The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter V. Mr. Scobell Has Another Idea
Owing to collaboration between Fate and Mr. Scobell, John's state entry into Mervo was an interesting blend between a pageant and a vaudeville sketch. The pageant idea was Mr. Scobell's. Fate supplied the vaudeville.
The reception at the quay, when the little steamer that plied between Marseilles and the island principality gave up its precious freight, was not on quite so impressive a scale as might have been given to the monarch of a more powerful kingdom; but John was not disappointed. During the voyage from New York, in the intervals of seasickness--for he was a poor sailor--Mr. Crump had supplied him with certain facts about Mervo, one of which was that its adult population numbered just under thirteen thousand, and this had prepared him for any shortcomings in the way of popular demonstration.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Scobell was exceedingly pleased with the scale of the reception, which to his mind amounted practically to pomp. The Palace Guard, forty strong, lined the quay. Besides these, there were four officers, a band, and sixteen mounted carbineers. The rest of the army was dotted along the streets. In addition to the military, there was a gathering of a hundred and fifty civilians, mainly drawn from fishing circles. The majority of these remained stolidly silent throughout, but three, more emotional, cheered vigorously as a young man was seen to step on to the gangway, carrying a grip, and make for the shore. General Poineau, a white-haired warrior with a fierce mustache, strode forward and saluted. The Palace Guards presented arms. The band struck up the Mervian national anthem. General Poineau, lowering his hand, put on a pair of pince-nez and began to unroll an address of welcome.
It was then seen that the young man was Mr. Crump. General Poineau removed his glasses and gave an impatient twirl to his mustache. Mr. Scobell, who for possibly the first time in his career was not smoking (though, as was afterward made manifest, he had the materials on his person), bustled to the front.
"Where's his nibs, Crump?" he enquired.
The secretary's reply was swept away in a flood of melody. To the band Mr. Crump's face was strange. They had no reason to suppose that he was not Prince John, and they acted accordingly. With a rattle of drums they burst once more into their spirited rendering of the national anthem.
Mr. Scobell sawed the air with his arms, but was powerless to dam the flood.
"His Highness is shaving, sir!" bawled Mr. Crump, depositing his grip on the quay and making a trumpet of his hands.
"Yes, sir. I told him he ought to come along, but His Highness said he wasn't going to land looking like a tramp comedian."
By this time General Poineau had explained matters to the band and they checked the national anthem abruptly in the middle of a bar, with the exception of the cornet player, who continued gallantly by himself till a feeling of loneliness brought the truth home to him. An awkward stage wait followed, which lasted until John was seen crossing the deck, when there were more cheers, and General Poineau, resuming his pince-nez, brought out the address of welcome again.
At this point Mr. Scobell made his presence felt.
"Glad to meet you, Prince," he said, coming forward. "Scobell's my name. Shake hands with General Poineau. No, that's wrong. I guess he kisses your hand, don't he?"
"I'll swing on him if he does," said John, cheerfully.
Mr. Scobell eyed him doubtfully. His Highness did not appear to him to be treating the inaugural ceremony with that reserved dignity which we like to see in princes on these occasions. Mr. Scobell was a business man. He wanted his money's worth. His idea of a Prince of Mervo was something statuesquely aloof, something--he could not express it exactly--on the lines of the illustrations in the Zenda stories in the magazines--about eight feet high and shinily magnificent, something that would give the place a tone. That was what he had had in his mind when he sent for John. He did not want a cheerful young man in a soft hat and a flannel suit who looked as if at any moment he might burst into a college yell.
General Poineau, meanwhile, had embarked on the address of welcome. John regarded him thoughtfully.
"I can see," he said to Mr. Scobell, "that the gentleman is making a good speech, but what is he saying? That is what gets past me."
"He is welcoming Your Highness," said Mr. Crump, the linguist, "in the name of the people of Mervo."
"Who, I notice, have had the bully good sense to stay in bed. I guess they knew that the Boy Orator would do all that was necessary. He hasn't said anything about a bite of breakfast, has he? Has his address happened to work around to the subject of shredded wheat and shirred eggs yet? That's the part that's going to make a hit with me."
"There'll be breakfast at my villa, Your Highness," said Mr. Scobell. "My automobile is waiting along there."
The General reached his peroration, worked his way through it, and finished with a military clash of heels and a salute. The band rattled off the national anthem once more.
"Now, what?" said John, turning to Mr. Scobell. "Breakfast?"
"I guess you'd better say a few words to them, Your Highness; they'll expect it."
"But I can't speak the language, and they can't understand English. The thing'll be a stand-off."
"Crump will hand it to 'em. Here, Crump."
"Line up and shoot His Highness's remarks into 'em."
"It's all very well for you, Crump," said John. "You probably enjoy this sort of thing. I don't. I haven't felt such a fool since I sang 'The Maiden's Prayer' on Tremont Street when I was joining the frat. Are you ready? No, it's no good. I don't know what to say."
"Tell 'em you're tickled to death," advised Mr. Scobell anxiously.
John smiled in a friendly manner at the populace. Then he coughed. "Gentlemen," he said--"and more particularly the sport on my left who has just spoken his piece whose name I can't remember--I thank you for the warm welcome you have given me. If it is any satisfaction to you to know that it has made me feel like thirty cents, you may have that satisfaction. Thirty is a liberal estimate."
"'His Highness is overwhelmed by your loyal welcome. He thanks you warmly,'" translated Mr. Crump, tactfully.
"I feel that we shall get along nicely together," continued John. "If you are chumps enough to turn out of your comfortable beds at this time of the morning simply to see me, you can't be very hard to please. We shall hit it off fine."
Mr. Crump: "His Highness hopes and believes that he will always continue to command the affection of his people."
"I--" John paused. "That's the lot," he said. "The flow of inspiration has ceased. The magic fire has gone out. Break it to 'em, Crump. For me, breakfast."
During the early portion of the ride Mr. Scobell was silent and thoughtful. John's speech had impressed him neither as oratory nor as an index to his frame of mind. He had not interrupted him, because he knew that none of those present could understand what was being said, and that Mr. Crump was to be relied on as an editor. But he had not enjoyed it. He did not take the people of Mervo seriously himself, but in the Prince such an attitude struck him as unbecoming. Then he cheered up. After all, John had given evidence of having a certain amount of what he would have called "get-up" in him. For the purposes for which he needed him, a tendency to make light of things was not amiss. It was essentially as a performing prince that he had engaged John. He wanted him to do unusual things, which would make people talk--aeroplaning was one that occurred to him. Perhaps a prince who took a serious view of his position would try to raise the people's minds and start reforms and generally be a nuisance. John could, at any rate, be relied upon not to do that.
His face cleared.
"Have a good cigar, Prince?" he said, cordially, inserting two fingers in his vest-pocket.
"Sure, Mike," said His Highness affably.
Breakfast over, Mr. Scobell replaced the remains of his cigar between his lips, and turned to business.
"Eh, Prince?" he said.
"I want you, Prince," said Mr. Scobell, "to help boom this place. That's where you come in."
"Sure," said John.
"As to ruling and all that," continued Mr. Scobell, "there isn't any to do. The place runs itself. Some guy gave it a shove a thousand years ago, and it's been rolling along ever since. What I want you to do is the picturesque stunts. Get a yacht and catch rare fishes. Whoop it up. Entertain swell guys when they come here. Have a Court--see what I mean?--same as over in England. Go around in aeroplanes and that style of thing. Don't worry about money. That'll be all right. You draw your steady hundred thousand a year and a good chunk more besides, when we begin to get a move on, so the dough proposition doesn't need to scare you any."
"Do I, by George!" said John. "It seems to me that I've fallen into a pretty soft thing here. There'll be a joker in the deck somewhere, I guess. There always is in these good things. But I don't see it yet. You can count me in all right."
"Good boy," said Mr. Scobell. "And now you'll be wanting to get to the Palace. I'll have them bring the automobile round."
The council of state broke up.
Having seen John off in the car, the financier proceeded to his sister's sitting-room. Miss Scobell had breakfasted apart that morning, by request, her brother giving her to understand that matters of state, unsuited to the ear of a third party, must be discussed at the meal. She was reading her New York Herald.
"Well," said Mr. Scobell, "he's come."
"And just the sort I want. Saw the idea of the thing right away, and is ready to go the limit. No nonsense about him."
"Is he nice-looking, Bennie?"
"Sure. All these Mervo princes have been good-lookers, I hear, and this one must be near the top of the list. You'll like him, Marion. All the girls will be crazy about him in a week."
Miss Scobell turned a page.
"Is he married?"
Her brother started.
"Married? I never thought of that. But no, I guess he's not. He'd have mentioned it. He's not the sort to hush up a thing like that. I--"
He stopped short. His green eyes gleamed excitedly.
"Marion!" he cried. "Marion!"
"Listen. Gee, this thing is going to be the biggest ever. I gotta new idea. It just came to me. Your saying that put it into my head. Do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to cable over to Betty to come right along here, and I'm going to have her marry this prince guy. Yes, sir!"
For once Miss Scobell showed signs that her brother's conversation really interested her. She laid down her paper, and stared at him.
"Sure, Betty. Why not? She's a pretty girl. Clever too. The Prince'll be lucky to get such a wife, for all his darned ancestors away back to the flood."
"But suppose Betty does not like him?"
"Like him? She's gotta like him. Say, can't you make your mind soar, or won't you? Can't you see that a thing like this has gotta be fixed different from a marriage between--between a ribbon-counter clerk and the girl who takes the money at a twenty-five-cent hash restaurant in Flatbush? This is a royal alliance. Do you suppose that when a European princess is introduced to the prince she's going to marry, they let her say: 'Nothing doing. I don't like the shape of his nose'?"
He gave a spirited imitation of a European princess objecting to the shape of her selected husband's nose.
"It isn't very romantic, Bennie," sighed Miss Scobell. She was a confirmed reader of the more sentimental class of fiction, and this business-like treatment of love's young dream jarred upon her.
"It's founding a dynasty. Isn't that romantic enough for you? You make me tired, Marion."
Miss Scobell sighed again.
"Very well, dear. I suppose you know best. But perhaps the Prince won't like Betty."
Mr. Scobell gave a snort of disgust.
"Marion," he said, "you've got a mind like a chunk of wet dough. Can't you understand that the Prince is just as much in my employment as the man who scrubs the Casino steps? I'm hiring him to be Prince of Mervo, and his first job as Prince of Mervo will be to marry Betty. I'd like to see him kick!" He began to pace the room. "By Heck, it's going to make this place boom to beat the band. It'll be the biggest kind of advertisement. Restoration of Royalty at Mervo. That'll make them take notice by itself. Then, biff! right on top of that, Royal Romance--Prince Weds American Girl--Love at First Sight--Picturesque Wedding! Gee, we'll wipe Monte Carlo clean off the map. We'll have 'em licked to a splinter. We--It's the greatest scheme on earth."
"I have no doubt you are right, Bennie," said Miss Scobell, "but--" her voice became dreamy again--"it's not very romantic."
"Oh, shucks!" said the schemer impatiently. "Here, where's a cable form?"