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- The Man on the Box - 10/44 -
class at Princeton."
"Sh! Don't you dare to drag forth any of those fool corpses of college, or out you go, bag and baggage." Jack glanced nervously around the room and toward the hall.
"My dear fellow, your wife wouldn't believe me, no matter what I said against your character. Isn't that right, Chuck? Jack, you are a lucky dog, if there ever was one. A handsome wife who loves you, a kid, a fine home, and plenty of horses. I wonder if you married her for her money?"
Jack's eyes narrowed. He seemed to muse. "Yes, I believe I can do it as easily as I did fifteen years ago."
"Do what?" I asked.
"Wallop that kid brother of mine. Bob, I hope you'll fall desperately in love some day, and that you will have a devil of a time winning the girl. You need something to stir up your vitals. By George! and I hope she won't have a cent of money."
"Lovable brother, that!" Bob knocked the ash from his cigar and essayed at laughter which wasn't particularly felicitous. "Supposing I was in love, new, and that the girl had heaps of money, and all that?"
"_And all that_," mimicked the elder brother. "What does 'and all that' mean?"
"Oh, shut up!"
"Well, I hope you _are_ in love. It serves you right. You've made more than one girl's heart ache, you good-looking ruffian!"
Then we switched over to politics, and Robert became an interested listener. Quarter of an hour later the women returned, and certainly they made a picture which was most satisfactory to the masculine eye. Ah, thou eager-fingered Time, that shall, in days to come, wither the roses in my beauty's cheeks, dim the fire in my beauty's eyes, draw my beauty's bow-lips inward, tarnish the golden hair, and gnarl the slender, shapely fingers, little shall I heed you in your passing if you but leave the heart untouched!
Bob jumped to his feet and kissed them both, a thing I lacked the courage to do. How pleased they looked! How a woman loves flattery from those she loves!
Well, William is in front with the carriage; the women are putting on their cloaks, and I am admiring the luxurious crimson fur-lined garment which brother Robert had sent to Nancy from Paris. You will see by this that he was not altogether a thoughtless lad. Good-by, Mr. Robert; I leave you and your guiding-star to bolt the established orbit; for after this night the world will never be the same careless, happy-go-lucky world. The farce has its tragedy, and what tragedy is free of the ludificatory? Youth must run its course, even as the gay, wild brook must riot on its way to join the sober river.
I dare say that we hadn't been gone twenty minutes before Robert stole out to the stables, only to return immediately with a bundle under his arm and a white felt hat perched rakishly on his head. He was chuckling audibly to himself.
"It will frighten the girls half to death. A gray horse and a bay; oh, I won't make any mistake. Let me see; I'll start about twelve o'clock. That'll get me on the spot just as the boys leave. This is the richest yet. I'll wager that there will be some tall screaming." He continued chuckling as he helped himself to his brother's perfectos and fine old Scotch. I don't know what book he found in the private case; some old rascal's merry tales, no doubt; for my hero's face was never in repose.
We had left Mrs. Secretary-of-the-Interior's and were entering the red brick mansion on Connecticut Avenue. Carriages lined both sides of the street, and mounted police patrolled up and down.
"I do hope Bob will not wake up the baby," said Mrs. W.
"Probably he won't even take the trouble to look at him," replied Jack; "not if he gets into that private case of mine."
"I can't understand what you men see in those horrid chronicles," Nancy declared.
"My dear girl," said Jack, "in those days there were no historians; they were simply story-tellers, and we get our history from these tales. The tales themselves are not very lofty, I am willing to admit; but they give us a general idea of the times in which the characters lived. This is called literature by the wise critics."
"Critics!" said I; "humph! Criticism is always a lazy man's job. When no two critics think alike, of what use is criticism?"
"Ah, yes; I forgot. That book of essays you wrote got several sound drubbings. Nevertheless," continued Jack, "what you offer is in the main true. Time alone is the true critic. Let him put his mark of approval on your work, and not all the critical words can bury it or hinder its light. But Time does not pass his opinion till long after one is dead. The first waltz, dearest, if you think you can stand it. You mustn't get tired, little mother."
"I am wonderfully strong to-night," said the little mother. "How beautifully it is arranged!"
"What?" we men asked, looking over the rooms.
"The figures on Mrs. Secretary-of-State's gown. The lace is beautiful. Your brother. Nan, has very good taste for a man. That cloak of yours is by far the handsomest thing I have seen to-night; and that bit of scarf he sent me isn't to be matched."
"Poor boy!" sighed Nancy. "I wonder if he'll be lonely. It's a shame to leave him home the very first night."
"Why didn't he come, then?" Mrs. W. shrugged her polished shoulders.
"Oh, my cigars and Scotch are fairly comforting," put in Jack, complacently. "Besides, Jane Isn't at all bad looking,"--winking at me. "What do you say, Charlie?"
But Charlie had no time to answer. The gray-haired, gray-whiskered ambassador was bowing pleasantly to us. A dozen notable military and naval attaches nodded; and we passed on to the ball-room, where the orchestra was playing _A Summer Night in Munich_. In a moment Jack and his wife were lost in the maze of gleaming shoulders and white linen. It was a picture such as few men, once having witnessed it, can forget. Here were the great men in the great world: this man was an old rear-admiral, destined to become the nation's hero soon; there, a famous general, of long and splendid service; celebrated statesmen, diplomats, financiers; a noted English duke; a scion of the Hapsburg family; an intimate of the German kaiser; a swart Jap; a Chinaman with his peacock feather; tens of men whose lightest word was listened to by the four ends of the world; representatives of all the great kingdoms and states. The President and his handsome wife had just left as we came, so we missed that formality, which detracts from the pleasures of the ball-room.
"Who is that handsome young fellow over there, standing at the side of the Russian ambassador's wife?" asked Nancy, pressing my arm.
"Where? Oh, he's Count Karloff (or something which sounds like it), a wealthy Russian, in some way connected with the Russian government; a diplomat and a capital fellow, they say. I have never met him. ... Hello! there's a stunning girl right next to him that I haven't seen before. ... Where are you going?"
Nancy had dropped my arm and was gliding kitty-corner fashion, across the floor. Presently she and the stunning girl had saluted each other after the impulsive fashion of American girls, and were playing cat- in-the-cradle, to the amusement of those foreigners nearest. A nod, and I was threading my way to Nancy's side.
"Isn't it glorious?" she began. "This is Miss Annesley, Charlie; Betty, Mr. Henderson." Miss Annesley looked mildly curious at Nan, who suddenly flushed. "We are to be married in the spring," she explained shyly; and I dare say that there was a diffident expression on my own face.
Miss Annesley gave me her hand, smiling. "You are a very fortunate man, Mr. Henderson."
"Not the shadow of a doubt!" Miss Annesley, I frankly admitted on the spot, was, next to Nancy, the handsomest girl I ever saw; and as I thought of Mr. Robert in his den at home, I sincerely pitied him. I was willing to advance the statement that had he known, a pair of crutches would not have kept him away from No. 1300 Connecticut Avenue.
I found three chairs, and we sat down. There was, for me, very little opportunity to talk. Women always have so much to say to each other, even when they haven't seen each other within twenty-four hours. From time to time Miss Annesley glanced at me, and I am positive that Nancy was extolling my charms. It was rather embarrassing, and I was balling my gloves up in a most dreadful fashion. As they seldom addressed a word to me, I soon became absorbed in the passing scene. I was presently aroused, however.
"Mr. Henderson, Count Karloff," Miss Annesley was saying. (Karloff is a name of my own choosing. I haven't the remotest idea if it means anything in the Russian language. I hope not.)
"Charmed!" The count's r's were very pleasantly rolled. I could see by the way his gaze roved from Miss Annesley to Nancy that he was puzzled to decide which came the nearer to his ideal of womanhood.
I found him a most engaging fellow, surprisingly well-informed on American topics. I credit myself with being a fairly good reader of faces, and, reading his as he bent it in Miss Annesley's direction, I began to worry about Mr. Robert's course of true love. Here was a man who possessed a title, was handsome, rich, and of assured social position: it would take an extraordinary American girl to look coldly upon his attentions. By and by the two left us, Miss Annesley promising to call on Nancy.
"And where are you staying, Betty?"
"Father and I have taken Senator Blank's house in Chevy Chase for the winter. My horses are already in the stables. Do you ride?"
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