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- The Prince of Graustark - 50/58 -
running away at such an opportune time! The situation was immeasurably simplified. He had laid awake nights wondering how he could steal into his own domain with her as a companion and still put off the revelation that he was not yet ready to make. Now the way was comparatively easy. Once the demonstration was safely over, he could carry on his adventure with something of the same security that made the prowlings of the Bagdad Caliphs such happy enterprises, for he could with impunity traverse the night in the mantle of R. Schmidt.
Immediately upon receiving her letter, he sent for Quinnox and Gourou, who were stopping at a hotel nearby.
"I am ready to proceed to Edelweiss, my friends," said he. "Miss Guile has departed. Will you book accommodations on the earliest train leaving for home?"
"I have already seen to that, highness," said Gourou calmly. "We leave at six this evening. Count Quinnox has wired the Prime Minister that you will arrive in Edelweiss at three to-morrow afternoon, God willing."
"You knew that she had gone?"
"I happened to be in the Nordbahnhof when she boarded the train at midnight," replied the Baron, unmoved.
"Do you never sleep?" demanded Robin hotly.
"Not while I am on duty," said Gourou.
The Prince was thoughtful, his brow clouding with a troubled frown. "I suppose I shall now have to face my people with the confession that will confirm their worst fears. I may as well say to you, my friends, that I mean to make her my wife even though it costs me my kingdom. Am I asking too much of you, gentlemen, when I solicit your support in my fight against the prejudice that is certain to--"
Quinnox stopped him with a profound gesture of resignation and a single word: "Kismet!" and Gourou, with his most ironic smile, added: "You may count on us to support the crown, highness, even though we lose our heads."
"Thank you," said Robin, flushing. "Just because I appear to have lost my head is no reason for your doing the same, Baron Gourou."
The Baron's smile was unfaltering. "True," he said." But we may be able to avoid all that by inducing the people of Graustark to lose their hearts."
"Do you think they will accept her as--as their princess?" cried Robin, hopefully.
"I submit that it will first be necessary for you to induce Miss Guile to accept you as her prince," said Gourou mildly. "That doesn't appear to be settled at present."
He took alarm. "What do you mean? Your remark has a sinister sound. Has anything transpired to--"
"She has disappeared, highness, quite effectually. That is all that I can say," said Gourou, and Robin was conscious of a sudden chill and the rush of cold moisture to his brow. "But let us prepare to confront an even more substantial condition. A prospective father-in- law is descending upon our land. He is groping in the dark and he is angry. He has lost a daughter somewhere in the wilds of Europe, and he realises that he cannot hope to become the grandfather of princes unless he can produce a mother for them. At present he seems to be desperate. He doesn't know where to find her, as Little Bo-peep might have said. We may expect to catch him in a very ugly and obstreperous mood. Have I told you that he was in this city last night? He arrived at the Bristol a few hours prior to the significant departure of Miss Guile. Moreover, he has chartered a special train and is leaving to- day for Edelweiss. Count Quinnox has taken the precaution to advise the Prime Minister of his approach and has impressed upon him the importance of decrying any sort of popular demonstration against him on his arrival. Romano reports that the people are in an angry mood. I would suggest that you prepare, in a way, to placate them, now that Miss Guile has more or less dropped out of sight. It behooves you to-- "
"See here," broke in Robin harshly, "have you had the effrontery to make a personal appeal to Miss Guile in your confounded efforts to prevent the--"
"Just a moment, Robin," exclaimed Count Quinnox, his face hardening. "I am sorry to hear words of anger on your lips, and directed toward your most loyal friends. You ask us to support you and in the next breath imply that we are unworthy. It is beneath the dignity of either Baron Gourou or myself to reply to your ungenerous charge."
"I beg your pardon," said Robin, but without lowering his head. He was not convinced. The barb of suspicion had entered his brain. Were they, after all, responsible for Bedelia's flight? Had they revealed his identity to the girl and afterward created such alarm in her breast that she preferred to slink away in the night rather than to court the humiliation that might follow if she presumed to wed Graustark's prince in opposition to his country's wish? "You must admit that the circumstance of her secret flight last night is calculated to--But, no matter. We will drop the subject. I warn you, however, that my mind is fixed. I shall not rest until I have found her."
"I fancy that the state of unrest will be general," said Gourou, with perfect good-nature. "It will go very hard with Graustark if we fail to find her. And now, to return to our original sin: What are we to do about the ambitious Mr. Blithers? He is on my conscience and I tremble."
It must not be supposed for an instant that the City of Edelweiss and the court of Graustark was unimpressed by the swift approach and abrupt arrival of Mr. Blithers. His coming had been heralded for days in advance. The city was rudely expectant, the court uneasy. The man who had announced his determination to manage the public and private affairs of the principality was coming to town. He was coming in state, there could be no doubt about that. More than that, he was coming to propitiate the people whether they chose to be mollified or not. He was bringing with him a vast store of business acumen, an unexampled confidence and the self-assurance of one who has never encountered failure. Shylock's mantle rested on his hated shoulders, and Judas Iscariot was spoken of with less abhorrence than William W. Blithers by the Christian country of Graustark. He was coming to get better acquainted with his daughter's future subjects.
Earlier in the week certain polite and competent gentlemen from Berlin had appeared at the Castle gates, carrying authority from the dauntless millionaire. They calmly announced that they had come to see what repairs were needed in and about the Castle and to put the place in shape. A most regrettable incident followed. They were chased out of town by an angry mob and serious complications with the German Empire were likely to be the result of the outrage.
Moreover, the citizens of Graustark were openly reluctant to deposit their state bonds as security for the unpopular loan, and there was a lively sentiment in favour of renouncing the agreement entered into by the cabinet.
The Prime Minister, in the absence of the Prince, called mass meetings in all the towns and villages and emissaries of the crown addressed the sullen crowds. They sought to clarify the atmosphere. So eloquent were their pleadings and so sincere their promises that no evil would befall the state, that the more enlightened of the people began to deposit their bonds in the crown treasury. Others, impressed by the confidence of their more prosperous neighbours, showed signs of weakening. The situation was made clear to them. There could be no possible chance of loss from a financial point of view. Their bonds were safe, for the loan itself was a perfectly legitimate transaction, a conclusion which could not be gainsaid by the most pessimistic of the objectors. Mr. Blithers would be paid in full when the time came for settlement, the bonds would be restored to their owners, and all would be well with Graustark.
As for the huge transactions Mr. Blithers had made in London, Paris and Berlin, there could be but one conclusion: he had the right to invest his money as he pleased. That was his look-out. The bonds of Graustark were open to purchase in any market. Any investor in the world was entitled to buy all that he could obtain if he felt inclined to put his money to that use. The earnest agents of the government succeeded in convincing the people that Mr. Blithers had made a good investment because he was a good business man. What did it matter to Graustark who owned the outstanding bonds? It might as well be Blithers as Bernstein or any one else.
As for Miss Blithers becoming the Princess of Graustark, that was simple poppy-cock, declared the speakers. The crown could take oath that Prince Robin would not allow _that_ to happen. Had he not declared in so many words that he would never wed the daughter of William Blithers, and, for that matter, hadn't the young woman also announced that she would have none of him? There was one thing that Mr. Blithers couldn't do, and that was to marry his daughter to the Prince of Graustark.
And so, by the time that Mr. Blithers arrived in Edelweiss, the people were in a less antagonistic frame of mind,--though sullenly suspicious,--and were even prepared to grin in their sleeves, for, after all, it was quite clear that the joke was not on them but on Mr. Blithers.
When the special train pulled into the station Mr. Blithers turned to his wife and said:
"Cheer up, Lou. This isn't a funeral."
"But there is quite a mob out there," she said, peering through the car window. "How can we be sure that they are friendly?"
"Don't you worry," said Mr. Blithers confidently. "They are not likely to throw rocks at the goose that lays the golden egg." If he had paused to think, he would not have uttered such a careless indictment. The time would come when she was to remind him of his thoughtless admission, omitting, however, any reference to the golden egg.
The crowd was big, immobile, surly. It lined the sidewalks in the vicinity of the station and stared with curious, half-closed eyes at the portly capitalist and his party, which, by the way, was rendered somewhat imposing in size by augmentation in the shape of lawyers from Paris and London, clerks and stenographers from the Paris office, and four plain clothes men who were to see to it that Midas wasn't blown to smithereens by envious anarchists; to say nothing of a lady's maid, a valet, a private secretary and a doctor. (Mr.
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