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AFFAIRS OF STATE

Being an Account of Certain Surprising Adventures Which

Befell an American Family in the Land of Windmills

BY

BURTON E. STEVENSON

AUTHOR OF "THE MARATHON MYSTERY," "THE HOLLADAY CASE," ETC.

With Illustrations by F. VAUX WILSON

1906


TO G. H. T.:

OLD FRIEND


CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I. THE WILES OF WOMANKIND

II. THE ROLE OF GOOD ANGEL

III. DISTINGUISHED ARRIVALS AT WEET-SUR-MER

IV. AN ADVENTURE AND A RESCUE

V. TELLIER TAKES A HAND

VI. THE PATH GROWS CROOKED

VII. AN APPEAL FOR AID

VIII. PRIDE HAS A FALL

IX. PELLETAN'S SKELETON

X. AN INTRODUCTION AND A PROMENADE

XI. THE PRINCE GAINS AN ALLY

XII. EVENTS OF THE NIGHT

XIII. THE SECOND PROMENADE

XIV. A BEARDING OF THE LION

XV. "BE BOLD, BE BOLD"

XVI. A PRINCE AND HIS IDEALS

XVII. THE DUCHESS TO THE RESCUE

XVIII. MAN'S PERFIDY

XIX. AN AMERICAN OPINION OF EUROPEAN MORALS

XX. THE DOWAGER'S BOMBSHELL

XXI. PARDON


ILLUSTRATIONS


"EEF MONSIEUR PLEASE"

"IT WAS MY GREAT GOOD FORTUNE," SAID THE STRANGER, BOWING, "TO BE OF
SERVICE TO A COMPATRIOT"

"OH!" SHE CRIED, WITH A LITTLE START, "THERE HE IS NOW, ALMOST NEAR
ENOUGH TO HEAR!"

"WHAT IS IT?" SHE DEMANDED. "DON'T YOU SEE WE ARE ALL WAITING?"


AFFAIRS OF STATE


CHAPTER I


The Wiles of Womankind

Archibald Rushford, tall, lean, the embodiment of energy, stood at the
window, hands in pockets, and stared disgustedly out at the dreary vista
of sand-dunes and bathing-machines, closed in the distance by a stretch
of gray sea mounting toward a horizon scarcely discernible through the
drifting mist which hung above the water.

"Though why you wanted to come here at all," he continued, presumably
addressing two young ladies in the room behind him, "or why you want to
stay, now you _are_ here, passes my comprehension. One might as well be
buried alive, and be done with it. The sensations, I should imagine,
are about the same."

"Oh, come, dad!" protested one of the girls, laughing, "you know it
isn't so bad as that! There's plenty of life - not just at this hour of
the morning, perhaps," - with a fleeting glance at the empty
landscape, - "but the hour is unfashionable."

"As everything seasonable and sensible seems to be here," put in her
father, grimly.

"And such interesting life, too," added the other girl.

"Interesting! Bah! When I want to see monkeys and peacocks, I'll go to a
menagerie."

"But you never do go to the menagerie, at home, you know, dad."

"No - because I don't care for monkeys or peacocks - in fact, I
particularly detest them!"

"But lions, dad! There are lions - "

"In the menagerie at home, perhaps."

"Yes, and in this one - bigger lions than you ever dreamed of,
dad! - perfect monsters of lions!"

"Oh, no, there aren't, Susie," dissented Rushford. "You don't know the
species. You've mistaken a bray for a roar, just as a lot of people
always do, if the bray is only loud enough. Come, now, let me know the
worst. How much longer do you propose to stay here?"

"Well, dad, you see the season won't be at its height for fully a month
yet - "

"A month!" echoed Rushford, in dismay. "Well, Susie, you and Nell may be
able to stand it for a month, but long ere that I'll be dead - ossified,
fossilised, dried up, and blown away! Maybe you girls enjoy it, though I
didn't think it of you - but what can _I_ do? I'm tired of reading
day-before-yesterday's newspaper and of being two days behind the
market. Two days! Think what may have happened to steel since I've
heard from it! It's enough to drive a man mad!"

He got out a cigar, lighted it, and stood puffing it nervously, appalled
at the vision his own words had conjured up.

"But, dad," Sue pointed out, coming to his side and taking his arm
coaxingly, "you know it was just to get away from all that worry - from
those horrid stocks and things - that you consented to come with us."

"Don't call the stocks hard names, Susie. Don't go back on your best
friends!" protested Rushford. "Don't forget what they've done for you!"

"But, dear, you remember how strongly Doctor Samuels insisted on your
taking a rest; how necessary he said it was?"

"Oh, perfectly!" responded Rushford, drily. "I've suspected right along
that Samuels took his orders from you."

"From me, dad!" cried Sue, indignantly, but her eyes were shining in a
most suspicious manner. "A man of his standing - "

"It doesn't matter," broke in her father, with a wave of his arm. "I'm
willing to grant, for the sake of argument, that Samuels was perfectly
sincere. But I still protest that there is no reason why we should
conceal ourselves here. We haven't done anything - the police aren't
after us - I can speak for myself, at least."

"This seemed to be such a nice, quiet place for you, dad," explained
Nell, perching herself upon a table near the window and gazing pensively
out at the shimmering water, which told that the sun was winning a
decisive victory over the mist, and that the day would be a fine one.

"For me!" repeated her father, turning and staring at her. "You don't
mean to say you chose this place on _my_ account!"

Nell nodded, but she winked at Susie.

"And then, you know," she added, "we have always wanted to get a glimpse
of a real Dutch watering-place."

"I don't believe this _is_ a real Dutch watering-place. Nobody here
speaks anything but French. Why, it's even got a French name!"

"Only two-thirds French, dad," Sue corrected.

"And everything is priced in francs."

"That is true of all Europe," asserted Nell, with superb aplomb.

"Well, Dutch, French, or Hindoo, you've had your glimpse, haven't you?
Suppose we move on and get a glimpse or two of something worth seeing."

"Oh, but we've seen it all only from the outside! We've been like the
audience at a show - we haven't had any part in it. And it's so much more
interesting behind the scenes!"

"It's dull enough from in front, heaven knows!" agreed Rushford. "If I
had my way, I'd ring down the curtain and close the show up this minute.
It's the worst I ever saw! And I very much doubt if a respectable
American family has any business behind the scenes!"

"You're jaundiced, dad," laughed Sue. "You're looking at the place
through a yellow film of prejudice. One must enter into the spirit of
the thing!"

Rushford groaned.

"I'm afraid I'm too set in my ways, Susie," he said, dismally. "I've
lived in America too long. You might as well ask me to dance the
can-can, and be done with it!"

"Besides," continued Sue, "it's just as Nell says. We're on the
outside - we haven't got a foothold. There's something the matter."

"Maybe they think I'm that Chicago cashier who got away with a million,
not long ago. On second thought, though, I don't believe that would
make any difference. That fellow would find a very congenial circle
here. He wouldn't have any difficulty in getting behind the scenes!"

"Sue and I have been thinking it over," said Nell, "and we've concluded
that it must be something about the hotel. We seem to have picked out
the wrong one."

"The place _is_ empty, and that's a fact," agreed Rushford.

"It's unnaturally so," said Sue. "Something's the matter with it. It's
taboo for some reason."

"Well, it's good enough for me," remarked her father. "After all, there
isn't much difference in prisons! But I want to repeat, as emphatically
as possible, that I can't keep on loafing here for a month and preserve
my sanity. Don't you see how much whiter my hair's getting? I'm willing
to do anything in reason to oblige you, and I fully realise the
importance of your sociological and ethnological studies - "

Sue's hand on his mouth stopped him.

"Take a breath, dad," she cautioned him. "Take a breath. Those were
mighty long words."

"As I was about to remark," continued Rushford, calmly, taking the hand
away, "I am, of course, a doting parent - who would not be with two such
children? But, candidly, I don't just see where I come in. I tell you,
girls, I've got to have some excitement."

"There's plenty of excitement at the Casino, dad."

"Oh, yes - faro excitement; roulette excitement. I never cared for that
kind. I've always had the sense to keep out of sure-thing games, even on
Wall Street."

"But the people - "

"The people! French apes in fancy waistcoats; Dutch dandies in corsets;
women with painted cheeks and pencilled eyebrows whom you're ashamed to
look at!"

"Some of them are respectable, dad," laughed Sue.

"One would never suspect it!"

"Oh, yes, dad; some of them belong to the nobility."

"That's no certificate of character - rather the reverse, if one may
believe the papers."

"Gossip, dad; nothing but gossip. And you know how you've always hated
gossip. You've told us never to believe it."

"It may be; but one could believe anything of most of the women one sees
around here. My only chance for amusement is to get up a flirtation with
some of them. I don't think it would be difficult - they don't seem a bit
shy. Only," he added, with a sigh, "I'm getting too old."

"Yes, dad; I'm afraid you are," agreed Susie. "You wouldn't really enjoy
it."

"'My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!'"

quoted Nell, in a solemn voice.

"Don't you be too sure!" retorted her father, threateningly, wheeling
around upon her. "There's no telling what I may be driven to, if I'm
kept imprisoned here much longer! 'Though I look old,' - "

"'Yet I am strong and lusty,'" finished Sue. "Of course you are, dad,
and you don't look old, either. Why," gazing up at him critically, "you
don't look a day over forty!"

"Don't try to bamboozle your Pa, Susie," laughed Rushford. "I can see
through you! You'll be trying to make me believe next that you want a
stepmother."

"I would if it would make you any happier, dad."

Her father gazed down for an instant into her pseudo-serious face, then
caught her in his arms and squeezed her.

"What're you up to?" he demanded. "Trying to make a fool of your old
dad? Why, Susie, own up, - you'd scratch out the eyes of the best woman
in the world if she dared to look twice at me!"

"Of course I would!" admitted Susie, instantly. "You know as well as I
do, dad, that even the best woman in the world isn't good enough for
you."

"Let's go across to the other hotel, dad," suggested Nell, with a
nonchalance intended to conceal the fact that this was the point she and
Susie had been aiming at from the very first.

Her father released Susie and stared at his other daughter in amazement.

"What on earth for?" he demanded.

"Oh, everybody seems to be over there - you've noticed - "

"Yes, I've noticed that it's running over with the rag-tag and bob-tail
of all Europe! If you think I'll butt into that Bedlam, my dear child,
you're badly mistaken. I'd rather live with the freaks in a museum."

"But it's so quiet here."

"I'm glad of it! Besides, I thought you wanted quiet?"

"Only for your sake - don't you see, we're trying our best to please you.
A moment ago, you said you wanted excitement."

"I do; but it must be excitement with an object. I haven't got any use
for the infernal, purposeless chattering I hear all around me every time
I go out on the dyke. Damn a man, anyhow, who can't find anything better
to do than to run around to summer-resorts and flirt with other men's
wives! I tell you, girls, I want to get back to New York!"

"Give us another month, dad!" pleaded Sue, catching his arm again, as he
stamped up and down. "You know that you promised to stay with us two
months, at the very least. We can't go around without a chaperon."

Her father's face relaxed as he looked down at her, and he smiled
grimly.

"So we get down to the real reason, at last, do we?" he queried. "I
thought all this solicitude for my health was a trifle unnatural. I'm
useful as a chaperon, am I? See here, girls, I can put in my time more
profitably at the stock exchange, and have a heap more fun. I'll hire a
chaperon for you, or half a dozen, if you want them, and pull out for
New York. What do you say? I don't know the first principles of the
business, anyway."

"Oh, yes, you do, dad!" protested Susie. "You're a perfectly ideal
chaperon."

"I am? The ideal chaperon, then, must be one who never does any
chaperoning!"

"That's it, exactly!" cried Nell, clapping her hands delightedly. "How
quickly you see things, dad!"

"So that's it!" and he stood for a moment looking darkly at his
offspring. "Well, you girls are old enough to take care of yourselves.
If you can't, it's high time you were learning how!"

"Oh, we're perfectly able to take care of ourselves," Sue assured him.
"You mustn't worry about us for a moment, dad."

"I'm not likely to. But, in that case, why do you want me along at all?"

"Why, don't you see, dad, it's you who give us the odour of
respectability. By ourselves, we should be social outcasts, impossible,
not to be spoken to - except by men. It isn't convenable."

"Oh, I see," said Rushford. "The first great principle of European
society seems to be, 'Think the worst of every one.'"

"Not precisely, dad; but no unmarried woman may venture outside the
circumference of the family circle. That's the great European
convention - the basic principle of her social order."

"A sort of 'tag, you're it,' game, isn't it? The family circle is a kind
of dead line - the ring of fire which keeps out the wild beasts. Step
over, and you're lost!"

"Of course," said Nell, "it is only to unmarried women that the rule
applies."

"Oh, certainly," assented her father. "Married women are allowed more
latitude - in fact, from such French novels as I've read, I should infer
that they usually swing clear around the circle! It's a reaction, I
suppose; a sort of compensation for the privations of their youth. I
don't like it. Let's go home!"

"But your promise, dad!" pleaded Sue, permitting the faintest suspicion
of moisture to appear in her dark eyes. "And you know you really do need
a vacation."

Her father looked down at her, saw the moisture, and surrendered.

"You're a humbug," he said; "and this vacation business is another. A
man spends two or three months loafing around because somebody tells him
he's looking badly and ought to take a rest; and before he knows it,
he's accumulated so much rust in his system that he never gets it all
out again. His machinery creaks more or less for the rest of his life.
The wise man postpones his vacation to the next world."

"Well, let's call it a jaunt," suggested Susie. "A jaunt somehow implies
hurry and bustle, with plenty of exercise."

"And I don't know which is the bigger fool," pursued her father, not
heeding her; "the fellow who takes a vacation every year on his own
hook, or the one who permits his daughters to drag him away from his
comfortable home and his morning paper and the business which gives him
his interest in life, and maroon him in a desert of a Dutch
watering-place, where there's absolutely nothing for a self-respecting
man to do but smoke himself to death and wait for a paper which never
comes till day after to-morrow!"

"It sounds terribly involved, but I'll help you reason it out, dad, any
time you like," said Susie, obligingly. "And you'll stay, won't you,
dear?"

"Oh, I'll stay, since your heart's so set upon it. I'll try to bear up
and find a diversion of some kind and not rust out any more than I can
help. I might dig in the sand or make mud pies or play mumbly-peg. But I
draw the line at plunging into that whirlpool across the street. My bed
here is nearly as comfortable as the one at home, and the grub's
first-rate."

"Very well, dad," agreed Susie, instantly seizing the concession, but
speaking as though it were she who was making it, "we'll stay here,
then. Only I _do_ wish there were a few more people," she added, with a
sigh. "I hate to sit down in that big, empty dining-room. I imagine I'm
at an Egyptian banquet, and that there are horrid, rattly skeletons
sitting in all those high, covered chairs."

"What you need is some fresh air," said her father. "You girls get your
hats and go for a walk. You're growing morbid. If you think of skeletons
again, I'll give you a liver pill."

"Won't you come, dad?"

"No; you know you don't want me. Besides, I see the panjandrum who
brings the mail coming up the dyke down yonder."

He stood gazing down the Digue until his womenkind reappeared, bedight,
ready for the walk.

"You'll do," he said, looking them over critically. "In fact, my dears,
if I wasn't afraid of making you conceited, I'd say I'd never seen two
handsomer girls in my life."

"Now it's you who are blarneying, dad!" cried Susie, but she dimpled
with pleasure nevertheless, and so did Nell.

"No I'm not," retorted Rushford; "and I dare say there are plenty of
other men, even in this Dutch limbo, who have an eye for beauty; let
them break their hearts, if they have any, but keep your own hearts
whole, my dears."

They were laughing in earnest, now, as they looked up in his face, which
had grown suddenly serious.

"Why, dad, what ails you?" questioned Sue. "I think it is you who need
the pill!"

Rushford's face cleared; they were heart-whole thus far - there could be
no doubt of that.

"Perhaps I do," he agreed. "Or perhaps it's only that I'm beginning to
feel the responsibilities of my position."

"Your position?"

"As chaperon," he explained.

"Dear dad!" cried Susie, and squeezed his arm. "Do you suppose that as
long as we have you, either of us will ever think of another man?"

"I don't know," said her father, dubiously. "I scarcely believe I'm so
fascinating as all that. But I just wanted to remind you, girls, that
there's plenty of nice boys at home - boys whom you can trust, through
and through - boys who are clean, and honest, and worth loving. If you
_must_ lose your hearts - and I suppose it's inevitable, some day - please
do me the favour of choosing two of them. I'll sleep better at night and
breathe easier by day!"


CHAPTER II


The R√іle of Good Angel

Rushford waved them good-bye from the door as they sallied forth into
the bright sunlight, paused a moment to look after them admiringly, and
then turned slowly back into the hotel, smiling softly to himself. He
sauntered through the deserted vestibule, and its emptiness struck him
as it had never done before.

"Really," he said to himself, "we seem to be the only patrons the house
has got. I'll have to look over my bill."

He went on to the desk and demanded his letters of the boy in
resplendent uniform who presided there.

"There are none, monsieur," answered that individual, blandly.

"What!" cried Rushford, his smile vanished in an instant. "Are you
sure?"

The boy answered with a shrug and a significant gesture toward the
letter-rack on the wall. It was visibly, incontestably empty.

Rushford turned away in disgust.

"Those fellows at the office are assuming altogether too much
responsibility," he muttered savagely, as he wandered on into the
smoking-room. "I told them I didn't want to be bothered with little
things, but I certainly expected to hear from them once in a while. If I
don't look out, they'll reduce me to the status of a rubber stamp! I'll
have to stir them up," and he gloomily extracted from the rack the
newly-arrived, two-days-old London paper, brought by the little rickety
train which struggled through at uncertain and infrequent intervals from
Zunderburg to Weet-sur-Mer, lighted a fresh cigar, and sat down to a
perusal of the news.

He proceeded in the most leisurely manner, for he knew that he had
plenty of time. Indeed, the paper once finished, the remainder of the
day would stretch before him an empty wilderness - a waste as monotonous
and bare as the beach he had grown so weary of gazing at. So he gave
careful and minute attention to every item. He was in the midst of a
long and wholly uninteresting account of a charity bazaar, which the
Princess of Wales had opened, and where the Duchess of Blank-Blank had
made a tremendous hit and much money for a worthy cause, by selling her
kisses for a guinea each, when his attention was attracted by a discreet
shuffling of feet on the floor beside his chair. He looked up to see
standing there the little fat Alsatian-German-French proprietor of the
hotel.

"Why, hello, Pelletan," he said. "Want to speak to me?"

"Eef monsieur please," and Pelletan rubbed his chubby hands together in
visible embarrassment.

"All right; sit down."

Monsieur Pelletan coughed deprecatingly and deposited his plump body on
the extreme edge of a chair. It was easy to see that he was much
depressed - his usually rosy cheeks hung flaccid, his mustachios drooped
limply, his little black eyes were suffused and needed frequent
wiping - a service performed by a hand that was none too steady.

"Eet iss a matter of pusiness, monsieur," he began, falteringly. "You
haf perhaps perceive' t'at our custom hass fallen off."

Rushford glanced about the deserted smoking-room.

"No," he said; "I haven't seen any to fall off. I've been wondering how
you managed to pay out."

"Ah, monsieur," cried Pelletan, wringing his hands, "t'at iss eet - I haf
been paying out unt paying out until t'e las' franc iss gone. I wass at
no time reech, monsieur; at t'is moment I am in ruins!"

And, indeed, he looked the part.

"You mean you'll have to shut up shop?" inquired Rushford.

"Eet preaks my heart to say eet, monsieur; but I fear eet will come to
t'at, unless - "

"Unless what?" asked Rushford, eyeing him as he hesitated.

"Unless I shall pe able to interes' monsieur - "

Rushford grunted and stared out of the window at the dunes, puffing his
cigar meditatively. He thought of the comfortable bed, of the admirable
cuisine - he would hate to give them up. It would mean going to the other
hotel, and the mere idea made him shiver. Anything but that!

His host watched him in an agony of apprehension.

"What does it cost a day to run this shebang?" asked the American at
last.

Monsieur Pelletan, with feverish haste, produced a paper from his
pocket.

"I haf anticipate' monsieur's question; t'is statement will show heem."

Rushford took it and glanced at the total.

"Hmmmm. Four hundred and eighty francs - say a hundred dollars."

"T'at, monsieur," explained Pelletan, "iss based upon our present
custom. As pusiness increase', so do t'e expense increase."

"Of course."

"But not in t'e same ratio as t'e receipts. A full house wins so much as
six hundret francs t'e tay."

"Yes," assented Rushford, "a full house is a mighty nice thing. But now
you seem to be holding only a bob-tail."

"A pop-tail?"

"No matter - go ahead with the story. You say it costs you a hundred
dollars a day to keep your doors open. What's the heaviest item?"

"T'e greates' item at present iss t'e chef. He iss a fery goot one - I
haf feared to let heem go."

"That was right. You'd better not let him go if you want to keep us
here. How many rooms have you?"

Pelletan produced a second slip of paper.

"For t'at, also, I wass prepared, my tear Monsieur Rushford," he said.
"T'e tariff of charges iss also t'ere."

Rushford looked it over with some care. Then he stared out across the
sands again, the corners of his mouth twitching. Evidently the proposal
appealed to his sense of humour.

"See here, Pelletan," he said, abruptly, turning back, "is there a
hoodoo on the house, or what's the matter?"

"A - I peg monsieur's pardon," stammered Pelletan.

"How does it happen that the hotel over there is full and this one's
empty?"

"Eet iss t'is way, monsieur," explained the Frenchman, eagerly. "For
many year, long pefore t'is new part off t'e house wass puilt, we
enjoyed t'e confidence unt patronage of Hiss Highness, t'e Prince of
Zeit-Zeit, who spent at least two month in efery season here. While t'e
Prince wass here, we were crowded - oh, to t'e smalles' room! - efen at
ot'er times, we tid well, for he gafe t'e house a prestige. But last
vinter he die, unt hiss heir, hiss son, despite t'e care of heem which
we haf taken, t'e anxieties he hass cause' us, yet which we haf
cheerfully porne - t'at ingrate hass t'e pad taste to prefer t'e ot'er
house! Our ot'er customers haf followed heem - like sheep! Eet iss as
t'ough we had lost our star!"

"Your star?"

"In t'e guide-book off Monsieur Karl," Pelletan explained.

"Is that such a tragedy?"

"I haf always t'ought it t'e fery worst t'at could happen," said
Pelletan, "but t'is iss as pad."


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