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   Chapter 8 A CHAPTER OF PLAYING DOLLS

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 17518

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


I looked at my bracelet-watch, which I had tucked under my pillow last night. It wasn't quite six o'clock, and we hadn't gone to bed till after one; but I knew I couldn't sleep any more, and life seemed so interesting that I thought I might as well get up to see what would come next.

The water-pitcher didn't hold much more than a quart, but I took the best bath I could, dressed, and decided to find out what the monastery grounds were like. We were not to be called till half-past seven, and it was arranged that we should start at nine, so there was an hour and a half to spare. I wondered whether I should wake Maida, and get her to go with me, but somehow I wasn't in the mood for Maida. I was afraid that, being in a monastery, she would be thinking of her precious Sisterhood and wanting to hurry back as fast as she could. She does mean to join when her year is up, I know, which is so silly of her, when the world's such a nice place; and it nearly gives me nervous prostration to hear her talk about it. Not that she often does; but it's bad enough to see it in her eyes.

Maida is a perfect dear, much too good for us, and she always knows the proper etiquetical thing to do when Mamma and I are wobbly; but she is such an edelweiss that I'm always being tempted to claw her down from her high white crags and then regretting it afterwards. Mamma gets cross with her too, when she's particularly exalted, but we both love her dearly; and we ought to, for she's always doing something sweet for us. Only she's a great deal too humble. I suppose it's the thing to be like that in a Sisterhood, but Mamma and I aren't a Sisterhood, and the sooner Maida realizes that there's such a place as the world, the better it will be for her.

So I didn't wake Maida, but went tiptoeing out into the long corridor, and got lost several times looking for the way out of doors.

At last I was in the garden, though, and it was very quaint and pretty, with unexpected nooks, old, moss-covered stone seats, and a sundial that you'd pay hundreds of dollars for in America. Staring up at the house I thought a window-shutter moved; but I didn't attach any importance to that until, after I'd crossed several small bridges and discovered a kind of island with the river rushing by on both sides, I saw Prince Dalmar-Kalm coming towards me.

I was sitting on a bench on the little green island, where I pretended to be gazing down at the water and not to see him till he was close by; for I was in hope that he wouldn't notice me in my grey dress among the trees. I don't believe the Prince's best friends would call him an early morning man. He's the kind that oughtn't to be out before lunch, and he goes especially well with gaslight or electricity. I felt sure he'd be unbearable before breakfast-either his breakfast or mine.

"It's a pity," I thought, "that I can't run down as rapidly from the age of thirteen to the age of one as I have from seventeen to thirteen. When the Prince found me. I should be sitting on the grass playing with dandelions and saying. 'Da, da?' which would disgust him so much that he'd stalk away and leave me in peace to grow up in time for breakfast."

But even a child must draw the line somewhere; and presently the Prince said "Good-morning" (so nicely that I thought he must have had a cracker or two in his pocket), asking if he might sit by me on the bench.

"I was just going in to wake Mamma," I replied, and I wondered whether, if I jumped up suddenly, his end of the bench would go down and tilt him into the river. It would have been fun to see His Highness become His Lowness, and to tell Sir Ralph Moray afterwards, but just as I was on the point of making a spring, he remarked that he had seen me come out, and followed for a particular reason. If I tumbled him into the water, I might never hear that reason; so seventeen-year-old curiosity overcame thirteen-year-old love of mischief, and I sat still.

"As you have only just come out, I don't see why you should be just going in, unless it is to get away from me," said the Prince, "and I should be sorry to think that, because you are such a dear little girl, and I am very fond of you."

"So was Papa," said I, with my best twelve-and-a-half-year-old expression.

"But I am not quite ancient enough to be your Papa," replied the Prince, "so you need not name us together like that."

"Aren't you?" I asked, with big eyes.

"Well, that depends on how old you are, my dear."

"I'm too old for you to call your dear, unless you are old enough to be my Papa," was the sage retort of Baby Beechy.

"I'm over thirty," said the Prince.

"Yes, I know," said I. "I found the Almanach de Gotha on the table of our hotel at Cap Martin, and you were in it."

"Naturally," said the Prince, but he got rather red, as people always do when they find out that you know just how far over thirty they've really gone. "But I'm not married," he went on, "therefore you cannot think of me as of your papa."

"I don't think of you much as anything," said I. "I'm too busy."

"Too busy! Doing what?"

"Playing dolls," I explained.

"I wish you were a little older," said the Prince, with a good imitation of a sigh. "Ah, why haven't you a few years more?"

"You might ask Mamma," I replied. "But then, if I had, she would have more too wouldn't she?"

"That would be a pity. She is charming as she is. She must have married when almost a child."

"Did you come out here at this time of the morning to ask me about Mamma's marriage?" I threw at him. "Because, if that was your reason, I'd rather go in to my dolls."

"No, no," protested the Prince, in a hurry. "I came to talk about yourself."

I began to feel an attack of giggles coming on, but I stopped them by holding my breath, as you do for hiccoughs, and thinking about Job, which, if you can do it soon and solemnly enough, is quite a good preventive. I knew now exactly why Prince Dalmar-Kalm had dashed on his clothes at sight of me and come into the garden on an empty stomach. He had thought, if he could get me all alone for half an hour (which he'd often tried to do and never succeeded) he could find out a lot of things that he would like to know. Perhaps he felt it was impossible for anybody to be as young as I seem, so that was what he wanted to find out about first. If I wasn't, he would flirt; if I was, he would merely pump.

There wasn't much time to decide on a "course of action," as Mamma's lawyer in Denver says; but I put on my thinking-cap and tied it tight under my chin for a minute. "There's more fun to be had in playing with him than with dolls," I said to myself, "if I set about it in the right way. But what is the right way? I can't be bothered having him for my doll, because he'd take up too much time. Shall I give him to Maida? No, I'll lend him to Mamma to play with, so long as she plays the way I want her to, and doesn't get in earnest."

"What are you anxious to say about me that can't wait till breakfast?" I asked.

"Those men will be at breakfast," said he. "They are in the position of your couriers, yet they put themselves forward, as if on an equality with me. I do not find that conducive to conversation."

"Mamma asked Maida yesterday whether it was better to be an Austrian prince, or an English baronet?" said I. "Sir Ralph Moray's a baronet."

"So he says," sneered the Prince.

"Oh, he is. Mamma looked him out in Burke the very day I found you were thirty-nine in the Almanach de Gotha."

"Anybody can be a baronet. That is nothing. It is a mere word."

"It's in three syllables, and 'prince' is only in one. Besides, Austrians are foreigners, and Englishmen aren't."

"Is that what Miss Destrey said to your Mamma?"

"No, because Mamma's a foreign Countess now, and it might have hurt her feelings. Maida said she felt more at home with a plain mister-like Mr. Barrymore, for instance; only he's far from plain."

"You consider him handsome?"

"Oh, yes, we all do."

"But I think you have not known him and Sir Ralph Moray for long. Your Mamma has not mentioned how she met them, but from one or two things that have been dropped, I feel sure they are in her employ-that she has hired them to take you about in their very inadequate car; is it not so?"

"I'll ask Mamma and tell you what she says, if you'd like me to," I replied.

"No, no, dear child, you are too literal. It is your one fault. And I find that you are all three too trusting of strangers. It is a beautiful quality, but it must not be carried too far. Will you not let me be your friend, Miss Beechy, and come to me for advice? I should be delighted to give it, for you know what an interest I take in all connected wi

th you. There! Now you have heard what I followed you out especially to say. I hoped that this would be a chance to establish a confidential relationship between us. Voulez-vous, ma chère petite?"

"What kind of a relationship shall we establish, exactly?" I asked. "You say you don't want to be my Papa."

"If I were your Papa, I should be dead."

"If you were my brother, and the age you are now, Mamma might as well be dead."

"Ah, I would not be your brother on any consideration. Not even your step-brother; though some step-relationships are delightful. But your Mamma is too charming-you are all too charming, for my peace of mind. I do not know how I lived before I met you."

I thought that the money-lenders perhaps knew; but there are some things even little Beechy can't say.

"Your Mamma must have great responsibilities for so young a woman," he went on, while I pruned and prismed. "With her great fortune, and no one to guard her, she must often feel the weight of her burden too heavy for one pair of shoulders."

"One can always spend one's fortune, and so get rid of the burden, if it's too big," said I.

The Prince looked horrified. "Surely she is more wise than that?" he exclaimed.

"She hasn't spent it all yet, anyhow," I said.

"Are you not anxious lest, if your Mamma is extravagant, she may throw away your fortune as well as her own; or did your Papa think of that danger, and make you quite secure?"

"I guess I shall have a little something left, no matter what happens," I admitted.

"Then your Papa was thoughtful for you. But was he also jealous for himself? Had I been the husband of so fascinating a woman as your Mamma, I would have put into my will a clause that, if she married again, she must forfeit everything. But it may be that Americans do not hug their jealousy in the grave."

"I can't imagine poor Papa hugging anything," I said. "I never heard that he objected to Mamma marrying again. Anyhow, she's had several offers already."

"She should choose a man of title for her second husband," said the Prince, very pleased with the way the pump was working.

"Maybe she will," I answered.

He started slightly.

"It should be a title worth having," he said, "and a man fitted to bear it, not a paltry upstart whose father was perhaps a tradesman. You, Miss Beechy, must watch over your dear Mamma and rescue her from fortune hunters. I will help. And I will protect you, also. As for Miss Destrey, beautiful as she is, I feel that she is safe from unworthy persons who seek a woman only for her money. Her face is her fortune, n'est-ce pas?"

"Well, it's fortune enough for any girl," said I, thinking again of Job and all the other really solemn characters in the Old Testament as hard as ever I could.

The Prince sighed, genuinely this time, as if my answer had confirmed his worst suspicions. "He will be nice to Mamma, now," said little Beechy to big Beechy. "No more vacillating. He'll come straight to business." And promising myself some fun, I got up from the bench so cautiously that the poor river was cheated of a victim. "Now I must go in," I exclaimed. "Good-bye, Prince. Let me see; what are we to each other?"

"Confidants," he informed me. "You are to come to me with every difficulty. But one more word before we part, dear child. Be on your guard, and warn your Mamma to be on hers, with those two adventurers. Perhaps, also, you had better warn Miss Destrey. Who knows how unscrupulous the pair might be? And unfortunately, owing to the regrettable arrangements at present existing, I cannot always be at hand to watch over you all."

"Owing a little to your automobile too, maybe," said I. "By the way, what is its state of health?"

"There has been no room for the automobile in my thoughts," said the Prince, with a cooled-down step-fatherly smile. "But I have no doubt it will be in good marching order by the time it is wanted, as my chauffeur was to rise at four, knock up a mechanic at some shop in the village, and make the new change-speed lever which was broken yesterday. If you are determined to leave me so soon, I will console myself by finding Joseph and seeing how he is getting on."

We walked together towards the house, which had opened several of its green eyelids now, and at the mouth of a sort of stucco tunnel which led to the door there was Joseph himself-a piteous, dishevelled Joseph, looking as if birds had built nests on him and spiders had woven webs round him for years.

"Well," exclaimed the Prince with the air of one warding off a blow. "What has happened? Have you burnt my automobile, or are you always like this when you get up early?"

"I am not an incendiary, Your Highness," said Joseph, in his precise French, which it's easy to understand, because when he wishes to be dignified he speaks slowly. "I do not know what I am like, unless it is a wreck, in which case I resemble your automobile. As you left her last night, so she is now, and so she is likely to remain, unless the gentlemen of the other car will have the beneficence to pull her up a still further and more violent hill to the village of Tenda. There finds himself the only mechanic within fifty miles."

"I engaged you as a mechanic!" cried the Prince

.

"But not as a workshop, Your Highness. That I am not and shall not be this side of Paradise. And it is a workshop that we must have."

"Do not let me keep you, Miss Beechy," said the Prince, "if you wish to go to your Mamma. This little difficulty will arrange itself."

I adore rows, and I should have liked to stay; but I couldn't think of any excuse, so I skipped into the house, and almost telescoped (as they say of railroad trains) with the nice monk, who was talking to Maida in the hall.

I supposed she was telling him about the Sisters, but she was quite indignant at the suggestion, and said she had been asking if we could have breakfast in the garden. The monk had given his consent, and she had intended to have everything arranged out doors, as a surprise, by the time we all came down.

"Aunt Kathryn is up; I've been doing her hair," explained Maida, "but we didn't hear a sound from your room, so we decided not to disturb you. What have you been about, you weird child?"

"Playing dolls," said I, and ran off to help Mamma put on her complexion.

But it was on already, all except the icing. I confessed the Prince to her, and she looked at me sharply. "Don't forget that you're a little girl now, Beechy," she reminded me. "What were you talking about?"

"You and my other dolls, Mamma," said I. "Even when I was seventeen I never flirted fasting."

"What did you say about me, dearest?"

"Oh, it was the Prince who said things about you. You can have him to play with, if you want to."

"Darling, you shouldn't talk of playing. This is a very serious consideration," said Mamma. "I never heard much about Austrians at home. Most foreigners there were Germans, which made one think of beer and sausages. I do wonder what standing an Austrian Prince would have in Denver? Should you suppose he would be preferred to-to persons of less exalted rank who were-who were not quite so foreign?"

"Do the Prince and Sir Ralph Moray intend to go over as samples?" I asked sweetly, but Mamma only simpered, and as a self-respecting child I cannot approve of a parent's simpering.

"I wish you wouldn't be silly, Beechy," she said. "It is a step, being a Countess, but it is not enough."

"You mean, the more crowns you have, the more crowns you want."

"I mean nothing of the sort," snapped Mamma, "but I have some ambition, otherwise what would have been the good of coming to Europe? And if one gets opportunities, it would be sinful to neglect them. Only-one wants to be sure that one has taken the best."

"There they all three are, in the yard," I remarked, pointing out of the window at the Opportunities, who were discoursing earnestly with Joseph. "Of course, I'm too young now to judge of such matters, but if it was I who had to choose-"

"Well?"

"I'd toss up a penny, and whichever side came, I'd take-"

"Yes?"

"Mr. Barrymore."

"Mr. Barrymore! But he has no title! I might as well have stayed in America."

"I said that, because I think he'd be the hardest to get. The other two-"

"What about them?"

"Well, you don't need to decide between them yet. Just wait till we've travelled a little further, and see whether you come across anything better worth having."

"Oh, Beechy, I never know whether you're poking fun at me or not," sighed poor Mamma, so forlornly that I was sorry-for a whole minute-that I'd been born wicked; and I tied her tulle in a lovely bow at the back of her neck, to make up.

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