IV
THE INVITATION EXTENDED

They were called by the porter early the next morning. The train was pulling into Washington, five hours late. Grenfall wondered, as he dressed, whether fortune would permit him to see much of her during her brief day in the capital. He dreamed of a drive over the avenues, a trip to the monument, a visit to the halls of congress, an inspection of public buildings, a dinner at his mother's home, luncheon at the Ebbitt, and other attentions which might give to him every moment of her day in Washington. But even as he dreamed, he was certain that his hopes could not be gratified.

After the train had come to a standstill he could hear the rustle of her garments in the next compartment. Then he heard her sweep into the passage, greet her uncle and aunt, utter a few commands to the maid, and, while he was adjusting his collar and necktie, pass from the car. No man ever made quicker time in dressing than did Lorry. She could hardly have believed him ideal had she seen his scowling face or heard the words that hissed through his impatient teeth.

“She'll get away, and that'll be the end of it,” he growled, seizing his traps and rushing from the train two minutes after her departure. The porter attempted to relieve him of his bags on the platform, but he brushed him aside and was off toward the station.

“Nice time for you, to call a man, you idiot,” was his parting shot for the porter, forgetting of course, that the foreigners had been called at the same time. With eyes intent on the crowd ahead, he plunged along, seeing nobody in his disappointed flight. “I'll never forgive myself if I miss her,” he was wailing to himself. She was not to be seen in the waiting rooms, so he rushed to the sidewalk.

“Baggage transferred?”

“Cab, sir?”

“Go to the devil—yes, here! Take these traps and these checks and rush my stuff to No.——, W—— Avenue. Trunks just in on B.& O.,” he cried, tossing his burdens to a transfer man and giving him the checks so quickly that the fellow's sleepy eyes opened wider than they had been for a month. Relieved of his impedimenta, he returned to the station.

“Good morning, Mr. Lorry. Are you in too much of a hurry to see your friends?” cried a clear, musical voice, and he stopped as if shot. The anxious frown flew from his brow and was succeeded instantaneously by a glad smile. He wheeled and beheld her, with Aunt Yvonne, standing near the main entrance to the station. “Why, good morning,” he exclaimed, extending his hand gladly. To his amazement she drew herself up haughtily and ignored the proffered hand. Only for a brief second did this strange and uncalled—for hauteur obtain. A bright smile swept over her face, and her repentant fingers sought his timidly, even awkwardly. Something told him that she was not accustomed to handshaking; that same something impelled him to bend low and touch the gloved fingers with his lips. He straightened, with face flushed, half fearful lest his act had been observed by curious loungers, and he had taken a liberty in a public place which could not be condoned. But she smiled serenely, approvingly. There was not the faintest sign of embarrassment or confusion in the lovely face. Any other girl in the world, he thought, would have jerked her hand away and giggled furiously. Aunt Yvonne inclined her head slightly, but did not proffer her hand. He wisely refrained from extending his own. “I thought you had left the station,” he said.

“We are waiting for Uncle Caspar, who is giving Hedrick instructions. Hedrick, you know, is to go on to New York with our boxes. He will have them aboard ship when we arrive there. All that we have with us is hand luggage. We leave Washington to-night.”

“I had hoped you might stay over for a few days.”

“It is urgent business that compels us to leave so hastily, Mr. Lorry. Of all the cities in the world, I have most desired to see the capital of your country. Perhaps I may return some day. But do not let us detain you, if you are in a hurry.”

He started, looked guilty, stammered something about baggage, said he would return in a moment, and rushed aimlessly away, his ears fiery.

“I'm all kinds of a fool,” he muttered, as he raced around the baggage-room and then back to where he had left the two ladies. Mr. Guggenslocker had joined them and they were preparing to depart. Miss Guggenslocker's face expressed pleasure at seeing him.

“We thought you would never return, so long were you gone,” she cried, gaily. He had been gone just two minutes by the watch! The old gentleman greeted him warmly, and Lorry asked them to what hotel they were going. On being informed that they expected to spend the day at the Ebbitt, he volunteered to accompany them, saying that he intended to breakfast there. Quicker than a flash a glance, unfathomable as it was brief, passed between the three, not quickly enough, however, to escape his keen, watchful eyes, on the alert since the beginning of his acquaintance with them, in conjunction with his ears, to catch something that might satisfy, in a measure, his burning curiosity. What was the meaning of that glance? It half angered him, for in it he thought he could distinguish annoyance, apprehension, dismay or something equally disquieting. Before he could stiffen his long frame and give vent to the dignified reconsideration that flew to his mind, the young lady dispelled all pain and displeasure, sending him into raptures, by saying:

“How good of you! We shall be so delighted to have you breakfast with us, Mr. Lorry, if it is convenient for you. You can talk to us of your wonderful city. Now, say that you will be good to us; stay your hunger and neglect your personal affairs long enough to give us these early morning hours. I am sure we cannot trouble you much longer.”

He expostulated gallantly and delightedly, and then hurried forth to call a cab. At eight o'clock he breakfasted with them, his infatuation growing deeper and stronger as he sat for the hour beneath the spell of those eyes, the glorious face, the sweet, imperial air that was a part of her, strange and unaffected. As they were leaving the dining-room he asked her if she would not drive with him.

His ardent gallantry met with a surprising rebuke. The conversation up to that moment had been bright and cheery, her face had been the constant reflector of his own good spirits, and he had every reason in the world to feel that his suggestion would be received with pleasure. It was a shock to him, therefore, to see the friendly smile fade from her eyes and a disdainful gleam succeed it. Her voice, a moment ago sweet and affable, changed its tone instantly to one so proud and arrogant that he could scarcely believe his ears.

“I shall be engaged during the entire day, Mr. Lorry,” she said, slowly, looking him fairly in the eyes with cruel positiveness. Those eyes of his were wide with surprise and the glowing gleam of injured pride. His lips closed tightly; little red spots flew to his cheeks and then disappeared, leaving his face white and cold; his heart throbbed painfully with the mingled emotions of shame and anger. For a moment he dared not speak.

“I have reason to feel thankful that you are to be engaged,” he said at last, calmly, without taking his eyes from hers. “I am forced to believe, much to my regret, that I have offended when I intended to please. You will pardon my temerity.”

There was no mistaking the resentment in his voice or the glitter in his eyes. Impulsively her little hand was stretched forth, falling upon his arm, while into her eyes came again the soft glow and to her lips the most pathetic, appealing smile, the forerunner of a pretty plea for forgiveness. The change startled and puzzled him more than ever. In one moment she was unreasonably rude and imperious, in the next gracious and imploring.

“Forgive me,” she cried, the blue eyes battling bravely against the steel in the grey ones above. “I was so uncivil! Perhaps I cannot make you understand why I spoke as I did, but, let me say, I richly deserved the rebuke. Pray forgive me and forget that I have been disagreeable. Do not ask me to tell you why I was so rude to you just now, but overlook my unkind treatment of your invitation. Please, Mr. Lorry, I beg of you—I beg for the first time in my life. You have been so good to me; be good to me still.”

His wrath melted away like snow before the sunshine. How could he resist such an appeal? “I beg for the first time in my life,” whirled in his brain. What did she mean by that?

“I absolve the penitent,” he said, gravely.

“I thank you. You are still my ideal American—courteous, bold and gentle. I do not wonder that Americans can be masterful men. And now I thank you for your invitation, and ask you to let me withdraw my implied refusal. If you will take me for the drive, I shall be delighted and more than grateful.”

“You make me happy again,” he said, softly, as they drew near the elder members of the party, who had paused to wait for them. “I shall ask your uncle and aunt to accompany us.”

“Uncle Caspar will be busy all day, but I am sure my aunt will be charmed. Aunt Yvonne, Mr. Lorry has asked us to drive with him over the city, and I have accepted for you. When are we to start, Mr. Lorry?”

Mr. and Mrs. Guggenslocker stared in a bewildered sort of manner at their niece. Then Aunt Yvonne turned questioning eyes toward her husband, who promptly bowed low before the tall American and said:

“Your kind offices shall never be forgotten, sir. When are the ladies to be ready?”

Lorry was weighing in his mind the advisability of asking them to dine in the evening with his mother, but two objections presented themselves readily. First, he was afraid of this perverse maid; second, he had not seen his mother. In fact, he did not know that she was in town.

“At two o'clock, I fancy. That will give us the afternoon. You leave at nine to-night, do you not?”

“Yes. And will you dine with us this evening?” Her invitation was so unexpected, in view of all that had happened, that he looked askance. “Ach, you must not treat my invitation as I did yours!” she cried, merrily, although he could detect the blush that returns with the recollection of a reprimand. “You should profit by what I have been taught.” The girl abruptly threw her arm about her aunt and cried, as she drew away in the direction of her room: “At two, then, and at dinner this evening. I bid you good morning, Mr. Lorry.”

The young man, delighted with the turn of affairs, but dismayed by what seemed a summary dismissal, bowed low. He waited until the strange trio entered the elevator and then sauntered downstairs, his hands in his pockets, his heart as light as air. Unconsciously he jingled the coins. A broad smile came over his face as he drew forth a certain piece. Holding it between his thumb and forefinger he said:

“You are what it cost her to learn my name, are you? Well, my good fellow, you may be very small, but you bought something that looks better than Guggenslocker on a hotel register. Your mistress is an odd bit of humanity, a most whimsical bit, I must say. First, she's no and then she's yes. You're lucky, my coin, to have fallen into the custody of one who will not give you over to the mercy of strangers for the sake of a whim. You are now retired on a pension, well deserved after valiant service in the cause of a most capricious queen.”

In an hour he was at home and relating to his mother the story of his wanderings, neglecting, for reasons best known to himself, the events which occurred after Denver had been left behind, except for a casual allusion to “a party of foreigners.” At one o'clock, faultlessly attired, he descended to the brougham, telling Mrs. Lorry that he had invited some strangers to see the city. On the way downtown he remembered that he was in business, the law business—and that it would be well to drop in and let his uncle know he was in the city. On second thought, however, he concluded it was too near two o'clock to waste any time on business, so the office did not know that he was in town until the next day, and then to no great extent.

For several hours he reveled in her society, sitting beside her in that roomy brougham, Aunt Yvonne opposite, explaining to her the many places of interest as they passed. They entered the Capitol; they saw the White House, and, as they were driving back to the hotel, passed the President of the United States.

Miss Guggenslocker, when informed that the President's carriage was approaching, relaxed gracefully from the stately reserve that had been puzzling him, and revealed an eager curiosity. Her eyes fastened themselves upon the President, Lorry finding entertainment in the changes that came over her unconscious face. Instead of noting the veneration he had expected, he was astonished and somewhat provoked to see a slight curl of disgust at the corners of her mouth, a pronounced disappointment in her eyes. Her face expressed ridicule, pure and simple, and, he was shocked to observe, the exposure was unconscious, therefore sincere.

“You do not like our ruler?” he said, as the carriage whirled by. He was returning his hat to his head as he spoke.

“I cannot say. I do not know him,” she replied, a tinge of sarcasm in her voice. “You Americans have one consolation; when you tire of a ruler you can put another in his place. Is it not wise to do so quite often?”

“I don't think wise is the word. Expedient is better. I am to infer that you have no politics.”

“One house has ruled our land for centuries. Since I came to your land I have not once seen a man wave his hat with mad adulation and cry from his heart: 'Long live the President!' For centuries, in my country, every child has been born with the words: 'Long live the Prince!' in his heart, and he learns to say them next after the dear parental words are mastered. 'Long live the Prince!' 'Long live the Princess!' are tributes of love and honor that greet our rulers from birth to death. We are not fickle, and we have no politics.”

“Do your rulers hear tin horns, brass bands, campaign yells, firecrackers and stump speeches every four years? Do they know what it means to be the voluntary choice of a whole nation? Do they know what it is to rule because they have won the right and not because they were born to it? Has there ever been a homage-surfeited ruler in your land who has known the joy that comes with the knowledge that he has earned the right to be cheered from one end of the country to the other? Is there not a difference between your hereditary 'Long live the Prince' and our wild, enthusiastic, spontaneous 'Hurrah for Cleveland!' Miss Guggenslocker? All men are equal at the beginning in our land. The man who wins the highest gift that can be bestowed by seventy millions of people is the man who had brains and not title as a birthright.” He was a bit exasperated.

“There! I have displeased you again. You must pardon my antiquated ideas. We, as true and loyal subjects of a good sovereign, cannot forget that our rulers are born, not made. Perhaps we are afflicted at times with brainless monarchs and are to be pitied. You are generous in your selection of potentates, be generous, then, with me, a benighted royalist, who craves leniency of one who may some day be President of the United States.”

“Granted, without discussion. As possible, though not probable, President of the United States, I am magnanimous to an unfortunate who can never hope to be princess, no matter how well she might grace the gilded throne.”

She greeted this glowing remark with a smile so intoxicating that he felt himself the most favored of men. He saw that smile in his mind's eye for months afterward, that maddening sparkle of joy, which flashed from her eyes to the very bottom of his heart, there to snuggle forever with Memory's most priceless treasures. Their dinner was but one more phase of this fascinating dream. More than once he feared that he was about to awake to find bleak unhappiness where exquisite joy had reigned so gloriously. As it drew to an end a sense of depression came over him. An hour at most was all that he could have with her. Nine o'clock was drawing nigh with its regrets, its longings, its desolation. He determined to retain the pleasures of the present until, amid the clanging of bells and the roll of car wheels, the dismal future began. His intention to accompany them to the station was expressed as they were leaving the table. She had begun to say good-by to him when he interrupted, self-consciousness forcing the words hurriedly and disjointedly from his lips:

“You will let me go to the station with you. I shall—er—deem it a pleasure.”

She raised her eyebrows slightly, but thanked him and said she would consider it an honor. His face grew hot and his heart cold with the fancy that there was in her eyes a gleam which said: “I pity you, poor fellow.”

Notwithstanding his strange misgiving and the fact that his pride had sustained quite a perceptible shock, he drove with them to the station. They went to the sleeping car a few minutes before the time set for the train's departure, and stood at the bottom of the steps, uttering the good-bys, the God-speeds and the sincere hope that they might meet again. Then came the sharp activity of the trainmen, the hurry of belated passengers. He glanced soberly at his watch.

“It is nine o'clock. Perhaps you would better get aboard,” he said, and proceeded to assist Aunt Yvonne up the steps. She turned and pressed his hand gently before passing into the car.

“Adieu, good friend. You have made it so very pleasant for us,” she said, earnestly.

The tall, soldierly old gentleman was waiting to assist his niece into the coach.

“Go first, Uncle Caspar,” the girl made Lorry happy by saying. “I can easily come up unaided.”

“Or I can assist her,” Lorry hastened to add, giving her a grateful look which she could not misunderstand. The uncle shook hands warmly with the young man and passed up the steps. She was following when Lorry cried,

“Will you not allow me?”

She laughingly turned to him from the steps and stretched forth her hand.

“And now it is good-by forever. I am so sorry that I have not seen more of you,” she said. He took her hand and held it tightly for a moment.

“I shall never forget the past few days,” he said, a thrill in his voice. “You have put something into my life that can never be taken away. You will forget me before you are out of Washington, but I—I shall always see you as you are now.”

She drew her hand away gently, but did not take her eyes from his upturned face.

“You are mistaken. Why should I forget you—ever? Are you not the ideal American whose name I bought? I shall always remember you as I saw you—at Denver.”

“Not as I have been since?” he cried.

“Have you changed since first I saw you?” she asked, quaintly.

“I have, indeed, for you saw me before I saw you. I am glad I have not changed for the worse in your eyes.”

“As I first knew you with my eyes I will say that they are trustworthy,” she said tantalizingly.

“I do not mean that I have changed externally.”

“In any other case my eyes would not serve,” she cried, with mock disappointment. “Still,” she added, sweepingly, “you are my ideal American. Good-by! The man has called 'all aboard!'”

“Good-by!” he cried, swinging up on the narrow step beside her. Again he clasped her hand as she drew back in surprise. “You are going out of my land, but not out of my mind. If you wish your eyes to see the change in me, you have only to look at them in a mirror. They are the change—they themselves! Goodby! I hope that I may see you again.”

She hesitated an instant, her eyes wavering beneath his. The train was moving slowly now.

“I pray that we may meet,” she said, softly, at last,—so softly that he barely heard the words. Had she uttered no sound he could have been sure of her response, for it was in her telltale eyes. His blood leaped madly. “You will be hurt if you wait till the train is running at full speed,” she cried, suddenly returning to the abandoned merry mood. She pushed him gently in her excitement. “Don't you see how rapidly we are moving? Please go!” There was a terror in her eyes that pleased him.

“Good-by, then,” he cried.

“Adieu, my American,” she cried quickly.

As he swung out, ready to drop to the ground, she said, her eyes sparkling with something that suggested mischief, her face more bewitching than ever under the flicker of the great arc lights:

“You must come to Edelweiss to see me. I shall expect you!” He thought there was a challenge in the tones. Or was it mockery?

“I will, by heaven, I will!” he exclaimed.

A startled expression flashed across her face, and her lips parted as if in protestation. As she leaned forward, holding stoutly to the hand-rail, there was no smile on her countenance.

A white hand fluttered before his eyes, and she was gone. He stood, hat in hand, watching the two red lights at the end of the train until they were lost in the night.

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