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   Chapter 17 No.17

Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 20524

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I had just left the office when I ran into Pembroke, who was in the act of mounting the stairs. It was Saturday morning. Phyllis had left town.

"Hello!" he cried. "A moment more, and I should have missed you, and then you would not have learned a piece of news."

"News?"

"Yes. I have made up my mind not to go home till February."

"What changed your plans so suddenly?" I asked.

"My conscience."

"In heaven's name, what has your conscience to do with your plans?"

"Well, you see, my conscience would not permit me to meet such a remarkable woman as Miss Landors without becoming better acquainted with her." He swung his cane back and forth.

"This is very sudden," said I, lighting a cigar. "When did it happen?"

"What time did she come into your office the other day?"

"It must have been after eleven."

"Then it happened about eleven-fifteen." Pembroke's eyes were dancing.

"Do you-er-think there are any others?"

"Thousands," said I, "only-" I turned the end of my cigar around to see if the light had proved effective.

"Only what?"

"Only she won't have them."

"Then there is really a chance?"

"When a woman is not married there is always a chance," said I, wisely. "But let me tell you, cousin mine, she has a very high ideal. The man who wins her must be little less than a demigod and a little more than a man. Indeed, her ideal is so high that I did not reach it by a good foot."

Pembroke looked surprised. "She-ah-rejected-"

"I did not say that I had proposed to her," said I.

"If you haven't, why haven't you?"

"It is strange." As his face assumed an anxious tinge, I laughed. "My dear relative, go ahead and win her, if you can; you have my best wishes. She is nothing to me. There was a time-ah, well, we all can look back and say that. If it isn't one woman it's another."

Sunshine came into Pembroke's face again. "Ideal or not ideal, I am going to make the effort."

"Success to you!" patting his shoulder. He was good to look at, and it was my opinion that Phyllis might do worse. We miss a good deal in this world by being over particular.

We were coming into Trafalgar. Nelson stood high up in the yellow fog.

"Nature is less gracious than history sometimes," mused Pembroke, gazing up. "She is doing her best to dull the lustre of the old gentleman. Ah, those were days when they had men."

"We have them still," said I. "It is not the men, but the opportunities, which are lacking."

"Perhaps that is so. Yet, it is the great man who makes them."

I was thinking of Hillars. "I would give a good deal for a regiment and a bad moment for our side." There was no mighty column in his memory, scarcely a roll of earth. "What do you want to do?" I asked. "Shall we hail a cab and drive to the park?"

"Just as you say, if it is not interfering with your work."

"Not at all."

"Have a cigar," said Pembroke, after we had climbed into the cab and arranged our long legs comfortably. The London cab is all very well for a short and thin person. "These came to me directly from Key West."

"That is one of the joys of being rich," said I. "Gold is Aladdin's lamp. I have to take my chances on getting good tobacco in this country."

"Talking about gold-" he began.

"Don't!" I entreated.

"I was about to say that I drew on my bankers for 20,000 pounds this morning."

"You intend to go in for a figure abroad, then?"

"Oh, no. I deposited the money in another bank-in your name."

"Mine? Deposited 20,000 pounds in my name?" I gasped.

"Just so."

"I understood you to say, because you thought me to be a gentleman, that you weren't going to do anything like this? Have I done something to change your opinion?"

"Of course not. And I never said that I should not do it. You may or may not use it, that is as you please. But so far as I am concerned, it will stay there and accumulate interest till the crack of doom. It isn't mine any more. If I were not almost your brother, I dare say you might justly take offense at the action. As it is," complacently, "you will not only accept the gift, but thank me for it."

"How old are you?" I asked.

"Exactly twenty-five."

"I thought that you could not be older than that. Aren't you afraid to be so far away from home?"

Pembroke lay back and laughed. "You haven't thanked me yet."

"I must get a new tailor," said I. "What! shall I pay a tailor to make a well-dressed man out of me, and then become an object of charity? Do I look, then, like a man who is desperately in need of money?"

"No, you don't look it. That's because you are clever. But what is your salary to a man of your brains?"

"It is bread and butter and lodging."

He laughed again. To laugh seemed to be a part of his business. "Jack, I haven't a soul in the world but you. I have only known you three days, but it seems that I have known you all my life. I have so much money that I cannot even fritter away the income."

"It must be a sad life," said I.

"And if you do not accept the sum in the spirit it is given, I'll double it, and then you'll have trouble. You will be a rich man, then, with all a rich man's cares and worries."

"You ought to have a trustee to take care of your money."

"It would be a small matter to bribe him off, Jack, of course, you do not need the money now, but that is no sign you may not in the days to come. I have known many journalists; they were ever improvident. I want to make an exception in your case. You understand; the money is for your old age."

"Let me tell you why a newspaper man is improvident. He earns money only to spend it. He has a fine scorn for money as money. He cares more for what a dollar spent has bought than what five saved might buy."

"Poor creditors!" was the melancholy interpolation.

I passed over this, and went on: "It is the work which absorbs his whole attention. He begins at the bottom of the ladder, which is in the garret. First, he is running about the streets at two and three in the morning, in rain and snow and fog. The contact with the lower classes teaches him many things. He becomes the friend of the policeman and the vagabond. And as his mind grows broader his heart grows in proportion. It is the comparing of the great and small which makes us impartial and philosophical. Well, soon the reporter gets better assignments and shorter hours. He meets the noted men and women of the city. Suddenly from the city editor's desk his ambition turns to Washington. He succeeds there. He now comes into the presence of distinguished ambassadors, ministers and diplomatists. He acquires a polish and a smattering of the languages. His work becomes a feature of his paper. The president chooses him for a friend; he comes and goes as he wills. Presently his eye furtively wanders to Europe. The highest ambition of a journalist, next to being a war correspondent, is to have a foreign post. In this capacity he meets the notable men and women of all countries; he speaks to princes and grand dukes and crowned heads. In a way he becomes a personage himself, a man whom great men seek. And he speaks of the world as the poet did of the fall of Pompeii, 'Part of which I was and all of which I saw.' Ah," as my mind ran back over my own experiences, "what man with this to gain would care for money; a thing which would dull his imagination and take away the keen edge of ambition, and make him play a useless part in this kingly drama of life!"

"I like your frankness," said Pembroke. "I have no doubt that journalism is the most fascinating profession there is. Yet, you must not accuse the rich of being ambitionless. I have known of rich men losing their all to make papers for men who are ambitious to be foreign correspondents." The young fellow was brimming with raillery. "I have never tried to run a newspaper, but I am, notwithstanding your tirade, ambitious. I am desirous to wed Miss Landors."

The cab was now rolling along the row.

"A truly great ambition," I admitted. "After all, what greater ambition is there than to marry the woman you love? Philip, I will accept your gift in the spirit it is given, and I'll make use of it in the days to come, when I am old and rusted. I understand your motive. You are happy and wish every one to be."

"That's the idea," said he, leaning back and spreading an arm behind my shoulders.

"But not all the money in the world, nor all the fame for that matter, would make me happy." Gretchen was so far away! "Very well; we'll go to Paris together; that is as far as I go. To follow her you will have to go alone."

"And why can't you go the rest of the way?"

"Work. I must be back in town in three days. You must not forget that

I have had my vacation; there is plenty to be done."

"Now that you are comparatively wealthy, why not give up the grind, as you call it?"

"The truth is, I must work. When a man works he forgets."

"Then you have something to forget?"

"Every man who has reached the age of thirty has something to forget," said I.

I was gloomy. In my pocket I had the only letter I had ever received from Gretchen. Every hour fate outdoes the romancer. The story she had written for me was a puzzling one. And the finis? Who could say? Fate is more capricious than the novelist; sometimes you can guess what he intends for an end; what fate has in store, never. Gretchen's letter did not begin as letters usually do. It began with "I love you" and ended with the same sentence. "In November my marriage will take place. Do not come abroad. I am growing strong now; if I should see you alas, what would become of that thin ice covering the heart of fire; we have nothing to return, you and I. I long to see you; I dare not tell you how much. Who knows what the world holds hidden? While we live there is always a perhaps. Remember that I love you!"

"Perhaps," I mused absently.

"Perhaps what?" asked Pembroke.

"What?" I had forgotten him. "Oh, it was merely a slip of the tongue." I poked the matting with my cane. "It is high noon; we had best hunt up a lunch. I have an engagement with the American military attaché at two, so you will have to take care of yourself till dinner."

Let me tell you what happ

ened in the military club that night. I was waiting for Col. J-- of the Queen's Light, who was to give me the plan of the fall maneuvers in Africa. Pembroke was in the billiard room showing what he knew about caroms and brandy smashes to a trio of tanned Indian campaigners. I was in the reading room perusing the evening papers. All at once I became aware of a man standing before me. He remained in that position so long that I glanced over the top of my paper.

It was Prince Ernst of Wortumborg. He bowed.

"May I claim your attention for a moment?" he asked.

Had I been in any other place but the club I should have ignored him.

I possessed the liveliest hatred for the man.

"If you will be brief."

"As brief as possible," dropping into the nearest chair. "It has become necessary to ask you a few questions. The matter concerns me."

"Whatever concerns you is nothing to me," I replied coldly.

He smiled. "Are you quite sure?"

I had turned the sword on myself, so it seemed. But I said: "I answered some of your questions once; I believe I was explicit."

"As to that I can say you were; startlingly explicit. It is a delicate matter to profess one's regard for a woman before total strangers. It is not impossible that she would have done the same thing in your place. Her regard for you-"

I interrupted him with a menacing gesture. "I am extremely irritable," I said. "I should regret to lose control of myself in a place like this."

"To be sure!" he said. "This is England, where they knock one another down."

"We do not murder on this side of the channel," I retorted.

"That is unkind. Your friend was a very good shot," with a significant glance at his useless arm. "But for my arm, and his nerves, which were not of the best order, I had not lived to speak to you to-night."

"So much the worse for the world," said I. "Your questions?"

"Ah! Who was that remarkably beautiful woman under your distinguished care Thursday evening?"

"I see that our conversation is to be of the shortest duration. Who she was is none of your business," rudely. I unfolded my paper and began reading.

"Perhaps, after all," not the least perturbed by my insolence, "it were best to state on paper what I have to say. I can readily appreciate that the encounter is disagreeable. To meet one who has made a thing impossible to you sets the nerves on edge." He caught up his opera hat, his cane and gloves. He raised the lapel of his coat and sniffed at the orchid in the buttonhole.

Some occult force bade me say, "Why do you wish to know who she was?"

He sat down again. "I shall be pleased to explain. That I mistook her for another who I supposed was on the other side of the channel was a natural mistake, as you will agree. Is it not strange that I should mistake another to be the woman who is so soon to be my wife? Is there not something behind this remarkable, unusual likeness? Since when are two surpassingly beautiful women, born in different lands, of different parents, the exact likeness of each other?"

Now as this was a thing which had occupied my mind more than once, I immediately put aside the personal affair. That could wait. I threw my paper onto the table.

"Do you know, sir," said I, "that thought echoes my own?"

"Let us for the moment put ourselves into the background," said the

Prince. "What do you know about her Serene Highness the Princess

Hildegarde; her history?"

"Very little; proceed."

"But tell me what you know."

"I know that her father was driven to a gambler's grave and that her mother died of a broken heart, and that the man who caused all this wishes to break the heart of the daughter, too."

"Scandal, all scandal," said the Prince. "Who ever heard of a broken heart outside of a romantic novel? I see that the innkeeper has been holding your ear. Ah, that innkeeper, that innkeeper! Certainly some day there will come a reckoning."

"Yes, indeed," said I. "Beware of him."

"It was twenty years ago," said the Prince. "It is beyond the recall. But let me proceed. Not many years ago there was a Prince, a very bad fellow."

"Most of them are."

"He married a woman too good for him," went on the Prince, as though he had not heard.

"And another is about to do likewise."

"There was some scandal. When the Princess was born, her father refused to believe her to be his child. Now, it came to pass, as they say in the Bible, which I assure you is a very interesting book, that there were vague rumors immediately after the birth of Princess Hildegarde that another child had been born."

"What!" I was half out of my chair. "Another child?"

"Another child. The fact that the Prince swore that when children came he would make them counterparts of their kind and loving father, lent color to the rumor that the Princess had had one spirited away to escape this threatened contamination. And one of the nurses was missing. Whither had she gone remained a mystery, and is still a mystery, for she never has returned. Did she spirit away the other child, the other girl? I say girl advisedly; if there had been a son, the mother would have retained him. Two years after this interesting episode, the Princess died, and dying, confessed the deception. But the curious thing is, nobody believed her. Her mind was not strong, and it was thought to be a hallucination, this second child. Now let me come to the present time. Twins are generally alike; one mirrors the other; when they mature, then comes the deviation, perhaps in the color of the hair and the eyes. Behold! here are two women, but for their hair and eyes were one. Tell me what you know of the other." He bent forward with subdued eagerness.

"Do you think it possible?" I cried excitedly.

"Not only possible, but probable. She is a Princess; at least she should be."

Then I told him what I knew about Phyllis.

"America! Born in America! It cannot be." He was baffled.

"I have known her for eight years," said I. "She was born in America as certainly as I was."

"But this likeness? This rumor of another daughter? Ah, there is something here I do not understand. And this uncle of hers, this Wentworth; who is he?"

"A retired banker, very wealthy, and at present with the American ministry at your own capital."

"To him we must go, then." He rose and walked the length of the room, stopped a moment at the chess table in the corner, then resumed his chair. "You are wondering, no doubt, what it is to me, all this?"

"I confess you have read my mind correctly."

"Then listen. I am a Prince without a principality; a Prince by courtesy, my brother ruling the principality of Wortumborg. Thus being without a principality, I am necessarily without revenues. I must replenish my very low exchequer by a marriage, a marriage not so distasteful as it might be." He met my darkening eyes with serenity. "Since Thursday night I have not been so certain of my wife's dowry. If there are two Princesses, twins, they must govern jointly, or one may abdicate in favor of the other. Her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde is the one who will be most likely to relinquish her claims to Hohenphalia. If your friend is proved to be her sister-" He stroked the orchid reflectively.

"Well?" I cried, my pulse quickening.

"I shall withdraw my claim to the hand of the Princess Hildegarde. I do not care to rule half a principality or share half its revenues. There are better things left than that. It is my hope, however, that no proofs can be found, and that your banker-diplomatist will show conclusively that his niece was born in America. Until this question is definitely settled, my fortunes shall not undergo any risks. This is what I wanted to say to you, why I wanted to know who your friend was. Will you help me to get at the bottom of things? We are both concerned; the result will mean all or nothing to you and me. Ah, believe me, but you are a favored mortal. The friendship of the one, and the love of the other! No; do not look angry. With all my sins, it cannot be said that I lack frankness and truthfulness. You love the Princess Hildegarde; I offer you an equal chance to win her. Is not that remarkable good nature? Till the affair is settled my marriage is postponed. Now, to our personal affair. You cannot blame me if I give you all my honest hatred. I am at your service, after, of course, the respective positions of the Princesses are assured. I should take more pleasure in shooting you, or running a sword through your body, than I took in the affair with your friend. His courage was truly admirable. I had nothing against him. But you have grievously wounded my self-love; we forgive all wrongs but that. I warn you that the affair will not be conducted after the French mode. You have perhaps a fortnight in which to improve your markmanship. The matter which shall carry us abroad will conclude within that time. I shoot and fence with my left hand as well as I did with my right."

"I shall be only too happy to meet you," I replied. "I prefer the pistol, there is less exertion, and it is quicker."

"You shall have every advantage," said the Prince. "You will have that to nerve your arm which I shall not have-a woman's love." With a bow which was not without a certain dignity and grace, he walked from the room.

Phyllis a Princess? Gretchen free? I sent for my coat and hat and went out. I forgot all about my appointment with Col. J-- of the Queen's light and that I had left Pembroke playing billiards in a strange club, where I myself had been but a guest. The crisp October air blew in my face as I rapidly walked up the mall, and it cooled the fever in my veins. But my mind ran on rather wildly. Gretchen free? Phyllis a Princess? Gretchen's little word, "perhaps," came back and sang into my ears. Yet, win or lose, I was to meet the Prince in mortal combat. If Phyllis was not proven Gretchen's twin sister, I should care but little for the Prince's bullet. On the other hand-Well, I should trust to luck. Before I was aware of my destination, I stood fumbling the key in the door of my apartment. I wanted my pipe. At eleven by the clock, Pembroke came in.

"Hang your apologies!" he said.

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