The Great Boycott at the Hotel d'Angleterre
IT was at dinner that the Horror first burst upon the guests of the Hôtel d'Angleterre at Métretat, in Brittany.
The season of Métretat had only just begun, but already all the usual people were there; for Métretat was different from other watering-places, and the Angleterre was different from other hotels. Both were exclusive, in the most esoteric sense of that abused term; both were at this time of the year given up to the English. One of the leaders of a certain set which had a hereditary right to look down upon persons merely "smart" had "discovered" Métretat some years before, and had discreetly confided its charms to a few of the brightest and best; consequently a colony of exactly the right people had practically annexed Métretat and the one hotel of the place. Rooms were engaged during one season for another, so that, if intrusive strangers dared try to break the charmed circle, the landlord was able to thwart the attempt by announcing that the house was full.
To spend August and September at the Hôtel d'Angleterre was like being a member of a big country-house party, for everybody knew everybody else, and most of the forty-five or fifty people called each other by their Christian names, or, still better, nicknames invented as a souvenir of some funny adventure, or to fit some pleasant little peculiarity. If strangers contrived to get in they were not really strangers, but guests, or, at least, friends of someone in the set; everyone knew all about them and (unless they were particularly amusing, in which case ancestors could be dispensed with) who their great-grandfathers had been.
There was nothing of the mushroom, nonveau riche element among the guests who came each summer to the little, old-fashioned, sleepy village on the rocky coast of Brittany. There was no ostentation, no outshining one another in dress. The women wore short serge skirts and blouses or white pique frocks till dinner-time, when they changed to the simplest possible gowns; and it was an unwritten law that there should be no jewellery, and no bodices revealing more than an inch of white skin below the collar-bone. As for the golfing or walking men, they lived in knickerbockers until sundown, while the boating and fishing men apparently valued their flannels according to their shabbiness.
The season at the Hôtel d'Angleterre had been in full, comfortable, lazy swing for about a week in the sixth August of its possession by the British; and, the dinner-gong having sounded, as usual, at eight o'clock one exquisite blue evening, the party had assembled. As it was a party of friends it was considered pleasant to have several tables, each capable of seating about a dozen. Thus the people who knew one another best could sit together, and when somebody at one table had anything to say to somebody at another he simply turned in his chair and called across the room. Consequently there was a great buzz and chatter; but everybody seemed to know what everybody else was talking about, and all were interested in the same subjects.
"What a shame Kit Vance should have got the flu!" remarked Lord Strathallin (known as "Woodsey"), nodding at one of two unoccupied places at his table. "She and Tom will be a big loss; they're both so ripping. Hope old Dupont won't be such a beast as to let their rooms to any bounding outsiders."
"He wouldn't dare," Lady "Jack" Avery reassured him from across several candle-lit, flower-decked tables.
At this instant the door of the dining-room opened, which it had no business to do, as everyone was in his or her proper place, and the soup was being taken away. There was a shrill rustle of new, rich silk linings, a luscious swish of heavy satin, a burst of white heliotrope scent, a tintinnabulation of many bangles, and a girl came into the room.
So insistently was she heralded to shocked ears and nostrils that, instinctively, eyes turned for confirmation of the announcement, remained fixed upon the vision for a frozen second, then met one another under raised brows for a long, expressive gaze.
Sudden, chill silence had fallen, and the waiters understood its meaning with awe which was half a fearful joy. None of their number envied the dignified head-waiter, whose duty it was to conduct the intruder to her seat. But he did it in a way worthy of a soldier of the Old Guard leading a forlorn hope; while, thrillingly conscious of the effect she was creating, but completely misconstruing its cause, the girl sailed, joyously rustling and tinkling, up the room. The head-waiter advanced to one of the only two unoccupied places (those which should have been sacred to the memory of Sir Thomas Vance and Katherine his wife, unavoidably absent), and drew out the chair next to Lord Strathallin.
The girl, with a hopeful, agreeably anticipating expression on her pretty face, sat down, unfolded and spread out her serviette with a coquettish flourish, then beamed about her with the friendly beginning of a smile. Nobody returned it. Nobody looked at her. It was as if the whole company, surprised into the vulgarity of a stare for a brief moment, had combined in the defensive system of ignoring the invasion. The murmur of pleasantly modulated voices had risen again, and continued with one accord as if there had been no interruption. There was talk of things that had happened at Cowes last week, before people had come on here; gossip of news from those who preferred Scotland even to dear little Métretat; chat of the day's events, golf and fish stories, with an undercurrent of croquet; and excited discussion concerning bridge, past, present, and to come.
The girl listened for a while, eating her dinner, glancing from face to face, dress to dress, taking in everything, and appearing radiantly satisfied still with herself and her surroundings; though occasionally, as fish gave place to roast, and roast to entrée, a faintly puzzled expression lifted the charmingly pencilled dark eyebrows, which contrasted so strikingly with the bright, gold-dusted brown of the wavy hair.
Finally, when she had made due allowance for English stiffness to a stranger, which must be thawed by the sun of the stranger's smile, she could bear her splendid isolation no longer. She listened to the description of a glorious game of bridge, enthusiastically described across her to lord Strathallin by a pretty, youngish woman in a simple black dress. In a pause which this lady made for breath, the patient new-comer considered that her chance had arrived.
"Is bridge an easy kind of game to learn?" she cheerfully thrust into the opening. "I've heard such a lot of it, over in Denver. I'm an Amurrican."
The woman in black trained a slow, very slow, gaze upon the speaker, permitting it to dwell upon the pink and white face for a moment, or rather to pass through it, as if it were an obstruction which hid a more attractive object beyond. "Really?" she remarked, and removed the gaze.
The girl's complexion became more dazzlingly brilliant than before, thus, at all events, justifying itself as a natural product. She swept a hasty glance around, received an impression of other eyes, fixed and fish-like, noted with a spasm of hope that they were women's, and then hurriedly turned towards Lord Strathallin as if—being a man—he might be looked upon as a port to be sought in storm.
"My goodness!" she exclaimed in a half whisper, accompanied by a winning appeal from under long lashes, "is that lady snubbing me, do you suppose?"
As it happened, the lady in the plain black dress was a bright, particular star in that set which came to Métretat each year to enjoy its own exclusive society. Why this high place had been accorded her, nobody knew precisely, for she was neither beautiful, titled, rich, nor superlatively agreeable. But she did and said things in an original way, and somehow she had made herself indispensable. Lord Strathallin had just been admitted to her friendship, and he had no mind to sacrifice it for a strange young person who, on her entrance to the room, had been audibly christened a "Horror" by Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth. The girl was incredibly pretty, though the worst possible form, and if he had been addressed by her when no eyes were there to see he would have answered with a certain pleasure. As it was, however, he knew what his country expected of him, and would not disappoint it.
He looked at the girl, whose accent had proclaimed her "Amurrican" before her words confessed it. He looked at the diamond butterfly perched on high above yellow-brown masses of hair; at the necklace of large, glistening pearls twined round her firm young throat, and falling in a second strand to her slim waist; at the three or four quaintly-fashioned ornaments (one of which was a tiny American flag in diamonds, rubies, and sapphires) scintillating among the laces on her girlish bosom; at the low-cut bodice of her peach-blossom satin dress; looking not in ostentatious disapproval, but with a finely-marked, critical indifference. "I beg your pardon," he said; "I don't think I quite know what you mean."
The girl's question was not one to be repeated, with a tag of explanation attached. She blushed very red, and wriggled her pretty shoulders in a shrug which aimed at disdain, but indicated distress. "It doesn't matter at all," she retorted; and gave herself up wholly to the green peas, which she eked out as a valuable screen for emotion, by eating one at a time. She had come last into the dining-room, but she was the first to leave it, sweeping from the room, with her head very high; and, when a waiter had closed the door behind her, contemptuously amused glances were exchanged. She was a vulgar little horror, that was clear. Pretty, oh, yes, in a meretricious way, but quite too terrible; covered with jewels like an idol; altogether distinctly a creature, and to be frowned relentlessly down. If one were even civil in a weak moment, she was evidently the kind to take advantage; and if she were not to remain a flamboyant weed in this pleasant garden, she must be firmly discouraged from the first. Indeed, it was monstrous that Dupont should have taken her in; he was well aware that this was not to be considered an ordinary hotel, and if he knew what was for his own good in the end he would not begin to fill up any chance vacancy with rank outsiders, who would simply ruin everything and make Métretat impossible to the very people who had annexed it.
Everybody wondered whether the Horror had been sufficiently crushed to slink off in a proper state of annihilation to her basely acquired quarters, or whether enough brazen impudence remained to carry her into the big, square hall, where the coterie elected to drink coffee after dinner. But the American flag is not easily to be torn from its standard by a foe, even in overwhelming numbers. Indomitably, defiantly, it waved over the particular sofa in the corner and the table adjacent which had come to be looked upon as Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth's property.
That corner—the pleasantest in the hall, and made beautiful by a tall lamp with a ruffly, red silk shade, given to the hotel by Mrs. Lynn-Gryffyth—was promptly tabooed. As if a river had been turned from its normal course, the tide of evening frocks and dinner jackets flowed in one compact wave towards an opposite end of the hall, lampless, but uncontaminated. The pretty girl in pink satin sat remote, shimmering and scintillating like a jewel cast up by the sea on a desert island. She drank black coffee, and read (or seemed to read) a paper-covered novel with absorbed interest; and she "stuck it out," as somebody expressed it, at least until after the crowd had drifted elsewhere, to ping-pong, to bridge, to billiards, or to dance in the large, bare music-room, according to taste and age. After that, no one knew or cared what became of her, since she had ceased to offend with her undesired and undesirable presence.
Dicky Wickham, or "Wicky Dickham," as he was more often called, a mild, elderly bachelor who was popular because he always did what he was asked, and had also some very pretty little tricks, was told off by a couple of half-amused, half-annoyed girls to "tackle Dupont" and asked him why in the name of goodness, etc., etc.
Hew was gone for twenty minutes, and then returned primed with information. Dupont appeared to be grieved, but not penitent. He had actually defended himself, alleging that, after all, the Angleterre was an hotel, subject to the laws which govern other houses of public entertainment. If he had rooms disengaged, he insisted that he could not turn customers away. He had even ventured to suggest that, if his patrons wished the whole hotel reserved for themselves and their friends, they should club together and pay the price, with pension, for any rooms which happened to be vacant. The benighted man had further—when heated by controversy—gone so far as to hint that, as most of his guests stipulated for reduced terms on account of long tenancy, his season was not really so profitable as if the hotel were filled with people who came and went. As for the young person in question (Dupont had referred to her as a lady), she had arrived that afternoon with her maid, and had demanded a suite with two bedrooms and a private sitting-room, for the remaining weeks of August. Such a suite Dupont had on his hands, owing to the detention in England of Sir Thomas and Lady Vance. In deference to the prejudice of his distinguished patrons against strangers and foreigners Dupont had named a very large price, which the young lady had agreed to pay without an instant's hesitation. She appeared to be; when she had written her name, "Miss Jenny Calmour," in the visitors' book she had remarked, as if by way of furnishing a reference, that her father was John Calmour, the "canned-soup man, you know." Dupont had vaguely associated the name and canned-soupiness with millions, and had felt himself justified as a landlord. This was the story which explained the apparition of the Horror; and though all grumbled as with one voice, the more just-minded (these were men) reluctantly pronounced that Dupont was within his rights, and unless the invader could be routed she must be endured.
Thus the siege began.
Miss Jenny Calmour, very pink as to the cheeks, defiantly bright as to the eyes, appeared in public in the most elaborate costumes, which she changed invariably three times a day, and she never wore the same one twice. Her hats were large, picturesque, and abundantly covered with drooping feathers or flowers; her shoes were exceedingly small, pointed of toe and high of heel, and usually they matched her dress in colour. Yet nobody gave her a glance; she might have been a ghost, invisible to the human eye, to be looked through, never at. Nevertheless, the women knew what she had on, and knew that, if Métretat had been Biarritz or Ostend and she had been a young Princess, everything would have been in good taste. But it was Métretat; therefore everything was execrable, and the "boycott of American canned goods," as Jack Avery dubbed it, continued unabated.
While all the world of the Hôtel d'Angleterre and the few villas owned by the right sort of people (there were no longer any others at Métretat) went bathing, golfing, walking, or boating, or played famous matches of croquet or tennis, Miss Jenny Calmour, exquisitely dressed and smelling of white heliotrope, picked her lonely way along the beach with a book in her hand, her haughtily erect little head shaded with a chiffon and lace parasol to match her frock, or took drives inland in the one landau which the modest watering-place possessed. At night, when the hotel rang with a merry confusion of laughter, ping-pong, the tinkle of music, and of feet that danced in time, Miss Jenny Calmour sat in the corner which had once been Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth's and was now hers, proudly introspective, or plunged in the inevitable Tauchnitz.
In this manner passed seven golden August days, and if the American girl had opened her lips for any other purpose than eating or breathing, it had been only in intercourse with servants or tradespeople. One morning, while Métretat bathed in a warm, blue sea under sparkling sunshine, she was seen (although nobody looked her way) to go to the village post-office, an expression of peculiar firmness graven on her dimpled chin. She wrote out a telegram in English and sent it. It was memorable at the post-office, because the message covered two forms and cost 18frs. During the afternoon of the same day awas handed to her while she was drinking tea on the otherwise deserted balcony. She brightened on reading it and put it in her pocket. That evening at dinner her appetite, which had failed somewhat of late, was observed by the waiter assigned to her table to have improved.
The following morning she drove in her landau to the distant railway station, and Lord Strathallin (who saw her on his way to the links) wondered if she were going away, vanquished—luggage and maid to follow.
But she had not turned her back on Métretat; she had merely met a train. From it stepped a big man, with crisply curling grey hair, a smooth-shaven red face, well-featured and shrewd, with the chin of Napoleon and the eye of a financier. He was tall beyond the common run of men, and the pronounced check of his travelling clothes made him loom even larger than he really was. He looked expectantly up and down the platform, and showed a set of teeth white and sound as hazel nuts when a pink muslin vision flashed into sight with a cry of "Poppa!"
The big man had with him for luggage only a bag, which he styled his "grip." He took his daughter cheerily by the arm, swinging the "grip" with his free hand; and so they marched side by side to the waiting landau.
"I suppose we couldn't send this thing up to the hotel and walk, could we? I guess, though, you ain't dressed for a tramp?" said John Calmour, of tinned-soup fame.
"Yes, but I am, poppa; I'd just love to," replied the girl And the landau went off with the "grip" on the back seat, looking like a very big nutshell with a very small kernel.
There was a short cut from the railway-station which diverged from the main road, passed the golf-links, and then dipped down to a path along the rocks that overhung the sea. By the time that the father and daughter had talked about her telegram to him and his to her, his sudden journey from London (where he had been transacting important business), and the girl had thanked him at least a dozen times for making it, they had reached a rocky seat out of sight from everyone except fishermen and gulls.
"Let's sit down and look around," said the big man. "This is kind of refreshing. Seems a nice place, Métretat." (He pronounced the last syllable to rhyme with "cat.") "I bet you sent for me in such a dickens of a hurry because I was tomfool enough to write that the London climate in August took it out of a fellow, and you wanted to get me here, eh?"
"I did want to get you here," admitted Jenny, digging the ferrule of her smart parasol into a hole in the rock. "But it wasn't only that. I guess I was homesick. It seemed to me, yesterday, that I should just have a fit if I couldn't see you right away, poppa."
He threw a sudden, sharp glance at the downcast profile. Something in the tone of the girl's voice had struck him as unusual.
"You're looking a bit peaked, Sissy," he said. "Ain't the air what it was cracked up to be?"
"Sissy" swallowed audibly, once, twice; and the third attempt to dispose of a certain obstruction in the throat ended in a sob. Her little nose turned suddenly pink, and great round tears, like those shed by a child, came tumbling from between the long lashes.
John Calmour's face grew three shades redder than before.
"Why, little gurl—why, little gurlie!" he repeated. "Crying? It must be something mighty bad to make you do that. I haven't seen you so much as pipe your eyes for a coon's age—not since you were ten, anyhow. What is it, my pretty? Tell the old man, and if there's anything he can do you can just count on him every time. Why, that's what he's for, ain't it? I guess you're the only thing he's got on this blessed earth, and he's bound to look after you."
Jenny's hands covered her face, which showed flushed and moist, like a wet rose, between the slim fingers. A big, red-brown hand was patting her Leghorn hat, inconvenient interstices among the nodding gardenias; and a vein was throbbing hard in each of John Calmour's temples.
"Oh, poppa, I am at born idiot, but I—I—just can't help it," sobbed the girl who had held her head so high before the enemy. "I had to send for you. I couldn't stand it any longer, here all alone. It's been awful. I've been 'most ready to die; but I guess"—with a spasm of defiant pride—"nobody knows it."
"For the land's sake, honey, tell your old dad what's been the matter."
"It's—it's the people," Jenny wept, with her cheek on his shoulder, much to the detriment of the hat. "They're wicked, cruel Beasts."
John Calmour's jaw squared itself, intensifying a lurking suggestion that the bulldog phase had left a stronger impression than any of his other incarnations. "Oh, that's it, is it?" he growled. "It's the people. So they've been beasts to you, have they? Women jealous?"
"Not they," cried Jenny. "They despise me. They think I'm the dirt under their feet."
"Do they?" said Calmour, in a quiet voice, which men knew when hundreds of thousands were hanging on a word of his. "Tell me all about it, pretty."
Then Jenny told him. She began at the beginning and worked slowly up, punctuating with stifled sobs or pathetic little sniffs.
"I thought it would be so lovely here," she said. "I read in a society paper, while I was with you at the Carlton in London, poppa, all about the Hôtel d'Angleterre at Métretat, how unique it was (that's the paper's word), and the house full of people of the very tip-topest set in England. When you had to stay on, and told me I must take Josephine and go off somewhere to the country to amuse myself, it seemed as if Métretat would be just the right place. I thought it would be fun to know a lot of English lords and ladies, and I had whole heaps of pretty dresses and things to show off. I was sure I should have a nice time. The first night at dinner, when nobody spoke to me, and made fishes' eyes if they happened to look my way by mistake, I supposed that was English manners, and they were only shy and stiff till they knew me. But I soon found out that was a mistake! Oh, poppa, I never was snubbed before, but I've had enough this one week to last me all my life."
"Why should they snub you?" queried Calmour, with a dangerous flickering of the nostrils, like a vicious horse.
"Because I'm an Amurrican, for one thing, and because they all know each other and call each other 'Mouse,' and 'Bat,' and every kind of queer nickname, even the quite old ones; and they're just wild at having a strange girl among them. They love the Angleterre and think it belongs to them. They've been trying to freeze me out, poppa, as hard as they could, but I wouldn't give in, though all the time inside I've felt as sick as sick, and sometimes it was all I could do not to burst out crying and jump up from the table and run away. Not that I care a red cent for any of them; it isn't that. Oh, I don't know exactly what it is; but it's the awfullest experience I ever had, feeling that they thought—because I was different from them, somehow, and here all alone without any momma, like the other girls—that I was a horrid creature. I wouldn't hurt a fly, poppa, you know it; and I don't want really to do them any harm; but—but I should like to make them sorry."
"Maybe you shall," said John Calmour. "You say they love this Angleterre hotel and think it belongs to 'em. I suppose it would be a blow to the lot if they were packed off?"
"They'd be out of their wits with rage," said Jenny.
"Well, we'll see," said her father.
"Poppa, whatever do you mean? I know by your face you're got a plan."
Calrnour whistled, and looked introspective for a moment. Then he said: "They want to chase you away, don't they? What I mean is, that you're going to chase them instead."
lt was luncheon time at the Hôtel d'Angleterre when Miss Calmour returned with her rather, and the two had that meal served in her private sitting-room. Soon after, John Calmour, large, calm, and smoking a cigar, strolled into the bureau where sat the landlord, M. Dupont, a shrewd, somewhat melancholy little Breton. The American had made no inquiries yet regarding accommodation for the night, but M. Dupont had one or two unoccupied bedrooms, and intended, if the millionaire wished to stay, to make him comfortable. The little man had a suitable respect for millionaires, and he rose as the large figure in checked flannel lounged through the doorway.
Both said good-day in English, upon which language M. Dupont prided himself, not without cause. Then the Breton waited deferentially for the expected request for a room; or perhaps he prepared to shed reproaches with a responsibility-disclaiming though regretful shrug, in case Mr. Calmour brought up the subject of the boycott.
Having puffed in silence at his cigar for a long moment, the big man's steel-grey eyes caught those of the landlord as if they pounced upon a prey. "How much will you take for this hotel, cash down on the nail?" he abruptly demanded, in his pleasant, though slightly nasal, voice.
"I beg monsieur's pardon," returned the Breton, not sure whether he had understood, or whether the American were joking.
"I'm making you an offer for this hotel," went on John Calmour. "I want to buy it."
"But, monsieur, it is not for sale."
"My experience has been, as a business man, that most things are for sale if the price runs up high enough. Now, I want your hotel, and when I want a thing I'm willing to pay for it. I've calculated that for the place as it stands, with the goodwill, you might expect to get, say, about 125,000dols. You can have my cheque for that sum, mounseer, as quick as I can write it, if you are on to make the deal."
Dupont fairly gasped, but he was sufficiently master of his faculties to do a rapid sum in mental arithmetic. A hundred and twenty-five thousand American dollars bounded up to a goodly amount when converted into francs. But, then, he had never heard of business being done by lightning.
"I thank you, monsieur," he said. "It is something to reflect upon."
"That's where you're wrong, sir," returned John Calmour. "It's to take or to leave. The hotel's no use to me unless I can have it two hours before dinner to-night, because there'd be some little arrangements to make."
The Breton started. "Mon Dieu, but it is impossible!"
"No, it ain't, if you look at it calmly. There's lots of time. I'll give you twenty minutes to decide, if necessary; but I'd sooner have it fixed up at once. That's my way of doing business, and it's panned out pretty well so far as I've gone. See here; to pay for the extra inconvenience to you, mounseer, I don't mind throwing in another 10,000dols."
Poor Dupont clutched at his damp forehead with his damp fingers. "If you please, monsieur, I will take the twenty minutes," he implored.
"I thought you were going to say you'd take the money. But all right; I'll just sit here and finish my cigar while you make up your mind."
The Breton sank into his chair at the desk. Calmour also sat down, crossed his legs, and watched the smoke-rings, which he made very successfully—as he did most things.
Never had Dupont been obliged to think so quickly; but he collected his forces like a general surprised in the night.
His season, he reminded himself, existed (on paper) from June till October. The place, however, scarcely paid expenses till July. Even then custom was but casual and uncertain until early August, when the English came. After that time the hotel was practically full through September; but, as he had assured Mr. Wickham the other night, the long-staying patrons paid the least. If he made 20,000frs. profit in a year he was lucky; sometimes he made less; and the work was wearing. He was past middle age and it would be agreeable to retire. Here was the chance for which, in bad hours, he had ardently wished. It might never come again; and this mad millionaire's offer was far more than he would have expected to get had he thought of selling out. But, then, the suddenness!
"My guests, monsieur!" he exclaimed, aloud. "How could I explain——"
"Don't worry about that. I'll explain. I don't mean to turn the folks out. All you've got to do is to say 'Done' and pocket my cheque. You can wire to my bankers in London, if you want, and make sure I'm the man I pretend to be. Then you can pack up your baggage at your own convenience, and go on a spree to Paris, if it suits you. You look kind of tired, as if a vacation would do you good."
When the twenty minutes were up John Calmour had out his cheque-book.
That evening there was a more elaborate dinner than usual, and, for some reason, champagne was served to everybody. No one understood why this was, but when the waiters intimated that the wine was free nearly everybody drank it, to the extent of several glasses each.
Nothing else of an unusual nature had occurred, so far as was known in the hotel, except that there had been two new arrivals. One was the Horror's father, who, having brought no evening things in his "grip," disgusted the coterie by dining in his travelling clothes. The other was an exceedingly good-looking young man, for whom, by means of a little crowding at the table, room had been made next Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth. Judging from the reception he met with, he must have known almost everybody in the hotel and have been liked by all. Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth and many others called him Bill; Dicky Wickham and a few others addressed him as Lord Everest; he looked a good deal at Jenny Calmour, pronounced the dinner excellent, the champagne a perfect marvel for an "hotel treat," and talked much with his intimates at the table of awhich apparently he had come over from England to help make a success. The boycott of Jenny was extended to her father, and the two, in intervals between their own private murmurs, had plenty of time to listen to the conversation, which concerned favours for the coming cotillon; the people who had been invited from the Métretat villas, and one or two other neighbouring watering-places where, it seemed, there really were a "few human beings who would do, at a pinch, for a cotillon."
When the fruit had come on (delicious little wild strawberries from somewhere in the north, at which novelty there was a general buzz of delight), John Calmour rose from his seat. Instead of leaving the table, as people who noticed his move supposed that he would do, he stood still in his place, coolly surveying the room, a hand on the back of his chair.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, in the loud voice of one about to call attention to the first words of a speech.
Everyone looked up, astonished and resentful at the audacious interruption. "Is the man intoxicated?" Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth was heard to ask in a stage-whisper.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he repeated. "I am glad to have gathered, from certain expressions I could not help hearing, that the dinner and the champagne have met with your approval. This is a satisfaction to me, as I have to inform you that the Angleterre, as an hotel, ceased to exist at exactly a quarter past three this afternoon. It is now my private house, and you have been entertained at dinner as my guests. The meal will not be charged in your bills, which, by the way, up to the hour I mentioned, are payable to Mounseer Dupont, your late landlord. I dare say he won't forget to send them in. As regards the future, I must explain that an Amurrican is something like an Arab. Who eats his salt is sacred, no matter how badly they may have behaved before the salt went around. That being the case, I don't wish or intend to speak out my feelings about the way in which you English people, men and women, have treated a young girl placed by accident alone and unprotected in your midst. She wasn't good enough to associate with you when this was an hotel; but now that it's her father's country house it is by her request that I invite you all to remain under my roof as my guests as long as you please."
He paused. Two or three men sprang up; and there were murmurs of "No, no," "Absurd," "Impossible," all over the room.
John Calmour gave them a moment, then, when he received no more definite response, he began again.
"I have invited you to stay as my guests," he repeated. "Those who choose to accept are welcome. Those who don't will no doubt think it delicate to move on somewhere else as soon as they can. While they remain in in this house, I must remind them, they eat my bread, and I and my daughter are their host and hostess. Come, Jenny; I've said all I've got to say. Let you and me go into the hall and have coffee, which will be ready for the others if they like to follow.
He gave his daughter an arm, and they went away together without a backward glance.
"B—y Jove!" ejaculated somebody, it was never quite known who. But the exclamation gave relief. It broke the spell.
"What's the tall party driving at?" asked Lord Everest of the company in general; and everybody began to tell the story at once, each one with a slightly different version. Yet the conclusion reached by all was identical. The Horror was the horror; her father was a fiend; and there was nothing to do save beat a retreat, immediately and with such dignity as might be preserved in the scramble. But there was no disguising the fact that it was a blow—a heavy blow. It seemed almost too bad to be true, though it must be true, or that brute would not have dared his impudent harangue. To go—to be turned out, bag and baggage, at an hour's notice, from their own, very own private Eden, at the beginning of the season, with the weather perfect and their plans made—such charming plans, too!—and all because they had very properly shown this vulgar ruffian's daughter her place, and kept her in it. It was enough to drive one to manslaughter—for it wouldn't be murder.
Everest listened intently to the jumble of explanation and execration; then, when a few of his friends had paused for breath, he shocked the company by bursting into ribald laughter.
"Good old boy! I'm hanged if I don't respect the chap!" he broke out. "If you want my opinion, he's served you all jolly well right; you deserve what you've got. And you've eaten his dinner! Jove! what a coup! It's Titanic. The man must have paid £20,000 at least for his revenge. But I'll bet he doesn't grudge the money. Oh, these Yankees! They're marvellous!"
Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth rose. "I think," she remarked, with dignity, "we should be wiser to go and see that our servants begin packing, rather than sit squabbling here. As for you, Bill, you are as bad as—as bad as a pro-Boer."
"Wait a minute, everybody," said Everest. "Of course, I don't know what anybody else is going to do, but I've been invited to visit this amazing old Johnny, and I intend to accept his invitation. I expect to enjoy myself as well as I ever did in my life, and I shouldn't be surprised if the cotillon came off yet. Anyone else think of stopping on? Because, if so, when I go out into the hall for a chat with him, I may as well tell our host how many people there'll be in his house-party."
"I'd rather die than stay," announced Mrs. Llynn-Gryffyth.
Lady "Jack" Avery laughed hysterically. "Bill's right," she giggled. "It will be a glorious lark. I never did anything to the girl. I'll stop as chaperon. She'll need one."
"it's like losing an eye-tooth to give up the golf," sighed Dicky Wickcham.
"And the bathing," "And the fishing," came in murmurs from other quarters.
"Let's take him at his word. It will be the joke of the century!" exclaimed Strathallin.
Everest turned and glanced at him, his brown, laughing face suddenly grave. "Look here, I'm responsible for the proposal," said he. "None of you would have thought of it if it hadn't been for me. I'm the only innocent one of the lot, therefore I'm the only man who can engineer the thing with decency. Those of you who are going in for this joke have got to give me their word to behave themselves afterwards as they would in a friend's house, or I'll be shot if I'll have anything to do with it."
In five minutes Everest had three times five candidates and as many promises. Armed with these he went forth, while the banished ones slipped away, and John Calmour's fifteen future guests remained in the salle à manger to await the return Of the herald.
He went out into the big hall. In the corner, under the red-shaded lamp, sat the master of the house—and the situation—his daughter by his side. Everest crossed to them with a smart, soldierly step.
"Let me congratulate you, Mr. Calmour—on your house, you know," he said. "Artfully jolly house to stop in, and very good of you to ask us. I got here only to-night, just in time to dress for dinner. Will you introduce me to Miss Calmour? I'm Lord Everest—Bill, my friends call me, because people are always sending me such a lot, I suppose."
Solemnly, but with a twinkle in his eyes, which he did not remove from the young man's face, the millionaire formally introduced Lord Everest to his daughter jenny. The girl looked up. Her martyrdom had not entirely destroyed her sense of humour, and she broke into a laugh. Everest laughed, too—a nice, friendly, young-sounding laugh.
"I'm no end obliged to Mr. Calmour for asking me, you know," he said, drawing up a chair. "So are we all, though—er—some of us have engagements at Dinard to-morrow; but with fifteen or sixteen stopping on the house won't seem empty, will it? Is it true you are going to give a cotillon next week, Miss Calmour? I do hope it is. I heard so, and brought some rather pretty favours with me from Paris in the hope that you'd accept them from me. You will, won't you? And—it's rather selfish, I'm afraid, to try and cut in before any other chap; but you're sure to be asked by a dozen men at least, and I shall lose my chance. May I lead the cotillon with you?"
"I should love it," said Jenny, laughing and dimpling. "Can I, poppa?"
"I guess it will be all right," said Calmour.
So the great boycott ended and the great joke began. Right royally it was carried out on both sides. The cotillon was a huge success, and Jenny reigned among her guests like a young queen. People said that Everest's game had been clear from the first. He would eventually propose to the girl because her father was a millionaire, and she would accept him because he was an earl. As to the facts, everybody was right; but as to the motives, they were wrong. When Lord Everest proposed to Jenny Calmour, after four weeks of the queerest visit ever made, it was because he was very much in love with her, and thought her the dearest as well as the prettiest little girl he had ever seen. She accepted him because, in her opinion, he was one of the two perfect men in the world; and poppa was the other.
- A. M. Williamson