Next, we turned down the Congressman's son and the Governor's--right as a trivet, I confess it. Next the Senator's son and the son of the Vice-President of the United States--perfectly right, there's no permanency about those little distinctions. Then you went for the aristocracy; and I thought we had struck oil at last--yes. We would make a plunge at the Four Hundred, and pull in some ancient lineage, venerable, holy, ineffable, mellow with the antiquity of a hundred and fifty years, disinfected of the ancestral odors of salt-cod and pelts all of a century ago, and unsmirched by a day's work since, and then! why, then the marriages, of course. But no, along comes a pair a real aristocrats from Europe, and straightway you throw over the half-breeds. It was awfully discouraging, Aleck! Since then, what a procession! You turned down the baronets for a pair of barons; you turned down the barons for a pair of viscounts; the viscounts for a pair of earls; the earls for a pair of marquises; the marquises for a brace of dukes. NOW, Aleck, cash in!-- you've played the limit. You've got a job lot of four dukes under the hammer; of four nationalities; all sound in the wind and limb and pedigree, all bankrupt and in debt up to the ears. They come high, but we can afford it. Come, Aleck, don't delay any longer, don't keep up the suspense: take the whole lay-out, and leave the girls to choose!"
Aleck had been smiling blandly and contentedly all through this arraignment of her marriage policy, a pleasant light, as of triumph with perhaps a nice surprise peeping out through it, rose in her eyes, and she said, as calmly as she could:
"Sally, what would you say to--ROYALTY?"
Prodigious! Poor man, it knocked him silly, and he fell over the garboard-strake and barked his shin on the cat-heads. He was dizzy for a moment, then he gathered himself up and limped over and sat down by his wife and beamed his old-time admiration and affection upon her in floods, out of his bleary eyes.
"By George!" he said, fervently, "Aleck, you ARE great--the greatest woman in the whole earth! I can't ever learn the whole size of you. I can't ever learn the immeasurable deeps of you. Here I've been considering myself qualified to criticize your game. _I!_ Why, if I had stopped to think, I'd have known you had a lone hand up your sleeve. Now, dear heart, I'm all red-hot impatience--tell me about it!"
The flattered and happy woman put her lips to his ear and whispered a princely name. It made him catch his breath, it lit his face with exultation.
"Land!" he said, "it's a stunning catch! He's got a gambling-hall, and a graveyard, and a bishop, and a cathedral--all his very own. And all gilt-edged five-hundred-per-cent. stock, every detail of it; the tidiest little property in Europe. and that graveyard-- it's the selectest in the world: none but suicides admitted; YES, sir, and the free-list suspended, too, ALL the time. There isn't much land in the principality, but there's enough: eight hundred acres in the graveyard and forty-two outside. It's a SOVEREIGNTY--that's the main thing; LAND'S nothing. There's plenty land, Sahara's drugged with it."
Aleck glowed; she was profoundly happy. She said:
"Think of it, Sally--it is a family that has never married outside the Royal and Imperial Houses of Europe: our grandchildren will sit upon thrones!"
"True as you live, Aleck--and bear scepters, too; and handle them as naturally and nonchantly as I handle a yardstick. it's a grand catch, Aleck. He's corralled, is he? Can't get away? You didn't take him on a margin?"
"No. Trust me for that. He's not a liability, he's an asset. So is the other one."
"Who is it, Aleck?"
"His Royal Highness Sigismund-Siegfriend-Lauenfeld-Dinkelspiel-Schwartzenberg Blutwurst, Hereditary Grant Duke of Katzenyammer."
"No! You can't mean it!"
"It's as true as I'm sitting here, I give you my word," she answered.
His cup was full, and he hugged her to his heart with rapture, saying:
"How wonderful it all seems, and how beautiful! It's one of the oldest and noblest of the three hundred and sixty-four ancient German principalities, and one of the few that was allowed to retain its royal estate when Bismarck got done trimming them. I know that farm, I've been there.