AT THE SIGN OF THE EAGLE
AT THE SIGN OF THE EAGLE
"Life in her creaking shoes
Goes and more formal grows
A round of calls and cues:
Love blows as the wind blows.
Blows! . . . "
"Well what do you think of them Molly?" said Sir Duke Lawless to his
wife his eyes resting with some amusement on a big man and a little one
talking to Lord Hampstead.
"The little man is affected gauche and servile. The big one
picturesque and superior in a raw kind of way. He wishes to be rude to
some one and is disappointed because just at the moment Lord Hampstead
is too polite to give him his cue. A dangerous person in a drawing-room
I should think; but interesting. You are a bold man to bring them here
Duke. Is it not awkward for our host?"
"Hampstead did it with his eyes open. Besides there is business behind
it--railways mines and all that; and Hampstead's nephew is going to the
States fortune-hunting. Do you see?"
Lady Lawless lifted her eyebrows. "'To what base uses are we come
Horatio!' You invite me to dinner and--'I'll fix things up right.' That
is the proper phrase for I have heard you use it. Status for dollars.
Isn't it low? I know you do not mean what you say Duke."
Sir Duke's eyes were playing on the men with a puzzled expression as
though trying to read the subject of their conversation; and he did not
reply immediately. Soon however he turned and looked down at his wife
genially and said: "Well that's about it I suppose. But really there
is nothing unusual in this so far as Mr. John Vandewaters is concerned
for in his own country he travels 'the parlours of the Four Hundred'
and is considered 'a very elegant gentleman.' We must respect a man
according to the place he holds in his own community. Besides as you
suggest Mr. Vandewaters is interesting. I might go further and say
that he is a very good fellow indeed."
"You will be asking him down to Craigruie next" said Lady Lawless
inquisition in her look.
"That is exactly what I mean to do with your permission my dear. I
hope to see him laying about among the grouse in due season."
"My dear Duke you are painfully Bohemian. I can remember when you were
perfectly precise and exclusive and--"
"What an awful prig I must have been!"
"Don't interrupt. That was before you went aroving in savage countries
and picked up all sorts of acquaintances making friends with the most
impossible folk. I should never be surprised to see you drive Shon
McGann--and his wife of course--and Pretty Pierre--with some other
man's wife--up to the door in a dogcart; their clothes in a saddle-bag
or something less reputable to stay a month. Duke you have lost your
decorum; you are a gipsy."
"I fear Shon McGann and Pierre wouldn't enjoy being with us as I should
enjoy having them. You can never understand what a life that is out in
Pierre's country. If it weren't for you and the bairn I should be off
there now. There is something of primeval man in me. I am never so
healthy and happy when away from you as in prowling round the outposts
of civilisation and living on beans and bear's meat."
He stretched to his feet and his wife rose with him. There was a fine
colour on his cheek and his eye had a pleasant fiery energy. His wife
tapped him on the arm with her fan. She understood him very well though
pretending otherwise. "Duke you are incorrigible. I am in daily dread
of your starting off in the middle of the night leaving me--"
"Watering your couch with your tears?"
"--and hearing nothing more from you till a cable from Quebec or Winnipeg
tells me that you are on your way to the Arctic Circle with Pierre or
some other heathen. But seriously where did you meet Mr. Vandewaters
--Heavens what a name!--and that other person? And what is the other
"The other person carries the contradictory name of Stephen Pride."
"Why does he continually finger his face and show his emotions so? He
assents to everything said to him by an appreciative exercise of his
"My dear you ask a great and solemn question. Let me introduce the
young man that you may get your answer at the fountain-head."
"Wait a moment Duke. Sit down and tell me when and where you met these
men and why you have continued the acquaintance."
"Molly" he said obeying her "you are a terrible inquisitor and the
privacy of one's chamber were the kinder place to call one to account.
But I bend to your implacability. . . . Mr. Vandewaters like myself
has a taste for roving though our aims are not identical. He has a fine
faculty for uniting business and pleasure. He is not a thorough
sportsman--there is always a certain amount of enthusiasm even in the
unrewarded patience of the true hunter; but he sufficeth. Well Mr.
Vandewaters had been hunting in the far north and looking after a
promising mine at the same time. He was on his way south at one angle
I at another angle bound for the same point. Shon McGann was with me;
Pierre with Vandewaters. McGann left me at a certain point to join his
wife at a Barracks of the Riders of the Plains. I had about a hundred
miles to travel alone. Well I got along the first fifty all right.
Then came trouble. In a bad place of the hills I fell and broke an ankle
bone. I had an Eskimo dog of the right sort with me. I wrote a line on
a bit of birch bark tied it round his neck and started him away
trusting my luck that he would pull up somewhere. He did. He ran into
Vandewaters's camp that evening. Vandewaters and Pierre started away at
once. They had dogs and reached me soon.
"It was the first time I had seen Pierre for years. They fixed me up
and we started south. And that's as it was in the beginning with
Mr. John Vandewaters and me."
Lady Lawless had been watching the two strangers during the talk though
once or twice she turned and looked at her husband admiringly. When he
had finished she said: "That is very striking. What a pity it is that
men we want to like spoil all by their lack of form!"
"Don't be so sure about Vandewaters. Does he look flurried by these
"No. He certainly has an air of contentment. It is I suppose the
usual air of self-made Americans."
"Go to London E.C. and you will find the same plus smugness. Now
Mr. Vandewaters has real power--and taste too as you will see. Would
you think Mr. Stephen Pride a self-made man?"
"I cannot think of any one else who would be proud of the patent. Please
to consider the seals about his waistcoat and the lady-like droop of his
"Yet he is thought to be a young man of parts. He has money made by his
ancestors; he has been round the world; he belongs to societies for
"And he will rave of the Poet's Corner ask if one likes Pippa Passes
and expect to be introduced to every woman in the room at a tea-party
to say nothing of proposing impossible things such as taking one's girl
friends to the opera alone sending them boxes of confectionery and
writing them dreadfully reverential notes at the same time. Duke the
creature is impossible believe me. Never never if you love me invite
him to Craigruie. I met one of his tribe at Lady Macintyre's when I was
just out of school; and at the dinner-table when the wine went round
he lifted his voice and asked for a cup of tea saying he never 'drank.'
Actually he did Duke."
Her husband laughed quietly. He had a man's enjoyment of a woman's
dislike of bad form. "A common criminal man Molly. Tell me which is
the greater crime: to rob a bank or use a fish-knife for asparagus?"
Lady Lawless fanned herself. "Duke you make me hot. But if you will
have the truth: the fish-knife business by all means. Nobody need feel
uncomfortable about the burglary except the burglar; but see what a
position for the other person's hostess."
"My dear women have no civic virtues. Their credo is 'I believe in
beauty and fine linen and the thing that is not gauche.'"
His wife was smiling. "Well have it your own way. It is a creed of
comfort at any rate. And now Duke if I must meet the man of mines and
railways and the spare person making faces at Lord Hampstead let it be
soon that it may be done with; and pray don't invite them to Craigruie
till I have a chance to speak with you again. I will not have impossible
people at a house-party."
"What a difficult fellow your husband is Molly!"
"Difficult; but perfectly possible. His one fault is a universal
sympathy which shines alike on the elect--and the others."
"So. Well this is our dance. After it is over prepare for the
Half-an-hour later Mr. Vandewaters was standing in a conspicuous corner
talking to Lady Lawless.
"It is then your first visit to England?" she asked. He had a dry
deliberate voice unlike the smooth conventional voices round him.
"Yes Lady Lawless" he replied: "it's the first time I've put my foot in
London town and--perhaps you won't believe it of an American--I find it
doesn't take up a very conspicuous place."
The humour was slightly accentuated and Lady Lawless shrank a little
as if she feared the depths of divertisement to which this speech might
lead; but a quick look at the man assured her of his common-sense and
she answered: "It is of the joys of London that no one is so important
but finds the space he fills a small one which may be filled acceptably
by some one else at any moment. It is easy for kings and princes even--
we have secluded princes here now--to get lost and forgotten in London."
"Well that leaves little chance for ordinary Americans who don't bank
She looked up puzzled in spite of herself. But she presently said with
frankness and naivete: "What does 'bank on titles' mean?"
He stroked his beard smiling quaintly and said: "I don't know how to
put the thing better-it seems to fill the bill. But anyway Americans
are republicans; and don't believe in titles and--"
"O pardon me" she interrupted: "of course I see."
"We've got little ways of talking not the same as yours. You don't seem
to have the snap to conversation that we have in the States. But I'll
say here that I think you have got a better style of talking. It isn't
"Mr. Pride said to me a moment ago that they spoke better English in
Boston than any other place in the world."
"Did he though Lady Lawless? That's good. Well I guess he was only
talking through his hat."
She was greatly amused. Her first impressions were correct. The man was
interesting. He had a quaint practical mind. He had been thrown upon
his own resources since infancy almost in a new country; and he had
seen with his own eyes nakedly and without predisposition or
instruction. From childhood thoroughly adaptable he could get into
touch with things quickly and instantly like or dislike them. He had
been used to approach great concerns with fearlessness and competency.
He respected a thing only for its real value and its intrinsic value was
as clear to him as the market value. He had perhaps an exaggerated
belief in the greatness of his own country because he liked eagerness
and energy and daring. The friction and hurry of American life added to
his enjoyment. They acted on him like a stimulating air in which he
was always bold collected and steady. He felt an exhilaration in being
superior to the rustle of forces round him. It had been his habit to
play the great game of business with decision and adroitness. He had not
spared his opponent in the fight; he had crushed where his interests were
in peril and the sport played into his hands; comforting himself if he
thought of the thing with the knowledge that he himself would have been
crushed if the other man had not. He had never been wilfully unfair nor
had he used dishonourable means to secure his ends: his name stood high
in his own country for commercial integrity; men said: he "played
square." He had maybe too keen a contempt for dulness and incompetency
in enterprise and he loathed red-tape; but this was racial. His mind
was as open as his manners. He was utterly approachable. He was a
millionaire and yet in his own offices in New York he was as accessible
as a President. He handled things without gloves and this was not a
good thing for any that came to him with a weak case. He had a
penetrating intelligence; and few men attempted after their first
sophistical statements to impose upon him: he sent them away unhappy.
He did not like England altogether: first because it lacked as he said
enterprise; and because the formality decorum and excessive convention
fretted him. He saw that in many things the old land was backward and
he thought that precious time was being wasted. Still he could see that
there were things purely social in which the Londoners were at
advantage; and he acknowledged this when he said concerning Stephen
Pride's fond boast that he was "talking through his hat."
Lady Lawless smiled and after a moment rejoined:
"Does it mean that he was mumming as it were like a conjurer?"
"Exactly. You are pretty smart Lady Lawless; for I can see that from
your stand-point it isn't always easy to catch the meaning of sayings
like that. But they do hit the case don't they?"
"They give a good deal of individuality to conversation" was the vague
reply. "What do you think is the chief lack in England?"
"Nerve and enterprise. But I'm not going to say you ought to have the
same kind of nerve as ours. We are a different tribe with different
surroundings and we don't sit in the same kind of saddle. We ride for
all we're worth all the time. You sit back and take it easy. We are
never satisfied unless we are behind a fast trotter; you are content with
a good cob that steps high tosses its head and has an aristocratic
"Have you been in the country much?" she asked without any seeming
He was keen enough. He saw the veiled point of her question. "No: I've
never been in the country here" he said. "I suppose you mean that I
don't see or know England till I've lived there."
"Quite so Mr. Vandewaters." She smiled to think what an undistinguished
name it was. It suggested pumpkins in the front garden. Yet here its
owner was perfectly at his ease watching the scene before him with good-
natured superiority. "London is English; but it is very cosmopolitan
you know" she added; "and I fancy you can see it is not a place for fast
trotters. The Park would be too crowded for that--even if one wished to
drive a Maud S."
He turned his slow keen eyes on her and a smile broadened into a low
laugh out of which he said:
"What do you know of Maud S? I didn't think you would be up in racing
"You forget that my husband is a traveller and an admirer of Americans
and things American."
"That's so" he answered; "and a staving good traveller he is. You don't
catch him asleep I can tell you Lady Lawless. He has stuff in him."
"The stuff to make a good American?"
"Yes; with something over. He's the kind of Englishman that can keep
cool when things are ticklish and look as if he was in a parlour all the
time. Americans keep cool but look cheeky. O I know that. We square
our shoulders and turn out our toes and push our hands into our pockets
and act as if we owned the world. Hello--by Jingo!" Then
apologetically: "I beg your pardon Lady Lawless; it slipped."
Lady Lawless followed Mr. Vandewaters's glance and saw passing on her
husband's arm a tall fascinating girl. She smiled meaningly to
herself as she sent a quick quizzical look at the American and said
purposely misinterpreting his exclamation: "I am not envious Mr.
"Of course not. That's a commoner thing with us than with you. American
girls get more notice and attention from their cradles up and they want
it all along the line. You see we've mostly got the idea that an
Englishman expects from his wife what an American woman expects from her
"How do Americans get these impressions about us?"
"From our newspapers I guess; and the newspapers take as the ground-work
of their belief the Bow Street cases where Englishmen are cornered for
beating their wives."
"Suppose we were to judge of American Society by the cases in a Chicago
"There you have me on toast. That's what comes of having a husband who
takes American papers. Mind you I haven't any idea that the American
papers are right. I've had a lot to do with newspapers and they are
pretty ignorant I can tell you--cheap all round. What's a newspaper
anyway but an editor more or less smart and overworked with an owner
behind him who has got some game on hand? I know: I've been there."
"How have you 'been there'?"
"I've owned four big papers all at once and had fifty others under my
Lady Lawless caught her breath; but she believed him. "You must be very
"Owning newspapers doesn't mean riches. It's a lever though for
tipping the dollars your way."
"I suppose they have--tipped your way?"
"Yes: pretty well. But don't follow this lead any farther Lady
Lawless or you may come across something that will give you a start.
I should like to keep on speaking terms with you."
"You mean that a man cannot hold fifty newspapers under his thumb and
live in the glare of a search-light also?"
"Exactly. You can't make millions without pulling wires."
She saw him watching the girl on her husband's arm. She had the instinct
of her sex. She glanced at the stately girl again; then at Mr.
Vandewaters critically and rejoined quizzically: "Did you--make
His eyes still watching he replied abstractedly. "Yes: a few handfuls
and lost a few--'that's why I'm here.'"
"To get them back on the London market?"
"That's why I am here."
"You have not come in vain?"
"I could tell you better in a month or so from now. In any case I don't
stand to lose. I've come to take things away from England."
"I hope you will take away a good opinion of it."
"If there'd been any doubt of it half an hour ago it would be all gone
"Which is nice of you; and not in your usual vein I should think. But
Mr. Vandewaters we want you to come to Craigruie our country place to
spend a week. Then you will have a chance to judge us better or rather
more broadly and effectively." She was looking at the girl and at that
moment she caught Sir Duke's eye. She telegraphed to him to come.
"Thank you Lady Lawless I'm glad you have asked me. But--" He glanced
to where Mr. Pride was being introduced to the young lady on Sir Duke's
arm and paused.
"We are hoping" she added interpreting his thought and speaking a
little dryly "that your friend Mr. Stephen Pride"--the name sounded so
ludicrous--"will join us."
"He'll be proud enough you may be sure. It's a singular combination
Pride and myself isn't it? But you see he has a fortune which as
yet he has never been able to handle for himself; and I do it for him.
We are partners and though you mightn't think it he has got more money
now than when he put his dollars at my disposal to help me make a few
millions at a critical time."
Lady Lawless let her fan touch Mr. Vandewaters's arm. "I am going
to do you a great favour. You see that young lady coming to us with my
husband? Well I am going to introduce you to her. It is such as she--
such women--who will convince you--"
"--that you have yet to make your--what shall I call it?--Ah I have it:
your 'biggest deal'--and in truth your best."
"Is that so?" rejoined Vandewaters musingly. "Is that so? I always
thought I'd make my biggest deal in the States. Who is she? She is
"She is more than handsome and she is the Honourable Gracia Raglan."
"I don't understand about 'The Honourable.'"
"I will explain that another time."
A moment later Miss Raglan in a gentle bewilderment walked down the
ballroom on the arm of the millionaire half afraid that something gauche
would happen; but by the time she had got to the other end was reassured
and became interested.
Sir Duke said to his wife in an aside before he left her with
Mr. Vandewaters's financial partner: "What is your pretty conspiracy
"Do talk English Duke and do not interfere."
A few hours later on the way home Sir Duke said: "You asked Mr. Pride
"Yes; I grieve to say."