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- A Protegee of Jack Hamlin's - 20/32 -
air of relief and understanding seemed to fill the apartment.
"Oh, ay," continued Sir James, drawing on his gloves with easy deliberation, "he's a fine lad that Malcolm, and it's a praiseworthy instinct in him to wish to return to the land of his forebears, and take his place again among them. And I'm noticing, Mr. Consul, that a great many of your countrymen are doing the same. Eh, yours is a gran' country of progress and ceevel and religious liberty, but for a' that, as Burns says, it's in your blood to turn to the auld home again. And it's a fine thing to have the money to do it--and, I'm thinking, money well spent all around. Good-morning. Eh, but I'm forgetting that I wanted to ask you to dine with me and Malcolm, and your Mr. Custer, and Mr. Watson, who will be one of your syndicate, and whom I once met abroad. But ye'll get a bit note of invitation, with the day, from me later."
The consul remembered that Custer had said that one of the "Eagle boys" had known Sir James. This was evidently Watson. He smiled again, but this time Sir James responded only in a general sort of way, as he genially bowed himself out of the room.
The consul watched his solid and eminently respectable figure as it passed the window, and then returned to his desk, still smiling. First of all he was relieved. What had seemed to him a wild and reckless enterprise, with possibly some grim international complications on the part of his compatriots, had simply resolved itself into an ordinary business speculation--the ethics of which they had pretty equally divided with the local operators. If anything, it seemed that the Scotchman would get the best of the bargain, and that, for once at least, his countrymen were deficient in foresight. But that was a matter between the parties, and Custer himself would probably be the first to resent any suggestion of the kind from the consul. The vision of the McHulish burned in effigy by his devoted tenants and retainers, and the thought that the prosaic dollars of his countrymen would be substituted for the potent presence of the heir, tickled, it is to be feared, the saturnine humor of the consul. He had taken an invincible dislike to the callow representative of the McHulish, who he felt had in some extraordinary way imposed upon Custer's credulity. But then he had apparently imposed equally upon the practical Sir James. The thought of this sham ideal of feudal and privileged incompetency being elevated to actual position by the combined efforts of American republicans and hard-headed Scotch dissenters, on whom the soft Scotch mists fell from above with equal impartiality, struck him as being very amusing, and for some time thereafter lightened the respectable gloom of his office. Other engagements prevented his attendance at Sir James's dinner, although he was informed afterward that it had passed off with great eclat, the later singing of "Auld lang Syne," and the drinking of the health of Custer and Malcolm with "Hieland honors." He learned also that Sir James had invited Custer and Malcolm to his lacustrine country-seat in the early spring. But he learned nothing more of the progress of Malcolm's claim, its details, or the manner in which it was prosecuted. No one else seemed to know anything about it; it found no echo in the gossip of the clubs, or in the newspapers of St. Kentigern. In the absence of the parties connected with it, it began to assume to him the aspect of a half-humorous romance. He often found himself wondering if there had been any other purpose in this quest or speculation than what had appeared on the surface, it seemed so inadequate in result. It would have been so perfectly easy for a wealthy syndicate to buy up a much more valuable estate. He disbelieved utterly in the sincerity of Malcolm's sentimental attitude. There must be some other reason--perhaps not known even to the syndicate.
One day he thought that he had found it. He had received a note addressed from one of the principal hotels, but bearing a large personal crest on paper and envelope. A Miss Kirkby, passing through St. Kentigern on her way to Edinburgh, desired to see the consul the next day, if he would appoint an hour at the consulate; or, as her time was limited, she would take it as a great favor if he would call at her hotel. Although a countrywoman, her name might not be so well known to him as those of her "old friends" Harry Custer, Esq., and Sir Malcolm McHulish. The consul was a little surprised; the use of the title--unless it referred to some other McHulish--would seem to indicate that Malcolm's claim was successful. He had, however, no previous knowledge of the title of "Sir" in connection with the estate, and it was probable that his fair correspondent--like most of her countrywomen--was more appreciative than correct in her bestowal of dignities. He determined to waive his ordinary business rules, and to call upon her at once, accepting, as became his patriotism, that charming tyranny which the American woman usually reserves exclusively for her devoted countrymen.
She received him with an affectation of patronage, as if she had lately become uneasily conscious of being in a country where there were distinctions of class. She was young, pretty, and tastefully dressed; the national feminine adaptability had not, however, extended to her voice and accent. Both were strongly Southwestern, and as she began to speak she seemed to lose her momentary affectation.
"It was mighty good of you to come and see me, for the fact is, I didn't admire going to your consulate--not one bit. You see, I'm a Southern girl, and never was 'reconstructed' either. I don't hanker after your Gov'ment. I haven't recognized it, and don't want to. I reckon I ain't been under the flag since the wah. So you see, I haven't any papers to get authenticated, nor any certificates to ask for, and ain't wanting any advice or protection. I thought I'd be fair and square with you from the word 'go.'"
Nothing could be more fascinating and infectious than the mirthful ingenuousness which accompanied and seemed to mitigate this ungracious speech, and the consul was greatly amused, albeit conscious that it was only an attitude, and perhaps somewhat worn in sentiment. He knew that during the war of the rebellion, and directly after it, Great Britain was the resort of certain Americans from the West as well as from the South who sought social distinction by the affectation of dissatisfaction with their own government or the ostentatious simulation of enforced exile; but he was quite unprepared for this senseless protraction of dead and gone issues. He ventured to point out with good-humored practicality that several years had elapsed since the war, that the South and North were honorably reconciled, and that he was legally supposed to represent Kentucky as well as New York. "Your friends," he added smilingly, "Mr. Custer and Mr. McHulish, seemed to accept the fact without any posthumous sentiment."
"I don't go much on that," she said with a laugh. "I've been living in Paris till maw--who's lying down upstairs--came over and brought me across to England for a look around. And I reckon Malcolm's got to keep touch with you on account of his property."
The consul smiled. "Ah, then, I hope you can tell me something about THAT, for I really don't know whether he has established his claim or not."
"Why," returned the girl with naive astonishment, "that was just what I was going to ask YOU. He reckoned you'd know all about it."
"I haven't heard anything of the claim for two months," said the consul; "but from your reference to him as 'Sir Malcolm,' I presumed you considered it settled. Though, of course, even then he wouldn't be 'Sir Malcolm,' and you might have meant somebody else."
"Well, then, Lord Malcolm--I can't get the hang of those titles yet."
"Neither 'Lord' nor 'Sir'; you know the estate carries no title whatever with it," said the consul smilingly.
"But wouldn't he be the laird of something or other, you know?"
"Yes; but that is only a Scotch description, not a title. It's not the same as Lord."
The young girl looked at him with undisguised astonishment. A half laugh twitched the corners of her mouth. "Are you sure?" she said.
"Perfectly," returned the consul, a little impatiently; "but do I understand that you really know nothing more of the progress of the claim?"
Miss Kirkby, still abstracted by some humorous astonishment, said quickly: "Wait a minute. I'll just run up and see if maw's coming down. She'd admire to see you." Then she stopped, hesitated, and as she rose added, "Then a laird's wife wouldn't be Lady anything, anyway, would she?"
"She certainly would acquire no title merely through her marriage."
The young girl laughed again, nodded, and disappeared. The consul, amused yet somewhat perplexed over the naive brusqueness of the interview, waited patiently. Presently she returned, a little out of breath, but apparently still enjoying some facetious retrospect, and said, "Maw will be down soon." After a pause, fixing her bright eyes mischievously on the consul, she continued:--
"Did you see much of Malcolm?"
"I saw him only once."
"What did you think of him?"
The consul in so brief a period had been unable to judge.
"You wouldn't think I was half engaged to him, would you?"
The consul was obliged again to protest that in so short an interview he had been unable to conceive of Malcolm's good fortune.
"I know what you mean," said the girl lightly. "You think he's a crank. But it's all over now; the engagement's off."
"I trust that this does not mean that you doubt his success?"
The lady shrugged her shoulders disdainfully. "That's all right enough, I reckon. There's a hundred thousand dollars in the syndicate. Maw put in twenty thousand, and Custer's bound to make it go--particularly as there's some talk of a compromise. But Malcolm's a crank, and I reckon if it wasn't for the compromise the syndicate wouldn't have much show. Why, he didn't even know that the McHulishes had no title."
"Do you think he has been suffering under a delusion in regard to his relationship?"
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