Ruggles of Red Gap
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 6 out of 6
I now found myself observing Mrs. Effie, who had been among the
absorbed onlookers while the pair were at their tea, she having
occupied a table with Mrs. Judge Ballard and Mrs. Dr. Martingale.
Deeply immersed in thought she had been, scarce replying to her
companions. Her eyes had narrowed in a way I well knew when she
reviewed the social field.
Still absorbed she was when Cousin Egbert entered, accompanied by the
Honourable George. The latter had seen but little of his brother since
their first stormy interview, but he had also seen little of the
Klondike woman. His spirits, however, had seemed quite undashed. He
rarely missed his tea. Now as they seated themselves they were joined
quickly by Mrs. Effie, who engaged her relative in earnest converse.
It was easy to see that she begged a favour. She kept a hand on his
arm. She urged. Presently, seeming to have achieved her purpose, she
left them, and I paused to greet the pair.
"I guess that there Mrs. Effie is awful silly," remarked Cousin Egbert
enigmatically. "No, sir; she can't ever tell how the cat is going to
jump." Nor would he say more, though he most elatedly held a secret.
With this circumstance I connected the announcement in Monday's
_Recorder_ that Mrs. Senator Floud would on that evening entertain
at dinner the members of Red Gap's Bohemian set, including Mrs. Kate
Kenner, the guest of honour being his lordship the Earl of Brinstead,
"at present visiting in this city. Covers," it added, "would be laid
for fourteen." I saw that Cousin Egbert would have been made the
ambassador to conduct what must have been a business of some delicacy.
Among the members of the North Side set the report occasioned the
wildest alarm. And yet so staunch were known to be the principles of
Mrs. Effie that but few accused her of downright treachery. It seemed
to be felt that she was but lending herself to the furtherance of some
deep design of his lordship's. Blackmail, the recovery of compromising
letters, the avoidance of legal proceedings--these were hinted at. For
myself I suspected that she had merely misconstrued the seeming
cordiality of his lordship toward the woman and, at the expense of the
Belknap-Jacksons, had sought the honour of entertaining him. If, to do
that, she must entertain the woman, well and good. She was not one to
funk her fences with the game in sight.
Consulting me as to the menu for her dinner, she allowed herself to be
persuaded to the vegetable soup, boiled mutton, thick pudding, and
cheese which I recommended, though she pleaded at length for a chance
to use the new fish set and for a complicated salad portrayed in her
latest woman's magazine. Covered with grated nuts it was in the
illustration. I was able, however, to convince her that his lordship
would regard grated nuts as silly.
From Belknap-Jackson I learned by telephone (during these days, being
sensitive, he stopped in almost quite continuously) that Mrs. Effie
had profusely explained to his wife about the dinner. "Of course, my
dear, I couldn't have the presumption to ask you and your husband to
sit at table with the creature, even if he did think it all right to
drive her about town on a shopping trip. But I thought we ought to do
something to make the dear Earl's visit one to be remembered--he's
_so_ appreciative! I'm sure you understand just how things
In reciting this speech to me Belknap-Jackson essayed to simulate the
tone and excessive manner of a woman gushing falsely. The fellow was
quite bitter about it.
"I sometimes think I'll give up," he concluded. "God only knows what
things are coming to!"
It began to seem even to me that they were coming a bit thick. But I
knew that his lordship was a determined man. He was of the bulldog
breed that has made old England what it is. I mean to say, I knew he
would put the woman in her place.
Echoes of the Monday night dinner reached me the following day. The
affair had passed off pleasantly enough, the members of the Bohemian
set conducting themselves quite as persons who mattered, with the
exception of the Klondike woman herself, who, I gathered, had
descended to a mood of most indecorous liveliness considering who the
guest of honour was. She had not only played and sung those noisy
native folksongs of hers, but she had, it seemed, conducted herself
with a certain facetious familiarity toward his lordship.
"Every now and then," said Cousin Egbert, my principal informant,
"she'd whirl in and josh the Cap all over the place about them funny
whiskers he wears. She told him out and out he'd just got to lose
"Shocking rudeness!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, sure, sure!" he agreed, yet without indignation. "And the Cap
just hated her for it--you could tell that by the way he looked at
her. Oh, he hates her something terrible. He just can't bear the sight
"Naturally enough," I observed, though there had been an undercurrent
to his speech that I thought almost quite a little odd. His accents
were queerly placed. Had I not known him too well I should have
thought him trying to be deep. I recalled his other phrases, that Mrs.
Effie was seeing which way a cat would leap, and that the Klondike
person would hand the ladies of the North Side set a lemon squash. I
put them all down as childish prattle and said as much to the Mixer
later in the day as she had a dish of tea at the Grill.
"Yes, Sour-dough's right," she observed. "That Earl just hates the
sight of her--can't bear to look at her a minute." But she, too,
intoned the thing queerly.
"He's putting pressure to bear on her," I said.
"Pressure!" said the Mixer; and then, "Hum!" very dryly.
With this news, however, it was plain as a pillar-box that things were
going badly with his lordship's effort to release the Honourable
George from his entanglement. The woman, doubtless with his
compromising letters, would be holding out for a stiffish price; she
would think them worth no end. And plainly again, his lordship had
thrown off his mask; was unable longer to conceal his aversion for
her. This, to be sure, was more in accordance with his character as I
had long observed it. If he hated her it was like him to show it when
he looked at her. I mean he was quite like that with almost any one. I
hoped, however, that diplomacy might still save us all sorts of a
To my relief when the pair appeared for tea that afternoon--a sight no
longer causing the least sensation--I saw that his lordship must have
returned to his first or diplomatic manner. Doubtless he still hated
her, but one would little have suspected it from his manner of looking
at her. I mean to say, he looked at her another way. The opposite way,
in fact. He was being subtle in the extreme. I fancied it must have
been her wretched levity regarding his beard that had goaded him into
the exhibitions of hatred noted by Cousin Egbert and the Mixer.
Unquestionably his lordship may be goaded in no time if one
deliberately sets about it. At the time, doubtless, he had sliced a
drive or two, as one might say, but now he was back in form.
Again I confess I was not a little sorry for the creature, seeing her
there so smartly taken in by his effusive manner. He was having her on
in the most obvious way and she, poor dupe, taking it all quite
seriously. Prime it was, though, considering the creature's designs;
and I again marvelled that in all the years of my association with his
lordship I had never suspected what a topping sort he could be at this
game. His mask was now perfect. It recalled, indeed, Cousin Egbert's
simple but telling phrase about the Honourable George--"He looks at
her!" It could now have been said of his lordship with the utmost
significance to any but those in the know.
And so began, quite as had the first, the second week of his
lordship's stay among us. Knowing he had booked a return from Cooks, I
fancied that results of some sort must soon ensue. The pressure he was
putting on the woman must begin to tell. And this was the extreme of
the encouragement I was able to offer the Belknap-Jacksons. Both he
and his wife were of course in a bit of a state. Nor could I blame
them. With an Earl for house guest they must be content with but a
glimpse of him at odd moments. Rather a barren honour they were
His lordship's conferences with the woman were unabated. When not
secluded with her at her own establishment he would be abroad with her
in her trap or in the car of Belknap-Jackson. The owner, however, no
longer drove his car. He had never taken another chance. And well I
knew these activities of his lordship's were being basely misconstrued
by the gossips.
"The Cap is certainly some queener," remarked Cousin Egbert, which
perhaps reflected the view of the deceived public at this time, the
curious term implying that his lordship was by way of being a bit of a
dog. But calm I remained under these aspersions, counting upon a
clean-cut vindication of his lordship's methods when he should have
got the woman where he wished her.
I remained, I repeat, serenely confident that a signal triumph would
presently crown his lordship's subtly planned attack. And then, at
midweek, I was rudely shocked to the suspicion that all might not be
going well with his plan. I had not seen the pair for a day, and when
they did appear for their tea I instantly detected a profound change
in their mutual bearing. His lordship still looked at the woman, but
the raillery of their past meetings had gone. Too plainly something
momentous had occurred. Even the woman was serious. Had they fought to
the last stand? Would she have been too much for him? I mean to say,
was the Honourable George cooked?
I now recalled that I had observed an almost similar change in the
latter's manner. His face wore a look of wildest gloom that might have
been mitigated perhaps by a proper trimming of his beard, but even
then it would have been remarked by those who knew him well. I
divined, I repeat, that something momentous had now occurred and that
the Honourable George was one not least affected by it.
Rather a sleepless night I passed, wondering fearfully if, after all,
his lordship would have been unable to extricate the poor chap from
this sordid entanglement. Had the creature held out for too much? Had
she refused to compromise? Would there be one of those appalling legal
things which our best families so often suffer? What if the victim
were to cut off home?
Nor was my trepidation allayed by the cryptic remark of Mrs. Judson as
I passed her at her tasks in the pantry that morning:
"A prince in his palace not too good--that's what I said!"
She shot the thing at me with a manner suspiciously near to flippancy.
I sternly demanded her meaning.
"I mean what I mean," she retorted, shutting her lips upon it in a
definite way she has. Well enough I knew the import of her uncivil
speech, but I resolved not to bandy words with her, because in my
position it would be undignified; because, further, of an unfortunate
effect she has upon my temper at such times.
"She's being terrible careful about _her_ associates," she
presently went on, with a most irritating effect of addressing only
herself; "nothing at all but just dukes and earls and lords day in and
day out!" Too often when the woman seems to wish it she contrives to
get me in motion, as the American saying is.
"And it is deeply to be regretted," I replied with dignity, "that
other persons must say less of themselves if put to it."
Well she knew what I meant. Despite my previous clear warning, she had
more than once accepted small gifts from the cattle-persons, Hank and
Buck, and had even been seen brazenly in public with them at a cinema
palace. One of a more suspicious nature than I might have guessed that
she conducted herself thus for the specific purpose of enraging me,
but I am glad to say that no nature could be more free than mine from
vulgar jealousy, and I spoke now from the mere wish that she should
more carefully guard her reputation. As before, she exhibited a
surprising meekness under this rebuke, though I uneasily wondered if
there might not be guile beneath it.
"Can I help it," she asked, "if they like to show me attentions? I
guess I'm a free woman." She lifted her head to observe a glass she
had polished. Her eyes were curiously lighted. She had this way of
embarrassing me. And invariably, moreover, she aroused all that is
evil in my nature against the two cattle-persons, especially the Buck
one, actually on another occasion professing admiration for "his wavy
chestnut hair!" I saw now that I could not trust myself to speak of
the fellow. I took up another matter.
"That baby of yours is too horribly fat," I said suddenly. I had long
meant to put this to her. "It's too fat. It eats too much!"
To my amazement the creature was transformed into a vixen.
"It--it! Too fat! You call my boy 'it' and say he's too fat! Don't you
dare! What does a creature like you know of babies? Why, you wouldn't
But the thing was too painful. Let her angry words be forgotten.
Suffice to say, she permitted herself to cry out things that might
have given grave offence to one less certain of himself than I. Rather
chilled I admit I was by her frenzied outburst. I was shrewd enough to
see instantly that anything in the nature of a criticism of her
offspring must be led up to, rather; perhaps couched in less direct
phrases than I had chosen. Fearful I was that she would burst into
another torrent of rage, but to my amazement she all at once smiled.
"What a fool I am!" she exclaimed. "Kidding me, were you? Trying to
make me mad about the baby. Well, I'll give you good. You did it. Yes,
sir, I never would have thought you had a kidding streak in you--old
"Little you know me," I retorted, and quickly withdrew, for I was then
more embarrassed than ever, and, besides, there were other and graver
matters forward to depress and occupy me.
In my fitful sleep of the night before I had dreamed vividly that I
saw the Honourable George being dragged shackled to the altar. I trust
I am not superstitious, but the vision had remained with me in all its
tormenting detail. A veiled woman had grimly awaited him as he
struggled with his uniformed captors. I mean to say, he was being
hustled along by two constables.
That day, let me now put down, was to be a day of the most fearful
shocks that a man of rather sensitive nervous organism has ever been
called upon to endure. There are now lines in my face that I make no
doubt showed then for the first time.
And it was a day that dragged interminably, so that I became fair off
my head with the suspense of it, feeling that at any moment the worst
might happen. For hours I saw no one with whom I could consult. Once I
was almost moved to call up Belknap-Jackson, so intolerable was the
menacing uncertainty; but this I knew bordered on hysteria, and I
restrained the impulse with an iron will.
But I wretchedly longed for a sight of Cousin Egbert or the Mixer, or
even of the Honourable George; some one to assure me that my horrid
dream of the night before had been a baseless fabric, as the saying
is. The very absence of these people and of his lordship was in itself
Nervously I kept to a post at one of my windows where I could survey
the street. And here at mid-day I sustained my first shock. Terrific
it was. His lordship had emerged from the chemist's across the street.
He paused a moment, as if to recall his next mission, then walked
briskly off. And this is what I had been stupefied to note: he was
clean shaven! The Brinstead side-whiskers were gone! Whiskers that had
been worn in precisely that fashion by a tremendous line of the Earls
of Brinstead! And the tenth of his line had abandoned them. As well, I
thought, could he have defaced the Brinstead arms.
It was plain as a pillar-box, indeed. The woman had our family at her
mercy, and she would show no mercy. My heart sank as I pictured the
Honourable George in her toils. My dream had been prophetic. Then I
reflected that this very circumstance of his lordship's having
pandered to her lawless whim about his beard would go to show he had
not yet given up the fight. If the thing were hopeless I knew he would
have seen her--dashed--before he would have relinquished it. There
plainly was still hope for poor George. Indeed his lordship might well
have planned some splendid coup; this defacement would be a part of
his strategy, suffered in anguish for his ultimate triumph. Quite
cheered I became at the thought. I still scanned the street crowd for
some one who could acquaint me with developments I must have missed.
But then a moment later came the call by telephone of Belknap-Jackson.
I answered it, though with little hope than to hear more of his
unending complaints about his lordship's negligence. Startled
instantly I was, however, for his voice was stranger than I had known
it even in moments of his acutest distress. Hoarse it was, and his
words alarming but hardly intelligible.
"Heard?--My God!--Heard?--My God!--Marriage! Marriage! God!" But here
he broke off into the most appalling laughter--the blood-curdling
laughter of a chained patient in a mad-house. Hardly could I endure it
and grateful I was when I heard the line close. Even when he attempted
vocables he had sounded quite like an inferior record on a
phonographic machine. But I had heard enough to leave me aghast.
Beyond doubt now the very worst had come upon our family. His
lordship's tremendous sacrifice would have been all in vain. Marriage!
The Honourable George was done for. Better had it been the
typing-girl, I bitterly reflected. Her father had at least been a
Thankful enough I now was for the luncheon-hour rush: I could distract
myself from the appalling disaster. That day I took rather more than
my accustomed charge of the serving. I chatted with our business
chaps, recommending the joint in the highest terms; drawing corks;
seeing that the relish was abundantly stocked at every table. I was
striving to forget.
Mrs. Judson alone persisted in reminding me of the impending scandal.
"A prince in his palace," she would maliciously murmur as I
encountered her. I think she must have observed that I was bitter, for
she at last spoke quite amiably of our morning's dust-up.
"You certainly got my goat," she said in the quaint American fashion,
"telling me little No-no was too fat. You had me going there for a
minute, thinking you meant it!"
The creature's name was Albert, yet she persisted in calling it
"No-no," because the child itself would thus falsely declare its name
upon being questioned, having in some strange manner gained this
impression. It was another matter I meant to bring to her attention,
but at this crisis I had no heart for it.
My crowd left. I was again alone to muse bitterly upon our plight.
Still I scanned the street, hoping for a sight of Cousin Egbert, who,
I fancied, would be informed as to the wretched details. Instead, now,
I saw the Honourable George. He walked on the opposite side of the
thoroughfare, his manner of dejection precisely what I should have
expected. Followed closely as usual he was by the Judson cur. A spirit
of desperate mockery seized me. I called to Mrs. Judson, who was
gathering glasses from a table. I indicated the pair.
"Mr. Barker," I said, "is dogging his footsteps." I mean to say, I
uttered the words in the most solemn manner. Little the woman knew
that one may often be moved in the most distressing moments to a jest
of this sort. She laughed heartily, being of quick discernment. And
thus jauntily did I carry my knowledge of the lowering cloud. But I
permitted myself no further sallies of that sort. I stayed expectantly
by the window, and I dare say my bearing would have deceived the most
alert. I was steadily calm. The situation called precisely for that.
The hours sped darkly and my fears mounted. In sheer desperation, at
length, I had myself put through to Belknap-Jackson. To my
astonishment he seemed quite revived, though in a state of feverish
gayety. He fair bubbled.
"Just leaving this moment with his lordship to gather up some friends.
We meet at your place. Yes, yes--all the uncertainty is past. Better
set up that largest table--rather a celebration."
Almost more confusing it was than his former message, which had been
confined to calls upon his Maker and to maniac laughter. Was he, I
wondered, merely making the best of it? Had he resolved to be a dead
sportsman? A few moments later he discharged his lordship at my door
and drove rapidly on. (Only a question of time it is when he will be
had heavily for damages due to his reckless driving.)
His lordship bustled in with a cheerfulness that staggered me. He,
too, was gay; almost debonair. A gardenia was in his lapel. He was
vogue to the last detail in a form-fitting gray morning-suit that had
all the style essentials. Almost it seemed as if three valets had been
needed to groom him. He briskly rubbed his hands.
"Biggest table--people. Tea, that sort of thing. Have a go of
champagne, too, what, what! Beard off, much younger appearing? Of
course, course! Trust women, those matters. Tea cake, toast, crumpets,
marmalade--things like that. Plenty champagne! Not happen every day!
To my acute distress he here thumbed me in the ribs and laughed again.
Was he, too, I wondered, madly resolved to be a dead sportsman in the
face of the unavoidable? I sought to edge in a discreet word of
condolence, for I knew that between us there need be no pretence.
"I know you did your best, sir," I observed. "And I was never quite
free of a fear that the woman would prove too many for us. I trust the
But I had said as much as he would let me. He interrupted me with his
thumb again, and on his face was what in a lesser person I should
unhesitatingly have called a leer.
"You dog, you! Woman prove too many for us, what, what! Dare say you
knew what to expect. Silly old George! Though how she could ever have
fancied the juggins----"
I was about to remark that the creature had of course played her game
from entirely sordid motives and I should doubtless have ventured to
applaud the game spirit in which he was taking the blow. But before I
could shape my phrases on this delicate ground Mrs. Effie, the
Senator, and Cousin Egbert arrived. They somewhat formally had the air
of being expected. All of them rushed upon his lordship with an
excessive manner. Apparently they were all to be dead sportsmen
together. And then Mrs. Effie called me aside.
"You can do me a favour," she began. "About the wedding breakfast and
reception. Dear Kate's place is so small. It wouldn't do. There will
be a crush, of course. I've had the loveliest idea for it--our own
house. You know how delighted we'd be. The Earl has been so charming
and everything has turned out so splendidly. Oh, I'd love to do them
this little parting kindness. Use your influence like a good fellow,
won't you, when the thing is suggested?"
"Only too gladly," I responded, sick at heart, and she returned to the
group. Well I knew her motive. She was by way of getting even with the
Belknap-Jacksons. As Cousin Egbert in his American fashion would put
it, she was trying to pass them a bison. But I was willing enough she
should house the dreadful affair. The more private the better, thought
A moment later Belknap-Jackson's car appeared at my door, now
discharging the Klondike woman, effusively escorted by the Mixer and
by Mrs. Belknap-Jackson. The latter at least, I had thought, would
show more principle. But she had buckled atrociously, quite as had her
husband, who had quickly, almost merrily, followed them. There was
increased gayety as they seated themselves about the large table, a
silly noise of pretended felicitation over a calamity that not even
the tenth Earl of Brinstead had been able to avert. And then
Belknap-Jackson beckoned me aside.
"I want your help, old chap, in case it's needed," he began.
"The wedding breakfast and reception?" I said quite cynically.
"You've thought of it? Good! Her own place is far too small. Crowd, of
course. And it's rather proper at our place, too, his lordship having
been our house guest. You see? Use what influence you have. The affair
will be rather widely commented on--even the New York papers, I dare
"Count upon me," I answered blandly, even as I had promised Mrs.
Effie. Disgusted I was. Let them maul each other about over the
wretched "honour." They could all be dead sports if they chose, but I
was now firmly resolved that for myself I should make not a bit of
pretence. The creature might trick poor George into a marriage, but I
for one would not affect to regard it as other than a blight upon our
house. I was just on the point of hoping that the victim himself might
have cut off to unknown parts when I saw him enter. By the other
members of the party he was hailed with cries of delight, though his
own air was finely honest, being dejected in the extreme. He was
dressed as regrettably as usual, this time in parts of two
As he joined those at the table I constrained myself to serve the
champagne. Senator Floud arose with a brimming glass.
"My friends," he began in his public-speaking manner, "let us remember
that Red Gap's loss is England's gain--to the future Countess of
To my astonishment this appalling breach of good taste was received
with the loudest applause, nor was his lordship the least clamorous of
them. I mean to say, the chap had as good as wished that his lordship
would directly pop off. It was beyond me. I walked to the farthest
window and stood a long time gazing pensively out; I wished to be away
from that false show. But they noticed my absence at length and called
to me. Monstrously I was desired to drink to the happiness of the
groom. I thought they were pressing me too far, but as they quite
gabbled now with their tea and things, I hoped to pass it off. The
Senator, however, seemed to fasten me with his eye as he proposed the
toast--"To the happy man!"
I drank perforce.
"A body would think Bill was drinking to the Judge," remarked Cousin
Egbert in a high voice.
"Eh?" I said, startled to this outburst by his strange words.
"Good old George!" exclaimed his lordship. "Owe it all to the old
juggins, what, what!"
The Klondike person spoke. I heard her voice as a bell pealing through
breakers at sea. I mean to say, I was now fair dazed.
"Not to old George," said she. "To old Ruggles!"
"To old Ruggles!" promptly cried the Senator, and they drank.
Muddled indeed I was. Again in my eventful career I felt myself
tremble; I knew not what I should say, any _savoir faire_ being
quite gone. I had received a crumpler of some sort--but what
My sleeve was touched. I turned blindly, as in a nightmare. The Hobbs
cub who was my vestiare was handing me our evening paper. I took it
from him, staring--staring until my knees grew weak. Across the page
in clarion type rang the unbelievable words:
BRITISH PEER WINS AMERICAN BRIDE
His Lordship Tenth Earl of Brinstead to Wed One of Red Gap's
My hands so shook that in quick subterfuge I dropped the sheet, then
stooped for it, trusting to control myself before I again raised my
face. Mercifully the others were diverted by the journal. It was
seized from me, passed from hand to hand, the incredible words read
aloud by each in turn. They jested of it!
"Amazing chaps, your pressmen!" Thus the tenth Earl of Brinstead,
while I pinched myself viciously to bring back my lost aplomb. "Speedy
beggars, what, what! Never knew it myself till last night. She would
and she wouldn't."
"I think you knew," said the lady. Stricken as I was I noted that she
eyed him rather strangely, quite as if she felt some decent respect
"Marriage is serious," boomed the Mixer.
"Don't blame her, don't blame her--swear I don't!" returned his
lordship. "Few days to think it over--quite right, quite right. Got to
know their own minds, my word!"
While their attention was thus mercifully diverted from me, my own
world by painful degrees resumed its stability. I mean to say, I am
not the fainting sort, but if I were, then I should have keeled over
at my first sight of that journal. But now I merely recovered my glass
of champagne and drained it. Rather pigged it a bit, I fancy. Badly
needing a stimulant I was, to be sure.
They now discussed details: the ceremony--that sort of thing.
"Before a registrar, quickest way," said his lordship.
"Nonsense! Church, of course!" rumbled the Mixer very arbitrarily.
"Quite so, then," assented his lordship. "Get me the rector of the
parish--a vicar, a curate, something of that sort."
"Then the breakfast and reception," suggested Mrs. Effie with a
meaning glance at me before she turned to the lady. "Of course,
dearest, your own tiny nest would never hold your host of friends----"
"I've never noticed," said the other quickly. "It's always seemed big
enough," she added in pensive tones and with downcast eyes.
"Oh, not large enough by half," put in Belknap-Jackson, "Most charming
little home-nook but worlds too small for all your well-wishers." With
a glance at me he narrowed his eyes in friendly calculation. "I'm
somewhat puzzled myself--Suppose we see what the capable Ruggles has
"Let Ruggles suggest something by all means!" cried Mrs. Effie.
I mean to say, they both quite thought they knew what I would suggest,
but it was nothing of the sort. The situation had entirely changed.
Quite another sort of thing it was. Quickly I resolved to fling them
both aside. I, too, would be a dead sportsman.
"I was about to suggest," I remarked, "that my place here is the only
one at all suitable for the breakfast and reception. I can promise
that the affair will go off smartly."
The two had looked up with such radiant expectation at my opening
words and were so plainly in a state at my conclusion that I dare say
the future Countess of Brinstead at once knew what. She flashed them a
look, then eyed me with quick understanding.
"Great!" she exclaimed in a hearty American manner. "Then that's
settled," she continued briskly, as both Belknap-Jackson and Mrs.
Effie would have interposed "Ruggles shall do everything: take it off
our shoulders--ices, flowers, invitations."
"The invitation list will need great care, of course," remarked
Belknap-Jackson with a quite savage glance at me.
"But you just called him 'the capable Ruggles,'" insisted the fiancee.
"We shall leave it all to him. How many will you ask, Ruggles?" Her
eyes flicked from mine to Belknap-Jackson.
"Quite almost every one," I answered firmly.
"Fine!" she said.
"Ripping!" said his lordship.
"His lordship will of course wish a best man," suggested
Belknap-Jackson. "I should be only too glad----"
"You're going to suggest Ruggles again!" cried the lady. "Just the man
for it! You're quite right. Why, we owe it all to Ruggles, don't we?"
She here beamed upon his lordship. Belknap-Jackson wore an expression
of the keenest disrelish.
"Of course, course!" replied his lordship. "Dashed good man, Ruggles!
Owe it all to him, what, what!"
I fancy in the cordial excitement of the moment he was quite sincere.
As to her ladyship, I am to this day unable to still a faint suspicion
that she was having me on. True, she owed it all to me. But I hadn't a
bit meant it and well she knew it. Subtle she was, I dare say, but
bore me no malice, though she was not above setting Belknap-Jackson
back a pace or two each time he moved up.
A final toast was drunk and my guests drifted out. Belknap-Jackson
again glared savagely at me as he went, but Mrs. Effie rather
outglared him. Even I should hardly have cared to face her at that
And I was still in a high state of muddle. It was all beyond me. Had
his lordship, I wondered, too seriously taken my careless words about
American equality? Of course I had meant them to apply only to those
stopping on in the States.
Cousin Egbert lingered to the last, rather with a troubled air of
wishing to consult me. When I at length came up with him he held the
journal before me, indicating lines in the article--"relict of an
Alaskan capitalist, now for some years one of Red Gap's social
"Read that there," he commanded grimly. Then with a terrific
earnestness I had never before remarked in him: "Say, listen here! I
better go round right off and mix it up with that fresh guy. What's he
hinting around at by that there word 'relict'? Why, say, she was
married to him----"
I hastily corrected his preposterous interpretation of the word, much
to his relief.
I was still in my precious state of muddle. Mrs. Judson took occasion
to flounce by me in her work of clearing the table.
"A prince in his palace," she taunted. I laughed in a lofty manner.
"Why, you poor thing, I've known it all for some days," I said.
"Well, I must say you're the deep one if you did--never letting on!"
She was unable to repress a glance of admiration at me as she moved
I stood where she had left me, meditating profoundly.
Two days later at high noon was solemnized the marriage of his
lordship to the woman who, without a bit meaning it, I had so
curiously caused to enter his life. The day was for myself so crowded
with emotions that it returns in rather a jumble: patches of
incidents, little floating clouds of memory; some meaningless and one
at least to be significant to my last day.
The ceremony was had in our most nearly smart church. It was only a
Methodist church, but I took pains to assure myself that a ceremony
performed by its curate would be legal. I still seem to hear the
organ, strains of "The Voice That Breathed Through Eden," as we neared
the altar; also the Mixer's rumbling whisper about a lost handkerchief
which she apparently found herself needing at that moment.
The responses of bride and groom were unhesitating, even firm. Her
ladyship, I thought, had never appeared to better advantage than in
the pearl-tinted lustreless going-away gown she had chosen. As always,
she had finely known what to put on her head.
Senator Floud, despite Belknap-Jackson's suggestion of himself for the
office, had been selected to give away the bride, as the saying is. He
performed his function with dignity, though I recall being seized with
horror when the moment came; almost certain I am he restrained himself
with difficulty from making a sort of a speech.
The church was thronged. I had seen to that. I had told her ladyship
that I should ask quite almost every one, and this I had done,
squarely in the face of Belknap-Jackson's pleading that discretion be
used. For a great white light, as one might say, had now suffused me.
I had seen that the moment was come when the warring factions of Red
Gap should be reunited. A Bismarck I felt myself, indeed. That I acted
ably was later to be seen.
Even for the wedding breakfast, which occurred directly after the
ceremony, I had shown myself a dictator in the matter of guests.
Covers were laid in my room for seventy and among these were included
not only the members of the North Side set and the entire Bohemian
set, but many worthy persons not hitherto socially existent yet who
had been friends or well-wishers of the bride.
I am persuaded to confess that in a few of these instances I was not
above a snarky little wish to correct the social horizon of
Belknap-Jackson; to make it more broadly accord, as I may say, with
the spirit of American equality for which their forefathers bled and
died on the battlefields of Boston, New York, and Vicksburg.
Not the least of my reward, then, was to see his eyebrows more than
once eloquently raise, as when the cattle-persons, Hank and Buck,
appeared in suits of decent black, or when the driver chap Pierce
entered with his quite obscure mother on his arm, or a few other
cattle and horse persons with whom the Honourable George had palled up
during his process of going in for America.
This laxity I felt that the Earl of Brinstead and his bride could
amply afford, while for myself I had soundly determined that Red Gap
should henceforth be without "sets." I mean to say, having frankly
taken up America, I was at last resolved to do it whole-heartedly. If
I could not take up the whole of it, I would not take up a part. Quite
instinctively I had chosen the slogan of our Chamber of Commerce:
"Don't Knock--Boost; and Boost Altogether." Rudely worded though it
is, I had seen it to be sound in spirit.
These thoughts ran in my mind during the smart repast that now
followed. Insidiously I wrought among the guests to amalgamate into
one friendly whole certain elements that had hitherto been hostile.
The Bohemian set was not segregated. Almost my first inspiration had
been to scatter its members widely among the conservative pillars of
the North Side set. Left in one group, I had known they would plume
themselves quite intolerably over the signal triumph of their leader;
perhaps, in the American speech, "start something." Widely scattered,
they became mere parts of the whole I was seeking to achieve.
The banquet progressed gayly to its finish. Toasts were drunk no end,
all of them proposed by Senator Floud who, toward the last, kept
almost constantly on his feet. From the bride and groom he expanded
geographically through Red Gap, the Kulanche Valley, the State of
Washington, and the United States to the British Empire, not omitting
the Honourable George--who, I noticed, called for the relish and
consumed quite almost an entire bottle during the meal. Also I was
proposed--"through whose lifelong friendship for the illustrious groom
this meeting of hearts and hands has been so happily brought about."
Her ladyship's eyes rested briefly upon mine as her lips touched the
glass to this. They conveyed the unspeakable. Rather a fool I felt,
and unable to look away until she released me. She had been wondrously
quiet through it all. Not dazed in the least, as might have been
looked for in one of her lowly station thus prodigiously elevated; and
not feverishly gay, as might also have been anticipated. Simple and
quiet she was, showing a complete but perfectly controlled awareness
of her position.
For the first time then, I think, I did envision her as the Countess
of Brinstead. She was going to carry it off. Perhaps quite as well as
even I could have wished his lordship's chosen mate to do. I observed
her look at his lordship with those strange lights in her eyes, as if
only half realizing yet wholly believing all that he believed. And
once at the height of the gayety I saw her reach out to touch his
sleeve, furtively, swiftly, and so gently he never knew.
It occurred to me there were things about the woman we had taken too
little trouble to know. I wondered what old memories might be coming
to her now; what staring faces might obtrude, what old, far-off,
perhaps hated, voices might be sounding to her; what of remembered
hurts and heartaches might newly echo back to make her flinch and
wonder if she dreamed. She touched the sleeve again, as it might have
been in protection from them, her eyes narrowed, her gaze fixed. It
queerly occurred to me that his lordship might find her as difficult
to know as we had--and yet would keep always trying more than we had,
to be sure. I mean to say, she was no gabbler.
The responses to the Senator's toasts increased in volume. His final
flight, I recall, involved terms like "our blood-cousins of the
British Isles," and introduced a figure of speech about "hands across
the sea," which I thought striking, indeed. The applause aroused by
this was noisy in the extreme, a number of the cattle and horse
persons, including the redskin Tuttle, emitting a shrill, concerted
"yipping" which, though it would never have done with us, seemed
somehow not out of place in North America, although I observed
Belknap-Jackson to make gestures of extreme repugnance while it
There ensued a rather flurried wishing of happiness to the pair. A
novel sight it was, the most austere matrons of the North Side set
vying for places in the line that led past them. I found myself trying
to analyze the inner emotions of some of them I best knew as they
fondly greeted the now radiant Countess of Brinstead. But that way
madness lay, as Shakespeare has so aptly said of another matter. I
recalled, though, the low-toned comment of Cousin Egbert, who stood
"Don't them dames stand the gaff noble!" It was quite true. They were
heroic. I recalled then his other quaint prophecy that her ladyship
would hand them a bottle of lemonade. As is curiously usual with this
simple soul, he had gone to the heart of the matter.
The throng dwindled to the more intimate friends. Among those who
lingered were the Belknap-Jacksons and Mrs. Effie. Quite solicitous
they were for the "dear Countess," as they rather defiantly called her
to one another. Belknap-Jackson casually mentioned in my hearing that
he had been asked to Chaynes-Wotten for the shooting. Mrs. Effie, who
also heard, swiftly remarked that she would doubtless run over in the
spring--the dear Earl was so insistent. They rather glared at each
other. But in truth his lordship had insisted that quite almost every
one should come and stop on with him.
"Of course, course, what, what! Jolly party, no end of fun. Week-end,
that sort of thing. Know she'll like her old friends best. Wouldn't be
keen for the creature if she'd not. Have 'em all, have 'em all.
Capital, by Jove!"
To be sure it was a manner of speaking, born of the expansive good
feeling of the moment. Yet I believe Cousin Egbert was the only
invited one to decline. He did so with evident distress at having to
"I like your little woman a whole lot," he observed to his lordship,
"but Europe is too kind of uncomfortable for me; keeps me upset all
the time, what with all the foreigners and one thing and another. But,
listen here, Cap! You pack the little woman back once in a while. Just
to give us a flash at her. We'll give you both a good time."
"What ho!" returned his lordship. "Of course, course! Fancy we'd like
it vastly, what, what!"
"Yes, sir, I fancy you would, too," and rather startlingly Cousin
Egbert seized her ladyship and kissed her heartily. Whereupon her
ladyship kissed the fellow in return.
"Yes, sir, I dare say I fancy you would," he called back a bit
nervously as he left.
Belknap-Jackson drove the party to the station, feeling, I am sure,
that he scored over Mrs. Effie, though he was obliged to include the
Mixer, from whom her ladyship bluntly refused to be separated. I
inferred that she must have found the time and seclusion in which to
weep a bit on the Mixer's shoulder. The waist of the latter's purple
satin gown was quite spotty at the height of her ladyship's eyes.
Belknap-Jackson on this occasion drove his car with the greatest
solicitude, proceeding more slowly than I had ever known him do. As I
attended to certain luggage details at the station he was regretting
to his lordship that they had not had a longer time at the country
club the day it was exhibited.
"Look a bit after silly old George," said his lordship to me at
parting. "Chap's dotty, I dare say. Talking about a plantation of
apple trees now. For his old age--that sort of thing. Be something new
in a fortnight, though. Like him, of course, course!"
Her ladyship closed upon my hand with a remarkable vigour of grip.
"We owe it all to you," she said, again with dancing eyes. Then her
eyes steadied queerly. "Maybe you won't be sorry."
"Know I shan't." I fancy I rather growled it, stupidly feeling I was
not rising to the occasion. "Knew his lordship wouldn't rest till he
had you where he wanted you. Glad he's got you." And curiously I felt
a bit of a glad little squeeze in my throat for her. I groped for
something light--something American.
"You are some Countess," I at last added in a silly way.
"What, what!" said his lordship, but I had caught her eyes. They
brimmed with understanding.
With the going of that train all life seemed to go. I mean to say,
things all at once became flat. I turned to the dull station.
"Give you a lift, old chap," said Belknap-Jackson. Again he was
cordial. So firmly had I kept the reins of the whole affair in my
grasp, such prestige he knew it would give me, he dared not broach his
Some half-remembered American phrase of Cousin Egbert's ran in my
mind. I had put a buffalo on him!
"Thank you," I said, "I'm needing a bit of a stretch and a
I wished to walk that I might the better meditate. With
Belknap-Jackson one does not sufficiently meditate.
A block up from the station I was struck by the sight of the
Honourable George. Plodding solitary down that low street he was,
heeled as usual by the Judson cur. He came to the Spilmer public house
and for a moment stared up, quite still, at the "Last Chance" on its
chaffing signboard. Then he wheeled abruptly and entered. I was moved
to follow him, but I knew it would never do. He would row me about the
service of the Grill--something of that sort. I dare say he had
fancied her ladyship as keenly as one of his volatile nature might.
But I knew him!
Back on our street the festival atmosphere still lingered. Groups of
recent guests paused to discuss the astounding event. The afternoon
paper was being scanned by many of them. An account of the wedding was
its "feature," as they say. I had no heart for that, but on the second
page my eye caught a minor item:
"A special meeting of the Ladies Onwards and Upwards Club is
called for to-morrow afternoon at two sharp at the residence
of Mrs. Dr. Percy Hailey Martingale, for the transaction of
One could fancy, I thought, what the meeting would discuss. Nor was I
wrong, for I may here state that the evening paper of the following
day disclosed that her ladyship the Countess of Brinstead had
unanimously been elected to a life honorary membership in the club.
Back in the Grill I found the work of clearing the tables well
advanced, and very soon its before-dinner aspect of calm waiting was
restored. Surveying it I reflected that one might well wonder if aught
momentous had indeed so lately occurred here. A motley day it had
I passed into the linen and glass pantry.
Mrs. Judson, polishing my glassware, burst into tears at my approach,
frankly stanching them with her towel. I saw it to be a mere overflow
of the meaningless emotion that women stock so abundantly on the
occasion of a wedding. She is an almost intensely feminine person, as
can be seen at once by any one who understands women. In a goods box
in the passage beyond I noted her nipper fast asleep, a mammoth
beef-rib clasped to its fat chest. I debated putting this abuse to her
once more but feared the moment was not propitious. She dried her eyes
and smiled again.
"A prince in his palace," she murmured inanely. "She thought first he
was going to be as funny as the other one; then she found he wasn't. I
liked him, too. I didn't blame her a bit. He's one of that kind--his
bark's worse than his bite. And to think you knew all the time what
was coming off. My, but you're the Mr. Deep-one!"
I saw no reason to stultify myself by denying this. I mean to say, if
she thought it, let her!
"The last thing yesterday she gave me this dress."
I had already noted the very becoming dull blue house gown she wore.
Quite with an air she carried it. To be sure, it was not suitable to
her duties. The excitements of the day, I suppose, had rendered me a
bit sterner than is my wont. Perhaps a little authoritative.
"A handsome gown," I replied icily, "but one would hardly choose it
for the work you are performing."
"Rubbish!" she retorted plainly. "I wanted to look nice--I had to go
in there lots of times. And I wanted to be dressed for to-night."
"Why to-night, may I ask?" I was all at once uncomfortably curious.
"Why, the boys are coming for me. They're going to take No-no home,
then we're all going to the movies. They've got a new bill at the
Bijou, and Buck Edwards especially wants me to see it. One of the
cowboys in it that does some star riding looks just like Buck--wavy
chestnut hair. Buck himself is one of the best riders in the whole
The woman seemed to have some fiendish power to enrage me. As she
prattled thus, her eyes demurely on the glass she dried, I felt a deep
flush mantle my brow. She could never have dreamed that she had this
malign power, but she was now at least to suspect it.
"Your Mr. Edwards," I began calmly enough, "may be like the cinema
actor: the two may be as like each other as makes no difference--but
you are not going." I was aware that the latter phrase was heated
where I had merely meant it to be impressive. Dignified firmness had
been the line I intended, but my rage was mounting. She stared at me.
Astonished beyond words she was, if I can read human expressions.
"I am!" she snapped at last.
"You are not!" I repeated, stepping a bit toward her. I was conscious
of a bit of the rowdy in my manner, but I seemed powerless to prevent
it. All my culture was again but the flimsiest veneer.
"I am, too!" she again said, though plainly dismayed.
"No!" I quite thundered it, I dare say. "No, no! No, no!"
The nipper cried out from his box. Not until later did it occur to me
that he had considered himself to be addressed in angry tones.
"No, no!" I thundered again. I couldn't help myself, though silly rot
I call it now. And then to my horror the mother herself began to weep.
"I will!" she sobbed. "I will! I will! I will!"
"No, no!" I insisted, and I found myself seizing her shoulders, not
knowing if I mightn't shake her smartly, so drawn-out had the woman
got me; and still I kept shouting my senseless "No, no!" at which the
nipper was now yelling.
She struggled her best as I clutched her, but I seemed to have the
strength of a dozen men; the woman was nothing in my grasp, and my
arms were taking their blind rage out on her.
Secure I held her, and presently she no longer struggled, and I was
curiously no longer angry, but found myself soothing her in many
strange ways. I mean to say, the passage between us had fallen to be
of the very shockingly most sentimental character.
"You are so masterful!" she panted.
"I'll have my own way," I threatened; "I've told you often enough."
"Oh, you're so domineering!" she murmured. I dare say I am a bit that
"I'll show you who's to be master!"
"But I never dreamed you meant this," she answered. True, I had most
brutally taken her by surprise. I could easily see how, expecting
nothing of the faintest sort, she had been rudely shocked.
"I meant it all along," I said firmly, "from the very first moment."
And now again she spoke in almost awed tones of my "deepness." I have
never believed in that excessive intuition which is so widely boasted
"I never dreamed of it," she said again, and added: "Mrs. Kenner and I
were talking about this dress only last night and I said--I never,
never dreamed of such a thing!" She broke off with sudden
inconsequence, as women will.
We had now to quiet the nipper in his box. I saw even then that,
domineering though I may be, I should probably never care to bring the
child's condition to her notice again. There was something about
her--something volcanic in her femininity. I knew it would never do.
Better let the thing continue to be a monstrosity! I might, unnoticed,
of course, snatch a bun from its grasp now and then.
Our evening rush came and went quite as if nothing had happened. I may
have been rather absent, reflecting pensively. I mean to say, I had at
times considered this alliance as a dawning possibility, but never had
I meant to be sudden. Only for the woman's remarkably stubborn
obtuseness I dare say the understanding might have been deferred to a
more suitable moment and arranged in a calm and orderly manner. But
the die was cast. Like his lordship, I had chosen an American
bride--taken her by storm and carried her off her feet before she knew
it. We English are often that way.
At ten o'clock we closed the Grill upon a day that had been historic
in the truest sense of the word. I shouldered the sleeping nipper. He
still passionately clutched the beef-rib and for some reason I felt
averse to depriving him of it, even though it would mean a spotty
Strangely enough, we talked but little in our walk. It seemed rather
too tremendous to talk of.
When I gave the child into her arms at the door it had become half
"Ruggums!" it muttered sleepily.
"Ruggums!" echoed the mother, and again, very softly in the still
* * * * *
That in the few months since that rather agreeable night I have
acquired the title of Red Gap's social dictator cannot be denied. More
than one person of discernment may now be heard to speak of my
"reign," though this, of course, is coming it a bit thick.
The removal by his lordship of one who, despite her sterling
qualities, had been a source of discord, left the social elements of
the town in a state of the wildest disorganization. And having for
myself acquired a remarkable prestige from my intimate association
with the affair, I promptly seized the reins and drew the scattered
First, at an early day I sought an interview with Belknap-Jackson and
Mrs. Effie and told them straight precisely why I had played them both
false in the matter of the wedding breakfast. With the honour granted
to either of them, I explained, I had foreseen another era of cliques,
divisions, and acrimony. Therefore I had done the thing myself, as a
measure of peace.
Flatly then I declared my intention of reconciling all those formerly
opposed elements and of creating a society in Red Gap that would be a
social union in the finest sense of the word. I said that contact with
their curious American life had taught me that their equality should
be more than a name, and that, especially in the younger settlements,
a certain relaxation from the rigid requirements of an older order is
not only unavoidable but vastly to be desired. I meant to say, if we
were going to be Americans it was silly rot trying to be English at
the same time.
I pointed out that their former social leaders had ever been inspired
by the idea of exclusion; the soul of their leadership had been to
cast others out; and that the campaign I planned was to be one of
inclusion--even to the extent of Bohemians and well-behaved
cattle-persons---which I believed to be in the finest harmony with
their North American theory of human association. It might be thought
a naive theory, I said, but so long as they had chosen it I should
staunchly abide by it.
I added what I dare say they did not believe: that the position of
leader was not one I should cherish for any other reason than the
public good. That when one better fitted might appear they would find
me the first to rejoice.
I need not say that I was interrupted frequently and acridly during
this harangue, but I had given them both a buffalo and well they knew
it. And I worked swiftly from that moment. I gave the following week
the first of a series of subscription balls in the dancing hall above
the Grill, and both Mrs. Belknap-Jackson and Mrs. Effie early enrolled
themselves as patronesses, even after I had made it plain that I alone
should name the guests.
The success of the affair was all I could have wished. Red Gap had
become a social unit. Nor was appreciation for my leadership wanting.
There will be malcontents, I foresee, and from the informed inner
circles I learn that I have already been slightingly spoken of as a
foreigner wielding a sceptre over native-born Americans, but I have
the support of quite all who really matter, and I am confident these
rebellions may be put down by tact alone. It is too well understood by
those who know me that I have Equality for my watchword.
I mean to say, at the next ball of the series I may even see that the
fellow Hobbs has a card if I can become assured that he has quite
freed himself from certain debasing class-ideals of his native
country. This to be sure is an extreme case, because the fellow is
that type of our serving class to whom equality is unthinkable. They
must, from their centuries of servility, look either up or down; and I
scarce know in which attitude they are more offensive to our American
point of view. Still I mean to be broad. Even Hobbs shall have his
chance with us!
* * * * *
It is late June. Mrs. Ruggles and I are comfortably installed in her
enlarged and repaired house. We have a fowl-run on a stretch of her
free-hold, and the kitchen-garden thrives under the care of the
Japanese agricultural labourer I have employed.
Already I have discharged more than half my debt to Cousin Egbert, who
exclaims, "Oh, shucks!" each time I make him a payment. He and the
Honourable George remain pally no end and spend much of their abundant
leisure at Cousin Egbert's modest country house. At times when they
are in town they rather consort with street persons, but such is the
breadth of our social scheme that I shall never exclude them from our
gayeties, though it is true that more often than not they decline to
Mrs. Ruggles, I may say, is a lady of quite amazing capacities
combined strangely with the commonest feminine weaknesses. She has
acute business judgment at most times, yet would fly at me in a rage
if I were to say what I think of the nipper's appalling grossness.
Quite naturally I do not push my unquestioned mastery to this extreme.
There are other matters in which I amusedly let her have her way,
though she fondly reminds me almost daily of my brutal self-will.
On one point I have just been obliged to assert this. She came running
to me with a suggestion for economizing in the manufacture of the
relish. She had devised a cheaper formula. But I was firm.
"So long as the inventor's face is on that flask," I said, "its
contents shall not be debased a tuppence. My name and face will
guarantee its purity."
She gave in nicely, merely declaring that I needn't growl like one of
their bears with a painful foot.
At my carefully mild suggestion she has just brought the nipper in
from where he was cattying the young fowls, much to their detriment.
But she is now heaping compote upon a slice of thickly buttered bread
for him, glancing meanwhile at our evening newspaper.
"Ruggums always has his awful own way, doesn't ums?" she remarks to
Deeply ignoring this, I resume my elocutionary studies of the
Declaration of Independence. For I should say that a signal honour of
a municipal character has just been done me. A committee of the
Chamber of Commerce has invited me to participate in their exercises
on an early day in July--the fourth, I fancy--when they celebrate the
issuance of this famous document. I have been asked to read it,
preceding a patriotic address to be made by Senator Floud.
I accepted with the utmost pleasure, and now on my vine-sheltered
porch have begun trying it out for the proper voice effects. Its
substance, I need not say, is already familiar to me.
The nipper is horribly gulping at its food, jam smears quite all about
its countenance. Mrs. Ruggles glances over her journal.
"How would you like it," she suddenly demands, "if I went around town
like these English women--burning churches and houses of Parliament
and cutting up fine oil paintings. How would that suit your grouchy
"This is not England," I answer shortly. "That sort of thing would
never do with us."
"My, but isn't he the fierce old Ruggums!" she cries in affected alarm
to the now half-suffocated nipper.
Once more I take up the Declaration of Independence. It lends itself
rather well to reciting. I feel that my voice is going to carry.
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