Quiddlers Three by George Barr McCutcheon
CHAPTER I. THE THREE VAN WINKLES
It was not because Mr. Van Winkle had no love for his sons that he
turned the three of them out of his house and home, but because he
loved them well. There was Courtney Van Winkle—nicknamed "Corky" by
his irrepressible brothers—and, besides him, the twins, Jefferson and
Ripley. Courtney was thirty, the twins twenty-six. Jeff and Rip were
big, breezy fellows who had rowed on their college crew and rowed with
the professors through five or six irksome and no doubt valueless
years; Courtney was their opposite in every particular except
breeziness. But he was not breezy in the same way. He was the typical
society butterfly, chatty to the point of blissfulness and as full of
energy as a pint bottle of champagne. You could never by any stretch
of the fancy liken him to anything so magnificent as a quart. Dapper,
arrogant, snobbish, superior was he, and a very handy man to have
about if one wanted to debate the question: Should spats be worn this
year the same as last, or why WILL the common herd!
He had never done a stroke of work in his life. Nor, for that
matter, had his towering, able-bodied brothers. They took the not
unnatural stand that it wasn't necessary. Were they not the sons of
the very rich Mr. Van Winkle? Wasn't he accountable for their coming
into the world and wasn't he therefore responsible for them up to the
very banks of the Jordan? Of course, he was. No one will pretend to
deny it. Work is intended only for those who long for a holiday, not
for him who begins a vacation the day he is born. Such was the
attitude of the Van Winkle boys, if not their argument.
For years old Bleecker Van Winkle had paid for their automobiles,
their polo ponies, their pony ballets, their lobsters and other
glorifications, and he had finally reached the conclusion that while
it was practically impossible for him to part with his money, he was
nevertheless a fool. So he sat him down to think. As the result of his
cogitations—long-drawn-out—he turned over a leaf in the Van Winkle
"Boys," said he, at the end of a rather stupefying half-hour for
them, "you've heard what I have to say. You know that I love you all.
You will agree that I have been a fond, foolish and over-indulgent
father. As I've said before, it is my fault entirely that you are
triflers and spendthrifts. I should have done better by you. You are
college men. At least, you are CALLED college men, because, with the
unceasing aid of well-paid tutors you managed to get your degrees. I
regret, however, to say that you are not educated men. You are
socially cultivated, but that's all. I am to be blamed for all this.
Now I am paying the penalty. What I have just disclosed to you is the
result of painful deliberation and with your welfare in mind, not my
own. You have agreed at last to my proposition, not, I fear,
willingly, but because there is no alternative. I have given Jeff and
Ripley an excellent education in baseball, swimming, golf and
Broadway. No doubt either of you could get a job as a professional
baseball player. Courtney has been thoroughly polished by contact with
society. He should have no trouble at all in earning quite a decent
living by teaching the nouveau riche how to behave in polite society.
If, in ten years, you all come to me and convince me that you have
actually acquired something of a fortune without any assistance from
me, I shall be happy to kill the fatted calf and divide it with you.
Please bear in mind the little statement in regard to my last will and
testament. Get it into your heads clearly. At my death my fortune goes
to the three of you, share and share alike, but it is to be held in
trust for ten years thereafter, principal AND INCOME intact. Note
that, please: and income. It is possible, even probable that I may
alter the will later on, but now it stands in just that way."
They looked at each other blankly for a long time after the old
gentleman left the room. The expression in Courtney's cock-a-doodle
face was beyond description. The world had come to an end! The twins
were unable to lounge with their accustomed ease and elegance. They
sat bolt upright for perhaps the first time in their lives. To them,
the world was just beginning, and it was a hard, cold, unfriendly
world that lay before them.
In exactly one week from that day the three of them were to start
out in the world to make men of themselves. Each was to have two
thousand dollars in money and each was to start the journey free from
debt. Mr. Van Winkle agreed to square up every pecuniary debt of
honour and every debt of folly. They were to shift for themselves, and
they were to have a fair start. For at least three years they were to
absent themselves from his home, support themselves without assistance
from him, and report progress whenever they felt inclined to do so. He
did not even require them to do that much unless they wished, but he
assured them that he would be proud and happy if they could report
"I don't ask you to get rich in ten years. You couldn't do it
honestly, my lads. All I ask is that you support yourselves honourably
and be as respectable as possible in this day and age. Don't try to be
too respectable. People will discredit you. They always do. Be
square." He had said this to them in the course of the amazing
"I can't live more than a month on two thousand dollars," whimpered
Courtney, long after the old man had closed the door behind him. "Why,
he hasn't the remotest idea what it costs to keep up one's end in
society here in New York. I—"
"Shut up, Corky," growled Ripley. "We want to think."
"Don't call me Corky," snarled his brother. "You know I detest it,
even when I'm feeling cheerful, and God knows I don't want to be
spoken of lightly today."
"Do you mean that as a joke?"
"A joke? Oh, I see. I suppose you connect 'cork' and 'light' in
your effort to—"
"Thank Heaven," broke in Jefferson, a shadow of relief crossing his
doleful face, "we are spared one thing."
"What's that?" said Ripley.
"The pleasure of lending money to Corky."
Courtney's face fell. He had intended to ask his brothers for a
small loan, and was ready to argue that they, being strong, healthy
beasts, would survive as long on fifteen hundred dollars as he could
possibly hope to exist on three thousand.
"I'm not asking for alms, confound you."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Ripley, with a gleam of joy in his eyes.
"Didn't the governor say he'd settle all of our debts, giving us a
clean bill to start with?"
"He did, bless his heart," said Jeff.
"Precious little good that will do me," lamented Courtney.
"Well, it may do me a lot of good. In settling your debts, Corky,
it occurs to me he'll have to fork over that twenty-seven hundred
dollars you owe me."
"Clever head, Rippy," shouted Jeff. "He owes me a matter of fifteen
or sixteen hundred. Fine work. The old gentleman can't go back on the
debts of honour. He'll have to settle for Corky's—"
"You go to thunder," grated Corky. "Do you suppose I'm going to see
the governor stung by you two vampires? In the first place, it was HIS
money I borrowed from you. In the second place—"
"Right you are, Corky," agreed Rip. "It WAS his money. We absolve
him but not you. If the time ever comes when you are able to pay it
back to me, out of your own pocket, I'll be pleased to collect. We'll
let it go at that."
"I expect to starve to death inside of—"
"Oh, no, you won't. Neither of us will go so far as that." It was
Jefferson who spoke. He arose and stretched his long, muscular frame.
"Do you know, I think the pater is absolutely right in this thing.
"RIGHT?" shrieked Courtney.
"Yes, right. We ARE loafers. We waste time over trifles. He wants
to be proud of us if such a thing is possible. I don't blame him. If I
ever have a son I'll know how to bring him up."
"This is no time to be sentimental, Jeff," said Courtney, with deep
irony in his voice. "We are confronted by a catastrophe. Unlike most
catastrophes, it awaits our pleasure. We are expected to walk up and
shake hands with it and say, 'I'm glad to meet you, old chap,' or
something of the sort."
"It IS a pretty howdy-do, I'll admit," said Rip thoughtfully.
"Still, I agree with Jeff. The governor's right."
"You always agree with each other," said Courtney, pacing the floor
in his despair.
"Don't pull your hair like that, Corky," cautioned Jeff, with a
good- humoured grin. "You've got to be very saving from now on."
"A miserable pittance, a bagatelle," groaned Courtney.
"It IS getting thin," commented Rip.
"Eh? I'm not talking about hair, damn it!"
"Be a man, Corky," cried Jeff cheerfully.
"I asked you not to call me 'Corky,' didn't I?" He glared at his
big brother. "How can you stand there grinning like an imbecile with
all this hanging over you?"
Jefferson's smile expanded. "If dad can make men of all three of
his sons, he won't have to die to go to heaven. He'll BE there."
"And you fellows could have married those awful Sickler girls
without half trying last winter," groaned Courtney. "A million apiece
in their own right! My Lord, if you could only have looked ahead!"
"We did!" cried the twins in unison.
A cunning gleam leaped into Courtney's watery eyes. He drew a long
"I wonder—" he began, and then stopped.
"No," said Jeff, divining his thoughts. "You proposed to both of
'em, Corky. It's no use. You are NOT the Van Winkle twins."
After a time, they fell into a discussion of plans and
possibilities. Their father had not left a loophole through which they
could fire at random. His sentence was clean-cut. They could not fall
back upon him for support, help or advice. It was all very clearly set
forth. They were to find their own road and travel it to the bitter
"I'm willing to work," said Jeff. "The trouble with me is I don't
know what to tackle first."
"That's my fix," said his twin.
"Well, I know the first thing I'm going to do," said Courtney,
springing to his feet. And he did it an hour later. He succeeded in
borrowing ten thousand dollars from a millionaire who had come to New
York from Cleveland to live and die a Gothamite. With sublime
disregard for the thing called conscience, Courtney included this new
debt in the list to be prepared for his father, and permitted the old
gentleman to settle without so much as a qualm of self-reproach. He
considered it high finance, I believe. His brothers lived up to his
estimate of their astuteness by never even thinking of a ruse so
clever. Corky congratulated himself on getting a long start over them.
Moreover, he had something else in mind. It will be disclosed later
A week later Mr. Van Winkle said good-bye to his sons, and they set
out upon their travels somewhat after the fashion laid down by those
amiable gentlemen who conceived fables and fairy tales and called them
the Arabian Nights. You may recall the Three Sons of the Merchant, and
the Three Princes, and the Three Woodmen, not to speak of innumerable
trios who served Messrs. Grimm and Andersen with such literary
The Van Winkle brothers started out rather late in life to make men
of themselves. Inasmuch as they elected to start in separate and
distinct grooves and as their courses were not what you might call
parallel, we are likely to gain time and satisfaction by taking them
up one at a time. We must not lose sight of the fact that they set out
to acquire three separate and distinct fortunes.
Courtney set sail almost immediately for a land where "Corky" was
an unheard-of appellation—or epithet as he was wont to regard it—and
where fortunes hung on bushes, if one may be allowed to use the
colloquialism. He went to France. It may seem ridiculous to seek
fortunes in France, but he was not looking for French fortunes. He was
much too clever a chap for that. He was after American money, and he
knew of no place where it was easier to get it than in France. By
France, he meant Paris. If one is really smart, one can find a great
many American dollars in Paris. For that matter, if one is a good
bridge player and has the proper letters—not of credit but of
introduction—he can make a splendid living in any land where
civilisation has gained a substantial foothold. Nothing is so amiable
as civilisation. It actually yearns for trouble, and it will have it
at any cost. It is never so happy as when it is being skilfully
abused. As a society parasite, Corky had learned that it is easier to
fool a man who has brains than it is to fool one who hasn't any at
all. He had come in contact with both varieties, and he knew. And as
for women, one can always fool them by looking pensive. They cannot
Possessed of a natural wit, a stunted conscience and an
indefatigable ego, he had no fear that his twelve thousand, slightly
reduced by this time, would see him well along on his journey toward
Corky was well known in Paris. He had spent many a day and many a
dollar there. At this season of the year, the capital was filled with
New York, Philadelphia and Boston people whom he knew and with whom he
might have fraternised if he had felt inclined. But he aimed higher.
He hitched his wagon to the setting sun and was swept into the society
of Middle and Far Western tourists; people with money they did not
know how to spend; people who needed expert advice; people who
hankered for places at Newport but had to be satisfied with Sugar
Hills. His New York acquaintances knew him too well, but no better
than he knew them. They had no money to waste on education. They
needed all they could scrape together to keep the wolf out of Wall
Street. He had no use in this direful emergency for frugal society
leaders; he was after the prodigal climber.
Before he had been in Paris a week he was accepting invitations to
dine with solid gentlemen from Des Moines and Minneapolis and having
himself looked up to with unquestioned ardour by the wives thereof.
Was he not the gay Mr. Van Winkle, of New York? Was he not the plus-
ultra representative of the most exclusive society in the United
States? Was he not hand in glove with fabled ladies whose names were
household words wherever the English language is broken? Yes! He was
THE Van Winkle! The son of A Van Winkle! And what a WONDERFUL game of
bridge he played! It was a pleasure to lose money to him.
He soon found, however, to his discomfiture, that the daughters of
these excellent westerners were engaged to be married to young
gentlemen who were at work like himself in getting a fortune, but
along different lines. So far as he could find out, they were so busy
making headway in the commercial world that they wouldn't be able to
afford a trip to Europe until they were somewhere in the neighbourhood
of fifty-five or sixty. Their sweethearts were taking it while they
If Courtney had been as good-looking as either of his brothers—or
as both of them, for that matter, because there wasn't much choice
between them—he might have played havoc with the chances of more than
one man at home, but he was no Adonis. To be perfectly candid, he was
what a brawny Westerner would call a "shrimp." There is no call to
describe him more minutely than that.
Most of his new friends wanted to have supper at Maxim's or to go
to the Bal Tabarin. They wouldn't believe him when he insisted that
these places were not what they used to be, and that Montmartre was
now the fashionable roistering ground. So he took them to Maxim's and
was glad of it afterwards. There wasn't a New Yorker in sight.
One night, after a rather productive game in the apartments of a
family from Cedar Rapids, he proposed a supper at Maxim's. His host
not only fell in with the proposition, but insisted on giving the
supper himself. Corky was very polite. He took into consideration the
fact that Mr. Riggles was a much older man than himself, and allowed
him to have his own way.
It was at Maxim's that he first saw the Grand Duchess. She wasn't
really a lady of title, but she looked the part so completely that he
spoke of her as the "Grand Duchess" the instant his shifty gaze fell
upon her. That is to say, she was painted, bewrinkled, bewigged,
begowned, bejewelled and—(I was about to say be-dabbed)—for all the
world like a real duchess, and she smoked a long cigarette in a still
longer holder, and blew smoke through her nostrils with great APLOMB
and but very few coughs.
His companions bowed to her. She waved her hand in amiable
"Who is she?" demanded Corky of his hostess. He almost whispered
"Oh, she's a silly old thing from Wisconsin. Did you ever see such
"It's marvellous. I thought she was a grand duchess."
"That's what SHE thinks, if airs count for anything. I think she's
"I suppose she was good-looking in her day," remarked his hostess's
husband, appraising the grande dame with calculating eyes.
"Do you think they're real?" asked Corky, and his hostess said she
thought they were. He did not give a name to them, but they were so
overpoweringly prominent that she knew what he meant. It was almost
impossible to see anything but pearls when one looked in the direction
of the Grand Duchess. Corky couldn't help thinking how dangerous it
was for the lady to wear such a fortune at Maxim's.
He listened with keen ears to the story of the "silly old thing
from Wisconsin." She was a widow of sixty-five and she had been
traversing Europe from end to end for several years in quest of a
coronet. Many millions in gold had she, but even the most impecunious
of noblemen had given them a wide berth,—reluctantly, perhaps.
Reversing the order of things, she was not seeing Europe; she was
letting Europe see her.
No one in Maxim's so gay and kittenish and coy as she! She was the
essence of youth. Her hair was as yellow as gold and so thick and
undulating that one could not help wondering how far down her back it
would drop if released. Her lips were red with the rich, warm blood of
youth and her cheeks bore the bloom of the peach. The Grand Duchess
was a creation. To make sure that every one knew she was present, she
chattered in a high, shrill voice in Malapropian French, and giggled
"She is amazing," said Corky for the third time during supper. "And
no one will marry her?"
"Not recently," said his host. "What do you mean?"
"I mean no one has married her in the last forty years. There WAS
one, of course, but he died a few years back. That's why she wears a
pearl mourning wreath around her neck, and a cloth-of-gold gown. He
was in trade, as the English would say."
"She IS amazing," said Corky for the fourth time. "By Jove, do you
know I'd like to meet her."
"Nothing so easy," said the other. "Come along now. I'll present
you. She'll be tickled to death to meet a real Van Winkle."
Five minutes later Corky was drinking his own health in the
presence of the Grand Duchess from Wisconsin.
"I have heard so much of you, Mr. Van Winkle," she said. "Is it
true that you are a descendant of that aristocratic old Rip?"
Corky couldn't help blushing. He begged her not to get her Van
Winkles mixed, and she tapped him on the knuckles with her
At five o'clock that morning, Corky stood before the mirror in his
bed-chamber and stared very intently at his somewhat wavering
features. Notwithstanding the champagne, he recognised a very stern
resolve in the reflection.
"I'm going to marry that woman," he said with grave precision.
CHAPTER II. THE GRAND DUCHESS
He went about it deliberately. According to report, the Grand
Duchess was worth fifteen millions. Corky was not satisfied to accept
rumour as fact, so he undertook an investigation on his own account.
From reliable sources, he soon learned that she possessed but ten
millions, but, he argued, it was better to know it in the beginning
than to wait until she died to find out that her fortune had undergone
the customary shrinkage. Moreover, he ascertained that she frequented
half the baths in Europe in the effort to prolong a fast declining
sense of humour—on the principle, no doubt, that life is a joke and
death is not. She had a family of grown children in the States, but
even that did not alarm Corky. He felt sure there would be enough to
go around. Of course, it wasn't the nicest thing in the world being
married to a woman more than twice one's age, but if everything went
as he hoped, it might not be so very long before he could begin
looking about for a wife half as old as himself. One sickening fear
troubled him, however. She might insist on a house at Newport and a
seat in the Inner Circle. She had that look about her.
He had the shrewdness to treat her with the disdain that his social
position warranted. It was part of his plan of action to make her long
for the opportunity to look down upon people instead of forever
staring up at them from a grovelling attitude. He knew her kind as he
knew the first three letters of the alphabet. On the other hand, he
was politely attentive, incomparably epigrammatic, and as full of
exquisite mannerisms as the famous Brummel himself. In a word, he was
THE Van Winkle, and she but a passer-by.
By day he schemed, by night he lifted orisons to the gods and
dreamed of the fruits thereof. Something seemed to tell him that if he
didn't get her before she was sixty-six the quest would be hopeless.
Experience had shown him that women see themselves as they really are
after they are past sixty-five. Moreover, they become absolutely
insane on the subject of self-preservation so far as money is
concerned. They seem to feel that their rainy day is imminent, if not
actually at hand. No matter how many millions they may possess, they
lurk in the shadow of the poor-house. Men at sixty-five become
podagrical and sour, perhaps, but they are not as much worried by
thoughts of the poorhouse as they are by visions of the play-house.
Corky was to be seen everywhere with the Grand Duchess. (We may as
well continue to speak of her as the Grand Duchess since every one in
Paris was calling her that, now that she had been so aptly dubbed by
the clever Mr. Van Winkle.) He drove in the Bois with her, and he
drove without shame or embarrassment. He was the life of her big and
little feasts at Pre Catalin and D'Armenonville. He sat in her box at
the Opera; he translated the conspicuously unspeakable passages in all
of the lively but naive comedies; he ordered her champagnes and
invented hors d'oeuvres so neoterical in character that even the
Frenchmen applauded his genius. And, through all, he was managing very
nicely to keep his twelve thousand snugly to himself.
There were times when he could have cursed his own father—and
perhaps did—but that is not relevant to this narrative.
In proper sequence he led the Grand Duchess through all the
reflected phases of society and came at last to the juncture where his
own adroitness told him it was time to speak of the glories of Newport
and the wonders of New York as seen only from the centre of the inner
Circle. There was a vast difference between the Outer Rim and the
Inner Circle; he did not say it in so many words, but she had no
trouble in divining it for herself. She was dazzled. She was beginning
to understand that a palace in Fifth Avenue was no more than a social
sepulchre unless it could be filled day and night with the Kings and
Queens of Gotham. She felt very small, coming out of the Middle West.
It wasn't very difficult for him to secure for her an invitation to
the American Ambassador's ball, or to the pacific functions ordered by
the French President, but it was not so easy to bring about
introductions to the New York women of fashion who happened to be in
Paris from time to time during the summer. The Grand Duchess read the
newspapers. She always knew when New York notables were in the city,
and she was not slow to express a desire to meet them. He could
arrange it, of course. And then, on meeting them, she would at once
insist on giving a dinner or a supper at Pre Catalin, or, on finding
that they couldn't scrape up a spare evening,—to make it afternoon
tea. Poor Corky shrivelled at such times.
"If she wasn't so DAMNED girlish!" he used to say to himself.
"Tell me," she said to him late one afternoon as they were driving
home through the Champs Elysees; "is it true that servants' wages are
lower in New York City than any place else in the country? I've always
She was looking at people through her magnificent lorgnon, and
people undeniably were looking at her. There were many wonderful women
in the Bois that day, but none so worthy of a stare as she.
Corky pricked up his ears. It looked like a "feeler."
"Perceptibly lower," he said.
"And food is higher, they say."
"Ah," said he, "but so are the buildings."
"How much do you think I could live on per year in New York!"
"Why do you enquire?"
"For instance," said she. It grated on his nerves when she used
such expressions as "for instance."
"Well, it depends on how well you intend to live."
"I want to live as well as anybody else."
"Then I should say that you couldn't very well manage on less than
ten thousand a year." He knew he was equivocating but was fearful that
if he said a hundred thousand she would take alarm.
"That isn't very much," she said, with a perplexed frown. "I had an
idea that if I wanted to live in style it would cost somewhere around
seventy-five or a hundred thousand. I know a woman from Iowa who lives
at the Ritz-Carlton and goes about some—although not in the real
smart set—and she says it costs five or six thousand a month, just
puttering. Maybe you've met her out in society. Her name is Bliggs."
"Bliggs? Um! Name's not familiar. Of course, you CAN spend a
hundred thousand easily in New York if you get into the right set," he
"That's just the point," said she. "If I get into the right set.
I've got ample means, Mr. Van Winkle, if—"
"They scorn money," said he flatly.
She drew in her breath quickly. "I suppose they do," she sighed.
"Sometimes I really believe it's a handicap to have a lot of money."
"I know a good many charming Western women who have married into
the smart set," he said slowly.
"And did they stick?" she enquired.
"Stick?" he gasped.
"I mean, did they make good—that is, were they PERMANENTLY
"Oh, yes! Some of them have become leaders. It's really only a
matter of marrying the right man."
She was silent as they drove across the Place de la Concorde.
"I suppose it's almost out of the question unless one does marry
into it," she said finally.
"Or UP to it," he suggested. His sordid little heart was beating
"Won't you stop in and have tea with me?" she asked suddenly.
He thought rapidly. "I'm sorry. I'm having tea with some New York
people at the Ritz. Awfully sorry. People I shouldn't like to offend
or I'd send an excuse. You understand, I hope."
Her jaws were set. He shot a furtive glance at the thickly
plastered face and inwardly pitied himself while outwardly rejoicing.
"Some of the people who entertain baboons at dinner, I suppose,"
she said through compressed lips.
He smiled. "And poodles," he supplemented with perfect amiability
and more truth than he knew. She sniffed. "I'm afraid you don't
approve of our little larks. We've got to have something new once in a
while or we'd die of ennui."
"Umph!" was her simple response, but he noted the pensive, wistful
look in her eyes.
She set him down at his hotel. "Can't you dine with me at half past
eight? I sha'n't ask any one else. I'm terribly blue today. You WILL
come and cheer me up, won't you?"
"With pleasure," he said, bowing very low over her gloved hand,
which was amazingly lumpy with invisible rubies and diamonds. "So good
While dressing for dinner he repeated the oft-repeated process of
reducing the Grand Duchess to a tangible result. Supposing she had as
many as fifteen years longer to live, and supposing her income to be
only $400,000 a year, there was still compensation in the calculation
that he would be but forty-five and that no matter how extravagant she
might become there was small likelihood of the principal ever being
disturbed. (On one point he meant to be very rigid: she should be kept
out of Wall Street.) Furthermore, allowing for the shares that would
go to her three grown daughters and their husbands (if they had them),
he could be reasonably certain of at least three million dollars.
Fifteen into three million goes two hundred thousand times, according
to long division. Two hundred thousand dollars a year is what it came
to in round numbers. He figured it as a rather handsome salary, more
than he could earn at anything else. Of course, if it should happen to
be but twelve years, the remuneration, so to speak, would be $250,000;
eleven years $272,727 and a fraction; ten years $300,000; nine—well,
he even figured it down to the unlikely term of two years. And all
this without taking into consideration the certainty that her fortune
would increase rather than diminish with the years to come.
On another point he meant to be firm, even adamant. If they were to
be married at all, it would have to be without the least delay, In
fact, he would advise making rather a secret of it until after the
ceremony. Two weeks at the outside for the engagement period, he
should say. Something told him that if her daughters got wind of the
affair they would have the Grand Duchess locked up in a sanitarium for
the remainder of her days. Besides, the suspense would be terrific.
They dined tete-a-tete. She had gorgeous apartments in the Elysee
Palace Hotel; a private dining-room and a beautiful view of the great
avenue. The evening was warm. The windows were open and from the
outside came the noises of a Parisian night. A soft July moon lent
radiance to an otherwise garish world, and a billion stars twinkled
merrily. It seemed to Corky, as he looked up into the mellow dome,
that he had never known the stars to twinkle so madly as they twinkled
on this fateful night. There were moments of illusion when he was sure
that the moon itself was twinkling. He laid it to his liver.
The little gold clock on the mantelpiece was striking ten when he
began clearing his throat for action. He always remembered that it was
precisely ten o'clock, because he had to look intently at the
diminutive face of the thing to make sure that it wasn't striking
twenty or thirty. It seemed to go on forever. They were still in the
dining-room and quite alone. For some uncanny reason the Grand Duchess
had not giggled once since the coffee was served. She was ominously
"I've been thinking about what you said this afternoon," said Corky
irrelevantly. She had just mentioned the weather.
"Yes. You put an idea into my head. Now, please don't say it! It's
such a beastly banal joke, don't you know, that one about ideas. Would
you mind answering a few questions?"
She began fanning herself. "If possible, Mr. Van Winkle," she said.
"But I can tell you in advance that I never tell any one my age."
"Quite right," said he in a matter-of-fact tone. "It's nobody's
business." He appeared to be thinking.
"Well, go ahead and ask," said she.
"I don't know just how to begin."
"What is it you want to know?" she enquired encouragingly.
"How old are your daughters?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, leaning back in her chair in a sort of
collapse. "What do you want to know that for?"
"Well, I'm leading up to something else, if you must know."
She brightened up a bit. "They're rather young, of course."
"Naturally," said he. "But HOW young?"
"Mary is—let me see—I can't just recollect—"
"You needn't be afraid to tell me the truth," he said graciously.
"It won't make the least difference."
"Well, Mary is thirty-three. She's the married one. Edith—"
"Is one of 'em married?" he exclaimed, his face clouding.
"She's divorced at present. She married a scamp in the East who
wanted her for her money, and—"
"Never mind," interrupted Corky hastily. "I don't care to hear the
family scandal. Where does she live?"
"New York City, most of the time. You may have seen her. She goes
out a great deal, I hear: I'm not certain whether she's gone back to
her maiden name or retains her ex-husband's. His name is Smith." "I
see," said Corky, abstractedly. "Good looking?"
"Mary? Yes, indeed. Stunning. I'm sure you'll admire her, Mr. Van
"I wish you'd call me Courtney."
"I suppose I might just as well begin," she said resignedly. He
started, and was silent for a moment.
"The others: are they married?"
"No. Edith is twenty-five and Gwendolyn twenty-three. They're at
"Why don't they travel with you?"
She looked positively aggrieved. "They are really very domestic in
their tastes," said she. "They were over with me three years ago, but
"Are they engaged?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"They'd tell you if they were, wouldn't they?"
"If they thought it was any of my business," she said sharply.
Corky was in no condition to flush. It was a pallid hour for him.
"I suppose they have ample means of their own," he ventured.
"They manage pretty well."
"Was nothing left to them outright?"
"Some real estate."
"I see. Everything else went to you?"
"Oh, dear, no. He left $10,000 to his only sister. I sued to get it
back, but lost. I always hated her."
"There was considerably more than $10,000 in the estate, of
course," he said quickly.
She smiled and closed one eye very slowly. "I should rather think
so," she said. He was silent, pondering deeply. "Can you think of
anything more to ask?"
"I'm trying to think if there is," he replied frankly. She gave him
a few minutes. "I can't recall anything more at this moment," he
announced. "Oh, just a moment! Was there anything mentioned in the
will about your never marrying again?"
"Not a word," said she triumphantly.
"Good!" said he, and arose somewhat unsteadily from his chair.
The Grand Duchess held up her hand to check the words on his lips.
"Sit down," she said brusquely. "I've got a few questions I'd like
to ask of you, Corky."
"Corky! Good Lord, don't call me THAT. Where did you hear that
"I saw it in the Herald. It's the only thing I have against you. I
can't help thinking of you as a sort of monument to my poor dead
husband. Have I never told you that he had a cork leg? Well, he had.
He lost a real leg at Gettysburg. My husband was a big, brave man,
Courtney. He wasn't a polished society chap and he didn't know much
about grammar, but he was as fine and honest and noble as any man who
ever lived. But this is no time to discuss the qualifications of a man
as big and grand as my husband. It—it seems like sacrilege. What I
want to know is this: how old is your father?"
"What is his age?"
"My fa—What's that got to do with it?"
"To do with what?" sharply.
He stammered. "Why,—er—with the qualifications of your husband."
"Nothing at all."
"Well, he's about sixty."
"Good Lord! Certainly."
"And very rich, as I'm informed."
"All this is very distasteful to me."
"And your brothers? Are they worthy young men?"
"Of course," angrily.
"Don't flare up, please. And now, what is your income?"
"MY income? Why, this is positively outrageous! I—"
"Maybe I should have said 'allowance.'"
Corky swallowed hard. "I'm not a rich man, if that's what you want
to know. I'll be perfectly honest with you. I'm horribly poor."
Her face brightened. "Now you are talking like a man. You must not
forget I am from the West. We like frankness. And yet, in spite of
your poverty, you really are received in the Smart Set? How do you
"Men are always in demand," admitted Corky, making a wretched error
in diplomacy. He was thankful to see that it went unnoticed. "That is,
men who are worth while."
The Grand Duchess settled back in her chair, and softly patted her
coiffure, choosing to stroke the curls immediately above her ears.
"Well?" she invited, calmly, deliberately.
"I'd like to marry you," said Corky.
"Do you expect me to say 'yes'?"
"Well, I'll let you know in the morning."
"I prefer to have my answer now."
"I've got to think it over."
"Haven't you been thinking it over for some time?" he demanded
"I'll admit that I am in love with you," she said coyly.
He shuffled his feet uneasily. "And you also will admit that I am
in love with you, won't you?"
"How can you ask?"
"Well, prove it."
"Won't I be proving it beyond all question if I marry you?"
She sighed. "That isn't the way I was wooed years ago."
"You forget that it was long before my time. Custom changes, my
dear. I love you in the present, up-to-date fashion, not as they did
in the unsettled West."
She pondered. "How much of an allowance will you expect?"
"Whatever you choose to settle upon me, I shall be happy to divide
equally with you. That's the only way we can carry on our social
"Well, I'll marry you, Corky."
He blinked his eyes two or three times. "When?" he enquired, and
absently looked at his watch.
"Next Saturday," she said.
"Good!" said he.
When he got back to his hotel he found awaiting him there a letter
from his brother Ripley. The news it brought caused him to thank his
lucky stars that his fortune would be safe on Saturday.
Jefferson and Ripley were making their fortunes in a middle-west
city, following the ancient and honourable pursuit of the golf-ball as
instructors in rival country clubs. They seemed to be a bit uncertain
as to what they would follow during the winter, but both of them were
thinking rather seriously of getting married.
The news that caused Gorky's eyes to bulge came in the last casual
paragraph of the letter. "Oh, by the way," wrote Rip, "the governor
has just been married. I suppose you haven't heard of it. He had his
appendix out six weeks ago and married his night nurse as soon as he
was up. Well, so long. I'm giving a lesson at 10:30. Good luck."
CHAPTER III. THE TWINS
The twins went fortune-seeking in a more complaisant way. They were
big and hardy and the world had no real terrors for them. As twins
should go, they fared forth together in quest of the road to wealth.
They had been told that it lay toward the West and that it grew
broader as one drew nearer the land of the setting sun. The West was
the place for young men with ambitions. That expression had been ding-
donged into their ears by college mates from Los Angeles and Seattle
ever since they had learned that these two towns were something more
than mere dots on the map.
They had heard so much of the two cities that they decided to try
Omaha or some other place of that character before definitely putting
their strength against the incomprehensibly sagacious gentlemen who
were responsible for the supremacy of Seattle and Los Angeles over all
other towns on the continent.
As was their wont, they went about the thing casually and without
worry. They could not buckle down to work until after the wedding of a
friend in Chicago, a classmate at college. He had asked them to act as
ushers. The twins were especially well-qualified to serve as ushers.
Since graduating they had performed that service for no fewer than
twenty members of the class and were past-masters at the trade. It was
only fair and right that they should usher for old Charley Whistler,
although the name was not quite as familiar as it ought to have been.
They couldn't quite place him, but so long as he had done them the
honour to ask them to take part in his wedding, they were reasonably
secure in the belief that he was all right. Before leaving New York,
they spent several hundred dollars on a joint wedding present, a habit
acquired when they first came out of college and which clung to them
through many marriages, no doubt because of the popularity of the
phrase: "Know all men by these presents, etc."
They were somewhat surprised on reaching Chicago to learn that
Charley Whistler did not live there at all, but in W——, a thriving
city not far removed from the Illinois metropolis. They could not have
been expected to know that dear old Charley lived in W—— when they
didn't even know there was such a place as W—— to live in. They
heard all about the place from Charley, however. It seemed to be a
city of distilleries. Everybody there was rich because everybody owned
"Come out and visit us," said Charley after he had told them what a
wonderful place it was. "I'm so busy I can't take more than two weeks
for a honeymoon. Any time after the first of June will be convenient,
boys. I'll show you a REAL town."
"There's only one real town," said Jefferson, his mind drifting
back to Manhattan Island.
"Only one," said Ripley.
"Bosh! Say, how many distilleries has New York got? Answer that,
"I don't know, but I'll bet ten dollars we could drink up in three
months all the whiskey you can make in W—— in a whole year."
Charley was silenced. He could only remark: "Well, there's more
money in making it than there is in drinking it." The twins assented.
"Anyhow, I wish you fellows could come out and see what we've got
there. I'd like to get some of the Van Winkle millions interested in
The twins exchanged glances. "The Van Winkle money is pretty well
tied up," said Jeff.
"Well, it won't be forever, will it? I want to get you young
fellows interested. And say, I can introduce you to some of the finest
girls this side of Paradise. The burg is full of 'em. Why, I've heard
New Yorkers say that they'd never seen so many pretty women or better
dressed ones than we've got right there in—"
"I know," interrupted Rip. "That's what you hear in every city in
America, big or little. And it's always the poor, impressionable New
Yorker who says it, the fellow who has to put up with the depressing
homeliness and dowdiness of Fifth Avenue. Give us a rest, Charley."
"Have you got a baseball team there?" demanded Jeff sarcastically.
"Sure! A peach, too. We're leading the league."
"The Peewee Valley League, of course. Two country clubs, too, with
brand new golf courses. Oh, we're getting to the front, let me tell—"
Charley stared. "Great Scott! Haven't you heard? It's been in all
the papers. The row in the Wayside Country Club? It's only two years
old, but, by George, they've had enough quarrels to last a New York
club a century. There was a split last fall, and a new club was
formed—the Elite Country Club. All the nicest people in town belong
to the Elite. Lot of muckers run the Wayside. If you—-"
"Which one has the distilleries?" asked Pip. "Both. The whiskey
people can't very well discriminate, don't you see? Same as the
breweries. It's good business for them to support both clubs. Good
Lord, it's six o'clock. You fellows will have to be at the church at
seven sharp, you know. Better dress pretty soon. So long. See you
The long and short of it was that the Van Winkle twins DID go out
to W——. They remained in Chicago for three weeks looking for work at
teas, bridge-parties, theatre-parties and luncheons at all of the
country clubs. They played golf and tennis when not engaged in looking
for work. Their joint four thousand dollars, pooled, had dwindled to
barely half that amount, but they were cheerful. Their only prayer was
that no one else in the class of '08 would decide to get married
before the summer was over.
W—— is a thriving, bustling, aggressive town in the Mississippi
Valley. It is not necessary to describe it in detail. The Van Winkles
were put up at the Commercial Club, the W—— Club and the two country
clubs. Charley Whistler attended to that. He was so proud of his two
distinguished ushers that he sadly neglected his bride in showing them
off to acquaintances during the first week of their stay.
Almost the first thing he did was to introduce them to the Barrows
sisters, treasured by W—— as her "fairest daughters." Every one in
town, including the editors, spoke of them familiarly as "Toots" and
"Beppy" Barrows, applying nicknames that had grown up with them and
had no connection whatever with the names they received when
christened. They were young, rich, lovely and apparently heart-whole.
Charley Whistler, being newly-wedded, wanted every one else in the
world to get married. He was continually saying that there was
"nothing like it," and resented some of the ironic rejoinders of men
who had been married all their lives, to hear them talk about it. So
he made haste to introduce the twins to the beautiful Barrows girls.
With a perfectly beautiful fidelity to the fitness of things, the
two Van Winkles fell prostrate before the charms of the two young
ladies, and spent nearly a month looking for work in their delightful
company. It was not until they realised that their funds were reduced
to almost nothing that they came down to earth with a thud. They had
less than one hundred dollars between them and destitution.
Sitting in the shade of a huge old oak near the first tee on the
Elite Club course, awaiting the appearance of the young women with
whom they were to play a mixed foursome, the twins fell to discussing
a subject they had dreaded to contemplate much less to broach.
"Jeff," said Rip, poking a dandelion with the head of his mashie,
"lend me fifty till next week."
"Fifty what?" enquired Jeff gloomily.
"Cents, of course," said Rip. "But I'll take it in dollars if you
happen to have them."
"We're up against it, old boy," said his brother, lighting a fresh
cigarette. "What's to be done?"
"I suppose we'll have to clear out," sighed Rip. "We can't go on in
this way. They are the finest, best girls I've ever known, and it's a
bloody shame to—to go on."
"Right-o! We've just got to clear out while our credit is good. I
hate to do it, though. I—I don't mind confessing that I'm heels over
head in love with her. It's a damned shame, isn't it?"
"You're no worse off than I am," groaned Rip. "We are a nice pair
of Romeos, aren't we? Good Lord, what will they think of us when they
find us out?"
"Well," mused Jeff, "they're sensible darlings. Maybe they'll
"Never! These western girls are not brought up to understand such
blighters as we are. We are a species known only to the effete East.
No; they will not understand. God knows I'm willing to work. The
trouble is, I haven't time."
"Well, we'll have to work, steal or starve."
"I can't steal and I won't starve. I'm afraid we'll have to move on
farther west. Cow-punching isn't bad if one—Here they come. Not a
word, old boy. We'll talk it over tonight. It's my notion we'd better
move on tomorrow while we've got the wherewithal. I'm not mean enough
to borrow money from Whistler and I haven't the face to ask Uncle
George to help us out. Darn him, I think he's the one who put it into
father's head to do this—"
"Sh!" hissed the other, coming to his feet as the trim, trig
figures of the Barrows girls drew near.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," said Toots, the elder of the two.
"Mrs. Garvin was telling a story in the locker room." Toots was an
exquisite blonde, tall, slender and lithesome.
"I've been slicing horribly of late, Mr. Van Winkle," said Beppy,
frowning prettily. "Can you straighten me out? What am I doing that's
wrong?" She was dark and brilliant, and quite as tall as her sister.
One would go miles to find two more comely maids than these.
"Standing too far away from the ball," said Jeff, to whom the
remark was addressed.
"I don't see why the club doesn't hire a professional," complained
she. "He could get rich showing the members how to play the sort of
golf they needn't be ashamed of."
"Three fourths of them don't know the difference between a mashie
and a mid-iron," said Toots. "We learned in England, you know."
"By Jove!" exclaimed Rip, apropos of nothing. A great light beamed
in his face.
"By Jove!" repeated Jeff, divining his thought.
Then, just to prove that they understood each other, they drove at
least two hundred and fifty yards off the first tee, straight down the
course. Jeff showed Beppy how to overcome the slice. She got a hundred
and fifty yard ball.
"For heaven's sake!" she exclaimed, surprised by her own prowess.
"How wonderful! And how easy, when you know how."
With singular coincidence of purpose, the two Van Winkles set about
to teach their partners how to play better golf than they had ever
played before. By the time they were playing the long eighth hole, the
young men were so exercised over the discovery of a vocation that they
sliced badly into the rough. Trudging side by side through the tall
grass, looking for balls which the caddies had lost, they addressed
each other in excited undertones.
"Nothing could suit me better," said Jeff.
"It's like finding money. Lessons at three dollars an hour and the
privilege of selling all the golf balls to the players. How's that?
Shall we tackle it?"
Jeff experienced a momentary pang of doubt. "Of course we'd lose
our standing as amateurs. We'd be professionals, you know."
"What's the odds? Even amateurs have to live, old son."
"What will the girls think of us?" dolefully.
"They can't blame us for earning an honest dollar."
"A Van Winkle earning an honest dollar!" scoffed Jeff, with a short
laugh. "It's incredible. No one will believe it."
"Here's what I think," said Rip seriously. "We ought to make a
clean breast of everything those girls. Tell 'em just how we stand.
I'll stake my head they'll stand for it."
"Tell 'em we've been kicked out by the governor?" gasped Jeff.
"Sure. A rich man's sons earning their daily bread by the sweat of
their brow. Horrible ogre of a father, d'ye see? Romance of the
highest order. By ginger, Jeff, I'm strong for it. It's honest work
and I'm not ashamed of it."
The Barrows girls witnessed the strange spectacle of two brothers
in quest of golf-balls shaking hands with each other in the centre of
a wire-grass swamp, and blinked their beautiful eyes in amazement.
At the "nineteenth hole," over tea and highballs, the Van Winkle
twins made humble confession to the high priestesses of W——. They
did not spare themselves. On the contrary, they confessed their utter
worthlessness and paid homage to the father who had sent them out in
the world to retrieve themselves.
"And what do you think of the scheme?" asked Rip at the end of a
lengthy and comprehensive explanation of the project in mind.
"Fine!" cried the two girls in a breath. "Then, the first thing to
do is to convince the club that it needs a professional," said Jeff
eagerly. He was looking into Beppy's big brown eyes.
"But it doesn't need TWO," spoke Toots.
The four faces fell. "I never thought of that," murmured Jeff.
"The Wayside Club has no instructor," cried Rip, grasping at a
"But no one thinks of going to Wayside," protested Toots. "They are
"Still they could be taught how to play golf," said Rip. "In any
event, beggars can't be choosers. We both want to stay in W——."
"Well, there's only one way out of it," said Beppy quickly. "You,
Ripley, apply to the Wayside for the position. Jefferson has already
spoken for the place here."
"He has not!" exclaimed Toots indignantly.
"He has! I am on the golf committee, so that settles it. I'll call
a meeting of the committee tomorrow—"
"I don't see why Ripley should be sacrificed—"
"Wait, girls," broke in Ripley with a laugh. "It's very flattering
to us, but please don't quarrel on our account. We can settle it
nicely by flipping a coin."
"Heads," said Jefferson without hesitation. He won. "Sorry, old
"We shall have to join Wayside," lamented Toots. "Oh, how I hate
"I wouldn't join until you see whether I land the place," advised
Ripley. "I suppose I COULD go to some other city."
Both girls uttered such a harmonious protest against that
alternative, that he said he wouldn't consider leaving his brother for
anything in the world.
"I know the president of Wayside," said Beppy consolingly. "He used
to be in business with father. I'll see him tomorrow and tell him—-"
"See him TODAY," advised Toots firmly.
"You are adorable," whispered Rip as he walked beside her toward
the automobile. "I wish I could do something to show how much I
appreciate your—your friendship." Her response was a most enchanting
smile. Under his breath he said: "Gad, I'd like to kiss you!" It is
barely possible that thoughts speak louder than words and that she
heard him, for she said something in reply under her own breath that
would have made it a very simple matter for him to kiss her if he had
been acquainted with the silent tongue.
The Van Winkle twins, in anticipation of success crowning their
efforts to become professional instructors in the two country clubs,
outlined a splendid and cunning campaign for themselves. By inspiring
a fierce rivalry between the would-be golfers of the two clubs, they
could build up a thriving practice in their chosen profession. The
rivalry was already bitter along other lines. If they could get the
men of the clubs into a fighting humour over the golf situation, there
would be no end to the lessons they would demand of their instructors.
By using a little strategy, the twins figured they could keep the
clubs in a state of perpetual tournament. The results would be far-
reaching and gratifying.
Before the end of the week, the redoubtable sons of old Bleecker
Van Winkle, "leaders of cotillions in the Four Hundred and idols of
Newport and Bar Harbor," (according to the local press), were
installed as instructors in the rival clubs. Everybody in town, except
the conspiring Barrows girls, regarded the situation as a huge joke.
The fashionable young "bloods" were merely doing it for the "fun of
the thing." That was the consensus of opinion. The news was
telegraphed to the New York papers and the headlines in Gotham were
worth seeing. The twins winked at each other and—played golf.
Be it said to their credit, they were soon earning twenty-five or
thirty dollars a day—and saving half of it!
So intense was the golf fever in W—— that the middle of July
found the links of both clubs so crowded that it was almost impossible
to play with anything except a putter. Nearly every foursome had a
gallery following it and no one spoke above a whisper after he entered
the club grounds, so eager were the members to respect the proprieties
of golf. Men who had but lately scoffed at the little white ball now
talked of stymies and lies and devits as if they had known them all
their lives. Hooks, tops and slices were on every man's tongue, and
you might have been pardoned for thinking that Bunker Hill was smack
in the centre of W——, and that Col. Bogie had come there to be
beaten to death in preference to being executed in any other city in
The merry Van Winkles, good fellows and good sports that they were,
thrived with the game, and kept straight down the course of true love
"Jeffy," said Rip one evening after returning from a rather
protracted call on Toots Barrows, "I have asked her to marry me."
"So have I," said Jeff, who had returned with him from the Barrows
home. "I wonder what the governor will say?"
"I'm not worrying about him. I'm wondering what the girls' mother
"No one will say we are marrying them for their money, that's
positive. Everybody here thinks we've got millions and millions."
"Oh, by the way, did she accept you!"
"Certainly. Did she accept you?"
"Of course. Another thing, did she say anything to you about
hurrying the thing along a bit, so as to have it over with before her
mother gets wind of it?"
"By George, she did. That's odd, isn't it? She's afraid her mother
will object to her marrying a New Yorker. Got some silly prejudice
against the Four Hundred. I said it couldn't happen any too soon for
me. We had a sort of a notion next week would be about right."
"It suits me," said the other. They shook hands. "I want to say,
here and now, that I love her with all my heart and soul, and I'll
never let her rue the day she married me. I love her, old son."
"Not a blamed bit more than I do," said Jeff fervently. "She's the
The next morning they saw by the newspaper that their father had
married his night nurse in the hospital and was going up into Maine to
That same day, on the seventh tee of the Elite course, Toots
promised to marry Ripley two weeks from Wednesday. At Wayside Beppy
told Jefferson she would marry him at the same time, but I think it
was on the ninth green.
"Mother will be wild when we cable the news to her," said she.
CHAPTER IV. ALL VAN WINKLES
The fortnight between that fateful day on the links and the
Wednesday aforesaid, was full of surprising complications for the Van
Winkle and Barrows families.
The two girls went into fits of hysteria on receipt of a cablegram
from their mother in Paris announcing her marriage to Mr. Courtney Van
Winkle, of New York. They were still more prostrated on learning from
their wide-eyed sweethearts that not only was Courtney their step-
father but he was on the point of becoming their brother-in-law as
well. A still greater shock came the day of their own double wedding
which took place in the Barrows mansion on Ardmore Avenue in the
presence of a small company of guests. It developed that the Mrs.
Smith who nursed old Mr. Van Winkle and afterwards married him was
their divorced sister, Mary, who had not only grown tired of a husband
but of nursing other women's husbands as well. The situation was
"Good heavens," said Rip, after the ceremony which linked the
entire Barrows family to the Van Winkles, "what relation are we to
"Well," said his wife, "for one thing, you are my uncle by
"And I am my father's brother-in-law. By the same argument, the
governor becomes his own son's son-in-law. Can you beat it?"
"Your brother becomes your father, and my mother is my sister. Now,
let's see what else—"
"And your sister is now your mother-in-law. By the way, has she any
"Two little girls," said Toots.
"That makes poor old Corky a grandfather," groaned Rip.
Pretty much the same conversation took place between Jeff and
"Corky is my father-brother," said Jeff, summing it all up.
On the high seas, Mr. and Mrs. Courtney Van Winkle threshed out the
amazing situation, and in the mists of the Maine coast, the
flabbergasted father of the three young men who fared forth to make
men of themselves agonised over the result of their efforts.
"When I am quite strong again, my dear," said he to the comely ex-
nurse—who, by the way, had engaged a male attendant to take her place
in looking after the convalescent gentleman, "we must have a family
gathering in New York. What is your mother like?"
"She is like all women who marry at her age," said she without
hesitation—and without rancour. "She's very silly. What sort of a
person is your son?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Van Winkle with conviction.
We will permit three months to slip by. No honeymoon should be
shorter than that. It is meet that we should grant our quiddlers three
and their excellent parent the supreme felicity of enjoying the period
without being spied upon by a mercenary story-teller. But all
interests, as well as all roads, lead to a common centre. The centre
in this case was New York City.
It goes without saying that the Barrows girls, Edith and Gwendolyn,
preferred New York to W—— as a place of residence. They married New
Yorkers and it was only right and proper that they should love New
York. Possessing a full third of the enormous fortune left by their
distilling father, they maintained that they could afford to live in
New York, even though their husbands remained out of employment for
the rest of their natural lives. We already know that Mrs. Corky Van
Winkle longed for a seat among the lofty, and that Mrs. Bleecker Van
Winkle had married at least two gentlemen of Gotham in the struggle to
feel at home there. Therefore, we are permitted to announce that
Jefferson and Ripley Van Winkle resigned their positions as golf-
instructors the instant the wedding bells began to ring, and went upon
the retired list with the record of an honourable, even distinguished
career behind them. They said something about going into "the Street,"
and their amiable and beautiful wives exclaimed that it would be
perfectly lovely of them. But, they added, there was really no excuse
We come now to the family gathering in the palatial home of Mr.
Courtney Van Winkle, just off Fifth Avenue (on the near east side),
and it is December. Corky's wife bought the place, furnished. He
couldn't stop her. The only flaw in the whole arrangement, according
to the ambitious Grand Duchess, was the deplorable accident that
admitted a trained nurse into the family circle. It would be very hard
to live down. She never could understand why Mr. Van Winkle did it!
The twins and their brides were occupying enormous suites at one of
the big hotels, pending the completion of a new and exclusive
apartment building in Fifth Avenue. They had been in town but a week
when Courtney and the Grand Duchess returned from Virginia Hot
Springs, where they had spent November. Old Mr. Van Winkle was just
out of the hospital after a second operation: an adhesion. He was
really unfit for the trip up town from the old Van Winkle mansion;
nevertheless, he made it rather than disappoint his new—(I use the
word provisionally)—daughter-in-law, who had set her heart upon
having the family see what she had bought. I am not quite certain that
she didn't include Corky in the exhibit.
There were introductions all around. Mr. Van Winkle, senior, was
presented to his mother-in-law and to his sisters, and, somewhat
facetiously, to his father-in-law, his brothers, his sons and his
daughters. Corky had the pleasure of meeting his three sons-in-law,
his three daughters-in-law, his two sisters, his brothers, his father
and his granddaughters-in-law. The twins—but why continue? Puzzles of
this character provide pleasure for those who choose to work them out
for themselves, and no doubt many who have followed the course of this
narrative are to be classed among them.
Of course, in his own home Corky sat at the head of the table, but
it is not to be assumed that he was the undisputed head of the family,
although he may have advanced claims to the distinction because of his
position as father-in-law to every one else of the name. Mr. Van
Winkle, pere, jocosely offered to relinquish the honour to his son,
and the twins vociferously shouted their approval.
"You are the oldest member of the family by marriage, Corky," said
Jeff, and was rewarded by a venomous stare from his joint mother-and-
"How you talk!" said the Grand Duchess, suddenly remembering her
lorgnette. The stare became intensified. "Isn't the house attractive,
Mr. Van Winkle?" she asked, turning to the old gentleman, with a
"Are you addressing me, my dear, as your son-in-law or as your
father- in-law?" enquired Mr. Van Winkle.
"Why do you ask?" she demanded.
"Because if you are speaking to me as your son, I prefer to be
"Stuff and nonsense, Mr. Van Winkle! Why, I scarcely know you."
"Won't you tell me your Christian name? I can't very well go about
calling my daughter MISSIS Van Winkle."
"Minervy—I mean Minerva. Of course, I shall expect you to call me
Minerva. I—I suppose it is only right that I should call you
Bleecker. Isn't it an odd situation?"
"I should say so," put in Rip. "I'll have to give up calling you
father, Bleecker. You are my brother now."
"I don't think we should carry a joke too far," said his father
"It's no joke," said Kip. "Is it, Father Corky?"
"See here, confound you, don't get funny," snapped Corky from the
head of the table. "You forget the servants."
"I'm not ashamed to have them hear me call you father, Corky,"
protested Rip. "I'll shout it from the house top if you think there's
any doubt about my sincerity."
"Don't tease, Ripley," said Toots. "Your poor brother is dreadfully
"You must go with me to the dressmaker's tomorrow, girls," said the
Grand Duchess, effectually putting a stop to the discussion. "I shall
be there all day trying on gowns, and I want your opinions."
"Didn't you have anything made in Paris, Mother?" cried Toots and
Beppy in unison.
"She did," said Corky emphatically. "We paid duty on seventy-three
gowns, to say nothing of other things."
"But they are all out of fashion by this time," said Mrs. Corky,
joyously. "They are at least three months old. I'm getting everything
new. The season promises to be an unusually brilliant one, doesn't it,
Every one waited for Gorky's reply. He appeared to have swallowed
something the wrong way. It was just like them to wait, CONFOUND them,
thought he resentfully.
"Yes," said he, so succinctly that the four ladies were bitterly
disappointed. For them, the topic called for the most elaborate
treatment. "I shall give a big ball right after the holidays," said
the Grand Duchess, determined to keep the subject going. "Corky and I
have been going over the list of invitations this week. We mean to
make it very select. On a rough estimate, we figure that the affair
won't cost a cent less than fifty thousand—"
"My dear!" cried Corky, rapping violently on the table with his
fork in his agitation.
"That's a pearl-handled fork," his wife reminded him, going very
red under her rouge.
At this juncture Jefferson arose and, clearing his throat, began a
toast to the brides.
"On your feet, gentlemen! Here's to the four Mrs. Van Winkles, the
fourest of the fair—I mean the fairest of the four—ouch!—the
fairest—of—the—fair. May they never know an hour of remorse! May
their hearts always beat time to the tune of love we shall sing into
their lovely ears, and may they be kind enough to forgive us our
transgressions while they listen to our eternal and everlasting song!
As the four gentlemen drained their glasses, the four ladies
applauded the eloquent Jeff.
"You must write that out for Corky, Jefferson," cried his
mother-in- law. "He may have an opportunity to spring it—"
"Ahem!" barked Corky, quite viciously.
"I am sure we shall all love one another and be happy to the end of
our days," cried Mrs. Bleecker Van Winkle, an extremely handsome woman
"Good for you, Mother!" shouted Rip, with enthusiasm and every one
laughed, Corky the loudest of all.
Beppy rose half way out of her seat and peered down the table in
the direction of her sister Mary.
"Stop holding hands, you silly things!" she cried, shaking her
finger at Bleecker Van Winkle and his wife.
"I'm not holding hands," cried Mary.
"She was feeling my pulse," explained the old gentleman hastily.
As a matter of fact, when Mary undertook to bestow upon her husband
the caress known as "holding hands" she invariably took his wrist
between her thumb and forefinger and absent-mindedly counted ten or
twelve before realising her mistake.
The father of the three young men took this particular moment to
revoke, in a very diplomatic way, the sentence he had declared a few
months earlier in the year. Without saying it in so many words, he
gave them to understand that he considered their fortunes made and
warmly congratulated them upon the successful issue of their
endeavours. He made so bold as to state that he took upon his own
shoulders all of the trivial mistakes they may have made during years
of adolescence, and gave to them the glory of achieving success when
failure might have been their lot because of the foolish adoration of
a doting parent. It was a very pretty speech, but the boys noticed
that he carefully refrained from acknowledging that they had made men
"And now," said he, in conclusion, "permit me to paraphrase the
toast of that amiable ancestor whom fiction has given to us, the
ancient Rip whose days will be longer than ours, whose life will run
smoothly through centuries to come: 'May we all live long—and
They drank it standing.
The Grand Duchess beamed. "So that dear old gentleman WAS your
ancestor after all. How glad I am to know it!"
"Yes, my dear daughter," said her venerable son-in-law, running his
fingers through his niveous thatch, "he was the first of the time-
wasting Van Winkles."