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Ffrenches First by Lloyd Osbourne

 

I suppose if I had been a hero of romance, instead of an ordinary kind of chap, I would have steamed in with the Tallahassee, fired a gun, and landed in state, instead of putting on my old clothes and sneaking into the county on an automobile. However, I did my little best, so far as making a date with Babcock was concerned, and as it turned out in the end I dare say the hero of romance wouldn't have managed it much better himself. It was late when I got into Forty Fyles (as the village was called), and put up at one of those quaint, low-raftered, bulging old inns which still remain, thank Heaven, here and there, in the less travelled parts of England. If I were dusty and dirty when I arrived, you ought to have seen me the next day after a two-hours' job with the differential gears. By the time I had got the trouble to rights, and had puffed up and down the main street to make assurance sure and astonish the natives (who came out two hundred strong and cheered), I was as frowsy, unkempt, and dilapidated an American as ever drove a twelve H.P. Panhard through the rural lanes of Britain. Indeed, I was so shocked at my own appearance when I looked at myself in the glass (such a wiggly old glass that showed one in streaks like bacon) that I went down to the draper's and tried to buy a new set out. But as they had nothing except cheap tripper suits for pigmies (I stood six feet in my stockings and had played full back at college) and fishermen's clothes of an ancient Dutch design, I forebore to waste my good dollars in making a guy of myself, and decided to remain as I was.

Then, as I was sitting in the bar and asking the potman the best way to get to Castle Fyles, it suddenly came over me that it was the Fourth of July, and that, recreant as I was, I had come near forgetting the event altogether. I started off again down the main street to discover some means of raising a noise, and after a good deal of searching I managed to procure several handfuls of strange whitey fire-crackers the size of cigars and a peculiar red package that the shopkeeper called a "Haetna Volcano." He said that for four and eightpence one couldn't find its match in Lunnon itself, and obligingly took off twopence when I pointed out Vesuvius hadn't a fuse. With the crackers in my pocket and the volcano under my arm I set forth in the pleasant summer morning to walk to Castle Fyles, having an idea to rest by the way and celebrate the Fourth in the very heart of the hereditary enemy.

The road, as is so often the case in England, ran between high stone walls and restrained the wayfarer from straying into the gentlemen's parks on either hand. The sun shone overhead with the fierce heat of a British July; and to make matters worse in my case, I seemed to be the loadstone of what traffic was in progress on the highway. A load of hay stuck to me with obstinate determination; if I walked slowly, the hay lagged beside me; if I quickened my pace, the hay whipped up his horses; when I rested and mopped my brow, the hay rested and mopped ITS brow. Then there were tramps of various kinds: a Punch and Judy show on the march; swift silent bicyclists who sped past in a flurry of dust; local gentry riding cock-horses (no doubt to Banbury Crosses); local gentry in dogcarts; local gentry in closed carriages going to a funeral, and apparently (as seen through the windows) very hot and mournful and perspiring; an antique clergyman in an antique gig who gave me a tract and warned me against drink; a char-a-bancs filled to bursting with the True Blue Constitutional Club of East Pigley—such at least was the inscription on a streaming banner— who swung past waving their hats and singing "Our Boarder's such a Nice Young Man"; then some pale aristocratic children in a sort of perambulating clothes-basket drawn by a hairy mite of a pony, who looked at me disapprovingly, as though I hadn't honestly come by the volcano; then—but why go on with the never-ending procession of British pilgrims who straggled out at just sufficient intervals to keep between them a perpetual eye on my movements and prevent me from celebrating the birth of freedom in any kind of privacy. At last, getting desperate at this espionage and thinking besides I could make a shorter cut towards Castle Fyles, I clambered over an easy place in the left-hand wall and dropped into the shade of a magnificent park. Here, at least, whatever the risk of an outraged law (which I had been patronisingly told was even stricter than that of the Medes and Persians), I seemed free to wander unseen and undetected, and accordingly struck a course under the oaks that promised in time to bring me out somewhere near the sea.

Dipping into a little dell, where in the perfection of its English woodland one might have thought to meet Robin Hood himself, or startle Little John beside a fallen deer, I looked carefully about, got out my pale crackers, and wondered whether I dared begin. It is always an eerie sensation to be alone in the forest, what with the whispering leaves overhead, the stir and hum of insects, the rustle of ghostly foot-falls, and (in my case) the uneasy sense of green-liveried keepers sneaking up at one through the clumps of gorse. However, I was not the man to belie the blood of Revolutionary heroes and meanly carry my unexploded crackers beyond the scene of danger, so I remembered the brave days of old and touched a whitey off. It burst with the roar of a cannon and reverberated through the glades like the broadside of a man-of- war. It took me a good five minutes before I had the courage to detonate another, which, for better security, I did this time under my hat. I am not saying it did the hat any good, but it seemed safer and less deafening, and I accordingly went on in this manner until there were only about three whiteys left between me and Vesuvius, which I kept back, in accordance with tradition, for one big triumphant bang at the end.

I was in the act of touching my cigar to whitey number three,—on my knees, I remember; and trying to arrange my hat so as to get the most muffling for the least outlay of burned felt, when the branches in front of me parted and I looked up to see—well, simply the most beautiful woman in the world, regarding me with astonishment and anger. She was about twenty, somewhat above the medium height, and her eyes were of a lovely flashing blue that seemed in the intensity of her indignation to positively emit sparks—altogether the most exquisitely radiant and glorious creature that man was ever privileged to gaze upon.

"How dare you let off fireworks in this park?" she said, in a voice like clotted cream.

I rose in some confusion.

"Go directly," she said, "or I'll report you and have you summonsed!"

"I have only two more crackers and this volcano," I said protestingly. "Surely you would not mind——"

"Don't be insolent," she said, "or I shall have no compunction in setting my dog on you."

I looked down, and there, sure enough, rolling a yellow eye and showing his fangs at me, was a sort of Uncle Tom's Cabin bloodhound only waiting to begin.

"The fact is," I said, speaking slowly, so as to emphasise the fact that I was a gentleman, "I am an American; to-day is our national holiday; and we make it everywhere our practice to celebrate it with fireworks. I would have done so in the road, but the island seemed so crowded this morning I couldn't find an undisturbed place outside the park."

Beauty was obviously mollified by my tone and respectful address.

"Please leave the park directly," she said.

I put the crackers in my pocket, took up my hat, placed the Haetna Volcano under my arm, and stood there, ready to go.

"Accept my apologies," I said. "Whatever my fault, at least no discourtesy was intended."

We looked at each other, and Beauty's face relaxed into something like a smile.

"Just give me one more minute for my volcano," I pleaded.

"You seem very polite," she returned. "Yes, you can set it off, if that will be any satisfaction to you."

"It'll be a whole lot," I said, "and since you're so kind perhaps you'll let me include the crackers as well?"

Then she began to laugh, and the sweetest thing about it was that she didn't want to laugh a bit and blushed the most lovely pink, as she broke out again and again until the woods fairly rang. And as I laughed too—for really it was most absurd—it was as good as a scene in a play. And so, while she held Legree's dog, whom the sound inflamed to frenzy, I popped off the crackers and dropped my cigar into Vesuvius. I tell you he was worth four and eightpence, and the man was right when he said there wasn't his match in London. I doubt if there was his match anywhere for being plumb- full of red balls and green balls and blue balls and crimson stars and fizzlegigs and whole torrents of tiny crackers and chase-me- quicks, and when you about thought he was never going to stop he shot up a silver spray and a gold spray and wound up with a very considerable decent-sized bust.

"I must thank you for your good nature," I said to the young lady.

"Are you a typical American?" she asked. "Oh, so-so," I returned. "There are heaps like me in New York."

"And do they all do this on the Fourth of July?" she asked.

"Every last one!" I said.

"Fancy!" she said.

"In America," I said, "when a man has received one favour he is certain to make it the stepping-stone for another. Won't you permit me to walk across the park to Castle Fyles?"

"Castle Fyles?" she repeated, with a little note of curiosity in her girlish voice. "Then don't you know that this is Fyles Park?"

"Can't say I did," I returned. "But I am delighted to hear it."

"Why are you delighted to hear it?" she asked, making me feel more than ever like an escaped lunatic.

"This is the home of my ancestors," I said, "and it makes me glad to think they amount to something—own real estate—and keep their venerable heads above water."

"So this is the home of your ancestors," she said.

"It's holy ground to me," I said.

"Fancy!" she exclaimed.

"At least I think it is," I went on, "though we haven't any proofs beyond the fact that Fyles has always been a family name with us back to the Colonial days. I'm named Fyles myself—Fyles ffrench— and we, like the Castle people—have managed to retain our little f throughout the ages."

She looked at me so incredulously that I handed her my card.

Mr. Fyles ffrench,

Knickerbocker Club.

She turned it over in her fingers, regarding me at the same time with flattering curiosity.

"How do you do, kinsman?" she said, holding out her hand. "Welcome to old England!"

I took her little hand and pressed it.

"I am the daughter of the house," she explained, "and I'm named Fyles too, though they usually call me Verna."

"And the little f, of course," I said.

"Just like yours," she returned. "There may be some capital F's in the family, but we wouldn't acknowledge them!"

"What a fellow-feeling that gives one!" I said. "At school, at college, in business, in the war with Spain when I served on the Dixie, my life has been one long struggle to preserve that little f against a capital F world. I remember saying that to a chum the day we sank Cervera, 'If I am killed, Bill,' I said, 'see that they don't capital F me on the scroll of fame!'"

"A true ffrench!" exclaimed Beauty with approval.

"As true as yourself," I said.

"Do you know that I'm the last of them?" she said.

"You!" I exclaimed. "The last!"

"Yes," she said, "when my father dies the estates will pass to my second cousin, Lord George Willoughby, and our branch of the family will become extinct."

"You fill me with despair," I said.

"My father never can forgive me for being a girl," she said.

"I can," I remarked, "even at the risk of appearing disloyal to the race."

"Fyles," she said, addressing me straight out by my first name, and with a little air that told me plainly I had made good my footing in the fold, "Fyles, what a pity you aren't the rightful heir, come from overseas with parchments and parish registers, to make good your claim before the House of Lords."

"Wouldn't that be rather hard on you?" I asked.

"I'd rather give up everything than see the old place pass to strangers," she said.

"But I'm a stranger," I said.

"You're Fyles ffrench," she exclaimed, "and a man, and you'd hand the old name down and keep the estate together."

"And guard the little f with the last drop of my blood," I said.

"Ah, well!" she said, with a little sigh, "the world's a disappointing place at best, and I suppose it serves us right for centuries of conceit about ourselves."

"That at least will never die," I observed. "The American branch will see to that part of it."

"It's a pity, though, isn't it?" she said.

"Well," I said, "when a family has been carrying so much dog for a thousand years, I suppose in common fairness it's time to give way for another."

"What is carrying dog?" she said.

"It's American," I returned, "for thinking yourself better than anybody else!"

"Fancy!" she said, and then with a beautiful smile she took my hand and rubbed it against the hound's muzzle.

"You mustn't growl at him, Olaf," she said. "He's a ffrench; he's one of us; and he has come from over the sea to make friends."

"You can't turn me out of the park after that," I said, in spite of a very dubious lick from the noble animal, who, possibly because he couldn't read and hadn't seen my card, was still a prey to suspicion.

"I am going to take you back to the castle myself," she said, "and we'll spend the day going all over it, and I shall introduce you to my father—Sir Fyles—when he returns at five from Ascot."

"I could ask for nothing better," I said, "though I don't want to make myself a burden to you. And then," I went on, a little uncertain how best to express myself, "you are so queer in England about—about——"

"Proprieties," she said, giving the word which I hesitated to use. "Oh, yes! I suppose I oughtn't to; indeed, it's awful, and there'll be lunch too, Fyles, which makes it twice as bad. But to- day I'm going to be American and do just what I like."

"I thought I ought to mention it," I said.

"Objection overruled," she returned. "That's what they used to say in court when my father had his famous right-of-way case with Lord Piffle of Doom; and from what I remember there didn't seem any repartee to it."

"There certainly isn't one from me," I said.

"Let's go," she said.

There didn't seem any end to that park, and we walked and walked and rested once or twice under the deep shade, and took in a mouldy pavilion in white marble with broken windows, and a Temple of Love that dated back to the sixteenth century, and rowed on an ornamental water in a real gondola that leaked like sixty, and landed on a rushy island where there was a sun-dial and a stone seat that the Druids or somebody had considerately placed there in the year one, and talked of course, and grew confidential, until finally I was calling her Verna (which was her pet name) and telling her how the other fellow had married my best girl, while she spoke most beautifully and sensibly about love, and the way the old families were dying out because they had set greater store on their lands than on their hearts, and altogether with what she said and what I said, and what was understood, we passed from acquaintance to friendship, and from friendship to the verge of something even nearer. Even the Uncle Tom hound fell under the spell of our new-found intimacy and condescended to lick my hand of his own volition, which Verna said he had never done before except to the butcher, and winked a bloodshot eye when I remarked he was too big for the island and ought to go back with me to a country nearer his size.

By the time we had reached the cliffs and began to perceive the high grey walls of the castle in the distance, Verna and I were faster friends than ever, and anyone seeing us together would have thought we had known each other all our lives. I felt more and more happy to think I had met her first in this unconventional way, for as the castle loomed up closer and we passed gardeners and keepers and jockeys with a string of race-horses out for exercise, I felt that my pretty companion was constrained by the sight of these obsequious faces and changing by gradations into what she really was, the daughter of the castle and by right of blood one of the great ladies of the countryside.

The castle itself was a tremendous old pile, built on a rocky peninsula and surrounded on three sides by the waters of Appledore Harbour, It lay so as to face the entrance, which Verna told me was commanded—or rather had been in years past—by the guns of a half-moon battery that stood planted on a sort of third-story terrace. It was all towers and donjons and ramparts, and might, in its mediaeval perfection, have been taken bodily out of one of Sir Walter Scott's novels. Verna and I had lunch together in a perfectly gorgeous old hall, with beams and carved panelling and antlers, and a fireplace you could have roasted an ox in, and rows of glistening suits of armour which the original ffrenches had worn when they had first started the family in life—and all this, if you please, tete-a-tete with a woman who seemed to get more beautiful every minute I gazed at her, and who smiled back at me and called me Fyles, to the stupefaction of three noiseless six- footers in silk stockings. Disapproving six-footers, too, whose gimlet eyes seemed to pierce my back as they sized up my clothes, which, as I said before, had suffered not a little by my trip, and my collar, which I'll admit straight out wasn't up to a castle standard, and the undeniable stain of machine-oil on my cuffs which I had got that morning in putting the machine to rights. You ought to have seen the man that took my hat, which he did with the air of a person receiving pearls and diamonds on a golden platter, and smudged his lordly fingers with the grime of my Fourth of July. And that darling of a girl, who never noticed my discomfiture, but whose eyes sparkled at times with a hidden merriment—shall I ever forget her as she sat there and helped me to mutton-chops from simply priceless old Charles the First plate!

We had black coffee together in a window-seat overlooking the harbour and the ships, and she asked me a lot of questions about the war with Spain and my service in the Dixie. She never moved a muscle when it came out I had been a quartermaster, though I could feel she was astounded at my being but a shade above a common seaman, and not, as she had taken it for granted, a commissioned officer. I was too proud to explain over-much, or to tell her I had gone in, as so many of my friends had done, from a strong sense of duty and patriotism at the time of my country's need, and consequently allowed her to get a very wrong idea, I suppose, about my state in life and position in the world. Indeed, I was just childish enough to get a trifle wounded, and let her add misconception to misconception out of a silly obstinacy.

"But what do you do," she asked, "now that the war is over and you've taken away everything from the poor Spaniards and left the Navy?"

"Work," I said.

"What kind of work?" she asked.

"Oh, in an office!" I said. (I didn't tell her I was the Third Vice President of the Amalgamated Copper Company, with a twenty- story building on lower Broadway. Wild horses couldn't have wrung it out of me then.)

"You're too nice for an office," she said, looking at me so sweetly and sadly. "You ought to be a gentleman!"

"Oh, dear!" I exclaimed, "I hope I am that, even if I do grub along in an office." I wish my partners could have heard me say that. Why, I have a private elevator of my own and a squash-court on the roof!

"Of course, I don't mean that," she went on quickly, "but like us, I mean, with a castle and a place in society——"

"I have a sort of little picayune place in New York," I interrupted. "I don't SLEEP in the office, you know. At night I go out and see my friends and sometimes they invite me to dinner."

She looked at me more sadly than ever. I don't believe humour was Verna's strong suit anyway,—not American humour, at least,—for she not only believed what I said, but more too.

"I must speak to Papa about you," she said.

"What will he do?" I asked.

"Oh, help you along, you know," she said; "ffrenches always stand together; it's a family trait, though it's dying out now for lack of ffrenches. You know our family motto?" she went on.

"I'm afraid I don't," I said.

"'Ffrenches first!'" she returned.

I had to laugh.

"We've lived up to it in America," I said.

"Papa is quite a power in the City," she said.

"I thought he was a gentleman," I replied.

"Everybody dabbles in business nowadays," she returned, not perceiving the innuendo. "I am sure Papa ought to know all about it from the amount of money he has lost."

"Perhaps his was a case of ffrenches last!" I said.

"Still, he knows all the influential people," she continued, "and it would be so easy for him to get you a position over here."

"That would be charming," I said.

"And then I might see you occasionally," she said, with such a little ring of kindness in her voice that for a minute I felt a perfect brute for deceiving her. "You could run down here from Saturday to Monday, you know, and on Bank Holidays, and in the season you would have the entree to our London house and the chance of meeting nice people!"

"How jolly!" I said.

"I can't bear you to go back to America," she said. "Now that I've found you, I'm going to keep you."

"I hate the thought of going back myself," I said, and so I did— at the thought of leaving that angel!

"Then, you know," she went on, somewhat shyly and hesitatingly, "you have such good manners and such a good air, and you're so—— "

"Don't mind saying handsome," I remarked.

"You really are very nice-looking," she said, with a seriousness that made me acutely uncomfortable, "and what with our friendship and our house open to you and the people you could invite down here, because I know Papa is going to go out of his mind about you—he and I are always crazy about the same people, you know— not to speak of the little f, there is no reason, Fyles, why in the end you shouldn't marry an awfully rich girl and set up for yourself!"

"Thank you," I said, "but if it's all the same to you I don't think I'd care to."

"I know awfully rich girls who are pretty too," she said, as though forestalling an objection.

"I do too," I said, looking at her so earnestly that she coloured up to the eyes.

"Oh, I am poor!" she said. "It's all we can do to keep the place up. Besides—besides——" And then she stopped and looked out of the window. I saw I had been a fool to be so personal, and I was soon punished for my presumption, for she rose to her feet and said in an altered voice that she would now show me the castle.

As I said before, it was a tremendous old place. It was a two- hours' job to go through it even as we did, and then Verna said we had skipped a whole raft of things she would let me see some other time. There was a private theatre, a chapel with effigies of cross-legged Crusaders, an armoury with a thousand stand of flint- locks, a library, magnificent state apartments with wonderful tapestries, a suite of rooms where they had confined a mad ffrench in the fifteenth century, with the actual bloodstains on the floor where he had dashed out his poor silly brains against the wall; a magazine with a lot of empty powder-casks Cromwell had left there; a vaulted chamber for the men of the half-moon battery; a well which was said to have no bottom and which had remained unused for a hundred years, because a wicked uncle had thrown the rightful heir into it; and slimy, creepy-crawly dungeons with chains for your hands and feet; and cachettes where they spilled you through a hole in the floor, and let it go at that; and—but what wasn't there, indeed, in that extraordinary old feudal citadel, which had been in continuous human possession since the era of Hardicanute. There seemed to be only one thing missing in the whole castle, and that was a bath—though I dare say there was one in the private apartments not shown to me. It was a regular dive into the last five hundred years, and the fact that it wasn't a museum nor exploited by a sing-song cicerone, helped to make it for me a memorable and really thrilling experience. I conjured up my forebears and could see them playing as children, growing to manhood, passing into old age, and finally dying in the shadow of those same massive walls. Verna said I was quite pale when we emerged at last into the open air on the summit of the high square tower; and no wonder that I was, for in a kind of way I had been deeply impressed, and it seemed a solemn thing that I, like her, should be a child of this castle, with roots deep cast in far-off ages.

"Wouldn't it be horrible," I said, "if I found out I wasn't a ffrench at all—but had really sprung from a low-down, capital F family in the next county or somewhere!"

"Oh, but you are a real ffrench," said Verna.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I can FEEL it," she said. "I never felt that kind of sensation before towards anybody except my father!"

I hardly knew whether to be pleased or not. And besides, it didn't seem to me conclusive.

Then she touched a button (for the castle was thoroughly wired and there was even a miniature telephone system) and servants brought us up afternoon tea, and a couple of chairs to sit on, and a folding table set out with flowers, and the best toast and the best tea and the best strawberry jam and the best chocolate cake and the best butter that I had as yet tasted in the whole island. The view itself was good enough to eat, for we were high above everything and saw the harbour and the country stretched out on all sides like a map.

"This is where I come for my day-dreams," said Verna. "I usually have it all to myself, for people hate the stairs so much and the ladies twitter about the dust and the cobwebs and the shakiness of the last ladder, and the silly things get dizzy and have to be held."

"You don't seem to be afraid," I said.

"This has been my favourite spot all my life," she returned. "I can remember Papa holding me up when I wasn't five years old and telling me about the Lady Grizzle that threw herself off the parapet rather than marry somebody she had to and wouldn't!"

"Tell me about your day-dreams, Verna," I said.

"Just a girl's fancies," she returned, smiling. "I dare say men have them too. Fairy princes, you know, and what he'd say and what I'd say, and how much I'd love him, and how much he'd love me!"

"I can understand the last part of it," I observed.

"You are really very nice," she returned, "and when Papa has got you that place in the City, I am going to allow you to come up here and dream too. And you'll tell me about the Sleeping Beauty and I'll unbosom myself about the Beast, and we'll exchange heart- aches and be, oh, so happy together."

"I am that now," I said.

"You're awfully easily pleased, Fyles," she said. "Most of the men I know I have to rack my head to entertain; talk exploring, you know, to explorers, and horses to Derby winners, and what it feels like to be shot—to soldiers—but you entertain ME, and that is so much pleasanter."

"I wish I dared ask you some questions," I said.

"Oh, but you mustn't!" she broke out, with a quick intuition of what I meant.

"Why mustn't?" Tasked.

"Oh, because—because——" she returned. "I wouldn't like to fib to you, and I wouldn't like to tell you the truth—and it would make me feel hot and uncomfortable——"

"What would?" I asked.

"You see, if I really cared for him, it would be different," she said. "But I don't—and that's all."

"Lady Grizzle over again?" I ventured.

"Not altogether," she said, "you see she was perfectly mad about somebody else—which really was hard lines for her, poor thing— while I——"

"Oh, please go on!" I said, as she hesitated.

"Fyles," she said, with the ghost of a sigh, "this isn't day- dreaming at all, and I'm going to give you another cup of tea and change the subject."

"What would you prefer, then?" I asked. "No! No more chocolate cake, thank you."

"Let's have a fairy story all of our own," she said.

"Well, you begin," I said.

"Once upon a time," she began, "there was a poor young man in New York—an American, though of course he couldn't help that—and he came over to England and discovered the home of his ancestors, and he liked them, and they liked him—ever so much, you know—and he found that the old place was destined to pass to strangers, and so he worked and worked in a dark old office, and stayed up at night working some more, and never accepted any invitations or took a holiday except at week-ends to the family castle—until finally he amassed an immense fortune. Then he got into a fairy chariot, together with a bag of gold and the family lawyer, and ordered the coachman to drive him to Lord George Willoughby's in Curzon Street. Then they sent out in hot haste for Sir George's son, an awfully fast young man in the Guards, and the family lawyer haggled and haggled, and Lord George hemmed and hawed, and the Guardsman's eyes sparkled with greed at the sight of the bag of gold, and finally for two hundred thousand pounds (Papa says he often thinks he could pull it off for a hundred and ten thousand) the entail is broken and everybody signs his name to the papers and the poor young man buys the succession of Fyles and comes down here, regardless of expense, in a splendid gilt special train, and is received with open arms by his kinsmen at the castle."

"The open arms appeal to me," I said.

"He was nearly hugged to death," said Verna, "for they were so pleased the old name was not to die out and be forgotten. And then the poor young man married a ravishing beauty and had troops of sunny-haired children, and the daughter of the castle (who by this time was an old maid and quite plain, though everybody said she had a heart like hidden treasure) devoted herself to the little darlings and taught them music-lessons and manners and how to spell their names with a little f, and as a great treat would sometimes bring them up here and tell them how she had first met the poor young man in the 'diamond mornings of long ago'!"

"That's a good fairy story," I said, "but you are all out about the end!"

"You said you liked it," she protested.

"Yes, where they hugged the poor young man," I returned, "but after that, Verna, it went off the track altogether."

"Perhaps you'll put it back again," she said.

"I want to correct all that about the daughter of the castle," I said. "She never became an old maid at all, for, of course, the poor young man loved her to distraction and married her right off, and they lived happily together ever afterwards!"

"I believe that is nicer," she said thoughtfully, as though considering the matter.

"Truer, too," I said, "because really the poor young man adored her from the first minute of their meeting!"

"I wonder how long it will take him to make his fortune," she said, which, under the circumstances, struck me as a cruel thing to say.

"Possibly he has made it already," I said. "How do you know he hasn't?"

"By his looks for one thing," she said, regarding the machine oil on my cuff out of the corner of her eye. "Besides, he hasn't any of the arrogance of a parvenu, and is much too——"

"Too what?" I asked.

"Well bred," she replied simply.

"No doubt that's the ffrench in him," I said, which I think was rather a neat return.

She didn't answer, but looked absently across to the harbour mouth.

"I believe there is a steamer coming in," she said. "Yes, a steamer."

"A yacht, I think," I said, for, sure enough, it was Babcock true to the minute, heading the Tallahassee straight in. I could have given him a hundred dollars on the spot I was so delighted, for he couldn't have timed it better, nor at a moment when it could have pleased me more. She ran in under easy steam, making a splendid appearance with her raking masts and razor bow, under which the water spurted on either side like dividing silver. Except a beautiful woman, I don't know that there's a sweeter sight than a powerful, sea-going steam yacht, with the sun glinting on her bright brass-work, and a uniformed crew jumping to the sound of the boatswain's whistle.

"The poor young man's ship's come home," I said.

"It must be Lady Gaunt's Sapphire," said Verna.

"With the American colours astern?" I said.

"Why, how strange," she said, "it really is American. And then I believe it's larger than the Sapphire!"

"Fifteen hundred and four tons register," I said.

"How do you know that?" she demanded, with a shade of surprise in her voice.

"Because, my dear, it's mine!" I said.

"Yours!" she cried out in astonishment.

"If you doubt me," I said, "I shall tell you what she is going to do next. She is about to steam in here and lower a boat to take me aboard."

"She's heading for Dartmouth," said Verna incredulously, and the words were hardly out of her pretty mouth when Babcock swung round and pointed the Tallahassee's nose straight at us.

For a moment Verna was too overcome to speak.

"Fyles," she said at last, "you told me you worked in an office!"

"So I do," I said.

"And own a vessel like that!" she exclaimed. "A yacht the size of a man-of-war!"

"It was you that said I was a poor young man," I observed. "I was so pleased at being called young that I let the poor pass."

"Fancy!" she exclaimed, looking at me with eyes like stars. And then, recovering herself, she added in another tone: "Now don't you think it was very forward to rendezvous at a private castle?"

"Oh, I thought I could make myself solid before she arrived," I said.

"Fyles," she said, "I am beginning to have a different opinion of you. You are not as straightforward as a ffrench ought to be—and, though I'm ashamed to say it of you—but you are positively conceited."

"Unsay, take back, those angry words," I said; and even as I did so the anchor went splash and I could hear the telegraph jingle in the engine-room.

"And so you're rich," said Verna, "awfully, immensely, disgustingly rich, and you've been masquerading all this afternoon as a charming pauper!"

"I don't think I said charming," I remarked.

"But I say it," said Verna, "because, really you know, you're awfully nice, and I like you, and I'm glad from the bottom of my heart that you are rich!"

"Thank you," I said, "I'm glad, too."

"Now we must go down and meet your boat," said Verna. "See, there it is, coming in—though I still think it was cheeky of you to tell them to land uninvited."

"Oh, let them wait!" I said.

"No, no, we must go and meet them," said Verna, "and I'm going to ask that glorious old fox with the yellow beard whether it's all true or not!"

"You can't believe it yet?" I said.

"You've only yourself to thank for it," she said. "I got used to you as one thing—and here you are, under my eyes, turning out another."

I could not resist saying "Fancy!" though she did not seem to perceive any humour in my exclamation of it, and took it as a matter of course. Besides, she had risen now, and bade me follow her down the stairs.

It was really fine to see the men salute me as we walked down to the boat, and the darkies' teeth shining at the sight of me (for I'm a believer in the coloured sailor) and old Neilsen grinning respectfully in the stern-sheets.

"Neilsen," I said, "tell this young lady my name!"

"Mr. ffrench, sir," he answered, considerably astonished at the question.

"Little f or big F, Neilsen?"

"Little f, sir," said Neilsen.

"There, doubter!" I said to Verna.

She had her hand on my arm and was smiling down at the men from the little stone pier on which we stood.

"Fyles," she said, "you must land and dine with us to-night, not only because I want you to, but because you ought to meet my father."

"About when?" I asked.

"Seven-thirty," she answered; and then, in a lower voice, so that the men below might not hear: "Our fairy tale is coming true, isn't it, Fyles?"

"Right to the end," I said.

"There were two ends," she said. "Mine and yours."

"Oh, mine," I said; "that is, if you'll live up to your part of it!"

"What do you want me to do?" she asked.

"Throw over the Beast and be my Princess," I said, trying to talk lightly, though my voice betrayed me.

"Perhaps I will," she answered.

"Perhaps!" I repeated. "That isn't any answer at all."

"Yes, then!" she said quickly, and, disengaging her hand from my arm, ran back a few steps.

"I hear Papa's wheels," she cried over her shoulder, "and, don't forget, Fyles, dinner at seven-thirty!"

 
 
 

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