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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Slim Princess - Chapter 14. Heroism Rewarded
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The Slim Princess - Chapter 14. Heroism Rewarded Post by :windermere Category :Long Stories Author :George Ade Date :May 2012 Read :2722

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The Slim Princess - Chapter 14. Heroism Rewarded

CHAPTER XIV. HEROISM REWARDED

A month later Popova was still in prison, and had demonstrated that even after one has lunched for several months at the Shoreham, the New Willard and the Raleigh, he may subsist on such simple fare as bread and water.

Kalora had been humiliated to the uttermost, but her spirit was unbroken and defiant.

She was nominally a servant, but Jeneka and the others dared not attempt any overbearing attitude toward her, for they feared her sharp and ready wit.

The fires of inward wrath seemed to have reduced her weight a few pounds, so that if ever a man faced a situation of unbroken gloom, that man was the poor Governor-General.

Count Malagaski sat in the large, over-decorated audience room, alone with his sorrowful meditations. An attendant brought him a note.

"The man is at the gate," said the attendant. "He started to come in. We tried to keep him out. He pushed three of the soldiers out of the way, but we finally held him back, so he sends this note."

A few lines had been written in pencil on the reverse side of a typewritten business letter. The Governor-General could speak English, but he read it rather badly, so he sent for his secretary, who told him that the note ran as follows:


You don't know me and there is no need to give my name. Must see you on important matter of business. Something in regard to your daughter.


"Great Heavens, another one!" said the Governor-General. "There are one thousand young men ready and willing to marry Jeneka and not one in all the world wants Kalora. Send him away!"

"I am afraid he won't go," suggested the attendant. "He is a very positive character."

"Then send him in to me. I can dispose of his case in short order."

A few moments later Count Selim Malagaski found himself sitting face to face with a ruddy young man in a blue suit--a square-shouldered, smiling young gentleman, with hair of subdued auburn.

"I take it that you're a busy man and I'll come to the point," said the young man, pulling up his chair. "I try to be business from the word go, even in matters of this kind. You have a daughter."

"I have two daughters," replied the Governor-General sadly.

"You have only one that interests me. I have been around a good deal, but she is about the finest looking girl I--"

"Before you say any more, let me explain to you," said the Governor-General very courteously. "Perhaps you are not entitled to this information, but you seem to be a gentleman and a person of some importance, and you have done me the honor to admire my daughter, and, therefore, it is well that you should know all the facts in the case. I have two daughters. One is exceedingly beautiful and her hand has been sought in marriage by young men of the very first families of Morovenia, notably Count Luis Muldova, who owns a vast estate near the Roumanian frontier. I have another daughter who is decidedly unattractive, so much so that she has never had an offer of marriage. I am telling you all this because it is known to all Morovenia, and even you, a stranger, would have learned it very soon. Under the law here, a younger sister may not marry until the elder sister has married. My unattractive daughter is the elder of the two. Do you see the point? Do you understand, when you come talking of a marriage with my one desirable daughter, that not only are you competing with all the wealthy and titled young men of this country, but also you are condemned to sit down and patiently wait until the elder sister has married,--which means, my dear sir, that probably you will wait for ever? Therefore I think I may safely wish you good day."

"Hold on, here," said the visitor, who had been listening intently, with his eyes half-closed, and nodding his head quickly as he caught the points of the unusual situation. "If I can fix it up with you and daughter--and I don't think I'll have any trouble with daughter--what's the matter with my rustling around and finding a good man for sister? There is no reason why any young woman with a title should go into the discard these days. At least we can make a try. I have tackled propositions that looked a good deal tougher than this."

"Do you think it possible that you could find a desirable husband for a young woman who has no physical charms and who, on two or three occasions, has scandalized our entire court?"

"I don't say I can, but I'm willing to take a whirl at it."

"My dear sir, before we go any further, tell me something about yourself. You are an Englishman, I presume?"

"Great Scott! You're the first one that ever called me that. I have been called a good many things, but never an Englishman. I'll have to begin wearing a flag in my hat. I'm an American."

"American!" gasped the Governor-General. "I am very sorry to hear it. I have every reason for regarding you and your native country as my natural enemies."

"You're dead wrong. America is all right. The States size up pretty well alongside of this little patch of country."

"I do not blame you for being loyal to your own home, sir, but isn't it rather presumptuous for you, an American, to aspire to the hand of a Princess who could marry any one of a dozen young men of wealth and social position?"

"What's the matter with my wealth and social position? I'm willing to stack up my bank-account with any other candidate. I happen to be worth eighteen million dollars."

"Dollars?" repeated the Governor-General, puzzled. "What would that be in piasters?"

"It's a shame to tell you. Only about four hundred million piastres, that's all."

"What!" exclaimed the Governor-General. "Surely you are joking. How could one man be worth four hundred million piasters?"

"Say, if you'll give me a pencil and a pad of paper and about a half-day's time, I'll figure out for you what Henry Frick is worth in piasters and then you _would have a fit. Why, in the land of ready money I'm only a third-rater, but I've got the four hundred million, all right."

"But have you any social position?" asked the Governor-General. "Any rank? Any title? Over here those things count for a great deal."

"I am Grand Exalted Ruler of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks," said the visitor calmly.

"Really!"

"I am a Knight Templar."

"A knight? That is certainly something."

"Do you see this badge with all the jewels in it? That means that I am a Noble of the Mystic Shrine."

"I can see that it is the insignia of a very distinguished order," said the Governor-General, as he touched it admiringly.

"What is more, I am King of the Hoo-Hoos."

"A king?"

"A sure-enough king. Now, don't you worry about my wealth or my title. I've got money to burn and I can travel in any company. The thing for us to do is to get together and find a good husband for the cripple, and fix up this whole marriage deal. But before we go into it I want to meet your daughter and find out exactly how I stand with her."

"That will be unnecessary, and also impossible. Whatever arrangements you make with me may be regarded as final. My daughter will obey my wishes."

"Not for mine! I am not trying to marry any girl that isn't just as keen for me as I am for her. Why, I've seen her only twice. Let me talk it over with her, and if she says yes, then you can look me up in Bradstreet and we'll all know where we stand."

"I am sorry, but it is absolutely contrary to our customs to permit a private interview between an unmarried woman and her suitor."

"Whereas in our country it is the most customary thing in the world! Now, why should we observe the customs of _your country and disregard the customs of _my country, which is about forty times as large and eighty times as important as your country? Don't be foolish! I may be the means of pulling you out of a tight hole. You go and send your daughter here to me. Give me ten minutes with her. I'll state my case to her, straight from the shoulder, and, if she doesn't give me a lot of encouragement, I'll grab the first train back to Paris. If she _does give me any encouragement, then you'll see what can be accomplished by a real live matrimonial agency."

The Governor-General hesitated, but not for long. The confident manner of the stranger had inspired him with the first courage that he had felt for many weeks and revived in him the long-slumbering hope that possibly there was somewhere in the world a desirable husband for Kalora. He was about to violate an important rule, but there was no reason why any one on the outside should hear about it.

"This is most unusual," he said. "If I comply with your request, I must beg of you not to mention the fact of this interview to any one. Remain here."

He went away, and the young man waited minute after minute, pacing back and forth the length of the room, cutting nervous circles around the big office chairs, wiping his palms with his handkerchief and wondering if he had come on a fool's errand or whether--

He heard a rustle of soft garments, and turned. There in the doorway stood a feminine full moon--an elliptical young woman, with half of her pink and corpulent face showing above a gauzy veil, her two chubby hands clasped in front of her, the whole attitude one of massive shyness.

"I--I beg pardon," he said, staring at her in wonder.

She tried to speak, but was too much flustered. He saw that she was smiling behind the veil, and then she came toward him, holding out her hand. He took the hand, which felt almost squashy, and said:

"I am very glad to meet you."

Then there was a pause.

"Won't you be seated?" he asked.

She sank into one of the leather chairs and looked up at him with a little simper, and there was another pause.

"I--I never have seen you before, have I?" she asked, with a secretive attempt to take a good look at him.

"You can search me," he replied, staring at her, as if fascinated by her wealth of figure. "If I had seen you before, I have a remote suspicion that I should remember you. I don't think it would be easy to forget you."

"You flatter me," she said softly.

"Do I? Well, I meant every word of it. Will you pardon me for being a wee bit personal? Are there many young ladies in these parts that are as--as--corpulent, or fat, or whatever you want to call it--that is, are you any plumper than the average?"

"I have been told that I am."

"Once more pardon me, but have you done anything for it?"

"For what?" she asked, considerably surprised.

"I wouldn't have mentioned it, only I think I can give you some good tips. I had a Cousin Flora who was troubled the same way. About the time she went to Smith College she got kind of careless with herself, used to eat a lot of candy and never take any exercise, and she got to be an awful looking thing. If you'll cut out the starchy foods and drink nothing but Kissingen, and begin skipping the rope every day, you'll be surprised how much of that you'll take off in a little while. At first you won't be able to skip more than twenty-five or fifty times a day, but you keep at it and in a month you can do your five hundred. Put on plenty of flannels and wear a sweater. And I'll show you a dandy exercise. Put your heels together this way,"--and he stood in front of her,--"and try to touch the floor with your fingers--so!"--illustrating. "You won't be able to do it at first, but keep at it, and it'll help a lot. Then, if you will lie flat on your back every morning, and work your feet up and down----"

She had listened, at first in utter amazement. Now her timid coquettishness was giving way to anger.

"What are you trying to tell me?" she asked.

"It's none of my business, but I thought you'd be glad to find out what'd take off about fifty pounds."

"And is this why you came to see me?" she demanded.

"_I didn't come to see _you_."

"My father said you were waiting and he sent me to you."

"Sent _you_," replied Mr. Pike in frank surprise. "My dear girl, you may be good to your folks and your heart may be in the right place, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but father has got mixed in his dates. I certainly didn't come here to see _you_."

As he was speaking Jeneka wriggled forward in her chair and then arose. She stood before him, heaving perceptibly.

"Your manner is most insulting," she declared. She had expected to be showered with compliments, and here was this giggling stranger advising her to be thin! She toddled over to the door and pushed a bell. Then she turned upon the bewildered stranger and remarked coldly: "Unless you have something further to communicate, you may consider this interview at an end."

A servant appeared in the doorway.

"Show this person out," said the portly princess.

The servant gave a little scream.

"Mr. Pike!"

"Kalora!"

And then he was holding both her hands.

"You are _here_--here in Morovenia? You came all the way?"

"All the way! I'd have come ten times as far. Before I left New York I heard about all those messenger boys hunting me around the hotels, but I didn't know what it meant. When I got back to Washington I found your note, and, as soon as I could get Congress calmed down, I started--got in here last night."

"But why did you come?"

"Can't you guess?" Mr. Pike wasted no time in circumlocution.

During this hurried interview Jeneka had been holding a determined thumb against the electric button. The Governor-General, waiting impatiently up the hallway, heard the prolonged buzzing and came to investigate. He found the adorable Jeneka, all trembling with indignation, in the doorway. She saw him and pointed. He looked and saw the distinguished stranger, the man of many titles and unbounded wealth, standing close to the slim princess, holding both her hands and beaming upon her with all of the unmistakable delirious happiness of love's young dream.

"What does it mean?" asked the Governor-General. "Is it possible----"

"He was rude to me," began Jeneka, "He was most insulting----"

Mr. Pike turned to meet his prospective father-in-law.

"You meant well, but you got twisted," he remarked. "This is the one I was looking for."

At first Count Selim Malagaski was too dumfounded for speech.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "Can it be possible that you, a man worth millions of piasters, an exalted ruler, a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, have deliberately chosen this waspy, weedy----"

"Let up!" said Mr. Pike sharply. "You can say what you please about your daughter, but you mustn't make remarks about the prospective Mrs. Pike. I don't know anything about her local reputation for looks, but I think she's the most beautiful thing that ever drew breath, and I'd make it stronger than that if I knew how. You thought I meant the fat one. Well, I didn't, but I hope the agreement goes just the same. And I'll stick to what I said. I'll get the other one married off. It may take a little time, but I think I can find some one."

"_Find some one?" cried Jeneka indignantly.

"_Find some one?" repeated her father. "She has been sought by every young man of quality in the whole kingdom. How dare you suggest that----"

Then he paused, for he was beginning to comprehend that young Mr. Pike had stepped in and saved him, and that, instead of rebuking Mr. Pike, he should be weeping on his breast and calling him "son."

Jeneka came to her senses at the same moment, for she saw her dream of five years coming true. She knew that soon she would be the Countess Muldova.

Mr. Pike suddenly felt himself caressed by three happy mortals.

"I shall make you a Knight of the Gleaming Scimitar," said the Governor-General. "I have the authority."

"Thanks," replied Mr. Pike.

"And we can have a double wedding," exclaimed Jeneka, whose ecstasy was almost apoplectic.

"We shall be married in Washington," said Kalora decisively. "I am not going to be carted over to my husband's house and delivered at the back door, even if it is the custom of my native land. I shall be married publicly and have twelve bridesmaids."

"You may start for Washington immediately," said her father with genuine enthusiasm.

"I shall need a chaperon. Send for Popova."

"Good! His punishment shall be--permanent exile."

"Nothing would please him better," said Kalora. "Over here he is nothing--in Washington he will be a distinguished foreigner. Washington! _Washington_! To think that all of us are going back there! To think that once more I shall have pickles--all the pickles I want to eat!"

"We have over fifty varieties waiting for you," observed young Mr. Pike tenderly.

"I have been thinking," spoke up the Governor-General. "I shall apply to the Sultan. He shall make you a Most Noble Prince of the Order of Bosporus. The decoration is a great star, studded with diamonds."

"Thanks," replied Mr. Pike.

That night the great palace at Morovenia was completely illuminated for the first time in many months.


(THE END)
George Ade's fiction/novel: Slim Princess

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