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looked up from his work. He was the tall chap who had collided with Sanderson, and his manner was no less care-burdened than it had been at the time of that incident.
"You will find Mr. Breelton at Judge Meredith's house," he said with somewhat of an effort. “There's a bridge-club that meets there to-night."
"Much obliged, Mr. Hamilton," said Shelby, in a matter-of-fact way. The modern newspaper may be prying at times, but in some directions its managers can be singularly incurious; and to none of the group did it occur to inquire how and when a member of the staff had become so well acquainted with the doings of the next ambassador to Russia. "Take a carriage, Mr. Mason, drive to the Merediths', and bring Breelton to the office," the managing editor went on. "I think he 'll come willingly enough; he ought to. Do you imagine, Mr. Graves, it'll be news to him?"
The editor-in-chief scowled. "Umph! If Breelton 's possible as an ambassador, anything else is possible. I'm going to my room. When you 've done with him, bring him in."
"Very well, sir," Shelby said; and thereupon Graves departed, Mason vanished, and the news-room went back to commonplace affairs. Presently the noise of the telegraph-instrument was heard, lunch being over and "Baldy" Sanderson, refreshed and with thirst appeased, having returned to duty. Shelby, passing by, paused for a moment to watch the operator, and then went on to Graves's sanctum. He discovered the editor freed of his overcoat and at his desk, his air being that of a person confronted by a singularly mysterious problem.
"This is a most extraordinary piece of business, Shelby," he said. "You know "You know what the ambassadorship is, and you know the sort of man to whom it now seems to be given. Jerome Breelton to represent the greatest republic at one of the proudest courts of Europe! Oh, Lord!"
"As bad as that, sir?"
Graves tapped the desk with his glasses. "Worse! Vastly worse! Breelton 's ideally unfit. He's a fool, Shelby. That's his one talent, and he 's developed it to the limit. He's of decent family, and that makes him a snob; he has an in
herited income, and that makes him look down on anybody with brains enough to work; he has dabbled in local politics, and that makes him think he's a master of statecraft. He'll turn us into the laughing-stock of the civilized world."
Shelby perched himself on a table near the editor's desk. "Then how does he get the job?" he asked. "What 's the politics in the move?"
"Politics?" Graves's face was a study. "Politics? There 's only one possible explanation-Effingham."
"What, Senator Effingham?"
"The same. Effingham is the enfant terrible of the party. You know, in the present state of things, he 's unlikely to be reëlected to the senate, even if the other side does n't capture the next legislature. We had a close shave last time to hold the State, you remember. Now, if you 'll admit that Effingham believes his case hopeless, it is possible-just possible, mind you -that he has engineered this farce to throw discredit on the faction which is now in control of the machine. Of course the appointment will be chalked up to its account, for Breelton has been identified with it after a fashion. In fact, he 's one of Senator Worth's hangers-on."
"But Worth may have done this."
Worth has too much sense and too little imagination. But he 'll have to bear the odium. That's the one reason for believing even the fantastic scheming of Effingham could have evolved such a public disgrace and humiliation. theory 's far-fetched, I admit; I apologize for it; I can't ask its acceptance-bar Bedlam and Effingham.”
Shelby laughed, and swung himself down from the table. "I'll turn the hero over to you as soon as we 've extracted an interview," he said as he departed.
Graves, however, was to see Breelton before the very capable inquisitors of the news-department were privileged to question him. Mason's task, as the event proved, had made no demands upon his tenacity.
"Breelton 'd have come along in an aeroplane, if I'd had one handy," the stout youth explained to the man in shirtsleeves. "All he wanted, when he heard what was up, was to get where he could hear more. Oh, yes; I gave him his first tip. He 'most forgot his hat and coat, and
he did clean forget his daughter-she had to chase after him to the carriage. She was with him at the party, you see. She's all right, too; but her daddy-well, look at him! Say, how do you s'pose those buttons are holding?"
The man in shirt-sleeves looked and grinned. Breelton, who had been conducted to the news-room by his guide, was giving a beautiful illustration of a fat little fellow swollen by pride to the danger-limit. "Your young man, Mr. Shelby, has informed me of the-ahem!-of the appointment," he said to the managing editor. "He informs me also that you desire some suitable declaration from me, and I shall be pleased to grant the request; but first I prefer to-ah-ah-confer with your Mr. Graves. A very worthy man Mr. Graves. I have, sir, an excellent opinion of his judgment."
"Mr. Graves will be flattered," said Shelby. "I'll take you to his office."
The managing editor, however, while he addressed Breelton, was looking at Breelton's daughter. She was a slender girl, dark-eyed, and, as he noted, singularly pale. He saw, too, that Hamilton had risen as she entered, and stepped toward her. The young man's face was as pale as the girl's. Shelby did not observe that either spoke to the other before Breelton, wheeling about, caught sight of them. The pervasive smile faded from his countenance. Two strides carried him close to Hamilton.
"You 've heard," he said low and gruffly. "Your own good sense must tell you how impossible this makes an engagement between you two. There must be no more of such folly. I absolutely forbid it."
Shelby did not overhear the speech, but he could make a shrewd guess at its tenor; for the girl's lips trembled, and Hamilton, as white as a sheet, bowed and retreated to his desk. Breelton's smile- and now it had a new touch of triumph-was again in evidence when he turned to Shelby.
"You may conduct me, sir, to Mr. Graves," he said magniloquently.
Shelby lost no time in ushering the visitor into the presence of the editor-in-chief; but, this done, he indulged in a little piece of strategy. Miss Breelton, following uncertainly in the wake of her parent, saw a door open and heard herself addressed.
"If you'll come into the library," Shelby told her, "you can wait more comfortably while your father talks with Mr. Graves. They 're likely to have a long session."
He switched on the electric lights, which showed a large apartment lined with files and book-cases. There was a table in the middle, and by it stood a couple of chairs. Then he vanished for a moment, reappearing with several magazines.
"Possibly you 've seen all these," he said briskly; "but I'll try to find more. I'll fetch them to you, or send them to you, in a moment."
She thanked him gravely, and sank into a chair, smiling wanly while he bustled about, adjusting the portable reading-light for her greater convenience. If she saw that he closed the door by which they had entered, and that presently he departed by another, which opened into the corridor, the circumstance did not impress her. The magazines lay untouched on the table, and she sat, with hands clasped, gazing straight before her. Now and then the sound of her father's voice reached her, but it seemed to fail to cheer her or to remind her of the enviable lot of the daughter of an ambassador.
The door from the hall opened, and she turned her head, rousing herself to greet the benevolent Shelby. It was Hamilton, though, who stood in the doorway, and who came forward as she rose to her feet. For a little neither spoke.
"You did n't expect me," he said at last. "Mr. Shelby-he 's our managing editor, you know-sent me to tell you he could n't find any more magazines."
She received the explanation in the spirit in which it was offered.
"You should n't have come, yet-yet I'm glad you have," she said. "We could n't drop everything without-with
"Without an effort to do it decently and in order?"
Something in his tone hurt her. "Yes, decently and in order," she said quickly. "That is the best way-much the best way, believe me!"
Hamilton laughed mirthlessly. "You know what your father told me not ten minutes ago. I don't think it was decent, but it sounded like an order. It would
seem to settle things definitely enough, if—"
"If?" she repeated, looking at him wonderingly as he hesitated.
"If it settles anything at all."
"He meant it to be clear: you and I are not for each other. This infernal appointment of his ended our romance. On the strength of it he refused point-blank to sanction an engagement to which he previously might have agreed, though reluctantly. And without his sanction—"
Again he paused, gazing at her with hungry eyes. A faint flush stole into her pale cheeks, but she shook her head.
"No; not without his sanction," she said slowly and sorrowfully.
"Well, you see it did settle things," the young man said grimly. "I'm not surprised it should. Ambassadors rank next to princes, don't they? That puts ambassadors' daughters next to princesses, and just as far off, virtually, where beggars are concerned."
"But you 're not a beggar!" she cried. "From the lofty heights I'll look like one. Your father's right: it would be folly for you to-to care for me. I'm a hired man-hired by the week, liable to be turned off at any time. There's no use blinking at facts just because they are hard and ugly and painful."
"But a soldier 's a hired man," she urged. "And have n't we heard of soldiers with marshals' batons in their knapsacks?"
"That day 's gone. I'm working for a pittance, for a newspaper. If I were the editor, I'd be drawing a salary that would n't pay for your flowers and gloves at the embassy. Oh, I know it well enough! I see the worldly wisdom of the view. I'm not a man to seek an alliance for which I am not fit. But you'll forget me-you may be abroad for years."
"I shall never forget you!"
"You can't help it, dear." The word slipped his lips, and he frowned; but her face brightened.
"But there are desirable places about embassies," she pointed out. "Ambassadors have secretaries.”
"No, no! Do you think I could accept a place like that- become a dependent on your father's bounty?"
"I'm afraid you would n't."
"Then don't you see your father was right? At this moment I could n't, in self-respect, ask you to marry me.'
"Perhaps not-not while he is ambassador," she said hesitatingly. "But ambassadorships-" She was no longer
meeting his eye, and the faint flush in her cheek was growing-"but ambassadorships don't last-last forever. And, when it 's over, I—I—”
Hamilton caught her hands and held them tight. "And when it's over, you'll be free!" he cried. And when I come to ask you what I can't ask now, you'll be free to listen?"
Her smile was like sunshine dispersing the mists. "I shall be free then, if I'm not free now."
"Of course, in view of your father's opposition, there can't be an engagement?" “Oh, no!"
Hamilton's face was brightening. "We'll have this fixed definitely," said he. "There can't be an engagement, but there is n't an earthly objection to an understanding, is there?"
"Oh, no indeed!" she assured him.
Meanwhile, in the editorial-room, Breelton was tasting the sweets of power. He had greedily read the fateful pressdespatch, marveling, it may be, at its cold and unadorned directness,-something with illuminated capitals and a rhetorical flourish or two would have been more to his fancy,-but not disposed to cavil, since it conveyed news so epoch-making. was at the table which stood near Graves's desk, and two or three written pages were before him. When Shelby wandered in, however, the ambassador-to-be was leaning back in his chair. His manner might have been described as lordly condescension.
"Very well put, Mr. Graves," he was saying; "very well put, sir. It is, as you say, a splendid honor and a high distinction. But, I submit, it is more it is recognition, sir-recognition."
Graves appeared to be disposed to follow his own line of thought.
"It is forty years since this State has had a first-class diplomatic appointment," said he. "Then Amos Harding was sent to Paris. Harding was a remarkable man. He was a ripe scholar." Here the eyeglasses tapped the desk, as if checking off an item in a tally-"He was an able lawyer, and had served with marked suc
cess on the bench"-Another tap-"He was of unusual executive ability"-Tap -"In the Civil War he supervised the organization of a dozen regiments"Tap-"He was one of the best governors the State ever had; a party-man who knew no partizanship when public interests were at stake."
There the glasses beat a tattoo, while to Shelby's eyes Breelton swelled like a turkey-cock. He seemed to be accepting the recital of Harding's virtues as a handsome, if indirect, tribute to his own.
"Sir," he said pompously-"sir, I shall be pleased to strive, and I trust competently, to prove myself a worthy successor. Also I shall endeavor to instil into my policy that which our diplomacy has too often lacked-vigor, sir, vigor. But I insist-I positively must insist-that the personal element in my selection, no matter how gratifying it may be, must not make us lose sight of that other element to which I have referred-recognition. Sir, I deem this a recognition not only of such humble services as I may have been able to render-" Here he paused briefly, as if expecting protests at this self-abasement"Ahem! not only recognition of my own services, but also of the magnificent support the party in this State has given to the Administration. It is because I regard the matter thus that I have decided to prepare a somewhat formal statement to the people."
Graves glanced at Shelby. "Mr. Breelton prefers the statement to an interview," he explained.
"Exactly," the ambassador-to-be chimed in. "It seems to me the greater formality better accords with the dignity and importance of the subject. It seems to me, too, that it should be given the greatest possible publicity, and I shall thank you, Mr. Shelby, to see that it is widely disseminated. Your press association would furnish an admirable medium, would it not?" "The best," Shelby told him. "Statement ready?"
Breelton picked up one of the papers from the table.
"I have aimed at brevity, sir," he said, "and I think I have attained it. You recall Lincoln's 'Gettysburg Address,' I presume? He had the same idea that I have-go right to your point when you wish to reach the masses. I dwell, as you
will observe, upon the element of recognition, upon the tribute paid to the party's fidelity to the Administration's policies in the last election."
Graves's glasses tapped the desk very softly. The State, for years counted safe, had been held in the party column by the narrowest of majorities. But Breelton, unheeding, continued his remarks to the managing editor.
"I have also prepared a telegram to the President in acknowledgment of the honor done me, and one of thanks to Senator Worth for bearing the suggestion of my name to the White House."
"Worth?" Shelby repeated. "So he engineered it?"
Breelton's eyebrows rose, as if he took exception to such bluntness in dealing with the seats of the mighty. "My dear sir,” he began hotly, then suddenly changed his tone. "Lest there be misunderstanding, I will explain—as a highly confidential communication-that before Senator Worth went back to Washington I confided to him that I should be pleased to place myself at the Government's disposal; that I should enjoy residence abroad for a time; but that I should allow him the greatest latitude in selecting a post which would be commensurate not only with my labors for the party, but with the party's record in our State as well. And, if you will be so good, sir, as to see that these messages are filed with the telegraph-company, I shall be your debtor."
He took the other papers from the table, and handed them to Shelby.
Shelby," the "May I ask -ah-ah-a
"Just a moment, Mr. favored of Fortune cried. you not to intrust them to a common messenger?" "I'll give them to one of our most trustworthy men."
"I thank you," Breelton said impressively, and went back to resume his conference with Graves.
Brief as this interview in the corridor had been, it was to play its part in the night's events. It chanced to take place opposite the door of "Baldy" Sanderson's room, at a moment when the demon of the wire had paused briefly to secure a firmer
hold on his hammer. "Baldy" looked up, and saw the two men. So did a copy-boy who happened to be at his elbow. Now, what a healthy copy-boy does not know about current gossip in a newspaper-office is not worth knowing. The urchin nudged "Baldy" vigorously.
"Pipe him off! That 's him," he said in a stage whisper.
"Who?" "Baldy" growled.
"The guy that 's goin' as 'bassador to Czar Nicky. You got the word just before lunch."
"Umph!" the operator ejaculated; but he stared hard at Breelton. That an ambassador! Doubling up for two days and nights on a heavy wire tends to dim sunny optimism and to sharpen criticism of fellow-men. Somewhere in the back of Sanderson's brain doubt stirred-such a doubt as comes to harass Mr. Suburban when he counts his bundles preparatory to the dash for his train, a suggestion of something amiss, something overlooked, something not as it should be. Just what was it that happened when that despatch was coming in? "Baldy's" big dose of coffee had dulled his thirst, and it had also quickened his wits and made him less like a recording automaton. That an ambassador! That fussy little man a figure at the Russian court! Apparently so, and on the strength of his testimony and the testimony of the great press association of which he was the mouthpiece. The operator's hand stole to his key, and he began to click off a message to division headquarters.
Shelby, meanwhile, had sought his own den, and was poring over Breelton's address to the public. It was short, as the author had declared; but its taste was doubtful and its phraseology ponderous. If the nomination really had been made, people would smile; if there was any mistake, the roar of laughter would shake a dozen States. But could there be a mistake? Despite faith in the inerrancy of the news service, Graves undoubtedly was a skeptic, and Breelton's own explanation removed the chance of Effingham's Machiavellian hand in the affair. Shelby's uneasiness was growing. He had no stirring desire to protect Breelton, but it was his mission in life to save the paper from blunders. He tucked the statement and the telegrams into a pocket, and swiftly
wrote a line or two on a slip of paper, which, a moment later, he laid before Sanderson.
The operator glanced at it, and nodded. "Something just coming on that," he said, and threw a vindictive energy into his pounding of his keys as he set down the following:
"Correction-To editors-In Washington diplomatic appointments please read, Jerome H. Breelton of Vershire, consul at St. Peter's Bay."
Whether or not this was the precise form in which the "correction" came over the wire is neither here nor there. As written out by "Baldy," it might have been taken to cast responsibility for the error on the sender; but Shelby asked no annoying questions. Despite his lack of love for Breelton, it was with reluctant foot that he entered the editorial-room, though he passed the message to Graves almost eagerly. Everybody likes to shift the burden of breaking bad news, and this news was bound to be more than merely bad. Graves read, gulped, and glared at Shelby with savage reproach; but the managing editor declined to meet his eye. Breelton, pausing in the midst of something very like an oration, was smitten by vague forebodings.
"What is it?" he asked. "Anything more about me—about the appointment?" Graves cleared his throat. "I regret, Mr. Breelton, to say that it is."
The other leaned forward in his chair, his hands gripping its arms. "Something -something about the ambassadorship?" he gasped. "Some other man-some other Breelton-gets it?"
"You 're the man; but-but it is n't an ambassadorship. You 're offered a place. as consul."
Breelton's voice rose in a falsetto shriek. "Say, you 're joking! You must be! Me a consul! Let me see what it says!"
He caught at the despatch, but his hand shook and his sight seemed blurred, and the paper fluttered to the floor. Graves picked it up.
"You 're trying to fool me!" Breelton cried. "It's a put-up job. It's a joke, I tell you; but I'm on to it!"
Graves brought down his glasses upon the desk as a speaker might wield a gavel to calm a boisterous legislature.