The ensuing work is a serious attempt to while away an idle hour. The best criticism that the author received of "Her Ladyship's Elephant" was from an old lady who wrote him that it had made her forget a toothache; the most discouraging, from a critic who approached the book as serious literature and treated it according to the standards of the higher criticism.
The author takes this occasion to state that he has never been guilty of writing literature, serious or otherwise, and that if any one considers this book a fit subject for the application of the higher criticism, he will treat it as a just ground for an action for libel.
If the minimum opus possesses an intrinsic value, it lies in the explanation of the whereabouts of a Spanish gunboat, which, during our late unpleasantness with Spain, the yellow journalists insisted was patrolling the English Channel, in spite of the fact that the U. S. Board of Strategy knew that every available ship belonging to that nation was better employed somewhere else.
Should this exposé ruffle another English see, so much the worse for the Bishop.
Cecil Banborough stood at one of the front windows of a club which faced on Fifth Avenue, his hands in his pockets, and a cigarette in his mouth, idly watching the varied life of the great thoroughfare. He had returned to the city that morning after a two weeks' absence in the South, and, having finished his lunch, was wondering how he could manage to put in the time till the 4:30 express left for Meadowbrook. 2 p. m., he reflected ruefully, was an hour when New York had no use and no resources for men of leisure like himself.
Yet even for a mere onlooker the panorama of the street was of unusual interest. The avenue was ablaze with bunting, which hurrying thousands pointed out to their companions, while every street-corner had its little group of citizens, discussing with feverish energy and gestures of ill-concealed disquietude the situation of which the gay flags were the outward and visible sign. For in these latter days of April, 1898, a first-class Republic had, from purely philanthropic motives, announced its intention of licking a third-rate Monarchy into the way it should go. Whereat the good citizens had flung broadcast their national emblem to express a patriotic enthusiasm they did not feel, while the wiser heads among them were already whispering that the war was not merely unjustifiable, but might be expensive.
All these matters, important as they doubtless were, did not interest Cecil Banborough, and indeed were quite dwarfed by the fact that this uncalled-for war had diverted the press from its natural functions, and for the time being had thrown utterly into the shade his new sensational novel, "The Purple Kangaroo." His meditations were, however, interrupted by the sound of voices using perfectly good English, but with an accent which bespoke a European parentage.
"'The Purple Kangaroo,'" said one. "It is sufficiently striking —Si, Señor?"
"It serves the purpose well, mi amigo," replied the other. "It is, as you say, striking; indeed nothing better could be devised; while its reputation – " And the voices died away.
Cecil swung rapidly round. Two gentlemen, slight, swarthy, and evidently of a Latin race, were moving slowly down the long drawing-room. They were foreigners certainly, Spaniards possibly, but they had spoken of his book in no modified terms of praise. He drew a little sigh of satisfied contentment and turned again to the street. Ah, if his father, the Bishop of Blanford, could have heard!
The two foreigners had meanwhile continued their conversation, though out of earshot. The elder was speaking.
"As you say, its reputation is so slight," he said, "one of those ephemeral productions that are forgotten in a day, that it will serve our purpose well. We must have a password – the less noticeable the better. When do you return to Washington?"
"The Legation may be closed at any moment now," replied the younger, seating himself carelessly on the arm of a Morris chair, "and I may be wanted. I go this afternoon, a dios y a ventura."
"Softly; not so loud."
"There's no one to hear. Keep us informed, I say. I'll see to the rest. We've our secret lines of communication nearly complete. They may turn us out of their capital, but – we shall know what passes. Carramba! What is that?" For, in leaning back, the speaker had come against an unresisting body.
Springing up and turning quickly round, he saw that the chair on the arm of which he had been sitting was already occupied by the slumbering form of a youngish man with clear-cut features and a voluminous golden moustache.
"Madre de Dios! Could he have heard?" exclaimed the younger man, moving away.
"Malhaya! No!" replied the other. "These pigs of Americanos who sleep at noonday hear nothing! Come!" And, casting a glance of concentrated contempt at the huddled-up figure, he put his arm through that of his companion, and together they left the room.
A moment later the sleeper sat up, flicked a speck of dust off his coat-sleeve, and, diving into a pocket, produced a note-book and blue pencil and began to write rapidly. Evidently his occupation was a pleasant one, for a broad smile illumined his face.
"Ah, Marchmont," said Banborough, coming towards him, "didn't know you'd waked up."
"Was I asleep?"
"Rather. Don't suppose you saw those Spanish Dons who went out just now?"
"Spaniards?" queried Marchmont, with a preoccupied air. "What about 'em?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, only I supposed that a Spaniard to a yellow journalist was like a red rag to a bull. You should make them into copy – 'Conspiracy in a Fifth Avenue Club,' etc."
"Thanks," said the other, "so I might. Valuable suggestion." And he returned his note-book to his pocket.
"They did me a good turn, anyway," resumed Banborough. "They were talking about my book – thought it would serve its purpose, was very striking, said nothing better could be devised; and they were foreigners, too. I tell you what it is, Marchmont, the public will wake up to the merits of 'The Purple Kangaroo' some day. Why doesn't the Daily Leader notice it?"
"My dear Cecil, give me the space and I'll write a critique the fulsome flattery of which will come up to even your exacting demands. But just at present we're so busy arousing popular enthusiasm that we really haven't time."
"You never do have time," replied Banborough, a trifle petulantly, "except for sleeping after lunch."
"Ah, that's all in the day's work. But tell me. You're an Englishman; why didn't you publish your book in your own country?"
"I may be green, but I don't impart confidences to an American journalist."
"Nonsense! I never betray my friends' confidences when it's not worth – I should say, out of business hours."
The Englishman laughed.
"Oh, if you don't think it worth while," he said, "I suppose there's no danger, so I'll confess that my literary exile is purely to oblige my father."
"The Bishop of Blanford?"
"The Bishop of Blanford, who has the bad taste to disapprove of 'The Purple Kangaroo.'"
"Has he ever read it?"
"Of course not; the ecclesiastical mind is nothing if not dogmatic."
"My dear fellow, I was only trying to assign a reason."
"Chaff away, but it's principally my Aunt Matilda."
"The Bishop, I remember, is a widower."
"Rather. My aunt keeps house for him."
"Ah, these aunts!" exclaimed the journalist. "They make no end of trouble – and copy."
"It's not so bad as that," said Cecil; "but she rules the governor with a rod of iron, and she kicked up such a row about my book that I dropped the whole show."
"Don't correspond with 'em?"
"Not on my side. I receive occasional sermons from Blanford."
"Which remain unanswered?"
Cecil nodded, and changed the subject.
"You know my father's cathedral?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. The verger prevented my chipping off a bit of the high altar as a memento the last time I was over. You English are so beastly conservative. Not that the Bishop had anything to do with it."
Banborough laughed, and returned to the charge.
"So I came abroad," he continued, "and approached the most respectable and conservative firm of publishers I could find in New York."
"Was that out of consideration for the Bishop?"
"I thought it might sweeten the pill. But somehow the book doesn't sell."
"Advertising, my boy – that's the word."
"The traditions of the firm forbid it," objected Banborough.
"Traditions! What's any country less than a thousand years old got to do with traditions?" spluttered Marchmont. "I knew a Chicago author who got a divorce every time he produced a new novel. They sold like hot cakes."
"And the wives?"
"Received ten per cent. of the profits as alimony."
"Talk sense, and say something scandalous about me in the Leader. What possessed you, anyway, to join such a disgraceful sheet?"
"If I'd an entailed estate and an hereditary bishopric, I wouldn't. As it is, it pays."
"The bishopric isn't hereditary," said Cecil. "I wish it were. Then I might have a chance of spending my life in the odour of sanctity and idleness, and the entail is – a dream."
"So you write novels," retorted Marchmont, "that are neither indecent nor political, and expect 'em to succeed. Callow youth! Well, I must be off to the office. I've some copy up my sleeve, and if it's a go it'll give your book the biggest boom a novel ever had."
"Are you speaking the truth?" said the Englishman. "I beg your pardon. I forgot it was out of professional hours."
"Wait and see," replied the journalist, as he strolled out of the club.
"Hi, Marchmont, I've got a detail for you!" called the editor, making the last correction on a belated form and attempting to revivify a cigar that had long gone out.
"Yes?" queried Marchmont, slipping off his coat and slipping on a pair of straw cuffs, which was the chief reason why he always sported immaculate linen.
"We're on the track of a big thing. Perhaps you don't know that the President has delivered an ultimatum, and that our Minister at Madrid has received his passports?"
"Saw it on the bulletin-board as I came in," said his subordinate laconically.
"Well, it's a foregone conclusion that the Spanish Legation will establish a secret service in this country, and the paper that shows it up will achieve the biggest scoop on record."
"Naturally. But what then?"
"Why, I give the detail to you. You don't seem to appreciate the situation, man. It's the chance of a lifetime."
"Quite so," replied Marchmont, lighting a cigarette.
"But you can't lose a minute."
"Oh, yes, I can – two or three. Time for a smoke, and then I'll write you a first-column article that'll call for the biggest caps you have in stock."
"But I – What the – Say, you know something!"
"I know that the secret service has been organised, I know the organisers, and I know the password."
Here Marchmont's chief became unquotable, lapsing into unlimited profanity from sheer joy and exultation.
"I'll give you a rise if you pull this off!" he exclaimed, after hearing the recital of the events at the club. "May I be" – several things – "if I don't! Now what are you going to do about it?"
"Suppose we inform the nearest police station, have the crowd arrested, and take all the glory ourselves."
"Suppose we shut up shop and take a holiday," suggested the chief, with a wealth of scorn.
"Well, what have you to propose?"
"We must work the whole thing through our detective agency."
"But we haven't a detective agency," objected Marchmont.
"But we will have before sunset," said the chief. "There's O'Brien – "
"Yes. Chucked from Pinkerton's force for habitual drunkenness," interjected his subordinate.
"Just so," said the editor, "and anxious to get a job in consequence. He'll be only too glad to run the whole show for us. The city shall be watched, and the first time 'The Purple Kangaroo' is used in a suspicious sense we'll arrest the offenders, discover the plot, and the Daily Leader, as the defender of the nation and the people's bulwark, will increase its circulation a hundred thousand copies! It makes me dizzy to think of it! I tell you what it is, Marchmont, that subeditorship is still vacant, and if you put this through, the place is yours."
The reporter grasped his chief's hand.
"That's white of you, boss," he said, "and I'll do it no matter what it costs or who gets hurt in the process."
"Right you are!" cried his employer. "The man who edits this paper has got to hustle. Now don't let the grass grow under your feet, and we'll have a drink to celebrate."
When the chief offers to set up a sub it means business, and Marchmont was elated accordingly.
At the Club the Bishop's son still contemplated the Avenue from the vantage-point of the most comfortable armchair the room possessed. Praise, he reflected, which was not intended for the author's ear was praise indeed. No man could tell to what it might lead. No one indeed, Cecil Banborough least of all, though he was destined to find out before he was many hours older; for down in the editorial sanctum of the Daily Leader O'Brien was being instructed:
"And if you touch a drop during the next week," reiterated the chief, "I'll put a head on you!"
"But supposin' this dago conspiracy should turn out to be a fake?" objected the Irishman.
"Then," said the reporter with determination, "you'll have to hatch one yourself, and I'll discover it. But two things are certain. Something's got to be exposed, and I've got to get that editorship."
На этой странице вы можете прочитать онлайн книгу «His Lordship's Leopard: A Truthful Narration of Some Impossible Facts», автора David Wells. Данная книга имеет возрастное ограничение 12+, относится к жанру «Зарубежный юмор».. Книга «His Lordship's Leopard: A Truthful Narration of Some Impossible Facts» была издана в 2017 году. Приятного чтения!