“I won’t!” repeated the Princess Mary, stamping a royal foot in most plebeian anger. “I won’t marry a Karlovian. All my life I have been taught to hate Karlova, its ruling house, and its people; and now, just because your stupid old Stroebel wishes it, you tell me that I must marry one of them.”
Stroebel, who was standing upon the opposite side of the wide table at which the king sat, smiled indulgently. He loved the Princess Mary—everyone loved her—and he knew that she loved him.
In such a tiny kingdom as Margoth the royal family is not so very far from the people. Instead of being but symbols of power and authority, they are human beings with familiar attributes which render them either very cordially beloved, or very cordially hated, precisely as they may merit.
And Stroebel, already growing grey in the service of his king, was closer to the ruling house than was any other subject. If Stroebel loved the Princess Mary you may rest assured that she deserved it, for grim old Stroebel was not given to loving.
“Your highness must understand,” said he, “that while your happiness is close to the hearts of us all, the welfare of Margoth is paramount to all other considerations. Some means must be found to dissipate the ancient enmity which has so long existed between the kingdoms of Margoth and Karlova, that they may combine against the common enemy which threatens them. Both Baron Kantchi and I are agreed that nothing could more satisfactorily produce the desired result than an alliance between the royal houses of Margoth and Karlova.”
“And so you and the ambassador from Karlova have decided that I shall be the hollow horned ruminant!” exclaimed the girl, disgustedly.
“The what, Mary?” asked the king.
“The goat,” snapped the princess.
The king’s frown deepened, but in the eyes of Prince Stroebel there was an unmistakable twinkle.
“I fail to grasp the allusion,” said the king, icily; “but I assure that, like your democratic independence, one must need have had an American education to appreciate it. Stroebel!” and the king banged the table top with his clenched fist as he turned upon his prime minister, “it was your importunity which persuaded us against our better judgement to sanction an American education for the Princess Mary. I hope you are satisfied.”
Her Royal Highness, the Princess Mary, turned a solemn little face toward Prince Stroebel, and—winked. Then she wheeled toward the king, and taking a quick little step in his direction threw herself into his lap, put her arms about his neck and kissed him.
“Dear old Da-da,” she whispered, “don’t be cross, please don’t; and please, please, please don’t make me marry a hideous old Karlovian!”
Through his frown a slow smile touched the lips of the king; but his eyes were sad.
“It is hard to refuse you anything, my child,” he said; “but as Prince Stroebel has said, the welfare of Margoth must be first in the hearts of us all. If there are sacrifices to be made, we, to whom God has entrusted the happiness of the people, must be the first to make them. Your childhood has passed, Mary, and now you must be prepared to assume the burdens, yes, and even the sorrows, which your birth entails. Though it fill us with grief we must face the necessity of such an alliance as Prince Stroebel is negotiating.”
“But, Da-da,” cried the girl, “their faces are a perfect jungle of whiskers, they have bulbous noses, and little, pig eyes. Oh, Da-da, I could never marry a Karlovian prince. I—I’d almost rather be an old maid.”
“How do you know that the Crown prince of Karlova is so ill-favored?” asked the king. “You have never seen him, or the king, his father.”
“I know—Carlotta used to tell me about them,” replied the girl. “They were always the ogres in the stories she told me at bedtime, and Carlotta knows—Carlotta knows everything. They eat little girls,” and the Princess Mary laughed gaily, though she shuddered a bit, too.
“Carlotta is a dear old fraud,” said the king. “She is of the old regime. Times have changed. Now we must love our enemies, or The Great Ogre will eat them and us as well. But, my dear, I will give you this ray of hope—if, when he visits us, Prince Boris of Karlova proves to resemble, even remotely, the ogres of your old nurse’s bedtime stories he shall not eat my little girl—no, not if the refusal costs me my throne!”
“He is a gentleman,” said Stroebel. “I have it upon the best of authority that he is both affable and well favored.”
“He is a Karlovian,” cried the Princess Mary, “and I would as lief wed with the devil. When is he coming?”
“Within the month,” replied Stroebel.
It was an angry and much perturbed little princess who sought her own apartments when the interview was concluded and confided to her white-haired nurse the horror and misery that was in her heart.
“I will not!” she cried for the fortieth time. “I will not marry a Karlovian!”
Not much more than forty-five minutes from Broadway lies the pretentious estate of Abner J. Bass. In one corner, hidden from view by hedges and shrubs, is an old fashioned garden—the especial and particular delight of Miss Gwendolyn Bass, only child and sole heir to the Bass millions.
Buried still further from sight at the far side of the old fashioned garden is a rustic seat, upon which, during a certain lovely afternoon of a June day, a young man sought to hide two dainty little hands within the strong and generous grasp of his own.
“Gwen,” he was saying, “I wish to thunder that you were the gardener’s daughter, without any incalculable millions looming between us—your father’ll never be able to see me as a prospective son-in-law, even with the aid of a magnifying glass.”
“Oh,” cried the girl, in mock chagrin; “of course, if you prefer the gardener’s daughter, there is one; but I rather think she prefers the chauffeur. And as to the millions—well, they’re mighty nice to have in the family—and you needn’t worry about father. He’s for anyone I’m for. It’s mother you’ve to persuade—as a loomer mother has the millions beat a city block. You might see mother, Hemmy; but I’m afraid it won’t do a bit of good—mother has ideas all her own.”
“And if mother refuses?” queried the young man.
The girl raised her shapely shoulders and threw her hands outward, palms up. “If I were a star reporter on a great metropolitan daily,” she said, “I should, I think, be more resourceful than your helpless inquiry indicates you to be.”
“I suppose that you’d run off with the girl?’ he said, laughing.
“That is precisely what I should do,” replied Miss Gwendolyn Bass.
“Well, so shall I,” he cried.
“With the gardener’s daughter, I presume?” asked an acid voice behind them.
The two turned surprised faces in the direction of the speaker. Mr. Hemmington Main rose, rather red of face, and bowed low.
“Mrs. Bass, I’m—I’m mighty sorry,” he stammered, that you chanced to overhear our joking remarks. It was my intention to come to you and Mr. Bass and ask your daughter’s hand in a perfectly regular manner. I love—”
The older woman stopped him with uplifted hand. “It is useless, Mr. Main,” she said, coldly. “I have other—higher ambitions for my only child. Good afternoon, Mr. Main,” and she extended her hand to lay it upon the arm of her daughter. “Come, Gwendolyn!”
It was ten days later that Mr. Hemmington Main received in his morning’s mail a letter superscribed in the scrawly and beloved backhand with which he was so familiar—a letter which, after several pages of far greater interest to Mr. Main than to us, ended with: “and so Mother is dragging me off to Europe, ostensibly to forget you; but actually, I am positive, to barter me for a title with a red neck and soiled linen. Father is as mad as I; but helpless. He is for you—horse, foot and artillery—just as I knew he would be. Go and see him—you can weep on one another’s shoulder; and in the mean time, Hemmy, take it from me, I’ll never, never, never, never marry anybody but you.”
And so it was that within that very day Mr. Hemmington Main was ushered into the private office of Abner J. Bass, where the older man greeted his visitor with the kindly smile and the warm handclasp which had been such important factors in the up-building of the Bass millions.
“I know why you have called, my boy,” he said, without waiting for Mr. Main to explain his mission. “If you hadn’t come I should have sent for you—I need your help. Mrs. Bass is, naturally, ambitious for the future of Gwendolyn—so am I; but, unfortunately, in this instance we are not agreed as to what constitutes the elements of a desirable future for our daughter. I could not get away at this time to accompany them abroad—not that I could have accomplished anything had I gone; for Mrs. Bass is, as you know, a very strong character—but I feel that you might accomplish a great deal were you on the spot. Will you go?”
Mr. Hemmington Main was quite taken off his feet by the suddenness of this unexpected proposition—or, it would have been closer to the truth to have said that he was almost taken off his feet, for Mr. Main was never quite taken off them in any emergency. And now he was on the point of jumping at this splendid suggestion when there rose before his mind’s eye a sordid vision—the same old, squalid specter that had clung so tenaciously to his coat tails and held him into the rut of hard labor since the completion of his college days—Hon. Poverty, with his empty stomach and frayed trousers.
Abner J. Bass noticed the younger man’s hesitation, and he guessed its cause.
“You won’t have to worry about the financial end of the undertaking,” he said. “I’ll see to that.”
“But I couldn’t go that way, sir,” expostulated Mr. Main. “Can’t you see that I couldn’t do it?”
“No, I can’t see anything of the sort,” replied Mr. Bass. “If my money is going to be used to buy a husband for Gwendolyn, I am going to see that it buys a husband she wants; and if you love her half as much as she deserves you won’t let pride stand in the way of her happiness. Don’t be foolish, Main; we’ve got to work together, each giving what he has to give—you, youth, vigor and resourcefulness; I, financial backing,” and without waiting for a reply the older man wheeled about to his desk, opened a check book and filled in a blank check.
“Here,” he said, extending the bit of paper toward Hemmington Main, “take this for preliminary expenses, and then draw on me for as much more as you may need, when you need it—I’ll make the necessary arrangements through our London office. Now run along, and get busy.”