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The Prince of Graustark By George Barr McCutcheon Characters: 13836

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Even the most flamboyant of natures may suffer depression at times, and by the same token arrogance may give way to humility,-or, at the very least, conviction.

Mr. Blithers had had a trying day of it. To begin with, his wife raked him over the coals for what she was pleased to call his senseless persistence in the face of what she regarded as unalterable opposition on the part of the Cabinet and House of Nobles. It appears that he had experienced a second encounter with the Ministry only the day before. After sleeping over the results of his first visit to the Council Chamber, he awoke to the fact that matters were in such a condition that it behooved him to strike while the iron was hot. So he obtained a second hearing, principally because he had not slept as well over it as he would have liked, and secondarily because he wanted to convince himself that he could parade their ancient halls without feeling as self-conscious as a whipped spaniel.

He came off even worse in his second assault upon the ministry, for this time the members openly sneered at his declarations. As for his progress through the enchanted halls he was no end worse off than before. It so happened that he arrived at the castle at the very hour when the ladies and gentlemen of the royal household were preparing to fare forth to the tennis courts. He came upon them, first on the terrace, then in the entrance, and later on was stared at with evident curiosity by white flanneled and duck-skirted persons in the lofty halls. He wished that he was back at Blitherwood where simplicity was not so infernally common.

He made the mistake of his life when he gave to his wife the details of this second conference with the Cabinet. He did it in the hope that a sympathetic response would be forthcoming. To his surprise, she merely pitied him, but in such a disgustingly personal way that he wondered if he could ever forgive her.

"Can't you appreciate what I am doing for Maud?" he argued, almost tearfully.

"I can appreciate what you are doing to her," said she, and swept out of the room.

"It's bad enough to have one stubborn woman in the family," said he to himself, glaring at the closed door-which had been slammed, by the way,-"but two of 'em-Good Lord!"

And so it was that Mr. Blithers, feeling in need of cheer, arranged a little dinner for that evening, at the Inn of the Stars. He first invited his principal London lawyer and his wife-who happened to be his principal-and then sent a more or less peremptory invitation to the President of the Bank of Graustark, urging him to join the party at the Regengetz and motor to the Inn. He was to bring his wife and any friends that might be stopping with them at the time. The banker declined. His wife had been dead for twenty years; the only friends he possessed were directors in the bank, and they happened to be having a meeting that night. So Mr. Blithers invited his secondary London lawyer, his French lawyer and two attractive young women who it appears were related to the latter, although at quite a distance, and then concluded that it was best to speak to his own wife about the little affair. She said she couldn't even think of going. Maud might arrive that very night and she certainly was not going out of the hotel with such an event as that in prospect.

"But Simpson's wife is coming," protested Mr. Blithers, "and Pericault's cousins. Certainly you must come. Jolly little affair to liven us up a bit. Now Lou,-"

"I am quite positive that Lady Simpson will change her mind when she hears that Pericault's cousins are going," said Mrs. Blithers acidly.

"Anything the matter with Pericault's cousins?" he demanded, inclined to the bellicose.

"Ask Pericault," she replied briefly.

He thought for a moment. "If that's the case, Lou, you'll have to come, if only to save my reputation," he said. "I didn't think it of Pericault. He seems less like a Frenchman than any man I've ever known."

Mrs. Blithers relented. She went to the dinner and so did Lady Simpson, despite Pericault's cousins, and the only ones in the party who appeared to be uneasy were the cousins themselves. It is safe to say that it was not the rain that put a dampener on what otherwise might have been an excessively jovial party.

Stupendous was the commotion at the Inn of the Stars when it became known that one of the richest men in the world-and a possible father-in-law apparent to the crown,-was to honour the place with his presence that night. Every one, from the manager down to the boy who pared potatoes, laid himself out to make the occasion a memorable one.

The millionaire's table was placed in the very centre of the dining-room, and plates were laid for eight. At the last minute, Mr. Blithers ordered the number increased to nine.

"My daughter may put in an appearance," he explained to Lady Simpson. "I have left word at the hotel for her to come up if by any chance she happens to arrive on the evening train."

"Haven't you heard from her, Mr. Blithers?" inquired the austere lady, regarding the top of his head with an illy-directed lorgnon.

They were entering the long, low dining-room. Mr. Blithers resented the scrutiny: It was lofty and yet stooping. She seemed to be looking down upon him at right angles, due no doubt to her superior height and to the fact that she had taken his arm.

"We have," said he, "but not definitely. She is likely to pop in on us at any moment, and then again she's likely not to. My daughter is a very uncertain person, Lady Simpson. I never seem to be able to put my finger upon her."

"Have you ever tried putting the whole hand upon her?" inquired her ladyship, and Mr. Blithers stared straight ahead, incapable of replying.

He waited until they were seated at the table and then remarked: "I am sorry you got splashed, Lady Simpson. You'd think they might keep the approach to a place like this free of mud and water."

"Oh, I daresay the gown can be cleaned, Mr. Blithers," she said. "I am quite ready to discard it, in any event, so it really doesn't matter."

"My dear," said he to his wife, raising his voice so that diners at nearby tables could not help hearing what he said, "I forgot to tell you that we are expected to dine with the Prince at the Castle." Then he wondered if any one in the room understood English.

"When?" she inquired.

"Very shortly," said he, and she was puzzled for a moment by the stony glare he gave her.

Lord Simpson took this opportunity to mention that he had taken reservations for the return of himself and wife to Vienna on the next day but one.

"We shall catch the Orient Express on Friday and be in London by Monday," he said. "Our work here is completed. Everything is in ship-shape. Jenkins will remain, of course, to attend to the minor details, such as going over the securities and-"

"Don't you like that c

aviare?" asked Mr. Blithers with some asperity.

"It has a peculiar taste," said Lord Simpson.

"Best I've ever tasted," said Mr. Blithers, spreading a bun thickly. Pericault's cousins were fingering the champagne glasses. "We've got sherry coming first," said he.

"Everything satisfactory, M'sieur Blithers?" inquired the maitre d'hotel softly, ingratiatingly, into his left ear.

"Absolutely," said Mr. Blithers with precision. "You needn't hurry things. We've got the whole evening ahead of us."

Lady Simpson shivered slightly. The Pericault cousins brightened up. There was still a chance that the "dowagers" would retire early from the scene of festivity.

"By the way," said Simpson, "how long do you purpose remaining in

Edelweiss, Blithers?"

For the first time, the capitalist faltered. He was almost ready to admit that his enterprise had failed in one vital respect. The morning's experience in the Council Chamber had shaken his confidence considerably.

"I don't know, Simpson," said he. "It is possible that we may leave soon."

"Before the Prince's dinner?" inquired Lady Simpson, again regarding his bald spot through the lorg-non.

"Depends on what my daughter has to say when she gets here," said he almost gruffly. "If she wants to stay for a while, we will remain. I don't mind saying that I have a curious longing for Wall Street. I am at home there and-well, by George, I'm like a fish out of water here."

His wife looked up quickly, but did not speak.

"I am a business man, Lady Simpson, not a philanderer. I'd like to take this town by the neck and shake some real enterprise into it, but what can you do when everybody is willing to sit down and let tradition look after 'em? I've put a lot of money into Grosstock and I'd like to see the country prosper. Still I'm not worried over my investment. It is as good as gold."

"Perfectly safe," said Lord Simpson.

"Absolutely," said the secondary London lawyer.

Pericault's comment was in French and not intended to be brief, but as Mr. Blithers was no longer interested, the privilege of completing his remarks was not accorded him. He did say Mon dieu under his breath, however, in the middle of his employer's next sentence.

"As I said before, everything depends on whether my daughter wants to remain. If she says she wants to stay, that settles the point so far as I am concerned. If she says she doesn't want to stay, we'll-well, that will settle it also. I say, waiter, can't you hurry the fish along?"

"Certainly, sir. I understood M'sieur to say that there was no hurry-"

"Well, pour the champagne anyway. I think we need it."

Two hours later, Mr. Blithers looked at his watch again. The party was quite gay: at least fifty percent disorderly.

"That train has been in for an hour," said the host. "I guess Maud didn't come. I left word for the hotel to call me up if she arrived-I say, waiter, has there been a telephone message for me?"

"No, M'sieur. We have kept a boy near the telephone all evening,

M'sieur. No message."

"I also told 'em to send up any telegram that might come," he informed his wife, who merely lifted her eyebrows. They had been lowered perceptibly in consequence of the ebullience of Pericault's cousins.

The vivacious young women were attracting a great deal of attention to their table. Smart diners in the immediate neighbourhood appeared to be a trifle shocked. Three dignified looking gentlemen, seated near the door, got up and left the room.

"We really must be going," said Mrs. Blithers nervously, who had been watching the three men for some time with something akin to dismay in her soul. She had the sickening notion that they were members of the Cabinet-lords of the realm.

"All right," said Mr. Blithers, "Call the cars up, waiter. Still raining?"

"Yes, M'sieur. At this season of the year-"

"Call the cars. Let's have your bill."

Pericault's cousins were reluctant to go. In fact, they protested shrilly that it was silly to break up such a successful party at such an unseemly hour.

"Never mind," whispered Pericault softly, and winked.

"I'll leave 'em in your care, Pericault," said Mr. Blithers grimly.

"They are your cousins, you know."

"Trust me implicitly. Monsieur," said Pericault, bowing very deeply. Then he said good-night to Mrs. Blithers and Lady Simpson. The secondary London lawyer did the same.

Out in the wide, brilliantly lighted foyer, a few late-stayers were waiting for their conveyances to be announced. As the four departing members of the Blithers party grouped themselves near the big doors, impatient to be off, a brass-buttoned boy came up and delivered a telegram to the host.

He was on the point of tearing open the envelope when his eyes fell upon two people who had just entered the hall from without, a man and woman clad in raincoats. At the same instant the former saw Mr. Blithers. Clutching his companion's arm he directed her attention to the millionaire.

"Now for it, Bedelia," he whispered excitedly.

Bedelia gazed calmly at Mr. Blithers and Mr. Blithers gazed blankly at the Prince of Graustark. Then the great financier bowed very deeply and called out:

"Good evening, Prince!"

He received no response to his polite greeting, for the Prince was staring at Bedelia as if stupefied. The millionaire's face was very red with mortification as he turned it away.

"He-he doesn't recognise you," gasped Robin in amazement.

"Who?" she asked, her eyes searching the room with an eager, inquiring look.

"Your father," he said.

She gave him a ravishing, delighted smile.

"Oh, it is so wonderful, Robin. I have fooled you completely. That man isn't my father."

"That's Mr. Blithers or I am as blind as a bat," he exclaimed.

"Is it, indeed? The one reading the telegram, with his eyes sticking out of his head?"

Robin's head was swimming. "Good heaven, Bedelia, what are you-"

"Ah!" she cried, with a little shriek of joy. "See! There he is!"

One of the three distinguished men who had been remarked by Mrs. Blithers now separated himself from his companions and approached the couple. He was a tall, handsome man of fifty. Although his approach was swift and eager, there was in his face the signs of wrath that still struggled against joy.

She turned quickly, laid her hand upon the Prince's rigid arm, and said softly:

"My father is the Prince of Dawsbergen, dear."

* * * * *

A crumpled telegram dropped from Mr. Blithers' palsied hand to the floor as he turned a white, despairing face upon his wife. The brass-buttoned boy picked it up and handed it to Mrs. Blithers. It was from Maud.

"We were married in Vienna today. After all I think I shall not care to see Graustark. Channie is a dear. I have promised him that you will take him into the business as a partner. We are at the Bristol.



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