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- Green Fancy - 40/51 -
"I am already engaged to Miss Thackeray,--in a way. The better way to put it would be for you to intercede in the matter of one marriage and one engagement. I think he would understand the situation much better if you put it in that way."
"Have you spoken to Mr. Rushcroft about it?"
"Only in a roundabout way. I told him I'd beat his head off if he ever spoke to Miss Thackeray again as he did last night."
"Well, that's a fair sort of start," said Barnes, who was brushing his hair. "What did he say to that?"
"I don't know. I had to close the door rather hastily. If he said anything at all it was after the chair hit the door. Ahem! That was last night. He is as nice as pie this afternoon, so I have an idea that he busted the chair and doesn't want old Jones to find out about it."
"I will say a good word for you," said Barnes, grinning.
He found Mr. Rushcroft in a greatly perturbed state of mind.
"I've had telegrams from the three people I mentioned to you, Barnes, and the damned ingrates refuse to join us unless they get their railroad fares to Crowndale. Moreover, they had the insolence to send the telegrams collect. The more you do for the confounded bums, the more they ask. I once had a leading woman who--"
Barnes was in no humour to listen to the long-winded reminiscences of the "star," so he cut him short at once. He ascertained that the "ingrates" were in New York, on their "uppers," and that they could not accomplish the trip to Crowndale unless railroad tickets were provided. The difficulty was bridged in short order by telegrams requesting the distant players to apply the next day at his office in New York where tickets to Crowndale would be given them. He telegraphed his office to buy the tickets and hold them for Miss Milkens, Mr. Hatcher and Mr. Fling.
"That completes one of the finest companies, Mr. Barnes, that ever took the road," said Mr. Rushcroft warmly, forgetting his animosity. "You will never be associated with a more evenly balanced company of players, sir. I congratulate you upon your wonderful good fortune in having such a cast for 'The Duke's Revenge.' If you can maintain a similar standard of excellence in all of your future productions, you will go down in history as the most astute theatrical manager of the day."
Barnes winced, but was game. "When do you start rehearsals, Rushcroft?"
"It is my plan to go to Crowndale to-morrow or the next day, where I shall meet my company. Rehearsals will undoubtedly start at once. That would give us--let me see--Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday--four days. We open on Tuesday night. Oh, by the way, I have engaged a young woman of most unusual talent to take the minor part of Hortense. You may have noticed her in the dining-room. Miss Rosamond--er--where did I put that card?--ah, yes, Miss Floribel Blivens. The poor idiot insists on Blivens, desiring to perpetuate the family monicker. I have gotten rid of her spectacles, however, and the name that the prehistoric Blivenses gave her at the christening."
"You--you don't mean Miss Tilly?"
"I do. She is to give notice to Jones to-day. There are more ways than one of getting even with a scurvy caitiff. In this case, I take old Jones's best waitress away from him, and, praise God, he'll never find another that will stick to him for eighteen years as she has done."
O'Dowd returned late in the afternoon. He was in a hurry to get back to Green Fancy; there was no mistaking his uneasiness. He drew Barnes aside.
"For the love of Heaven, Barnes, get her away from here as soon as possible, and do it as secretly as you can," he said. "I may as well tell you that she is in more danger from the government secret service than from any one up yonder. Understand, I'm not pleading guilty to anything, but I shall be far, far away from here meself before another sunrise. That ought to mean something to you."
"But she has done no wrong. She has not laid herself liable to--"
"That isn't the point. She has been up there with us, and you don't want to put her in the position of having to answer a lot of nasty questions they'll be after asking her if they get their hands on her. She might be weeks or months clearing herself, innocent though she be. Mind you, she is as square as anything; she is in no way mixed up with our affairs up there. But I'm giving you the tip. Sneak her out as soon as you can, and don't leave any trail."
"She may prefer to face the music, O'Dowd. If I know her at all, she will refuse to run away."
"Then ye'll have to kidnap her," said the Irishman earnestly. "There will be men swarming here from both sides of the border by to-morrow night or next day. I've had direct information. The matter is in the hands of the people at Washington and they are in communication with Ottawa this afternoon. Never mind how I found it out. It's the gospel truth, and--it's going to be bad for all of us if we're here when they come."
"Who is she, O'Dowd? Man to man, tell me the truth. I want to know just where I stand."
O'Dowd hesitated, looked around the tap-room, and then leaned across the table.
"She is the daughter of Andreas Mara-Dafanda, former minister of war in the cabinet of Prince Bolaroz the Sixth. Her mother was first cousin to the Prince. Both father and mother are dead. And for that matter, so is Bolaroz the Sixth. He was killed early in this war. His brother, a prisoner in Austria, as you may already know, is the next in line for the throne,--if the poor devil lives to get it back from the Huns. Miss Cameron is in reality the Countess Therese Mara- Dafanda--familiarly and lovingly known in her own land as the Countess Ted. She was visiting in this country when the war broke out. If it is of any use to you, I'll add that she would be rich if Aladdin could only come to life and restore the splendours of the demolished castle, refill the chests of gold that have been emptied by the conquerors, and restock the farms that have been pillaged and devastated. In the absence of Aladdin, however, she is almost as poor as the ancient church-mouse. But she has a fortune of her own. Two of the most glorious rubies in the world represent her lips; her eyes are sapphires that put to shame the rocks of all the Sultans; when she smiles, you may look upon pearls that would make the Queen of Sheba's trinkets look like chinaware; her skin is of the rarest and richest velvet; her hair is all silk and a yard wide; and, best of all, she has a heart of pure gold. So there you are, me man. Half the royal progeny of Europe have been suitors for her hand, and the other half would be if they didn't happen to be of the same sex."
"Is she likely to--er--marry any one of them, O'Dowd?"
"Do you mean, is she betrothed to one of the royal nuts? If I were her worst enemy I couldn't wish her anything as bad as that. The world is full of regular men,--like meself, for example,--and 'twould be a pity to see her wasted upon anything so cheap as a king."
"Then, she isn't?"
"Oh!" He squinted his eyes drolly. "Bedad, if she is, she's kept it a secret from me. Have you aspirations, me friend?"
"Certainly not," said Barnes sharply. "By the way, you have mentioned Prince Bolaroz the Sixth, but you haven't given a name to the country he ruled."
O'Dowd stared. "The Saints preserve us! Is the man a numbskull? Are you saying that you don't know who and what--My God, such ignorance bewilders me!"
"Painful as it may be to you, O'Dowd, I don't seem able to place Bolaroz in his proper realm."
"Whist, then!" He put his hand to his mouth and whispered a name.
An incredulous expression came into Barnes's eyes. "Are you jesting with me, O'Dowd?"
"I am not."
"But I thought it was nothing more than a make-believe, imaginary land, cooked up by some hair-brained novelist for the purpose of--"
"Well, ye know better now," said O'Dowd crisply. "Good-bye. I must be on my way. Deliver my best wishes to her, Barnes, and say that if she ever needs a friend Billy O'Dowd is the boy to respond to any call she sends out. God willing, I may see her again some day,--and I'll say the same to you, old man." He arose and held out his hand. "I'm trusting to you to get her away from these parts before the rat- catchers come. Don't let 'em bother her. Good-bye and good luck forever."
"You are a brick, O'Dowd. I want to see you again. You will always find me--"
"Thanks. Don't issue any rash invitations. I might take you up." He strode to the door, followed by Barnes.
"Is there anything to be feared from this Prince Ugo or the crowd up there?"
"There would be if they knew where they could lay their hands on her inside of the next ten hours. She could a tale unfold, and they wouldn't like that. Keep her under cover here till--well, till THAT danger is past and then keep her out of the danger that is to come."
Barnes started upstairs as soon as O'Dowd was off, urged by an eagerness that put wings on his feet and a thrill of excitement in his blood. Half way up he stopped short. A new condition confronted him. What was the proper way to approach a person of royal blood? Certainly it wasn't right to go galumping upstairs and bang on her door, and saunter in as if she were just like any one else. He would have to think.
When he resumed his upward progress it was with a chastened and
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