider her to be a very good-looking girl."

"Blonde?"

"Mixed. Light brown hair and very dark eyes and lashes. A little taller than I, more graceful and a splendid horse-woman. I've seen her riding."

"Astride?"

"No. I've seen her in a ball gown, too. Most men think she's stunning."

"Well, let's have a game of billiards," said he, dismissing Maud in a way that would have caused the proud Mr. Blithers to reel with indignation.

A little later on, at the billiard table, Mrs. King remarked, apropos of nothing and quite out of a clear sky, so to speak:

"And she'll do anything her parents command her to do, that's the worst of it."

"What are you talking about? It's your shot."

"If they order her to marry a title, she'll do it. That's the way she's been brought up, I'm afraid."

"Meaning Maud?"

"Certainly. Who else? Poor thing, she hasn't a chance in the world, with that mother of hers."

"Shoot, please. Mark up six for me, Dank."

"Wait till you see her, Bobby."

"All right. I'll wait," said he cheerfully.

The next day Count Quinnox and King returned from the city, coming up in a private car with Mr. Blithers himself.

"I'll have Maud drive me over this afternoon," said Mr. Blithers, as they parted at the station.

But Maud did not drive him over that afternoon. The pride, joy and hope of the Blithers family flatly refused to be a party of any such arrangement, and set out for a horse-back ride in a direction that took her as far away from Red Roof as possible.

"What's come over the girl?" demanded Mr. Blithers, completely non-plused. "She's never acted like this before, Lou."

"Some silly notion about being made a laughingstock, I gather," said his wife. "Heaven kn

ows I've talked to her till I'm utterly worn out. She says she won't be bullied into even meeting the Prince, much less marrying him. I've never known her to be so pig-headed. Usually I can make her see things in a sensible way. She would have married the duke, I'm sure, if-if you hadn't put a stop to it on account of his so-called habits. She-"

"Well, it's turned out for the best, hasn't it? Isn't a prince better than a duke?"

"You've said all that before, Will. I wanted her to run down with me this morning to talk the ball over with Mrs. King, and what do you think happened?"

"She wouldn't go?"

"Worse than that. She wouldn't let me go. Now, things are coming to a pretty pass when-"

"Never mind. I'll talk to her," said Mr. Blithers, somewhat bleakly despite his confident front. "She loves her old dad. I can do anything with her."

"She's on a frightfully high horse lately," sighed Mrs. Blithers fretfully. "It-it can't be that young Scoville, can it?"

"If I thought it was, I'd-I'd-" There is no telling what Mr. Blithers would have done to young Scoville, at the moment, for he couldn't think of anything dire enough to inflict upon the suspected meddler.

"In any event, it's dreadfully upsetting to me, Will. She-she won't listen to anything. And here's something else: She declares she won't stay here for the ball on Friday night."

Mr. Blithers had her repeat it, and then almost missed the chair in sitting down, he was so precipitous about it.

"Won't stay for her own ball?" he bellowed.

"She says it isn't her ball," lamented his wife.

"If it isn't hers, in the name of God whose is it?"

"Ask her, not me," flared Mrs. Blithers. "And don't glare at me like that. I've had nothing but glares since you went away. I thought I was doing the very nicest thing in the world when I suggested the ball. It would bring them together-"

"The only two it will actually bring together, it seems, are those damned prize-fighters. They'll get together all right, but what good is it going to do us, if Maud's going to act like this? See here, Lou, I've got things fixed so that the Prince of Groostuck can't very well do anything but ask Maud to-"

"That's just it!" she exclaimed. "Maud sees through the whole arrangement, Will. She said last night that she wouldn't be at all surprised if you offered to assume Graustark's debt to Russia in order to-"

"That's just what I've done, old girl," said he in triumph. "I'll have 'em sewed up so tight by next week that they can't move without asking me to loosen the strings. And you can tell Maud once more for me that I'll get this Prince for her if-"

"But she doesn't want him!"

"She doesn't know what she wants!" he roared. "Where is she going?"

"You saw her start off on Katydid, so why-"

"I mean on the day of the ball."

"To New York."

"By gad, I'll-I'll see about that," he grated. "I'll see that she doesn't leave the grounds if I have to put guards at every gate. She's got to be reasonable. What does she think I'm putting sixteen millions into the Grasstork treasury for? She's got to stay here for the ball. Why, it would be a crime for her to-but what's the use talking about it? She'll be here and she'll lead the grand march with the Prince. I've got it all-"

"Well, you'll have to talk to her. I've done all that I can do. She swears she won't marry a man she's never seen."

"Ain't we trying to show him to her?" he snorted. "She won't have to marry him till she's seen him, and when she does see him she'll apologise to me for all the nasty things she's been saying about me." For a moment it looked as though Mr. Blithers would dissolve into tears, so suddenly was he afflicted by self-pity. "By the way, didn't she like the necklace I sent up to her from Tiffany's?"

"I suppose so. She said you were a dear old foozler."

"Foozler? What's that mean?" He wasn't quite sure, but somehow it sounded like a term of opprobrium.

"I haven't the faintest idea," she said shortly.

"Well, why didn't you ask her? You've had charge of her bringing up. If she uses a word that you don't know the meaning of, you ought to-"

"Are you actually going to lend all that money to Graustark?" she cut in.

He glared at her uncertainly for a moment and then nodded his head. The words wouldn't come.

"Are you not a trifle premature about it?" she demanded with deep significance in her manner.

This time he did not nod his head, nor did he shake it. He simply got up and walked out of the room. Half way across the terrace he stopped short and said it with a great fervour and instantly felt very much relieved. In fact, the sensation of relief was so pleasant that he repeated it two or three times and then had to explain to a near by gardener that he didn't mean him at all. Then he went down to the stables. All the grooms and stableboys came tumbling into the stable yard in response to his thunderous shout.

"Saddle Red Rover, and be quick about it," he commanded.

"Going out, sir?" asked the head groom, touching his fore-lock.

"I am," said Mr. Blithers succinctly and with a withering glare. Red Rover must have been surprised by the unusual celerity with which he was saddled and bridled. If there could be such a thing as a horse looking shocked, that beast certainly betrayed himself as he was yanked away from his full manger and hustled out to the mounting block.

"Which way did Miss Blithers go?" demanded Mr. Blithers, in the saddle. Two grooms were clumsily trying to insert his toes into the stirrups, at the same time pulling down his trousers legs, which had a tendency to hitch up in what seemed to them a most exasperating disregard for form. To their certain knowledge, Mr. Blithers had never started out before without boot and spur; therefore, the suddenness of his present sortie sank into their intellects with overwhelming impressiveness.

"Down the Cutler road, sir, three quarters of an hour ago. She refused to have a groom go along, sir."

"Get ap!" said Mr. Blithers, and almost ran down a groom in his rush for the gate. For the information of the curious, it may be added that he did not overtake his daughter until she had been at home for half an hour, but he was gracious enough to admit to himself that he had been a fool to pursue a stern chase rather than to intercept her on the back road home, which any fool might have known she would take.

His wife came upon him a few minutes later while he was feverishly engaged in getting into his white flannels.

"Tell Maud I'm going over to have tea with the Prince," he grunted, without looking up from the shoe lace he was tying in a hard knot. "I want her to go with me in fifteen minutes. Told 'em I would bring her over to play tennis. Tell her to put on tennis clothes. Hurry up, Lou. Where's my watch? What time is it? For God's sake, look at the watch, not at me! I'm not a clock! What?"

"Mrs. King called up half an hour ago to say that they were all motoring over to the Grandby Tavern for tea and wouldn't be back till half-past seven-"

He managed to look up at that. For a moment he was speechless. No one had ever treated him like this before.

"Well, I'll be-hanged! Positive engagement. But's it's all right," he concluded resolutely. "I can motor to Grandby Tavern, too, can't I? Tell Maud not to mind tennis clothes, but to hurry. Want to go along?"

"No, I don't," she said emphatically. "And Maud isn't going, either."

"She isn't, eh?"

"No, she isn't. Can't you leave this affair to me?"

"I'm pretty hot under the collar," he warned her, and it was easy to believe that he was.

"Don't rush in where angels fear to tread, Will dear," she pleaded. It was so unusual for her to adopt a pleading tone that he overlooked the implication. Besides he had just got through calling himself a fool, so perhaps she was more or less justified. Moreover, at that particular moment she undertook to assist him with his necktie. Her soft, cool fingers touched his double chin and seemed to caress it lovingly. He lifted his head very much as a dog does when he is being tickled on that velvety spot under the lower jaw.

"Stuff and nonsense," he murmured throatily.

"I thought you would see it that way," she said so calmly that he blinked a couple of times in sheer perplexity and then diminished his double chin perceptibly by a very helpful screwing up of his lower lip. He said nothing, preferring to let her think that the most important thing in the world just then was the proper adjustment of the wings of his necktie. "There!" she said, and patted him on the cheek, to show that the task had been successfully accomplished.

"Better come along for a little spin," he said, readjusting the tie with man-like ingenuousness. "Do you good, Lou."

"Very well," she said. "Can you wait a few minutes?"

"Long as you like," said he graciously. "Ask Maud if she wants to come, too."

"I am sure she will enjoy it," said his wife, and then Mr. Blithers descended to the verandah to think. Somehow he felt if he did a little more thinking perhaps matters wouldn't be so bad. Among other things, he thought it would be a good idea not to motor in the direction of Grandby Tavern. And he also thought it was not worth while resenting the fact that his wife and daughter took something over an hour to prepare for the little spin.

In the meantime, Prince Robin was racing over the mountain roads in a high-power car, attended by a merry company of conspirators whose sole object was to keep him out of the clutches of that far-reaching octopus, William W. Blithers.

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