A Chicago Princess
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This Table of Contents was added by the Transcriber and placed in thePublic Domain.
A CHICAGO PRINCESS
By ROBERT BARR
Author of “Over the Border,” “The Victors,” “Tekla,”
“In the Midst of Alarms,” “A Woman Intervenes,” etc.
Illustrated by FRANCIS P. WIGHTMAN
New York · FREDERICK A.
STOKES COMPANY · Publishers
Copyright, 1904, by
All rights reserved
This edition published in June, 1904
A CHICAGO PRINCESS
When I look back upon a certain hour of mylife it fills me with wonder that I shouldhave been so peacefully happy. Strangeas it may seem, utter despair is not without its alloy ofjoy. The man who daintily picks his way along amuddy street is anxious lest he soil his polished boots,or turns up his coat collar to save himself from theshower that is beginning, eager then to find a shelter;but let him inadvertently step into a pool, plunginghead over ears into foul water, and after that he has nomore anxiety. Nothing that weather can inflict willadd to his misery, and consequently a ray of happinessillumines his gloomy horizon. He has reached thelimit; Fate can do no more; and there is a satisfactionin attaining the ultimate of things. So it was with methat beautiful day; I had attained my last phase.
I was living in the cheapest of all paper houses, livingas the Japanese themselves do, on a handful ofrice, and learning by experience how very little it requiresto keep body and soul together. But now, whenI had my next meal of rice, it would be at the expense2of my Japanese host, who was already beginning tosuspect,—so it seemed to me,—that I might be unableto liquidate whatever debt I incurred. He was very politeabout it, but in his twinkling little eyes there lurkedsuspicion. I have travelled the whole world over, especiallythe East, and I find it the same everywhere.When a man comes down to his final penny, somesubtle change in his deportment seems to make thewhole world aware of it. But then, again, this supposedknowledge on the part of the world may haveexisted only in my own imagination, as the ChristianScientists tell us every ill resides in the mind. Perhaps,after all, my little bowing landlord was nottroubling himself about the payment of the bill, and Ionly fancied him uneasy.
If an untravelled person, a lover of beauty, weresitting in my place on that little elevated veranda, it ispossible the superb view spread out before him mightaccount for serenity in circumstances which to the ordinaryindividual would be most depressing. But theview was an old companion of mine; goodness knowsI had looked at it often enough when I climbed thatweary hill and gazed upon the town below me, and themagnificent harbor of Nagasaki spreading beyond.The water was intensely blue, dotted with shipping ofall nations, from the stately men-of-war to the oceantramps and the little coasting schooners. It was anever-changing, animated scene; but really I had hadenough of it during all those ineffective months ofstruggle in the attempt to earn even the rice and thepoor lodging which I enjoyed.
Curiously, it was not of this harbor I was thinking,but of another in far-distant Europe, that of Boulognein the north of France, where I spent a day with myown yacht before I sailed for America. And it was acomical thought that brought the harbor of Boulogneto my mind. I had seen a street car there, labelled“Le Dernier Sou,” which I translated as meaning“The Last Cent.” I never took a trip on this streetcar, but I presume somewhere in the outskirts ofBoulogne there is a suburb named “The Last Cent,”and I thought now with a laugh: “Here I am in Japan,and although I did not take that street car, yet I havearrived at ‘Le Dernier Sou.’”
This morning I had not gone down to the harbor toprosecute my search for employment. As with my lastcent, I had apparently given that idea up. There wasno employer needing men to whom I had not appliedtime and again, willing to take the laborer’s wage forthe laborer’s work. But all my earlier training hadbeen by way of making me a gentleman, and the mannerwas still upon me in spite of my endeavors to shakeit off, and I had discovered that business men do notwish gentlemen as day-laborers. There was everyreason that I should be deeply depressed; yet, strangeto say, I was not. Had I at last reached the lotus-eatingcontent of the vagabond? Was this care-freecondition the serenity of the tramp? Would my nextstep downward be the unblushing begging of food,with the confidence that if I were refused at one placeI should receive at another? With later knowledge,looking back at that moment of mitigated happiness, I4am forced to believe that it was the effect of comingevents casting their shadows before. Some occultiststell us that every action that takes place on the earth,no matter how secretly done, leaves its impression onsome ethereal atmosphere, visible to a clairvoyant, whocan see and describe to us exactly what has taken place.If this be true, it is possible that our future experiencesmay give sub-mental warnings of their approach.
As I sat there in the warm sunlight and looked overthe crowded harbor, I thought of the phrase, “Whenmy ship comes in.” There was shipping enough inthe bay, and possibly, if I could but have known where,some friend of mine might at that moment be trampinga white deck, or sitting in a steamer chair, looking upat terrace upon terrace of the toy houses among whichI kept my residence. Perhaps my ship had come inalready if only I knew which were she. As I lay backon the light bamboo chair, along which I had thrownmyself,—a lounging, easy, half-reclining affair likethose we used to have at college,—I gazed upon thelower town and harbor, taking in the vast blue surfaceof the bay; and there along the indigo expanse of thewaters, in striking contrast to them, floated a brilliantlywhite ship gradually, imperceptibly approaching. Thecanvas, spread wing and wing, as it increased in size,gave it the appearance of a swan swimming toward me,and I thought lazily:
“It is like a dove coming to tell me that my delugeof misery is past, and there is an olive-branch of foamin its beak.”
As the whole ship became visible I saw that it, like5the canvas, was pure white, and at first I took it for alarge sailing yacht rapidly making Nagasaki beforethe gentle breeze that was blowing; but as she drewnear I saw that she was a steamer, whose trim lines,despite her size, were somewhat unusual in thesewaters. If this were indeed a yacht she must be ownedby some man of great wealth, for she undoubtedly costa fortune to build and a very large income to maintain.As she approached the more crowded part of the bay,her sails were lowered and she came slowly in on herown momentum. I fancied I heard the rattle of thechain as her anchor plunged into the water, and now Inoticed with a thrill that made me sit up in my loungingchair that the flag which flew at her stern was theStars and Stripes. It is true that I had little cause tobe grateful to the country which this piece of buntingrepresented, for had it not looted me of all I possessed?Nevertheless in those distant regions an Englishmanregards the United States flag somewhat differentlyfrom that of any nation save his own. Perhaps thereis an unconscious feeling of kinship; perhaps the similarityof language may account for it, because anEnglishman understands American better than anyother foreign tongue. Be that as it may, the listlessnessdeparted from me as I gazed upon that banner, ascrude and gaudy as our own, displaying the most strikingof the primary colors. The yacht rested on theblue waters as gracefully as if she were a large whitewaterfowl, and I saw the sampans swarm around herlike a fluffy brood of ducklings.
And now I became conscious that the most polite individual6in the world was making an effort to securemy attention, yet striving to accomplish his purpose inthe most unobtrusive way. My patient and respectedlandlord, Yansan, was making deep obeisances beforeme, and he held in his hand a roll which I stronglysuspected to be my overdue bill. I had the merit inYansan’s eyes of being able to converse with him in hisown language, and the further advantage to myself ofbeing able to read it; therefore he bestowed upon me arespect which he did not accord to all Europeans.
“Ah, Yansan!” I cried to him, taking the bull bythe horns, “I was just thinking of you. I wish youwould be more prompt in presenting your account.By such delay errors creep into it which I am unableto correct.”
Yansan awarded me three bows, each lower than theone preceding it, and, while bending his back, endeavored,though with some confusion, to conceal the rollin his wide sleeve. Yansan was possessed of muchshrewdness, and the bill certainly was a long standingone.
“Your Excellency,” he began, “confers too muchhonor on the dirt beneath your feet by mentioning thetrivial sum that is owing. Nevertheless, since it isyour Excellency’s command, I shall at once retire andprepare the document for you.”
“Oh, don’t trouble about that, Yansan,” I said,“just pull it out of your sleeve and let me look overit.”