The Princess Aline
H. R. H. the Princess Aline of Hohenwald came into the life of Morton Carlton—or "Morney" Carlton, as men called him—of New York city, when that young gentleman's affairs and affections were best suited to receive her. Had she made her appearance three years sooner or three years later, it is quite probable that she would have passed on out of his life with no more recognition from him than would have been expressed in a look of admiring curiosity.
But coming when she did, when his time and heart were both unoccupied, she had an influence upon young Mr. Carlton which led him into doing several wise and many foolish things, and which remained with him always. Carlton had reached a point in his life, and very early in his life, when he could afford to sit at ease and look back with modest satisfaction to what he had forced himself to do, and forward with pleasurable anticipations to whatsoever he might choose to do in the future. The world had appreciated what he had done, and had put much to his credit, and he was prepared to draw upon this grandly.
At the age of twenty he had found himself his own master, with excellent family connections, but with no family, his only relative being a bachelor uncle, who looked at life from the point of view of the Union Club's windows, and who objected to his nephew's leaving Harvard to take up the study of art in Paris. In that city (where at Julian's he was nicknamed the junior Carlton, for the obvious reason that he was the older of the two Carltons in the class, and because he was well dressed) he had shown himself a harder worker than others who were less careful of their appearance and of their manners. His work, of which he did not talk, and his ambitions, of which he also did not talk, bore fruit early, and at twenty-six he had become a portrait-painter of international reputation. Then the French government purchased one of his paintings at an absurdly small figure, and placed it in the Luxembourg, from whence it would in time depart to be buried in the hall of some provincial city; and American millionaires, and English Lord Mayors, members of Parliament, and members of the Institute, masters of hounds in pink coats, and ambassadors in gold lace, and beautiful women of all nationalities and conditions sat before his easel. And so when he returned to New York he was welcomed with an enthusiasm which showed that his countrymen had feared that the artistic atmosphere of the Old World had stolen him from them forever. He was particularly silent, even at this date, about his work, and listened to what others had to say of it with much awe, not unmixed with some amusement, that it should be he who was capable of producing anything worthy of such praise. We have been told what the mother duck felt when her ugly duckling turned into a swan, but we have never considered how much the ugly duckling must have marvelled also.
"Carlton is probably the only living artist," a brother artist had said of him, "who fails to appreciate how great his work is." And on this being repeated to Carlton by a good-natured friend, he had replied cheerfully, "Well, I'm sorry, but it is certainly better to be the only one who doesn't appreciate it than to be the only one who does."
He had never understood why such a responsibility had been intrusted to him. It was, as he expressed it, not at all in his line, and young girls who sought to sit at the feet of the master found him making love to them in the most charming manner in the world, as though he were not entitled to all the rapturous admiration of their very young hearts, but had to sue for it like any ordinary mortal. Carlton always felt as though some day some one would surely come along and say: "Look here, young man, this talent doesn't belong to you; it's mine. What do you mean by pretending that such an idle good-natured youth as yourself is entitled to such a gift of genius?" He felt that he was keeping it in trust, as it were; that it had been changed at birth, and that the proper guardian would eventually relieve him of his treasure.
Personally Carlton was of the opinion that he should have been born in the active days of knights-errant—to have had nothing more serious to do than to ride abroad with a blue ribbon fastened to the point of his lance, and with the spirit to unhorse any one who objected to its color, or to the claims of superiority of the noble lady who had tied it there. There was not, in his opinion, at the present day any sufficiently pronounced method of declaring admiration for the many lovely women this world contained. A proposal of marriage he considered to be a mean and clumsy substitute for the older way, and was uncomplimentary to the many other women left unasked, and marriage itself required much more constancy than he could give. He had a most romantic and old-fashioned ideal of women as a class, and from the age of fourteen had been a devotee of hundreds of them as individuals; and though in that time his ideal had received several severe shocks, he still believed that the "not impossible she" existed somewhere, and his conscientious efforts to find out whether every women he met might not be that one had led him not unnaturally into many difficulties.
"The trouble with me is," he said, "that I care too much to make Platonic friendship possible, and don't care enough to marry any particular woman—that is, of course, supposing that any particular one would be so little particular as to be willing to marry me. How embarrassing it would be, now," he argued, "if, when you were turning away from the chancel after the ceremony, you should look at one of the bridesmaids and see the woman whom you really should have married! How distressing that would be! You couldn't very well stop and say: 'I am very sorry, my dear, but it seems I have made a mistake. That young woman on the right has a most interesting and beautiful face. I am very much afraid that she is the one.' It would be too late then; while now, in my free state, I can continue my search without any sense of responsibility."
"Why"—he would exclaim—"I have walked miles to get a glimpse of a beautiful woman in a suburban window, and time and time again when I have seen a face in a passing brougham I have pursued it in a hansom, and learned where the owner of the face lived, and spent weeks in finding some one to present me, only to discover that she was self-conscious or uninteresting or engaged. Still I had assured myself that she was not the one. I am very conscientious, and I consider that it is my duty to go so far with every woman I meet as to be able to learn whether she is or is not the one, and the sad result is that I am like a man who follows the hounds but is never in at the death."
"Well," some married woman would say, grimly, "I hope you will get your deserts some day; and you WILL, too. Some day some girl will make you suffer for this."
"Oh, that's all right," Carlton would answer, meekly. "Lots of women have made me suffer, if that's what you think I need."
"Some day," the married woman would prophesy, "you will care for a woman so much that you will have no eyes for any one else. That's the way it is when one is married."
"Well, when that's the way it is with ME," Carlton would reply, "I certainly hope to get married; but until it is, I think it is safer for all concerned that I should not."
Then Carlton would go to the club and complain bitterly to one of his friends.
"How unfair married women are!" he would say. "The idea of thinking a man could have no eyes but for one woman! Suppose I had never heard a note of music until I was twenty-five years of age, and was then given my hearing. Do you suppose my pleasure in music would make me lose my pleasure in everything else? Suppose I met and married a girl at twenty-five. Is that going to make me forget all the women I knew before I met her? I think not. As a matter of fact, I really deserve a great deal of credit for remaining single, for I am naturally very affectionate; but when I see what poor husbands my friends make, I prefer to stay as I am until I am sure that I will make a better one. It is only fair to the woman."
Carlton was sitting in the club alone. He had that sense of superiority over his fellows and of irresponsibility to the world about him that comes to a man when he knows that his trunks are being packed and that his state-room is engaged. He was leaving New York long before most of his friends could get away. He did not know just where he was going, and preferred not to know. He wished to have a complete holiday, and to see Europe as an idle tourist, and not as an artist with an eye to his own improvement. He had plenty of time and money; he was sure to run across friends in the big cities, and acquaintances he could make or not, as he pleased, en route. He was not sorry to go. His going would serve to put an end to what gossip there might be of his engagement to numerous young women whose admiration for him as an artist, he was beginning to fear, had taken on a more personal tinge. "I wish," he said, gloomily, "I didn't like people so well. It seems to cause them and me such a lot of trouble."
He sighed, and stretched out his hand for a copy of one of the English illustrated papers. It had a fresher interest to him because the next number of it that he would see would be in the city in which it was printed. The paper in his hands was the St. James Budget, and it contained much fashionable intelligence concerning the preparations for a royal wedding which was soon to take place between members of two of the reigning families of Europe. There was on one page a half-tone reproduction of a photograph, which showed a group of young people belonging to several of these reigning families, with their names and titles printed above and below the picture. They were princesses, archdukes, or grand-dukes, and they were dressed like young English men and women, and with no sign about them of their possible military or social rank.
One of the young princesses in the photograph was looking out of it and smiling in a tolerant, amused way, as though she had thought of something which she could not wait to enjoy until after the picture was taken. She was not posing consciously, as were some of the others, but was sitting in a natural attitude, with one arm over the back of her chair, and with her hands clasped before her. Her face was full of a fine intelligence and humor, and though one of the other princesses in the group was far more beautiful, this particular one had a much more high-bred air, and there was something of a challenge in her smile that made any one who looked at the picture smile also. Carlton studied the face for some time, and mentally approved of its beauty; the others seemed in comparison wooden and unindividual, but this one looked like a person he might have known, and whom he would certainly have liked. He turned the page and surveyed the features of the Oxford crew with lesser interest, and then turned the page again and gazed critically and severely at the face of the princess with the high-bred smile. He had hoped that he would find it less interesting at a second glance, but it did not prove to be so.
"'The Princess Aline of Hohenwald,'" he read. "She's probably engaged to one of those Johnnies beside her, and the Grand-Duke of Hohenwald behind her must be her brother." He put the paper down and went into luncheon, and diverted himself by mixing a salad dressing; but after a few moments he stopped in the midst of this employment, and told the waiter, with some unnecessary sharpness, to bring him the last copy of the St. James Budget.
"Confound it!" he added, to himself.
He opened the paper with a touch of impatience and gazed long and earnestly at the face of the Princess Aline, who continued to return his look with the same smile of amused tolerance. Carlton noted every detail of her tailor-made gown, of her high mannish collar, of her tie, and even the rings on her hand. There was nothing about her of which he could fairly disapprove. He wondered why it was that she could not have been born an approachable New York girl instead of a princess of a little German duchy, hedged in throughout her single life, and to be traded off eventually in marriage with as much consideration as though she were a princess of a real kingdom.
"She looks jolly too," he mused, in an injured tone; "and so very clever; and of course she has a beautiful complexion. All those German girls have. Your Royal Highness is more than pretty," he said, bowing his head gravely. "You look as a princess should look. I am sure it was one of your ancestors who discovered the dried pea under a dozen mattresses." He closed the paper, and sat for a moment with a perplexed smile of consideration. "Waiter," he exclaimed, suddenly, "send a messenger-boy to Brentano's for a copy of the St. James Budget, and bring me the Almanach de Gotha from the library. It is a little fat red book on the table near the window." Then Carlton opened the paper again and propped it up against a carafe, and continued his critical survey of the Princess Aline. He seized the Almanach, when it came, with some eagerness.
"Hohenwald (Maison de Grasse)," he read, and in small type below it:
"1. Ligne cadette (regnante) grand-ducale: Hohenwald et de Grasse.
"Guillaume-Albert-Frederick-Charles-Louis, Grand-Duc de Hohenwald et de Grasse, etc., etc., etc."
"That's the brother, right enough," muttered Carlton.
And under the heading "Soeurs" he read:
"4. Psse Aline.—Victoria-Beatrix-Louise-Helene, Alt. Gr.-Duc. Nee a Grasse, Juin, 1872."
"Twenty-two years old," exclaimed Carlton. "What a perfect age! I could not have invented a better one." He looked from the book to the face before him. "Now, my dear young lady," he said, "I know all about YOU. You live at Grasse, and you are connected, to judge by your names, with all the English royalties; and very pretty names they are, too—Aline, Helene, Victoria, Beatrix. You must be much more English than you are German; and I suppose you live in a little old castle, and your brother has a standing army of twelve men, and some day you are to marry a Russian Grand-Duke, or whoever your brother's Prime Minister—if he has a Prime Minister—decides is best for the politics of your little toy kingdom. Ah! to think," exclaimed Carlton, softly, "that such a lovely and glorious creature as that should be sacrificed for so insignificant a thing as the peace of Europe when she might make some young man happy?"
He carried a copy of the paper to his room, and cut the picture of the group out of the page and pasted it carefully on a stiff piece of card-board. Then he placed it on his dressing-table, in front of a photograph of a young woman in a large silver frame—which was a sign, had the young woman but known it, that her reign for the time being was over.
Nolan, the young Irishman who "did for" Carlton, knew better than to move it when he found it there. He had learned to study his master since he had joined him in London, and understood that one photograph in the silver frame was entitled to more consideration than three others on the writing-desk or half a dozen on the mantel-piece. Nolan had seen them come and go; he had watched them rise and fall; he had carried notes to them, and books and flowers; and had helped to dispose them from the silver frame and move them on by degrees down the line, until they went ingloriously into the big brass bowl on the side table. Nolan approved highly of this last choice. He did not know which one of the three in the group it might be; but they were all pretty, and their social standing was certainly distinguished.
Guido, the Italian model who ruled over the studio, and Nolan were busily packing when Carlton entered. He always said that Guido represented him in his professional and Nolan in his social capacity. Guido cleaned the brushes and purchased the artists' materials; Nolan cleaned his riding-boots and bought his theatre and railroad tickets.
"Guido," said Carlton, "there are two sketches I made in Germany last year, one of the Prime Minister, and one of Ludwig the actor; get them out for me, will you, and pack them for shipping. Nolan," he went on, "here is a telegram to send."
Nolan would not have read a letter, but he looked upon telegrams as public documents, the reading of them as part of his perquisites. This one was addressed to Oscar Von Holtz, First Secretary, German Embassy, Washington, D.C., and the message read:
"Please telegraph me full title and address Princess Aline of
Hohenwald. Where would a letter reach her?
The next morning Nolan carried to the express office a box containing two oil-paintings on small canvases. They were addressed to the man in London who attended to the shipping and forwarding of Carlton's pictures in that town.
There was a tremendous crowd on the New York. She sailed at the obliging hour of eleven in the morning, and many people, in consequence, whose affection would not have stood in the way of their breakfast, made it a point to appear and to say goodbye. Carlton, for his part, did not notice them; he knew by experience that the attractive-looking people always leave a steamer when the whistle blows, and that the next most attractive-looking, who remain on board, are ill all the way over. A man that he knew seized him by the arm as he was entering his cabin, and asked if he were crossing or just seeing people off.
"Well, then, I want to introduce you to Miss Morris and her aunt, Mrs. Downs; they are going over, and I should be glad if you would be nice to them. But you know her, I guess?" he asked, over his shoulder, as Carlton pushed his way after him down the deck.
"I know who she is," he said.
Miss Edith Morris was surrounded by a treble circle of admiring friends, and seemed to be holding her own. They all stopped when Carlton came up, and looked at him rather closely, and those whom he knew seemed to mark the fact by a particularly hearty greeting. The man who had brought him up acted as though he had successfully accomplished a somewhat difficult and creditable feat. Carlton bowed himself away, leaving Miss Morris to her friends, and saying that she would probably have to see him later, whether she wished it or not. He then went to meet the aunt, who received him kindly, for there were very few people on the passenger list, and she was glad they were to have his company. Before he left she introduced him to a young man named Abbey, who was hovering around her most anxiously, and whose interest, she seemed to think it necessary to explain, was due to the fact that he was engaged to Miss Morris. Mr. Abbey left the steamer when the whistle blew, and Carlton looked after him gratefully. He always enjoyed meeting attractive girls who were engaged, as it left him no choice in the matter, and excused him from finding out whether or not that particular young woman was the one.
Mrs. Downs and her niece proved to be experienced sailors, and faced the heavy sea that met the New York outside of Sandy Hook with unconcern. Carlton joined them, and they stood together leaning with their backs to the rail, and trying to fit the people who flitted past them to the names on the passenger list.
"The young lady in the sailor suit," said Miss Morris, gazing at the top of the smoke-stack, "is Miss Kitty Flood, of Grand Rapids. This is her first voyage, and she thinks a steamer is something like a yacht, and dresses for the part accordingly. She does not know that it is merely a moving hotel."
"I am afraid," said Carlton, "to judge from her agitation, that hers is going to be what the professionals call a 'dressing-room' part. Why is it," he asked, "that the girls on a steamer who wear gold anchors and the men in yachting-caps are always the first to disappear? That man with the sombrero," he went on, "is James M. Pollock, United States Consul to Mauritius; he is going out to his post. I know he is the consul, because he comes from Fort Worth, Texas, and is therefore admirably fitted to speak either French or the native language of the island."
"Oh, we don't send consuls to Mauritius," laughed Miss Morris. "Mauritius is one of those places from which you buy stamps, but no one really lives or goes there."
"Where are you going, may I ask?" inquired Carlton.
Miss Morris said that they were making their way to Constantinople and Athens, and then to Rome; that as they had not had the time to take the southern route, they purposed to journey across the Continent direct from Paris to the Turkish capital by the Orient Express.
"We shall be a few days in London, and in Paris only long enough for some clothes," she replied.
"The trousseau," thought Carlton. "Weeks is what she should have said."
The three sat together at the captain's table, and as the sea continued rough, saw little of either the captain or his other guests, and were thrown much upon the society of each other. They had innumerable friends and interests in common; and Mrs. Downs, who had been everywhere, and for long seasons at a time, proved as alive as her niece, and Carlton conceived a great liking for her. She seemed to be just and kindly minded, and, owing to her age, to combine the wider judgment of a man with the sympathetic interest of a woman. Sometimes they sat together in a row and read, and gossiped over what they read, or struggled up the deck as it rose and fell and buffeted with the wind; and later they gathered in a corner of the saloon and ate late suppers of Carlton's devising, or drank tea in the captain's cabin, which he had thrown open to them. They had started knowing much about one another, and this and the necessary proximity of the ship hastened their acquaintance.
The sea grew calmer the third day out, and the sun came forth and showed the decks as clean as bread-boards. Miss Morris and Carlton seated themselves on the huge iron riding-bits in the bow, and with their elbows on the rail looked down at the whirling blue water, and rejoiced silently in the steady rush of the great vessel, and in the uncertain warmth of the March sun. Carlton was sitting to leeward of Miss Morris, with a pipe between his teeth. He was warm, and at peace with the world. He had found his new acquaintance more than entertaining. She was even friendly, and treated him as though he were much her junior, as is the habit of young women lately married or who are about to be married. Carlton did not resent it; on the contrary, it made him more at his ease with her, and as she herself chose to treat him as a youth, he permitted himself to be as foolish as he pleased.
"I don't know why it is," he complained, peering over the rail, "but whenever I look over the side to watch the waves a man in a greasy cap always sticks his head out of a hole below me and scatters a barrelful of ashes or potato peelings all over the ocean. It spoils the effect for one. Next time he does it I am going to knock out the ashes of my pipe on the back of his neck." Miss Morris did not consider this worthy of comment, and there was a long lazy pause.
"You haven't told us where you go after London," she said; and then, without waiting for him to reply, she asked, "Is it your professional or your social side that you are treating to a trip this time?"
"Who told you that?" asked Carlton, smiling.
"Oh, I don't know. Some man. He said you were a Jekyll and Hyde. Which is Jekyll? You see, I only know your professional side."
"You must try to find out for yourself by deduction," he said, "as you picked out the other passengers. I am going to Grasse," he continued. "It's the capital of Hohenwald. Do you know it?"
"Yes," she said; "we were there once for a few days. We went to see the pictures. I suppose you know that the old Duke, the father of the present one, ruined himself almost by buying pictures for the Grasse gallery. We were there at a bad time, though, when the palace was closed to visitors, and the gallery too. I suppose that is what is taking you there?"
"No," Carlton said, shaking his head. "No, it is not the pictures. I am going to Grasse," he said, gravely, "to see the young woman with whom I am in love."
Miss Morris looked up in some surprise, and smiled consciously, with a natural feminine interest in an affair of love, and one which was a secret as well.
"Oh," she said, "I beg your pardon; we—I had not heard of it."
"No, it is not a thing one could announce exactly," said Carlton; "it is rather in an embryo state as yet—in fact, I have not met the young lady so far, but I mean to meet her. That's why I am going abroad."
Miss Morris looked at him sharply to see if he were smiling, but he was, on the contrary, gazing sentimentally at the horizon-line, and puffing meditatively on his pipe. He was apparently in earnest, and waiting for her to make some comment.
"How very interesting!" was all she could think to say.
"Yes, when you know the details, it is,—VERY interesting," he answered. "She is the Princess Aline of Hohenwald," he explained, bowing his head as though he were making the two young ladies known to one another. "She has several other names, six in all, and her age is twenty-two. That is all I know about her. I saw her picture in an illustrated paper just before I sailed, and I made up my mind I would meet her, and here I am. If she is not in Grasse, I intend to follow her to wherever she may be." He waved his pipe at the ocean before him, and recited, with mock seriousness:
"'Across the hills and far away,
"Only in this case, you see," said Carlton, "I am following the happy Princess."
"No; but seriously, though," said Miss Morris, "what is it you mean? Are you going to paint her portrait?"
"I never thought of that," exclaimed Carlton. "I don't know but what your idea is a good one. Miss Morris, that's a great idea." He shook his head approvingly. "I did not do wrong to confide in you," he said. "It was perhaps taking a liberty; but as you have not considered it as such, I am glad I spoke."
"But you don't really mean to tell me," exclaimed the girl, facing about, and nodding her head at him, "that you are going abroad after a woman whom you have never seen, and because you like a picture of her in a paper?"
"I do," said Carlton. "Because I like her picture, and because she is a Princess."
"Well, upon my word," said Miss Morris, gazing at him with evident admiration, "that's what my younger brother would call a distinctly sporting proposition. Only I don't see," she added, "what her being a Princess has to do with it."
"You don't?" laughed Carlton, easily. "That's the best part of it—that's the plot. The beauty of being in love with a Princess, Miss Morris," he said, "lies in the fact that you can't marry her; that you can love her deeply and forever, and nobody will ever come to you and ask your intentions, or hint that after such a display of affection you ought to do something. Now, with a girl who is not a Princess, even if she understands the situation herself, and wouldn't marry you to save her life, still there is always some one—a father, or a mother, or one of your friends—who makes it his business to interfere, and talks about it, and bothers you both. But with a Princess, you see, that is all eliminated. You can't marry a Princess, because they won't let you. A Princess has got to marry a real royal chap, and so you are perfectly ineligible and free to sigh for her, and make pretty speeches to her, and see her as often as you can, and revel in your devotion and unrequited affection."
Miss Morris regarded him doubtfully. She did not wish to prove herself too credulous. "And you honestly want me, Mr. Carlton, to believe that you are going abroad just for this?"
"You see," Carlton answered her, "if you only knew me better you would have no doubt on the subject at all. It isn't the thing some men would do, I admit, but it is exactly what any one who knows me would expect of me. I should describe it, having had acquaintance with the young man for some time, as being eminently characteristic. And besides, think what a good story it makes! Every other man who goes abroad this summer will try to tell about his travels when he gets back to New York, and, as usual, no one will listen to him. But they will HAVE to listen to me. 'You've been across since I saw you last. What did you do?' they'll ask, politely. And then, instead of simply telling them that I have been in Paris or London, I can say, 'Oh, I've been chasing around the globe after the Princess Aline of Hohenwald.' That sounds interesting, doesn't it? When you come to think of it," Carlton continued, meditatively, "it is not so very remarkable. Men go all the way to Cuba and Mexico, and even to India, after orchids, after a nasty flower that grows in an absurd way on the top of a tree. Why shouldn't a young man go as far as Germany after a beautiful Princess, who walks on the ground, and who can talk and think and feel? She is much more worth while than an orchid."
Miss Morris laughed indulgently. "Well, I didn't know such devotion existed at this end of the century," she said; "it's quite nice and encouraging. I hope you will succeed, I am sure. I only wish we were going to be near enough to see how you get on. I have never been a confidante when there was a real Princess concerned," she said; "it makes it so much more amusing. May one ask what your plans are?"
Carlton doubted if he had any plans as yet. "I have to reach the ground first," he said, "and after that I must reconnoitre. I may possibly adopt your idea, and ask to paint her portrait, only I dislike confusing my social and professional sides. As a matter of fact, though," he said, after a pause, laughing guiltily, "I have done a little of that already. I prepared her, as it were, for my coming. I sent her studies of two pictures I made last winter in Berlin. One of the Prime Minister, and one of Ludwig, the tragedian at the Court Theatre. I sent them to her through my London agent, so that she would think they had come from some one of her English friends, and I told the dealer not to let any one know who had forwarded them. My idea was that it might help me, perhaps, if she knew something about me before I appeared in person. It was a sort of letter of introduction written by myself."
"Well, really," expostulated Miss Morris, "you certainly woo in a royal way. Are you in the habit of giving away your pictures to any one whose photograph you happen to like? That seems to me to be giving new lamps for old to a degree. I must see if I haven't some of my sister's photographs in my trunk. She is considered very beautiful."
"Well, you wait until you see this particular portrait, and—you will understand it better," said Carlton.
The steamer reached Southampton early in the afternoon, and Carlton secured a special compartment on the express to London for Mrs. Downs and her niece and himself, with one adjoining for their maid and Nolan. It was a beautiful day, and Carlton sat with his eyes fixed upon the passing fields and villages, exclaiming with pleasure from time to time at the white roads and the feathery trees and hedges, and the red roofs of the inns and square towers of the village churches.
"Hedges are better than barbed-wire fences, aren't they?" he said. "You see that girl picking wild flowers from one of them? She looks just as though she were posing for a picture for an illustrated paper. She couldn't pick flowers from a barbed-wire fence, could she? And there would probably be a tramp along the road somewhere to frighten her; and see—the chap in knickerbockers farther down the road leaning on the stile. I am sure he is waiting for her; and here comes a coach," he ran on. "Don't the red wheels look well against the hedges? It's a pretty little country, England, isn't it?—like a private park or a model village. I am glad to get back to it—I am glad to see the three-and-six signs with the little slanting dash between the shillings and pennies. Yes, even the steam-rollers and the man with the red flag in front are welcome."
"I suppose," said Mrs. Downs, "it's because one has been so long on the ocean that the ride to London seems so interesting. It always pays me for the entire trip. Yes," she said, with a sigh, "in spite of the patent-medicine signs they have taken to putting up all along the road. It seems a pity they should adopt our bad habits instead of our good ones."
"They are a bit slow at adopting anything," commented Carlton. "Did you know, Mrs. Downs, that electric lights are still as scarce in London as they are in Timbuctoo? Why, I saw an electric-light plant put up in a Western town in three days once; there were over a hundred burners in one saloon, and the engineer who put them up told me in confidence that—"
What the chief engineer told him in confidence was never disclosed, for at that moment Miss Morris interrupted him with a sudden sharp exclamation.
"Oh, Mr. Carlton," she exclaimed, breathlessly, "listen to this!" She had been reading one of the dozen papers which Carlton had purchased at the station, and was now shaking one of them at him, with her eyes fixed on the open page.
"My dear Edith," remonstrated her aunt, "Mr. Carlton was telling us—"
"Yes, I know," exclaimed Miss Morris, laughing, "but this interests him much more than electric lights. Who do you think is in London?" she cried, raising her eyes to his, and pausing for proper dramatic effect. "The Princess Aline of Hohenwald!"
"No?" shouted Carlton.
"Yes," Miss Morris answered, mocking his tone. "Listen. 'The Queen's Drawing-room'—em—e—m—'on her right was the Princess of Wales'—em—m. Oh, I can't find it—no—yes, here it is. 'Next to her stood the Princess Aline of Hohenwald. She wore a dress of white silk, with train of silver brocade trimmed with fur. Ornaments—emeralds and diamonds; orders—Victoria and Albert, jubilee Commemoration Medal, Coburg and Gotha, and Hohenwald and Grasse.'"
"By Jove!" cried Carlton, excitedly. "I say, is that really there? Let me see it, please, for myself."
Miss Morris handed him the paper, with her finger on the paragraph, and picking up another, began a search down its columns.
"You are right," exclaimed Carlton, solemnly; "it's she, sure enough. And here I've been within two hours of her and didn't know it?"
Miss Morris gave another triumphant cry, as though she had discovered a vein of gold.
"Yes, and here she is again," she said, "in the Gentlewoman: 'The Queen's dress was of black, as usual, but relieved by a few violet ribbons in the bonnet; and Princess Beatrice, who sat by her mother's side, showed but little trace of the anxiety caused by Princess Ena's accident. Princess Aline, on the front seat, in a light brown jacket and a becoming bonnet, gave the necessary touch to a picture which Londoners would be glad to look upon more often.'"
Carlton sat staring forward, with his hands on his knees, and with his eyes open wide from excitement. He presented so unusual an appearance of bewilderment and delight that Mrs. Downs looked at him and at her niece for some explanation. "The young lady seems to interest you," said she, tentatively.
"She is the most charming creature in the world, Mrs. Downs," cried Carlton, "and I was going all the way to Grasse to see her, and now it turns out that she is here in England, within a few miles of us." He turned and waved his hands at the passing landscape. "Every minute brings us nearer together."
"And you didn't feel it in the air!" mocked Miss Morris, laughing. "You are a pretty poor sort of a man to let a girl tell you where to find the woman you love."
Carlton did not answer, but stared at her very seriously and frowned intently. "Now I have got to begin all over again and readjust things," he said. "We might have guessed she would be in London, on account of this royal wedding. It is a great pity it isn't later in the season, when there would be more things going on and more chances of meeting her. Now they will all be interested in themselves, and, being extremely exclusive, no one who isn't a cousin to the bridegroom or an Emperor would have any chance at all. Still, I can see her! I can look at her, and that's something."
"It is better than a photograph, anyway," said Miss Morris.
"They will be either at Buckingham Palace or at Windsor, or they will stop at Brown's," said Carlton. "All royalties go to Brown's. I don't know why, unless it is because it is so expensive; or maybe it is expensive because royalties go there; but, in any event, if they are not at the palace, that is where they will be, and that is where I shall have to go too."
When the train drew up at Victoria Station, Carlton directed Nolan to take his things to Brown's Hotel, but not to unload them until he had arrived. Then he drove with the ladies to Cox's, and saw them settled there. He promised to return at once to dine, and to tell them what he had discovered in his absence. "You've got to help me in this, Miss Morris," he said, nervously. "I am beginning to feel that I am not worthy of her."
"Oh yes, you are!" she said, laughing; "but don't forget that 'it's not the lover who comes to woo, but the lover's WAY of wooing,' and that 'faint heart'—and the rest of it."
"Yes, I know," said Carlton, doubtfully; "but it's a bit sudden, isn't it?"
"Oh, I am ashamed of you! You are frightened."
"No, not frightened, exactly," said the painter. "I think it's just natural emotion."
As Carlton turned into Albemarle Street he noticed a red carpet stretching from the doorway of Brown's Hotel out across the sidewalk to a carriage, and a bareheaded man bustling about apparently assisting several gentlemen to get into it. This and another carriage and Nolan's four-wheeler blocked the way; but without waiting for them to move up, Carlton leaned out of his hansom and called the bareheaded man to its side.
"Is the Duke of Hohenwald stopping at your hotel?" he asked. The bareheaded man answered that he was.
"All right, Nolan," cried Carlton. "They can take in the trunks."
Hearing this, the bareheaded man hastened to help Carlton to alight. "That was the Duke who just drove off, sir; and those," he said, pointing to three muffled figures who were stepping into a second carriage, "are his sisters, the Princesses."
Carlton stopped midway, with one foot on the step and the other in the air.
"The deuce they are!" he exclaimed; "and which is—" he began, eagerly, and then remembering himself, dropped back on the cushions of the hansom.
He broke into the little dining-room at Cox's in so excited a state that two dignified old gentlemen who were eating there sat open-mouthed in astonished disapproval. Mrs. Downs and Miss Morris had just come down stairs.
"I have seen her!" Carlton cried, ecstatically; "only half an hour in the town, and I've seen her already!"
"No, really?" exclaimed Miss Morris. "And how did she look? Is she as beautiful as you expected?"
"Well, I can't tell yet," Carlton answered.
"There were three of them, and they were all muffled up, and which one of the three she was I don't know. She wasn't labelled, as in the picture, but she was there, and I saw her. The woman I love was one of that three, and I have engaged rooms at the hotel, and this very night the same roof shelters us both."