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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Slim Princess - Chapter 5. He Arrives
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The Slim Princess - Chapter 5. He Arrives Post by :MSCOTT Category :Long Stories Author :George Ade Date :May 2012 Read :1720

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The Slim Princess - Chapter 5. He Arrives

CHAPTER V. HE ARRIVES

Kalora was alone.

After putting the company to consternation she had flung herself defiantly back into the chair and directed a most contemptuous gaze at all the desirable young men of her native land.

The Governor-General made a choking attempt to apologize and explain, and then, groping for an excuse to send the people away, suggested that the company view the new stables. The acrobats were dismissed. The guests went rapidly to an inspection of the carriages and horses. They were glad to escape. Jeneka, crushed in spirit and shamed at the brazen performance of her sister, began a plaintive conjecture as to "what people would say," when Kalora turned upon her such a tigerish glance that she fairly ran for her apartment, although she was too corpulent for actual sprinting. Mrs. Plumston remained behind as the only comforter.

"It was a most contemptible proceeding, my child. When they lifted us and carried us to the other side of the tree I thought it was rather nice of them; something on the order of the old Walter Raleigh days of chivalry, and all that. And just think! The beasts did it to find out whether or not you were really plump and heavy. It's a most extraordinary incident."

"I wouldn't marry one of them now, not if he begged and my father commanded!" said Kalora bitterly. "And poor Jeneka! This takes away her last chance. Until I am married she can not marry, and after to-day not even a blind man would choose me."

"For goodness' sake, don't worry! You tell me you are nineteen. No woman need feel discouraged until she is about thirty-five. You have sixteen years ahead of you."

"Not in Morovenia."

"Why remain in Morovenia?"

"We are not permitted to travel."

"Perhaps, after what happened to-day, your father will be glad to let you travel," said Mrs. Plumston with a significant little nod and a wise squint. "Don't you generally succeed in having your own way with him?"

"Oh, to travel--to travel!" exclaimed Kalora, clasping her hands. "If I am to remain single and a burden for ever, perhaps it would lighten father's grief if I resided far away. My presence certainly would remind him of the wreck of all his ambitions, but if I should settle down in Vienna or Paris, or--" she paused and gave a little gasp--"or if anything should happen to me, if I should--should disappear, that is, really disappear, Jeneka would be free to marry and--"

"Oh, pickles!" said Mrs. Plumston. "I have heard of romantic young women jumping overboard and taking poison on account of rich young men, but I never heard of a girl's snuffing herself out so as to give her sister a chance to get married. The thing for you to do at a time like this, when you find yourself in a tangle, is to think of yourself and your own chances for happiness. Father and Jeneka will take care of themselves. They are popular and beloved characters here in Morovenia. They are not taking you into consideration except as you seem to interfere with their selfish plans. I have made it a rule not to work out my neighbor's destiny."

"What can I do?" asked Kalora, seemingly impressed by the earnestness of the consul's wife.

"Leave Morovenia. Keep at your father until he consents to your going. Here you are despised and ridiculed--a victim of heathen prejudice left over from the Dark Ages. Get away, even if you have to walk, and take my word for it, the moment you leave Morovenia you will be a very beautiful girl; not a merely attractive young person, but what we would call at home a radiant beauty--the oriental type, you know. And as a personal favor to me, don't be fat."

"No fear of that," said the girl with a melancholy attempt at a smile. "But you must go and join the others. Do, please. I am now in disgrace, and you may compromise your social standing in Morovenia if you remain here and talk to me."

"I dare say I should go. I have a husband who requires as much attention and scolding as a four-year-old. Sometimes I almost favor the oriental system of the husband's directing the wife. Good-by."

"Good-by."

Mrs. Plumston gave her a kiss and a friendly little pat on the arm, and walked away toward the stables with a swinging, heel-and-toe, masculine stride.

Kalora had the whole garden to herself. She sat squared up in the wicker chair with her fists clenched, looking straight ahead, trying in vain to think of some plan for avenging herself upon the whole race of bachelors. As she sat thus some one spoke to her.

"How do you do?" came a voice.

She was startled and looked about, but saw no one.

"Up here!" came the voice again.

She looked up and saw a young man on the top of the wall, his legs hanging over. Evidently he had climbed up from the outside, and yet Kalora had never suspected that the wall could be climbed.

He was smoothly shaven, with blond hair almost ripe enough to be auburn; he wore a gray suit of rather loose and careless material, a belt, but no waistcoat; his trousers were reefed up from a pair of saddle-brown shoes, and the silk band around his small straw hat was tricolored. In his hand was a paper-covered book. Swung over his shoulder was a camera in a leather case. He sat there on top of the high wall and gazed at Kalora with a grinning interest, and she, forgetting that she was unveiled and clad only in the simple garments which had horrified the best people of Morovenia, gazed back at him, for he was the first of the kind she had seen.

"What are you doing here?" she asked wonderingly.

"I am looking for the show," he replied. "They told me down at the hotel that a very hot bunch of acrobats were doing a few stunts down here this afternoon, and I thought I'd break in if I could. Wanted to get some pictures of them."

"Were you invited?"

"No, but that doesn't make any difference. In Cairo I went to a native wedding every day. If I passed a house where there was a wedding being pulled off, I simply went inside and mingled. They never put me out--seemed to enjoy having me there. I suppose they thought it was the American custom for outsiders to ring in at a wedding."

"You said American, didn't you? Are you from America?"

"Do I look like a Scandinavian? I am from the grand old commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Did you ever hear of the town of Bessemer?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Did you ever hear of the Pike family that robbed all the orphans, tore down the starry banner, walked on the humble working-girl and gave the double cross to the common people? Did you?"

"Dear me, no," she replied, following him vaguely.

"Well, I am Alexander H., of the tribe of Pike, and I have two reasons for being in your beautiful little city. One is Federal grand jury and the other is ten-cent magazine. You know, our folks are sinfully rich. About four years ago I came in for most of the guvnor's coin, and in trying to keep up the traditions of the family, I have made myself unpopular, but I didn't know how unpopular I really was until I got this magazine from home this morning." And he held up the paper-covered book, which had a rainbow cover. "They have been writing up a few of us captains of industry, and they have said everything about me that they _could say without having the thing barred out of the mails. I notice that you speak our kind of talk fairly well, but I think I can take you by the hand and show you a lot of new and beautiful English language. I will read this to you."

Before she could warn him, or do anything except let out a horrified "Oh-h!" he had leaped lightly from his high perch and was standing in front of her.

"I'm afraid you don't understand," she said, rising and taking a frightened survey of the garden, to be sure that no one was watching. "Strangers are not permitted in here. That is, men, and more especially--ah--Christians."

"I'm not a Christian, and I can prove it by this magazine. I am an octopus, and a viper, and a vampire, and a man-eating shark. I am what you might call a composite zoo. If you want to get a line on me just read this article on _The Shameless Brigand of Bessemer_, and you will certainly find out that I am a nice young fellow."

Kalora had studied English for years and thought she knew it, and yet she found it difficult fully, to comprehend all the figurative phrases of this pleasing young stranger.

"Do I understand that you are traveling abroad because of your unpopularity at home?" she asked.

"I am waiting for things to cool down. As soon as the muck-rakers wear out their rakes, and the great American public finds some other kind of hysterics to keep it worked up to a proper temperature, I shall mosey back and resume business at the old stand. But why tell you the story of my life? Play fair now, and tell me a lot about yourself. Where am I?"

"You are here in my father's private garden, where you hare no right to be."

"And father?"

"Is Count Selim Malagaski, Governor-General of Morovenia."

"Wow! And you?"

"I am his daughter."

"The daughter of all that must be something. Have you a title?"

"I am called Princess."

"Can you beat that? Climb up a wall to see some A-rabs perform, and find a real, sure-enough princess, and likewise, if you don't mind my saying so, a pippin."

"I don't know what you mean," she said.

"A corker."

"Corker?"

"I mean that you're a good-looker--that it's no labor at all to gaze right at you. I didn't think they grew them so far from headquarters, but I see I'm wrong. You are certainly all right. Pardon me for saying this to you so soon after we meet, but I have learned that you will never break a woman's heart by telling her that she is a beaut."

Kalora leaned back in her chair and laughed. She was beginning to comprehend the whimsical humor of the very unusual young man. His direct and playful manner of speech amused her, and also seemed to reassure her. And, when he seated himself within a few inches of her elbow, fanning himself with the little straw hat, and calmly inspecting the tiny landscape of the forbidden garden, she made no protest against his familiarity, although she knew that she was violating the most sacred rules laid down for her sex.

She reasoned thus with herself:

"To-day I have disgraced myself to the utmost, and, since I am utterly shamed, why not revel in my lawlessness?"

Besides, she wished to question this young man. Mrs. Plumston had said to her: "You are beautiful." No one else had ever intimated such a thing. In fact, for five years she had been taunted almost daily because of her lack of all physical charms. Perhaps she could learn the truth about herself by some adroit questioning of the young man from Pennsylvania.

"You have traveled a great deal?" she asked.

"Me and Baedeker and Cook wrote it," he replied; and then, seeing that she was puzzled, he said: "I have been to all of the places they keep open."

"You have seen many women in many countries?"

"I have. I couldn't help it, and I'm glad of it."

"Then you know what constitutes beauty?"

"Not always. What is sponge cake for me may be sawdust for somebody else. Say, I rode for an hour in a 'rickshaw at Nagoya to see the most beautiful girl in Japan and when we got to the teahouse they trotted out a little shrimp that looked as if she'd been dried over a barrel--you know, stood _bent all the time, as if she was getting ready to jump. Her neck was no bigger than a gripman's wrist and she had a nose that stood right out from her face almost an eighth of an inch. Her eyes were set on the bias and she was painted more colors than a bandwagon. I said, 'If this is the champion geisha, take me back to the land of the chorus girl.' And in China! Listen! I caught a Chinese belle coming down the Queen's Road in Hong-Kong one day, and I ran up an alley. I have seen Parisian beauties that had a coat of white veneering over them an inch thick, and out here in this country I have seen so-called cracker-jacks that ought to be doing the mountain-of-flesh act in the Ringling side-show. So there you are!"

"But in your own country, and in the larger cities of the world, there must be some sort of standard. What are the requirements? What must a woman be, that all men would call her beautiful?"

"Well, Princess, that's a pretty hard proposition to dope out. Good looks can not be analyzed in a lab or worked out by algebra, because, I'm telling you, the one that may look awful lucky to me may strike somebody else as being fairly punk. Providence framed it up that way so as to give more girls a chance to land somebody. Still, there is one kind that makes a hit wherever people are bright enough to sit up and take notice. Now I suppose that any male being in his right senses would find it easy to look at a woman who was young enough and had eyes and hair and teeth and the other items, all doing team-work together, and then if she was trim and slender--"

"Should she be slender?" interrupted Kalora, leaning toward him.

"Sure. I don't mean the same width all the way up and down, like an art student, but trim and--Here, I'll show you. You will find the pictures of the most beautiful women in the world right here in the ads of a ten-cent magazine. Look them over and you will understand what I mean."

He turned page after page and showed her the tapering goddesses of the straight front, the tooth-powder, the camera, the breakfast-food, the massage-cream, and the hair-tonic.

"These are what you call beautiful women?" she asked.

"These are about the limit."

"Then in your country I would not be considered hideous, would I?"

"Hideous? Say, if you ever walked up Fifth Avenue you would block the traffic! And in the palm-garden at the Waldorf--why, you and the head waiter would own the place! Are you trying to string me by asking such questions? Are you a real ingenue, or a kidder?"

"I hardly know what you mean, but I assure you that here in Morovenia they laugh at me because I am not fat."

"This is a shine country, and you're in wrong, little girl," said Mr. Pike, in a kindly tone. "Why don't you duck?"

"Duck?"

"Leave here and hunt up some of the red spots on the map. You know what I mean--away to the bright lights! I don't like to knock your native land but, honestly, Morovenia is a bad boy. I've struck towns around here where you couldn't buy illustrated post-cards. They take in the sidewalks at nine o'clock every night. That orchestra down at the hotel handed me a new coon song last night--_Bill Bailey_! Can you beat that? As long as you stay here you are hooked up with a funeral."

Kalora, with wrinkled brow, had been striving to follow him in his figurative flights.

"Strange," she murmured. "You are the second person I have met to-day who advises me to go away--to the west."

"That's the tip!" he exclaimed with fervor. "Go west and when you start, keep on going. You come to America and bring along the papers to show that you're a real live princess and you'll own both sides of the street. We'll show you more real excitement in two weeks than you'll see around here if you live to be a hundred."

"I should like to go, but--Look! Hurry, please! You must go!"

She pointed, and young Mr. Pike turned to see two guards in baggy uniforms bearing down upon him, their eyes bulging with amazement.

"Shall I try to put up a bluff, or fight it out?" he asked, as he stood up to meet them.

"You can not explain," gasped Kalora. "Run! _Run_! They know you have no right here. This means going to prison--perhaps worse."

"Does it?" he asked, between his set teeth. "If those two brunettes get me, they'll have to go some."

When the two pounced upon him he made no resistance and they captured him. He stood between them, each of them clutching an arm and breathing heavily, not only from exertion, but also out of a sense of triumph.

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