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In front of the Y Wurry Gas & Fixit Station, at Mechanicville, New York, the proprietor, Mr. Rabbit Tait, sat elegantly upon a kitchen chair. He was a figure, that Rabbit Tait — christened Thomas. His trousers might be spotty, and their hem resembled the jagged edges of magnified razor blades shown in the advertisements, but his shirt was purple, with narrow red stripes, his sleeve garters were of silvered metal, and on one sausage-like forefinger was a ring with a ruby which would have been worth two hundred thousand dollars had it not been made of glass.
Mr. Tait was not tall, but he was comfortably round; his face was flushed; his red mustache was so beautifully curled that he resembled a detective; and his sandy hair was roached down over his forehead in one of the most elegant locks ever seen on the wrong side of a mahogany bar.
Out from the neat white cottage behind the filling station, a residence with all modern conveniences except bathrooms, gas and electricity, charged his spouse, Mrs. Bessie Tait, herding their son Terry.
Now Bessie was not beautiful. She had a hard-boiled-egg forehead and a flatiron jaw, which harmonized with her milk-can voice to compose a domestic symphony. Nor was Rabbit Tait, for all his dashing air, an Apollo. But Terry, aged six, was a freak of beauty.
He was too good to be true. He had, surely, come off a magazine cover. He had golden hair, like blown thistledown in a sunset, his skin was white silk, his big eyes violet, his nose straight, and his mouth had twisting little smiles which caused the most loyal drunkards to go home and reform.
How he had ever happened to Rabbit and Bessie Tait, how the angels (or the stork, or Doc McQueech) had ever happened to leave Terry in the cottage behind the Y Wurry Filling Station instead of in the baronial clapboard castle of the Mechanicville banker, is a mystery which is left to the eugenists.
Bessie was speaking in a manner not befitting the mother of a Christmas-card cherub:
“For the love of Mike, Rabbit, are you going to sit there on your chair all afternoon? Why don’t you get busy?”
“Yeah?” contributed the cherub’s father. “Sure! Whajjuh wamme do? Go out and grab some bozo’s bus by the radiator cap and make him come in and buy some gas?”
“Well, you kin fix the screen door, can’t you?”
“The screen door?”
“Yes, the screen door, you poor glue!”
“The screen door? Is it busted?”
“Oh, heck, no; it ain’t busted! I just want you to come and scratch its back where the mosquitoes been biting it, you poor sap! And then you can take care of this brat. Under my feet the whole dog-gone day!”
She slapped Terry, generously and skilfully, and as Terry howled, Rabbit rose uneasily, pale behind the bronze splendor of his curled mustache. Bessie was obviously in one of her more powerful moods, and it is to be feared that we should have had the distressing spectacle of Mr. Tait going to work, driven by his good lady’s iron jaw and granite will, had not, that second, a limousine stopped at the filling station.
In the limousine was a lady so rich, so rich and old, that she had to be virtuous. She had white hair and a complexion like an old china cup. Glancing out while Rabbit Tait cheerily turned the handle of the gas pump, she saw Terry.
“Oh!” she squealed. “What an angelic child! Is it yours?”
“Yes, ma’am,” chuckled Rabbit, while Bessie ranged forward, beaming on the treasure she had so recently slapped.
“He ought to be a choir boy,” said the refined old lady. “He would be simply darling, at St. Juke’s, in Albany. You must take him there, and introduce him to Doctor Wimple, the curate — he’s so fond of the little ones! I’m sure your dear little boy could be sent to some church school free, and THINK— these dreadful modern days — otherwise, with his beauty, he might get drawn into the movies as a child star, or some frightful thing like that, and be ruined! Good morning!”
“Jiminy, that’s a swell old dame!” observed the dear little boy as the limousine swam away.
Bessie absently slapped him, and mused, “Say, Rabbit, the old lettuce gimme a good idea. The kid might do good in the movies.”
“Say, he might, at that. Gee, maybe he could make a hundred bucks a week. I’ve heard some of these kids do. Golly, I’d like to have a cane with a silver dog’s-head top!”
“Tom Tait, you get on your coat, and as soon as I scrub the kid’s mug and change his clothes, you take him right straight down to the Main Street Foto Shoppe — I’ll mind the pump — and you get some pictures of him and we’ll shoot ’em out to Hollywood.”
“Oh, you gimme a big fat pain — hot day like this,” sighed Mr. Tait and, gloomily, “Besides, I might miss a job changing an inner tube. Just like you — throw away fifty cents on a fool chance that we might be able to farm the brat out at maybe fifty bucks a week some day, MAYBE!”
“I don’t play no maybes, never,” said Bessie Tait.
Mr. Abraham Hamilton Granville, president and G. M. of the Jupiter–Triumph-Tait Film Corporation, had adorned his Spanish mansion at Poppy Peaks, California, with the largest private fish bowl in the known world. Other movie satraps might have Pompeian swimming pools, cathedral organs and ballrooms floored with platinum, but it was Mr. Granville’s genius — so had it been, indeed, ever since he had introduced the Holdfast Patent Button, which had put over the renowned Abe Grossburg Little Gents’ Pants Co., back in 1903 — I say it was Mr. Granville’s peculiar genius that he always thought up something a little different.
He had caused cunning craftsmen to erect a fish bowl — no vulgar aquarium but a real, classy, round, glass, parlor fish bowl — twenty feet high and sixty in circumference, on the red-and-green marble terrace of his mansion, Casa Scarlatta.
Poppy Peaks is an addition to Hollywood, built by the more refined and sensitive and otherwise rich members of the movie colony when Hollywood itself became too common for their aristocratic tradition. And of all the county families and nobility of Poppy Peaks, none were more select than the intellectual powers gathered about Mr. Granville this hazy California August afternoon.
Besides Mr. Granville and the production manager, Mr. Eisbein, there was Wiggins, the press agent — formerly the most celebrated red-dog player and mint-julep specialist on the coast, a man who was questionable only in his belief that mange cure will cause thinning mouse-colored hair to turn into raven richness. Was also Miss Lilac Lavery Lugg, writer of the scenarios for such masterpieces of cinematographic passion as “Mad Maids,” “Midnight Madness,” and “Maids o’ the Midnight.” She was thirty-eight and had never been kissed.
But even more important than these mad magnates o’ midnight was a quiet and genteel family sitting together in scarlet-painted basket chairs.
The father of the family was a gentleman named Mr. T. Benescoten Tait. He had a handsome ruddy mustache, curled, and a gold cigarette case; he wore a lavender suit, white spats, patent-leather shoes, eyeglasses with a broad silk ribbon, and a walking stick whose top was a dog’s-head of gold with ruby eyes.
His lady was less cheering in appearance, but more notable; she wore a white-striped black suit with python-skin slippers. She sat rigid, with eyes like headlights.
And the third of the family was Terry Tait, billed throughout the entire world as “The King of Boy Comedians.”
He was in English shorts, with a Byronesque silk shirt open at the throat. But on the back of one manicured hand was a grievous smear of dirt, which more suggested raising Cain in Mechanicville, New York, than being sweet in Poppy Peaks; and crouched behind him was a disreputable specimen of that celebrated breed of canines, a Boy’s Dog, who would never be exhibited in any dog show except a strictly private one behind an ill-favored barn.
Terry was ten, this summer of 1930.
“Well, Miss Lugg,” Granville said briskly, “what’s your idea for the new Terrytait?”
“Oh, I’ve got a perfectly priceless idea this time. Terry plays a poor little Ytalian bootblack — he’s really the son of a count, but he got kidnaped —”
Terry crossed over center stage and yammered, “I won’t do it! I’ve been the newsboy that squealed on the gang, and I’ve been the son of the truck driver that got adopted by the banker, and I’ve been Oliver Twist and — I hate these dog-gone poor-city-boy rôles! I want to be a boy cowboy, or an Apache!”
Miss Lugg squealed, “I’ve got it! How about his playing the drummer boy of the regiment — Civil War stuff — saves the General when he’s wounded, and Lincoln invites him to the White House?”
Miss Lugg was soaring into genius before their awed eyes. But she was interrupted by the circular-saw voice of Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait:
“Not on your life! Not a chance! Terry in them awful battle scenes with all them tough mob extras falling over him? That’s always the trouble with wars — they make good scenes but somebody is likely to get hurt. No, sir!”
“Was ist das denn fur ein Hutzpah!” growled Mr. Abraham Hamilton Granville. “Der Terry should take a chance, what we pay him!”
Mrs. Tait sprang up, a fury on ice. “Yeah! A miserable two thousand a week! Believe me, on the next contract it’s going to be four thousand, and if it don’t come from Jupiter, there’s others that’ll pay it. Why, we don’t hardly make expenses on two grand, having to keep up a swell social position so none of these bozos like Franchot can high-hat us, and Terry’s French tutor and his dancing teacher and his trainer and his chauffeur and — and — And thank heaven I’m not ambitious like a lot of these bums that want to show off how swell they are.
“Hones’ sometimes I wish we’d stayed back in Mechanicville! Mr. Tait had a large garage there — we saved more money than what we can here, the way you hogs want to grab off all the coin and don’t never think about the Artist and his folks and how they got to live.”
“Yes, yes, yes, maybe that’s so. Well, what’s your idea of his next rôle, Bessie?” soothed Mr. Granville.
Mr. Tait suggested, “I got an idea that —”
“You have not! You never did have!” said Bessie. “Now, I think it would be nice if — I’d just love to see my Terrykins as this here Lost Dophing — this son of Napoleon or Looey or whoever he was — YOU know, Leglong. Miss Lugg can look up all the historical dope on him. I think Terry’d look lovely in satin tights with a ruff!”
“Oh, gee!” wailed Terry.
“I don’t,” continued Mrs. Tait, with severe virtue, “like to see my little boy playing these newsboy and hard-up rôles all the time. I don’t think it’s a good influence on all his Following. It ain’t progress. And him with his wardrobe!”
While Mrs. Tait sermonized, the butler had brought out the four-o’clock cocktail tray and the afternoon papers, and Wiggins, the rusty press agent, had escaped from the sound of Bessie’s voice into a nice wholesome Chicago murder story.
He piped, now:
“Say, talking about your Lost Dauphin dope, Bess, here’s one in real life. Seems in the paper, King Udo of Slovaria died last night of heart failure and his heir is his son, Maximilian — King Maximilian III, he’ll be — and the poor kid is only ten. Youngest king in the world. But where the heck is Slovaria?”
“You tellum, Terry,” said Bessie Tait. “Terry is a wonder at jography, same as I always was.”
“I don’t want to!” protested the wonder.
“You do what I tell you to, or I won’t let you play baseball with the butler’s kids! I’ll — I’ll make you go to tea at Princess Marachecella’s!”
“Oh, darn!” sighed Terry.
Then he recited, with the greatest speed and lack of expression, “Slovaria is a Balkan kingdom bounded on the north by Roumania, on the east by Zenda, on the south by Bulgaria, and on the west by Graustark. The capital is Tzetokoskavar. The principal rivers are the Rjekl and the Zgosca. The exports are cattle, hides, cheese and wool. The reigning monarch is Udo VII, who is descended from the renowned warrior King Hieronymus, and who is united in wedlock to the famous beauty Sidonie, a cousin of the former German Kaiser . . . Say, Mamma, what’s a Balkan kingdom? Is it in China?”
“Now listen to him, will you? I bet there ain’t a kid in Hollywood that’s got as swell a tutor or ‘s educated as good as he is!” purred Mrs. Tait. “I was always like that, too — just crazy about books and education.”
“Wait! Wait! I’ve got it!” shrieked Miss Lilac Lavery Lugg. “Here’s our scenario, and the publicity about this new kid king will help to put it over. Listen! Terry is the boy king of a —”
“I don’t want to be a king! I want to be an Apache!” wailed Terry, but no one heeded.
Everyone (excepting Terry, Terry’s mongrel pup and the butler) listened with hot eyes, as they were caught up by the whirlwind of Lilac’s genius:
“Terry is the boy king of a Near–Eastern country. Scenes in the palace — poor kid, awful’ lonely, sitting on throne, end of a big throne room — the Diplomatic Hotel might let us shoot their lobby again, like we did in ‘Long Live the Czar!’ Big gang of guards in these fur hats. Saluting. Show how he’s a grand kid — scene of him being nice to a poor little orphan in the yard at the castle and his kitty had busted her leg, but he’s so sick and tired of all this royal grandeur that he turns democratic on his guard and the court and all them, and he’s meaner than a toothache to his guards and the prime minister — the prime minister’ll be a grand comedy character, with long whiskers. And the sub-plot is an American reporter, a tall, handsome bird that’s doing the Balkans, and say, he’s the spitting image of the king’s uncle — the uncle is the heavy; he’s trying to grab the throne off the poor li’l’ tike. Well, one day the king — the kid — is out in the castle grounds taking his exercise, riding horseback. He’s followed by a coupla hundred cavalry troops, and he treats ’em something fierce, hits ’em and so on.
“Well, this American reporter, he’s there in the grounds, and the king sees him and thinks it’s his uncle, and he says to his troops, ‘Go on, beat it; there’s my uncle,’ he says; ‘he wants to grab the throne, but I’m not scared of him; I’ll meet him alone.’ And so he rides up to this fellow and draws his sword.”
“Would he have a sword, li’l’ kid like that?” hinted T. Benescoten.
“Of course he would, you fathead!” snapped Bessie. “Haven’t you seen any pictures of the Prince of Wales? Kings and all like that always wear uniforms and swords — except maybe when they’re playing golf. Or swimming.”
“Certainly!” Lilac looked icily at T. Benescoten.
Everybody, save his son Terry, usually looked icily at T. Benescoten.
“Ziz saying,” Lilac continued, “he draws his sword and rushes at what he thinks is his uncle, but the fellow speaks and he realizes it ain’t his uncle. Then they get to talking. I think there ought to be a flashback showing the reporter’s — the hero’s — happy life in Oklahoma as a boy; how he played baseball and all that. And then the reporter — he’s seen how mean the boy king is to his men, and he gives the poor li’l’ kid his first lesson in acting nice and democratic, like all American kids do, and the king is awful’ sorry he was so mean, and he thinks this reporter is the nicest bird he ever met, and they’re walking through the grounds and they meet the king’s sister — she’s the female lead — I can see Katinka Kettleson playing the rôle — and the reporter and the princess fall in love at first sight — of course later the reporter rescues the princess and the king from the uncle — big ball at the palace, with a ballet, and the uncle plans to kidnap the king, and the reporter, he’s learned all about the extensive secret passages, or maybe they might even be catacombs, under the palace, and he leads them away and there’s a slick fight in the woods, the reporter used to be a fencing champion and he engages the uncle in battle — swords, you know — while the poor little king and the unfortunate princess crouch timorously amid the leaves on the ground and the reporter croaks the uncle and — say, SAY, I got it, this’ll be something ab-so-tively new in these royal plot pictures, they make their getaway, after the fight, by airplane — probably they might cross the ocean to America, and the pilot drops dead, and the reporter has a secret wound that he has gallantly been concealing from the princess and he faints but the pilot has taught the king how to fly and he grabs the controls —”
“Can I fly, really?” gloated Terry.
“You can not!” snapped his mother. “That part’s doubled. Go on, Lilac!”
And Terry listened gloomily while Lilac led the boy king on to a climax in which he was kidnaped by New York gun men and finally rescued by the reporter and the prime minister — whiskered, comic, but heroic.
“It’s swell!” said Abraham Hamilton Granville.
“It’ll be all right, I guess,” said Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait.
“Oh, Lord!” said Wiggins the press agent.
And as for Terry Tait and the Tait mongrel, they said nothing at all, and said it vigorously.
While Castello Marino, the residence of the Benescoten Taits, was not so extensive as the mansion of Mr. Abraham Granville, it was a very tasty residence, with a campanile that was an exact copy of the celebrated Mangia tower at Siena, except that it was only one fifth as tall, and composed of yellow tiles instead of rusty old-fashioned brick.
In this select abode, the loving but unfortunate parents, trying so hard to give their little boy a chance to get on in the world, were having a good deal of trouble.
This morning Terry simply would not let his nice valet dress him. He said he did not like his nice valet. He said he wanted to be let alone.
“I think, Polacci,” Mrs. Tait remarked to the valet, “that Master Tait ought to wear his polo suit to Mr. Granville’s office.”
“Oh, no, please, Mother!” Terry begged. “It looks so foolish! No other boy wears polo costume.”
“Of course not! That’s why I got it for you!”
“I won’t wear it! Not outside the house. Everybody laughs at me. If I wear it, I won’t act.”
“Oh, dear me, why I should be cursed by a son that —”
“Now put on your polo rags and mind your mother,” said T. Benescoten Tait.
“Yes, my dear?”
“Shut up! . . . Now, Terry, I’ll let you wear your sailor suit. The English one. Imported. But I want you to realize that your disobedience just almost breaks your mother’s heart! Now hurry and let Polacci dress you. The limousine is waiting.”
“Oh, Mother, please, have I got to go in the limousine? It isn’t any fun to ride in a limousine. You can’t see anything. I want to go on the trolley. You can see all kinds of different people on the trolley.”
“Why, Terence McGee Tait! I never HEARD of such a thing! Who in the world has been talking to you about trolleys? They’re common! There’s just common vulgar folks, on trolleys! Besides! Give people a chance to look at you without paying for it? What an idea! Oh, dear, that’s what comes from mixing with these extra people on the lot, picking up these common ideas! If you don’t come with me in the limousine, I won’t give you one bit of caviar for dinner!”
“I hate caviar!”
“Oh, I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this!”
T. Benescoten spoke tentatively: “How about me and Terry going on the trolley and meeting you at Abe’s? I’d kind of like to ride on the street car myself, for a change.”
“And pick up one of those Hollywood cuties? Not a chance!”
They took the limousine.
In Mr. Granville’s office were gathered the higher nobility of the Jupiter–Triumph-Tait organization, to listen to the completed scenario of “His Majesty, Junior,” the film suggested three weeks ago by Lilac Lavery Lugg. But before Miss Lugg had a chance to read it, Wiggins, the press agent, prowling up and down in the ecstasy of an idea as he talked, announced that the evening newspapers said young Maximilian III of Slovaria, with his mother, Queen Sidonie, was about to visit London.
It was hinted in the papers that the astute Sidonie wanted to secure the sympathy and alliance of the British people by exhibiting the boy king.
“And here,” squealed Wiggins, “is the grandest piece of publicity that’s ever been pulled. Bessie, you and Tom and Terry go to London. I’ll stay out of it, so they won’t smell a mice. Clapham, our London agent, is a smart publicity grabber, anyway. You fix it, somehow, so Terry and this King Maximilian get acquainted. The two boy kings, see? They get photographed together, see? Besides, Terry’s public know him as a common newsboy, and they won’t hardly be loyal to him as a king unless they see him really mixing up with the élite, see?”
Mrs. Tait looked doubtful. Poppy Peaks she knew, and Hollywood was her oyster, but neither she nor T. Benescoten nor Terry had ever tackled the dread unknown lands beyond the Atlantic. But she brightened and looked resolute as Wiggins cunningly added:
“And this will give you a chance, if you rig it right and the two kids hit it off together, to get chummy with Queen Sidonie, Bessie, and maybe you can get her to come to the Peaks as your guest, and then, believe me, you’ll make Garbo and Kate Hepburn look like deuces wild, very wild!”
“That’s not a BAD idea,” mused Mrs. Tait.
In the sacred recesses of the Benescoten Tait home, in the Etruscan breakfast room, where love birds and Himalayan canaries billed and cooed and caroled in red enameled cages, and the solid-marble dining table glowed prettily with nineteen dollars’ worth of orchids, the Tait family discussed the invasion of Europe. They had just returned from Mr. Granville’s office, where they had accepted Lilac’s scenario of “His Majesty, Junior.”
“I think,” said T. Benescoten, “that if we get held up in London very long, I’ll run over to Paris, if you don’t mind, Bessie.”
“What do you want to do in Paris?”
“Huh? Why, I just want to see the city. You know, get acquainted with French customs. Nothing so broadening as travel.”
“Then I guess you’re going to stay narrow. Fat chance, you going to Paris by yourself and drinking a lot of hootch and chasing around after a lot of wild women. In fact, come to think of it, Rabbit, I guess Terry and I can pull this off better if we leave you home.”
“Mother!” Terry was imploring. “Please! I want Father to go along!”
Bessie faced her two men with her hands on her hips, her jaw out, and when she stood thus, no one who knew her opposed her, unless he was looking for death.
T. Benescoten grumbled, Terry wailed, but Bessie glared them down. Then she stalked to the telephone and ordered the immediate attendance of a dressmaker, a women’s tailor, a shoemaker, a milliner, a hairdresser, a masseuse, an osteopath, a French tutor and a Higher Thought lecturer.
“I’m going to Europe and I’m going right,” she said.
When, two weeks later, she took the train, she had fourteen new evening frocks, eight new ensembles, thirty-seven new hats, eight new pairs of snake-skin shoes, a thumb ring of opals, a gold-mounted dressing bag, and a lovely new calm manner purchased from the Higher Thought lecturer.
All the way from Poppy Peaks to New York, Terry and his smiling, his tender mother were hailed by the millions to whom Terry had become the symbol of joyous yet wistful boyhood.
Wiggins had generously let the press of each city and town through which they would pass know just when the King of Boy Comedians would arrive, and at every stop Terry was dragged, wailing, to bow and smile his famous Little Lord Fauntleroy smile at the cheering gangs.
The horror of facing the staring eyes, the horror of trying to look superhuman for the benefit of these gloating worshipers, while he felt within like a lonely and scared little boy, so grew on Terry that it was only his mother’s raging, only the fury of Mr. Abraham Hamilton Granville and the coaxing of Wiggins, that would draw Terry out of his safe drawing room to the platform.
Despite a certain apprehension about the perils of the deep, despite a slight worry as to how he would talk to King Maximilian — who was, said the papers, to arrive in London one day before the Taits were due — Terry was delighted when Wiggins and Granville had left them, when the steamer had snarled its way out to sea, and he could hide in a corner of the S. S. Megalomaniac’s royal suite.
He slept for sixteen hours, then, and even the indomitable Bessie Tait slept, while the S. S. Megalomaniac thrust out to sea, and expectant Europe awaited them as it awaited the other royal family from Slovaria.
Aside from gently persuading Terry to be the star in the ship’s concert, at which he recited “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “Gunga Din,” and gave imitations of Napoleon and a sitting hen; aside from permitting him to be photographed by every passenger aboard, and lovingly insisting that he wear a new costume every afternoon — including the polo costume, the baseball suit, the Eton suit with top hat, and the Fauntleroy black velvet with lace collar — aside from these lighter diversions, Bessie gave Terry a rest on the crossing. He must be saved to overwhelm London, Britain, and Queen Sidonie.
Bessie was disappointed in landing at Southampton when she saw no crowd hysterical with desire to worship the King of Boy Comedians.
In fact, no one was awaiting them save Mr. Percival S. F. Clapham, press agent and secretary to the chairman of the Anglo–Jupiter Film Distributing Corporation, which acted as missionary in introducing the Terrytaits to Britain.
Mr. Clapham greeted Bessie and Terry in what he considered American: “Pleased to meet you! At your service, folks, as long as you’re here.”
“Where’s the crowd?” demanded Bessie.
“They, uh — Southampton is a bit indifferent to Americans, you might say.”
Bessie and Clapham looked at each other with no great affection. The international brotherhood was not working out; the hands across the sea were growing cold; and when the three of them were settled in a railway compartment, Bessie demanded crisply:
“Terry and I can’t waste a lot of time. I don’t want to hustle you, but have you fixed it up yet for Terry to meet this kid king and the quince?”
“Good heavens! The queen! Sidonie!”
“But — the QUINCE! Really! Oh, I see! The queen! Of course. I see. No, I’m sorry; not quite arranged yet.”
“Oh, yes, quite. Splendid reception. The young king the darling of London.”
“Well, all right; then Terry and I can go right up and call on ’em. I expect they’ve seen a lot of his pictures. If you haven’t made a date for us, I guess we’d better just send in our cards. Or had we better phone? Where they staying?”
“They’re at the Picardie Hotel, because of being in mourning. This is an unofficial visit. And really, my dear lady, it would be quite impossible for you even to try to call on His Young Majesty and Queen Sidonie! It simply isn’t done, d’you see? It isn’t DONE! You must make application to your ambassador, who will present the request to the British foreign office, who will communicate with the Slovarian foreign office, who will determine whether or not they care to submit the request to Queen Sidonie’s secretary, who may care to bring the matter to Her Majesty’s attention, at which time —”
“At which time,” remarked Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait, “hell will have frozen over a second time. Now listen! I’m not much up on meeting queens, but I guess I’m about as chummy with the royalty as you are! Now listen —”
Mr. Clapham’s native ruddiness paled as he heard the subversive, the almost sacrilegious plans of Bessie Tait.
“My dear madame, we are all of us eager to help you,” he implored, “but really, you know, a king is a king!”
She looked at Terry. “You bet,” she observed. “And a king’s mother is a queen. You bet!”
Which profound and mysterious statement puzzled Mr. Clapham until the train drew in at Waterloo.
There were five reporters and a group of thirty or forty admirers, very juvenile, to greet them. The most respectable Mr. Turner, chairman of the Anglo–Jupiter Corporation and boss of Mr. Clapham, met them with his car.
“Shall we go right to the Picardie, or kind of parade through London first?” demanded Bessie.
“Oh! The Picardie!”
“Why, sure! That’s where King Maximilian and his ma are staying, isn’t it? It’s the swellest hotel in town, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, quite!” Mr. Turner looked agitated, as he fretted: “But I say! A lady traveling alone, with a boy, couldn’t go to the Picardie! People might think it a bit fast! I’ve taken a suite for you at Garborough’s Hotel — most respectable family hotel.”
“When was it built?”
“Built? Built? When was it built? Good heavens, I don’t know, madame. I should suppose about 1840.”
“Well, that’s all I want to know. But go ahead.”
Mr. Turner’s car left the station to a slight rustle of cheering from Terry’s youthful admirers and to earnest questions from the reporters as to how many cocktails American boys of ten usually consume before dinner. But after that, there was no sign that London knew it was entertaining another king.
Fog packed in about them. The sooty house fronts disappeared in saffron-gray. The roar of Trafalgar Square seemed louder, more menacing, than Los Angeles or even New York. Bessie thrust out her hand with a gesture of timid affection which she rarely used toward that rare and golden goose, Terry.
The living room of their suite at Garborough’s Hotel was brown and dingy. To Bessie, accustomed to hotel rooms the size of a railroad terminal, the room was shockingly small. It was but little bigger than the entire cottage she had occupied four years before.
She sniffed. And quite rightly.
And the bedrooms had wardrobes instead of proper closets.
She sniffed again. She rang for the room waiter.
“Dry Martini,” said Bessie.
“Eek?” gasped the room waiter.
“Dry Martini! Cocktail! Licker!” snarled Bessie.
“I beg pardon, madame, but we do not serve cocktails.”
“You don’t —” In the hurt astonishment of it Bessie sat down, hard. “Say, what kind of a dump is this? What kind of a bunch do you get here?”
“His Grace, the Duke of Ightham, has been coming here for sixty years.”
“Ever since you were a boy of forty! All right, bring me a highball.”
“A high ball, madame?”
“A highball! A whisky and soda! A lightning and cloudburst!”
“Very well, madame.”
After the waiter’s stately exit, Bessie whimpered, “And they said I’d like these old ruins!”
For the moment she looked beaten. “Maybe it ain’t going to be as easy to be buddies with Maximilian and Sidonie as I thought. I wish I’d brought old Rabbit!” Her depression vanished; she sprang up like a war horse. “How I’d bawl him out! Come on, Bess! Here’s where we show this old run-down Europe what an honest-to-goodness American lady can do!”
They had arrived at Garborough’s at three of the afternoon. At five, in a black velvet costume which made her look like a vamp — as far up as her chin — Bessie was stalking into the lobby of the Hotel Picardie.
The reception clerk at Garborough’s had been a stringy young woman in black alpaca and a state of disapproval, but at the Picardie he was a young Spanish count in a morning coat.
“I want,” she said, “the best suite you have.”
“Certainly, madame; at once.”
The clerk leaped into action and brought out from a glass-enclosed holy of holies an assistant manager who was more dapperly mustached, more sleekly frock-coated, more soapily attentive than himself.
“May I inquire how large a suite Madame would desire? And — uh — is Madame’s husband with Madame?”
“No. I’m the mother of Terry Tait, the movie, I mean cinema, star. I’m here with him; just us two. I’d like a parlor and coupla of bedrooms and a few private dining rooms. I guess you need references here.” For a second Bessie again sounded a little hopeless. “Probably if you called up the American ambassador he would know about us.”
“Oh, no, madame; of course we are familiar with the pictures of Master Tait. May I show you some suites?”
The first suite that he showed was almost as large, it had almost as much gilt, paneling, omelet-marble table tops, telephone extensions, water taps and Persian rugs as a hotel in Spokane, Schenectady, or St. Petersburg, Florida.
“This is more like it. But look here, I heard somewhere that Queen Sidonie and her boy are staying here.”
“Yes, quite so, madame.”
“Well, look: I’d like to be on their floor.”
“Sorry, madame, but that is impossible. We have reserved the entire floor for Their Majesties and their suite.”
“But there must be some rooms empty on it.”
“Sorry, madame, but that is quite impossible. The police would be very nasty if we even attempted such a thing.”
Bessie unhappily recalled the days when she had first gone to Hollywood with Terry and tried to persuade a castiron-faced guard to let them through to the casting director. Not since then had anyone spoken to her so firmly. It was a dejected Bessie Tait from Mechanicville who besought, “Well, then, I’d like to be on the floor right above them or below them. I’ll make it worth your while, manager. Oh, I know I can’t bribe you, but I don’t like to bother anybody without I pay for their trouble, and it would be worth ten of your pounds, or whatever you callum, to have a nice suite just above Their Majesties.” The assistant manager hesitated. From her gold-link purse Bessie drew out the edge of a ten-pound note. At that beautiful sight the assistant manager sighed, and murmured respectfully, “I’ll see what can be done, madame.”
Ten minutes later Bessie had a voluptuous suite guaranteed to be just above that of Queen Sidonie.
Someone had informed Bessie Tait that English people dined as late as eight in the evening. It scarcely seemed possible. But, “I’ll try anything once,” said Bessie.
At eight, she sat in a corner of the Renaissance Salon of the Hotel Picardie, in a striking white tulle frock with gold sequins, and with her was Master Tait, in full evening clothes.
She noticed that the other guests stared at him considerably.
“They know who we are!” she rejoiced, as she picked up the menu. It was in French, but if the supercilious captain of waiters expected the American lady not to understand French, he was mistaken, for in eighteen lessons at Poppy Peaks she had learned not only the vocabulary of food but also the French for “I should like to take a horseback ride on a horse tomorrow,” “How much costs a hat of this fashion?” and “Where obtains one the tickets of the first class for Holland?”
She said rapidly to the captain, “Donnyma deh pottage German one order crevettes and one wheats, deh rosbifs, pom de terres, and some poissons — no, pois — and deh fois ice cream and hustle it will you, please?”
“Perfaitment!” said the French captain and, continuing in his delightful native tongue, he commanded a waiter, “Jetz mach’ schnell, du, Otto!”
At nine, Bessie commanded again the presence of the assistant manager who had found her suite.
“I want you,” she suggested, “to get me some good English servants. First I want a valet for my son. I want Terry should have a high-class English valet — and I don’t want none that talks bad English, neither.”
“And I want a maid that can fix my hair.”
“And then I want a refined lady secretary.”
“Yes, she’s gotta be refined. I never could stand dames that aren’t refined.”
“I know a young lady, madame, Miss Tingle, the daughter of a most worthy Low Church clergyman, and formerly secretary to Lady Frisbie.”
“Lady Frisbie? Oh, in the nobility?”
“Why — uh — practically. Her husband, Sir Edward Frisbie, was a linen draper, and mayor of Bournemouth. Oh, yes, you’ll find Miss Tingle most refined.”
“Grand! That’s what I’m always telling these roughnecks in Hollywood — like when they wanted Terry to play a comic part, bell boy in a harem —‘No, sir,’ I said, ‘Terry’s got a refined father and mother, and he’ll be refined himself or I’ll bust his head!’ Well, shoot in your valet and maid and Miss Tingle — have ’em here by noon.”
The assistant manager promised. After his going, Bessie received Mr. Turner and Mr. Clapham of the Anglo–Jupiter Corporation.
“We have decided —” said Mr. Clapham gently.
“Yes, we have quite decided,” said Mr. Turner with firmness.
“— that it would be indiscreet for you to seek an audience with King Maximilian at all.”
“Oh, you have!” murmured Bessie. “It’s nice to have things decided for you.”
“Yes, we hoped you would be pleased. We have, in fact, gone into the matter most thoroughly. I rang up a gentleman connected with the press, and he assured me that the proper way would be for you to apply to your ambassador, and that doubtless the matter could be arranged in a year or two — doubtless you would have to go to Slovaria.”
“Well, that’s splendid. Just a year or two! That’s fine! Mighty kind of you.”
“So pleased to do any little thing that I can. Now Mr. Turner and I have talked it over, and it seems to both of us that it would be better to have a little subtler publicity. So if you care to have him do so, your son will address the Lads’ Brigade of St. Crispin’s, Golder’s Green, next Thursday evening — the papers will give several paragraphs to this interesting occasion. And then — I do a bit in the literary way, you know — I have ventured to write an interview with you which I hope to have used by one of the papers. It goes as follows:
“‘Well, I swow! Say, dod gast my cats, this yere is by gosh all whillikens one big burg,’ was the first remark of Mrs. Tait, mother of the well-known juvenile cinema star, Terry Tait, upon arrival in London yesterday. ‘Yes-sir-ree-bob,’ she continued, ‘out thar in the broad bosom of the Golden West, out where the handclasp grows a little warmer, we get some mighty cute burgs, but nothing like this yere ant heap.’”
“Isn’t that nice?” sighed Bessie. “And that’s the American language you’ve written it in, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I’m often taken for an American when I wish.”
“I’m sure you must be.”
Left alone by Turner and Clapham, with the promise that within a few days they would arrange other feats of publicity at least equal to the chance to address the Lads’ Brigade of Golder’s Green, Bessie sat down and sighed. But the next morning she resolutely marched into Terry’s modest 24 x 42 bedroom, where he was reading Treasure Island, and she ordered, “Come on, son; we’re going out and buy the town. Toys.”
“I don’t want any toys. I hate toys!”
“You heard what I said! Think I’m going to have a lot of kings dropping into your room and seeing you without a lot of swell toys?”
“But Mother, I’d rather have books.”
“Say, if you keep on like this, you’ll turn out nothing but an author working for one-fifty a week. Books never did nobody no good. Come on!”
By suggestion of the concierge, they took a taxi for an enormous Toy Bazaar on Oxford Street. Bessie firmly bought for Terry an electric train, an electric Derby game, a portable chemical laboratory, a set of boxing gloves, and a choice article in the way of a model of the Colosseum in which electric lions devoured electric Early Christians.
“There! I bet none of these boy kings has got a better set of toys than that!” remarked Bessie.
As they emerged from the Toy Bazaar, Terry saw, next to it, an animal shop.
Ever since they had left Poppy Peaks, Terry had mourned for the disgraceful mongrel which the English quarantine regulations had compelled him to leave at home, and he cried now, “Oh, Mother, I want a dog!”
“If I get you one, will you play nicely with the electric toys?”
“I’ll try; honestly I will.”
“And will you address these Lad Brigands or whatever it is in this Golden Green or wherever it is? I’ll have this bird Clapham write your speech.”
“Yes. But a jolly dog!”
“I wish,” said Bessie, in her most refined way, as they entered the animal shop, “to look at a line of dogs. What have you got good today?”
“This, madame, is a very superior animal.” And the clerk brought out an object as thin as paper, as long as Saturday morning, as gloomy as a cameraman. “This is an Imperial Russian wolfhound, a genuine borzoi — you will recognize the typical borzoi touch, madame — it’s brother of a hound which we sold just yesterday to the Earl of Tweepers for his daughter, Lady Ann — no doubt you know her ladyship, madame.”
“H-how much?” faltered Bessie.
“To close out this line, madame, we should be willing to let you have this animal for a hundred guineas.”
The inner, the still Mechanicvillized Bessie Tait was calculating, “Great grief — that’s five hundred bucks for a pooch!” but the outer, the newly refined Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait was remarking evenly, “Rather a lot, but I might consider — Does it please you, Terry?”
She could keep up the strain of refinement no longer; and most briskly, much more happily, she remarked to the clerk, “This is my son, Terry Tait. You’ve probably seen him in the movies. They call him the King of Boy Comedians.”
“Oh, Mother, please!” protested Terry, but the clerk was trumpeting, “Oh, yes, madame. We are honored in being allowed to serve you.”
And with that the canine blotter would have been sold, but for one accident. Terry sighed, “Mother, I don’t like him.”
“But DARling, this is the kind of dog that all nobility get their pictures taken with. But if you don’t like him —”
While Bessie grew momently more impatient, Terry was offered, and declined, such delightful pets as a Pekingese that looked like a misanthropic bug and an Airedale like a rolled-up doormat. Then he stopped before a cage and, his hands clasped in ecstasy, exulted, “Oh, there’s the dog I want!”
The clerk looked shocked; Bessie, seeing his expression, looked shockeder.
Terry’s choice was a canine social error. He was, probably, a cross between a police dog and a collie, with a little Scotch terrier and a trace of cocker spaniel. He had bright eyes, a wide and foolish mouth, and paws so enormous that he resembled a pup on snowshoes. And he had none of the dignity and aloof tolerance of the pedigreed dogs whom Terry had rejected; he laughed at them and wagged at them and barked an ill-bred joyful bark.
“That,” objected the clerk, “is a mongrel, I’m afraid. We are exhibiting him only out of deference to the widow of a country customer. I really shouldn’t care to recommend him.”
“But he’s a sweet dog!” wailed Terry. “He’s the one I want!”
“Very well, then, my fine young gentleman, you get no dog at all, if you’re going to be so dog-gone COMMON!” raged Bessie, and she dragged the protesting Terry from the shop and hastened to the Hotel Picardie.
Bessie telephoned to those unseen powers that somewhere in the mysterious heart of every hotel regulate all human destinies, “Will you please send up a bell boy at once?”
“A bell boy? Oh, a page!”
“Well, whatever you want to call him.”
There appeared at her suite a small boy whom she immediately longed to put on the stage. He was red-headed, freckle-faced, and he carried his snub nose high and cockily. He wore a skin-tight blue uniform with a row of brass buttons incredibly close together, and on the corner of his head rode an impudent pill-box cap of soldierly scarlet.
“Yes, madame?” He was obviously trying not to grin, in pure good fellowship, and when Terry grinned, the page’s cockney mug was wreathed with smiling.
“What is your name?” demanded Bessie.
“Heavens, you can’t call a person Bundock! What are you called at home?”
“Well, Ginger, this is my son, Master Terry Tait, the movie — the cinema star.”
“Oh, madame, we were told below that Master Tait was ’ere, but I didn’t know I’d ‘ave the pleasure of seeing him! I’m familiar with Master Tait in the pictures, if I may say so, madame.”
“All right. Play.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said play. Play! You are to play with Master Terry.”
While Ginger looked dazed, she led the two boys into Terry’s bedroom, pointed an imperial forefinger at the new toys which she had brought home in the taxicab, and loftily left them.
“Gosh, I think it’s the limit that this playing business is wished onto you, too!” sighed Terry. “I guess she’ll want us to play with the electric train. Do you mind playing with an electric train?”
“I’ve never before ‘ad the opportunity, sir.”
“Oh, golly, don’t call me ‘sir.’”
“Very well, sir.”
“What did you play with at home?”
“Well, sir —”
“Terry! Not sir!”
“Well, Master Terry, sir, I ‘ad a very nice cricket bat that my uncle ‘Ennery made for me, and a wagon made out of a Bass’ Ale box, sir, but it didn’t go so very well, sir — permit me!”
Terry had begun to open the case containing the electric train. Ginger sprang to help him. As he lifted out an electric locomotive, a dozen railroad carriages which represented the Flying Scotsman in miniature, a station on whose platform a tiny station master waved a flag when the set was connected with the electric-light socket, a tunnel through a conveniently portable mountain, and an even more miraculously portable bridge across a mighty tin river three feet long, Ginger muttered, “I’ll be jiggered.”
“Do you like them?” marveled Terry.
“Oh! LIKE them, sir!”
“Well, you wouldn’t if they gave you one every birthday and Christmas, and you had to run ’em while a bunch of gin-hounds stood around and watched you and said, ‘isn’t he cute!’”
But Terry was impressed by the admiration of this obviously competent Ginger, this fortunate young man who was allowed to wear brass buttons and live in the joyous informality of kitchens and linen closets. Within fifteen minutes, unanimously elected president and general manager of the Hollywood & Pasadena R. R., Terry was excitedly giving orders to the vice president and traffic manager; trains were darting through tunnels and intelligently stopping at stations; and once there was a delightful accident in which the train ran off the curve, to the anguish of sixteen unfortunate passengers.
“Gee, I do like it when I’ve got somebody to play with!” marveled Terry. “Say, I wish you could see my dog back home. He’s a dandy dog. His name is Corn Beef and Cabbage.”
“Really, sir? What breed is ‘e?”
“Well, he’s kind of an Oklahoma wolfhound, my dad says.”
“Oh, yes. Okaloma wolf’ound. I’ve ‘eard of that breed, sir. I say! Let’s put one of the passengers on the track, and then the train runs into ’im and we could ‘ave a funeral.”
Miss Tingle, the refined lady secretary recommended by the hotel, had arrived at noon, and had been engaged.
“Can you go to work right now?” demanded Bessie. “I’m going to grab off a king!”
“Grab off — a king, madame?”
“Oh, gosh, I don’t know why it is! Back in Hollywood, I thought I could sling the King’s English all right, but in England, seems like every time I say anything they repeat what I say and register astonishment! I guess I’m kind of a lady Buffalo Bill. Well, let’s get to it. Now listen.”
She explained the scheme for the capture of publicity by making Terry and King Maximilian chums.
“And just between you and I, I wouldn’t kick and holler much if I got to be buddies with Queen Sidonie. Of course Terry’s publicity comes first. I just sacrifice everything to that boy. But same time I’ve seen pictures of Sidonie. Somehow I just feel (Do you believe in the Higher Thought? — you know there’s a lot of these instincts and hunches and all like that that you just can’t explain by material explanations)— and somehow I feel that she and I would be great pals, if we had the chance. Oh, dear!”
Bessie sighed the gentle sigh of a self-immolating mother.
“It’s just fierce the way I’ve had to submerge my own personality for my husband and son. But I guess unselfishness never goes unrewarded. So look. We’ll just write her a little letter and send it down by hand. Of course I want to enclose a card, so’s she’ll know whom I am. Which of these cards would do the trick better, do you think?”
One of the two cards was a highly restrained document: merely “Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait,” in engraved script. But the other card was baroque. It was impressive. It announced:
Mr. & Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait
Pop and Mom of
The King of Boy Comedians
Star of “Kids Is Kids,” “Wee Waifs o’ Dockland,”
“A Child of the Midnight,” etc.
Castello Marino, Poppy Peaks, Cal.
It was embossed in red, blue, silver, and canary-yellow, and while it was slightly smaller than a motor-license plate, it was much more striking.
“Now maybe this colored one ain’t as society as the other, but don’t you think Her Majesty would be more likely to notice it?” said Bessie anxiously.
Miss Tingle was terrified yet fascinated. “I’ve never,” she gasped, “had the privilege of communicating with a queen, but if I may say so, I fancy the plainer card would be more suitable, madame.”
“Oh, I suppose so. But the big card cost a lot of money. Well, now, will you take dictation on a letter? I suppose the old gal reads English?”
“Oh, I understand that Their Majesties write and speak six languages.”
“Well, I’d be satisfied with one. When I get back home I’m going to hire some Britisher to learn me to talk snooty. Well, here goes. Take this down:
“Her Majesty, the Queen of Slovaria.
“I guess you will be surprised at receiving this letter from a total stranger, but I am a neighbor of yours, having the suite right above yours here in the hotel. And probably you have heard of my son, Mr. Terry Tait, the well-known boy actor in the movies — no, make that cinema, Miss Tingle — and I hope that maybe your boy, King Maximilian, has seen him in some of his celebrated films, such as ‘Please Buy a Paper’ or ‘Give Me a Penny, Mister.’
“He is here with me in London, and every hour he says to me, ‘Ma, I’m just crazy to meet this boy king, Maximilian, he being my own age, which is ten, etc.’
“As your boy is a king, and as folks in many lands have been kind enough to call Terry the King of Boy Actors, I thought maybe it would be nice if the two could get together and compare notes, etc. I would be very pleased to give him and you lunch or tea or dinner or a cocktail or whatever would be convenient for you and though of course Terry has many dates, having to lecture to the Lads’ Brigade, etc., we would try to keep any date that you might set.
“But I am afraid we’ll have to make it in the next few days, as Terry’s Public in Paris is begging for him.
“So if you could just ring me up here in Suite Five-B any time that’s handy for you, we can arrange details, etc.
“Hoping you are in the best of health, I am Yours sincerely.
“As soon as you get that typed — I’ve had ’em bring up a machine and stick it in my bedroom — get a bell boy to hustle it right down to Siddy’s suite. We gotta get action. Shoot!”
And Bessie scampered happily out to the foyer to hire a maid, and to engage for Terry a lugubrious valet.
His name was Humberstone. He had, of course, never served anyone of lesser degree than a duke, and he would require two pounds extra a week to associate with Americans. He got it. He was worth it. Even a boy king from Slovaria would be impressed by Humberstone’s egg-shaped head.
Bessie proudly let this four-pounds-a-week worth of noble valet into the bedroom. On the floor, extremely linty, sat two small boys whom Humberstone eyed with malevolence. Ginger quaked. Terry looked irritated.
“Sonny dear, this is your new valet,” crooned Bessie, with a maternal sweetness alarming to her well-trained son.
Humberstone eyed the railwaymen with the eye of an ogre who liked little boys nicely fried, with onion sauce. Under that smug glare, the first excited gayety that Terry had shown these many weeks died out.
“Oh, I don’t need a valet, Mother!”
“And who, Master Smarty, do you think is going to look out for your clothes? You certainly don’t expect me to, I hope! Humberstone, you can sleep here in this dressing room. Now get busy and press Master Terry’s clothes.”
When Humberstone had gone out with an armful of clothes and when Bessie had left them, the two playmates sat on a couch, too dispirited to go on happily wrecking trains.
“Gee, that’s fierce, that man-eating valet,” confided Terry.
“Right you are. ‘E’s ‘orrible,” said his friend Ginger.
“He’s a big stiff!”
“‘E is that! ‘E’s an old buffins.”
“It’s fierce, Ginger. We won’t stand it!”
“It is that, Terry. We won’t!”
“We’ll run away. To Poppy Peaks!”
“Is that your ranch?”
Now when Terry comes to Heaven’s gate and has to explain to Saint Peter the extreme untruth of what he said about bears and the wild free life of the ranches, let us trust that the wise old saint will understand that Terry had long been overadmired for silly things like having cherubic lips and silky hair, and never been admired for the proper things, such as the ability to ride mustangs, lasso steers and shoot Indians, which, unquestionably, he would have demonstrated if only he had ever been nearer a ranch than Main Street, Los Angeles.
“Yes, sure, it’s our ranch. Gee, I’m going to get Mother to invite you there. We live in a big log cabin, and every night, gee, you can hear the grizzly bears howling!”
“My word! I say, did you ever shoot a grizzly bear?”
“Oh, not awful many, but couple of times.”
“Tell me about it. Were you with Will Rogers or Hoot Gibson?”
“Both of them. There was Bill and Hoot and Doug Fairbanks and — uh — and there was Will Beebe, the nachalist, and we all went up camping in the — uh — in the Little Bighorn Valley — that’s on our ranch, Poppy Peaks — and one night I was sleeping out in the sagebrush, all rolled up in my blankets, and I woke up and I heard something going snuffle-snuffle-snuffle, and I looked up and there was a great, big, tall, huge figger —”
“— just like a great, big, enormous man, only twict as big, and like he had an awful’ thick fur coat, and gee, I was scared, but I reached out my hand and I grabbed my dad’s rifle, and I aimed — I just took a long careful aim —”
“— and I let her go, bang! and the bear he fell — no, at first he didn’t fall right down dead, but he kind of staggered like he was making for me —”
“— but my shot’d woke up everybody, and Harold Lloyd, no, Richard Bart’lemess it was — he grabbed up his gun and he shot and the bear fell down right beside me, with its awful hot breath stirring my hair, and then it just flopped a couple of times and bing! it was dead!”
“But I bet you’ve had some adventures, Ginger. Don’t all English kids go to sea as cabin boys?”
“Well, me, I never ‘ad time to, not exactly. But me uncle, Uncle ‘Ennery Bundock, now there’s a man, Terry, that’s after your own ’eart. Adventures? Why, Uncle ‘Ennery ‘as ‘ad more adventures than the Prince of Wales! ‘E was a cabin boy, ‘e was! Why, one time ‘e was out in the South Seas and the ship ‘e was on was wrecked, it was, it ran into a w’ale, a monstrous big w’ale, and it busted the forward keelson, and that wessel, it began to sink immejitly, oh, something shocking, and me uncle swam ashore, four miles it was, through them seas simply infected with sharks, and ‘e come ashore, only me own age, twelve, ‘e was then, but many’s the time ‘e’s told me, six foot ‘e stood in ‘is stocking feet.
“And there on shore was a fee-rocious band of nekked savages but — well, ‘e ‘ad a burning glass in ‘is clothes, and ‘e ‘eld it up, and them poor ignorant savages, they didn’t know what it was, and then ‘e acted like ‘e didn’t even see ’em, and ‘e stuck that burning glass over a pile of driftwood, and the wood caught fire, and them savages all gave one ‘orrible shriek, and they all ran away, and so that’s ‘ow ‘e got to be their king.”
“Is he still their king?”
“‘Im? Uncle ‘Ennery? No fear! ‘E ‘ad other things to do, ‘e ‘ad, and when ‘e got tired of being king, ‘e up and made ‘isself a canoe out of a log and sailed away and — and ‘e stood for Parliament in the Sandwich Islands!”
“Tell me some more!” cried Terry.
But their ardor was interrupted by the return of the formidable Humberstone, and then Bessie whisked in with, “You can go now, Ginger. Terry! Wash your hands. Lunch.”
“Mother! I want Ginger to come play with me every day!”
“Well, perhaps; we’ll see. Now be snappy. This afternoon we might — we might have some important visitors. Most important!”
For two days Bessie awaited a reply to her note to Queen Sidonie, but from the royal fastnesses she had no murmur.
London mildly discovered that the King of Boy Comedians was in town. A special writer from a newspaper which had been Americanized came to interview Terry on the contrasting spiritual values of baseball vs. cricket, his favorite poem, and the cooking of Brussels sprouts.
He addressed the Lads’ Brigade, and that was nothing to write about. And he received six hundred and eighteen letters from people who were willing to let him pay for their mortgages and their surgical operations.
But for most of the two days he sneaked into corners and tried to look inconspicuous while, in the living room of the suite, Bessie stalked and glared, and in his bedroom Humberstone the valet glared and stalked. Ginger was summoned to play, but Bessie so raged at their noise that the two infants made a pirates’ den behind Terry’s bed, where Ginger chronicled his uncle ‘Ennery Bundock’s adventures as steward and bartender to a celebrated arctic expedition —”‘Bring me a whisky-soda, me man,’ says Sir John Peary, and Uncle ‘Ennery brings it, and standing there Sir John drinks a toast to the North Pole, and ‘e says to me uncle, ‘‘Ennery, we’d never ‘ve discovered it but for your splendid service’”— and ‘Ennery’s astonishing experiences during the Great War when, as a British spy, he reached the Imperial Palace in Berlin and talked with the Kaiser, who, such was Uncle ‘Ennery’s cunning, took him for a Turkish ally.
If anything more than Ginger’s freckled grin had been needed to make Terry adore him, it would have been the privilege of meeting the relative of so spirited a hero as Uncle ‘Ennery Bundock.
With Terry in Ginger’s care, Bessie was able to give herself up whole-heartedly to worrying about failure to receive an answer from Queen Sidonie, to worrying about what Rabbit might be doing by his lone wicked self in Hollywood, and to being manicured, massaged, dress-fitted, hat-fitted, and generally enjoying herself. On the afternoon of the second day, she fretted only a little when Terry, with Ginger, seemed to be missing. But when they had been missing for two hours, she realized with sudden horror that Terry was lost in the wilds.
It was some comfort to think that there would be frontpage stories even in the London papers, which have their first pages on the third page, but she did hope he wouldn’t be late for dinner. With all the devotion of a mother and the efficiency of a true American, she telephoned first to the newspapers and second to Scotland Yard.
Just as the happy reporters and cameramen arrived, she heard a slight squealing back in Terry’s room and dashed out to find that Terry had sheepishly sneaked in the back way, accompanied by a yet more sheepish Ginger and by a very sheep of sheeps — a large irregular-shaped dog of a predominating hue of brown, streaked and striped and spotted with black, white, yellow, and plain dirt. He had a broad back, built for boys to ride upon, a tail that wagged foolishly, and an eye that looked with fond ecstasy upon the two boys, but with alarm upon the ineffable Humberstone.
“Good heavens!” wailed Bessie. “That’s that horrible animal I told you you couldn’t have!”
“Oh, no, Mother! THAT”— with vast scorn —“was just a collie-police-dog, with terrier blood, but this is a pure-bred Margate Wader. The man SAID so! And his name is Josephus. The dog’s. And the man wanted to charge me ten shillings, but Ginger got him for me for eighteen-pence and that autographed picture of Fred Stone.”
“Oh,” groaned Bessie, “to think that I should have a son that’s common! It’s funny, but you’re just like your father. But I haven’t got time to talk about that now. Listen! The reporters are here! You were lost! You gotta tell ’em — a man tried to kidnap you, but Ginger — he’d happened to see you once in the hotel, and of course he knew who you were, and he was coming along, and he persuaded you not to go with this man — he looked like a Bolshevik. Get that? Snappy now!”
With maternal pride, she heard Terry admit to the reporters how reckless he had been in wandering through the foggy city. Ginger, called on for further details, loyally brought in his uncle ‘Ennery Bundock — it seemed that Uncle ‘Ennery Bundock had once served in the Czar’s Imperial Guard, and was an authority on Bolsheviks; it was he who had recognized the Soviet spy and rescued Terry.
The reporters raised their eyebrows and went away, most politely. Next morning, Bessie was up at seven, clamoring for all the newspapers. Terry’s awful escape was mentioned in only one of them, in the column of Mr. Swannen Haffer:
After, so it is asserted, frequently associating with gunmen and like underworld characters of San Francisco, Bangor, and other western cities of the United States, Terence Tate, the American boy cinema actor, discovered that Brighter London is delightfully beginning to realize the perils of his native land. Strolling from his hotel yesterday, Master Tate, whose mother has interestingly compared his art to that of Sir Henry Irving, Sir Johnston Forbes–Robertson, and Eleonora Duse, contrived so thoroughly to lose himself in the trackless wilds of Pall Mall that it was necessary to send out an expedition of hotel servants, equipped with wireless, ice axes, and tinned walrus meat, to discover and rescue him.
Master Tate, with that shrewd perception which has so endeared all Yankee filmaturgy to the naïve British heart, discovered a band of red Indians encamped in front of the Carlton Club, and a band of Bolshevik spies, disguised as bishops but concealing bombs under their aprons, lurking on the roof of the Atheneum. Master Tate’s horrendous discoveries have been conveyed to Scotland Yard, and it is to be hoped that thanks to the young hero — who is only six years old; in fact, so young that his mother permits him to have only three motor cars — London will presently be made almost as safe as his native Chicago.
Bessie spoke for half an hour without stopping. It did not soothe her particularly to find, in every newspaper, a two-column account of the children’s party given by the little Princess Elizabeth, with King Maximilian of Slovaria as honor guest, and the announcement that within a week Sidonie and Maximilian were to accompany the British Royal Family to Sandringham Hall, in Norfolk.
The house party, said the announcement, would be informal, and limited to intimate friends of the Family.
Somehow — she could not explain why — that seemed to Bessie Tait, of Poppy Peaks, to shut her out more than any account of a grand public entertainment.
A week! She was desperate.
And if the British press wasn’t to be roused by Terry’s ghastly kidnaping, what could a lady do? All day she galloped up and down her suite, raging at her maid, at Humberstone, even at Miss Tingle, the refined lady secretary. The cheerful sounds of Terry, Ginger, and Josephus the Margate Wader, from Terry’s room, the sound of yelps and giggles and tremendous chasings after a tennis ball, irritated her the more; made her forget the small voice within her that whispered, “Now be careful, Bess — don’t monkey with the buzz saw.”
“Oh, shut up!” she said to the alarmed mentor and, sending Miss Tingle to buy stationery which she didn’t need, the maid to buy hair nets which she never used, and Humberstone to go back to his room and continue doing nothing save look impressive, she dashed to the telephone and snarled, “I want to speak to Suite Four-B.”
“I’m sorry, madame, but I can’t connect you with that apartment. It’s taken by the Queen of Slovaria.”
“Good Lord, don’t you suppose I know that? The Queen and I are great friends.”
“Very sorry, madame, but I have my orders. I can connect you with the bureau of Count Elopatak, Her Majesty’s equerry.”
Bessie was puzzled as to why one should be connected telephonically with a bureau, an object which to her was firmly associated with Mr. Rabbit Tait’s collars and pink silk undergarments, and equally puzzled as to what an equerry did for a living. “Sounds like a horse — and at that, I guess a horse is about the only bird connected with Her Maj that I’m going to get to talk to,” she reflected tragically, but she said meekly, “Very well, I’ll speak to his countship.”
She then spoke in turn, so far as she could later make out, with an American who was breeches buyer for Eglantine, Katz and Kominsky, of Cleveland, Ohio, and who seemed to have no connection whatever with the Royal House of Slovaria; with an Englishwoman who appeared to be the stenographer to the secretary of the equerry; to the secretary of the equerry; to an indignant Englishman who asserted that he was no Slovarian equerry but, on the contrary, a coffee planter from British Guiana; to Count Elopatak, and at last to a man with a swart and bearded voice who admitted to being the secretary of Queen Sidonie.
But he didn’t seem to care for telephoning. He kept making sounds as though he were about to hang up, and Bessie held him only by a string of such ejaculations as, “Now you must get this clear!” and “This is very important!”
Hadn’t Her Majesty, Bessie demanded, received the letter from Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait, of California, mother of the celebrated —
Yes, the secretary seemed to remember some such letter but of course letters from strangers were never considered.
Well, then, she was willing to take the matter up over the phone.
Take up WHAT matter? There were no matters, thank heaven, which had to be taken up!
But had they asked His Young Majesty whether he might not like to meet the celebrated boy —
His Majesty cared to meet no one and really, if Madame would be so kind, there were innumerable affairs of the most pressing necessity and — click!
This time Bessie expressed her opinion in a subdued manner. “But I’m not licked yet. I’ve got an Idea!”
When Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait had an Idea, Hollywood sat up and looked nervous, but the gray welter of city beyond the windows of the Hotel Picardie looked strangely indifferent.
“Of course, none of her hired men — equerries or whatever fancy names they want to call themselves — would understand it, but I’ll bet Sidonie herself would be tickled pink to get some high-class publicity! It’s just a matter of getting to her and explaining it,” considered Bessie. “And we’d have such a nice time talking about our boys. Well, then, on the job — get past all these darn watchdogs.”
She marched into Terry’s bedroom. She chased Ginger out of the room, shut Josephus the Margate Wader in Humberstone’s room, and remarked to Terry with a maternal sweetness which caused him to look alarmed and suspicious, “Come, my little mannie, put on your Fauntleroy suit; we’re going to see Queen Sidonie!”
Now deep and dark and terrible as was Terry’s hatred for the polo costume, it was as love and loyalty compared with his detestation of the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, with its velvet jacket, velvet breeches, buckled slippers and lace collar. He protested. He wailed, while from beyond the door Josephus wailed with him — and furiously started to chew Humberstone’s respectable slippers.
With a considerable drop in tenderness, Bessie snarled, “Now, we’ll have no more out of you! Good Lord! I work myself to the bone trying to give you a chance in life! I work and slave to have you meet the real bon ton, like kings and queens, and not a lot of these Hollywood bums, and then you won’t act nice like I tell you to! Terry Tait, I haven’t punished you for some time, but unless you put on the nice Fauntleroy suit, and act nice and gentlemanly, why, I’ll just nachly snatch you bald-headed, jhear me?” In the case of Mr. Rabbit Benescoten Tait, Terry had seen his mother’s rare ability to snatch people bald-headed and, sobbing slightly, he took off the honest boy-town tweed suit he was wearing and began to force himself into the abomination of lace and black velvet.
Out of the door, down the corridor, about to meet a queen — about to meet the first woman who might prove to be her own equal — marched Mrs. T. Benescoten Tait.
Bessie had, in a week of London, learned that really cultured and cosmopolitan people called candy “sweets,” called trolley cars “trams,” called hotel clerks “reception clerks,” called six bits “three bob,” and, most especially, called an elevator a “lift.” Thus it was no common and uneducated elevator but an exotic lift that they took, and it was to a lift attendant that Bessie murmured charmingly, with just a touch of a Mechanicville French accent, “We’ll stop at the catriem étage — oh, how fonny! — I mean the fourt’ floor, please.”
“Very sorry, madame, but that floor is reserved. I am not permitted to stop there.”
“Say, don’t you suppose I know it’s reserved for the Slovarian royal party? It’s them I’m going to see!”
The lift attendant had stopped the lift (or elevator or ascenseur) just below the fourth floor. He was a bright lift boy of sixty-five. He said unhappily, “I’m sorry, madame, but I’m not permitted to let anyone off on the fourth floor unless they are recognized or are accompanied by someone from the royal entourage.”
“Rats! I tell you they’re expecting me! Look at this!”
THIS was a pound note. The lift attendant looked on it regretfully, but he sighed. “Very sorry, madame — much as my position is worth,” and shot the lift down to the ground floor.
“All right, then; you can take us back to the fifth floor,” said Bessie.
Terry turned toward their suite, but his mother snapped, “Where do you think you’re going?” and marched him toward the onyx-and-crystal front staircase from their floor down to the fourth, the royal floor.
As they elegantly emerged on the sacred corridor, they were confronted by one of the largest, tallest, most ruddy-faced bobbies in the entire British police force. He too was sorry, and he too explained that he could not let strangers approach Their Majesties.
Bessie wasted no words on so rude a fellow. She marched upstairs again. “If they think they can stop ME! There’s nothing I won’t do for the sake of my poor little son!” she moaned and, grabbing the poor little son, she marched him to the east end of their corridor.
Now at the east end Bessie had noted a flight of slate-tread stairs, presumably intended for servants and as a fire escape.
At the foot of the stairs stood the same bobby whom she had just met.
“Now then! ‘Ave I got to run you in?” he growled.
With one proud glance she marched back upstairs.
For half an hour she cried on her bed, raging at the tyrants who insulted a mother who was trying to give her son a chance to get along in the world. Then she rose, powdered, and stalked into Terry’s room, where he had already changed from the nice Fauntleroy suit into khaki shirt and shorts. He sat behind a couch, arguing with Josephus.
“Now look here, young man, I’m going out, and if you stir one foot out of this suite, you and me will have a little talk this evening, jhear me!”
She marched out, singularly like the Fifth Cavalry on the trail of the Apaches.
Terry telephoned for Ginger. In blessed quiet and lack of maternal care, the two small boys and the one large dog became happy again. Liberally interpreting the boundaries of the suite, which Terry was not to leave, as including the corridor, they laid out the electric railway from Edinburgh (opposite Room 597) to South Africa (overlooking the canyon of the back stairs).
And while they reveled, Bessie was at the American Embassy, successively failing to see the ambassador, the counselor, the first and second secretaries, and finally, with indignation at this neglect of her Rights as an American Citizen, hearing the third secretary murmur:
“I greatly sympathize with you, but I’m afraid it would be hard to get the chief to feel that you have been insulted and that the State Department ought to cable Slovaria. Suppose some complete stranger were to come to your studio in Hollywood while Terry was making the most important scenes of a new picture, and should want to go right in-would he be admitted?”
“But that’s entirely different! Terry isn’t a stranger!”
“But he might be to the Slovarians.”
“Well, I’ve heard a lot about how ignorant these Europeans are, but you can’t make me believe that even the Slovarians haven’t heard about Terry Tait, the King of Boy Comedians!”
The third secretary rose with a manner which was familiar to Bessie from her first job-hunting days in Los Angeles. He observed silkily, “Dreadfully sorry, but I’m afraid we can’t do a thing in this matter. But if we can help you about passports . . .”
As Bessie walked disconsolately away from the Embassy she groaned, “I guess the game’s up! We ain’t going to meet any queen. My poor little boy! They won’t raise him to four grand a week, after all. And I won’t be able to buy that steam yacht! . . . The dirty snobs, that care more for red tape than for a mother’s heart! Say, why wouldn’t that make a swell title for Terry’s next movie after ‘His Majesty, Junior’? ‘A Mother’s Heart’!”
Terry, Ginger, and Josephus, the managers of the Edinburgh, South Africa and Peking R. R., were repairing a wreck and gleefully counting the temporarily dead passengers beside the slaty African caverns of what would, to unenlightened adult eyes, have seemed the back stairs.
Up those crevasses crept a small boy, obviously English, a boy with black hair, a cheery nose of a cocky Irish tilt, and gray flannels. He was of Terry’s age.
“Hello!” he said.
“‘Ello yourself,” observed Ginger grandly.
“I’m going up to the top floor and I’m going to slide down all the banisters all the way down,” confided the stranger.
“You better be careful on the floor below this. Some king’s got it. There’s a lot of cops there. How’d you ever get by ’em?” demanded Terry.
“I waited till they weren’t looking, and slipped past ’em. Oh, I say, what a lovely train!”
He seemed a nice lad, and with much cordiality Terry urged, “Wouldn’t you like to play train with us?”
“Oh, I’d love it!” cried the stranger. “I say, this is ripping! I’ve run away from my family. They want me to go to parties and have my picture taken.”
“Isn’t it fierce!” sympathized Terry.
“If you must ‘ave your picture taken,” Ginger remarked oracularly, “you just tell your old lady to take you to Gumbridge’s, on Great St. Jever Street, Whitechapel; ‘e’ll do you ‘andsome — six bob a dozen.”
“Oh, thank you very much indeed. I’ll tell my mother. May I— would you mind if I started the train just once?”
The new boy was so enthusiastic about the signal system, he so fervently enjoyed the most sanguinary wrecks, that Ginger and Terry adopted him as a third musketeer, and Terry urged, “If you like it, come into my room. I’ve got some other things there.”
The new boy gazed in awe at the electrical Derby race and the electrical Colosseum with the lions charmingly devouring Early Christians.
“I’ve just never SEEN such things,” he sighed.
“What do you play with at home?” asked Terry.
“Why, we live in the country most of the year, and I ride and swim and play tennis and — and — that’s about all. You see, I have ever such a stern tutor, and he keeps me at work so much. But — oh, I have a bicycle, too!”
Ginger and Terry exchanged glances of pity for their unfortunate new friend, and Terry said comfortingly, “But still, it must be slick to ride horseback on these English roads — not get jounced all to pieces like I do when I ride on the ranch.”
“You ride on a ranch? I THOUGHT you were American!”
“Yes. I’m in the movies.”
The stranger startled them with his scream: “Now I know! I knew you looked familiar! You’re Terry Tait! I’ve seen you in the pictures. I loved ’em! Oh, I am so glad to meet you!”
The boys shook hands, while Ginger beamed and Josephus wagged with appreciation, and Terry said generously, “But you Englishers don’t care for my stuff like they do at home. I guess I ain’t so much as —”
“But honestly, Terry — if I may call you that?”
“But I’m not English — at least only an eighth English. I’m Slovarian.”
“With that Slovarian bunch with King Maximilian downstairs?”
“Yes. I’m Maximilian.”
“Oh, go-WAN! You don’t look like a king! You look like a regular kid!”
“Blimey!” groaned Ginger, “I believe ‘e is the king, Terry! I seen ‘is pictures!”
“Gee,” wailed Terry, “and I thought kings always wore tights and carried swords!”
“I’m frightfully sorry, Terry. Honestly, I hate being a king! It’s just beastly! I have to learn six languages, and all about taxation and diplomacy and history and all those things — and I just want to play and be let alone! And they’re always trying to assassinate me!”
“Jiminy! Honest?” breathed Terry.
“Yes; I’ve been shot at three times this year, and really, I don’t like it a bit.”
“Say, gee, Your Majesty has got to excuse me if I got fresh with you.”
“Oh, please, won’t you call me ‘Max’?”
“Thunder! You can’t call a king ‘Max.’ You call him ‘Your Majesty,’ or ‘Sire.’”
“No, you don’t! Not in private life.”
“Well, gosh, I ought to know! I’ve read A Gentleman of France and a lot like that.”
“Well, I ought to know. I’m a king!”
“But you haven’t been a king long!”
“That’s so. But anyway — oh, please call me ‘Max.’ Honestly, Terry, I’m so frightfully pleased to have met you. I’ve always been eager to know you ever since I saw you as the cabin boy in ‘The Burning Deck.’ I say! That was simply ripping where you had that idea about dropping one end of the hose in the ocean and putting out the fire whence all but you had fled. Jove, you must have led the most perilous life!”
“Oh. That! That scene with the hose was taken in the studio. The fire wasn’t nothing but some oily waste in pails. No. I never did anything dangerous. Dog-gone it! My mother won’t let me!”
“Oh, Terry! Look! When we grow up, and I get to be a REAL king, and my mother and Sebenéco (he’s the prime minister) and Professor Michelowsky (he’s my tutor)— when I’m of age and they can’t govern me any longer, will you be my Commander in Chief?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind, Max.” In a sudden consideration of his own troubles, it is to be feared that Terry forgot he was addressing a king. “Anyway, I’d certainly like to get out of the movies. You talk about your troubles — say, you don’t know how turble it is to be a movie star. Awful!
“I have to give interviews, and every time I go out of the house somebody is there horning in, trying to photograph me, and I have to wear trick clothes — oh, horrible clothes! — and old ladies come and stroke my hair, and I have to listen while they tell me what a dandy actor I am — and honest, Max, I’m fierce, and now I’ve got to meet the king of — Oh, golly, I forgot! You ARE the king!”
“Yes, hang it!”
“It is, by Jove!” mourned Maximilian.
“I wish we could run away and find some nice farmhouse and just be kids there, and feed the pigs!”
“Rather! Wouldn’t I like to!”
So engrossed was Terry in Maximilian that he had not realized that Ginger was standing stiffly at attention.
“Oh, jiminy, I forgot to introduce Mr. Ginger Bundock, Max — Your Majesty.”
Then Ginger was kneeling, kissing Maximilian’s hand.
“Oh, I say, please don’t do that!” begged Maximilian.
“An Englishman, sir, knows wot’s befitting to a Royal Majesty!” protested Ginger.
“Oh, chuck it, will you!”
“Right you are, sir!”
And the three small boys, actor and king and page, started to play with the delightful assassinations of the Early Christians in the model of the Colosseum and, aside from a profuse buttering of the conversation with “sirs,” Ginger was not uncomfortably obsequious to these great men. Indeed, apropos of Terry’s further complaint that it was awful to have to retake a scene twenty times, Ginger complained darkly, “If I may say so, sir, an ‘otel page ‘asn’t too cheery a time, you know. There’s old gentlemen that get very drunk, sir, and expects you to bounce out and buy ’em clean shirts after all the shops is closed, and there’s old ladies that gets you into their rooms and asks you, ‘Are you saved?’ and —”
Maximilian interrupted, “Then we ought all three to run away and —”
“And be pirates!”
“Splendid!” said Maximilian.
“Uncle ‘Ennery Bundock used to be a pirate!” yearned Ginger.
From the next room flared a voice, “Good heavens, Marie, I TOLD you to send that dress down to be pressed.”
Maximilian quaked, “Oh, it’s my mother! She’s looking for me.”
“No,” said Terry, looking pale. “It’s mine.”
“Erp!” said Josephus.
Bessie entered the room swiftly, glanced at Maximilian and cried, “Good heavens, can’t I leave you for one moment without your picking up a lot of ragtag and bobtail? Who’s this brat? Send him home. We’re going to pack and go to Paris.”
“Mother! This is King Maximilian of Slovaria!”
Bessie’s eyes darted like humming birds. From her fluttered expression it might be judged that she was recalling the rotogravure pictures of the boy king. She gasped at Maximilian, “Oh, I’m so sorry I spoke mean to you! Honestly, are you the king?”
“I’m afraid so!”
“I guess I ought to call you ‘Your Majesty,’ but I met you so sort of sudden and — uh — Did your mother know you were coming up here, King?”
“I’m afraid not. I rather ran away.”
“Oh, my gracious, then she’ll be worried to death. I must take you right down to her. But we’d be real pleased to have you come up here and play whenever you get the time. Come on, Terry; we’ll go down with His Majesty. And you, Ginger — you beat it!”
Hesitatingly, glancing at each other like conspirators but ruled by Bessie’s clanging voice, the two royalties sheepishly followed her, not to the surreptitious back stairs but to the haughty flight in front. At her former enemy, the bobby, on guard on the floor below, Bessie snarled, “I’m with His Majesty,” and stalked past him.
“I guess I better take you right to your mother, King, so’s she’ll know you’re all safe,” beamed Bessie.
“Oh, I’m — Honestly, I’m afraid she might not like it. Mother always has a massage and rests from tea time to dinner, and she doesn’t like to be disturbed. Thank you very much for coming with me, but I can take care of myself now.”
“Well, I thought, seeing I’m right here — it won’t be a bit of trouble; I have a few minutes to spare, and maybe we won’t go to Paris tomorrow, after all — I thought it might be nice if I could arrange for you to play with Terry again.”
“Oh, I would like that! Perhaps we’d better see Count Elopatak. He’s in charge of most of my arrangements. He’ll be here in Room 416.”
Bessie saw that along the corridor doors were opening, curious heads popping out. A tremendous functionary in plush breeches, yellow waistcoat and powdered wig was bearing down. Seizing Terry’s hand, she followed Maximilian into 416. It was a bedroom converted into an office. At a desk was a tall, black-mustached man with a monocle.
He spoke to Maximilian in a strange tongue; the king answered.
Coming out from behind the desk, the monocled one bowed and observed, “It is very kind of you, Madame Tait, to have brought back His Majesty. And now if I may haf the pleasure of escorting you upstairs — My name is Elopatak; I am a gentleman-inwaiting to Their Majesties.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, Count. I think I’ve talked to you on the phone.”
“I believe I do remember having that pleasure!” Very dryly.
Elopatak looked embarrassed as Bessie ardently shook his hand and crowed, “I want you to meet my boy, Terry. You’ve probably seen him in the cinema.”
“Oh! Oh, yes. Quite.”
“Terry and His Majesty got along just lovely, and I thought it was nice, both of them being famous like they are, to get together like this. You had a good time, didn’t you, King?”
“Oh, thank you very much.”
“And I thought it would be just lovely — both boys would prize it so much in after years — if we had a news photographer take a few nice pictures of ’em playing together. I guess both their Publics would be tickled to see ’em.”
Elopatak cried, all in one word, “Butmydearmadamethatwouldbequite-impossibleohquite!”
“But look here! They like each other.”
“My dear madame, I’m afraid you cannot possibly understand that a royal personage has to consider many things besides his own preferences, and while I am sure His Majesty found your son delightful, as he is, you see he must represent Slovaria, and to be paraded in the cinema would not be dignified . . . .
“Maximilian! I hope you have not forgotten that you are to be taken to a Workmen’s Club this afternoon by Prince Henry. I’m very sorry, but it’s your mother’s request, and I’m afraid you must dash in and dress for it at once!”
The king looked patiently melancholy. He shook hands with Bessie and with Terry; he murmured, “I do hope I shall see you again,” and marched slowly out.
Bessie was clamoring, “But look here! Queen Sidonie would understand how I mean. After all, there’s only one heart that can understand and do for a small boy, and that’s his mother, so if I could see her and explain —”
“Her Majesty is resting, and she has every moment filled until Their Majesties go to Sandringham next Saturday. So if I may escort you upstairs —”
This time Elopatak did not offer his arm to Bessie; he took hers, firmly. Bessie saw that there was danger of a scene which might get into the papers, might ruin her. Stiffly she said, “Thanks; I can find my own way. GOOD day!”
As she clumped upstairs she was touchingly ignorant of what Maximilian and Terry had whispered to each other while she had been talking to Elopatak.
“I hate it all! Now I’ll have to go and make b’lieve I’m a king for a lot of people in the East End. I wish I could run away with you!” groaned Maximilian.
“Look, Max! Let’s DO it! I hate being a star. News reels! Having to pose. Let’s go be cabin boys on a pirate ship.”
“Really? Really run away?”
“Sure; you bet. Look, Max, they watch you all day, but can’t you sneak away good and early in the morning? I’ll meet you tomorrow morning, by the back stairs, and we’ll make plans.”
“Yes! I will! But what do you mean by early?”
“Oh, before anybody’s up. Eight-thirty. Or is that too early for you? What time do they get you up at home — I mean at the palace?”
“What? Six? In the morning? Why, you poor kid!”
“Then I have to ride an hour before breakfast, and have a cold bath.”
“Why, you poor KID! Gee, that’s fierce! Gosh, I guess being kings is even worse ‘n being actors! But I bet you eat one darn’ big breakfast after that.”
“Oh, yes. Cocoa and sometimes three rolls!”
“Don’t you get any ham and eggs?”
“For BREAKFAST? Oh, one couldn’t eat eggs for breakfast!”
“Say, in Poppy Peaks I eat six flapjacks and about six steen millions of gallons of maplsirup!”
“But,” in rather a worried way, “I’m afraid they’ll make us get up very early on a pirate ship.”
“Naw! Didn’t I see ’em making ‘Yo, Ho, Ho’? Pirates always drink rum all night, and they wear silk, and they don’t get up till noon anyway. Look! Quick! I’ll be there — back stairs — six tomorrow.”
Max was politely shaking hands with the Taits and making exit; but his hands were held behind him and he was showing six fingers.
Bessie was cross and hopeless-looking, all that evening. They were to have gone to the theater, but Bessie said shortly that they would stay home — she had some plans she had to think about.
Terry’s chief difficulty that evening was getting hold of Ginger. His mother had explained, adequately, that Ginger was a roughneck, if indeed not an alley cat, and it was TIME she DID something about Terry’s taste for low COMPANY and where he GOT it, she couldn’t SEE— and his father was JUST as bad.
By bribing the chambermaid to call Ginger, Terry was able to meet him for a second at the elevator.
“Look! Ginger! Be up here tomorrow, six in the morning. Max’ll be here. We’re going to run away; going to be pirates. Understand — SIX!”
“I’ll be there, Gaffer! I’m not on duty till eight — I live out — but I’ll sleep in a linen closet ’ere tonight, swelp me Bob!”
It was only because his mind was charged with the thought that he was going to run away now and lead the jaunty life of a pirate that Terry managed to awake at a quarter to six. He slipped into blue knickers and a blue jacket, creeping softly about the fog-dimmed room that he might not awaken the snorting Humberstone in the room beyond; he tiptoed down the corridor, followed by Josephus the hound, just as Ginger emerged from an elevator which he had run himself, and as Maximilian slipped up the darkness of the back stairs.
Terry whispered feverishly, “We ARE going to run away. Now swear it!”
“I swear!” muttered Maximilian and Ginger.
“Swert!” said Josephus.
“Till death do us part, by jiminy Christmas!”
“Till death do us part!”
“And,” croaked Terry, suddenly inspired, “we’re going to start right now.”
“Oh, I say, Terry, we couldn’t do that! Not — not right now, without making plans. Boys always make plans before they run away. Lookit Tom Sawyer and Huck,” protested Max.
“Am I the boss of this gang?”
Maximilian said humbly, admiringly, “Yes, Terry, but —”
“Am I, Ginger; am I, hey?”
“Didn’t you,” Terry demanded of Maximilian, “have some trouble getting up here this morning?”
“Yes. I did. I met a policeman patrolling the hall. He didn’t dare say anything, but I know he watched me. I’m afraid he’ll go wake old Elopatak.”
“Do you see? Just as I’ve told you,” crowed Terry. “Next time we may not be able to get together at all. We’ll start right now, this minute. Bimeby we’ll write nice letters to our mothers — and my, they’ll be proud as anything when we come back from pirating and give ’em parrots and ivory and Spanish doubloons and all like that.”
“I’ve got no mother nor no father but I’ll give me Spanish doubloons to me uncle ‘Ennery —‘e used to be a pirate ‘isself —‘e says it’s a rare life. I fancy we’ll find a good pirate ship at Bristol,” said Ginger, in a judicious way.
“Come! We’ll start! Ginger’ll take us down to the basement and show us how to sneak out,” commanded Terry.
“But I SAY,” protested Maximilian, “we have no money.”
“Haven’t we, though?” Terry jeered. “Lookit! Here’s fifty pounds Mother gave me. I was to give it to the Infants’ Charitable and Rehabilitation Institution today . . . It WOULD be good publicity, at that. Pictures of me giving each kid a pound. Still, I guess pirates don’t go out for publicity much. Not anyway when they’re running away from their mothers. Come on, WILL you?”
And the resolute Terry was followed down the hall, into the elevator, through monastic cellars and corridors and fog-choked areaways, by the uneasy Maximilian and the triumphant Ginger. But as they came out on Berkeley Square, in a wet dawn smelling of coal smoke, broken only by the sound of a one-lunged taxicab, as Maximilian realized that he had escaped from the ardors of kinghood without being captured, while at the same time Ginger realized that he had given up an excellent job and was committing a felony, to wit, stealing and abstracting a valuable piece of property, to wit, one blue uniform, the property of the Hotel Picardie Co., Inc., London W. I, their attitudes changed. Ginger became uneasy, looking back, trying to whistle, while Max strode on, rising into song, breathing this damp exciting air, peering into this mysterious fog, for the first time an adventurer in a land of boundless freedom, safe from the respectfully disapproving people who every moment watched him.
And as for Josephus, he rushed hither and yon with all the excitement of an honest alley dog who has been released from a satin suite.
Ginger stopped them to hiss, “We must disguise ourselves! Directly the alarm is given, any bobby will know us. I’m in me uniform, and anyone can see that you two are gentry.”
“Why, Max and I have on awful’ simple suits! Nobody would ever notice ’em,” insisted Terry.
For once, Ginger was pleasantly able to be superior. “Simple, me eye! You may know all about courts and the likes of that, but I know the bobbies.” The other two looked at him humbly, regretting their ignorance, and Ginger crowed: “I know a place where we can get some simply ‘orrid old clothes. Oh, beautiful! And the man ‘e knows me uncle ‘Ennery, and I think I can get ’im to exchange our clothes for old ones without charging us a bob. Come ON!”
Ginger led them into the mediterranean mysteries of Soho. Here, in streets that ran like wounded snakes, was a world of Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, with a sprinkling of Chinese and Syrians, dwelling in gloomy low-windowed flats over restaurants or over sinister-looking chemist shops with signs in strange peppery languages.
Josephus went hysterical over rubbish piles and pushcarts. Ginger stopped at an old-clothes bazaar on Greek Street, but at the door he looked terrified.
“Crickey! The lad will remember me uniform! ‘E mustn’t see me. You two must get some clothes for me, too; I’ll meet you down at the next alley, and change in the court be’ind.”
Ginger vanished, running. Terry and Maximilian glanced at each other nervously; nervously they called the valiant Josephus and stroked him. They could not confess that they were such weaklings, but neither had ever been allowed to go into a shop by himself, unwatched.
“Oh, hang it, I’m not afraid!” snarled Terry. Max looked grimly courageous.
The proprietor, a gentleman from the sunny lands of Syria, was eying them from the window. He rubbed his hands when they came in, and simpered.
“I want two old suits, quite old, for this boy and me,” said Max. “We’re — uh — going camping. And another suit for a boy about two inches taller than me.”
“Erggg,” said Josephus, in a tone of positive dislike.
While the proprietor fetched them, Maximilian muttered, “Do you suppose he has a decent dressing room here? Really, the place seems dirty!”
“No!” urged Terry. “We mustn’t change here and leave our things — Scotland Yard might trace us by our clothes if we left ’em.”
“Oh!” Maximilian seemed distinctly flattered. “I’ve read about Scotland Yard — detective stories I borrow from an English gardener at the palace at home. Do you suppose we’ll have a real inspector hunting for us? CLUES? How ripping! Do you REALLY think so?”
“Oh, rather. At least I should think they’d search for a king, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes; I suppose they would. You see, I’ve been a king so short a time that I don’t quite know. But think of a Scotland Yard inspector hunting for you — microscope and bloodstains and everything. I say, I do like this! It’s so much more practical than Latin.”
The old-clothes man was coming with three suits which were as beautifully ‘orrid as Ginger had promised. All three of them were gray along the seams, they were greasy, and the buttons hung wearily on worn threads. The three were worth, as masquerade costumes, six shillings altogether, but anyone with fancies about sanitation would have demanded five pounds to touch them.
“Just the thing for an outing, young gentlemen!” exulted the dealer. “Three quid for the lot — and your own clothes, of course. Swelp me, I’m giving ’em away.”
The greenhorn Terry was roused to irritation. Three quid — he had learned from the scholarly Ginger that a quid was a pound. He snorted, “Don’t be silly! I’ll give you a pound and a half — what’d you call it, thirty shillings? — and we’ll keep our own clothes.”
As he spoke, he had brought out his roll of notes, the fifty pounds that were to see them to Bristol and the gay free life of piracy. The dealer’s eyes popped, and he said crooningly:
“You’re an American, aren’t you, matey? And a fine little fellow, you and your little friend.” Then, savagely, grasping Terry’s shoulders, his yellow teeth showing evilly, “And where did you steal your fine clothes? I’ll take FOUR quid, and keep quiet — else I’ll call in the police and we’ll find out what a couple of American stowaways, blinkin’ young tramps that’ve stole their clothes, are doing in my shop at seven in the morning!”
Josephus had, on sight, fallen out of love with the old-clothes dealer; he had growled when the man seized Terry; now, with enthusiasm, he grabbed the man’s trousers leg and began to tear. The man leaped back, barricaded himself behind a rack of old coats. Terry snatched up the bundles of clothes, dropped a pound note on the counter, shooed Max and Josephus outside.
“He’ll have us arrested!” quaked Max.
“Huh! He’ll never call the police, now he’s got his quid. The less he sees of the police, the better he’ll like it. I ain’t afraid!” said Terry boldly — while inside he was fully as calm as a cat chased up a tree by a pack of dogs.
They reached the alley mouth and the waiting Ginger, and Ginger drove them through the alley, a courtyard, another alley, and a blind area way behind a shop. They undressed madly, while Terry told of their misadventure.
“I’ll ‘ave my uncle ‘Ennery scrag ’im!” raged Ginger, “‘E eats men alive, Uncle ‘Ennery does.”
Dressed, they were as scandalously soiled a trio as was to be found in greater London. Ginger insisted on tearing the caps and stockings of his two heroes; on rubbing dirt over their faces.
He himself was capless. But now, free of his skin-tight uniform, he chucked his fears away with it, and cried, “Righto, me brave lads! ’Tis off to the boundin’ blue — as Uncle ‘Ennery says. What about a bit of breakfast?”
To avoid the old-clothes man, after hiding their proper clothes in a garbage can, he led them through further alleys and courts to a restaurant which he guaranteed to be the best twopenny dive in London. Relieved of worried relatives who insisted on nice porridge with nice cream, Terry and Max joyfully smeared themselves with a breakfast of fried fish, apple tart, pink cakes, and jam.
Josephus had a voluptuous bone, and as for Ginger, he breakfasted on tea and fish. He was a pal, he said, of the assistant pastry cook at the Hotel Picardie, and he could have all the cakes he wanted, any time.
“You can eat all the cakes you want? Any time? And nobody stops you?” gasped H.R.M. Maximilian III.
“All you want?” marveled Terry.
“Ra-ther!” said Ginger superciliously.
Mr. Ginger Bundock knew that Max was a real king, that Terry was a famous actor, but he couldn’t believe it. They looked like two dirty small boys, and while they seemed to have read books, which had never been a habit in the Bundock family, they were so ignorant of his London that he couldn’t help feeling superior. And over the fish and pink cakes he was rather sniffy with them about reaching Bristol and the haunts of pirate ships.
“It’s west of London. Right away west,” he said authoritatively.
“How far?” asked Terry.
“How far? Oh, a long way. Seventy-five miles. Or per’aps three ‘undred.”
“Pooh! That’s not far!” Terry was trying to regain the scornfulness of leadership. “My dad and I drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco in one day, and that’s five hundred miles!”
“Oh, I dare say! You Americans! An Englishman wouldn’t care to go barging about like that, you know!”
“I think,” hinted Max, “we ought to be taking a train at once, before they find we’re missing.”
“A train?” grumbled Ginger. “Oh, I say now, don’t be balmy, Max — I mean, Your Majesty.”
“Oh, I like being called Max. Please call me Max, Ginger. We’re all fellow pirates now, you know.”
“Aw, Max sounds Dutch,” reflected Terry. “Let’s call him ‘Mix.’”
“Mix?” queried Maximilian.
“You bet! That’s the name of one of the swellest cow-punchers in the movie game, ain’t it, Ginger?”
“Oh, that would be nice. ‘Mix.’ And then of course as a pirate I suppose I WOULD have to have a nom de guerre.”
“A wot?” demanded Ginger.
“He’s swallowed a dictionary!” protested Terry.
“Oh, I am sorry!” wailed Maximilian. He wasn’t sure what he had done to offend these superior representatives of the Anglo–Saxon race, but he was ready to apologize for anything or for nothing to keep their comradeship.
“‘T’sall right, Mixie,” said Terry generously; then abruptly, to Ginger, “Anyway, why shouldn’t we take a train?”
Ginger recognized his master’s voice. More humbly: “W’re d’you suppose they’d look for us first? On trains, of course! We must walk. BESIDES! Did you ever ‘ear of pirates taking trains?”
“Don’t you think we ought to carry swords, though?” worried Terry. “Pirates always carry swords.”
“Oh, I don’t believe modern ones do,” said Max. “I fancy they just carry revolvers and six-shooters and things like that, and I don’t believe we need buy them till we reach Bristol.”
“Well, maybe; but when we get to Bristol, we ought to buy sabers AND guns, so when we find a pirate ship and go aboard, they won’t think we’re a lot of tenderfeet,” insisted Terry.
“That’s right,” Ginger agreed. “Now as I say, we must walk, and I think we ought to go up to ‘Ampstead ‘Eath and practice being tramps — you know, meeting savage dogs, and sleeping under ‘edges, and telling the direction by the bark on the trees, and making fires by rubbing sticks together.”
“That’s so; we must learn that,” agreed Captain Terry, and the three boys, solemnly starting for the Spanish Main by way of Hampstead Heath, made a gallant beginning by finding a Number 24 bus.
The morning fog was gone when they reached the heath; the broad wastes of that tamed moorland were bright with sun and wind, in whose exhilaration the three boys forgot that they were king and star and expert hotel page, and chased one another, yowled and whistled like any other three small boys, while Josephus went earnestly mad, snapping at royal heels with loving painfulness.
Max remembered from his English history that the heath had once been the favorite scene of highway robbery, and the four of them played highwaymen. Josephus, unhappily harnessed by Terry’s belt, was the faithful coach horse, Terry was the driver, Ginger the haughty and noble passenger, and Max was permitted the grandest rôle of all, that of the robber.
Old Jim Dangerfield, the gallant coachman of the Yorkshire Flyer, was apprehensive. He clucked cheerily enough to his stout team of dappled mares, Jo and Sephus, and hummed a careless little tune (“My Toil and Strife Has Gotta Eye on We, Ba-by”), but when his passengers were not looking, brave Old Jim shuddered, hunched down within his many-caped cloak, now whitened with flying snowflakes.
On the seat beside him was a mysterious man in the old, ancient costume of the day. He had refused to give his name, but he was Lord Montmorency. Old Jim knew nothing of this, however.
And so they went on across the heath when all of a sudden a cloaked and masked man, riding a huge great big black horse, leaped out from behind a tree and leveling his pistol cried, “Your money or your life!”
Old Jim reached for his own pistol, but the villain shot him dead and he expired all over the ground, while the faithful Jo and Sephus licked his face — after craftily sneaking out of their harness.
But the brave Lord Montmorency was not to be quelled by anybody. Crying, “Come one, come all! I defy the blooming lot o’ ye!” he leaped from the coach, drawing his trusty sword and, knocking the pistol from the wicked highwayman’s hand, he engaged him in mortal combat.
It lasted a long time. In fact, it lasted till Old Jim Dangerfield protested, “Oh, that ain’t fair — you two going on swording for hours and hours when I’m dead! I’m going to come to life!”
In the argument with Lord Montmorency and the robber as to whether a pistoled coachman could prove to be merely playing possum, they forgot the game and, panting, lay on the grass.
“My uncle ‘Ennery was a ‘ighwayman once,” mused Ginger.
“Oh, didn’t they arrest him?” fretted Terry.
“No, ‘e wasn’t THAT kind of a ‘ighwayman. ‘E gave all ‘e robbed to the poor.”
“Where was this?” Terry sounded suspicious.
“Hey, quit scattering dust all over me, will you, Mixy?” was Ginger’s adequate answer. “Excuse me, Your Majesty, but honestly, it gets in me eyes.”
“When we go back — I mean, if we hadn’t gone off to be pirates, I’d ask my mother to invite your uncle Henry to the palace,” considered Max. “He must be a wonderful man. I don’t like my uncles so much. But I had some lovely ancestors. I’m descended from Genghis Khan!”
“Oh, I’ve seen ’im. ‘E’s that banker from New York. ‘E often stays at the Picardie,” condescended Ginger.
“I think that must be another Khan,” Max said doubtfully. “I think Genghis lived years and years ago. And my grandfather had an estate with two hundred thousand acres of land!”
“Huh! That’s nothing,” said Terry. “I know a movie actor in California that’s got a million acres.”
“Oh, he has not!” protested Max.
“He has, too. And I’m going to have a million million acres and grow bees, when I grow up.”
“Oh, you will not!” complained Max. “Besides, I’ll mobilize my army and conquer Roumania and Bulgaria and a lot of countries, and then I’ll have a million trillion billion acres! And another of my ancestors was Seljuk.”
“Never heard of him. Jever hear of Seljuk, Ginger?”
“Now! Never ‘eard of ’im!”
“And one of my ancestors,” continued Terry, “was sheriff of Cattaraugus County, New York!”
“Me uncle ‘Ennery was a sergeant major in Boolgaria,” Ginger confided.
“Oh, say, let’s play soldiers!” cried Terry. “Which of you has the most military training?”
“I almost joined the Boy Scouts once. There was a curate ast me to join ’em,” reflected Ginger. “But you, Mixy, a king must ‘ave bushels of military training.”
Max confessed, “Not really. Just fencing and riding as yet. Oh, I am a field marshal in the Slovarian Army, and I’m a colonel in the British Army, and in Italy I’m an admiral and a general, but I wouldn’t say I was a soldier.”
“I know all about militaries. I saw ’em making some of the film of ‘The Big Parade,’” boasted Terry; and Max, who had been faintly irritated at their ignorance of his renowned ancestor, Seljuk, rose again to admiration for his hero, the great Terry Tait, and murmured, “Oh, I saw that picture. And you saw them MAKING it? That must have been priceless! You be the captain on one side, and Ginger can be it on the other.”
And that was a very nice war. There were any number of hand-to-hand combats, as well as a devastating machine gun produced by Ginger’s winding his 3/6 watch and remarking, “Brrrrrrr!”
When the war ended they lay in the long grass again while Ginger modestly admitted that during the World War his uncle ‘Ennery had single-handed captured sixteen Germans.
Terry interrupted, to shout, “Oh, I’ve got a dandy game. Let’s play king!”
“Oh, that’s no fun!” protested Max.
“I don’t mean like any of these ole kings they got today — I mean like there used to be in the Olden Times. I’ll show you. You’ll like it, Mixy. I’ll be king, and Ginger, you’re Lord High Executioner.”
“Kings don’t have Lord High Executioners!” protested Max.
“They do too! Anyway, they always usta have! And Ginger is my Lord High Executioner, and you’re a rebel, Mixy; you’re leading a band of brigands.”
“Who’s the brigands?” said Max darkly.
“Josephus, of course, you poor boob. Now, look. See, here’s my throne.” Terry had found a beautiful rock on the heath.
H.R.M. Terry sat down, very royal, his left hand on his hip, his right waving an object which resembled a weed but which to him was a golden scepter.
“Now, you and Josephus go and hide off there over the hill,” he ordered Max, “and begin to sneak up on us. You’re a band of rebellious peasants. And you, Ginger, you’re my Commander in Chief.”
“But you said I was Lord Executioner, ‘ooever ‘e is!”
“You’re going to be, later, stupid! Now you beat it, Max! That’s it, hide!”
As Max and Josephus began a most realistic creep through the grass, glaring their hatred of all monarchial institutions, King Terry reasonably addressed his Commander in Chief, together with hordes of other courtiers who were standing behind the commander:
“What ho, my lieges! Trusty messengers, coming apace, do give me informations that hell is let loose in our mountaineous domains and a band of rebels is now approaching. Gwan out, then, my brave troops, and capture ’em. Seek to the nor-nor-east, I bid thee. . . . Now you go capture ’em, Ginger; but you put up a fierce battle, Max.”
During it, King Terry bounced with excitement, demanding, “Lookit, Ginger, you gotta keep running in-you’re a messenger — telling me how the battle is going; see, I’m standing up here at the window of a tower looking across my royal plains.”
The trusty commander brought in the rebels, and despite a plaintive “Ouch!” from Max, cast them roughly down before the king, who climbed from the tower (which resembled a hummock of grass), seated himself on his throne again, and addressed the traitor:
“Villain, art guilty?”
“What do I say? I’ve never played this game before,” begged Max.
“Neither have I, stupid! Haven’t you got any imagination? What WOULD a villain say if a king bawled him out like that?”
“I don’t know. Oh, I fancy he’d say, ‘No, I aren’t.’”
“You are too! Commander in Chief, ISN’T he guilty? Didn’t you catch him treasoning?”
“Then —(Now you’re Lord High Executioner.) Then off with his head!”
“Oh, I say!” protested Max. “Kings can’t have people’s heads cut off!”
“Of course they can! Don’t be silly. Maybe they can’t in Slovaria, but lots and lots of places they can.”
“Can they, honest?” admired Max. “I wish I could! By Jove, I’d have old Michelowsky’s head off in two twos! He’s my tutor — a horrid man!”
“Dry up! You hadn’t ought to interrupt a king, don’t you know that? Now you get your head cut off. And Josephus, too. Now you form a procession. See, I walk in front, and then you and Josephus, and Ginger in behind with the headsman’s sword — here, you can take my skepter for sword, Ginger.”
And they marched to the sweetly solemn tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” chanted by Terry, and the noble tragedy of the event was only a little marred by Ginger’s peeping at his 3/6 watch just before he dealt the awful blow, and exclaiming, “It’s one o’clock! We must find a bit of lunch. I’m not going to start pirating on an empty stomach!”
Bessie Tait, whenever she felt depressed and put upon, slept late in the morning, waking only to think of the broiling letters she would write to her enemies, and to doze off again. This morning, at ten, she was still sunk among the little pink-and-white lace pillows with which she had adorned the Hotel Picardie bed when she was roused by her maid and her secretary, crying, “Oh, madame, there’s a lady; I think it’s —”
As Bessie sat up, iron-jawed and furious in her mosquito-netting nightgown, the maid and secretary were thrust aside by a woman who dashed into the room raging, “What have you done with my son?”
She was a tall woman, not unlike Bessie herself, and if her voice was not so harsh, she was more voluble. “If you have kidnaped him, if you have let him go off with your brat —”
“Are you crazy? Get out of here! Miss Tingle, call a policeman!” wailed Bessie.
“Oh, madame, it’s Queen Sidonie of Slovaria!” whimpered the secretary.
“Queen! . . . Sidonie! . . . Oh, my Lord!” howled Bessie, capsizing among the pillows.
The queen flew to the bed, savagely seized her arm. “Where is he? Is he here?”
“Your son? The king?”
“Naturally, idiot! I know you lured him here yesterday —”
“Now, you can’t talk to me like that, queen or no queen! How do I know where the boys are? I don’t get up in the dawn! We’ll see.”
Bessie huddled into a dressing gown that was like the froth on sparkling Burgundy. Hoping, in her agitation at this somewhat unexpected way of meeting royalty, that Queen Sidonie was noticing her superior chic, she led Sidonie quickly through the living room, into Terry’s room.
And it was empty.
In the room beyond, Humberstone, the valet whom Bessie had hired just for this purpose of impressing Sidonie, slumbered in a fume of gin, and instead of an edifying morning coat he exhibited the top of a red flannel nightgown.
If Sidonie had landed on Bessie somewhat precipitately, it had been a lover’s greeting compared with the way in which Bessie hailed the valet, seizing an ear in each hand. The tempestuous Sidonie, for a generation the storm cloud of the Balkans, looked almost admiringly at Bessie’s vocabulary, and the flower of English Service quaked as he stated that, because of his neuralgia, he had overslept, and of Master Terry and of all kings whatsoever he knew nothing.
Bessie flew at Terry’s cupboard. “His blue suit is gone!” She flew at the telephone. “Ginger — that’s the no-‘count bell boy Terry plays with — he’s missing, they say downstairs. Oh, Queen! He’s missing! My little boy! And I been so hard on him! Oh, you may love your kid, the king, a lot, but you don’t love him one bit more than I do mine and —”
And two women, Her Majesty of Slovaria and Mrs. Rabbit Tait of Mechanicville, sobbed on each other’s shoulders.
It took Bessie exactly six minutes to dress — Sidonie drove out the trembling maid and herself helped Bessie. In six and a half minutes they were in the royal suite below — and Bessie, beside the queen, stalked past the agitated Count Elopatak with the air of a Persian cat. She scarcely noticed the perfumedness and powderiness of the queen’s own rooms, or the weeping maids.
Sidonie had the manager of the hotel, its three detectives, and all the policemen on duty, in her room instantly. The policemen now on guard had gone on duty at eight; they had seen nothing of the king. No servant in the hotel had seen anything of him since yesterday. Elopatak was, meantime, calling Scotland Yard. In a few minutes he had a report from one of the policemen who had been on duty in the corridor through the night that he had seen Maximilian playing ball in the corridor early, about six, he thought; he didn’t know whether Maximilian had returned to his room or had gone upstairs.
Just then Scotland Yard had a report from the London garbage-collecting department that two good suits of boys’ clothing and a Hotel Picardie uniform had been found in an alley off Greek Street, Soho.
Bessie and Queen Sidonie identified the clothes from the descriptions.
“They’ve run off together! It’s that cursed bell boy’s doing! Come on, Queen, let’s grab a taxi and start right out from that alley looking for ’em!”
“Yes!” cried Sidonie, to the stupefaction of her suite, and she fled toward the door, arm in arm with Bessie Tait. At the door she shouted back, “I’ll telephone every few minutes! Tell the Home Secretary to see that hundreds of policemen start right off to look for His Majesty.” She slammed the door; she jerked it open to add, “And for Terry. Hundreds, do you hear? Hundreds!”
While the alarm went out to every policeman in Greater London, while the newspaper offices went wild with the news that even Royalty could not keep from them, two anxious women, very chummy, sadly patting each other’s hands and calling each other “My dear,” rode through all the tangled streets and byways of Soho, stopping to ask every policeman for three small boys and an undistinguished dog who was, for twenty-four hours, to become the most famous dog in the world.
Because of their free and joyful play — and perhaps because of the agreeable menu of pork pie, vealnam pie, steak and kidney pudding, sausage and mashed, strawberry tart, vanilla ice, chocolate ice and little mince pies — the three musketeers were curiously sleepy after luncheon at a “cocoa room” near the Heath. They agreed that they ought to be starting for Bristol and the wild life, oh! immediately, but perhaps they would do better if they rested a bit — by attending a movie, which promised something nice in the way of a drama about a poisoner.
Terry had become used to tackling shopkeepers. With the loftiest confidence he engaged a greengrocer to keep Josephus during the movie, and bought the most expensive seats.
It was a pleasant and elevating picture, and moral, as the poisoner died in tremendous agony.
They came out of the theater at four, to find the streets littered with newspaper placards shrieking, “Disappearance of Boy King and Yank Cinema Star.”
“Jiminy!” whispered Terry. He hastily bought each of the evening papers and led his pirate band into the darkest, least conspicuous back corner of an A.B.C. tea room, to read the news.
The first paper announced that Terry, who, though but eight years old, had been a celebrated character in Chicago before he became a film star (which was a neat way of saying that he was a gunman, and still avoiding the libel law), was believed to have persuaded His Majesty, to whom he had been presented at a well-known West End hotel, to run away. There was no proof that Terry was connected with the notorious Lisbon gang of counterfeiters and kidnapers, but still, the police were looking into it.
The second paper spoke of the sinister disappearance of a red-headed hotel page named Alf Bundock, whose record the police were examining.
The third came out bluntly and proved that it was a crime of the Bolsheviki, and demanded that the government renounce its dastardly policy of permitting Bolshevik spies to roam around innocent England — kidnaping kings this way.
All the newspapers contained enormous biographies of King Maximilian and much sketchier accounts of Terry, who was, according to the three versions, eight, fourteen, and four years of age. And all three had pictures, lots of pictures — Maximilian in the uniform of a Czechoslovakian Horse Marine; Maximilian opening the Museum of Osteothermodynamics in Tzetokoskavar, capital of Slovaria; Terry in the rôle of the Poor Little Blind Boy (he recovered his sight, of course, when the Kind Rich Lady and the Big-hearted Surgeon got hold of him) in the film “Out of the Night”; Terry gardening at Poppy Peaks — Terry was known to be as fond of gardening as Presidential candidates are of haymaking; the Hotel Picardie — X marks the spot; and sixteen lovely portraits of Queen Sidonie.
But the Evening Era had the greatest triumph of all — an account of Josephus the Hound, with a photograph furnished by the courtesy of the Bond Street Dog and Animal Shop. Only it was the photograph of a greyhound. But Terry was slightly comforted by a full-page advertisement of his film “Kiddies Kourageous,” which the enterprising Halcyon Theater was going to revive.
The three boys crouched over the papers; even Josephus was crouching, under the table.
“All the ‘tecs in the United Kingdom will be looking for us. We must cut and run,” moaned Ginger. Then, with such concentration as he had never given to any intellectual problem, even the question of transmuting a shilling tip into two-and-six, he considered, “No, we must ‘ide. They’ll be watching even the roads. We’ll lay up for a couple of days, and then start out by midnight. Yuss. ‘Ide under ‘edges.”
“Splendid. Just like escaping from German prison camps!” gloated Terry. “But where shall we hide till — Oh! At your uncle Henry’s! You said he lived in London. And he’ll tell us all about pirates. You said he was a pirate once, didn’t —”
Ginger looked dark-browed; Ginger looked distressed. “Now. Can’t be done. Me uncle ‘Ennery and me isn’t on speaking terms.”
“Then you’ll just have to get on speaking terms! It’s the only place we’ve got.”
“Nonsense!” It was Max, very vigorous. “Of course an old pirate would be glad to greet young ones. You’ll take us there at once, Ginger.”
“I will not!”
“Do you hear me, Bundock?” Terry and Ginger stared equally at the change in the amiable Max’s voice. “I’m not requesting it; I’m giving a command. Do you happen to remember who I am?”
Ginger looked more scared than ever; he snapped back into his training as a hotel servant; he quivered, “Very well, sir, but I don’t advise it; not Uncle ‘Ennery I don’t.”
But he led them, sneaking through alleys, craftily taking roundabout bus lines, shivering every time they fancied a policeman was looking at them, across the river and into the district of Bermondsey. It was, to Max and Terry, a London altogether different from the city of Palladian clubs, snug Georgian houses about tranquil squares, haughty shops and immaculate streets that they had known. They were bewildered by a waste of houses, two stories high, made of stone or a grimy grayish-yellow brick, set side by side, without grass or trees — miles of brick dog kennels, broken only by bristling railroad tracks, warehouses like prisons, innumerable public houses that smelled of stale beer, and vast streets that were as disordered as they were noisy.
They left a bus on Abbey Road, and Ginger guided them up a side street full of little shops. It was six o’clock now, with smoke-streaked fog settling down again; the bars were open and into them streamed navvies with trousers tied above the ankles, old charwomen in shawls and aprons, scrawny children with beer cans. They were all contemptuously indifferent to a stray American small boy, these thirsty workers.
“Let’s hurry to your uncle’s,” Terry begged.
“You won’t like ’im,” said Ginger darkly.
“But you said he was so jolly! That time he sang ‘Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent Road’ to the Empress of Japan.”
“Oh. THAT time,” observed Ginger.
His steps slackened. For all their urging, for all Josephus’ cheerful leaping, Ginger loitered, till they came to a hand laundry and, pointing through a steamy window at a small squirrel-toothed narrow-shouldered man who was turning a wringer, Ginger muttered, “That’s ’im; that’s Uncle ‘Ennery.”
Terry and Max stared, feeling empty at the stomach. They said nothing. They didn’t need to. They simultaneously doubted whether Uncle ‘Ennery had ever captured sixteen Germans at once, or been more than just engaged to the princess of the South Seas isle.
“You WOULD barge in!” complained Ginger and, inching open the door of the laundry, he whimpered, “Uncle ‘Ennery!”
Uncle ‘Ennery lifted his head, rubbed the back of his neck as though it hurt, peered through the steam at Ginger, and remarked, “Ow, it’s you, you little beggar! Get out of this! Coming around in your ‘otel uniform, making mock of your betters, and they your own relations! And now you’re in the gutter again; you’re in ragsantatters again, and I’m glad of it, I am. Get out of this!”
“I ayn’t in the gutter! I’m just on me ‘oliday,” protested Ginger.
“Yes, a fine ‘oliday, as’ll end in the workus. Get out!”
“Give me three bob to show ’im,” Ginger whispered to Terry and, displaying the money, smiling a false sugar-sweet smile, he crooned, “Me and me friends are going tramping. We’ll give you this three bob if you’ll let us sleep ’ere tonight.”
“Let’s see the money!” demanded Uncle ‘Ennery. He turned the shillings over and over. Looking slightly disappointed that they seemed to be genuine, he grunted, “I ought to ‘orsewhip you, you young misbegotten, but I’ll let you stay. Only you goes out and gets your own supper.”
Without further welcome, he led the three boys and Josephus among the tubs in the back room of the laundry, up an outside stairway to a chaste establishment consisting of one room (Uncle ‘Ennery was a widower and childless) with one bed, unmade, a fireplace stove, a chair and a cupboard.
“You can sleep on the floor,” he snarled. “The dog —‘e goes out in the areaway.”
Terry looked indignant but — they were alone, fugitives, hunted by the entire British police force. . . . What was the penalty for kidnaping a king? Hanging, or life imprisonment? He sighed and stood drooping, a very lonely little boy.
Somewhat comforted at being taken in by his loving uncle, Ginger piped, “Cheer-o! We’ll go ‘ave a bite to eat. There’s a love-ly fried-fish shop on the corner.”
He walked ahead of his comrades in crime, rather defiantly. Behind him, Terry whispered to Max, “I don’t believe his uncle Henry ever was a deep-sea diver!”
“No; and I don’t believe he was a sergeant major in the Bulgarian Army — hardly more than a private,” Max said.
“Or an aviator!”
“Or an African explorer!”
Ginger pretended that it didn’t matter that he had lost now the Uncle ‘Ennery whose exploits had been the one glory by which he had been able to shine beside a king. Most boisterously he ushered them into the fried-fish shop with, “If you toffs ayn’t too good for it, ’ere’s the best bloaters in London.”
And through supper he contradicted them, laughed at their ignorance of such fundamental matters of culture as the standing of the Middlesex cricket team and the record of the eminent middleweight, Mr. Jem Blurry. So Max and Terry became refined. They were sickeningly polite. Their silence shouted that they regarded him as low.
When they had reluctantly returned to the mansion of Uncle ‘Ennery, their host was sitting on the one chair, his shoes out on the one bed, reading an evening paper. He glared at them, but the beer in which he had invested their three shillings had warmed his not over-philanthropic heart, and he condescended to Ginger, “‘Ere’s a funny go, and at your ‘otel. This king a-missing, along of a Yank actor. Goings-on!”
Now, for the many weary years of his life, Ginger had singularly failed to impress his uncle. Now he had his chance to startle this exalted relative.
“And did you ‘appen to notice who was the third boy went with ’em?” he mocked.
“A third one? Now. Ayn’t read all the article yet.”
Ginger — while Terry and Max wildly shook their heads at him — loftily pointed out a paragraph in the paper. Uncle ‘Ennery spelled out, “It is sus-pec-ted that wif them was a pyge nymed Alf Bundock who —” He leaped up, terrified. “Bundock? Is that you, you young murdering blighter?”
Ginger laughed like the villainess making exit after tying the heroine to the circular saw.
Uncle ‘Ennery looked at Max and Terry with a wild surmise, silent upon a peak in Little West Poultry Street, S. E. He pointed a terrified finger at Terry. “You, there! Speak, will yer?”
“What’s the trouble with you?” snapped Terry.
“My eye! It’s true!” wailed Uncle ‘Ennery. “You’re an American — or some sort of sanguinary foreigner! You three get out of ’ere! I’ll have nothing to do with it! Bringing down the police on me! Get out of ’ere, all of you, kings or no kings!”
Uncle ‘Ennery was in a panic, his eyes insane, his hands waving. He drove them down the stairs, through the courtyard — when Terry stopped to call Josephus he almost hit them — and through the laundry into the street. He could be heard slamming the door, bolting it.
“Uncle ‘Ennery never did like the police,” reflected Ginger. “Well, I’ll find you a nice bit of ‘ay in a ware-’ouse.”
In a pile of wet and soggy hay, among vile-smelling boxes and carboys, between a warehouse and tracks along which freight trains shrieked all night long, the three boys crept together and shivered and wept — and went fast asleep.
All day they had searched, Bessie Tait and Queen Sidonie, wherever two adventurous boys seemed likely to be. They had so far forgotten any social differences between them that not only did they exchange anecdotes about their boys’ incomparable naughtiness in the matter of sugar on porridge, but also, as they sat exhausted at tea in Sidonie’s boudoir, Bessie gave and Sidonie gratefully noted down a splendid recipe for baked Virginia ham with peaches.
“And if you come to America, you simply must come and stay with Mr. Tait and me, and don’t let any of these millionaire producers pinch you off!”
“I WILL come and stay with you, my friend! And Terry and my boy shall play together!” promised H.R.M. “And you will come to us in Slovaria?”
“Well, if I can find time, I’ll certainly try to, Sidonie,” consented Bessie Tait, and the two women — so alike, save that Bessie had the better dressmaker — leaned wearily back and smoked their cigarettes, and glared when the terrified Count Elopatak came in to announce that Prince Sebenéco, Prime Minister of Slovaria, had left for London by airplane.
“The old fool!” murmured Sidonie.
Then she tried to look haughty, but it ended in the two tired female warriors, grinning at each other as Elopatak elegantly slunk out.
“Elopatak’s misfortune,” confided Sidonie, “is that he has no calm. He permits the gross material to rule him. He would be calm like myself, if he would only take up Higher Thought.”
Bessie leaned forward excitedly. “Oh! Have you taken up Higher Thought, too? So have I! Isn’t it just lovely! There’s the livest Higher Thought teacher in Los Angeles that I go to every week — such a fine, noble-looking man, with the loveliest wavy black hair!
“Before I went to him, I used to lose my temper — people are SUCH fools! — and I used to try to exercise my selfish will on them, but now whenever I get sore at some poor idiot, I just say, ‘All is mystery and ’tis a smile that unlocks the eternal kinship of man to man,’ and then I get just as placid and nice as can be. Such a help!”
“ISN’T it! We have just the same sentence in Higher Thought at home — only it doesn’t sound quite the same, being in Slovarian. And isn’t that curious: my healer is also a handsome man, with such won-derful hair! Of course, in my position I have to belong to the State Church, but it’s out of Higher Thought I’ve learned that any man is as good as I am, even when he obviously isn’t.
“And now I never lose my temper any more. I just say, ‘I am Calmness, therefore I am calm.’ If I could only get Elopatak and Prince Sebenéco — the filthy swine! Oh, Bessie, you don’t know what meeting you means to me! Somehow, in Slovaria and here in England, they don’t seem to understand how sensitive I am!”
All evening the two mothers raged and roamed, but by one of the morning, Bessie was asleep, exhausted. A few hours later it was she who (saluted by bobbies and guards and aides as she stalked down the royal corridor) awoke Sidonie early — and with her she was dragging a scared Ginger Bundock.
This was twelve hours after Ginger, Terry, and Max had lain tearfully down in the damp hay by the warehouse in Bermondsey.
The management of the Picardie had excitedly telephoned to Bessie that Ginger had returned; that he knew the whereabouts of the two kings. They brought him in, like a prisoner, and Bessie dragged him to Queen Sidonie.
In Sidonie’s bedroom, with its tall bed, scarlet-draped and surmounted by a vast golden crown, its purple carpet and a vista of little tables, deep chairs, vast dressing gowns and long mirrors, Sidonie sat up in bed, looking scraggly and care-channeled, smoking a cigarette nervously, while Bessie, in her foamy dressing gown, paced wildly. And to this dreadful audience Ginger told his story.
“It isn’t my fault, Your Majesty. ‘Is Majesty and Master Tait, they wanted me to go along. They said they were just going for a stroll. They said it would be fun to dress up in old clothes. I don’t know what they did with me uniform and their clothes, but we changed in an alley off Greek Street, Soho. Then we went to play on ‘Ampstead ‘Eath. Then they wanted to go into the country and we walked west —”
Now the warehouse where, so far as Ginger knew, Max and Terry were still sleeping, was southeast.
“— walked west, far into the country. Oh, we walked far into the night, we did, and I think we came almost to ‘Arrow on the ‘Ill, and we slept under a ‘edge. And when I woke this morning, they were gone. So I ‘opped a lorry and came right in to tell you, ma’am. Swelp me, it was none of my doing! And I ‘eard ’em say something last night about going to Scotland, so if you searches all the roads north and west —”
Already Sidonie was shrieking for Elopatak; already she was telephoning to Scotland Yard.
“And of course the ‘otel never give me my place again, Your Majesty, but oh, please, could you persuade the police not to arrest me?”
“Certainly. They shan’t arrest you,” glowed Sidonie. “Of course, if young gentlemen like His Majesty and Master Terry told you to accompany them, there was nothing else to do but recognize your place and obey them. I quite understand, and I’m thankful for your being so brave as to come to us. I don’t suppose the hotel will want you, after this, but we might need you. You go up to Terry’s room and stay till we call you. I’ll see the police.”
“That’s the idea,” said Bessie amiably, and to Ginger, “Skip . . . Sidonie! Breakfast! Quick! We’ll start for Harrow.”
“Right you are! We’ll have the little fiends — the darlings! — in two hours. Oh, I’m so relieved!” said Sidonie of Tzetokoskavar to her friend Bessie of Mechanicville.
Terry woke only enough to know that he was awake, that he was miserable, that he was rather wet and extremely cold. He opened his eyes stupidly, amazed to find himself curled in filthy hay, between two boxes, looking out on a foggy welter of freight cars.
He wanted his warm bed, and cocoa coming, and his mother’s voice. He had a feeling of loss and disaster — no excitement that he was free of photographers and press agents and about to become a rollicking pirate.
There was something comfortable about life, however, and he awoke enough to sit up and discover that it was the muzzle of Josephus, tucked in beside his knee. Josephus roused to lick his hand and to whine hungrily.
“Poor pup! I’ll get you something,” asserted Terry. Then his sympathy for Josephus widened enough to take in Max, curled with both hands beneath one cheek, hayseed spotting his filthy clothes. “Poor kid!” muttered Terry, and a horrible doubt crept into him.
Were they really going to enjoy being pirates?
He realized that Ginger was not there and that a note, scratched in pencil on a muddy sheet of wrapping paper, had been thrust through Josephus’ collar. Terry anxiously snatched it out, to read:
Dear Friends Yr. Majesty & Terry:
I haven’t been any help to you I am awful sorry Im just in the way I made believe I didn’t care the way my Uncle acted but he was turble and I think the best thing I can do for you is to go away am going back to hotel and hope can do this for you, will tell them you are going different way from way you are going so through then off the sent they will not know you are going the way you are going I appresheate your taking me along hope have not been too disrespektfull when you get to be pirates maybe you will give me a chance to come join you am sure you will sune be Orficers. Must close now yrs respectfly Ginger PS I lied about my Uncle he wasn’t never no pirate, sodger ettc.
When Max had been awakened and had read the note, he quavered, “I’m not sure we can get along without Ginger. We don’t know about tramping and all that. Do you think we’d better go home now? We could take a taxi.”
“Never!” said the valiant Terry. “Go home, where you have to wash all the time, and they won’t let you have any pink cakes, and there’s newspaper reporters asking you questions, and you have to act like you liked it when horrible old maids pat you on the head? When we could be pirates and sail the bounding main?”
But he didn’t sound very defiant, and feeble was Max’s “Well, perhaps.”
“Come on, Mixy; come on, you, Josephibus!” caroled Terry, with false heartiness. It was suddenly disheartized by a cockney voice beside them.
“Come out of that, you! Wot d’yer think ye’re doing, sleeping there? Get out!”
It was a large man in a watchman’s uniform, and the criminals slunk most ingloriously out of the railroad yards. Josephus slunk after them. They found a mean and dirty tea shop.
Terry wanted the corn flakes, Max desired the porridge, at which they had scoffed twenty-four hours before. The waitress told them they could have fried eggs, boiled eggs, bloaters, or kippers.
They sighed, and had fried eggs.
“I wonder,” said Max, suddenly excited, “if we dare drink tea. I’ve always wanted to drink tea. But my mother and Professor Michelowsky never would let me. Do you suppose we dare?”
“Oh, let’s! No matter what our mothers say! A pirate can’t always be thinking about what his mother says!”
And daringly, taking the first step into lives of dissipation, they ordered tea.
Now it may be true, as envious foreigners assert, that the British Empire is founded on four things: tea, beer, calico, and diplomacy. But this uncheering cup at the den in Bermondsey was not the sort of tea on which empires are likely to be founded. It was bitter. It was lukewarm.
Max tasted it, and shook his head. “I don’t understand why people drink it,” he mused. “And I don’t understand why I have to study Latin. And I don’t understand why Mother is so cross with me when I tell her I want to be a farmer. Oh, dear, I’m”— his voice quavered —“I’m glad we’re going to be pirates! They don’t drink tea. They drink rum. And that must be nice!”
Very slightly cheered by breakfast, they started for Bristol.
Bristol, Ginger had said, was west. Very well, they would walk westward.
The waitress told them which direction was west, and they trudged for miles. They kept on gallantly — stopping only to keep Josephus out of a dog fight and keep the other dogs in it; to buy large and indigestible balls of hard candy; to watch a back-yard cricket game; to dally with a light mid-morning refreshment of toffee, sugar buns, cocoa, tongue, strawberry tart, and shortbread.
Toward noon they came out on a stretch of railroad tracks which barred their advance. While they were looking for a crossing, Terry started, and whimpered, “Look, Mixy! There’s where we slept last night! We’ve gone in a circle!”
“Oh, fiddle!” raged Max the Pirate.
They sat disconsolately on a box, Josephus abashed at their feet.
“I guess,” Terry suggested, after a gloomy pause, “we better take a taxi till we get out of London. Then we can follow a road west. Let’s see how much money we got left. Gimme that two shillings I lent you and we’ll count up.”
They gravely spread all their notes, their silver and copper, between them on the box, and counted them. Of Terry’s fifty pounds, together with the fifteen-pence which had been Max’s pocket money, they now had left forty-seven pounds and a penny.
“Oh, we can do lots with that!” gloated Terry. “We could buy a lady dog, to go with Josephus. He must get lonely.”
“But he might not like her.”
“Oh, gee, THAT’S easy! Lookit. We’d go into a dog store, see, and I’d say to the clerk, ‘Look,’ I’d say, ‘I want to find a lady dog for my dog Josephus,’ I’d say, ‘and I want him to look around and see which lady dog he likes,’ I’d say, and then Josephus would look around at all the cages they got dogs in-”
“Honestly, I think it’s a shame to keep dogs in cages.”
“So do I. I wouldn’t like to live in no cage. Gee, I read once, it was in a book of stories, there was this man that had been a revolution, and they put him in a cage — oh, yes, it was in China —”
“Oh, I would like to go to China. Let’s go to China!”
“Sure; you betcha. Pirates always go to China, I think they do, and —”
“You don’t suppose we’d have to do any murders or anything nasty like that, do you, Terry, when we’re pirates?”
“Oh, not NOW; they just did that in the Old Days. Now they just stop ships that belong to rich merchants and take silk and all like that, and then they give a lot to the poor —”
“And bleedin’ nice of ’em I calls it!” said a new voice, a dripping and slimy voice behind them, and a filthy hand swooped upon their money.
They looked back, gasping, at a man with a hard little nut of a face under a greasy cap. Instantly the hand had tumbled them off the box, to right and left; a foot in a broken shoe had caught Josephus under the jaw as he leaped up growling; the filthy hand had scooped up every penny of their horde; and the thief was galloping away.
They followed, Josephus followed, but they could not find the robber.
They crouched again on the box. For five minutes they could not quite comprehend that they had no money whatever; nothing for lunch, nothing for movies.
“But nobody can’t down us! We’ll work our way!” flared Terry.
It did not sound too convincing, and Max answered nothing whatever. They started off again silent. By repeatedly asking, they managed to keep going westward and, after their competent mid-morning lunch, they were not too hungry till three o’clock. Terry felt hungry enough then, and Max’s face seemed to him thin and taut.
“I guess we better work for some grub now,” he muttered. “Let’s ask ’em here in this news shop. There’s a nice, kind-looking old lady in there.”
To the nice, kind-looking old lady, in the dusty recesses of the shop, he confided, “We’re very hungry. Could we do some work for you?” And, winningly: “Your shop needs cleaning.”
The nice, kind-looking old lady said never a word. She inspected them benevolently. Then she hurled an old paper-bound book at them, and at last she spoke: “Get along with you!”
They asked for work at an ironmonger’s, at a surgery, at a fish market, at three restaurants and coffee stalls, but nowhere did they find it. Toward evening, in a terrifying dimness over unknown streets that stretched endlessly toward nowhere, Terry confessed:
“We can’t do it. We’ll have to give ourselves up. But we’ll study to be tramps and pirates and everything! We’ll be able to do it next time!”
They tramped on till they found a policeman, a jolly, cheerful policeman.
“And what do you gents want?” he chuckled.
“Please, officer, I’m an American cinema star and this is the King of Slovaria. We’re missing. We should like to give ourselves up, please!”
The policeman roared with joy. “And w’ere is Douglas Fairbanks and the Queen of Rooshia? ‘Ave you ‘idden ’em around the corner?” Seriously: “You lads ought to be ashamed of yourselves, telling such lies! That’s wot comes of the likes of you reading the papers. The King and the Yankee lad, I ‘ear, were captured at ‘Arrow this afternoon. So cut along now. Scat!”
And they scatted, on feet that felt like hot sponges, utterly frightened, overwhelmed by dusk in a forest of petty streets, certain that they would have to go forever till they starved.
“We ought to try to go back to our hotel,” sighed Max.
“But it’s so far. And I don’t believe they’d let us through that gosh-awful gold lobby.”
As they crept on, they passed hundreds of agitated newspaper posters which told the world that Their Majesties were still lost. The placards gave Terry his idea.
“Lookit! I guess the papers are always hunting for news. I guess maybe if we went to a newspaper office and told who we were, they might help us get back home. Especially if we went to the London office of an American paper. I can talk American good, anyway! And I know the office of the New York Venture is on Fleet Street.”
“I tell you, Terry! Let’s find a drinking trough and wash ourselves as well as we can, and then perHAPS some taxi driver will take us and wait for his fare.”
Terry looked at him with hurt astonishment. “Clean up? And lose all that publicity, when they’ll be taking our photographs? Why, Mixy!”
“What’s publicity?” asked Max humbly.
Discouraged by such ignorance, too tired to explain the metaphysical doctrine, Terry merely grunted, “Come on, we’ll start for Fleet Street.”
A dozen times they stopped to rest. Once they bathed their feet in a fountain. But at nine that evening, they climbed the stairs to the office of the London bureau of the New York Venture.
They found a reception room littered with newspapers and with an office boy who snapped, “Now GET along!”
But Terry now was Terry Tait again. “Get along, rats! I want to see the boss!” he clamored.
“What’s all this?” from an inner door, where stood a sleepy young man in shirt sleeves. His voice was American.
“I’m Terry Tait. This is the King of Slovaria.”
The sleepy young man came awake with vigor. He seized Terry’s shoulder; peered at him; glanced at Max.
“And I believe you are!” he shouted. “Have you been back to the Picardie?”
“No. We’re too dirty. We came here first. We ran away to be pirates, and a man robbed us in Bermondsey of all our money, and we been wandering around there all day, and we came here because my father always reads the Venture and — we’re hungry!”
“Wait! For heaven’s sake!” The man threw a ten-shilling note at the gaping office boy. “Beat it! Get some food! Beans! Ice cream! Champagne! Anything! But make it snappy! Come in here, you kids — I mean, Your Majesty, and you, Terry.” He hustled them into his office, threw two chairs in their general direction, and was bellowing into the telephone receiver the number of the central cable office.
Three minutes later a wild telegraph operator slapped on the desk of the news editor of the Venture, in New York, a dispatch reading:
FLASH TAIT KING SLOVARIA GIVE SELVES UP LONDON BUREAU VENTURE RUNAWAY BE PIRATES BULLETIN IMMEDIATELY
And sixteen minutes after that newsboys were racing out of the Venture building bellowing, “Terry Tait and King found! Terry and King found!”
And half an hour after that, the complete story, with “exclusive interviews” with Terry Tait and H.R.M. the King of Slovaria, was being eagerly read, in various tongues, by excited journalists in Rutland and Raleigh, Barcelona and Budapest, Manila and Madrid.
But the most famous two boys in the world, and the most famous dog, almost, in history, were quietly and unctuously eating ham and cold chicken and sally lunns, while a wide-awake young man called the Picardie and desired to speak to the suite of the Queen of Slovaria.
In the boudoir of Her Majesty, the Queen of Slovaria, was a scene at once impressive enough for the movies and humble enough for — well, humble enough for the movies.
On Her Majesty’s lap sat an American small boy, recently and drastically scrubbed, clad in pajamas and a dressing gown, beatifically eating a most unhygienic and delightful cream roll. Beside them, beaming up at this Madonna scene, was another small boy, also scrubbed, also in dressing gown, also cramming into his mouth the luscious gooey cream. He was petting a woolly dog — a pure-bred Margate Wader — whose tongue lolled out with idiotic contentment.
Facing them was Bessie, smiling over her cigarette. And rushing around faithfully doing nothing in particular was a young Englishman, name of Bundock, who was to be Max’s valet in two or three years, after he had been properly trained in the household of Sidonie’s dear friend, the Duchess of Twickenham.
Now begins, after the pleasant homeliness, the impressiveness. The duchess began it. She was staring at the family scene; she was tall and gray; she wore rusty black; and within her powerful brain she was obviously meditating, “This is what comes of treating Slovarians and Americans and all suchlike colonials, no matter how highly placed, as though they were gentry!”
The second touch of impressiveness was given by Prince Sebenéco, Prime Minister of Slovaria.
He was a tall man with a black beard. He was protesting, “But, ma’am, I quite appreciate that it would be an honor for us to entertain Madame Tait and her charming son, but your people, ma’am; they were highly agitated by His Majesty’s disappearance, and I fear they would resent your bringing His Majesty’s associate in this idiot — I mean, in this adventure. How alarmed I was you may deduce from my having taken an airplane. Eeee! A nasty device! I was very sick!”
The same assistant manager who had once found Bessie her room was ushered in, bowing, timidly venturing, “A cablegram for you, Madame Tait.”
Bessie opened the cablegram. She smiled slightly, and sniffed.
“Sebenéco!” said Sidonie.
“You’re a fool!”
“Exactly. . . . Bessie, my friend, Terry and you will come to Slovaria. He will be educated by my son’s tutors. You will both become Slovarian citizens. Some day he will be a general. We will bestow on him a title. Good! In two weeks we start for Tzetokoskavar. Do you play piquet, Bessie? I am very fond of piquet.”
“Well, that’s real nice of you, Sidonie,” yawned Bessie, “and some day Terry and I will sure be glad to come over and visit you, but now we’ve got to beat it back to California. Just had a cablegram from Abe Granville, our manager. Well, I guess everybody better go to bed.”
In their room she showed Terry the cablegram from Granville.
CONGRATULATIONS SWELLEST PUBLICITY EVER PULLED GIVE YOU CONTRACT FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND A YEAR HUSTLE BACK START MAKING MAJESTY JUNIOR EIGHTEENTH ABE
In the Hollywood studio of the Jupiter–Triumph-Tait Film Corporation they were shooting “His Majesty, Junior,” which was to be the first realistic, intimate, low-down picture of the inside life of royalty that had ever been made.
His Majesty, Terry, sat on a throne at the end of a vast room, and before him stood a squadron of guards, saluting.
The director was outlining the opening scene to Terry. “You sit on a throne in the throne room, see? The prime minister stands beside you, see, he’s the comedy character, see, and there’s a big gang of guards in fur hats, saluting. You don’t like the way one of them acts and you say, ‘Off with his head.’”
“Aw, thunder; kings can’t say, ‘Off with his head,’” complained Terry.
“Now, you, Terence Tait, will you kindly shut up and do what you’re told?” said Bessie. “Here we work and slave and try to educate you, and then you just go on being so iggorent!”
“Listen, will you?” demanded the director, while Terry wistfully stroked the head of a broad-backed mongrel dog. “You wear a regular king’s uniform, see — red tights and a jacket with fur — and you carry a sword.”
And the splendid labor of making a great realistic movie went on — while seven thousand miles away a lonely small boy in a palace garden studied Latin and meditated on the day when Terry and he would both be twenty-one, when they would escape from the awful respectability of being kings and celebrities.
Out on the lot, Mr. T. Benescoten Tait was talking to an obsequious extra man. Mr. Tait was wearing a sulphur-colored topcoat and a salmon-colored tie which his wife had brought him from London.
“Yes, sir!” chanted Mr. Tait. “We wouldn’t let the newspapers have the real low-down on Terry’s chummin’ around with the King of Slovaria. You see, this-here is a democratic country, this United States, I mean, and folks might not like it if they knew that their heroes, like Terry, was just like this with royalty. But fact is, this was all bunk about him and the King bumming around in old clothes. Fact is, they was introduced in London by special request of Queen Sidonie — she’s always been crazy about Terry’s pictures. And then the two kids, they were taken up to this Sandelham Castle by King George of England — yes, sir, that’s the real fact.”
At the same moment, on the same lot, two other extra men were discoursing, and one of them was explaining:
“Terry and the King! Say, lissen, where was you brought up? Gosh, you certainly are an easy mark! Mean to say you believe all this stuff about this Tait kid being chummy with a king? Say, that was all just publicity. I KNOW.
“Wiggins, the press agent, told me so himself. Don’t tell anybody — I wouldn’t tell anybody but you; I don’t want this to go any further — but the fact is, Terry and this kid king never met at all.
“These pictures you see of the two of ’em together, in them dirty clothes, is all fake! Wiggins was there in London, and he got hold of a kid that looked like this king, and had him and Terry photographed together.”
“Gee, life’s cer’nly different from what you’d expect,” said his companion.
“Ain’t it, though? You said it!”
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