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- The Prince of Graustark - 40/58 -
"I've been thinking of that, Lou," said he, wiping his brow, "and I've come to one conclusion: Scoville can be bought off. He's as poor as Job and half a million will look like the Bank of England to him. I'll--"
"You are not to attempt anything of the kind, Will," she cried emphatically. "He would laugh in your face, poor as he is. He comes from one of the best families in New York and--"
"And I don't know where the best families need money any more than they do in New York," he interrupted irritably. "'Gad, if the worst families need it as badly as they do, what must be the needs of the best? You leave it to me. It may be possible to insult him with a half million, so if he feels that way about it I'll apologise to him again with another half million. You'll see that he won't be capable of resenting two insults in succession. He'll--"
"He isn't a fool," said she significantly.
"He'd be a fool if he refused to take--"
"Are you losing your senses, Will?" she cried impatiently. "Why should he accept a million to give up Maud, when he can be sure of fifty times that much if he marries her?"
"But I'll cut Maud off with a dollar if she marries him, so help me Moses!" exclaimed Mr. Blithers, but he went a little pale just the same. "That will fix him!"
"You are talking nonsense," said she sharply. He put his fingers to his ears somewhat earlier than usual, and she turned away with a tantalising laugh. "I'm going inside," and inside she went. When he followed a few minutes later he was uncommonly meek.
"At any rate," he said, seating himself on the edge of a chair in her parlour, "I guess those cablegrams this morning will make 'em think twice before they go on denying things in the newspapers."
"Maud will pay no attention to your cablegram, and, if I am any judge of human nature, the Prince will laugh himself sick over the one you sent to Count Quinnox. I told you not to send them. You are not dealing with Wall Street. You are dealing with a girl and a boy who appear to have minds of their own."
He ventured a superior sniff. "I guess you don't know as much about Wall Street as you think you do."
"I only know that it puts its tail between its legs and howls every time some one points a finger at it," she observed scornfully.
"Now let's be sensible, Lou," he said, sitting back a little further in the chair, relieved to find that she was at least willing to tolerate his presence,--a matter on which he was in some doubt when he entered the room. There were times when he was not quite certain whether he or she was the brains of the family. "We'll probably have a wireless from Maud before long. Then we'll have something tangible to discuss. By the way, did I tell you that I've ordered some Dutch architects from Berlin to go--"
"The Dutch are from Holland," she said wearily.
"--to go over to Growstock and give me a complete estimate on repairing and remodelling the royal castle? I dare say we'll have to do a good deal to the place. It's several hundred years old and must require a lot of conveniences. Such as bath-rooms, electric lights, steam heating appar--"
"Better make haste slowly, Will," she said, and he ought to have been warned by the light in her eye. "You are taking a great deal for granted, aren't you?"
"It's got to be fixed up some time, so we might just as well do it in the beginning," said he, failing utterly to grasp her meaning. "Probably needs refurnishing from top to bottom, too, and a new roof. I never saw a ruin yet that didn't leak. Remember those castles on the Rhine? Will you ever forget how wet we got the day we went through the one at--"
"They were abandoned, tumble-down castles," she reminded him.
"There isn't a castle in Europe that's any good in a rain-storm," he proclaimed. "A mortgage can't keep out the rain and that's what every one of 'em is covered with. Why old man Quiddox himself told me that their castle had been shot to pieces in one of the revolutions and--"
"It is time you informed yourself about the country you are trying to annex to the Blithers estate," she said sarcastically. "I can assist you to some extent if you will be good enough to listen. In the first place, the royal castle at Edelweiss is one of the most substantial in the world. It has not been allowed to fall into decay. In fact, it is inhabitated from top to bottom by members of the royal household and the court, and I fancy they are not the sort of people who take kindly to a wetting. It is not a ruin, Will, such as you have been permitted to visit, but a magnificent building with all of the modern improvements. The only wettings that the inmates sustain are of a daily character and due entirely to voluntary association with porcelain bath-tubs and nickle-plated showers, and they never get anything wet but their skins. As for the furnishings, I can assure you that the entire Blithers fortune could not replace them if they were to be destroyed by fire or pillage. They are priceless and they are unique. I have read that the hangings in the bed-chamber of the late Princess Yetive are the most wonderful in the whole world. The throne chair in the great audience chamber is of solid gold and weighs nearly three thousand pounds. It is studded with diamonds, rubies--"
"Great Scott, Lou, where did you learn all this?" he gasped, his eyes bulging.
"--emeralds and other precious stones. There is one huge carpet in the royal drawing-room that the Czar of Russia is said to have offered one hundred thousand pounds for and the offer was scorned. The park surrounding the castle is said to be beautiful beyond the power of description. The--"
"I asked you where you got all this information. Can't you answer me?"
"I obtained all this and a great deal more from a lady who spent a year or two inside the castle walls. I refer to Mrs. Truxton King, who might have told you as much if you had possessed the intelligence to inquire."
"Gee whiz!" exclaimed Mr. Blithers, going back to his buoyant boyhood days for an adequate expression. "What a wonder you are, Lou. But that's the woman of it, always getting at the inside of a thing while a man is standing around looking at the outside. Say, but won't it make a wonderful home for you and me to spend a peaceful old age in when we get ready to lay aside the--"
He stopped short, for she had arisen and was standing over him with a quivering forefinger levelled at his nose,--and not more than six inches away from it,--her handsome eyes flashing with fury.
"You may walk in where angels fear to tread, but you will walk alone, Will Blithers. I shall not be with you, and you may as well understand it now. I've told you a hundred times that money isn't everything, and it is as cheap as dirt when you put it alongside of tradition, honour, pride and loyalty. Those Graustarkians would take you by the nape of the neck and march you out of their castle so quick that your head would swim. You may be able to buy their prince for Maudie to exhibit around the country, but you can't buy the intelligence of the people. They won't have you at any price and they won't have me, so there is the situation in a nutshell. They will hate Maudie, of course, but they will endure her for obvious reasons. They may even come to love and respect her in the end, for she is worthy. But as for you and me, William,--with all our money,--we will find every hand against us--even the hand of our daughter, I prophesy. I am not saying that I would regret seeing Maud the Princess of Graustark--far from it. But I do say that you and I will be expected to know our places. If you attempt to spend your declining years in the castle at Edelweiss you will find them reduced to days, and short ones at that. The people of Graustark will see to it that you die before your time."
"Bosh!" said Mr. Blithers. "Mind if I smoke?" He took out a cigar and began searching for matches.
"No," she said, "I don't mind. It is a sign that you need something to steady your nerves. I know you, Will Blithers. You don't want to smoke. You want to gain a few minutes of time, that's all."
He lit a cigar. "Right you are," was his unexpected admission. "I wonder if you really have the right idea about this business. What objection could any one have to a poor, tired old man sitting in front of his daughter's fireside and--and playing with her kiddies? It seems to me that--"
"You will never be a tired old man, that's the trouble," she said, instantly touched.
"Oh, yes, I will," said he slowly. "I'm rather looking forward to it, too."
"It will be much nicer to have the kiddies come to your own fireside, Will. I used to enjoy nothing better than going to spend a few days with my grandfather."
"But what's the use of going to all this trouble and expense if we are not to enjoy some of the fruits?" he protested, making a determined stand. "If these people can't be grateful to the man who helps 'em out in their time of trouble,--and who goes out of his way to present 'em with a bright, capable posterity,--I'd like to know what in thunder gratitude really means."
"Oh, there isn't such a thing as gratitude," she said. "Obligation, yes,--and ingratitude most certainly, but gratitude,--no. You are in a position to know that gratitude doesn't exist. Are you forgetting the private advices we already have had from Graustark? Does it indicate that the people are grateful? There are moments when I fear that we are actually placing Maud's life in peril, and I have had some wretched dreams. They do not want her. They speak of exile for the Prince if he marries her. And now I repeat what I have said before:--the people of Graustark must have an opportunity to see and become acquainted with Maud before the marriage is definitely arranged. I will not have my daughter cast into a den of lions. Will,--for that is what it may amount to. The people will adore her, they will welcome her with open arms if they are given the chance. But they will have none of her if she is forced upon them in the way
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