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Title: The Preposterous Princess
Author: Stacy Aumonier
eBook No.: 2200201h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: Mar 2022
Most recent update: Mar 2022

This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat

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The Preposterous Princess

by

Stacy Aumonier


Published in The Smart Set, August 1915


Once upon a time there was a Princess who was adorably beautiful. She was so beautiful that all the Rotary Film Companies in the world fell over each other trying to get a snapshot of her ankles as she walked across Grosvenor Square. For, of course, she lived in Grosvenor Square and kept five butlers, eleven maids and fifteen expensive little dogs. She was so beautiful that, when she came to London, three leading musical comedy ladies committed suicide, and a fourth broke off an engagement to an earl and married a boy she was fond of—just in sheer panic. By the time she was twenty she had received four hundred thousand, nine hundred and thirty-six offers of marriage.

Practically every unmarried male who saw her photograph wrote and proposed. They came in vanloads from America, China, Japan, India and the colonies. She was so beautiful that people looked at her in the street and then fainted right away. She was so beautiful that savage tribes in Central Africa fought over the torn remains of a photograph of her in the illustrated weeklies. Editors of daily papers bartered their principles, politicians went into exile, artists went in sane, duels by the thousand took place every day between men of note who quarrelled at the mention of her name. By which you will gather that she was an exceptionally beautiful woman.

One day a young man named Kismet Ug, an assistant in a dry-goods store at Golgotha, Michigan, who had saved up a few hundred dollars to do Europe, was passing through Grosvenor Square on his way to the Wallace Collection, when he beheld the Princess walking across the Square, followed by her fifteen dogs.

"Gee!" he murmured through a plug of chewing-gum, that he was thoughtfully removing from one cheek to another, "this is the real goods at last!"

He was a small, flat-faced boy with a yellow rubber face and a large chin and a flat grey hat. He followed her to the house and watched her go in, followed by her canine retinue. Then he stood by the area railings and leaned his chin on the iron bars and expectorated meditatively into the area. He stood there chewing for five hours and then the Princess came out and got into an electric brougham.

As she walked across the pavement he stepped forward and took off his hat. It was the first time he had done such an act of degrading obeisance, but he felt the cause merited it. However, the Princess did not notice him, and he only succeeded in treading on one of the dogs. For four days he stood there, repeating this action. Every time the Princess came out he went up and took off his hat, but the Princess did not see him.

On the fourth day a Georgian-looking gentleman in knee breeches came out of the house and advised him to clear off "as he was being watched." As he refused to do this the guards were called and he was taken off to the guardhouse, where they fell on him and beat him.

For fourteen days he lay in a dungeon without light or food. On the fifteenth day he was back again hanging on the railing in Grosvenor Square. When the Princess came out it was raining. She glanced at the sky on the way to her brougham.

Before she had time to look down again, Ug had taken off his coat and thrown it down for her to walk across. She walked round it and got into her car and drove off. In the evening the guards came again and fell on him again and beat him, and this time he was thrown into a dungeon for thirty days. On the thirty-first day he was back again in his position in the Square.

He had a wonderful chin. But the Princess was gone. He bribed the postman and found that she had gone to the South of France, and by this time Kismet Ug had no money. But time was urgent, so he managed to bring off the "Spanish Prisoner" swindle on an innocent old retired colonel and to relieve him of two hundred pounds and then he went to seek his Princess. He found her at Mentone, staying in a wonderful old chateau.

He stood outside the gate and bowed to the ground when she came out. She was accompanied by a Finance Minister and two Generals and she did not see him. But he waited there for three days. And then the French Police fell on him and he was condemned to death as a spy, but the day before he was to be shot, the wife of the head of a Ruling State, who was visiting that part, gave birth to twins, and to celebrate the event the Government granted amnesty to all political offenders. He was released and returned to the chateau of the Princess.

He waited there for thirty-six hours without seeing the Princess. But one of the Generals had noticed him and he sent a small platoon of his men and they seized him in the dark and threw him into the sea. He was picked up by a Spanish vegetable boat and taken to Algeciras, living all the time on beetroot and raw fish. He was thrashed every night by the captain and made to do all the roughest work. At Algeciras they took all his money from him and threw him ashore. He worked his way through Spain assisting at a travelling circus and at length reached France. He walked the length of the Pyrenees living on acorns and moss and eventually reached the Mediterranean coast.

He got a job in the dock of Marseilles and by going without food for three days saved enough money to get to Mentone. When he arrived there the Princess had gone. She had returned to London. He bought a picture post card of her and set out for England, placing it next to his heart. By borrowing a little money and playing poker, at which he was singularly proficient, he eventually made through to London and turned up at his railing in Grosvenor Square. After waiting only two hours and a half she came out accompanied by the king of some Near Eastern State, two Viscounts and a Scotch architect, who had inherited a fortune. He went up and took off his hat and the Scotch architect stabbed him in the wind with his umbrella, taking him for a rate collector. He was carried in an ambulance to a hospital, where he remained for three weeks. On the day he came out he returned to his position, for he had a wonderful chin.

This went on for three years and then, one day, the Princess noticed him. He had tracked her down at the country seat of a Duke, but there he made himself so importunate that the Duke had instructed his gamekeepers to shoot him by mistake for a poacher. But one morning the Princess was going for a walk by the lake with her dogs (there were now forty-seven), when one of them, a Pekinese that she called "Casserole," started foaming at the mouth and running round in circles. This was Ug's opportunity. Since he first met the Princess he had been studying Dog. He had Friedbergor and Fröhner's Veterinary Pathology at his finger-tips. He sprang out from behind a statue of Pan, where he had been hiding, and seizing "Casserole" he injected a small tube behind the dog's ear and "Casserole" became herself again. Several friends of the Duke rushed up and would have torn him to pieces, but the Princess held up her hand. "Stay," she said. "Spare him!" So they led him up to the house, where the Duke, who was also a Justice of the Peace, gave him two months in the third division for "loitering with intent." But again the Princess intervened. "Listen!" she said, and her voice was the most glorious music he had ever heard, "Listen! I don't know who this horrid little man is, but he seems to be clever at Dog. I will have him in my kennels." So Ug was released and placed under the third dog-groom in the service of the Princess and this was the golden hour of his life. For a year he saw the Princess every day. And he became so proficient at boning pheasants for the Pekinese and teaching the chows to do tricks that he was made head groom, and on several occasions the Princess spoke to him personally. But the passion of his life was consuming him. One day he had just performed a very delicate and highly successful operation on a Lhassa terrier called "Boco." The Princess came into the Dogs' operating theatre, where Ug was manicuring his nails, and thanked him with tears in her voice. Then Ug let himself go. He knelt down and poured out his love. The full tide of his pent-up passion poured forth in silver speech, hyphenated by the virile vernacular of Golgotha. It was tremendous. The Princess had never heard anything like it. She rang a bell and summoned her retinue of princes, politicians, editors and financiers who were waiting in a long queue in the hall to propose. They all trooped into the Dogs' operating theatre. "Now!" said the Princess, touching Ug on the shoulders, "do that again. It was beautiful." Ug turned round and glanced at the sneering cortege of worshippers and his heart quailed within him, but the touch of the Princess on his shoulder fired his blood. Setting his chin, he started once more to declare his passion in no uncertain terms. His eyes flashed and his bosom heaved as he flung the fine flowers of his rhetoric among the contemptuous followers. He piled Pelion on Ossa in lavish praise of the Princess. He tore the stars from their firmament in vaunting his ambitions. He was Caesar, Napoleon, John Stuart Mill in one. He was immense.

A newspaper magnate, who was present, offered him the editorship of any one of six hundred newspapers that he controlled. A Bishop who had come all the way from Madagascar to propose to the Princess went straight back that afternoon. Two Dukes took to drugs, and a Japanese plenipotentiary hanged himself in the kennel next door. The Princess was delighted. She raised his salary and sent him fruit from her own table. Whenever an especially distinguished crowd of visitors arrived they were taken out to the Dogs' operating theatre to hear Ug propose. In time Ug became restless. It was glorious, but not what he meant. One day he heard her tell an ambassador that she would love to have a pergola of onyx and an arcade with figures of the Muses carved in rock crystal, but she simply couldn't afford it! This was at her country seat. The remark gave Ug food for thought. The next day he went to her and said: "Princess, may I give you a pergola of onyx, and an arcade with figures of the Muses carved in rock crystal?" The Princess clapped her hands and said: "Oh, yes, that would be beautiful!" The thought also occurred to her that it would be a good way to get rid of him, as the proposals were beginning to pall, and a troop of Chinese fencers had turned up and were voted a more amusing entertainment. So Ug left her and went away to find a pergola of onyx, and an arcade with figures of the Muses carved in rock crystal, and he found that onyx and rock crystal were the most expensive materials in the world, and to carve figures full size would cost millions of pounds. So he crossed the ocean and went to Golgotha. Now, Golgotha is a place where no one lives; it is right out beyond everywhere. It is a vast miasma of corrugated zinc and high chimneys, and things crawl to and fro and stoke and rivet. Ug got there and entered a rubber works. He stayed there for four years. By working six teen hours a day and gradually ousting people above him he eventually became the manager. He saved all his salary and bought stock. He studied stock during the night, also rock crystal. He returned a millionaire and went back to the Princess. She was away from her country seat. He bribed the factotum to let him have control of the garden while she was away. He engaged the finest sculptors of the day and made the pergola of onyx and the arcade of Muses in rock crystal.

At length the Princess returned. He hid behind a statue as she drove up the drive. He saw her lean forward in her car and say to the King of ——, who was riding with her, "Whatever are all these horrid glass figures doing here?"

"These are the Muses carved in the rock-crystal, Princess," said Ug, springing forward.

"Oh, but I'm tired of rock-crystal," said the Princess, and the King of ——, who was a very big man and a fine polo player, muttered, "Disgusting!" and getting out of the car he threw all the Muses into the lake.

Ug stood there chewing and meditating and looking at the lake all day, but toward nightfall the Princess, taking compassion on him, sent for him to come and see her. "Of course," she said, when he arrived, "I think it was very sweet of you to take all that trouble, but I simply can't bear rock-crystal now—nobody has it. But still I'm very sorry. If you like you can go and have some supper in the servants' hall." Ug thanked her and retired, for he really wanted his supper. But the next day he went to her and said: "Princess, I'm sorry about that rock-crystal; of course I wasn't to know you'd have gone off of it. I suppose it's natural. You are the real goods. Tell me, what can I do for you? I have the stuff."

The Princess liked to hear people talk like that, so she said: "Ah, I knew you were a clever little man. It's emeralds I'm interested in now, emeralds and amethysts."

"Then you shall have the finest emeralds in the world," said Ug. "If I bring these, will you—" He couldn't finish the sentence, because the Princess was looking at him out of the corner of her eyes, and it took his breath away.

"If you bring me these," said the Princess, "I will be very kind to you," and she dismissed him.

Ug went back to Golgotha and realised all his remaining stock, but he found that emeralds cost much more than he had, so he set to work again, and he floated several companies and sold a railway that didn't exist, and then started buying emeralds. In a year's time his agents were all over the world buying emeralds and amethysts for the Princess. At length he had all the best emeralds and amethysts in the world and he drove up to her house in the country with seven van-loads full. When the Princess saw the emeralds and the amethysts, she said, "Oh, dear me, what a lot!"

"They are yours," said Ug.

"But, you see," said the Princess, "I only wanted emeralds and amethysts because the Duchess of K. had emeralds and amethysts and I wanted better ones than hers; but now she doesn't seem to have any. No one seems to have any; they are not worn!"

"I see," said Ug; "I've overdone it a bit." So he drove the van-loads of precious stones to the village and gave them to the village children, and they made wonderful grottos with them, and there they remain to this day. But the Princess invited him to stop to tea and Ug felt that all his efforts were justified. He sat in a room packed with notabilities and watched them pass cake to the Princess, for he was in too great a state of emotionalism to take any part in the proceedings. But he felt he was making headway, and the Princess even introduced him to the assistant secretary of the Burmese Legation. She said, "This is Mr. Ug, who cured Boco." It was wonderful; Ug was in his Seventh Heaven.

Before he was dismissed the Princess called him into the library. "I am sorry about those emeralds," she said.

"It's so trying—the way people change, I mean."

"Let me try again," said Ug doggedly. "Anything in the world you mention I will get for you."

The Princess signed, and then she said: "I am having a new ceiling to my music-room. It would be lovely if I could have some original ceiling paintings by Paul Veronese."

"If I bring you these—" said Ug, tentatively.

"If you bring me these—" said the Princess, and tears sprang to her eyes and she held out her hand to him to kiss.

Three days later Ug was in Rome interviewing the Italian Ministry. Much to his surprise he found that the Veronese ceiling paintings in the Ducal Palace at Venice were not for sale. Moreover, he learned that there was a law prohibiting the export of Works of Art. Ug immediately set to work. By means of enormous bribes he got numbers of the Opposition on his side who committed themselves to get this law rescinded.

For four months he went up and down the country with his confederates, bribing and cajoling. In the Spring, the Government was overthrown, and the first law the new party passed was that permitting the export of Works of Art. This led to Revolution. Thou sands were killed in the streets of Rome and Milan. Foreign Powers intervened. But on the night when the law was once more reinstated, Ug smuggled the paintings out of the Ducal Pal ace and onto a specially chartered steamer. In twelve days they were delivered at the country house of the Princess. She was not there. She had gone to Paris. Ug deposited the paintings in the basement (where they re main to this day). In Paris the Princess received him with open arms.

"Oh, Mr. Ug," she said, "I have been wanting you. Where have you been?" Ug told her with all modesty. But the Princess seemed to have lost interest in Art, she was full of a new idea.

"Mr. Ug," she said, "I want you to buy me Paris!"

"Paris!" said Ug.

"Yes," she answered, and her expression was devastating.

"If I buy you Paris," said Ug desperately, "will you marry me?"

The Princess seemed very moved. She could hardly speak.

"Paris is a big thing," urged Ug; "it means big money. I will have to go back to Golgotha and get a move on things."

"I will marry no one else or consent to marry anyone else till you have bought me Paris," said the Princess ambiguously.

Ug left her presence inspired. He went right back to Golgotha. He built new workshops and factories. He dealt in more stock. He opened offices in Chicago, New York and Boston. He lay awake every night scheming and plotting. He got railway concessions from Foreign Powers and turned them into Companies and sold them. He made a corner in ice-water and made the people pay a dollar a pitcher for it. He floated bogus companies and sold things to himself and bought them again and sold them again. He controlled pig iron, mushrooms, blankets, jute, and nogger-pumps. Even then it took him two years to raise sufficient capital to buy Paris. He bought it lying in a bed at New York with telephones, electric batteries, and wireless instalments fitted up all around him. When the contract was completed he cabled to the Princess:

"Paris is yours, will you marry me?" Then he fell back on the cushions and waited four months in breathless suspense.

In the meantime the machinery of his affairs worked of its own accord. Vast masses of Capital accumulated and large staffs were employed in all the Capitals giving away wash-houses, libraries and swimming baths as rapidly as they could. Ug lay in bed, vitalised by injections of strychnine and high-voltage electric batteries. At the end of four months a cable arrived from the Princess.

"Wedding Delhi eighteenth Durbar rajahs and elephants."

The amazing ambiguity of this message, the uncertainty as to whether it meant that she would marry him or someone else, whether he was to arrange the Durbar and buy the elephants, or whether it meant that she was going to marry a rajah or an elephant and was merely inviting him to it—whether she meant the 18th of this month or the next (if she meant this month it meant starting at once and travelling a thousand miles a day for three weeks), put him into such a fever that it brought on heart collapse and he died.

When Ug arrived in Heaven, he was led before the Celestial Tribunal and they asked him his name.

"Kismet Ug," he answered. At the mention of that name the members of the Tribunal started and an official stepped forward and said:

"Are we to understand that you are the Kismet Ug who gave away all those wash-houses and libraries to towns all over the world?"

"The same," said Ug.

"Dear me!" said the official, and he returned to the group. There was a whispered consultation, then the official came forward again and said:

"Kismet Ug, come with me!" They led him up and up through realms of light and the official said:

"Kismet Ug, a special Paradise has been prepared for you. Behold! Every thing has been thought of that your heart could desire," and he pointed to a wonderful room where were lounges of luxurious comfort and all around the walls golden cases filled with cigars that Ug's experienced eye guessed would fetch at least nine or ten dollars apiece on Broadway.

"This is dandy," said Ug.

"But this is not all," said the official, "follow me," and they passed through wonderful corridors where the strains of Heavenly music were wafted, and the official pointed to a diaphanous curtain.

"Look," he said, "all this is waiting for you, Kismet Ug, you have only to lift the curtain and joy is ever present and Eternal Beauty awaits you."

"Yes," said Ug, "and so it darn well can."

"What do you mean?" said the Celestial Authority.

"What I mean," answered Ug, "is, that she's missed her chance!" and elbowing his way past the Powers of Heaven, he returned to the smoke-room.


THE END


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