The American Claimant Part 2

"Good; we'll catch him. Let's lay a plan."

"Send description to the Baltimore police?"

"Why, what are you talking about? No. Do you want them to get the reward?"

"What shall we do, then?"

The Colonel reflected.

"I'll tell you. Put a personal in the Baltimore Sun. Word it like this: "A. DROP ME A LINE, PETE."

"Hold on. Which arm has he lost?"

"The right."

"Good. Now then-- "A. DROP ME A LINE, PETE, EVEN IF YOU HAVE to write with your left hand. Address X. Y. Z., General Postoffice, Washington. From YOU KNOW WHO."

"There--that'll fetch him."

"But he won't know who--will he?"

"No, but he'll want to know, won't he?"

"Why, certainly--I didn't think of that. What made you think of it?"

"Knowledge of human curiosity. Strong trait, very strong trait."

"Now I'll go to my room and write it out and enclose a dollar and tell them to print it to the worth of that."

CHAPTER IV.

The day wore itself out. After dinner the two friends put in a long and hara.s.sing evening trying to decide what to do with the five thousand dollars reward which they were going to get when they should find One- Armed Pete, and catch him, and prove him to be the right person, and extradite him, and ship him to Tahlequah in the Indian Territory. But there were so many dazzling openings for ready cash that they found it impossible to make up their minds and keep them made up. Finally, Mrs. Sellers grew very weary of it all, and said: "What is the sense in cooking a rabbit before it's caught?"

Then the matter was dropped, for the time being, and all went to bed. Next morning, being persuaded by Hawkins, the colonel made drawings and specifications and went down and applied for a patent for his toy puzzle, and Hawkins took the toy itself and started out to see what chance there might be to do something with it commercially. He did not have to go far. In a small old wooden shanty which had once been occupied as a dwelling by some humble negro family he found a keen-eyed Yankee engaged in repairing cheap chairs and other second-hand furniture. This man examined the toy indifferently; attempted to do the puzzle; found it not so easy as he had expected; grew more interested, and finally emphatically so; achieved a success at last, and asked: "Is it patented?"

"Patent applied for."

"That will answer. What do you want for it?"

"What will it retail for?"

"Well, twenty-five cents, I should think."

"What will you give for the exclusive right?"

"I couldn't give twenty dollars, if I had to pay cash down; but I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll make it and market it, and pay you five cents royalty on each one."

Washington sighed. Another dream disappeared; no money in the thing. So he said: "All right, take it at that. Draw me a paper." He went his way with the paper, and dropped the matter out of his mind dropped it out to make room for further attempts to think out the most promising way to invest his half of the reward, in case a partnership investment satisfactory to both beneficiaries could not be hit upon.

He had not been very long at home when Sellers arrived sodden with grief and booming with glad excitement--working both these emotions successfully, sometimes separately, sometimes together. He fell on Hawkins's neck sobbing, and said: "Oh, mourn with me my friend, mourn for my desolate house: death has smitten my last kinsman and I am Earl of Rossmore--congratulate me!"

He turned to his wife, who had entered while this was going on, put his arms about her and said--"You will bear up, for my sake, my lady--it had to happen, it was decreed."

She bore up very well, and said: "It's no great loss. Simon Lathers was a poor well-meaning useless thing and no account, and his brother never was worth shucks."

The rightful earl continued: "I am too much prostrated by these conflicting griefs and joys to be able to concentrate my mind upon affairs; I will ask our good friend here to break the news by wire or post to the Lady Gwendolen and instruct her to--"

"What Lady Gwendolen?"

"Our poor daughter, who, alas!--"

"Sally Sellers? Mulberry Sellers, are you losing your mind?"

"There--please do not forget who you are, and who I am; remember your own dignity, be considerate also of mine. It were best to cease from using my family name, now, Lady Rossmore."

"Goodness gracious, well, I never! What am I to call you then?"

"In private, the ordinary terms of endearment will still be admissible, to some degree; but in public it will be more becoming if your ladyship will speak to me as my lord, or your lordship, and of me as Rossmore, or the Earl, or his Lordship, and--"

"Oh, scat! I can't ever do it, Berry."

"But indeed you must, my love--we must live up to our altered position and submit with what grace we may to its requirements."

"Well, all right, have it your own way; I've never set my wishes against your commands yet, Mul--my lord, and it's late to begin now, though to my mind it's the rottenest foolishness that ever was."

"Spoken like my own true wife! There, kiss and be friends again."

"But--Gwendolen! I don't know how I am ever going to stand that name. Why, a body wouldn't know Sally Sellers in it. It's too large for her; kind of like a cherub in an ulster, and it's a most outlandish sort of a name, anyway, to my mind."

"You'll not hear her find fault with it, my lady."

"That's a true word. She takes to any kind of romantic rubbish like she was born to it. She never got it from me, that's sure. And sending her to that silly college hasn't helped the matter any--just the other way."

"Now hear her, Hawkins! Rowena-Ivanhoe College is the selectest and most aristocratic seat of learning for young ladies in our country. Under no circ.u.mstances can a girl get in there unless she is either very rich and fashionable or can prove four generations of what may be called American n.o.bility. Castellated college-buildings--towers and turrets and an imitation moat--and everything about the place named out of Sir Walter Scott's books and redolent of royalty and state and style; and all the richest girls keep phaetons, and coachmen in livery, and riding-horses, with English grooms in plug hats and tight-b.u.t.toned coats, and top-boots, and a whip-handle without any whip to it, to ride sixty-three feet behind them--"

"And they don't learn a blessed thing, Washington Hawkins, not a single blessed thing but showy rubbish and un-american pretentiousness. But send for the Lady Gwendolen--do; for I reckon the peerage regulations require that she must come home and let on to go into seclusion and mourn for those Arkansas blatherskites she's lost."

"My darling! Blatherskites? Remember--n.o.blesse oblige."

"There, there--talk to me in your own tongue, Ross--you don't know any other, and you only botch it when you try. Oh, don't stare--it was a slip, and no crime; customs of a life-time can't be dropped in a second. Rossmore--there, now, be appeased, and go along with you and attend to Gwendolen. Are you going to write, Washington?--or telegraph?"

"He will telegraph, dear."

"I thought as much," my lady muttered, as she left the room. "Wants it so the address will have to appear on the envelop. It will just make a fool of that child. She'll get it, of course, for if there are any other Sellerses there they'll not be able to claim it. And just leave her alone to show it around and make the most of it. Well, maybe she's forgivable for that. She's so poor and they're so rich, of course she's had her share of snubs from the livery-flunkey sort, and I reckon it's only human to want to get even."

Uncle Dan'l was sent with the telegram; for although a conspicuous object in a corner of the drawing-room was a telephone hanging on a transmitter, Washington found all attempts to raise the central office vain. The Colonel grumbled something about its being "always out of order when you've got particular and especial use for it," but he didn't explain that one of the reasons for this was that the thing was only a dummy and hadn't any wire attached to it. And yet the Colonel often used it--when visitors were present--and seemed to get messages through it. Mourning paper and a seal were ordered, then the friends took a rest.

Next afternoon, while Hawkins, by request, draped Andrew Jackson's portrait with c.r.a.pe, the rightful earl, wrote off the family bereavement to the usurper in England--a letter which we have already read. He also, by letter to the village authorities at Duffy's Corners, Arkansas, gave order that the remains of the late twins be embalmed by some St. Louis expert and shipped at once to the usurper--with bill. Then he drafted out the Rossmore arms and motto on a great sheet of brown paper, and he and Hawkins took it to Hawkins's Yankee furniture-mender and at the end of an hour came back with a couple of stunning hatchments, which they nailed up on the front of the house--attractions calculated to draw, and they did; for it was mainly an idle and shiftless negro neighborhood, with plenty of ragged children and indolent dogs to spare for a point of interest like that, and keep on sparing them for it, days and days together.

The new earl found--without surprise--this society item in the evening paper, and cut it out and sc.r.a.pbooked it: By a recent bereavement our esteemed fellow citizen, Colonel Mulberry Sellers, Perpetual Member-at-large of the Diplomatic Body, succeeds, as rightful lord, to the great earldom of Rossmore, third by order of precedence in the earldoms of Great Britain, and will take early measures, by suit in the House of Lords, to wrest the t.i.tle and estates from the present usurping holder of them. Until the season of mourning is past, the usual Thursday evening receptions at Rossmore Towers will be discontinued.

Lady Rossmore's comment-to herself: "Receptions! People who don't rightly know him may think he is commonplace, but to my mind he is one of the most unusual men I ever saw. As for suddenness and capacity in imagining things, his beat don't exist, I reckon. As like as not it wouldn't have occurred to anybody else to name this poor old rat-trap Rossmore Towers, but it just comes natural to him. Well, no doubt it's a blessed thing to have an imagination that can always make you satisfied, no matter how you are fixed. Uncle Dave Hopkins used to always say, 'Turn me into John Calvin, and I want to know which place I'm going to; turn me into Mulberry Sellers and I don't care.'"

The rightful earl's comment-to himself: "It's a beautiful name, beautiful. Pity I didn't think of it before I wrote the usurper. But I'll be ready for him when he answers."

CHAPTER V.

No answer to that telegram; no arriving daughter. Yet n.o.body showed any uneasiness or seemed surprised; that is, n.o.body but Washington. After three days of waiting, he asked Lady Rossmore what she supposed the trouble was. She answered, tranquilly: "Oh, it's some notion of hers, you never can tell. She's a Sellers, all through--at least in some of her ways; and a Sellers can't tell you beforehand what he's going to do, because he don't know himself till he's done it. She's all right; no occasion to worry about her. When she's ready she'll come or she'll write, and you can't tell which, till it's happened."

It turned out to be a letter. It was handed in at that moment, and was received by the mother without trembling hands or feverish eagerness, or any other of the manifestations common in the case of long delayed answers to imperative telegrams. She polished her gla.s.ses with tranquility and thoroughness, pleasantly gossiping along, the while, then opened the letter and began to read aloud: KENILWORTH KEEP, REDGAUNTLET HALL, ROWENA-IVANHOE COLLEGE, THURSDAY.

DEAR PRECIOUS MAMMA ROSSMORE: Oh, the joy of it!--you can't think. They had always turned up their noses at our pretentions, you know; and I had fought back as well as I could by turning up mine at theirs. They always said it might be something great and fine to be rightful Shadow of an earldom, but to merely be shadow of a shadow, and two or three times removed at that--pooh-pooh! And I always retorted that not to be able to show four generations of American-Colonial-Dutch Peddler- and-Salt-Cod-McAllister-n.o.bility might be endurable, but to have to confess such an origin--pfew-few! Well, the telegram, it was just a cyclone! The messenger came right into the great Rob Roy Hall of Audience, as excited as he could be, singing out, "Dispatch for Lady Gwendolen Sellers!" and you ought to have seen that simpering chattering a.s.semblage of pinchbeck aristocrats, turn to stone! I was off in the corner, of course, by myself--it's where Cinderella belongs. I took the telegram and read it, and tried to faint--and I could have done it if I had had any preparation, but it was all so sudden, you know--but no matter, I did the next best thing: I put my handkerchief to my eyes and fled sobbing to my room, dropping the telegram as I started. I released one corner of my eye a moment-- just enough to see the herd swarm for the telegram--and then continued my broken-hearted flight just as happy as a bird.

Then the visits of condolence began, and I had to accept the loan of Miss Augusta-Templeton-Ashmore Hamilton's quarters because the press was so great and there isn't room for three and a cat in mine. And I've been holding a Lodge of Sorrow ever since and defending myself against people's attempts to claim kin. And do you know, the very first girl to fetch her tears and sympathy to my market was that foolish Skimperton girl who has always snubbed me so shamefully and claimed lordship and precedence of the whole college because some ancestor of hers, some time or other, was a McAllister. Why it was like the bottom bird in the menagerie putting on airs because its head ancestor was a pterodactyl.

But the ger-reatest triumph of all was--guess. But you'll never. This is it. That little fool and two others have always been fussing and fretting over which was ent.i.tled to precedence--by rank, you know. They've nearly starved themselves at it; for each claimed the right to take precedence of all the college in leaving the table, and so neither of them ever finished her dinner, but broke off in the middle and tried to get out ahead of the others. Well, after my first day's grief and seclusion--I was fixing up a mourning dress you see--I appeared at the public table again, and then--what do you think? Those three fluffy goslings sat there contentedly, and squared up the long famine--lapped and lapped, munched and munched, ate and ate, till the gravy appeared in their eyes--humbly waiting for the Lady Gwendolen to take precedence and move out first, you see!

Oh, yes, I've been having a darling good time. And do you know, not one of these collegians has had the cruelty to ask me how I came by my new name. With some, this is due to charity, but with the others it isn't. They refrain, not from native kindness but from educated discretion. I educated them.

Well, as soon as I shall have settled up what's left of the old scores and snuffed up a few more of those pleasantly intoxicating clouds of incense, I shall pack and depart homeward. Tell papa I am as fond of him as I am of my new name. I couldn't put it stronger than that. What an inspiration it was! But inspirations come easy to him.

These, from your loving daughter, GWENDOLEN.

Hawkins reached for the letter and glanced over it.

"Good hand," he said, "and full of confidence and animation, and goes racing right along. She's bright--that's plain."

"Oh, they're all bright--the Sellerses. Anyway, they would be, if there were any. Even those poor Latherses would have been bright if they had been Sellerses; I mean full blood. Of course they had a Sellers strain in them--a big strain of it, too--but being a Bland dollar don't make it a dollar just the same."

The seventh day after the date of the telegram Washington came dreaming down to breakfast and was set wide awake by an electrical spasm of pleasure.

Here was the most beautiful young creature he had ever seen in his life. It was Sally Sellers Lady Gwendolen; she had come in the night. And it seemed to him that her clothes were the prettiest and the daintiest he had ever looked upon, and the most exquisitely contrived and fashioned and combined, as to decorative tr.i.m.m.i.n.gs, and fixings, and melting harmonies of color. It was only a morning dress, and inexpensive, but he confessed to himself, in the English common to Cherokee Strip, that it was a "corker." And now, as he perceived, the reason why the Sellers household poverties and sterilities had been made to blossom like the rose, and charm the eye and satisfy the spirit, stood explained; here was the magician; here in the midst of her works, and furnishing in her own person the proper accent and climaxing finish of the whole.

"My daughter, Major Hawkins--come home to mourn; flown home at the call of affliction to help the authors of her being bear the burden of bereavement. She was very fond of the late earl--idolized him, sir, idolized him--"

"Why, father, I've never seen him."

"True--she's right, I was thinking of another--er--of her mother--"

"I idolized that smoked haddock?--that sentimental, spiritless--"

"I was thinking of myself! Poor n.o.ble fellow, we were inseparable com--"

"Hear the man! Mulberry Sel--Mul--Rossmore--hang the troublesome name I can never--if I've heard you say once, I've heard you say a thousand times that if that poor sheep--"

"I was thinking of--of--I don't know who I was thinking of, and it doesn't make any difference anyway; somebody idolized him, I recollect it as if it were yesterday; and--"

"Father, I am going to shake hands with Major Hawkins, and let the introduction work along and catch up at its leisure. I remember you very well in deed, Major Hawkins, although I was a little child when I saw you last; and I am very, very glad indeed to see you again and have you in our house as one of us;" and beaming in his face she finished her cordial shake with the hope that he had not forgotten her.

He was prodigiously pleased by her outspoken heartiness, and wanted to repay her by a.s.suring her that he remembered her, and not only that but better even than he remembered his own children, but the facts would not quite warrant this; still, he stumbled through a tangled sentence which answered just as well, since the purport of it was an awkward and unintentional confession that her extraordinary beauty had so stupefied him that he hadn't got back to his bearings, yet, and therefore couldn't be certain as to whether he remembered her at all or not. The speech made him her friend; it couldn't well help it.

In truth the beauty of this fair creature was of a rare type, and may well excuse a moment of our time spent in its consideration. It did not consist in the fact that she had eyes, nose, mouth, chin, hair, ears, it consisted in their arrangement. In true beauty, more depends upon right location and judicious distribution of feature than upon multiplicity of them. So also as regards color. The very combination of colors which in a volcanic irruption would add beauty to a landscape might detach it from a girl. Such was Gwendolen Sellers.

The family circle being completed by Gwendolen's arrival, it was decreed that the official mourning should now begin; that it should begin at six o'clock every evening, (the dinner hour,) and end with the dinner.

"It's a grand old line, major, a sublime old line, and deserves to be mourned for, almost royally; almost imperially, I may say. Er--Lady Gwendolen--but she's gone; never mind; I wanted my Peerage; I'll fetch it myself, presently, and show you a thing or two that will give you a realizing idea of what our house is. I've been glancing through Burke, and I find that of William the Conqueror's sixty-four natural ah-- my dear, would you mind getting me that book? It's on the escritoire in our boudoir. Yes, as I was saying, there's only St. Albans, Buccleugh and Grafton ahead of us on the list--all the rest of the British n.o.bility are in procession behind us. Ah, thanks, my lady. Now then, we turn to William, and we find--letter for XYZ? Oh, splendid--when'd you get it?"

"Last night; but I was asleep before you came, you were out so late; and when I came to breakfast Miss Gwendolen--well, she knocked everything out of me, you know--"

"Wonderful girl, wonderful; her great origin is detectable in her step, her carriage, her features--but what does he say? Come, this is exciting."

"I haven't read it--er--Rossm--Mr. Rossm--er--"

"M'lord! Just cut it short like that. It's the English way. I'll open it. Ah, now let's see."

A. TO YOU KNOW WHO. Think I know you. Wait ten days. Coming to Washington.

The excitement died out of both men's faces. There was a brooding silence for a while, then the younger one said with a sigh: "Why, we can't wait ten days for the money."

"No--the man's unreasonable; we are down to the bed rock, financially speaking."

"If we could explain to him in some way, that we are so situated that time is of the utmost importance to us--"

"Yes--yes, that's it--and so if it would be as convenient for him to come at once it would be a great accommodation to us, and one which we--which we--which we--wh--well, which we should sincerely appreciate--"

"That's it--and most gladly reciprocate--"

"Certainly--that'll fetch him. Worded right, if he's a man--got any of the feelings of a man, sympathies and all that, he'll be here inside of twenty-four hours. Pen and paper--come, we'll get right at it."

Between them they framed twenty-two different advertis.e.m.e.nts, but none was satisfactory. A main fault in all of them was urgency. That feature was very troublesome: if made prominent, it was calculated to excite Pete's suspicion; if modified below the suspicion-point it was flat and meaningless. Finally the Colonel resigned, and said: "I have noticed, in such literary experiences as I have had, that one of the most taking things to do is to conceal your meaning when you are trying to conceal it. Whereas, if you go at literature with a free conscience and nothing to conceal, you can turn out a book, every time, that the very elect can't understand. They all do."

Then Hawkins resigned also, and the two agreed that they must manage to wait the ten days some how or other. Next, they caught a ray of cheer: since they had something definite to go upon, now, they could probably borrow money on the reward--enough, at any rate, to tide them over till they got it; and meantime the materializing recipe would be perfected, and then good bye to trouble for good and all.

The next day, May the tenth, a couple of things happened--among others. The remains of the n.o.ble Arkansas twins left our sh.o.r.es for England, consigned to Lord Rossmore, and Lord Rossmore's son, Kirkcudbright Llanover Marjoribanks Sellers Viscount Berkeley, sailed from Liverpool for America to place the reversion of the earldom in the hands of the rightful peer, Mulberry Sellers, of Rossmore Towers in the District of Columbia, U. S. A.

These two impressive shipments would meet and part in mid-Atlantic, five days later, and give no sign.

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