There are many threads and many knots in a net; these can not be throw_ogether haphazard, lest the big fish slip through. At the bottom of the ne_s a small steel ring, and here the many threads and the many knots finall_eet. Forbes and Haggerty (who, by the way, thinks I'm a huge joke as _ovelist) and the young man named Webb recounted this tale to me by thread_nd knots. The ring was of Kitty Killigrew, for Kitty Killigrew, by Kitt_illigrew, to paraphrase a famous line.
At one of the quieter hotels—much patronized by touring Englishmen—there wa_egistered James Thornden and man. Every afternoon Mr. Thornden and his ma_ode about town in a rented touring car. The man would bundle his master'_nees in a rug and take the seat at the chauffeur's side, and from ther_irect the journey. Generally they drove through the park, up and dow_iverside, and back to the hotel in time for tea. Mr. Thornden drank tea fo_reakfast along with his bacon and eggs, and at luncheon with his lamb o_utton chops, and at five o'clock with especially baked muffins and apple- tarts.
Mr. Thornden never gave orders personally; his man always attended to that.
The master would, early each morning, outline the day's work, and the ma_ould see to it that these instructions were fulfilled to the letter. He wa_n excellent servant, by the way, light of foot, low of voice, serious o_ace, with a pair of eyes which I may liken to nothing so well as to a set o_cetylene blow-pipes—bored right through you.
The master was middle-aged, about the same height and weight as his valet. H_ore a full dark beard, something after the style of the early eighties o_ast century. His was also a serious countenance, tanned, dignified too; bu_is eyes were no match for his valet's; too dreamy, introspective. Screwed i_is left eye was a monocle down from which flowed a broad ribbon. In public h_lways wore it; no one about the hotel had as yet seen him without it, and h_ad been a guest there for more than a fortnight.
He drank nothing in the way of liquor, though his man occasionally wandere_nto the bar and ordered a stout or an ale. After dinner the valet's tim_ppeared to be his own; for he went out nearly every night. He seemed ver_uch interested in shop-windows, especially those which were filled wit_urios. Mr. Thornden frequently went to the theater, but invariably alone.
Thus, they attracted little or no attention among the clerks and bell boys an_aiters who had, in the course of the year, waited upon the wants of a roya_uke and a grand duke, to say nothing of a maharajah, who was still at th_otel. An ordinary touring Englishman was, then, nothing more than that.
Until one day a newspaper reporter glanced carelessly through the hote_egister. The only thing which escapes the newspaper man is the art of saving; otherwise he is omnipotent. He sees things, anticipates events, and ofte_rearranges them; smells war if the secretary of the navy is seen to run for _treet-car, is intimately acquainted with "the official in the position t_now" and "the man higher up," "the gentleman on the inside," and othe_nonymous but famous individuals. He is tireless, impervious to rebuff, als_elentless; as an investigator of crime he is the keenest hound of them all; often he does more than expose, he prevents. He is the Warwick of moder_imes; he makes and unmakes kings, sceptral and financial.
This particular reporter sent his card up to Mr. Thornden and was, after hal_n hour's delay, admitted to the suite. Mr. Thornden laid aside his tea-cup.
"I am a newspaper man, Mr. Thornden," said the young man, his eye roving abou_he room, visualizing everything, from the slices of lemon to the brillian_yes of the valet.
"Ah! a pressman. What will you be wanting to see me about, sir?"—neithe_ostile nor friendly.
"Do you intend to remain long in America—incog?"
"Incog!" Mr. Thorndon leaned forward in his chair and drew down his eyebro_ightly against the rim of his monocle.
"Yes, sir. I take it that you are Lord Henry Monckton, ninth Baron o_imbledon."
Master and man exchanged a rapid glance.
"Tibbets," said the master coldly, "you registered."
"What did you register?"
"Oh," interposed the reporter, "it was the name Dimbledon caught my eye, sir.
You see, there was a paragraph in one of our London exchanges that you ha_ailed for America. I'm what we call a hotel reporter; hunt up prominent an_nteresting people for interviews. I'm sure yours is a very interesting story, sir." The reporter was a pleasant, affable young man, and that was why he wa_o particularly efficient in his chosen line of work.
"I was not prepared to disclose my identity so soon," said Lord Monckto_uefully. "But since you have stumbled upon the truth, it is far better that _ive you the facts as they are. Interviewing is a novel experience. What d_ou wish to know, sir?"
And thus it was that, next morning, New York—and the continent as well—learne_hat Lord Henry Monckton, ninth Baron of Dimbledon, had arrived in America o_ pleasure trip. The story read more like the scenario of a romantic nove_han a page from life. For years the eighth Baron of Dimbledon had lived i_eclusion, practically forgotten. In India he had a bachelor brother, a so_nd a grandson. One day he was notified of the death (by bubonic plague) o_hese three male members of his family, the baron himself collapsed and die_hortly after. The title and estate went to another branch of the family. _undred years before, a daughter of the house had run away with the head- gardener and been disowned. The great-great-grand-son of this woman became th_inth baron. The present baron's life was recounted in full; and a_dventurous life it had been, if the reporter was to be relied upon. Th_nterview appeared in a London journal, with the single comment—"How thos_merican reporters misrepresent things!"
It made capital reading, however; and in servants' halls the newspaper becam_ery popular. It gave rise to a satirical leader on the editorial page:
"What's the matter with us republicans? Liberty, fraternity and equality; w_launt that flag as much as we ever did. Yet, what a howdy-do when a titl_omes along! What a craning of necks, what a kotowing! How many earldoms an_ukedoms are not based upon some detestable action, some despicable servic_endered some orgiastic sovereign! The most honorable thing about the so- called nobility is generally the box-hedge which surrounds the manse. Kotow; pour our millions into the bottomless purses of spendthrifts; give them ou_ost beautiful women. There is no remedy for human nature."
It was this editorial which interested Killigrew far more than the story whic_ad given birth to it.
"That's the way to shout."
"Does it do any good?" asked Kitty. "If we had a lord for breakfast—I mean, a_reakfast—would you feel at ease? Wouldn't you be watching and wondering wha_t was that made him your social superior?"
"Social superior? Bah!"
"That's no argument. As this editor wisely says, there's no remedy for huma_ature. When I was a silly schoolgirl I often wondered if there wasn't a duk_n the family, or even a knight. How do you account for that feeling?"
"You were probably reading Bertha M. Clay," retorted her father, only too gla_f such an opening.
"What is your opinion of titles, Mr. Webb?" she asked calmly.
"Mr. Webb is an Englishman, Kitty," reminded her mother.
"All the more reason for wishing his point of view," was the reply.
"A title, if managed well, is a fine business asset." Thomas stared gravely a_is egg-cup.
"A humorist!" cried Killigrew, as if he had discovered a dodo.
"Really, no. I am typically English, sir." But Thomas was smiling this time; and when he smiled Kitty found him very attractive. She was leaning on he_lbows, her folded hands propping her chin; and in his soul Thomas knew tha_he was looking at him with those boring critical blue eyes of hers. Why wa_he always looking at him like that? "It is notorious that we English are dul_nd stupid," he said.
"Now you are making fun of us," said Kitty seriously.
"I beg your pardon!"
She dropped her hands from under her chin and laughed. "Do you really wish t_now the real secret of our antagonism, Mr. Webb?"
"I should be very glad."
"Well, then, we each of us wear a chip on our shoulder, simply because we'v_ever taken the trouble to know each other well. Most English we American_eet are stupid and caddish and uninteresting; and most of the Americans yo_ee are boastful, loud-talking and money-mad. Our mutual impressions ar_holly wrong to begin with."
"I have no chip on my shoulder," Thomas refuted eagerly.
"Neither have I."
"But I have," laughed her father. "I eat Englishmen for breakfast; fe-fo-fu_tyle."
How democratic indeed these kindly, unpretentious people were! thought Thomas.
A multimillionaire as amiable as a clerk; a daughter who would have graced an_ourt in Europe with her charm and elfin beauty. Up to a month ago he had hel_ll Americans in tolerant contempt.
It was as Kitty said: the real Englishman and the real American seldom met.
He did not realize as yet that his position in this house was unique. I_ngland all great merchants and statesmen and nobles had one or more privat_ecretaries about. He believed it to be a matter of course that American_ollowed the same custom. He would have been wonderfully astonished to lear_hat in all this mighty throbbing city of millions—people and money—ther_ight be less than a baker's dozen who occupied simultaneously the position_f private secretary and friend of the family. Mr. Killigrew had his privat_ecretary, but this gentleman rarely saw the inside of the Killigrew home; i_asn't at all necessary that he should. Killigrew was a sensible man; hi_usiness hours began when he left home and ended when he entered it.
"Do you know any earls or dukes?" asked Killigrew, folding his napkin.
"Really, no. I have moved in a very different orbit. I know many of them b_ight, however." He did not think it vital to add that he had often sold the_ollars and suspenders.
The butler and the second man pulled back the ladies' chairs. Killigre_urried away to his offices; Kitty and her mother went up-stairs; and Thoma_eturned to his desk in the library. He was being watched by Kitty; nothin_vert, nothing tangible, yet he sensed it: from the first day he had entere_his house. It oppressed him, like a presage of disaster. Back of his chai_as a fireplace, above this, a mirror. Once—it was but yesterday—while wit_is back to his desk, day-dreaming, he had seen her in the mirror. She stoo_n the doorway, a hand resting lightly against the portiere. There was n_mile on her face. The moment he stirred, she vanished.