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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Slim Princess - Chapter 4. The Garden Party
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The Slim Princess - Chapter 4. The Garden Party Post by :MSCOTT Category :Long Stories Author :George Ade Date :May 2012 Read :2800

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The Slim Princess - Chapter 4. The Garden Party

CHAPTER IV. THE GARDEN PARTY

Said the Governor-General to himself in that prime hour for wide-awake meditation--the one just before arising for breakfast: "She is not all that she should be, and yet, millions of women have been less than perfect and most of them have married."

He looked hard at the ceiling for a full minute and then murmured, "Even men have their shortcomings."

This declaration struck him as being sinful and almost infidel in its radicalism, and yet it seemed to open the way to a logical reason why some titled bachelor of damaged reputation and tottering finances might balance his poor assets against a dowry and a social position, even though he would be compelled to figure Kalora into the bargain.

It must be known that the Governor-General was now simply looking for a husband for Kalora. He did not hope to top the market or bring down any notable catch. He favored any alliance that would result in no discredit to his noble lineage.

"At present they do not even nibble," he soliloquized, still looking at the ceiling. "They have taken fright for some reason. They may have an inkling of the awful truth. She is nineteen. Next year she will be twenty--the year after that twenty-one. Then it would be too late. A desperate experiment is better than inaction. I have much to gain and nothing to lose. I must exhibit Kalora. I shall bring the young men to her. Some of them may take a fancy to her. I have seen people eat sugar on tomatoes and pepper on ice-cream. There may be in Morovenia one--one would be sufficient--one bachelor who is no stickler for full-blown loveliness. I may find a man who has become inoculated with western heresies and believes that a woman with intellect is desirable, even though under weight. I may find a fool, or an aristocrat who has gambled. I may stumble upon good fortune if I put her out among the young men. Yes, I must exhibit her, but how--how?"

He began reaching into thin air for a pretext and found one. The inspiration was simple and satisfying.

He would give a garden-party in honor of Mr. Rawley Plumston, the British Consul. Of course he would have to invite Mrs. Plumston and then, out of deference to European custom, he would have his two daughters present. It was only by the use of imported etiquette that he could open the way to direct courtship.

Possibly some of the cautious young noblemen would talk with Kalora, and, finding her bright-eyed, witty, ready in conversation and with enthusiasm for big and masculine undertakings, be attracted to her. At the same time her father decided that there was no reason why her pitiful shortage of avoirdupois should be candidly advertised. Even at a garden-party, where the guests of honor are two English subjects, the young women would be required to veil themselves up to the nose-tips and hide themselves within a veritable cocoon of soft garments.

The invitations went out and the acceptances came in. The English were flattered. Count Malagaski was buoyed by new hopes and the daughters were in a day-and-night flutter, for neither of them had ever come within speaking distance of the real young man of their dreams.

On the morning of the day set apart for the debut of Kalora, Count Selim went to her apartments, and, with a rather shamefaced reluctance, gave his directions.

"Kalora, I have done all for you that any father could do for a beloved child and you are still thin," he began.

"Slender," she corrected.

"Thin," he repeated. "Thin as a crane--a mere shadow of a girl--and, what is more deplorable, apparently indifferent to the sorrow that you are causing those most interested in your welfare."

"I am not indifferent, father. If, merely by wishing, I could be fat, I would make myself the shape of the French balloon that floated over Morovenia last week. I would be so roly-poly that, when it came time for me to go and meet our guests this afternoon, I would roll into their presence as if I were a tennis-ball."

"Why should you know anything about tennis-balls? You, of all the young women in Morovenia, seem to be the only one with a fondness for athletics. I have heard that in Great Britain, where the women ride and play rude, manly games, there has been developed a breed as hard as flint--Allah preserve me from such women!"

"Father, you are leading up to something. What is it you wish to say?"

"This. You have persistently disobeyed me and made me very unhappy, but to-day I must ask you to respect my wishes. Do not proclaim to our guests the sad truth regarding your deficiency."

"Good!" she exclaimed gaily. "I shall wear a robe the size of an Arabian tent, and I shall surround myself with soft pillows, and I shall wheeze when I breathe and--who knows?--perhaps some dark-eyed young man worth a million piasters will be deceived, and will come to you to-morrow, and buy me--buy me at so much a pound." And she shrieked with laughter.

"Stop!" commanded her father. "You refuse to take me seriously, but I am in earnest. Do not humiliate me in the presence of my friends this afternoon."

Then he hurried away before she had time to make further sport of him.

To Count Selim Malagaski this garden-party was the frantic effort of a sinking man. To Kalora it was a lark. From the pure fun of the thing, she obeyed her father. She wore four heavily quilted and padded gowns, one over another, and when she and Jeneka were summoned from their apartments and went out to meet the company under the trees, they were almost like twins and both duck-like in general outlines.

First they met Mrs. Rawley Plumston, a very tall, bony and dignified woman in gray, wearing a most flowery hat. To every man of Morovenia Mrs. Plumston was the apotheosis of all that was undesirable in her sex, but they were exceedingly polite to her, for the reason that Morovenia owed a great deal of money in London and it was a set policy to cultivate the friendship of the British.

While Jeneka and Kalora were being presented to the consul's wife, these same young men, the very flower of bachelorhood, stood back at a respectful distance and regarded the young women with half-concealed curiosity. To be permitted to inspect young women of the upper classes was a most unusual privilege, and they knew why the privilege had been extended to them. It was all very amusing, but they were too well bred to betray their real emotions. When they moved up to be presented to the sisters they seemed grave in their salutations and restrained themselves, even though one pair of eyes, peering out above a very gauzy veil, seemed to twinkle with mischief and to corroborate their most pronounced suspicions.

Out of courtesy to his guests, Count Malagaski had made his garden-party as deadly dull as possible. Little groups of bored people drifted about under the trees and exchanged the usual commonplace observations. Tea and cakes were served under a canopy tent and the local orchestra struggled with pagan music.

Kalora found herself in a wide and easy kind of a basket-chair sitting under a tree and chatting with Mrs. Plumston. She was trying to be at her ease, and all the time she knew that every young man present was staring at her out of the corner of his eye.

Mrs. Plumston, although very tall and evidently of brawny strength, had a twittering little voice and a most confiding manner. She was immensely interested in the daughter of the Governor-General. To meet a young girl who had spent her life within the mysterious shadows of an oriental household gave her a tingling interest, the same as reading a forbidden book. She readily won the confidence of Kalora, and Kalora, being most ingenuous and not educated to the wiles of the drawing-room, spoke her thoughts with the utmost candor.

"I like you," she said to Mrs. Plumston, "and, oh, how I envy you! You go to balls and dinners and the theater, don't you?"

"Alas, yes, and you escape them! How I envy _you_!"

"Your husband is a very handsome man. Do you love him?"

"I tolerate him."

"Does he ever scold you for being thin?"

"Does he _what_?"

"Is he ever angry with you because you are not big and plump and--and--pulpy?"

"Heavens, no! If my husband has any private convictions regarding my personal appearance, he is discreet enough to keep them to himself. If he isn't satisfied with me, he should be. I have been working for years to save myself from becoming fat and plump and--pulpy."

"Then you don't think fat women are beautiful?"

"My child, in all enlightened countries adipose is woman's worst enemy. If I were a fat woman, and a man said that he loved me, I should know that he was after my bank-account. Take my advice, my dear young lady, and bant."

"Bant?"

"Reduce. Make yourself slender. You have beautiful eyes, beautiful hair, a perfect complexion, and with a trim figure you would be simply incomparable."

Kalora listened, trembling with surprise and pleasure. Then she leaned over and took the hand of the gracious Englishwoman.

"I have a confession to make," she said in a whisper. "I am not fat--I am slim--quite slim."

And then, at that moment, something happened to make this whole story worth telling. It was a little something, but it was the beginning of many strange experiences, for it broke up the wonderful garden-party in the grounds of the Governor-General, and it gave Morovenia something to talk about for many weeks to come. It all came about as follows:

At the military club, the night before the party, a full score of young men, representing the quality, sat at an oblong table and partook of refreshments not sanctioned by the Prophet. They were young men of registered birth and supposititious breeding, even though most of them had very little head back of the ears and wore the hair clipped short and were big of bone, like work-horses, and had the gusty manners of the camp.

They were foolishly gloating over the prospect of meeting the two daughters of the Governor-General, and were telling what they knew about them with much freedom, for, even in a monarchy, the chief executive and his family are public property and subject to the censorship of any one who has a voice for talking.

Of these male gossips there were a few who said, with gleeful certainty, that the elder daughter was a mere twig who could hide within the shadow of her bounteous and incomparable sister.

"Wait until to-morrow and you shall see," they said, wagging their heads very wisely.

To-morrow had come and with it the party and here was Kalora--a pretty face peering out from a great pod of clothes.

They stood back and whispered and guessed, until one, more enterprising than the others, suggested a bold experiment to set all doubts at rest.

Count Malagaski had provided a diversion for his guests. A company of Arabian acrobats, on their way from Constantinople to Paris, had been intercepted, and were to give an exhibition of leaping and pyramid-building at one end of the garden. While Kalora was chatting with Mrs. Plumston, the acrobats had entered and, throwing off their yellow-and-black striped gowns, were preparing for the feats. They were behind the two women and at the far end of the garden. Mrs. Plumston and Kalora would have to move to the other side of the tree in order to witness the exhibition. This fact gave the devil-may-care young bachelors a ready excuse.

"Do as I have directed and you shall learn for yourselves," said the one who had invented the tactics. "I tell you that what you see is all shell. Now then--"

Four conspirators advanced in a half-careless and sauntering manner to where Kalora and the consul's wife sat by the sheltering tree, intent upon their exchange of secrets.

"Pardon me, Mrs. Plumston, but the acrobats are about to begin," said one of the young men, touching the fez with his forefinger.

"Oh, really?" she exclaimed, looking up. "We must see them."

"You must face the other way," said the young man. "They are at the east end of the garden. Permit us."

Whereupon the young man who had spoken and a companion who stood at his side very gently picked up Mrs. Plumston's big basket-chair between them and carried it around to the other side of the tree. And the two young men who had been waiting just behind picked up Kalora's chair and carried _her to the other side of the tree, and put her down beside the consul's wife.

Did they carry her? No, they dandled her. She was as light as a feather for these two young giants of the military. They made a palpable show of the ridiculous ease with which they could lift their burden. It may have been a forward thing to do, but they had done it with courtly politeness, and the consul's wife, instead of being annoyed, was pleased and smiling over the very pretty little attention, for she could not know at the moment that the whole maneuver had grown out of a wager and was part of a detestable plan to find out the actual weight of the Governor-General's elder daughter.

If Mrs. Plumston did not understand, Count Selim Malagaski understood. So did all the young men who were watching the pantomime. And Kalora understood. She looked up and saw the lurking smiles on the faces of the two gallants who were carrying her, and later the tittering became louder and some of the young men laughed aloud.

She leaped from her chair and turned upon her two tormentors.

"How dare you?" she exclaimed. "You are making sport of me in the presence of my father's guests! You have a contempt for me because I am ugly. You mock at me in private because you hear that I am thin. You wish to learn the truth about me. Well, I will tell you. I _am thin. I weigh one hundred and eighteen pounds."

She was speaking loudly and defiantly, and all the young men were backing away, dismayed at the outbreak. Her father elbowed his way among them, white with terror, and attempted to pacify her.

"Be still, my child!" he commanded. "You don't know what you are saying!"

"Yes, I do know what I am saying!" she persisted, her voice rising shrilly. "Do they wish to know about me? Must they know the truth? Then look! _Look_!"

With sweeping outward gestures she threw off the soft quilted robes gathered about her, tore away the veil and stood before them in a white gown that fairly revealed every modified in-and-out of her figure.

What ensued? Is it necessary to tell? The costume in which she stood forth was no more startling or immodest than the simple gown which the American high-school girl wears on her Commencement Day, and it was decidedly more ample than the sum of all the garments worn at polite social gatherings in communities somewhat to the west. Nevertheless, the company stood aghast. They were doubly horrified--first, at the effrontery of the girl, and second, at the revelation of her real person, for they saw that she was doomed, helpless, bereft of hope, slim beyond all curing.

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