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- The Prince of Graustark - 30/58 -
"By jove!" exclaimed Dank, so loudly that his companions actually jumped in their seats. They looked at him in amazement,--the Count with something akin to apprehension in his eyes. Had the fellow lost his mind over the girl? Before they could ask what he meant by shouting at the top of his voice, he repeated the ejaculation, but less explosively. His eyes were bulging and his mouth remained agape.
"What ails you, Dank?" demanded the Baron, removing his eyes from the young man's face long enough to glance fearfully at the transom.
"I've--I've got it!" cried the soldier, and then sank back in his chair, quite out of breath. The Baron got up and took a peep into the hallway, and then carefully locked the door. "What are you locking the door for?" demanded Dank, sitting up suddenly. "It's only a theory that I've got--but it is wonderful. Absolutely staggering."
"Oh!" said Gourou, but he did not unlock the door. "A theory, eh?" He came back and stood facing the young man.
"Count," began Dank excitedly, "you remember the big red letter B on all of her trunks, don't you? Hobbs is positive he--"
Count Quinnox sprang to his feet and banged the table with his fist.
"By jove!" he shouted, suddenly comprehending.
"The letter B?" queried Gourou, perplexed.
"The newspapers say that she sailed from New York under an assumed name," went on Dank, thrilled by his own amazing cleverness. "There you are! Plain as day. The letter B explains everything. Now we know who Miss Guile really is. She's--"
"Maud" exclaimed Quinnox, sinking back into his chair.
"Miss Blithers!" cried Gourou, divining at last. "By jove!" And thus was the jovian circle completed.
It was two o'clock before the three gentlemen separated and retired to rest, each fully convinced that the situation was even more complicated than before, for in view of this new and most convincing revelation there now could be no adequate defence against the alluring Miss Guile.
Robin was informed bright and early the next morning. In fact, he was still in his pajamas when the news was carried to him by the exhausted Dank, who had spent five hours in bed but none in slumber. Never in all his ardent career had the smart lieutenant been so bitterly afflicted with love-sickness as now.
"I don't believe a word of it," said the Prince. promptly. "You've been dreaming, old chap."
"That letter B isn't a dream, is it?"
"No, it isn't," said Robin, and instantly sat up in bed, his face very serious. "If she should turn out to be Miss Blithers, I've cooked my goose to a crisp. Good Lord, when I think of some of the things I said to her about the Blithers family! But wait! If she is Miss Blithers do you suppose she'd sit calmly by and hear the family ridiculed? No, sir! She would have taken my head off like a flash. She--"
"I've no doubt she regarded the situation as extremely humorous," said Dank, "and laughed herself almost sick over the way she was fooling you."
"That might sound reasonable enough, Dank, if she had known who I was. But where was the fun in fooling an utter outsider like R. Schmidt? It doesn't hold together."
"Americans have an amazing notion of humour, I am reliably informed. They appear to be able to see a joke under the most distressing circumstances. I'll stake my head that she is Miss Blithers."
"I can't imagine anything more terrible," groaned Robin, lying down flat again and staring at the ceiling.
"I shouldn't call her terrible," protested Dank, rather stiffly.
"I refer to the situation, Dank,--the mess, in other words. It _is_ a mess, isn't it?"
"I suppose you'll see nothing more of her, your highness," remarked Dank, a sly hope struggling in his breast.
"You'd better put it the other way. She'll see nothing more of me," lugubriously.
"I mean to say, sir, you can't go on with it, can you?"
"Go on with what?"
"The--er--you know," floundered Dank.
"If there is really anything to go on with, Dank, I'll go on with it, believe me."
The lieutenant stared. "But if she _should_ be Miss Blithers, what then?"
"It might simplify matters tremendously," said Robin, but not at all confidently. "I think I'll get up, Dank, if you don't mind. Call Hobbs, will you? And, I say, won't you have breakfast up here with me?"
"I had quite overlooked breakfast, 'pon my soul, I had," said Dank, a look of pain in his face. "No wonder I have a headache, going without my coffee so long."
Later on, while they were breakfasting in Robin's sitting room, Hobbs brought in the morning newspapers. He laid one of them before the Prince, and jabbed his forefinger upon a glaring headline.
"I beg pardon, sir; I didn't mean to get it into the butter. Very awkward, I'm sure. Hi, _garcon!_ Fresh butter 'ere, and lively about it, too. _Buerre!_ That's the word--buttah."
Robin and Dank were staring at the headline as if fascinated. Having successfully managed the butter, Hobbs at once restored his attention to the headline, reading it aloud, albeit both of the young men were capable of reading French at sight. He translated with great profundity.
"'Miss Blithers Denies Report. Signed Statement Mysteriously Received. American Heiress not to wed Prince of Graustark.' Shall I read the harticle, sir?"
Robin snatched up the paper and read aloud for himself. Hobbs merely wiped a bit of butter from his finger and listened attentively.
The following card appeared at the head of the column, and was supplemented by a complete resume of the Blithers-Graustark muddle:
"Miss Blithers desires to correct an erroneous report that has appeared in the newspapers. She is not engaged to be married to the Prince of Graustark, nor is there even the remotest probability that such will ever be the case. Miss Blithers regrets that she has not the honour of Prince Robin's acquaintance, and the Prince has specifically stated in the public prints that he does not know her by sight. The statements of the two persons most vitally affected by this disturbing rumour should be taken as final. Sufficient pain and annoyance already has been caused by the malicious and utterly groundless report." The name of Maud Applegate Blithers was appended to the statement, and it was dated Paris, August 29.
Thereafter followed a lengthy description of the futile search for the young lady in Paris, and an interview with the local representatives of Mr. Blithers, all of whom declared that the signature was genuine, but refused to commit themselves further without consulting their employer. They could throw no light upon the situation, even going so far as to declare that they were unaware of the presence of Miss Blithers in Paris.
It appears that the signed statement was left in the counting-rooms of the various newspapers by a heavily veiled lady at an hour agreed upon as "about ten o'clock." There was absolutely no clue to the identity of this woman.
Instead of following the suggestion of Miss Blithers that "sufficient pain and annoyance already had been caused," the journalists proceeded to increase the agony by venturing the hope that fresh developments would materialise before the day was done.
"Well, she appears to be here," said Robin, as he laid down the last of the three journals and stared at Dank as if expecting hope from that most unreliable source.
"I suppose you will now admit that I am right about the letter B," said Dank sullenly.
"When I see Miss Guile I shall ask point blank if she is Maud Applegate, Dank, and if she says she isn't, I'll take her word for it," said Robin.
"And if she says she is?"
"Well," said the Prince, ruefully, "I'll still take her word for it."
"Then I shall be equally frank and tell her that I am Robin of Graustark. That will put us all square again, and we'll see what comes of it in the end."
"You don't mean to say you'll--you'll continue as you were?" gasped Dank.
"That depends entirely on Miss Guile, Boske."
"But you wouldn't dare to marry Maud Applegate Blithers, sir. You would be driven out of Graustark and--"
"I think that would depend a good deal on Miss Guile, too, old chap," said Robin coolly.
Dank swallowed very hard. "I want to be loyal to you, your highness," he said as if he did not think it would be possible to remain so.
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