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Title: Trusia - A Princess of Krovitch
Author: Brinton, Davis
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Trusia - A Princess of Krovitch" ***

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[Illustration: CARRICK WAS FAR BEHIND]



TRUSIA

A PRINCESS OF KROVITCH

By

DAVIS BRINTON

With Illustrations by WALTER H. EVERETT

PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON GEORGE W. JACOBS AND COMPANY

COPYRIGHT, 1906, BY GEORGE W. JACOBS & COMPANY

_Published, September, 1906_

_Reprinted, October_, 1906

_All rights reserved_

Printed in U. S. A.



_To A. M. P. this volume is gratefully inscribed_



CONTENTS


  I. A WAGER IS MADE                                                   9

  II. "STRANGE COUNTRIES FOR TO SEE"                                  18

  III. A DUEL--OF WITS                                                24

  IV. THE GRAY MAN                                                    34

  V. I AM THE LADY TRUSIA                                             46

  VI. THE GRAY MAN AGAIN                                              53

  VII. A COOL RECEPTION                                               61

  VIII. THE SPECTRE OF THE STAR                                       72

  IX. IF ZULKA WERE HERE                                              80

  X. THE GLIMMER OF SUSPICION                                         98

  XI. YOU LOVE TRUSIA                                                101

  XII. CARTER FINDS AN ALLY                                          115

  XIII. A NEW MAJOR OF HUSSARS                                       121

  XIV. FOUND IN THE COURTYARD OF THE INN                             134

  XV. THE DREAM KISS                                                 149

  XVI. YOU ARE THE KING OF KROVITCH                                  159

  XVII. AT THE HOTEL DES S. CROIX                                    172

  XVIII. I SAW--I KNOW                                               194

  XIX. IT WAS JUDSON'S FAULT                                         202

  XX. A SOUND AT MIDNIGHT                                            214

  XXI. CARRICK WAS FAR BEHIND                                        228

  XXII. CARRICK IS KING                                              240

  XXIII. NOBLESSE OBLIGE                                             257

  XXIV. STOLEN SLEEP                                                 263

  XXV. THEY MEET JOSEF                                               271

  XXVI. THE VISTULA!                                                 277

  XXVII. YOU ARE STILL MY KING                                       284

  XXVIII. A RE-UNION                                                 294



ILLUSTRATIONS


  Carrick was far behind                                   _Frontispiece_

  Mounted the steps and seated herself
  on the throne                                                       82

  "Don't let 'im carry your sweet face
  to the grave with 'im unless your
  love goes with it"                                                 242

  "For Trusia!" they shouted, and
  then, "For Krovitch!"                                              260



TRUSIA



I

A WAGER IS MADE


After the termination of a three months' struggle on the floor of
'Change, resulting in the rout of his adversaries, who had counted on an
easy acquisition of his heritage in the P. & S. system, Calvert Carter
was grateful for that particular armchair in the reading-room of the
Racquet Club.

"Those gentlemen, in banking on my inexperience in manipulations," he
chuckled audibly, "evidently forgot that I had been a campaigner in
Cuba. Even though I didn't learn much there about Wall Street or
tickers, I did gather some very valuable knowledge of human nature. I
guess that counts a little in deals, after all." His thoughts, released
from the pressure of financial altercations, were a trifle tumultuous
and wandering. They went bounding back now, at the mere mental
suggestion of Cuba, to that tropic island, the scene of his stirring
military experiences.

Event followed event on the lightened screen of reminiscence. He
recalled with a quick surge of pulse the fervor of El Caney and the tide
that swept San Juan Hill by the chivalry of American manhood. There,
too, was Santiago where his mastery of men had resulted in his being
appointed Provost Marshal of the conquered Spanish citadel. Then his
mind inconsequently turned to the man who had passed through so many
crises with him.

"Carrick came through it all, too," he mused. "The veteran is now the
valet. Poor chap, his life has been a strange one." He recalled the
story the fellow had told of his past--a tale which had won for him the
friendship and aid of the man who had been his captain and was now his
employer.

It had occurred in the white stuccoed house on the Plaza which had been
his official quarters as Provost.

The picture of it, with its stately old-world balconies where violet
shadows nested lovingly, arose before his memory's eyes with a strange
yearning. The recollection of those striped awnings in the white light
of mid-day had potency to cool, even now, the fever of his thoughts. The
barren dignity of Carrick's story had contrasted vividly with the
tropical colorings in which its recital had been inspired.

Prompted by a kindly interest in his orderly's career and ambitions, he
had asked the man as to his past in general and his future in
particular. He was totally unprepared for the undammed flood of
confidence which had burst from the lips of the habitually taciturn
Carrick. The tattered rags of the fellow's humble past were spread
before him in all their pathetic squalor. He saw, as though a living
thing, the barren, inarticulate childhood. He heard, under compulsion,
the tale of youth's indefinable longings, with the meagre story of a
love which lacked not its own shabby tragedy. The delicacy of a
gentleman, who had intruded where he had no right, had caused him to
draw back with an apology; but the orderly had insisted on telling him.
He could almost see the raw, quivering heart in Carrick's breast.

"I wonder," he pondered, "what that medal was he wore under his shirt?
He said it was an heirloom. It looked devilishly like an order of
nobility." He referred to an incident in the man's narrative, when the
latter had drawn from beneath the blue army blouse what had at first
appeared to be a Star of the Bath. It had been solemnly handed to him
for inspection, with the information that the trooper's father had also
worn it.

It was old. The circular scroll, which at one time had doubtless borne
an inscription, was smooth save for a few dimples which indicated
faintly where words had been. The centre was a slightly raised disc
about an inch and a quarter in diameter. Upon this, of blue enamel,
cracked and chipped with age and usage, was the figure of a lion
rampant, a royal crown upon its head. From the central disc, intersected
by the scroll, radiated points of equal length, making a star of the
whole. Something also had been said about papers. Supposing that Carrick
had meant insurance policies, he had paid but passing heed to the
allusion.

Carter's ideas were growing patchwork, he confessed. He felt he was
unable, in his weariness, to sustain much connected thought. The mental
trend was all one way, however,--pointing to a desire to escape the
enforced ennui, which was sure to be consequent upon his recent
exhausting contest. Nor was he particularly anxious to meet any one
until he had eased up the terrific pace which his nerves had set him.

Hearing a couple of his friends enter, he determined to wait until they
should discover him before he would make his presence known. Aware that
no one would choose that room for confidential chats, he had no fear of
eavesdropping. As he was yielding to drowsiness the words of one of the
men back of him caused him to sit up alertly. It was Billy Saunderson,
one of the pair who had just entered, who was speaking.

"I tell you, Lang," Saunderson was saying to Langdon of the Diplomatic
Corps,--"I tell you that there'll be war. It isn't going to be any
police-clubbed riot this time. It'll be the real thing." Carter felt a
personal affront in Langdon's sceptical laugh at this assertion.

"How do you figure that, Saunderson?" the government man queried.

"Immigration statistics of the last ten years prove to any sane man that
the natives are returning to their fatherland in unprecedented numbers.
Read for yourself." The pause that followed, broken only by the rustling
of papers, was evidently devoted to a perusal of documents. Then
Langdon's voice again took up the theme.

"All right, Billy, but what do you expect to prove by the fact that
eighty thousand men came here from Krovitch in the last ten years and
sixty thousand return this year?"

"By the fact that it is _men_ that are going back--not women or
children; that Krovitzers don't love Russia well enough to return as
volunteers against Japan; by the fact that ten thousand are trained
soldiers."

"How do you know the last?"

"Private information." Billy's tone was significant. "War Department;
don't repeat. Their enlistment up with Uncle Sam, these men have asked
for their discharges. All first-class soldiers and non coms."

"Hm," Langdon commented, partially convinced; then, as a new objection
struck him, his tone was once more argumentative. "They can't fight
without a backer," he continued. "Banking houses to-day control peace
and war as immutably as Christianity should. I don't believe that any
one would back them."

"Here comes Jackson, he'll know," Saunderson said as the door opened to
admit another man who instantly joined them.

"What's that you are leaving up to me, Billy? Do I hold the stakes?"
Carter recognized the voice as that of one of his bitterest opponents in
the stock battle.

"Saunderson says that there will be real fighting in Krovitch," said
Langdon. "What does the money mart say?" Appealed to unexpectedly on
this topic, Jackson laughed a trifle consciously.

"Well, in strict confidence," he replied, "I'll tell you that I am in a
pool to finance things over there. That coup of Carter's pretty nearly
dumped me on it, too."

Not desiring to become the butt of overheard personalities, Carter arose
at this juncture, and, bowing to the trio, left the room. After his
departure, the eyes of the first comers turned to Jackson, as one who
had just felt the mettle of Carter's steel. The half smile which had
been on Carter's face Jackson was perfectly willing to misinterpret.

"Gloating over our downfall," he remarked with reference to the day's
happenings on the Street.

"Not that kind of fellow," replied Saunderson, coming to the defense of
the absent. "You were caught dancing; he simply made you pay the piper."

"He's hard as nails," retorted Jackson, gloomily; "not a particle of
sentiment in him."

"Look here, Jackson," said Langdon at this juncture, "you are dead wrong
there. Carter's record is different. He went out to Cuba for what we
discount nowadays--patriotism. While there he picked up a poor devil of
a Cockney and made more of a man of him than the fellow had ever dreamed
of becoming. Literally picked him out of the gutter--drunk. That man of
his,--Carrick,--I think that's his name."

"Right," assented Saunderson. "Then look what he did for Marian Griggs
when Jack's western bubble burst carrying her fortune with it. Jack
blew his brains out, leaving her and the kids sky high. Though they had
absolutely no claim on him other than disinterested friendship, Cal, in
the most delicate manner in the world, fixed things so that they should
never want. The girl told me herself. Sentiment? Why, man, he's chock
full of it. He's the sort that, when he hears of this coming scrap in
Krovitch, will throw himself body and soul into it, as his forbears have
done from Marston Moor to date, just because it's likely to be a lost
cause. He's always for the under dog--and I honor him for it. I'm
willing to bet he'll go to Krovitch when he hears."

"A thousand?" inquired Jackson with speculative ardor. Saunderson
narrowed his eyes, as he looked judiciously at the broker. He flicked
the ash from his cigarette before replying.

"Too much. What's the use?" he said. "Make it even money at a hundred
and I'll go you. On any other man I'd ask odds. With Carter, though,
when it comes to war, to women, or to any one needing help, he's right
there with the goods. He's in a class by himself. Do you take the bet?"

"Certainly," answered Jackson as he handed the money over to Langdon as
stakeholder. "Word of honor, Billy, that you will not urge him on?"

"Word of honor, Jackson. Keep your hands off, too." The two shook hands
gravely, while Langdon made a memorandum of the wager.

Before he had reached the corner, the subject of this speculation had
forgotten, for the nonce, all about Krovitch and her troubles. His
wearied mind--like a recalcitrant hunter at a stiffish fence--had thrown
off the idea as too much weight to carry. A week later he was to be
reminded of the episode at the club. Its effects led him far afield into
a tale of romance, intrigue, war and women. Intrigue, war and women are
inseparable.



II

"STRANGE COUNTREES FOR TO SEE"


In the soul of Calvert Carter arose a vague unrest. A voiceless summons
bade him, with every April stir of wind, to shake off the tale of common
things and match his manhood and keen intelligence in Nature's conflict,
the battle of the male. Six years past had found him in Cuba. In that
brief campaign against Spain, his entire military career, each day so
crowded with anticipation or actual battle, had been laid the foundation
for this _wanderlieb_; this growing appetite for excitement and hazard.
Occasional trips to Europe and even forays after big game had failed to
satisfy him. Without realizing it, his was the aboriginal's longing for
war,--primitive savage against primitive savage, and--his life lacked a
woman.

He paced about his library as in a cage.

He strove desperately to understand the elusive impulse which urged him
to go forth running, head up, pulses flaming; on, on, out of the reeking
city to the cool, clean woods; on, on, to the heart of the world where
all brutes and mankind strove in one titanic fight for supremacy.
Conventions held him fast. He must go somewhere, however. Where? Was
there in Old or New World an unbeaten track his feet had not trodden, a
chance for adventure--man-strife? Manchuria! It would not do. His was
not the mood for the porcelain, perfect politeness of Nippon. He was no
beast to revel in the stupid orgies of the Slav!

The door opened and Carrick entered. It was not the Carrick of
yesterday, but one who, though unable to eradicate all the traces of his
earlier environments, had nevertheless succeeded in achieving externally
and mentally a much higher plane than that on which Carter first found
him. When he spoke, seeing his master was in some perplexity, there
still lingered in his accent the unmistakable evidence of his
Whitechapel origin.

"What is it, sir?"

Carter turned to him with a troubled countenance.

"Carrick," he said, "do you ever feel as if you wanted to be back on the
fighting line?"

The fellow smiled guiltily.

"Yes, Mr. Carter, when I 'ave the go-fever as I call it! Then you see,"
he explained apologetically, "I was allus a sort of a tramp before you
took 'old of me, sir. Don't think it's because the plyce don't suit--no
man ever 'ad a better, thanks to you. Sometimes I think, though, as 'ow
all men get the feelin' in spells. Do you ever feel that wye?"

"I'm chock full of it now, Carrick. I must get away from the manacles of
cities. Hand me that atlas--I'll study the map of Europe again. Thanks.
This is about the tenth time." Carter bent over the plotted page
anxiously while his man stood at his elbow.

"Germany won't do," said Calvert. "I hate the very sight of a
wasp-waisted, self-sufficient Prussian subaltern. They're everywhere.
Imperial arrogance seems to pervade even their beer gardens." His voice
trailed off into silence again, as in a preoccupied manner his finger
wandered over the map. It stopped suddenly as he leaned closer to study
the pink plot on which it rested. "Krovitch; Krovitch!" he muttered,
"now where the devil have I heard of Krovitch? Russian province it seems
but that doesn't give me any clue. I'm stuck, Carrick," he said with a
frank laugh as he looked up to meet the man's responsive smile.

"Can I 'elp you, sir?" He leaned over Carter's shoulder.

"What is there about that little spot to set me guessing?" His finger
kept tapping the indicated locality perplexedly.

His man studied a moment as if some old memory were awakened. "Can't
sye, sir; but wasn't Count Zulka, of the Racquet Club, from there, sir?"
he hesitatingly suggested. "Seems as if I remember 'is man saying as
much."

"Now we are getting at it, Carrick. Certainly. Zulka is a Krovitzer. Has
a mediæval castle at Schallberg. Capital, I think it is. Saunderson the
newspaper fellow let fall a hint that there was going to be a big fight
over there. That was after Zulka went abroad so suddenly. They're going
to try and restore the ancient monarchy or something. Hand me that
volume of the Encyclopedia--'H-o-r' to 'L-i-b' I think will cover it.
I'll look up Krovitch. Thanks," and he was soon deeply engrossed in the
desired information.

A copy of the Almanac de Gotha lay at his hand. Having avidly absorbed
the meagre narration of the country's history from the pages of the
encyclopedia, his inquiring mind sought enlightenment as to the present
personnel of the house who had ruled the ancient race.

The almanac disclosed no descendant of Stovik. Apparently the dynasty of
which he was the head had ceased with his deposition. "Humph," he
ejaculated, "here is something interesting. 'Sole descendant of
Augustus. Girl, twenty-two, name--Trusia.' Pretty, poetical--Trusia! I
like it. Seems to me I'll be repeating that name a good deal. I wonder
what she's like."

He looked up again, his face glowing with enthusiasm. "Carrick," he said
indignantly, "that country ought to be free. Russia stole it by a shabby
trick. Two hundred years ago the reigning king of Krovitch was a chap
called Stovik. The head of another royal family there named Augustus was
his rival for the crown. Not being able to arouse much of a following
among a loyal people, Augustus sought aid of his namesake, the Czar of
Russia, to help in his contest. Knowing that Augustus would be easily
disposed of once they got a foothold in Krovitch, the Russ, who had only
been waiting for some such pretext, gladly espoused his cause and threw
an army of veterans across the length and breadth of the devoted land.
Stovik was deposed and Russia put her dupe upon the throne. Europe stood
by and let that nation, which, single handed, had time and again saved
them from Moslem invasions, be annexed by the government at Moscow. I'm
going there. I'll look up Zulka and get him to have me counted in if
there's any fight going to occur."

"And me too, sir," answered Carrick, standing like a stag who from a
peak challenges his kind.

Carter looked at the man with evident appreciation and a pleased smile
animated his face.

"It will be the old days over again. I warn you, Carrick, you'll have to
hustle to beat me up another hill."

The Cockney laughed in the free masonry of their mutual reminiscences.
"All right, sir, forewarned is forearmed. How soon do we start?"

"Just as soon as you can get our camp kits ready. We'll board the next
steamer for Danzig. I think I'll take the big auto along, too. It may
come in handy."



III

A DUEL--OF WITS


Russian affairs had reached the climax anticipated by the world as the
result of her persistent encroachments in the Orient.

Precipitated by a fiery aggression from Nippon the gasping Slav had been
pushed back across the Yalu. His ships around Port Arthur had been
crippled and destroyed. The astonished nations, Russia included, awoke
to a grim realization of war.

Not only the home staying Japanese, but millions of Russian subjects
joined in the universal acclaim that hailed these first victories of the
war, presaging that the Banners of the Rising Sun were well able to cope
with the armed hordes which held Manchuria in the name of the Great
White Czar.

First grumbling murmurs, next spasmodic disturbances defying police
discipline, afterward outbreaks of thousands of workmen even in the
larger cities, followed by armed and desperate uprisings in different
provinces, demonstrated with seismic violence that an appreciable
portion of domestic sympathy was with the enemies of the Empire.

The autocracy had been feared only while it had been able to assert
universal invincibility.

Plots and counterplots added to the general uneasiness; failing to
soothe them, more than one minister had been dismissed in disgrace.

In the Imperial Palace a war conference had been called with reference
to a new and startling development. A map lay spread upon the table. A
white-haired grand duke arose and placed a finger on the spot indicating
the Russian capital.

"Here is St. Petersburg," he said dogmatically, "while away off here is
Krovitch just across a little river from Germany and Austria. While
those greedy neighbors may be held back now, you could not restrain them
a moment after revolt broke out in that border province. For two
centuries those Krovitzers have been a defiant and stiff-necked race in
spite of every corrective measure adopted to suppress them. Unless
immediate action is taken to anticipate and abort any movement of
theirs, it may mean the utter destruction of your present southern
frontiers. I am convinced that they will take advantage of the present
disturbances to attempt their independence."

A wan and tolerant smile on the imperial countenance apprised him his
appeal had been in vain. A suppressed buzz of incredulity brought a
flush of resentment to his cheek.

"We are not ungrateful for your loyal advice, Your Grace, and will give
it our future consideration." This imperial acknowledgment dismissed a
matter which apparently was promptly forgotten in the discussion of
events in Manchuria. But the apparition of Krovitch, in arms, would not
so easily down in the minds of the thoughtful present, even though an
autocrat had dismissed the notion as frivolous.

Never having been kind, now was the moment when the least sign of
relaxation would be interpreted by the watchful millions as an evidence
of weakness. Therefore the blows of the knout should be redoubled and
prisons be enlarged the better to maintain hierarchical supremacy.

Provinces, conquered and made subject by the ancient strength of Russian
arms, were becoming restless. Whispers of what a year earlier would have
been avoided by the many in terror were now changed into shouts of
defiance and publicly bruited in the daily papers. On all sides an
oppressed country crouched tiger-like, ready for revolt should the whip
be laid aside for even an instant.

Krovitch once having had a king, a _patrie_ of her own, stubbornly and
persistently kept alive her national feeling, language, and traditions
in spite of imperial _ukase_. Naturally she caused considerable
uneasiness among those who were the real rulers of Russia.

Persistent reports from their apprehensive agents alarmed those who,
standing in the shadows of a toppling throne, feared an outbreak of the
Krovitzers more than they despised the ultimate valor of the Japanese.

An ambitious minister, listening attentively to the warning against
Krovitch, determined to put a quietus on that province, which once and
for all time would blight her hopes of independence. He wired many
questions and voluminous suggestions to his agent in Paris, Casper
Haupt, who was a sub-chief of the White Police. This ardent subject of
Nicholas II had cabled back immediately:

"Have here only one man who can. Must have free foot."

A reference to a portfolio biography disclosed the operator's name to be
Josef Kolinsky.

The conversation resulting in this cabled information to the minister
had taken place in a private room of the Russian consulate in the French
capital between the sub-chief and Kolinsky.

One plan after another had been suggested by the superior only to be
torn into threads by the operator. Finally in desperation the sub-chief
had demanded that Kolinsky furnish a more practical scheme.

A pause followed, in which, with elbows on the table, and flushed,
indignant visage, the Russian leaned forward waiting for the compliance
of his subordinate. Kolinsky, with a sphynx-like face, sat gazing
steadily at a point on the floor slightly beyond his extended feet. His
principal sought in vain to penetrate the pale, smiling mask which he
was beginning to acknowledge held a more subtle mind than his own. He
would have given much to have seen the galloping, tumultuous thoughts,
which, chaotic at first, became as orderly as heaven at their master's
wish.

Impatient at a silence promising to be interminable the Russian agent
coughed suggestively.

Kolinsky, with leisurely indulgence, looked up while the sneering smile
deepened the lines about his mouth.

The face of his _vis-à-vis_ brightened.

"Well," the chief asked breathlessly.

"First, monsieur, if my plan is adopted, do I, alone, unaided, have free
foot to work it out? Otherwise I'll not tell you a word of it."

Indignant for a moment that an underling should impose conditions, the
Russian determined to resort to censure, but when he looked into the
culprit's eyes he was puzzled at his own acquiescence.

"You may have a free foot," he said, "now your plan."

Kolinsky shifted his chair close to that of the other man to whisper
long and earnestly in his ear. His auditor evidently endorsed his
suggestion, judging by his grunts of applause and the grinning display
of teeth.

"It is good, fine, superb," he said as Kolinsky concluded and leaned
back comfortably in his chair the better to appreciate the approval
displayed in his chief's countenance. He was not to view these
flattering symptoms for long, however. His superior as though
discovering a fatal weakness in the completed structure, said in renewed
despair: "while you have the right man, it won't do."

"Why, Excellency," asked Josef with no diminution of that glacial smile.
It was as though he held his superior in hardly concealed contempt.

"The papers," said Haupt. "They can't be forged. We have no precedents
to follow. Those chaps over there will know the thing by rote and
probably would recognize the signatures more quickly than their own."

"Why not use the originals?"

"Where are they? We have so much time to find them." The sarcasm was
crushing. "They probably were lost or destroyed years ago." He concluded
temporizingly, under the compelling eyes gazing coldly at him.

"Documents of that kind are never lost or destroyed," Josef announced
dogmatically.

"Where are they then? In Krovitch?" The sub-chief sneered.

"No." The reply was so positive that the Russian agent leaned forward
intently. He was growing suspicious, therefore becoming cautious.

"You have seen them, I suppose." This was thrown off casually.

"Oh, certainly. That's what suggested the plan." Josef smiled like a cat
who has enclosed a cup of cream.

"Then you have seen them recently." He only half waited for the
assenting nod as he queried, "They are in Paris?"

"Yes." Kolinsky smiled at the other's undisguised astonishment that he
would admit so much.

The sub-chief drew himself together, then turned sternly to his
subordinate.

"See here, Kolinsky, that's impossible. I've been head of this bureau
for ten years, and if documents of such importance had come into the
possession of the French or any other government, I would have known
about it. If they had been turned into this office I would have
remembered."

"Nevertheless, Excellency, they are in Paris."

There was another long pause. The Russian lighted a cigarette, while he
sought in silent meditation to unravel the mystery which seemed not only
a challenge to his acuteness, but also an impeachment of his régime.
With a casual movement that he hoped was unnoticed, he drew back into a
shadow where he could note Kolinsky's face while his own avoided
scrutiny.

"Kolinsky, how long have you been a member of the White Police?"

"Twelve years, Excellency."

"Two years before I came here, eh?" In a flash he had solved the enigma.
"It is as I imagined. Have you the papers with you?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"May I see them?"

"They are my personal property, remember."

"How long ago did you get them?"

"Fifteen years ago the eighth of August. That was before I joined the
secret police. The owner had died and it took some clever work to gain
possession of them."

"How did you know of their existence?"

"It was an accident." Kolinsky answered haltingly.

"And your candidate for the crown?" asked the Russian in a slight tone
of derision.

"Is a Parisian artist. A good-natured fool." Kolinsky's tone of voice
echoed the other's, whose hand was held out hesitatingly across the
table for the papers. Deliberately Josef drew a bundle from his inside
pocket and opened it before his chief.

The parchments were old and the Latin was in an ancient cramped hand
while the impression of the seal was well-nigh obliterated. When
sufficient time had elapsed for the Russian to make a complete mental
note of their appearance, Josef drew the papers away from him, refolded
them carefully and replaced them in his pocket.

"Kolinsky, you know what will happen should you desert us when once in
Krovitch?"

Josef was standing near the door. He smiled with supreme indifference.

"Do I get the mission, Excellency?" was the only reply he vouchsafed.

"Y-e-s." The superior's single acquiescence was prolonged into three
syllables, urged by the acknowledged supreme ability of Kolinsky and
restrained by a fear of apprehended duplicity.

Aware of this struggle the clever fellow turned back in the doorway to
laugh at the other's perplexity.

"Really, Excellency, you have only one thing to fear." His chief started
up suspiciously.

"What is that?" he asked tersely.

"That I may decide to claim the throne of Krovitch myself," Josef
replied, as with his habitual smile he softly closed the door and
hurried from the house.



IV

THE GRAY MAN


"Do you realize, Carrick, that three weeks have passed since I proposed
this trip to Krovitch?" They were whirling along a badly kept road in
that province of Russia as Calvert Carter made the above remark which
was also an interrogation. The place of their debarkation had been an
unusual one--Danzig--chosen because it had been the more accessible to
the Russian frontier. Slowing down the automobile for obvious reasons,
Carrick turned a ruminating expression in the direction of his master.

"Seems yesterday, sir."

"How's the go-fever? Still working?"

Carrick laughed. "Overtime, sir. Hundred miles an hour till we get there
wouldn't be too fast for me." He turned his attention again to the
machine and the rutty way before him.

The other drew out a road map which he consulted with trained eyes that
correctly approximated both locality and distances. Slowly refolding it
he replaced it in an inner pocket. Being in a mood that anticipated
much at the end of the journey, he was not loath to break into his
chauffeur's taciturnity.

"Well, cheer up. Even at this rate we ought to make Schallberg by
sunset. It's eight o'clock now."

"Seems more than an hour since I 'ad my breakfast."

"I know, but no man's stomach is a safe timepiece, Carrick. On the road
I could name at least six meal times by that organ of mine."

For a few miles the jolting of the machine over rough places punctuated
their progress with a conversational hiatus.

The rarely occasional peasants working in the fields or plodding along
the way, paused in their occupations to regard the novel vehicle with
stolid wonderment.

"Seems odd, sir," hazarded Carrick when a comparatively smooth piece of
road permitted more than monosyllabic profanity, "seems odd that we've
seen ten women to one man so far. These are all 'has beens.' No young
chaps workin' in the fields. What do you make of it, sir?"

"The ones not already drafted for Manchuria are dodging Russian
conscription most likely."

"Think so, sir?" Carrick's tone raised a question.

"Why? Don't you?"

"Oh, I don't know, sir. They've all taken it on the run for some reason
or other. Maybe the Krovitch army is already mobilized."

"Egad, Carrick, that _is_ a possibility. I never thought of that.
Suppose I expected them to wait for us. We don't want to miss the
opening gun. Hump her up for all she's worth. Full speed and never mind
the jolts."

The chauffeur bent readily to the task and their further advance into
the country of their hopes was such that boded ill to any bewildered
fowl that might recklessly seek to cross in front of them. The dial
indicated seventy miles an hour.

"Suppose this were Fifth Avenue." Carter bent over to assure himself of
the speed as he spoke.

"Umph. We won't go into that, sir. Too 'arrowing to think of. You'd have
to mortgage everything to pye the fines. Any'ow you'd go into bankruptcy
after you'd bailed me out." Carrick paused to view the route before
them. "That's a pretty steep 'ill a'ead, sir. Mybe we'd better stop at
the top and reconnoitre a bit. We ought to get a good view from there.
It looks too bloomin' rocky for this rate any'ow."

"Where are the glasses?" inquired his companion with unconcealed
eagerness, fumbling about in the locker beneath the seat. "Never mind, I
have them," he said, producing the binoculars.

At the crest of the Here they stopped to view the panorama of the
Beyond.

From the height on which they halted, they looked out upon a wilderness
of which they had no previous conception, for the hill they had just
ascended had masked it from view.

Below them, at a distance of about two miles, as far as the eye could
see from left to right stretched a black and dense forest of unknown
antiquity. Behind and beyond it at increasing distances peak upon lofty
peak, mountain after mountain, like Babel, reached upward for the sky.
Of these the one nearest and directly in front of the knights errant
claimed attention.

"Looks like a giant coal scuttle, sir," said Carrick the trite. The
description was apt, for the freak of nature which confronted them.
Towering high above its neighbors this mountain was unusual. Some
outraged Titan in his ire had, in some long-forgotten æon, apparently
seized and turned upon its head the top-heavy crest, whose form roughly
speaking was of a reversed truncated cone. Upon the wide plateau at the
top, with battlemented walls and towers outlined against a turquoise
sky, stood a high pitched castle whose topmost turrets seemed suspended
from the heavens above them.

"Can you myke out the flag, sir?" Carrick asked anxiously, seeing that
his master was viewing the donjon critically through the glasses.

Much depended on the nationality of the standard, which, hardly visible
at that distance, was only discernible as a blur upon the blue of the
otherwise immaculate sky. The castle undoubtedly commanded that highway
on the far side of the wood along which they must pass. Carter had
descended into the road and was eagerly adjusting the focus for a better
view.

"Can't make it out exactly. It's not Russian for one thing. Field's red.
Device is blue. Dragon or something. Have to take a chance till we get a
nearer look."

Carrick, meanwhile, was peering intently down the road ahead of him
where it disappeared into the midnight gloom of the forest. His alert
eyes had noted two or three objects emerge from among the trees and
stop.

"Look there, sir," and his outstretched arm indicated the direction
while Carter swung his glasses around to the place.

"Videttes," he exclaimed without looking up. "Sizing us up through
glasses, eh?"

"Russians?" The chauffeur's excitement was manifest, for he was frowning
in a vain endeavor to discern the distant specks.

"I don't know. We're in sort of a fix," was the answer as Carter looked
up at Carrick with a frank laugh. The dilemma was not causing him much
alarm. "If they are," he continued, "we're dished unless we can get by
them. I'll take a chance anyhow. We won't stop to investigate. Right
through the woods as if the devil was after us," with which instructions
he leaped into the machine.

Carrick grinned. Such orders were just to his taste. A touch on the
lever and the automobile shot down the hillside at a speed more rapid
than Terror's own. Nearing the scattered outposts, whose frightened
horses flattened themselves against adjacent fences, the occupants of
the touring car were greeted by a shower of bullets, all of which went
wide owing to the disconcerted aim of the sentries, who seemed to fly by
the autoists in phantom shapes as the wood was safely gained. Once in
its tree-protected road they never relaxed speed until five miles had
been placed between them and possible pursuit.

"That's done with, anyway," remarked Carter jubilantly. He turned and
faced his comrade whom the hum of bullets had exhilarated.

"Were they Russians? Did you notice anything?"

Carrick laughed outright. Peal followed peal before he could control
himself. "I just saw one 'oss, sir. 'E was bally well scared. I'll never
forget 'is look,--eyes bulging and mouth open as if 'e was going to
swallow a whole hyrick. After spying 'im I couldn't 'ave looked at 'is
rider if I 'ad tried."

"Well, they'll have trouble overtaking us anyhow if they were children
of the Czar. Look, Carrick," he continued, indicating the wider and more
frequent patches of sunlight flecking the road, "it's lighting up. We'll
soon be out of the woods."

"Better not halloa till we are, Mr. Carter."

"Gad, that's a prophecy all right. Our way is blocked." The machine came
to an abrupt halt.

Not far distant the exit from the forest disclosed to plain view an
extensive segment of open country to the southward.

"Not less than a thousand in that bunch," commented Carrick with gloomy
reference to a dense throng of men along the road outside the forest.
"Mixed troops. 'Ow many more there are we can't see for these bloomin'
trees."

"Certainly are cavalry and infantry. But they don't appear to be paying
much attention to this end of the road. They're all looking the other
way. That black and gold hussar uniform beats the gray and silver of the
foot. I don't believe they're Russians," Carter concluded with a joyful
start. "Those uniforms! Since we can't go back, we'd better go ahead."

With apparent unconcern they boldly emerged from the woodland.

To their left, about fifty yards back from the highway, stood a quaint
old inn built against a sheer cliff face which in the air seemed to bend
over the puny habitation. To the right stretched fields under
cultivation, but beaten hard under the feet of ten thousand men in the
uniform already noticed.

A little group of officers, well mounted, stood together in the commons
before the hostelry. They caught but the momentary attention of the
interlopers, which, as by some hypnotic influence, was drawn to one of
three men quietly conversing on the stone porch of the inn.

He was short and spare of figure, lean and colorless of face, while
about him hung an atmosphere of grayness.

As the puffing automobile drew up to the steps he turned quietly to
survey its occupants, vividly contrasting the surprise displayed by his
two companions. One of these was evidently the innkeeper from the
professional air of deference which tempered even his amazement, while
the other, square of jowl and deep of eye, was a peasant.

These latter could divert attention for but the moment from the gray
man, their companion, whose face seemed set in a habitual, cynical
smile, the intent of which was inscrutable. The deep creases running
from the corners of the mouth to the narrow nostrils showed the
expression was habitual and without the saving grace of mirthfulness.
Without a doubt he was of those who gain the dislike of the class from
which they are derived and usually not more than the tolerance of those
with whom they are thrown in daily contact. Carter admitted after a
critical survey that the Gray Man, as he mentally dubbed him, was an
exception to this rule. Though he bore every external evidence of being
of the upper servant class, there were power and masterly cunning
disclosed in every line of the set face. He was of those who, in times
of great crises, if they do not attain to power always pass through
dangers which engulf nobler men, to emerge with profit if not with honor
from even a nation's downfall. That behind the grinning mask lay a wide
knowledge of the working of the human mind, Carter saw, as the Gray
Man's crafty eyes weighed the repugnance he knew he had inspired. As
their glances met, uncontrollably, a challenge gleamed in that of the
autoist which was answered by a cold defiance on the part of the elder
man.

Meanwhile the boniface, who had achieved a partial composure, hurried
forward to greet the travelers.

"I am sorry, messieurs," he said in excellent French, "that every bed,
every table, in my inn is engaged. I am overwhelmed. The 'Lion'
doubtless loses noble guests," and he fetched a fat sigh as his keen
little eyes apprised the worldly stations of the two strangers.
Evidently revolving some question in his mind he hit upon, to him, a
happy solution to it.

"The castle," he said, with a significant wink accompanied by an upward
jerk of a pudgy thumb, "the castle, messieurs, is but two miles further
along this road. Perhaps, if milords have friends there, they can find
accommodations."

"While I admit, Monsieur of the Lion," said Carter, "that I would like
few things better than a good square meal just now, I would forego that
gratification for information regarding the whereabouts of a gentleman
of these parts."

The Gray Man drew nearer as this was said. A subtle change flickered
across the wide expanse of the innkeeper's face, while a tinge of
suspicion added a chill to his immediate inquiry.

"Monsieur would pay well doubtless?" He eyed the tourist narrowly. "Who
is it, monsieur?"

"I'd give ten golden florins to know where to find Count Paul Zulka. Do
you know him?"

The boniface gasped and grew apoplectic. "I never heard of him," he
said, which, in the face of his perturbation, was manifestly a lie.

The Gray Man stepped to the fore at this juncture.

"In the public squares of Schallberg, monsieur will doubtless gather
much information," he said ironically and with a covert meaning at that
moment not appreciated by Carter. "Monsieur must travel that way. He
should not turn back," and with a nod of his head he indicated a troop
of cavalry guarding the way along which the travelers had approached.

The significance of this was not lost on Carter who was now convinced
that this was an army of Krovitzers and that his innocent inquiry had
brought him under some sort of suspicion. Though he was burning up with
curiosity to learn if it was the patriotic army, he wisely refrained
from asking. With a short laugh he turned back to the Gray Man.

"I never turn back," he said. "The road toward Schallberg is better, I
hope?"

"It is easier traveling, monsieur," the fellow replied insolently with
an unchanging smile.

Carter was satisfied from this that if he used discretion he would be
permitted to reach Schallberg or the army probably investing it. He
gave the necessary orders to Carrick and without undue haste while in
the vicinity of the inn the automobile proceeded on its quest.

When out of earshot of the hostelry, the Cockney, who had been a silent
observer of the controversy, gave a prodigious sigh of relief.

"I wouldn't trust that grinning ape with a dead pup. 'E's a sly one.
'Opes we don't run into 'im again."

"I don't like him, either. I have a feeling, though, that we'll meet him
again soon and like him less."



V

I AM THE LADY TRUSIA


"I hope she's not dead," Carter said fervently as he bent over the
unconscious girl. He beckoned to his chauffeur. "You can't catch her
horse, Carrick. No use trying. Just hand me my flask."

As he forced the brandy through the pale lips he inwardly cursed his own
lust for speed which had been the cause of the possibly fatal
catastrophe.

Tempted by a bit of road, straight and smooth, full power had been put
on in a feverish desire to interpose as much space as possible between
the automobile and the Gray Man at the inn, repugnance for whom seethed
in Carter's soul. As the touring car had neared a turn in the way, its
two occupants had been horrified to see a spirited black horse, ridden
by a beautiful girl, swing at a sharp gallop directly in their path. A
rare presence of mind on Carrick's part had prompted an instant
application of the brakes which had undoubtedly prevented a collision
although it had very nearly hurled him and his companion from their
seats. The steed for a fraction of a second had been petrified with
fear. Then it had reared violently, thrown its rider, and
panic-stricken, had turned and fled in the direction of its coming.

Carter, kneeling, gently placed the girl's head against his shoulder,
while he passed an arm around her the better to support the relaxed
body. He looked helplessly at the Cockney.

"Wasn't there some one with her?" he inquired, with the memory of a
meteoric vision of another rider fleeing back along the road on a
plunging, squealing steed.

"Yes, Mr. Carter, a young chap in uniform. 'Is 'oss bolted too, sir. 'E
stuck on all right though. We've certainly 'ad a bad day for a start,
don't you think, sir?"

Calvert did not answer; he was bending anxiously over the still face,
praying for a sign of life. He was appalled by the girl's beauty and a
twofold fear possessed him. He feared she was dead. Scarcely less than
this, if fortunately she was alive, he dreaded the necessity that would
require his laying desecrating masculine hands upon her for her better
resuscitation.

"Is she dead, sir?" asked Carrick, bending above them as he noted Carter
groping blindly for her pulse. "She looks like a queen," he added in a
voice husky with the awe inspired by the marble stillness of her face.

Hesitatingly Carter's finger rested on her wrist. A lump leaped to his
throat, he could have shouted with joy as he found that the pulse still
stirred.

"She is not dead," he said in a voice vibrant with thanksgiving. His
eyes sought the Cockney's for a responsive gleam of gratitude.

His trembling fingers awkwardly loosened the habit about the round white
throat. The unavoidable contact with the satiny skin caused his head to
whirl and his face to crimson. Finally controlling himself he began to
watch patiently for the sign of returning consciousness. During the ages
it appeared to take, he inventoried the beauty of the face, the perfect
ensemble of which had impressed him as she rode into view.

A shapely little head of wavy black hair lay in the crook of his elbow.
The loosened strands breeze-blown against his cheek seemed light as the
sheen of a spider's craft. These waved to the rhythm of beauty above a
low white forehead veined in an indefinite tint of blue. The eyebrows
were fine and daintily arched. Black lashes long and up-curling swept
the unexplainable curve of her cheek, at the present time apparently
masking eyes too rare for the vision of man. The nose, thin and ever so
slightly bridged, was an epitome of aristocracy.

The mouth, just beginning to quiver with reanimation, was curved in the
curl of flowers in bud, and sweet and kind as the animate soul of a
rose. A womanly chin turned, none could say where, into the matchless
sweep and curve of the throat and breast, a glimpse of which he had had
vouchsafed in such a breathless vision.

"Where's her hat, Carrick?" Carter asked, not because there was any
immediate use for that article of apparel, but with the instinct of an
orderly man to keep all things together. After a considerable search the
chauffeur picked up something from the gutter by the side of the road
and handed it to his master.

"This must be it, sir," he commented. It was a broad felt hat with one
side of the brim looped up with a jewel _a la cavalier_ while a fine
black plume curled about it. For the first time, attracted doubtless by
the head covering, Calvert noticed that the girl's was not the
conventional costume one sees on equestriennes either in the Park or
along the Row. Nevertheless the habit itself was elegantly plain.

Across from the right shoulder passing to the waist at the left was
stretched a broad ribbon as red as war. A great jeweled star moved
sluggishly upon it above her faintly struggling breast. The centre of
the medal bore a lion rampant in blue enamel. On the beast's head was a
royal crown. There was something suggestive about it which awakened his
mind to grope tentacle-like for that of which it was reminiscent.

A startled exclamation from Carrick caused him to look up quickly.
Fumbling nervously at his shirt with one hand, with the other the
wide-eyed Cockney was pointing at the star.

"The guvnor's shiner," he exclaimed excitedly as he drew forth from the
folds of his blouse a battered duplicate of the medal she wore.

Barring its condition attributable to time and rough usage it was
similar in every respect.

Growing surmise as to its origin and Carrick's connection thereto were
interrupted by a tearful incoherence on the part of the reviving girl.
Her bosom heaved convulsively, her eyes opened wide and startled into
life. She arose to a sitting posture glancing around as a child might
who has been suddenly awakened from slumber. Carter still knelt at her
side with ready arm for her support should weakness overtake her.

Like the sweep of rose light across a sunset land, the blush of
recollection passed over her face, as the full details of the
catastrophe came back to her and she recalled that, inevitably, this
stranger had held her in his arms while he had performed services
strictly feminine. Her eyes retreated behind the satin sheen of their
lids. She struggled to her feet.

"Pardon, monsieur," she addressed him in the French of St. Germain.
"Where is my gentleman? And my horses, where are they? Horses,
hereabouts, are strangers to the automobile."

"Both have bolted, mademoiselle, doubtless for that very reason. I feel
very guilty, I assure you. I hope and pray that you are not seriously
hurt. I assure you that I would have given anything to have spared you
that fall. Can you ever forgive me? Will you let me make amends?"

As one born of high places, she raised her eyes straight and frankly to
his. Reading sincere regret and pain in the face of this handsome
stranger, she smiled as she generously held out her hand.

"You are forgiven," she said graciously. "I am only a trifle shaken.
Will you kindly take me to my castle in your car, as I do not wish my
people to worry?"

Nothing could have more tactfully displaced Carter's self-censure than
this expressed wish of hers. Seeing that she was still weak he gravely
offered his arm for her support.

Lightly she placed her gauntleted hand upon his elbow, but soft as that
touch was, no other woman had so thrilled him.

"To whom am I indebted, monsieur?" she asked with native curiosity.

"Calvert Carter, of New York, mademoiselle, is indebted to you for
overlooking the accident he has caused."

"Mr. Carter," she added in delicious English, "the Duchess of Schallberg
is grateful for your kindness. The question of indebtedness we will not
pursue. It is not a good basis of friendship."

This was the Duchess of Schallberg; the possible aspirant to its throne?

"You--you are Trusia?" he stammered.

"I am the Lady Trusia," she corrected gently.



VI

THE GRAY MAN AGAIN


"Which wye?" asked Carrick who, having started the auto, kept his eyes
steadily on the road in front of him and shot the question over his
shoulder.

"Straight ahead. The lady is unconscious again."

This was true, for as they entered the car Carter had been just in time
to catch the Lady Trusia in his arms as she toppled forward in a sudden
return of the fainting spell.

"Why not back to the inn, sir?"

Carrick's suggestion betrayed that he shared his companion's concern for
Her Grace of Schallberg.

"I'd rather not. We are not popular there and I feel present conditions
would hardly increase their friendship. We'll try the castle. I fancy
that's her home, anyhow."

He glanced up to where, distinctly outlined, its towers in the clouds,
they beheld the grim structure, recognizable from its significant
location as the one they had espied from the thither side of the forest.

"Where's the wye to it?" The chauffeur was puzzled, for straight before
them the cliff ran perpendicular to the side of the road, without an
apparent break. "Must be on the other side, sir, for blyme it's not on
this."

"More speed then, Carrick. This faint promises to last awhile."

Carter bent over the unconscious Trusia, and, as he noted the powerful
effort of her strong soul to beat off the paralysis of the senses, a
thrill of tenderness shot through him.

For a man with Calvert Carter's strength of character to hold a
beautiful girl in his arms it would be inevitable that a certain sense
of ownership should subconsciously mingle with his thoughts of her. The
germ of love may be discovered in propinquity.

Be that as it may, as the lax slender form in his arms set his heart
beating wildly, he was tempted to crush her to his breast and to press
his lips savagely, yearningly, upon her tender mouth. Then, in reaction,
her helplessness appealed to him and aroused all the chivalry of his
nature. For less than the space of a sigh the primitive savage within
him had struggled with the gentleman,--and the gentleman had won. This
very conflict with himself, however, had increased though it had
chastened his desire. The more personal concern he now felt for her
recovery was but another expression of the primal instinct dignified by
discipline.

Meanwhile the touring car had been lurching forward with increasing
acceleration for more than a quarter of a mile, when, surprising them
agreeably, the cliff apparently opened, showing a narrow way cut through
its face, leading directly up to the castle. Before the distant portal a
group of horsemen could be seen making preparations for departure.

"Evidently a relief party. That riderless horse of hers must have
returned and started an alarm."

"They see us, sir," said Carrick, who had brought the machine to a stop.
"They're pulling up. It's a good thing, as there's barely room for me to
run the car up, without their crowding the road."

So saying he carefully swung into the narrow way and soon accomplished
the ascent. Passing under a portcullis as mediæval as that of any
Rhenish castle, they stopped in an ancient, stone-flagged courtyard. On
every side, thronging about them, they met the vengeful, scowling eyes
of men in a frenzy of fear and hate, while a growling murmur of
resentment greeted their ears as the mob recognized their liege lady
apparently dead in the arms of a stranger. To their discipline as
soldiers, for these men wore uniforms similar to those seen already at
the inn, the two adventurers probably owed salvation from instant
dismemberment. In their faces Calvert Carter read the unreasoning fury
of their souls, experiencing his nearest approach to fear, yet he met
them eye for eye.

Standing apart, his handsome boyish head hung in shame, as if ostracized
for incompetency, stood a young fellow whom Carter recognized as the
escort of the Lady Trusia. His face was pale and dejected. Apparently
unaware of the presence of the strangers, he was fingering his revolver
holster.

The heavy gate closed behind them with an ominous clang. A chill ran
down Carter's spine. If bad came to worst he resolved to sell his life
dearly, for murder electrified the air and was closing in around them
from every side.

A wicket suddenly opened in the studded door of the castle before them.
Two men stepped through it upon the broad flat stone of its only step.

Both were past middle age but vigorous looking. The first standing in
front of and obscuring his companion was evidently a personage of
exalted rank. His hair and long mustachios were silvery white, and the
glance he shot from under his heavy brows was keen and comprehensive. He
seemed a man accustomed to both camp and court. One glance at his
carriage would have shown to the merest tyro that he was a soldier even
had he not worn a black hussar uniform. He looked coldly around upon the
impassioned throng which was quieted by the steely glitter in his
disdainful eyes, and then, turning, said something to the abashed
equerry. Without remonstrance, the young fellow drew out his revolver
and handed it to a sergeant who immediately pocketed it.

Having quieted the disturbance, he for the first time became aware of
its cause. A cry of mingled grief and rage burst from his lips. He
started impulsively forward, fumbling at his sword hilt, but his
companion laid a restraining hand upon his arm, coming into full view
for the first time.

It was no other than the Gray Man of the inn, who now, with bent head
and most deferential manner, addressed a few whispered words to the
elderly noble. After a brief, inaudible conference the two descended
from the step to advance through the menacing throng toward the
automobile.

Mechanically, Carter, reaching back his free hand, opened the door at
the back of the car. The veteran stopped within touching distance, not
deigning to notice the action of invitation, and held out imperative
arms for the young Duchess.

His voice rasped harshly on the hot courage of the American. "Canaille,"
he blurted apoplectically, "how dared you run down Her Grace with your
cursed car? Your touch profanes her person. Surrender her instantly."

It was a blow in the face to Carter.

Though his blood was boiling, respect for the age of the man who
addressed him restrained Calvert from voicing the hot retort which
sprang to his lips or striking his adversary to the ground. His hands
opened and closed tensely as he kept himself in check. Disregarding the
curt command, Carter, still holding Trusia in his arms, leaped lightly
from the car and would have carried her into the castle had not the
elderly soldier barred his way. With face crimson every glistening hair
seemed to flash the lightning of his unspeakable rage at such
presumption.

"Monsieur," said Carter with level eyes, "let me pass. The lady is too
ill for us to be bandying words. You are too old and too well supported
for me to hope to obtain adequate satisfaction for your insult."

The other did not budge from the path, but reached out a peremptory hand
which he laid on Trusia's shoulder.

"Give her to me, sir," he insisted, ignoring Carter's remarks entirely.

The Gray Man rubbed his hands together in open delight at the disfavor
the two strangers were incurring and his cynical smile grew more evident
every moment.

While an eye might wink the primitive man awoke in Calvert. He was
prompted to fight for the woman he held as he stood measuring glances
with his peremptory adversary. Then the folly of such resistance came to
his mind, so with a sigh and a frown he permitted the other to take her
from his arms. As he did so he felt not only that something intangible,
delectable had been loosened from his clasp, but that its relinquishment
had caused the life blood to move more sluggishly in his breast.

"We're up against it," whispered Carrick, who descending from the car
had placed himself at his master's elbow for such eventualities as might
arise.

Seemingly fearful of a conference between the two, the Gray Man gave a
sudden order. Six men leaped from the hostile circle, and before there
was an opportunity for resistance, Carter and Carrick were thrown to the
ground and their arms were tightly bound to their sides.

The mocking face of the Gray Man regarded them as he bent over Carter's
prostrate form.

"Get up," he said, touching the American ever so slightly with his toe.

"You shall pay for this," said the outraged Carter as he struggled to
his feet.

"I am not indebted to you," was the sneering rejoinder, as, with the
slightest of gestures, he intimated that the prisoners were to be
conducted into the castle, through whose portal Her Grace of Schallberg
was already being carried by the plethoric nobleman.



VII

A COOL RECEPTION


Before their eyes, accustomed to the brightness of early afternoon, in
which all things were actively visible, could sufficiently adjust
themselves to distinguish objects in the shadowy gloom, they were thrust
into a room, the door of which was bolted after them, and they were left
in utter darkness.

"You there, Carrick?" whispered Carter.

"'Ere, sir," came the reply from an invisible neighborhood. "I'm trussed
up like a duck. These bloomin' cords are cuttin' my wrists. It seems to
me, sir," he continued ruefully, "that if we 'ad wanted to be jugged, we
could 'ave gotten the job done easier by styin' in New York. 'Don't like
a man,--to jail with 'im,' seems to be these chaps' motto."

"We're evidently in the bad books of the Gray Man, at any rate,
Carrick."

"I'm onto his gyme, sure's my name's Tod."

"What is it?"

"'E thinks we're spies."

Carter laughed incredulously. "He has put us in a good place, then.
Can't gather much information in this tomb, that is certain. We're
getting into their revolution by the back door, it seems."

"Talkin' about doors," Carrick's whisper radiated with excitement, "I'd
take my oath that I saw one as we came in. It's in the wall to the left
of the entrance and is slightly ajar."

"How close are you to me now?" The Cockney's shoulder touched his by way
of reply. "It is this wall we are leaning against, then?"

"The syme, sir. If you move along to your right about six feet, you'll
be right in front of it."

"We'll try our luck, anyhow," said Carter. "Next-door may not be so much
infested with the darkness of the pit." Carefully groping in the
indicated direction, they found the portal as Carrick had described it.
Their hands being tightly tied, they had to shove it open with their
shoulders. To their anxious ears it seemed impossible that the noise of
its rusty hinges could not be heard on the topmost battlement. The room
which they now entered was lighted by a single casement, high above
their heads. Diagonally opposite, in the wall parallel to the one by
which they stood, was another door, also open.

"Cinch," said Carrick, with a hopeful nod toward the possible avenue of
escape.

"I don't know that," replied the other reflectively. "Suppose we do find
our way out, how could we pass the sentries, videttes, and scouts who
are scouring the country--or should be? We'd have to hide without the
hope of assistance from strangers. What could we do with our hands tied?
Mind you, I'm not discouraging escape if we can--I'm simply groping for
a plan. Let's explore our quarters. It may help to know the lay of the
place."

"Wyte a bit, sir," said Carrick, moving behind his master. "My teeth are
strong. Mybe I can get your 'ands loose." Kneeling on the stone floor he
applied himself vigorously to the task.

"Our friends," commented Carter, "evidently foresaw such an attempt and
provided against it by shutting us up in the dark. How are you getting
on?" He could feel the strenuous efforts of his chauffeur as the latter
gnawed at the knot.

"Not at all, Mr. Carter. It's rawhide. The saliver from my mouth only
mykes it swell. Of course that tightens the knot. It mykes it slimy,
too, so's I carn't keep 'old of it." He scrambled to his feet with a
hasty apology for his failure.

"Fortunately our feet are not hobbled and we're not blindfolded. Come
on, we'll see what's beyond that door, my man," and Calvert proceeded
cautiously toward the open entrance. With ears strained to bursting,
they listened by it a breathless moment. No sound, no breath, no
intuition of human proximity warned them that further progress was
dangerous, so they passed the threshold into the third room. A sigh of
relief came from Carter's lips as he noted that it, too, was vacant. The
door to the cell beyond was likewise open. They advanced, therefore,
through that and several successive cells, until they were confronted by
a narrow, dark passageway, whose objective could not be discerned from
where they stood.

Not knowing where the gloom would betray their feet, they stepped very
cautiously as they explored the darkness before them. The better to
guide himself, Carter kept his shoulder to the wall. He had not
proceeded very far when his own weight, pushing against the masonry,
swung him off into a narrow entrance at right angles to the main
passage.

He drew back with a gasp. He found himself on the very brink of an
uncurbed well. Gradually recovering himself from the involuntary start
which had kept him from falling head-foremost into the opening, he
leaned forward to investigate.

Far below he could see daylight, a patch of grass-grown earth, and the
edge of a stable,--for a horse's head was thrust through an aperture.
He turned to his companion.

"Careful, Carrick. I pretty nearly stepped into kingdom come. I think
that door was purposely left open that we might commit involuntary
suicide. There's a well here without a bottom. Goes down through the
cliff to what is apparently the yard of the inn. It's like a shaft to
the mines at home. Wonder what's it for?"

"Secret passage, sir; see that basket and rope," and Carrick indicated a
huge car swinging in the gloom above their heads.

"That's how the Gray Man beat us to the castle without passing us on the
road."

"Right," agreed Carrick.

"We can't profit by it now, worse luck, but it may come in useful in a
pinch. Who knows? If we only had free use of our hands, now. Eh,
Carrick?"

"Right," reiterated his fellow captive.

"Well," said Carter, arising from his knees, "suppose we investigate the
rest of the main passage."

They turned again into the dark entry to be brought up this time by a
door which they would have also attempted to force had not the sound of
voices from the other side of the stout panels paralyzed their
intention and filled them with apprehension.

It was clearly a position where eavesdropping was not dishonorable. They
were prisoners, innocent of any moral offense, cast into jail without
being apprised of the nature of the charges against them. Here might be
an opportunity of gaining, at least, an insight into the character of
some of those hostile to them. A knowledge of the traits of one's judge
or jury is a material assistance to a sufficient defense, which no one
should neglect where an opportunity for the acquisition of such
information is honorably presented.

There were evidently two people in conversation in the region behind the
locked door. The voices were those of women. One, crisp and girlish, was
new to Carter. The other's made his heart bound hopefully. It was
Trusia's.

"Let us speak in French, Natalie," she was saying to her companion in
that language. "My maid need not understand all we talk about." Then she
continued in evident answer to some previous question, "His name is
Calvert Carter." There followed a delightful hesitancy, which sent a
thrill through the invisible auditor, while in a tone intended to be
judicious, Trusia completed her reply: "Yes, I think you would call him
handsome. Anyway, he's a gentleman. Any person could see that."

"But what has become of him?" inquired her companion. "I have asked my
father, and Tru, what sort of reply do you think he made? Mean thing."

"I don't know, dear. Probably teased."

"Exactly. He always does, no matter how serious the question may be. He
laughed and pinched my cheek, and had the audacity to ask if I wanted to
add the stranger to my list of victims. Then I asked the Chancellor. You
know he doesn't like girls. He puffed out his cheeks--so, drew down his
brows--like this, and glared. 'Umph, umph,' he blustered and stalked
away. Josef was the only one who would tell anything."

"Well, he could tell you only, as he did me, that they had resumed their
journey."

"O-o-oh," the exclamation was long drawn, indicating that some one had
fibbed. "He told me that the strangers were dangerous. Russian spies, he
said. Do you think they are, Tru? It's perfectly thrilling. And to
think, one actually held you in his arms! Who knows----" she began
mischievously. There was a gurgling sputter of sounds, as if a hand had
been placed over the teasing mouth. Then it was withdrawn and the
offender was permitted to prattle on.

"If they weren't spies, Tru, why should they be put in one of the old
cells?"

"What makes you say that, Natalie? Josef certainly told me they had gone
on with their journey."

"He told me that they were locked up. I saw the auto not five minutes
before coming here. It's under sentry in the courtyard."

"Surely, Natalie, you are mistaken, dear? Josef would not tell me a
deliberate untruth." Carter felt a strong desire to see and expose this
Josef who held such an exalted place in the confidence of Her Grace of
Schallberg. Symptoms threatening a tiff were evident in the Lady
Natalie's voice.

"Really, Your Grace," she said with dignity, "am I to understand that
you'd take his word before mine?"

"Your Grace?--what nonsense! Between you and me! Don't pout, dear. Just
think what chance Krovitch would have for a man to rule her people, and
lead them in their battles if it wasn't for this same loyal,
disinterested Josef? Do you wonder I hold him in such high esteem?"
There was a gentle reproof in the Duchess's tones.

"But why," persisted the somewhat mollified Natalie, "did your paragon
fib so to me?"

"We'll go and see now, dear. Marie has finished my hair."

The listener, assured that they would get a fair trial, arose and, with
Carrick following, made his way back in the direction from which they
had adventured.

There is always a difference, telepathic it may be, in a room which,
then empty, has been entered and vacated by some living thing. Carter
appreciated this as soon as he set his foot in the first cell on their
return journey. Some one had been there since he and Carrick had come
through. He glanced at the Cockney to see if he, too, had the same
impression. The fellow's head was craned forward, as one who strives to
catch an elusive sound.

"I was sure I 'eard something in there, Mr. Carter," he whispered,
responding to the visual question, as he nodded his head toward the
doorway beyond them. Carter listened intently. It might have been an
atom broken from silence; he was not positive that he had really heard
anything, but he was convinced that the silence had not been unbroken.
They moved cautiously to the door and peered guardedly around its frame.

There is also an actual physical--or, if you choose, psychical
connection between what is seen, what has just missed being seen by an
infinite fraction of time, and what one has imagined one has just seen,
and between these all the scientists of all the ages have not been able
to formulate a real distinction. One's senses, after all, remain the
best guides.

"I just missed seeing something going through that door," whispered
Carrick. It is noticeable, too, that he had said "something" and not
"some one." The gloomy cells, centuries old, the damp memories of the
dungeons still clinging to the walls, together with this weird presence
which eluded their eyes before they could behold it, might well arouse
the superstitions of firmer minds than the Cockney's.

They were approaching the cell in which they had been placed. At last
there was a perfectly appreciable sound. It was a fumbling, as of some
one in the darkness, making hasty efforts to get a key in a lock.
Carter, now bent on discovery, made a rush into the abysmal darkness. He
could see--nothing!

Still he felt that he and Carrick, who had joined him, were not the only
occupants of the room.

Along the hall could be heard the unmistakable sound of approaching
steps.

"Quite a select party, sir," remarked Carrick in comment, while Carter
still tried to pierce the gloom to establish the identity of the
invisible visitant.

"About three," replied Carter.

The sounds stopped directly opposite their door. There was a grating of
a key against the lock and the door swung open.



VIII

THE SPECTRE OF THE STAR


The Gray Man stood in front of the narrow entrance. The sinister smile
which flickered across his face was made diabolic by the cross rays from
the lanterns carried by two peasant soldiers. As if his attendance was
an enforced and unwelcome one, the equerry of Lady Trusia, who had
followed in the wake of the others, advanced no further into the room,
but stood with his back against the closed door.

One furtive glance cast in the direction of the cell from which Carter
and Carrick had just returned convinced the former that the old fellow
was at least aware of their explorations.

When the two privates had deposited their lanterns upon a table which
seemed to emerge from the gloom under the partial illumination, Carter
surveyed his prison with a curiosity previously denied him. One glance
was sufficient. The Gray Man had come to conduct an inquisition. What
more fitting place, therefore, could be found to strike terror to the
hearts of the guilty or weakling than the torture chamber of the
castle?

A man of keen perceptive nature is apprised of secret as well as
professed antagonisms, through a primitive discrimination, unaided by
either word or deed, of the one holding him in enmity. Carter felt sure
that with the possible exception of the equerry this visit to the cell
was not prompted by a friendly motive. They had, evidently, been
imprisoned in darkness that a sudden revelation of the devilish
machinery about them might shake their courage.

Carter's lip curled disdainfully at such cheap theatrical efforts. He
turned to the smirking face before him, which from behind the table was
watching for the signs of trepidation he had hoped to surprise. By an
answering smile as mocking as his own, he was satisfied that his ruse
had failed. He shrugged his thin shoulders.

Purringly in an incomprehensible jargon, he addressed Carter to receive
no other response than a blank and puzzled stare.

He essayed French.

"So, Monsieur of the White Police prefers the more polite language of
France? Well, so be it."

At the mention of that secret, ubiquitous organization of Russian
espionage, Carter realized that Carrick's prognostications had been
correct. The cool insinuation made his blood boil. His answer came with
the force of a blow. "What do you mean?" he thundered.

Staggered for an instant, the Gray Man's equanimity was shaken, then,
turning to speak to the two peasants, he waited until they had placed
themselves at the sides of the enraged American. Assured that he had
forestalled any possible violence to himself, he regarded the prisoners
sneeringly.

"That you are Russian spies."

"We are Americans. I will prove it, too, as soon as I am out of this
place; and that in a manner which will not be pleasant to those
concerned in this outrage."

"Provided you get a chance. Spies are not given much shrift hereabouts."
This was said with deliberate malevolence.

"Would you dare?" challenged Carter who realized to the full what the
menace implied.

"It would be but an incident, monsieur," replied his jailer in a casual
manner. "You would be numbered among the missing in the big events of
to-morrow. Enough time has been wasted on you, Monsieur of the White
Police," he said, as if dismissing discussion. "We must to business."

At a nod from him, the two peasant soldiers threw themselves upon the
helpless prisoners, and ruthlessly rifled their persons of all
belongings, which were placed upon the table before the Gray Man.
Straining till the big veins in their arms stood out in ridges and the
sweat poured from their brows, the captives were helpless against the
indignities put upon them.

Carrick's shirt was torn open. The Krovitzer soldiers stood dumbfounded
at the sight of the star which hung upon the Cockney's breast. As though
its appearance had countermanded all previous orders, they turned
puzzled faces to their superior, who also saw the emblem.

Into those sneering eyes crept a pallid fear, while his face grew ashen.
Approaching the Cockney he laid a trembling finger on the star.

"Your name?" he asked hoarsely.

"Tod Carrick," was the sullen reply.

A slight start followed this, as though the answer had matched his
anticipations.

Instantly, the training and duplicity of years reasserted themselves.
The habitual mask once more settled upon his inscrutable countenance. He
turned to Carter who had been an attentive though puzzled observer of
this by-play.

"I was surprised," he explained, "but only for an instant, to see your
companion wearing the badge of our most noble order. I should not have
been as there is no moral distinction between a thief and a spy."
Encouraged by his own words, he tore the medal from its resting place,
while Carrick groaned impotently.

"I'll make you sweat for this," growled the Cockney.

"What authority have you for this?" asked Carter with forced calmness as
the Gray Man commenced a leisurely perusal of his private papers.
Without deigning a reply, their self-constituted judge completed his
task; carefully folding the various documents he had been reading, he
looked up complacently.

"Authority," he replied with a rising inflection, as though the idea
were a new one. "Oh, I think I am justified in assuming it."

Carter breathed a prayer of silent thanksgiving that the Lady Trusia had
been no party to the indignity.

As though in response to the thought, the Lady Trusia herself walked
indignantly into the room. Going straight to the table she confronted
the Gray Man with flashing eyes.

"Josef," she addressed him with stamping foot, "what does this mean? Who
gave you permission to treat this gentleman so harshly? I am still
mistress here."

"They are Russian spies, Highness."

"Fiddlesticks," she replied with the feminine faith in the man who had
given her such tender care. "Anyhow," she temporized, "our Privy
Council, not you, shall be their judges." With charming hesitation, she
turned to make a suitable apology to Carter, when, as her eyes fell
before his ardent gaze, they rested upon Carrick's heirloom lying on the
table.

"Can it be?" she questioned as one in a dream. "Is it yours?" she asked
breathlessly, her whole soul in her eyes and parted lips, as she turned
to Carter.

"No, Your Grace," he answered, "it is my chauffeur's."

"Yours?" she skeptically inquired of Carrick. "Where did you get it?"

"He probably stole it. He had it hidden under his shirt," suggested
Josef.

Her fine brows drew together in annoyance as she turned to look steadily
into the crafty eyes of him she called Josef.

"You forget your place, sir. I gave you no leave to speak. Have you
forgotten that I am the Duchess of Schallberg? Be silent until you are
spoken to."

Josef shrugged his shoulders after he had bowed apologetically, for he
saw that the lady was no longer looking in his direction. Minutely,
closely, she was studying the face of the Cockney; first red, then pale,
her own countenance betrayed some inward apprehension.

"It cannot be," she said huskily as if striving to dispel some doubt
that would arise, "and yet there is no other jewel unlocated. Please
tell me how you got this," she supplicated helplessly.

"Honestly, mem," was all the satisfaction she could elicit, for Carrick
made no distinctions between her and the servant whom he thought was her
agent.

"I've no doubt of that," she answered soothingly. "Will you tell me your
name?" Her eager, expectant face held an expression of one who half
fears the reply.

"Carrick," he answered with the monotony of iteration.

"Thank you," she said in relief. "Oh," she cried as she espied their
bonds for the first time, "your hands are tied. This is intolerable.
Casimir," she commanded the equerry, who had been keeping as much out of
sight as possible, "undo those cords. They are cutting into the flesh.
Messieurs, pardon my overzealous servants. Indeed, we have much to fear
from strangers. Though you may mean no wrong to us, yet formality
requires that you satisfy our Privy Council of your honesty in coming to
our remote country at this particular time. Let us go at once, that you
may the speedier be relieved of surveillance.

"Josef," she said, turning to the Gray Man, "if you so desire you may
present your foolish charges there."

She lifted her glance graciously to Carter.

"I have no fear for you, monsieur. You have the marks of an honorable
gentleman."



IX

IF ZULKA WERE HERE


"I've 'arf a notion to knock your block for a bloomin' sneak." Carrick
halted suddenly in the doorway of the cell to face Josef. The Cockney's
fists were clenched in a manner which promised that action would
immediately follow declaration. Carter intervened peremptorily while
Josef discreetly withdrew out of reach of the tough, bunched knuckles.

Led by the Duchess of Schallberg, they traversed a stone-flagged, arched
passageway, which brought them to the main hall of the castle. A modern
dwelling of average size could have been erected there without entirely
exhausting the spaciousness of the hall.

Tattered banners, gray with antiquity, hung like memories on the walls.
Below these, crumbling with age, were the antlers of ancestral deer,
while arms and armor of heroic mold glimmered from the shadowy niches
filled by them for generations.

Crossing the hall, the party led by Trusia approached a tapestried-hung
archway, whose single sentry raised the heavy folds to admit her to
whatever lay beyond.

Preceded by Her Grace, and followed closely by Josef, Carter and Carrick
entered the Council Chamber of Schallberg.

At one end of its many-pillared room, a dais held a double throne, whose
high, broad back was carved with many heraldic devices of past
intelligence. Its intricate traceries were capped by a lion rampant,
which had pawed the air for generations.

Directly from the steps of the throne ran a heavy table at which were
seated three Privy Counselors. A fourth seat was vacant. For Her Grace
of Schallberg? Evidently not, for she mounted the two broad steps and
seated herself on the throne, bowing graciously to the trio of ministers
who had risen at her entrance. With a gesture that indicated that Carter
and Carrick should stand facing these, their judges, she settled herself
back in the high chair, while the accused found themselves with their
backs to the door. Josef, with mocking deference, placed himself at the
end of the table as the prosecutor. He unburdened himself of the
purloined articles which he now placed before him in a little pile.

Admitting the seriousness of the situation so far as himself and his man
were concerned, Carter could not but confess that the scene was a
picturesque one, and that the very element of danger gave it a touch of
piquancy. Here were himself and Carrick, fresh from the greatest shrine
of modernity, after having been cast into a mediæval dungeon, now being
hauled before a trinity of gold-laced judges on a charge of being spies.

He glanced admiringly toward Her Grace, whose tempting chin was cupped
in her pink palm, while the deep lace of her half sleeve fell back from
the round elbow propped by the broad arm of the throne. Her eyes dreamed
of far-away things, until, telepathically, she became aware of Carter's
ardent gaze.

Recalled to the duty before her, she blushed guiltily at her
abstraction.

"Josef says these strangers are spies. You must judge," she said
trenchantly to her Counselors.

Carter could have knelt before her as she spoke, for her voice
proclaimed her disbelief.

"This," she said turning to Calvert as she indicated the stern-faced
veteran nearest the throne, "this is Colonel Sutphen, the Hereditary
Chancellor of Krovitch and member of our Privy Council."

[Illustration: MOUNTED THE STEPS AND SEATED HERSELF ON THE THRONE]

Carter bowed gravely, but received no other acknowledgment than a frigid
glare from the veteran. Josef had undoubtedly prejudiced Sutphen
against the accused. This was more plausible than to suppose that the
Colonel had become rancorous merely because the unconscious Trusia had
not been more promptly surrendered to him, for it was he who had
received her from the automobile. Proudly meeting the glaring eyes of
Sutphen, Carter turned with relief to Her Grace of Schallberg. He caught
the faint smile of amused comprehension which hovered about her lips;
she had seen and enjoyed that duel of glances, as an ancient suzeraine
might have delighted in a tourney in her honor. As her eyes met those of
the American, he smiled.

"Seated beside Colonel Sutphen is Count Muhlen-Sarkey, the Holder of the
Purse."

This Privy Counselor was a moon-faced and rotund individual, who, in his
efforts to preserve a fitting severity of expression in keeping with the
duty before him, had succeeded only in appearing monstrously depressed.
He smiled eagerly, responsively, to Carter's bow, bobbing his head like
a gleeful sparrow. As a matter of fact, the proceedings were to him a
joke--something to relieve the monotony of his existence. Yet this
modern Falstaff, as Carter afterward learned, was among the bravest of
the brave, meeting death with this same cheery smile, and following the
grim monarch with a jest.

The only remaining member of the Council present was Count Sobieska,
Minister of Private Intelligence, who, from under half closed Oriental
eyes, acknowledged the presentation with a dignified, but non-committal,
inclination of the head. He seemed preoccupied in his own passivity, and
was a man in the fullest triumph of life,--the years that enrich at
forty. Lithe-looking as a panther--a somnolent animal now to all
appearances--an occasional gleam of the half masked eyes suggested that
this show of indifference concealed a mind of no inferior order. His
nose was thin and arched like an Arab sheik's, and the close black hair
was chafed from his temples in a seeming baldness. The iron firmness of
his square jaw was not effaced beneath his well-trimmed beard. His
hands, lightly folded over the hilt of a sword held between his knees,
were long, slim, and muscular. Evidently a tireless friend or an
implacable enemy, his was the strongest personality of the three
Counselors present, despite his seeming air of ennui.

Bowing to Carter, he had turned an indifferent scrutiny upon Josef, who,
though smiling, would have apparently foregone the inspection. All eyes
were upon the accuser, however. Trusia's voice broke the silence as she
addressed him.

"You may speak, Josef." There was a trace of regret in her voice. "I
fear you have been over-zealous."

"Listen, Highness," he said. He was anxious to convince; over-anxious,
it seemed. "These men, in their accursed machine, flew past the sentries
at the frontier, disregarding all commands to halt, even the shots
fired."

"That is true," replied Carter. "We could take no chances. We had no
desire to meet Russians just then."

An inquiry half parted Trusia's lips as she turned to hear Carter's
confirmation, but checking her curiosity, she signed for Josef to
proceed.

"Then they came to Posner's Inn. You know, Highness, what preparations
were going forward there. These the spies noted. They even tried to
bribe Posner into telling where Count Zulka could be found. They knew
there was a heavy price upon his head. The cursed Russians." Carter
started in surprise at this information regarding his friend. Josef
pointed a triumphant finger at him. "See," he said, "it is true as I
have said." Turning to Her Grace he continued, "If you attribute your
fall from your horse to an accident, there are others who do not. It was
part of their plan. Had not the highways been so well guarded they would
have carried you to the Russian salt mines, a prisoner." Josef's
vehemence had cost him his breath. He paused to regain it.

To all appearances the Minister of Private Intelligence had been the
least interested of the auditors. He now spoke quietly with reference to
the belongings lying upon the table. Doubtless his keen eyes had already
inventoried them.

"Have you found any proofs?" he asked, with a wave of his hand toward
the group of miscellany.

At this question, Josef faced about with a conciliatory smile.

"No more than was to be expected, Excellency, upon the person of a spy
of the undoubtedly superior intelligence that Russia would send on a
mission to Krovitch just now. A fortune in bills--presumably for bribes,
a road map of our country, and the name of 'Zulka' written across the
capital, Schallberg."

At the reference to Zulka's name used in connection with the alleged
plot, Trusia gave a slight start and a reproachful look clouded her
eyes.

Frankly, fearlessly, he met her glance as well as the steel-like glint
from Sobieska.

"He was my friend," the American said, as though no further explanation
could be demanded.

"He was their quarry," retorted Josef vehemently. "Else why the
questions to Posner and attempts to bribe, the fortune in bills, the
name written significantly across the capital's, the city where to
friends and foes he was best known. Had his friend been as careful,"
continued Josef, who already tasted triumph and liked the flavor, "we
would have no more clues. His passion for acquisition, however, has
given us additional material." He held up the star with evident dramatic
intent.

As Sutphen and Muhlen-Sarkey recognized it they started in genuine
surprise.

"King Stovik's star," cried Sutphen.

Sobieska held out an indolent hand into which the eager Josef dropped it
for examination. First the obverse, then the reverse were inspected with
apparently slight interest. To Carter's appreciation of character,
however, it was evident that not the slightest scratch on its surface
had escaped those drooping eyes, as it was passed on to the gaping
Holder of the Purse, whose chubby hands received it as though it were
the relic of a saint. The jovial face was for the first time honestly
grave. Reverently he transferred it to the Hereditary Chancellor. It lay
before that bristling veteran who turned a questioning glance to Her
Grace of Schallberg.

"I have seen it," she said.

"Is it--is it the missing star?" he asked in a hesitating manner, as
though an affirmative answer was more than he could hope for.

"It is," she replied with slightly inclining head.

"Then who is he?" asked the bewildered Sutphen, rising from his seat and
pointing impulsively at Carrick.

"Only an English peasant, Excellency, who has stolen the missing star,"
Josef insinuated.

"Are you sure? Are you sure?" persisted the Colonel, who was struggling
with a grave doubt, which was now inclining his judgment in favor of the
captives.

Josef, comprehending the nature of the perplexity and fearing he might
lose a partisan, advanced an argument whose significance did not then
appeal to Carter.

"A medal, Excellency, even that medal may pass easily from one person to
another without ownership having any special value. Papers, valuable
papers, would be guarded faithfully from father to son because they
alone would be incontestable proof. We know what we have already found.
Look at this uncouth fellow," said Josef, indicating Carrick with a
sneer. "Remember, he is a servant, and judge if there be any chance that
his possession of the star should cause you any doubts? Was it with such
as he the Line was maintained?"

That he had stilled any uneasiness in the minds of the Counselors caused
by the display of the medal, Josef was now satisfied. He paused for a
final effort.

Sobieska spoke quickly to Carrick in an unintelligible language to be
met with a look of honest mystification.

Josef smiled ironically.

"Your Lordship surely did not expect to catch such clever rogues by so
innocent a ruse? They hardly would confess to a familiarity with
Russian. Such an admission would convict them. Indulge them in French.
One of the pair has that much linguistic ability. Besides, we have so
far conducted our investigations in that diplomatic language."

"You are presumptuous, sir," said Trusia sharply. "_You_ have no part in
the conduct of this matter. You are simply a witness." Josef bowed low
in meekness.

Without deigning a reply to the old fellow, Sobieska spoke next in
fairly good English to the Cockney.

"What is your nation--birthplace?"

"England; Whitechapel, London," replied Carrick with natural
taciturnity.

"Where did you get that?" continued the Minister, pointing to the
medal.

"My guv'nor left it to me when he croaked."

His questioner's eyelids were raised the merest shade in
non-comprehension of the vernacular.

"Your governor," he said slowly as if seeking a key to relationship.
Josef smiled. The latter's exultation was that of one enjoying a
possible misconstruction which might attend a literal interpretation of
what he knew was idiomatic.

"Guvnor is the Whitechapel slang for father. My man many years ago told
me he had received it in that way--the death of his parent," explained
Carter coming to the rescue.

The stately Krovitzer bowed in acknowledgment of the explanation then
continued his questioning.

"Where did he get it?" His sleepy eyes were probing deep.

"How the hell should I know," replied the irritated Cockney, who swiftly
resented this prying into his affairs. Remembering himself instantly, he
turned with a fine red in his face to the girl on the dais. "I beg your
pardon, Your Grace, for forgetting myself. It was none of 'is business,"
he said, defending his lapse.

"Was he English, also?" pursued Sobieska relentlessly.

"Sure."

"His name?"

"Mark Carrick," was the almost surly answer.

"His business?"

"Scrivener."

"Why did you come to Krovitch?" The question was advanced suddenly,
unexpectedly, as if to catch the chauffeur off his guard.

"I'm Captain Carter's man; you'd better arsk him." Carrick was
displaying renewed signs of impatience.

Sobieska paused. He gravely turned to his associates, and, for their
information, translated fairly and without comment what the chauffeur
had said into French, with which language Sutphen and Muhlen-Sarkey
seemed conversant.

"That you might correct any misstatements," he explained calmly to
Carter.

"There was no need," replied the American. "You have been most
impartial."

Evidently not yet satisfied with the results obtained from his
preliminary investigations, he turned again to the Englishman, who
seemed not a little mystified to find his domestic history so
interesting to these lordly foreigners.

"Where is your father buried?" inquired Sobieska courteously.

"Dunno, sir. I was awye when 'e died. Landlidey said as 'ow a strange
gent came, buried 'im an' took 'is hinsurance pipers awye with 'im. Sed
'e was the guvnor's brother."

"Did you ever see this uncle?" he asked suavely.

"No, sir. Never knew I 'ad one. Guvnor sed 'e was the only child."

"Did you claim the insurance?"

Carrick paused long before replying. When he spoke again his tone was
decidedly hostile.

"What's all this got to do with my bein' a spy? These things about my
guvnor an' me are personal matters. I don't see as 'ow I'm bound to
answer such questions." His face reddened slowly and then he added
impressively, "This much I'll admit to my own discredit, though."

Sobieska bent forward even more closely in anticipation.

"The guvnor an' me," continued Carrick, "didn't allus 'it hit off
together, so you see I didn't know much about 'is affairs. I said
hinsurance pipers, because they looked like 'em to me. They might not
'ave been, but the guvnor set a great store by 'em. Captain Carter can
tell as 'ow I told 'im all this at Santiago." He turned to his master
for confirmation.

"It is true," said the latter.

Still the Minister was not satisfied to relax his intimate
investigations. Her Grace of Schallberg appeared an interested listener
and had lost not a syllable of what had been said. The remaining
Counselors were patiently expectant of translation as English was a
closed door to them. Josef on the other hand would have gladly welcomed
a divertisement though clearly afraid to inaugurate one. For some subtle
reason he was very uneasy. Since Carrick's assertion that a stranger had
purloined valuable papers from his father, the Gray Man had seemed to
fear an unexpected revelation of some sort. Sobieska seemed to scent
this secret fear and was willing to play with Josef's susceptibility.

"When did your father die?" asked the Count after a pause which had
threatened to become intense, during which Josef had shifted uneasily.

"Fifteen years ago come the seventh of August."

"Where?"

"Twelve Tottinam Plyce, Whitechapel."

"Is the landlady living?"

"Now 'ow the devil should I know? I beg your pardon, again, Your Grace,
but this man is badgerin' me orful." Her smile asked him to be patient
so he turned to his inquisitor patiently.

"I 'aven't seen 'er since," he replied.

Josef felt this line of investigation had gone far enough and determined
to stop it at all hazards. He coughed. Sobieska turned to him
inquiringly, an amused smile in his eyes.

"Is all this important, Excellency?" the Gray Man asked deprecatingly,
intimating that the issue had been forgotten. With a quiet drawl,
containing both a reproof and a demurrer, Sobieska corrected him.

"Interesting," he said as he shot a covert glance at Josef which also
held a challenge. Then as though in tacit compliance with the suggestion
he turned not discourteously to Carter.

"Where did you get the title of Captain your man gave you a while ago?"

"I have no real right to it, never claim it," replied the American,
"though at one time I bore it as of right in the Spanish-American war.
It is the American habit never to let a man forget a title he has once
won through merit."

Sobieska bowed.

"What brought you to Krovitch? It is outside the usual route of
tourists."

For the fraction of a second the men gazed steadily at each
other--possible antagonists appraising the other's chances. The question
had been as hitherto in French for the benefit of the other auditors.

Careful to keep any appearance of apology from what he might say, yet
scorning any other medium than the truth, Carter explained the motive
for his coming to Krovitch. "An American's love of adventure--a wish to
join your insurrection."

Even his inquisitor was startled by the boldness of the reply. The
Counselors leaped to their feet and laid suggestive hands upon their
swords. Trusia's face went white, while her hand clutched in terror at
her throat. Then, seeing that Carter was in danger, with an effort she
quickly recovered herself.

"Put up your swords, my lords," she commanded in distress. "Let him
explain."

"What insurrection?" thundered a bristling Sutphen, seating himself
stiffly erect, on the edge of his chair.

"I told you they were spies," Josef almost shouted in gratification.
"Why else would they say such a thing except as a play for your
confidence. Where would they learn our secret?"

Carter turned to Trusia.

"Pardon me, Your Grace, for my inept choice of words. I meant
restoration, not insurrection." He bowed low as to the sovereign of
Krovitch as he supposed her to be. Then raising his head he continued,
"As for your secret, the world has already heard the rumors of the
approaching war."

Then with effective repression he added, "My country's wars have always
been for Freedom and Righteousness, never for aggrandizement. A
nation's sentiments will animate her citizens. I heard rumors of a
sister country in distress and longed to help her. I heard rumors. I
find them confirmed. I am no spy. I am Adventure's cadet."

"How then did he hear or know of Count Zulka?" sneeringly suggested
Josef. Carter noticed that again the momentarily favorable impression
had been destroyed. Josef for some strange reason was aggressively
opposed to a vindication of the two strangers in Krovitch.

"Your Grace, there was a club in New York City," Carter explained to
Trusia, "of which Paul Zulka and myself were members. We were good
friends. One year ago he left hurriedly. Knowing from his ardently
expressed love for his birthplace and his outspoken hate for Russia that
he would be in the front rank of any fight of Krovitch's, I naturally
sought him for my voucher."

The chubby Purse Holder was anxious to question the accused. "What is
the name of this club?" he asked.

"It is the Racquet Club."

The Holder of the Purse leaned back. With a satisfied air, Sutphen
turned to him.

"That the club to which your nephew, Count Paul, belonged?" he asked.

"Yes," he said genially. "I am Paul Zulka's uncle," he explained to
Carter.

"Did he ever mention a Calvert Carter as among his associates there?"
queried a lenient Trusia.

The Holder of the Purse spread out two fat palms deprecatingly.

"How should I remember?" he said helplessly. "These English names are
hard to bear in mind. Such things, ach! as I have had to remember in the
last year." The burden was evidently appalling. "Yet," he added kindly,
that he might do no injustice, "it might be so that he did."

"If Count Zulka were here"--began Carter confidently. He was interrupted
by Her Grace of Schallberg who raised her hand for silence.



X

THE GLIMMER OF SUSPICION


It was Paul Zulka who bowed low over the Duchess's hand. He was totally
oblivious to all other claims upon his attention for the nonce.

"Do you know that gentleman, Paul?"

As Trusia questioned him, he turned about in mystification. Not
expecting to see Carter there or anywhere, it required time for his
mental processes to adjust themselves to the detached conditions,
unfavorable to a recognition.

That the Krovitzer had not instantly identified his former clubmate was
causing the latter some uneasiness. He knew it would be impossible for
Zulka to have forgotten his existence completely after two years of
almost daily social intercourse. A greater fear followed on the heels of
this first misgiving. Carter's mouth set firm and hard as he considered
the possibility of an intentional snub. If such were the case his fate
was undoubtedly sealed, for he had invoked this very test--this meeting
was to vouch for his sincerity. His mind went rapidly back over the
whole period of his acquaintance with the Krovitch nobleman, to recall
if there had been any indication of such a poltroon trait in Paul
Zulka's character. He was, in justice, forced to deny the existence of
any such.

In the flash of an eye it had all happened. Forgetting court etiquette
in his rush, Zulka grasped his friend's hand and shook it vigorously.

"You," he said half doubting his own senses. "Here? Will wonders never
cease? Carrick, too," and a friendly nod greeted the grinning and
relieved Cockney. The recognition was complete.

"Mea Culpa!" said Zulka, suddenly remembering his grievous breach of
decorum, turning now to bow deeply with a humility which seemed but half
sincere. Of course Trusia forgave him for she seemed vastly pleased with
the favorable outcome of the meeting.

"Carter a spy!" Paul exploded, when the status of affairs was duly
explained to him. "I would as soon suspect our loyal old Josef there."

The face of the latter, since Zulka's advent, had been a study, though
this allusion to him had been received with his accustomed smirk.

Sobieska, for the time being no further interested in the proceedings,
was openly watching the mask-like face. It was as though a suspicious
mind, aroused by the vigorous and unsustained charges, had, as a
reflex, determined to probe the motives to their devious sources. Too
subtle to display the uneasiness he felt at this surveillance, Josef
appeared the personification of innocence and candor.

Colonel Sutphen, willing to make amends, and aware that Carter and
Carrick had not yet been formally acquitted, arose and addressed Her
Grace.

"I think we may take it, Highness, that this gentleman and his--his
servant are vindicated." The word servant caused him some difficulty as
he was not prepared to relegate Carrick to such servile rank. It might
be of some significance to note that both Josef and Sobieska displayed a
covert interest in this hesitation in the usually downright Chancellor.



XI

YOU LOVE TRUSIA


"I am so glad," she said as she stepped from the dais to greet him.

There was a generous simplicity of movement somewhat at variance with
the haughty poise of her head. That Trusia, Duchess of Schallberg, was a
very lovely young woman Carter found himself mentally confessing with no
small degree of enthusiasm, while his heart warmed at her sweet
effusiveness.

"Do you really and truly mean it?" she continued as she placed a small,
firm palm in his, man-wise. "You have come all the way from that
wonderful country of yours to join us?"

She clasped her hands at her neck in a sweet girlish gesture as he
silently bowed his assent. He felt dazzled. Though accustomed to the
society of high-bred women, he was at a loss for the first time in his
experience; was unable to frame a simple affirmative. If, he thought,
she would only turn away those wonderful eyes of hers for an instant, he
felt confident of accomplishing a conversational commonplace at least.

The members of the Privy Council, following her lead, came forward to
greet him. Carter devoutly prayed that this diversion might loosen his
unruly member.

That no remark might escape his vigilant ears, Josef edged cautiously to
the outskirts of the group now gathered around the Americans. Trusia
espied him, and much against his desire haled him to the fore.

"You must make amends, sir," she prompted, though not unkindly, "for the
annoyance you have caused Captain Carter."

"Your Highness," he said with a deferential bow, but unbending mind,
"must accept my zeal in the cause as my justification." Trusia was much
hurt at this intentional and undisguised evasion of her behest, as much
on the strangers' as on her own account, so hastened to supplement such
an ambiguous apology.

"Josef is indulged by us," she began deprecatingly, "because to his
fidelity, loyalty and zeal, we are indebted for a royal leader for
Krovitch, a man descended from our one-time kings of the day when
Krovitch was great."

"But I thought," said the puzzled Carter, "that you were the only
descendant of Augustus."

"I am." The little head was raised in imperial pride. "But King Stovik,
though deposed, was the rightful sovereign, not my ancestor. The
fugitive monarch left a scion whom Josef as a faithful servitor has
attended from his infancy. Finding in recent events that the time was
ripe for his crownless prince, he came to tell us that we had a king, if
we dared to strike for him. He showed us proofs. We already had
organization, men and money, but we sadly lacked a man for the struggle.
My valorous people would have fought for me, poor as were my claims to
the crown, founded on the wrong done another. Imagine how high their
enthusiasm became on hearing that not only one of King Stovik's
glorified stock, but a man--a young king--was to lead the ancient flag
to victory. Russia, already dazed, can do nothing against the flame of
my people's ardor."

"But the Almanac de Gotha," insisted Carter to whom the reference to the
invisible king was a puzzling one.

"Knew nothing about King Stovik after his deposition and flight," she
interrupted with a charming smile.

"Tell me the story, Your Grace," he pleaded, for he could feel
instinctively that there was a story, an old world romance hidden here.

She held up a warning finger. "Be warned in time," she said, "it is a
vulnerable point with me, one on which I am likely to be extremely
prolix."

"You can but enhance the value of the legend," he replied with a bow. "I
promise, Highness," he laughed, once more at his ease, "not to take the
teeniest of naps."

Already deep in her recollections of her country's tribulations, her
responsive smile was of one who dreamed. Inspiring scenes of tragic
grandeur, the pageant of a nation's history wiped out in the groans of
conquest, lit the beauty of her eyes. So must the Maid of Orleans have
appeared to those who in awe listened to her. Softened by her
translation into the world of inspiration, she turned to him.

"How I envy those who can wield the pen," she sighed. "I wish I could
chronicle the story of the kings who have been safely hidden for
generations. Patiently, devotedly, for two centuries have they waited
for this day to dawn, the first opportunity that Krovitch has had to
take back her own from the despoiler of Europe. The narrative from where
general information ends," she continued, "briefly is as follows: King
Stovik with his queen and infant son escaped by the connivance of a
loyal nobleman on the midnight of the intended assassination of the
overthrown dynasty. With two servants, husband and wife, who insisted on
sharing the exile, he left Krovitch to find an asylum in a strange
country, where caution led him to change his name. Certain it is that
his subjects never learned the place of his retreat though they were
well assured that his line was maintained in exile. After some years of
silence, during which the heir apparent had reached a marriageable age,
King Stovik sent again to his native land, to that nobleman in fact who
had aided his escape, beseeching that from the maidens of noble birth a
bride should be selected and sent back under the care of the messenger,
who was none other than the faithful servant who had shared all the
tribulations of the royal family. Bribes, threats, and coaxing of still
loyal Krovitzers could not induce the faithful fellow to betray his
master's hiding place. In fact on that, as on all similar embassies, in
the generations that followed, her family bade farewell to their
daughter, knowing not the place of her future home, nor her name,
nothing but that she was to be the consort of their rightful king. So
careful was Stovik in his banishment, that it became a hereditary rule
not to permit the young bride to communicate with her family. Thus only
could the never-dying hatred of Russia be avoided.

"Until my father's time this system has been maintained, always through
the agency of the descendants of that pair of original servants, of whom
Josef is the last. As a little child, I remember him first, when he
came and claimed the hand of one of our most beautiful girls to share
his master's banishment. Then, until recently, we had supposed the Line
had become extinct, for no further missions came. Then he returned and
offered to put a king at the head of our national movement. Nothing
could have been a greater boon. Those who, for years, at all corners of
the earth, had been striving for Krovitch, came flocking to her
standards. Our joy was complete. Do you wonder, Captain Carter," she
said gently, "that we are very lenient to Josef?"

Appreciating the girl's nobility, Carter strove to do justice to the
Gray Man, but as he glanced into the mask-like face a greater repugnance
than aforetimes overcame all generous impulses. He strove to put down
the distrust that he was certain no one present shared with him, for on
every countenance, save that of Sobieska who was gazing idly out of a
window, he read a story of affection for the man who had done this thing
for Krovitch.

"And the new king," he questioned lightly, avoiding the issue raised,
"has he, too, married a maid of Krovitch?"

She crimsoned in manifest confusion. Averting her head for an instant,
she bravely met his glance.

"Not yet," she replied. The signals of her embarrassment told him on
whom the choice had nevertheless fallen.

She hurried on that this stranger might not the longer probe her
sentiments with his compelling eyes. "In a few days we go to bring him
who knows not he is king, and at the head of a valorous people seat him
on his throne. Now are the days when only a man must lead. My ancestors
threw this land into Russia's clutches, their descendant must return it
to Krovitch's rightful king. This is about all, Captain Carter, except
that when King Stovik fled he was supposed to have worn the medal found
on your chauffeur. Doubtless at some time a member of Carrick's family
received it as a mark of royal gratitude."

"I thank you for the story," said Carter. "Now that my identity is
established, may I ask for a place in your army? The cause of your
country shall be my own."

She smiled indulgently. "Perhaps," she said, "when you have fully
mastered our language, we might make you a lance corporal. You see we
have only one Field Marshal, Colonel Sutphen, although fully a score of
applicants for that rank."

"Don't tease, Tru," said Zulka with the intimacy of a lifelong
friendship, "I am a colonel. Cal Carter, here, is a better soldier. We
fought together at Santiago, so I should know."

"We'll see," was all she would reply, as she turned to go. Then
hesitatingly she held out her hand to Carter, who bent above it with
inspired gallantry and touched his lips to her fingers.

"Au revoir, Lady Paramount," he said.

"Au revoir, Sir Knight of the Auto-car," she replied; adding; "be sure
to come to the levee to-night. Already the maidens of Krovitch have
heard of you, sir. One at least, desires to make your acquaintance."

"We are going to the inn," Zulka announced as he took Carter by the arm,
so the latter made his adieux to the gentlemen of the Privy Council and
turned prepared to follow him.

"Castle's full," Paul explained to relieve the mystification apparent on
his friend's countenance. "Privy Counselors with their families and
households, Army Staff, Duchess's Attendants and Aides-de-Camp, and so
forth."

"But the inn's full, too, Paul. The landlord----"

"Thought you were a spy. That's why Josef recommended Schallberg.
Thought you would probably tumble to the fact that he was wise, as we
say in New York; to the fact that more than a hundred notices were
posted there offering a reward for the apprehension of humble me, whom
they flatteringly described. You see," he explained, "shortly after my
return last year, I hurt Russia's feelings. Made what they very
truthfully called a revolutionary address. I've been dodging Siberia
ever since. Get your medal, Carrick, and come along," he called over his
shoulder to the Cockney, who was reluctant to leave without his precious
heirloom.

Carter's second appearance in the courtyard was more gratifying than his
first, and he had no difficulty in procuring his touring car from the
sentry, who already seemed to have been apprised of the stalwart
stranger's status.

Whirled along in the auto, the inn was soon reached, where, arm in arm
with Count Zulka, Carter entered, much to the unenlightened bewilderment
of the landlord, who, nevertheless, at the Krovitzer's request, had no
difficulty in finding them a private room for their dinner.

After having enjoyed to the full the appetizing meal which had been set
before them, the two friends at first indulged themselves with
intermittent cigarettes and the thimblefuls of local liquor attendant at
their elbows. Digestion, for a while, stood in the way of discourse,
and the tally was naturally indolent, somnolent.

Presently, after having sufficiently watched the rings of smoke flatten
themselves against a black, studded rafter, Carter gave a slight rein to
his speculations.

"Why," he said, holding up his cigarette to gaze squintingly at the
ember at its head, "why is the Count Sobieska antagonistic to Josef?"

Zulka stretched himself further back in his heavy chair. Very much at
his ease, he could have dispensed with questions just then.

"Professional jealousy, I suppose," he replied. "When it comes to
knowledge of Russian movements," he went on to explain, "that's
Sobieska's department, mind you, but somehow Josef is always hours ahead
of him through some source of his own. Naturally Sobieska takes the
chance to rub a miscue in on the old chap."

"Why should he be interested in Carrick's antecedents, Paul?"

"Cal, you are like the youngster, who after exhausting all other
questions, asked his dazed parent, 'Father, why is why?' Tell me all
that happened," he said, seeing the slightly nettled expression on his
friend's face. "You see the circus was all over before I arrived."

Carter related the affair from the time of their first meeting with
Josef, at that very inn, to the time when Zulka's timely appearance put
an end to their trial. "The rest you know," he concluded.

Zulka opened his cigarette case, selected one and after knocking the end
of it two or three times against the metal lid without putting it in his
mouth, looked up at his friend. "Cal, I'm afraid I've given you the idea
that Sobieska is incompetent. That is not so. The fact is, he is
devilish deep and clever. He never lets up once he has struck a trail.
He's probably hit on something now that he thinks should be
investigated. By the way, how's Saunderson of the Racquet?" So the
conversation drifted.

Their mutual friends in New York had included many women of gentle birth
with whom Paul Zulka had always been more or less of a favorite.
Concerning these, individually and collectively, Carter's replies to his
friend's inquiries had been equally frank and responsive.

"So you left no sweetheart behind, Cal?"

"No, Paul. I'd not leave a sweetheart. I'd make her my wife."

"In the face of a congé?"

"You ought to know me better. I never take 'no' for an answer." Carter's
pride glowed in his face as he made this reply.

"The Duchess of Schallberg," announced Zulka, "will marry the King of
Krovitch to unite the two houses. She has pledged herself." This
seemingly irrelevant announcement was made through a swirling cloud of
smoke.

"So?" Carter strove to make his reply partake of easy nonchalance, but
his throat tightened so that he could feel his face go red and hot. It
was as if Paul had intimated that he, Calvert Carter, would seek and be
refused by the Duchess of Schallberg. He was thankful the Krovitzer was
not looking just then.

Had he been wise, Carter would have said no more. But failing to
emphasize his disinterestedness, he added to his monosyllabic
exclamation a query in a studied tone of unconcern.

"What's that got to do with us, old chap?"

Zulka leaned forward confidentially as he laid a friendly hand upon the
other's knee.

"She's for neither you nor me, Cal," he said regretfully. "She must
marry a man she has never seen for the sake of a country that she
adores. Without this submission on her part we could count on no united
Krovitch. Our country worships her and will follow no king who will not
seat her upon his throne. Get that angel face out of your heart. Deafen
your ears to her voice before, like me, you try too late. Oh, I know, I
saw," he hastened on as Carter would have stopped him, "love makes all
eyes keen. You love Trusia."

As the significance of the last remark went home, Carter sat as one
stunned. The perspiration gathered slowly in great beads on his
forehead. He hung his head gloomily; his face went pale. It seemed,
suddenly, that life, ever a pleasant vista to him, had built a wall
before his eyes, unscalable, opaque.

Then he understood. A pain gripped his heart as the great truth came
home to him.

"I do," he answered jerkily, for he was striving to keep a strong man's
grip on his soul. Slowly, however, the agony, defying him, triumphed.
"My God," he wailed in surrender, "it is true though I never realized it
till now." That was all he said, but with blind hands he groped for
fellowship and welcomed Zulka's responsive grip of steel.

Relaxing his handclasp, he arose and walked to the window, to gaze out
upon darkness until his own night passed from him sufficiently to enable
him to seize upon his soul in the elusive shadows and hold it firmly.
From where he stood, after an interval of pregnant silence, he turned a
high-held, stern, white face upon Zulka.

"Paul," he said quietly, "we'll have to stand by her now to the end. If
Krovitch wins and I'm alive, I'll go back to New York. If she loses,
our lives must purchase her safety, should that be the price. It will be
Trusia first, then."

"It will always be Trusia," said Zulka.

Carter nodded his understanding.

"Come, Carter!" Zulka said almost brusquely, "enough of sentiment. We
must dress for the levee. I can fit you out in clothes."



XII

CARTER FINDS AN ALLY


The haut nobility of Krovitch were present at the Ducal reception that
night. Glittering uniforms, with a plentiful supply of feminine silks
and sparkling jewels, made even the gray old halls of the castle take on
a warmer, gladder note. But to Carter, with an aching heart hidden
behind a smiling countenance, the gaiety seemed forced, the colors
glaring; while to his questing eyes all faces appeared blank surfaces,
save one.

She was talking to a wisp of a golden-haired girl, whom he afterward
learned was Zulka's cousin, the daughter of the plump Holder of the
Purse. Apparently Trusia had not yet noticed his entrance, but why
should she?

Had he been gifted with omnipresence, however, he would have heard her
say to her companion, "That is he. The one in dress suit. No, stupid,
not the short man in black and gold, but the strapping big fellow who
holds his head like some ancient paladin."

"Oh," her companion had answered impulsively, as she finally singled
Carter out from the throng about the entrance, "he is fine, Highness.
I'm going to fall in love with him. I'm sure I am. Do you mind, Tru?"
she teased, with the intuitive sex-given perception that her royal chum
felt at least a passing interest in the handsome stranger. The Duchess
made no immediate reply to her friend, but gazed resolutely in a
direction opposite to the one from which she knew Carter was
approaching. Even predestined queens are not averse to stately coquetry.

"No, Natalie," she finally condescended to reply, "why should I, dear?"
She smiled affectionately down on the sweet face before her. "I envy
you, child, that you may love where you please," she added gently.

"Oh," said Natalie. The little maid of honor changed front with ready
sympathy. "I might have known you could not faint in his arms, be
brought home by him, rescue him from jail, without feeling some interest
in him. He's coming this way, Highness," she added in a confidential
undertone as if Trusia had not already divined the fact through the back
of her regal little head. Nevertheless, the Duchess achieved a very
natural surprise as Calvert Carter presented himself before her.

He was duly presented to the golden-haired girl and apprised of her
kinship to his friend Paul, who had already entered into conversation
with Her Grace of Schallberg. Carter found a temporary distraction from
his unearned wounds in listening to her cheery prattle and answering her
light queries about the wilderness she imagined his country to be, just
beyond the environs of the municipalities. Their group was constantly
augmented by fresh arrivals, so the conversation grew general, and
Carter had no opportunity except for a chance word now and then with the
woman to whom he had silently yielded his heart. Enthusiastic young
officers, cadets of ancient lineage, boasted hopefully of the efforts
which they would make to restore the fatherland to its place among the
great nations of the world. Even Natalie was soon claimed by an admiring
young hussar glittering in black and gold, and Carter found himself
alone for the nonce. He suddenly remembered a forgotten duty, and the
possibility of its performance was now causing him some perplexity.

"You look troubled, Captain Carter," said Trusia, at his elbow. "Is
there anything we can do?"

He smiled gratefully. "Yes, Highness," he responded eagerly. "I was just
cudgeling my brains for a suitable form in which to present my
request."

"It is----"

"Permission to cable my address in the morning to my New York agent."

"It is granted," she said. "A messenger will leave at seven to-morrow
morning for Vienna. I will have Josef call with him in the morning. I
need scarcely caution you not to refer to the state of affairs here."

"You have my word, Highness," he answered.

"I could ask for no better guaranty," she commented sweetly.

If Carter was distrustful of the emissary she had chosen, he was well
aware that his vague misgivings would find no other reception than
coldness did he even dare to hint at them. He turned to find Sobieska's
look of pseudo-indolence upon him.

"Have I your permission, Highness, to make Captain Carter acquainted
with some of his brother officers?" queried the Minister of Private
Intelligence. She nodded her consent and Carter was led away, but not to
meet any military men. Having found a place sufficiently out of earshot
of the others, the Count motioned the American into a seat, placing
himself opposite him.

"There is nothing like a common object of suspicion, Captain Carter, to
make men friends," he began guardedly. Then probably recognizing that
the man to whom he was speaking would hold his disclosures sacred, he
threw away his diplomatic subterfuges and came frankly to the point.

"I wanted to tell you," he said gravely, "that I have already cabled my
agents in London and Paris to investigate the history of your man
Carrick." The American turned to regard him with a slight frown. Had the
fellow brought him here to tell him they had not been believed at the
afternoon's trial? Sobieska, understanding what was passing in the
other's mind, smiled indulgently.

"Oh, I believed your story, don't fear," he said; "but, in the face of
all things, I have always doubted the sincerity of Josef. I cannot
convince myself that his motives are entirely as disinterested as he has
convinced Her Grace they are. There was something, too, about Carrick's
story of his father's death that awakened my suspicions. That medal for
instance."

"You surely cannot mean----" began Carter, fairly rising from his seat
in his wild surmise.

"Quietly, quietly," cautioned Sobieska, glancing warily back toward the
throng of guests to assure himself that the American's perturbation had
passed unnoted. Having satisfied himself that it had attracted no
attention, he took up the thread where it had been dropped by him.

"I meant nothing more at present than that I want to know everything my
agents can learn. Meanwhile not a word to any one, especially Josef.
Don't trust him in any way, though."

With such an opportunity, Carter naturally told him about his dilemma
concerning the despatches.

"Oh, if they refer to business, I suppose you may let him have them," he
was assured. "He would hardly tamper with private papers. They will be
perfectly safe, especially as he will know that you have already spoken
to Her Grace concerning them. I may be doing him an injustice," he
continued cogitatingly, "but I somehow feel that he is playing a deeper
game in Krovitch than you or I have any idea of at present. Every one
here from Her Highness down almost worships him. Can I count on your
aid?"

"Certainly," replied Carter as they both arose. "I don't like the fellow
either." They sauntered nonchalantly back to the others, baffling
Josef's inquiring eyes.



XIII

A NEW MAJOR OF HUSSARS


Carter admitted that in his present state of mind dawn was no more to be
welcomed than darkness. For hours on end now, he had been fighting
grimly and silently to the end that he might cast out of his heart, for
all time, the love for a woman which had crept in. Sleep had dared not
come within range of that titanic struggle. Worn with the battle which
had witnessed his defeat, he had just completed his cipher message,
when, following a modest knock at the door, Josef entered complacently
with the pent-browed peasant at his heels.

"If monsieur desires to send despatches," said the Hereditary Servitor,
"he can make his arrangements with Johann here. Johann goes at once to
Vienna, via Schallberg. He is trustworthy and discreet. Can I be of
further service to monsieur? No? Then I shall go." Without waiting for
any reply, he closed the door behind him as though upon a nervous
patient.

After giving the messenger minute instructions and a liberal gratuity,
Carter dismissed him and the despatches from his thoughts. Later in the
day he was to be reminded not only of them but of the evil leer
bestowed by Johann at the munificent tip dropped into his horny palm.

From the window of his room Carter watched the stir in the camp. In
response to the first call from the bugles, the men were already
bestirring themselves along the tent-marked company streets; some
industriously polishing belt plates and buttons; some tightening the
laces of their leggings, while still others, ruddy of visage, were
plunging close-cropped heads into buckets of splashing cold water. At
the far end of the street, opposite his window, the over prompt were
already falling in. The sergeants picturesquely marked the points of
rest. The first sergeant was glancing over the bundle of orders he had
drawn from his belt, preparatory to roll call and the routine of the
day.

The world beyond, the world of fields and woods and flowers, looked
fair; the sun had not yet dried the dew, and jaded as he was, Carter
thanked God for all things sweet and pure. Something choked in his
throat. He welcomed the galloping approach of Zulka, who, shortly, drew
up beneath his window. In a flash, the Count read the trouble in the New
Yorker's face, but pretending not to, he touched his hat brim in precise
military salute.

"I've rare tidings for thee, my lord," and he vigorously waved an
oblong paper in a melodramatic manner. "Given under hand and seal, as
your lawyer chaps would say."

"Just as soon as I can get this boot on," answered Carter in a tone he
strove desperately to keep cheerful. Having accomplished his task
without unreasonable delay, he picked up a hat and crop and descended to
the courtyard of the inn where the other was impatiently waiting with
some good tidings he found hard to contain.

"Read that, Cal," he said, as he thrust the papers into his friend's
hands. Carter opened the document to be confronted with an
incomprehensible jumble of letters in Latin,--a language he had promptly
forgotten the day of his graduation,--a lordly seal and, dearest of all,
in an angular feminine hand, in subscription:

  "_Trusia, Dei Gratia, Vice Regina._"

He feasted his eyes on the one word that for him blurred all the rest,
"Trusia."

"Trusia" of the marvelous eyes. "Trusia" of the ensnaring hair. "Trusia"
the beloved, the desirable.

"So you haven't forgotten your Latin, after all," Zulka was saying,
leisurely dismounting from his horse.

"But I have," answered Carter. "What does it all mean?"

"Your commission, man. Major of the Royal Hussars. For the present
attached to Her Grace, as Aide. I congratulate you."

"Don't, Paul; not yet. It is going to be all the harder for me."

Zulka nodded his head gravely. "You'd better fight at close range. It is
harder, but quicker."

He noted Calvert's riding costume at a glance and made a sudden resolve.

"Better take a ride, old chap. Get yourself in condition. I'm busy
to-day. Borrow Casimir's horse--he's off for the morning. I think
Natalie will be out on the road this way. She'd appreciate your escort,
I'll wager. We creep a step nearer the city this morning, and as
Division Adjutant I'll have my hands full.

"Here, Casimir," he called to the equerry who was lazily swinging his
feet over the edge of the porch on which he had seated himself, "lend
Major Carter your mount for this morning, can't you?"

"Gladly. Saral is the right sort and I guess bears him no ill will for
yesterday's stampede."

Carter was about to mount when Carrick put in a solemn appearance from
the stables.

"Some one has tackled the automobile with an axe, sir," he announced
ruefully. "The wheels are left, and that's about all of the 'go' part."
Carter turned wrathfully from the horse to follow Carrick back to the
shed where the big car had been housed. With ready sympathy the two
young Krovitzers followed.

"It is dastardly," Paul remarked as he bent over and discovered that not
a particle of the motive mechanism had been left intact.

"Count on me, sir," Casimir volunteered, "to help you ferret out the
rascals. Have you any idea who could have played such a shabby trick?"

While Carter had pretty definite suspicions he was not prepared just
then to announce them.

"The car is done for, certainly," he said gloomily. "No," he said as he
turned indifferently away, "I don't know who did it, and thank you,
Casimir, I don't care to. I don't think I would be justified in killing
a man for breaking up even six thousand dollars' worth of property, but
if I was certain just now who did it I feel I would be strongly tempted
to wring his neck. Au revoir, gentlemen, I am not going to permit this
to spoil my ride." With this and a nod, he returned and, mounting the
horse, cantered out of view along the road to the castle.

The handsome bay pounded steadily ahead. The air was soothing soft with
a thousand scents of forest and hill, of field and farm; kind zephyrs
of morning touched his brow and eased his sorrows, while the sun, from a
bed of pearl-pink clouds, rose slowly before his eyes. Beyond and
alongside of the already striking camp, on the right of the road, the
woods began again, leaving the open fields like an alternate square on
some mammoth checker board. More than one soldier gazed admiringly at
his strong figure as he cantered past, while the sentries, doubtless
under instructions, permitted him to pass unchallenged through the
lines.

When he reached the spot where he had first seen Trusia--the place of
the accident, he checked his horse to indulge in the sensations the
scene awakened. He beheld again the marble beauty of the face; he felt
the wondrous softness of the skin, and once more his heart was entangled
in the meshes of the fragrant hair as the loosened strands blew against
his hot cheek.

Round the bend in the road, as then, he heard approaching hoof beats. He
marveled that his heart should beat so high merely for the advent of
Lady Natalie. In the indulgence of his dream, the suggested thuds
presaged the coming of Trusia. He sat immovably upon his horse in
mid-road, waiting. Every sense was aquiver, every nerve on edge.

A black horse swept into view as it first had in his fancy. It was
ridden by Trusia. Saladin had not forgotten. As his mistress reined him
in, his wide eyes shifted about distrustfully. A quiver ran beneath the
satiny flanks while his slender legs trembled. Carter made no effort to
conceal his surprise, as he lifted his hat in salutation.

"Your Highness," he ejaculated.

"Yes," she laughed. "Why, aren't you disappointed? Lady Natalie is. Her
mother found some unwelcome duty shirked which she insisted should be
properly discharged. I am her apologetic substitute. Besides I wished to
discipline Saladin to this place before he should acquire the habit of
shying at it. There, Beauty," she said patting his arching neck as he
snorted in pure ecstasy of terrified recollections. Calmed by her
caressing voice and the touch of her hand he stretched forth his head to
nozzle the other horse in neighborly fashion.

"Natalie is a sweet girl, Major Carter," she said tentatively, giving
him his full title. "Am I forgiven for coming--in her stead?"

"On condition that Your Highness will do me the honor of riding with
me--in her stead." He smiled his usual frank smile. "Besides," he
pleaded, "it will take me some time to thank you for your kindness in
giving me my brevet. I know it is an honor which many a man of Krovitch
would die to win."

She flushed as she answered him. "It was but a small return for what you
have suffered."

In silent assent to his invitation, she pointed her crop to a path among
the trees, which might easily have escaped the observation of those not
familiar with its existence.

"Right beyond the turn in the road is a bypath. Let us take that. It
goes down into the heart of the wood, to the ancestor of forests. The
trees stand there as if brooding over the lost centuries of their youth.
The moss is as gray as Time himself. The only sounds, save the soughing
sighs of the giant branches, are the chime of the waterfall and the
chirping of birds. I love it," she said with sparkling eyes, "because
those trees seem typical of the undying faith of the land, which for two
centuries has never lost hope and has never ceased working for the day
which will soon crown our efforts. See," she pointed down the aisle of
overhanging branches they were entering, "is it not magnificent?"

Side by side, comrades under the spell of the woodlands, rode Trusia and
Carter, inhaling the fresh morning sifted through the leaves. A vista of
trees arose on either hand, each one seemingly more massive, more aged
than its fellow; some bowed in retrospection, some erect with hope and
looking skyward for the new star in their country's firmament.

A peace begotten of serenity settled on Carter's soul. He turned to look
at the girl beside him. The magic of the place had brought a refreshing
expression of content into her face. He noted the soft turn of her
cheek, the inviting round chin and the steady splendor of the eyes. The
spell of silence was broken then. The wood sprites were routed by a
modern girl. Feeling his eyes upon her, she turned to him, her lips half
parted in a smile.

"Is it not wonderful, all of this?" she said, caressing the leafy
monarchs with a wide-spread gesture. "Do you have such forests in
America, such trees? Oh, I have heard of your California forests, where
roads are cut through the trunk of a single giant without destroying its
life. But it is the spirit of the woodlands, I mean. Do they breathe
traditions?"

"Not to us, Highness. We are not their children. Perhaps the Indian when
he bade them farewell could understand their counsels."

"You were a soldier," she said, as a suggested possibility caught her,
"did you ever fight Indians?" Her eager face was almost as a child's who
begs a story.

"Sorry I can't oblige you," he laughed indulgently. "I engaged only the
prosaic European from Spain."

"You fought in Cuba? Tell me about it."

So much as he modestly might tell, he related to her as they rode on.
They were young, time was cheap and the tale was not uninteresting.

The labored heaving of the horses' shoulders brought them back to their
surroundings. They were leaving the forest to mount a little hill upon
whose side a small hovel stood, which Carter some time in his need was
to bless.

"It's Hans's, the charcoal-burner's," Trusia said with surprise; "we've
ridden ten miles, Major Carter, and scarcely faster than a walk. We must
turn back at once; my household will be filled with alarm. Please come,"
she said earnestly.

Together they turned their horses about, and started the return journey
at a good ground-eating gallop. Mile after mile they canceled, occupied
in the thoughts the ride had awakened. She was silent, in the spell of a
new obsession wrought by this man with his honest voice and stories of
the new, strange land, from which he came. Carter, distressed that
possibly he had caused trouble by his senseless prattle, was dutifully
bent on getting her back to the castle with the least possible delay.
Mentally he was attempting to frame a suitable and fitting apology to
offer her. Several times he cleared his throat, but she seemed so
preoccupied that he maintained silence.

Finally he achieved an explanation.

"I have been trying, Highness, to apologize, but really I can't. You
understand, don't you? I would be a hypocrite to say that I am sorry. I
am not. It must have been the magic of the place to which a year is as a
second quickly passed, so old is the forest."

"Have you been worrying about that all this time, my friend?" she said
with a quick laugh, awakening from her revery. "You remind me of my
duty," she added gently. "I was wool-gathering." She turned to discover
if he had in any measure divined her thoughts. Satisfied that he had
not, she was content to talk of many things which would claim her time.
Their conversation became gradually impersonal and general.

Once he had asked her why she had been so relieved at the answers
concerning the medal the Cockney wore. She hung her head for a moment
answering almost in a whisper, "It was Stovik's medal. I feared Carrick
was the king to whom I am to be married." Carter pursued the matter no
further. To his regret he saw that they were fast approaching the
entrance to the wood.

Bending forward suddenly she looked athwart his horse into the shadows
of bough and bush.

"Did you see him?" she inquired breathlessly.

"Whom? Where?" He pivoted about stupidly.

"Johann, the messenger," she answered, "who should have been in
Schallberg two hours ago. There, he's skulking behind that white oak.
Johann!" she commanded imperiously. Seeing that concealment was no
longer practicable, the fellow sulkily came from his hiding-place and
stood, with sullen countenance, in the path beside them. "Find out what
he is doing here, Major Carter."

The messenger maintained a dogged silence to Carter's inquiries. Fearing
that some treachery was at the root of the matter, the American finally
asked whether the fellow had the despatches given him that morning. With
an evil leer Johann looked up at this, breaking his silence.

"Ja, Herr Major," he replied, "I have them all right, and your hush
money, too." He jingled the coins in his pocket with insolent
significance.

"He's surely drunk, but what does he mean, Major?" asked Trusia in
bewilderment.

"I do not know, Highness," he replied tensely, "but if, as I suspect,
some treason's afoot, I would suggest he be at once taken to the castle
for a formal investigation."

The man guffawed impudently. "You wouldn't dare," he said meaningly to
Carter, "you wouldn't dare let Count Sobieska or Her Grace know what is
in that letter."

Indignant at the suggestion that his message had been read Carter
retorted: "We shall see, my man, for to Count Sobieska you go at once."

"All right," the peasant answered jauntily, with a satisfaction Carter
thought was assumed, "if you are willing, I am. Come along," and with a
leering wink he initiated the return castleward.



XIV

FOUND IN THE COURTYARD OF THE INN


Through the thronged courtyard Johann was led directly to the office of
the Minister of Private Intelligence. Not, however, before Josef had
attempted to communicate with him. This privilege Carter denied.
Nevertheless he was unable to prevent a covert exchange of triumphant
glances between the Hereditary Servitor and the closely watched
messenger. This argued that the two were in league. Josef followed,
unbidden.

As they entered his official sanctum, Sobieska looked up, and, as he
arose, a genuine surprise passed, cloudlike, across his face. He
appreciated at a glance that something unusual had occurred. He bowed
Trusia to a seat, directing a well-defined look of inquiry toward
Carter. The latter merely shrugged his shoulders, implying that it was
not his affair.

Sobieska consulted his watch, which lay on the table beside him, while
he turned sternly to Johann. "Why aren't you in Schallberg?" he
demanded; "you had despatches, as well as a cable to send for Major
Carter."

"I have that cable still, Excellency," he grunted.

"What, you didn't transmit it?"

"No," the man answered boldly. Seeing the volcanic wrath awakening
behind the Minister's sleepy eyes, he hastened to explain.

"I went to his room," he said, pointing fiercely at Carter, "he gave me
a sealed envelope. After I had taken it he handed me a large sum of
money--a fortune to a peasant. He told me to let no one see it but the
telegraph operator at Schallberg."

"That is true," said Carter. "It was a business transaction, a
communication relating to my personal affairs."

"I am an ignorant man," whimpered the messenger, stimulated by a mental
contemplation of his supposed injuries, "but I was made the tool of that
traitor--that spy." His eyes, red from excessive potations, glared with
hatred as he pointed to Carter.

"Be careful, sir," broke in indignant Trusia, "remember the gentleman is
one of our Aides and bears a commission in the royal army. Would you
taste the whip?"

"Better that than the noose he planned for me," sulkily retorted the
peasant.

"You had better be precise," said Sobieska.

"Well, if you will have it, I'll tell you," the man answered.
Emboldened by an encouraging murmur from Josef he continued.

Carter held up his hand. "Wait a moment," he exclaimed as he turned
appealingly to Trusia. "Highness, this may be of greatest interest to
some one not present when Johann, the messenger, was apprehended. It may
also be of secret importance to Krovitch, to Your Highness. Is Josef
necessary here? Surely he can offer neither testimony nor
enlightenment."

Though cautioned to stay within call, Josef was dismissed to his
unrevealed disappointment.

"Now, go ahead, Johann," commanded the Privy Counselor, when the sound
of receding footsteps assured him that Josef was no longer in earshot.

"I never had so much money at one time," continued the messenger,
manifestly ill at ease since the departure of Josef. "I began to wonder
why the stranger had given it to me for so simple a service. When the
dumb man ponders overlong he seeks counsel. That was my case. My friend
and I sat and talked of it and as we talked we drank.

"My friend said that the reason for keeping it secret was the person to
whom it was written. At first I laughed at him. It could mean nothing.
He pushed the brandy toward me and laughed too. I supposed he thought
the same. Then I began to turn it over in my head, and as it seemed
possible it might mean something, I besought him how such a thing could
be. He replied by asking to whom the letter was addressed. I said in a
foreign language,--English I do not understand. He pondered and said it
might be sent by a spy to the Russian police. He added that it might
mean hanging for me; I was afraid it was so, then in my fright I drank
more brandy. My head reeled, but I was less afraid. I laughed once more.
I asked him what he would do. He requested to see the letter. I was
angry. 'Fool,' he said, 'not to open it; just to see the address. That
will tell. No one will know.' I gave it to him. He pushed the brandy to
me as he puzzled over the odd letters. When I looked up from the bottle,
he was staring at me, his eyes big and scared. 'It is as I thought,' he
said, in a whisper one uses near the graveyard at night. I hardly knew
what to do, Excellency, so I wandered in the forest. I fear I was drunk
from the brandy. The rest Her Highness can tell you," and the man wiped
the perspiration from his brow.

"We found him skulking in the forest; not twenty minutes ago,"
supplemented Trusia. "His actions were so mysterious and his speech so
reprehensible that we brought him here."

Carter, regarding the whole affair as a delusion--a bubble soon broken,
brought the matter to an issue.

"Don't you think," he suggested confidently, "that Johann should produce
the incriminating document. I think it will turn out to be a certain
message to one Henry Jarvis, Broker, William Street, New York." He came
forward to stand beside Sobieska at the table, as Johann took out a
bulky envelope from a dispatch box and placed it before the Minister.
Trusia, too, had drawn near. The trio started involuntarily as they read
the address of Russia's sub-minister of Secret Police in Warsaw staring
them in the face. Trusia gasped and turned white. Sobieska walked to the
door, closed it gently and returned to the table.

"Who was your friendly counselor?" he demanded of Johann.

"I dare not tell you," the fellow replied doggedly.

"If I have to ask Posner at the inn, it will go hard with you, Johann."

"He does not know; we did not drink at Posner's."

"That is certainly a clever imitation of my writing," said Carter, who
had been carefully studying the characters on the envelope. Sobieska
looked up. "You do not believe me capable of communicating with your
enemies!" He appealed to the girl, whose white face was staring at the
oblong packet lying on the table.

"I do not know what to believe," she said as she struggled to keep back
the tears. "Open it, Sobieska." The latter complied and scanned the
communication.

"This," he said, looking up gravely, "purports to be a preliminary
report of Calvert Carter and Todcaster Carrick to their immediate
superior in the Imperial Secret Police at Warsaw. It contains a further
promise of early developments and the coming of a King to Krovitch. It
is signed 'Calvert Carter.'"

Sobieska reached so suddenly forward to touch a call bell that Johann
jumped. A gray-haired sergeant entered.

"A corporal and file," was Sobieska's command. Carter straightened
himself haughtily. Were they going to arrest him for this forgery?

"Count Sobieska," he began indignantly, while Johann's dull eyes
brightened.

"Wait, please," was the Minister's only comment.

Carter turned to Her Grace to remonstrate against such an indignity, but
her head was turned from him. There were footsteps, rhythmic, orderly,
at the door. It opened to admit the corporal and his men. Vividly it
recalled to Carter another such scene when he was a judge and----

"Put Johann under arrest," came the curt interruption to his thoughts
from the lips of Sobieska. "If you permit any one to communicate with
him, it will mean a court martial for all of you," said the Minister.

The sudden and unexpected reversal of the preconceived program was too
much for the messenger, as, cursing and struggling, he was hustled
toward the door. As the heavy oak panel swung to upon the prisoner, he
muttered something which caught the waiting ear of Sobieska, who glanced
toward his princess to see if she had heard. Satisfied that she had not,
he swept a triumphant look at Carter, who was dumbfounded at the turn
affairs had taken. The American stretched out his hand to the Krovitzer.

"Paul Zulka's friends are to be trusted," said Sobieska. "You have
already made a personally vindictive enemy," he continued; "have you any
idea who it is?" The indolent wink accompanying the inquiry cautioned
Carter not to name any one if he had.

"I have," replied Calvert, who had understood the signal.

"Don't name him then, at present," requested the Minister.

"Why not?" queried an indignant Trusia, "as Major Carter is innocent,
this wretch must be punished at once."

"Your Highness," respectfully counseled the Privy Counselor, "Major
Carter has been in our country too short a time even to be sure of his
friends, much less of his enemies. His surmises, therefore, might be
unwarranted, and might put a perfectly innocent person under suspicion.
Be assured," he asserted vehemently, "I will thoroughly sift out this
matter in my official capacity. Whether it confirms his premonitions or
not, you will learn in due time. I am inclined to believe that Johann
was intended to fall into your hands, but with a different intent.
Either that or the message was meant for Russia, the risk to be
shouldered upon Carter. May I employ Josef," he requested blandly, "as a
messenger to Colonel Sutphen?"

"Certainly," she replied, and the old fellow was sent for.

There was neither tremor nor twitch on his impassive countenance as he
responded to the summons, although he must have missed Johann and knew
not what had transpired.

"You are to take this note to Colonel Sutphen at once," said Sobieska
curtly. "At once," he reiterated with emphasis, "don't even wait for a
hat. Your trip and return will be timed," he was fairly warned. "It is
of the utmost importance," the Minister remarked impressively as he
handed the retainer a hastily scrawled but securely sealed note. Josef
might have been carrying the order for his own execution, for all he
knew, but he did not permit any outward sign of trepidation to show in
his face. With commendable alacrity he left the room on his mission,
watched by Sobieska in the doorway. Returning, with hardly concealed
impatience, the Minister begged of Her Grace to be excused for the time
being and requested the assistance of Carter.

"Yes, Sobieska, go," she said. "I am as anxious as you can be to reach
the bottom of this mystery. Somehow, I cannot help feeling that there is
something inimical to my country in it all."

"Pray God that it is not so," said the Minister as he bowed her from the
office. No sooner was she gone than the two men faced each other, the
same thought in their minds, the same name on their lips.

"Josef," they said in the same breath.

"There's not a minute to lose," continued the Minister. "That is why I
trumped up that message to get him out of the way. We must search his
room immediately, before he has a chance to forestall us. Come," he
said, grasping Carter's arm.

Together they mounted stairways, plunged down passages, grim and shadow
infested, until the Servitor's room was reached. The barrenness of the
place seemed to be sufficient guarantee for the honesty of its usual
occupant. A table without a drawer, no closet and some burned-out logs
in the large fireplace afforded but scant hiding places. Sobieska
carefully tapped each board separately to ascertain if a secret
receptacle had been formed in such a fashion, but the floor was
perfectly solid. He tried the flagging of the hearth as well as the
brick arch of the fireplace with no more success. He was about to
acknowledge failure when Carter accidentally turned over one of the
charred logs lying at his feet. An exclamation burst from the Minister's
lips.

Minute and scattered fragments of paper, saved from the blaze by the
bulk of the log above them, lay scattered on the hearth. These Sobieska
pounced upon eagerly.

Further search bore no fuller fruit, so with their meagre harvest the
pair descended to the office again. Here the Krovitzer, piecing the
fragments together, and pasting them on a sheet of paper, laid them
before Carter.

"There," said the Minister, "are the experiments in your handwriting.
Now wait until he comes back."

"But how did he get a copy?" queried the puzzled American.

"Easy enough," replied Sobieska. "He kept those papers he took from you
in the cell yesterday. Your passport furnished your signature. He's a
clever rascal. Substituted the forgery for the other letter, while
Johann drank. Either that or they're in league together, which I am not
prepared to believe, yet. In any event we must get a new messenger."

"Tell me," said the curious Carter, "how came you to suspect Josef, as
you read the letter Johann had with him?"

Sobieska smiled indulgently. "A man of your varied metropolitan
experience would scarcely write a letter as he would a thesis for a
University degree. Whoever wrote that epistle had doubtless a work of
rhetoric at his elbow, fearful of mistakes. Look at it yourself," and he
pushed the paper over to Carter. It was, indeed, a studied composition
of good proportions and well rounded sentences.

"I have heard you talk," continued his instructor, "and I felt satisfied
that Major Carter, if a spy, would hardly have wasted his efforts in
such a prim presentation of his facts." He glanced at his watch. "He
would have doubtless used cipher. Josef is due in just one minute now.
There he comes," he said, as there was a low rap at the door. "Come in."

Punctuality outdone, Josef entered and handed Sobieska a note. Without
even glancing at it, the latter tossed it on the table. Picking up the
sheet on which were the pasted fragments, he handed it to the Servitor,
watching him closely with narrowing eyes. Without a tremor the paper was
received, examined, read, and handed back to Sobieska with a smile.

"Well, Excellency?"

"Ever see that before, Josef?"

"I think so, Excellency. Did you find them in my room?" he inquired with
quiet effrontery.

"They were found there. I found them," replied Sobieska coolly, not yet
despairing of breaking down the impassive wall with which Josef had
surrounded his thoughts.

"Then I have seen them before," the Servitor answered as though
courteously acknowledging an irrefutable logic. "I took them there to
interpret them," he said as if willing to make an explanation though not
admitting any necessity. "I found them beneath a certain window last
night--in the courtyard of the inn," he concluded with a significant
glance at Carter. Then boldly his eyes challenged both men.

"It's a lie," said Carter contemptuously. Josef smiled.

"Your word--the word of a stranger--against mine," he sneered. "Shall I
appeal to Her Highness?"

"Her Highness knows everything," hazarded Sobieska. "From Johann," he
added deliberately.

There was a start, if you call the slightest flicker of the eyelids
such--to show that the shot had told; then Josef, calm as before,
inquired,

"Then of what interest can these scraps of paper be?"

"Be careful, Josef," interrupted Carter, whose anger had not yet been
appeased, "that you do not pick up something deadly--in the courtyard of
the inn, something like a revolver bullet."

The fellow bowed mockingly to the last speaker, then turning to Sobieska
said, "May I go, Excellency?" Sobieska nodded assent.

"Wait," said Carter, and Josef paused.

"You say you found these papers--in the courtyard of the inn," said
Carter endeavoring to connect the man with the mishap to the auto, "any
place near the carriage shed?"

The Servitor smiled and assumed a non-committal aloofness.

"Why," he asked as, turning, he left the room.

Following a short talk with the Minister of Private Intelligence, Carter
took his departure, and, as he rode thoughtfully back to the inn, he was
startled to see a distraught Carrick arise from a stone by the highway.

"Why, Carrick," he cried with a premonitive feeling of some new evil,
"what brings you here?"

"Been huntin' for you for nearly three hours, sir. I could not bide
there, sir, till I 'ad seen you."

Carter, dismounting, took the bridle rein over his arm and walked
alongside the Cockney, who in detail recited the story of a meeting of
Josef and Johann in the wood, which, unseen by them, he had watched, and
which in every detail corroborated the recital of Johann and the
surmises of Sobieska.

"What do you think of it, sir?" he concluded.

Carter shook his head gravely.

"I can't say, Carrick. Keep your eyes and ears open, but do not say a
word to any one but me of this or anything else you happen to notice
about Josef. There's some game going on that I have not fathomed yet.

"Tod Carrick," he continued in a burst of affectionate consideration,
"you're a good faithful soul. Here's my hand. I do not believe you have
had a mouthful to eat to-day. Now, have you?"

The Cockney smiled.

"I forgot, sir," he answered almost shyly, elated with the words of
approval he had won.



XV

THE DREAM KISS


The next day in solemn conclave the Counselors decided that the time had
come to bring the King to Krovitch.

"All is ready," said the grizzled Sutphen, "to inaugurate his reign with
the fall of Schallberg."

"You must come too," said Trusia to Carter, "as a member of my
household." The question of expedients was debated. Suspicion might be
awakened should such a large party travel together. It was decided that
Carter and Sobieska should proceed to Vienna; Muhlen-Sarkey and Trusia
with their two attendants were to cross into Germany at the nearest
point, thence travel by rail, while Josef and the rest should embark
boldly from Schallberg.

Carrick was much depressed at learning he was to be left behind, but
extracted some consolation from the fact that he was to be detailed to
attend Count Zulka for whom he had always shown a preference.

"The rendezvous is Paris,--Boulevard St. Michel, second house on the
left from St. Germain. The time, two days hence, at six o'clock in the
evening. That will allow the necessary time for unforeseen hitches,"
said Sobieska, to which all quietly assented.

Speeded by the entire court coterie, Sobieska and Carter mounted and
clattered out of the courtyard, and by ways through the forest, which
the Minister of Private Intelligence had learned in a score of hunting
trips, the pair, evading the vigilance of Russian sentries, reached the
Vistula. They were ferried across by a loyal peasant and landed on
Austrian soil without hostile interruption.

While the journey from Vienna to Paris was destined to be without
particular incident, it furnished the opportunity for a fuller
acquaintance and understanding between Carter and Sobieska.

"I have wanted to have a fuller talk with you anent Josef," said
Sobieska when their conversation had reached the confidential stage. "It
was manifestly impossible at the castle. I was afraid of eavesdroppers.
It may be one of those unreasonable prejudices, but, aside from the
fellow's social inferiority, I cannot help feeling that his is a
sinister influence in Krovitch."

"I thought his allegiance held him to the side of his exiled master. Has
he been in Krovitch all his life?"

"Although familiar to the older nobles during the lifetime of King Marc,
the grandfather of his present Majesty, Josef reappeared last autumn
after an absence of several years. He immediately requested the hand of
Lady Trusia in marriage for His Majesty." Here Sobieska glanced covertly
at Carter to see the effect of this disclosure. The American's face,
however, was as stoical as an Indian's. "He produced the historic
documents of Stovik's right to the crown--the traditional proof of
embassy. He preached a war on Russia and the rehabilitation of Krovitch.
Our people were aroused. For our country's sake, our lady yielded.
Messages were sent to all parts of the world to the patriots, who, in
large numbers, have been returning to their fatherland. Russia, asleep,
or lulled into a false sense of security, has made no move to indicate
that she is aware of a plot, yet you heard rumors a year ago that at
least matters were in a ferment here. It is strange, strange," he said
musingly.

Then, marveling at his own irrelevance, Carter told Sobieska for the
first time of Carrick's confirmation of their suspicions that Josef was
party to the plot of the substituted letter in the forest. "He knew the
name and address of Russia's chief spy in Warsaw. How could he, a
retainer--a loyal servant of an exiled monarch, know these things? Pitch
defiles."

With a laugh which dismissed the subject, Sobieska turned to Carter.
"It seems to me," he said, "we're allowing an absent servant to
monopolize considerable of our conversation. Let's talk of something
else."

"Have you any conception of His Majesty's, the King's, personality?"
asked Carter.

"We were shown a photograph by Josef. Certainly a handsome fellow. An
artist." This with the faintest shade of contempt that the man of action
always holds for the artist, the poet or the dreamer. "I may be deceived
in him, God grant I am, but the face is the face of a sensualist, not of
a leader of men. What we need now for the throne is an inveterate hater
of Russia. We have good leaders, now. We don't want a king who cannot
understand and, consequently, may spoil our best plans."

"Wouldn't he be controlled?"

"You mean by his wife, by Trusia? He may, if she takes his fancy. If
not, he may lose interest, and fall under other control."

"You mean Josef's?"

"Yes."

"It seems complications are likely to arise."

"It is not too late for you to draw out," replied Sobieska coldly.

"I am no quitter." Carter's jaws set grim and hard. Then catching an
elusive humor in the fact that, even as one who might become unfriendly
to him, he should have to accompany this man to Paris, he smiled. So did
Sobieska and a cordial understanding was reëstablished.

Paris was reached. Familiar as New York to Carter, he had no difficulty
in guiding his companion directly to the rendezvous near the Quai
D'Orsay.

Although their friends were not yet arrived, they found a corps of
servants had already arranged the house for their reception. As Sobieska
was known to the majestic butler, the travelers had no difficulty in
immediately establishing themselves in the quarters intended for them.

As night drew on, the others came trooping in, ready to do justice to
anything eatable the chef could purvey.

"We had an unexpected rencontre just as we alighted from the train,"
said Trusia. She leaned forward from her place at the table to speak to
Count Sobieska. In doing so, her eyes met Carter's. They were filled
with a gentle regard--a more than friendliness.

"With whom?" asked her Minister of Private Intelligence anxiously, for
this city was the centre of international intrigue and espionage.

"You remember General Vladimar, the former Russian commandant at
Schallberg? It was he. He was very cordial; as cordial as a dangerous
Russian always is."

Sobieska, in assenting, drew in his breath with a sibilant sound through
pursed lips.

"I have every reason to believe he has been transferred to the White
Police," he commented gravely, as he turned his listless glance toward
the girl. "Any one with him--did he give any inkling that he suspected
anything?"

"He must suspect something," said Trusia, "he was so very, very
pleasant. It is impossible for him to know anything, though." She turned
her fine eyes again to her Minister. "There was a man with him. He
presented him as Herr Casper Haupt, who the General said was connected
with the Russian Consulate here. He did not say in what capacity."

Sobieska aimlessly turned and returned a fork lying before him.

"No?" he inquired listlessly; then he repeated the question more
indifferently, "No?" He permitted a distant shadow of a smile to cross
his face as he looked up. "He didn't tell you, for instance, that Herr
Casper Haupt is the Chief of Imperial Secret Police for the district
embracing Poland, Krovitch, Austria and France; a very important
personage? What did Vladimar have to say?"

"When I told him I was on a shopping tour, he looked the usual masculine
horror and gave the usual masculine prayer for deliverance. He jokingly
suggested that I was going to purchase a trousseau." Her cheeks took a
faint color from her remark. "When he saw my suite--though he didn't
think I noticed it--his face stiffened a trifle and his tone was a
trifle less cordial. He remarked dryly we must be shopping for an army.
He became very anxious to learn my stopping-place that he might call, as
an old neighbor. I told him that I had determined, as yet, neither where
I would stay permanently, nor how long I would be in Paris, and he had
to be content with that."

Sobieska nodded his approval and laid down his fork.

"Such neighbors become more dangerous the older they grow. We will have
to keep a lookout for General Alexis Vladimar. He suspects something."

"He made no attempt to follow us," replied Trusia. "I watched. He
appeared to have forgotten our existence."

"He is a clever man, that Vladimar," said Sobieska grudgingly. "He has
not forgotten. Perhaps he is so sure of finding you when he wants to
that he is not giving himself any trouble. Fortunately we leave
to-morrow morning and will give him the slip, for all his cleverness."

Trusia now turned to Carter, and with fine free friendliness asked him
of his journey and if it had seemed long.

"Yes, it did," he admitted, but he did not say it was because it took
him from her.

"Now, isn't that odd," she laughed, "a journey home seems always the
longest to me; no train can get me there quickly enough," she added with
an extra note of tender patriotism.

When dinner was spread, Trusia seemed pale and depressed as though the
anticipated meeting with her unknown fiancé was not fraught with joy.
Rallying herself, however, she was soon as much a centre of attraction
as a sparkling fountain in a park is to feathered citizens on a sultry
summer day.

The wine of Krovitch, unfamiliar to Carter, was quite heady. He felt it
coursing through his arteries while his heart beat stronger. In its
convivial influence he turned to the jovial Muhlen-Sarkey and touched
glasses.

"A short life and a merry one," he said.

"A strong blade and a noble one," replied the elderly noble with
unexpected martial ardor. The incident had not escaped the notice of
Trusia. She arose, glass held high above her head.

"Gentlemen," she cried, "the King of Krovitch!"

"The King! The King!" came the ready response. Each toaster crashed his
glass in token that no less worthy sentiments should ever be drunk from
it. When the loyal cries had faded into a ghostly silence, the tall,
pale girl spoke again.

"This night, my lords and gentlemen, you go, after two centuries, to
call him back unto his own. As you kneel before him, you will hold your
sword hilts to his hand in token that at his call, alone, they'll be
drawn. Remember, this man is your king, whatever the state in which you
find him. Reverence must be shown as though upon his ancestral throne.
In full regalia, then, you must present yourselves.

"He may be in rags, but purple never made a king. He may be alone, but
royal birth gave him dominion over millions. He may be poor in purse,
but is rich in your--in Krovitch's devotion. You must bring him here
to-night, guarded with your naked breasts if need be. God save His
Majesty!"

When, resplendent in their uniforms, glittering with noble orders, the
party reappeared before Her Grace, her face was still pale and her eyes
shone from startled depths. Each man kissed her hand and, leaving,
received her whispered--"Godspeed." Carter was last.

With his hand upon the knob, he felt that the closing of that door was
like sealing the death warrant of his hopes. He was going to find a
husband among strangers for the girl he loved. Obeying an irresistible
impulse he looked back.

Trusia was standing by the table in the middle of the room. Her left
hand leaned on its edge, supporting a weariness shown in the relaxed
lines of her figure. Her lips were parted as if in pain, while her eyes
seemed searching for Carter as he met her gaze. The others had already
passed from the hall. With a bound he was before her, kneeling, his
face, turned upward to hers, pleading the love he dared not speak.

Whether he imagined what he wished the most, or whether she, bending,
actually touched her lips to his, he could not have said, but satisfied
that she loved him, he arose and staggered blindly from the room.



XVI

YOU ARE THE KING OF KROVITCH


At about the same time the Krovitzers were leaving the house on the
Boulevard S. Michel, one of those little comedies from real life was
being enacted in the attic studio of Eugene Delmotte. Its finale was to
be influenced considerably by their actions. The artist was to be
transported by them from Hadean depths of despair to Olympian heights of
rejoicing.

His disordered locks, beret upon the floor, red tie askew, if not his
tragic, rolling eyes and clenched fists, would have apprised Mlle. Marie
that all was not as it should be with M. Delmotte. With full
appreciation of the effectiveness of the gesture, the artist threw
himself into a large chair before an unfinished canvas of heroic
dimensions. He buried his face in his hands. He groaned. This was too
much for Marie. She approached. Laying a hesitating hand upon his
shoulder, she looked down with real concern at the bowed, curly head.

"And Pere Caros will not wait for the rent?" she queried.

"No, curse him," came from between the locked fingers.

"But 'Gene," persisted the girl as though puzzled, "I thought that
Harjes, the banker, always paid you an income."

"So he did until to-day. I went there, to be told that, to their regret,
my unknown benefactor had not sent them the usual monthly remittance.
They regretted also that their foolish rules prevented them advancing me
as much as a sou. No reasons given, no names disclosed. I haven't a
centime. Not a canvas can I sell. I've fasted since yesterday morning."

"Why, 'Gene?" she inquired innocently. Her mind was occupied with the
puzzle of the income which, womanlike, engrossed her entire curiosity.

"Huh," he sniffed bitterly, "because I had to. I haven't even paints
with which to complete my masterpiece."

He turned, the personification of despair, to regard the painting
against the wall.

"Have you no clues as to the source of the income?" she asked, her mind
clinging tenaciously to that unsettled question. "Have you no relatives?
No one you could ask to assist you?"

"Only slight memories dating back to early childhood--the remembrance of
a servant's face. Here is the tale, Marie. A thousand times I have gone
over it to myself, only to be disappointed at its meagreness. My parents
must have died when I was too young to have remembered them, judging
from what this attendant seems to have told me. I have that impression
resisting all arguments. My recollections all centre about a gray-haired
man of the confidential-servant class. He was my companion and humored
my every whim. By and by, though, he left me. I was taken charge of by a
charwoman, and only once visited by my infancy's mentor. My new guardian
was authority for the statement that, though not appearing wealthy, this
M. Petros, as she called him, was always able to obtain money as needed
from M. Harjes. There is nothing more to add."

"Clearly, M. Petros then knew something about the source of your
income," said Marie.

"Agreed, sweet creature, but since I do not have the slightest idea
where he is, I can't see how that will help me. I don't even know his
full name."

"Cheer up, 'Gene, you will yet see that picture hang."

"More likely to hang myself," he said with a return of awful gloom.

"But the great M. Lourney praised the conception, the breadth, of this,
your last picture," the girl said, as her hand pushed lightly through
the shock of curls on the man's head.

"Yes, it is good," he said responsively, both to the hope she inspired
and the caress she bestowed. That girl understood men. "Krovitch the
Bulwark," he continued. "They were a great people, Marie. Their history,
unfamiliar to most, has always interested me strangely." His eyes were
illumined with enthusiasm as he raised an index arm toward the canvas.
"See those vigorous fellows, each a hero. A single nation flinging back
from Europe the invasion of the infidel. A heroic subject for a
painting, eh, girlie?" He smiled up in her face, his troubles for the
nonce forgotten. Get a man talking about his abilities to achieve and
you can dispel the darkest gloom from his brow. It was high time to
bring him back to earth again, but she knew how. He had had just
sufficient gratulation to take the edge off pretended or real misery.

"It is, 'Gene, but it will not pay the rent. Listen." The timid flush
mounted to her cheek as she made the suggestion, "Go to the
pawnbroker's. Take these trinkets of mine. Beg him to loan you
sufficient for your rent. Now, don't refuse. You may redeem them when
you can. Besides, you gave them to me." She looked down with
affectionate regret at the bracelets, the bangles, the rings, which use
and the donor had made dear to her.

Being weak, he hesitated. His need was great. Then kissing the girl
lightly, he took them and strode from the room.

"Come right back, 'Gene," she called, happy as only a woman can be in a
sacrifice.

During his absence, from her own scanty store of edibles across the
hall, she prepared a meal for him. Absorbed in this occupation she gave
little heed to the steady tramp of feet ascending the staircase. A
peremptory knock recalled her from her world of happy thoughts.

"_Entrez_," she added, thinking it was one of 'Gene's jokes.

The door opened. Into the room trooped a throng of men, resplendent in
black and gold, silver and gray. Her eyes opened in astonishment; so did
theirs. Her lips, parted to speak, could only gasp; so could theirs. The
surprise was apparently mutual. With true Parisian humor she laughed
heartily at the paralysis, and speech was thawed. Colonel Sutphen stood
forward and bowed courteously.

"Your pardon, mademoiselle. We were informed that a young man, Eugene
Delmotte, resided here. Pardon our mistake, accept our most humble
apology and permit us to depart." He moved toward the door as a signal
for a general exodus.

"But 'Gene--but M. Delmotte does live here," she cried, in apprehension
of the departure of these lordly and apparently affluent strangers who
might aid poor 'Gene. The elderly gentleman stopped on hearing this. He
regarded her with more chilling politeness.

"And you," he asked, "are Mme. Delmotte?"

"Oh, no, monsieur," she replied simply.

"His--his companion?" The Colonel flushed at his own audacity. The girl
smiled forgivingly, though a little wanly.

"Oh, no, monsieur. I am only his friend and occasional model. He is in
trouble, messieurs. I came to cheer him up. I live across the hall."

Colonel Sutphen, scanning the far end of the room, failed to find the
object of his inquiry. The girl came forward with an explanation as the
elderly noble turned a questioning face toward hers.

"He has gone out, monsieur," she said. "He will soon return. He is in
debt." She hung her head in distress. Colonel Sutphen turned to Josef in
surprise. The latter whispered something in his ear, which apparently
satisfied him. The girl closely watched this little by-play.

"Oh, then you know about him, messieurs?" she said. "You will help him?
You are his friends?" She was happy for her neighbor.

"Only a few of a great many thousands," replied Sutphen ponderously.
"Tell me, mademoiselle, have you any--er--er claims upon M. Delmotte?
Are you betrothed? Any claims of er--er sentiment?"

The girl's eyelids dropped as she answered,

"Not that he is aware of, monsieur." Then her eyes blazed at the sudden
realization of the indignity put upon her. "Who are you, though, and by
what right do you question me? He is an artist and I--I am a friend.
That is all, monsieur."

She had little spirit, after all, for a contest; but a door in her heart
had been opened, a door that a girl generally keeps closed to mankind,
and she naturally resented the intrusion. Look, too, where she would she
could not escape the eyes of encircling masculinity.

Carter, appreciating her embarrassment and feeling an American
gentleman's compassion for her predicament, undertook a divertisement.

"Fine picture, that," he said, loud enough to be heard by the others.
"Those chaps are wearing the Krovitch Lion, too. Coincidence, isn't it?"
Involuntary curiosity called all eyes toward the painting. The effect
was magical. Astonishment showed in every Krovitch face. They, one and
all, uncovered their heads as they recognized in the subject the
unconscious expression of their sovereign's patriotism.

"Is that the work of M. Delmotte?" inquired the Colonel with voice
softened by what he had just seen.

The girl nodded; she was proud of her friend's ability to move these
strangers to reverence.

"Gentlemen--an omen," said the grizzled veteran, pointing to the
picture. "History repeats itself."

"Mademoiselle," Carter said gently under cover of the general buzz of
excited comment aroused by the picture, "mademoiselle, M. Delmotte is
destined to a high place among the great men of the world. While to some
is given the power to portray famous events, to a very few indeed it is
given to create such epochs. Such men are necessarily set apart from
their fellows. Despite the promptings of their hearts, they must forego
many friendships which would otherwise be dear to them. M. Delmotte is
both fortunate and unfortunate in this." As with careful solicitude for
her feelings he strove to prepare her for the separation from the
artist, the girl's color came and went fitfully as gradually the truth
began to dawn upon her.

"I think I understand, monsieur," she said, grateful for his
consideration. Then she continued slowly, deliberately, letting the acid
truth of each word eat out the joy in her heart, "You mean that M.
Delmotte must no longer know Marie, the model."

The Colonel, who had approached, had overheard this last thing spoken.

"It is possible," the latter hinted, "that he might desire to spare you
the pain of leave taking, as he goes with us from Paris--from your
world."

"Oh, monsieur," she turned appealingly to Carter, her eyes wide in their
efforts to restrain their tears, "is this true?"

Carter nodded his head gravely. Sutphen pressed a fat, black wallet upon
her, which she declined gently.

"As a gift," he insisted.

"Oh, monsieur," she cried reproachfully, and with averted face fled from
the room.

Sheepishly guilty in feeling as only men can be, the party in the studio
awaited expected developments. In a few minutes they heard the approach
of a man's footsteps upon the stairs. All eyes turned curiously toward
the doorway. Nearer came the sounds, nearer, while with increasing
volume their hearts beat responsively. The steps stopped. The waiting
hearts seemed to stand still in sympathy. Then the door opened.

"It is he," whispered Josef. All heads uncovered and each man bowed low.
Delmotte stood petrified with astonishment.

"Messieurs," he said at last, recovering his speech, "messieurs, I am
honored." Then as his eyes lighted on Josef, they sparkled with
unexpected recognition. "You are Petros," he said, puzzled by the
brilliant throng surrounding him.

"Josef Petros Zolsky, Your Majesty. I am your childhood's retainer and
hereditary servitor. Yes, I am he you call Petros," and the white head
bowed low as a gratified light kindled in the crafty eyes.

"Majesty! What the devil--am I crazy? I am not drunk," he added
regretfully.

"Sire," stammered Colonel Sutphen, "sire, you are the King of Krovitch."

"The devil I am," came the prompt response. Nevertheless the artist
threw an affectionate glance at the painting as one might in saying,
"You were my people." The piquancy of the situation caused him to smile.
"Gentlemen," he said, "if this is some hoax, believe me it is in very
poor taste. Taste? Yes, for I haven't eaten in two days. What's your
game? I've just come from a pawnbroker's, where I had gone with the
paltry jewels of a model, to try and secure enough to pay my rent. You
offer me a crown. Corduroys and blouse," he pointed to his garb, "you
tempt me with visions of ermine. A throne to replace my stool, and pages
of history are given for my future canvases. I am starving, gentlemen,"
he said half turning away suffused in his own self-pity, "do not trifle
with me." He appealed to Josef. "Is this true--what they say,
Josef-Petros, or whatever your name is?"

"It is true, Your Majesty."

"A King! A King!" exclaimed the astonished artist. "But still a King
without a kingdom--a table without meat. A mockery of greatness after
all. Why do you come to tell me this?" he cried turning fiercely on
them. "Was I too contented as I was? It is not good to taunt a hungry
man. To tell me that I am a crownless King without six feet of land to
call my realm, is but to mock me."

"The remedy is at hand, Your Majesty," Sutphen asserted confidently.
"Eighty thousand men await your coming, all trained soldiers. We will
raise the battle cry of Krovitch and at Schallberg crown you and your
Queen."

"My Queen," almost shouted the astonished Delmotte, "have I a Queen,
too? Are you all crazy, or am I? Pray heaven the Queen is none other
than Marie, else I'll have no supper to-night. Who is my queen?" He
asked as he saw the expression of disapproval which appeared on more
than one face present.

"The noblest woman under heaven, sire," said Sutphen reverently. "One
who well could have claimed the crown herself. She wished a man to lead
her people in the bitter strife and waived her claims for you. It is
therefore but meet that she who has wrought all this for you should
share your throne."

"Why was I chosen?"

"You are descended from Stovik--she from Augustus, the last King of
Krovitch, Stovik's rival." So step by step they disclosed their plans,
their hopes and ambitions to the dazzled Parisian. Finally, his mind was
surfeited with the tale of this country which was claiming him; he
turned and, with sweeping gesture, indicated those present.

"And you?" he asked. "And these? I know your rightful name as little as
I am sure of my own."

"Your Majesty's rightful name is Stovik Fourth." Then Sutphen presented
each in turn. Carter came last. The eyes of these two, so near an age,
instinctively sought out the other and recognized him as a possible
rival. Probably the first there to do so, Carter admitted that this
so-called heir to a throne was nothing but an ordinary habitué of café
and boulevard; a jest-loving animal, with possibly talents, but no great
genius.

The artist, with an assertion of his novel dominance, arose. "I am
ready, gentlemen," he said. "My baggage is on my back. I understand that
the rendezvous is on the Boulevard S. Michel. Proceed."

Without one backward glance or thought he passed from the attic home,
his foot in fancy already mounting his throne. Marie was forgotten in
the dream of a royal crown and visions of a distant kingdom.



XVII

AT THE HOTEL DES S. CROIX


Some distance back from its fellows on the Boulevard S. Michel, not far
from its intersection with S. Germain, stands the one-time palace of the
Ducs des S. Croix.

Time, the leveler, seemed to have no more effect upon the princely pile
than to increase its hauteur with each passing year. Its every stone
breathed the dominant spirit of its founders, until at last it stood for
all that was patrician, exclusive and unapproachable.

Its eight-foot iron fence, wrought in many an intricate design, formed a
corroding barrier to the over-curious, while its spiked top challenged
the foolish scaler. A clanging gate opened rebelliously to the paved way
which led unto the wide balustraded steps. The windows, each with its
projecting balcony, seemed thrusting back all cordial advances. Along
that side toward the Quai D'Orsay, a cloistered porch joined the terrace
from the steps to rear its carven roof beneath the windows of the upper
floors. Each rigid pillar was lifted like a lance of prohibition. The
walls of either neighbor, unbroken, windowless and blank, were flanking
ramparts of its secrecy.

The casual pedestrian, after dusk, was tempted to tiptoe lightly across
the palace front, so pervasive was its air of mystery. No more fitting
place could be found for plots of deposed monarchies and uncrowned
kings. The last S. Croix, impoverished in the mutations of generations,
reluctantly, half savagely, had swallowed his pride a few years
previously and had consented to rent his ancestral halls. The ideal
locality and its immunity from the over-curious had appealed to one who,
gladly paying the first price asked, had held the place against the day
of need. The lease was in the name of Josef Zorsky, none other than the
Hereditary Servitor.

Behind the mask of night, the new-found king, with his gentlemen, was
driven to the Hotel des S. Croix, where three ordinary Parisian
_fiacres_ discharged the royal party who had come directly from the
attic studio. His Majesty was the last to alight. Taking Colonel
Sutphen's proffered arm, he proceeded toward the entrance, followed by
his suite. The place was dark and grim, no light came through the
heavily curtained windows and only by a gleam through the transom above
the door could the closest observer have discovered that it was
inhabited.

A single wayfarer--the neighborhood boasted but few pedestrians after
dark--was approaching. As he drew nearer the group about the King he
slackened his pace. Probably actuated by some slight natural curiosity
aroused by the unaccustomed sight of many men alighting from cabs before
a mansion traditionally, and apparently, empty, he could be excused for
gazing inquiringly at each of the party in turn. Accident may have made
Josef the last to be noticed, but to Carter's watchful eyes it seemed
that some lightning recognition passed between the two. Certainly he saw
Josef extend two fingers and as rapidly withdraw them. The passer-by
acknowledged the signal, if such it was, by the slightest of smiles and
passed on toward the Quai D'Orsay. Carter mentally determined to speak
to Sobieska at the first opportunity and regretted that his duties to
His Majesty for the present prohibited the consultation.

A species of stage-fright, seizing upon the King, sent a quiver through
his limbs, causing his knees to quake, his hands to tremble.

"Who will be here?" he asked in a tone he strove desperately to hold
natural and easy. He had already received this information, but speech
seemed a refuge from his trepidation. If Sutphen had noticed how his
king's voice quavered he was too loyal a subject to comment. With the
patience of iteration he answered his sovereign.

"The Duchess of Schallberg, the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey, together with
the remaining gentlemen of the household, are all anxiously waiting to
welcome Your Majesty."

In response to a signal from Sutphen, the doors were flung wide to admit
His Majesty, Stovik Fourth, King of Krovitch. An hundred electric
lights, doubled and trebled a score of times by pendant crystals and
glistening sconces, greeted the eyes of the man who a few short hours
before had been a struggling artist.

Half blinded by the brilliance, he hesitated, his foot already upon a
way strange to him. He realized numbly how symbolic of his future that
present moment might be. New conditions arose suddenly to confront him,
only to find him halting, incompetent. He took a step forward. In his
embarrassment his foot caught beneath a rug's edge. Calvert Carter's
hand, alone, kept the king from sprawling frog-wise on the polished
floor. A sudden pallor at the untimely accident came to the face of
Sutphen.

"What is it?" Carter whisperingly inquired of the veteran.

"A bad omen, coming as it does as he enters the house," replied the
soldier in the same low tone, tinged with the superstition of his race.
"I pray God," he continued, "that he turn out no weak-kneed stumbler."

The incident naturally enough had not served to increase the King's
self-confidence. After a glance into the impassive faces of the waiting
servants, he gathered sufficient grace to proceed and look about him,
with eyes more accustomed to the light. With an assumption of ease
foreign to his turbulent heart, he took his way along the splendid hall.
He was soon lost in a professional appreciation of the evidence of royal
circumstance, the glories the succeeding years had generously spared,
and which now were enriched and ripened by Times' deft touch.

From their coigns the priceless portraits of the S. Croix gazed
complacently down upon him. Royalty had aforetimes been of daily habit
to them. Their scornful brows with sombre eyes, their thin curling lips,
appeared to be of some alien race. They seemed to hold themselves aloof
as though he was a child of their one-time serfs, having no claim upon
their bond of caste. Even to himself he felt an impostor, a peasant in a
royal mask. That he was really a king had not yet come home to him. He
felt no embryo greatness struggling to possess him. Upon his face abode
the look of one who dreams of pleasant, impossible things. Half smiling,
he was yet reluctant of the awakening he was sure would come and scatter
forever the wondrous glories of his slumbers. Unwilling that these
creations of pigment, brush and canvas should, by exposing him,
dissipate his fancies, he dropped his gaze to find himself approaching
the entrance of a brilliantly lighted salon.

What lay beyond?

A new world, a new life, an existence such as he had never dreamed of
might be waiting on the thither side. He paused again involuntarily.
Beside the richer scene, with all its priceless relics of another age,
its warmth, its lights, its rows of bowing flunkeys and his new-found
friends, its dream of a crown and distant throne, arose a passing vision
of a life he had laid aside. There the plenty of yesterday melted in the
paucity of to-day. There cringing cold had crept forlornly in and hunger
had been no unexpected guest. There hope and ambition on their brows had
ever borne the bruising thorns of defeat and failure. There wealth was a
surprising stranger and poverty a daily friend. Friends! Friends! Yes,
friends leal and true, a crust for one had meant a meal for all. Such
had been real friends. Their jests had banished every aching care and
solaced each careless curse of fate. Would this new life give as much?
Could the new life give him more? Would even the "glory that was Greece
and the splendor that was Rome" repay him for the sleepless nights, the
watchful anxious days of him who fought, who ruled, who trembled upon an
uncertain throne?

Having chosen he feared to turn back, lest men should call him a craven
and coward. Sensual visions of a greater luxury than this around him
came to console him as the picture of the attic life slipped from him.

He stepped beyond the boundaries of regret into the radiant portals of
the salon.

A woman stood before him.

Unconsciously his fingers itched for the abandoned brush while his thumb
crooked longingly for the discarded palette. Here was a subject fit for
his Muse, a Jeanne d'Arc whose soul was beaming from her luminous eyes.
Not that maid of visions and fought fields, but as she hung
flame-tortured in the open square of Rouen. No peasant soul this, rather
a royal maiden burning on the altars of her country. Awkward and
speechless he stood before her. Instinct apprised him that this was no
other than Trusia, waiting to receive her King.

Her head was held high in regal pride, but her eyes were the wide dark
eyes of a fawn, fear-haunted, at the gaze. Her throat and shoulders
gleamed white as starlight while her tapering arms would have urged an
envious sigh from a Phidias or a David. Her gown of silk was snow white;
the light clung to its watered woof waving and trembling in its folds as
though upon a frosted glass. Diagonally from right to left across her
breast descended a great red ribbon upon whose way the jeweled Lion of
Krovitch rose and fell above her throbbing heart. This with her diamond
coronet were her only jewels. The high spirited, whole-souled girl was
face to face at last with the man she had vowed to marry to give her
land a king.

Unswervingly her fearless eyes probed to the soul of Stovik and dragged
it forth to weigh it in the balance with her own. Fate had denied her
heart the right of choosing, so she had prayed that at least her King
should be great and strong of soul. Fate in mockery had placed before
her an ordinary man to rule her people and her future life.

As though to gain courage from the contact, her hand sought and rested
upon the jeweled Lion of her race. Slowly she forced her lips into a
little smile, which one observer knew was sadder than tears.

Carter, standing behind the King, was madly tempted to dash aside the
royal lout to take her in his arms where she might find the longed-for
solace of her pent-up tears.

Colonel Sutphen with a courtly bow took her hand and turned to the
monarch.

"Your Majesty," he said gravely, "this is Trusia, Duchess of Schallberg,
than whom the earth holds no sweeter, nobler woman. To God and Trusia
you will owe your throne. She has urged us, cheered us, led us, till
this day has grown out of our wordy plans. See that she has her full
measure of reward from you. Though our swords be for your service, our
hearts we hold for her in any hour of her need."

Sutphen's keen eyes had never left the sovereign's face while speaking.
If the words were blunt his manner had been courtly and deferential.
With a courtesy which was superbly free from her inmost trepidation,
Trusia swept up the King's reluctant hand, pressing it to lips as chill
as winter's bane.

"Sire," she said in a voice scarcely audible, "sire, I did no more than
many a loyal son of Krovitch. I--we all--will give our lives for our
country and her rightful king."

"Duchess! Lady Trusia," stammered the flushing, self-conscious king
embarrassed by the kiss upon his hand, "I fear I am unworthy of such
devotion. Unused to courtly custom I feel that I should rather render
homage unto you. They tell me, these friends who say that they are my
subjects, that I am your debtor. My obligations may already be beyond
discharge. Add no more by obeisance." The poorly turned speech awoke a
slight defiance in Trusia's heart. It was oversoon, she thought, for her
King to patronize her.

"Your Majesty mistakes," was the quick retort, "my homage is to
Krovitch. We are equals--you and I."

"I could ask no greater distinction than equality with you." Stovik's
answer was a pattern of humility, which Trusia in her loyalty was quick
to see. Her face softened.

"If Your Majesty will deign to come, I have something over there I think
will interest you," and she indicated the far end of the room where
stood a velvet draped table guarded by two gentlemen in hussar uniform.
With her hand upon his arm Stovik sedately approached the place. Here he
saw nothing but the bulk of objects covered by a silken cloth. This
Trusia removed.

The act disclosed a crown, a sceptre and a jeweled sword. Before them on
the cushion also lay the grand badge of the Order of the Lion with a
fine chain of gold.

"As the hereditary head of the Order, sire," Trusia remarked as she
raised the glittering insignia, "you are entitled to assume the mark at
once." Without further words she drew the chain over his head letting
the Lion depend upon the breast of his artist's blouse.

Lifting up the crown he turned to her mischievously. "Why not this?" He
made a gesture to put it on his head.

"It will be a burden, sire. That's why they are all made so pleasing to
look upon; gemmed and jeweled, just as sugar coats a bitter pill. A
crown means weariness and strife. Are you so anxious to take up its
cares? They will come soon enough." She spoke in a sweetly serious voice
that was not without its effect upon him. "Besides," she said, "the
Bishop of Schallberg has waited many years to perform that office. Would
you rob him of it?"

Although Stovik replaced the glittering loop upon the velvet pall, he
smiled to think how little the Church had entered into his former scheme
of life. Trusia seemed to divine his thoughts, for, as his ascending
eyes met hers, she continued speaking of the aged prelate.

"He is a dear old man, sire, kindly and gentle. The beggars and little
children call him their patron saint. Well past the allotted span of
years, he has prayed to be spared until the day when he can anoint the
head of the King of Krovitch. Then, he says, he will die joyously."

The King murmured his hopes for a longer life for the Bishop, and Trusia
turned to present her chaperon, the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey, with the
remaining gentlemen of the Court.

After the formalities had been attended to, and he had received the
sincere good wishes of his nobles, the King turned to the beautiful girl
at his side.

"Do you leave with us to-morrow?" he asked. "Of our future plans I have
had necessarily only a sketch. So little time has elapsed since Colonel
Sutphen visited Eugene Delmotte that King Stovik can readily be forgiven
for some slight ignorance."

"If it meets with Your Majesty's approval, we will start to-morrow for
Vienna," Trusia said. "There we will await Colonel Sutphen's summons
from your capital, Schallberg. Major Carter, Josef, myself and the
Countess Muhlen-Sarkey will accompany Your Majesty. The other gentlemen
will attend the Colonel. They precede us to ascertain if all is in
readiness."

"Will the gentlemen travel in uniform?" The King's glance about the room
had not been free from an apprehension that such a course might awaken
inquisitive questions from officials.

"Oh, certainly not, Your Majesty," the girl reassured him. "Your Majesty
will procure a passport made out to Eugene Delmotte, artist. You will be
traveling to Krovitch for studies for the painting I hear you are
making. The uniforms will be a part of your paraphernalia."

"Will there be no risk?"

"Is Your Majesty unwilling to take the least? Your subjects must indeed
seem reckless to you." Trusia's tone indicated the depth of her reproof.

"I suppose that did sound rather selfish," he hastened to confess, "but
the truth is that I do not yet realize that I am actually a king. That
I, a few hours ago a penniless artist, should be plunging into a
national movement as its leader, its king, seems nothing short of a
dream. But tell me, Duchess, from whom we should fear detection?"

"This is a national movement of ours, sire. Some chance may have aroused
Russian suspicion, but believe me, I'd stake my life on your people's
loyalty. St. Petersburg may be apprehensive, but they know nothing of
the real truth nor the imminence of our uprising. Here is Colonel
Sutphen, doubtless wishing to talk more fully of our plans to you," she
concluded as the grizzled veteran stood courteously awaiting their
leisure to speak with the King.

Feeling free to do so now, she turned to her American aide. "Major
Carter," she said, "I think His Majesty can spare me now. Won't you tell
me of your adventures to-night?" Taking the arm he offered they strolled
together into the hall. Being there out of the royal presence they were
at liberty to seat themselves. An alcove held a tempting divan. Here
they found a place.

"Your Grace," he said in a tone he strove valiantly to hold within the
pitch of social usage, "let me rather tell you how beautiful I fancied
you to-night."

As the handsome fellow bent his head toward her, she was possessed of a
strange yearning. The plans, the plots, the wearying details of years
had almost deprived her of the solace of sex; in the rôle of patriot she
had well-nigh forgotten that she was a woman. A hunger for her due, so
long deferred, spoke in her voice.

"Yes," she said honestly, "please do. Anything to make me forget for the
few minutes I can call my own. Tell me a fairy-story," she commanded
with almost childish eagerness. "Or have you Americans foresworn fairies
for Edisons?"

"I know one who has not," he answered, falling soothingly into her mood.
"He has seen the Queen, Titania."

"Well, tell me about her. Oh, I do hope that she was beautiful," and she
dimpled bewitchingly.

"She was--fairy queens are always beautiful, and sometimes kind. Once
upon a time--all fairy-stories have happened once upon a time--there was
a man."

"Yes," she interrupted, bending expectantly toward him.

"He was poor," he continued quietly.

"Oh," she exclaimed in disappointment.

Carter shook his head understandingly. "He was an artist. He hoped one
day to be called a genius. The fairy queen knew this was not to be so
she made him a king and gave him--part of her kingdom." He paused to
find her looking down, a shade of sadness on her face. Noticing his
pause she looked up.

"Well?" she asked.

"There was another man," he continued. "This other man was not poor. He
was not an artist, but to-night he saw the fairy queen in all her regal
splendor. It made him think that all the flowers in all the worlds
condensed into one small but perfect bloom were not so sweet as she. So
the other man more than ever wished to rule in her fairyland--with her."

"No, no," she cried, detecting the prohibited note, "you must not speak
so." Her hands crumpled the morsel of cobweb and lace she had for
handkerchief. Carried away with her proximity, however, he would not now
be denied.

"This is but a fairy-story, Duchess. Oh, Fairy Queen, could you not find
a kingdom for the other man in fairyland--a kingdom with you as Queen?"

His naked soul was laying pleading hands upon her quivering heart. She
turned away, unable to withstand the suppliance of his eyes.

"You do not know what you ask," she whispered hoarsely. Then vehemently
spurring her resolve into a gallop, she added, "When the King is crowned
in Schallberg, I become his wife."

"Suppose he isn't," he urged doggedly.

"Oh, no," she cried brokenly, "don't make me a traitor to my country's
hopes. Don't make me wish for failure."

Unwittingly her words confessed her love for Carter. Grimly forcing her
weakness back into her secret heart, she turned a calm front to him once
again.

"Enough of fairy-stories, Major Carter," she said. "We live in a
workaday world where the 'little people' have no place. All of us have
our duties to perform. If some be less pleasant than others it is no
excuse for not fulfilling them to the uttermost. We have a hard day
before us. With His Majesty's permission, therefore, I will retire for
the night." She arose as she said this, so Carter had no other
alternative than to follow her into the royal presence.

From a balcony at the far end of the room, crept a faint note of music.
The players were carefully concealed behind banked palms and gigantic
ferns. To the surprised ears of those unaware of their presence it came
first as a single note, then a chord, a stave, a vibrant meaning. It was
like a distant bugle call across a midnight plain. It swelled into a
challenge.

Then, echoing the hoof beats of horses, it swept into a glorious charge.
All the invisible instruments crashed valorously into their fullest
sounds. The arteries of the listeners throbbed a response to its
inspiration. Trusia, her eyes gleaming like twin stars, laid her hand
softly on the royal arm.

"Oh, sire," she cried, "it is our nation's battle song."

Carter sighed. He saw that her loyalty would hold her to an alliance
against her heart.

Possessed by the ardor of the song, the nobles, drawing their swords,
cried in ecstatic chorus, "For Krovitch! For Krovitch!" In their
pandemonium of joy, Carter's distress was unnoted.

He could not longer endure the sight of the prophetic association; it
seemed as if they were receiving nuptial felicitations as they stood
there side by side, so with a heavy heart he crept up to his own
apartment, where, at least, without stint, he could indulge his
thoughts. After the brilliance of the salon, the single light in his
room seemed puling and weak, so he crossed over and extinguished it. In
doing so, he found himself near the window, which, opening to the floor,
door wise, looked along the roof of the stone porch. A cooling sweep of
moonlight fell on Carter's face and urged him to peace of soul. He never
noticed the soft indulgence of Diana, for, as he glanced streetward, he
recalled the incident of Josef and the stranger. Drawing an easy-chair
into the zone of moonlight he lit a cigar and strove desperately to find
a clue.

"Two fingers--that means two something, at first glance. Has it any
further significance?" he pondered. "Of course it was prearranged, when
and how--and does Sobieska know? If he doesn't, Josef has correspondents
unknown to Krovitch--that alone looks dangerous. I'll look up Sobieska.
It's now twenty minutes of two," he said as he consulted his watch. A
swift inspiration caused him suddenly to raise his head. "I've got it.
The house is all still now. Two--two--two o'clock, that's the solution.
They're to meet at two o'clock. Where? I can't wait for Sobieska,
there's no time."

He bent over and slipped off his military boots and put on a pair of
moccasins he always wore about his room. Cautiously he opened the long
window and stepped gingerly upon the roof. "Josef won't dare go out the
front way; so to leave the grounds he'll have to pass beneath me, and I
can follow if he does." Placing one hand on the bow window beside him,
he leaned over to peer into the moonlit yard beneath.

After he had waited what seemed a double eternity he was rewarded by
seeing a shape disengage itself from the shadows about the servant's
quarters in the rear, and come and stand directly beneath his place of
observation. Somewhere a clock struck two. There was a grating sound as
of the moving of rusty hinges from the direction of the front of the
house, and the first comer had a companion with whom he instantly began
a whispered conversation, of which, strain his ears as he might, Carter
could catch only four words,--"Your report--and lists." The man whom he
supposed to be Josef drew a bulky sheaf of papers from his breast pocket
and passed them to the mysterious stranger. It was time to interfere,
Carter thought. Swinging by his arms until his legs encircled the stone
pillar he slid to the porch and, leaping to the ground, confronted the
conspirators. Instinctively his first act was to clutch the papers, and
as he did so he was struck from behind and fell unconscious to the
ground. As his senses passed from him, he was dimly conscious of a
surprise that neither man was Josef. A sleepy determination possessed
him to hold grimly to the papers. Then all was blank.

       *       *       *       *       *

He wished they wouldn't annoy him, he remonstrated drowsily. When he was
asleep he didn't have that awful pain in his head. As he opened his eyes
he smiled vacuously into Trusia's face. That brought him to his senses
with a jerk. A candle sputtered fitfully in a gilt stand beside him on
the ground. Trusia's arm was about his shoulder. The King and, yes,
Sobieska were there. And that other figure, that was Josef. He glanced
at his own right hand. It was still tightly clenched, but held no
papers.

"How did you know I was here?" he inquired, his voice a trifle husky and
weak. He looked at the girl against whose breast he leaned; her reply
alone could satisfy him.

"Josef, in going around to see if all things were locked tight, heard
you groaning, and, not knowing who it was, gave the alarm."

Carter struggled to his feet and, though a trifle dizzy yet from the
blow of his unseen foe, was able to stagger into the house. There
Trusia, with a woman's tender solicitude for those for whom she cares,
without the intervention of servants poured from a near-by decanter, and
forced Carter to drain, a goblet of wine. Under the stimulant his
strength returned.

"If Count Sobieska will lend me his arm I think I can retire now. How I
came in the yard--I see you are all curious though too polite to
inquire--I'll tell you in the morning when I feel more fit. At present I
have either a strange head or a beehive on my shoulders, I don't know
which."

When he reached his room and the Count entering also had closed the
door, Carter threw off much of the assumed languor, and told the
Counselor the whole of the tale. The Krovitzer shook his head dubiously.
"Josef found you at quarter past three this morning--yet you say Josef
was not one of the two men. Did you see the faces of both?"

"Only a glance. Both were bearded. The one who came from the back part
of the house was dark, black eyebrows, heavy black beard, pallid face,
or so it looked in the moonlight. The visitor was undoubtedly Russian."

"It may have been soot," said Sobieska musingly. "I remember now that,
while the rest of his face looked remarkably like a freshly scrubbed
one, there was a long dark smear along one of Josef's eyebrows as we
brought you into the house; but that is not enough to convict him of the
treason, however strong a suspicion it arouses. Well, things are looking
a trifle as if Vladimar not only knows where we are, but why we are
here. We'll have to strike quickly--as soon, in fact, as we set foot in
Krovitch again."



XVIII

I SAW--I KNOW


The next day they left Paris. Almost the first person Trusia espied at
the railroad station was General Vladimar, a stately young aide, and the
Casper Haupt of yesterday. Carter felt a thrill of recognition for the
latter; he was the passer-by of the night before who had received
Josef's signal, and, yes, it was the man who had met the Hereditary
Servitor in the moonlit shadow of the porch.

The General bustled forward with easy appearance of boisterous
friendliness. The group split; the King was adroitly surrounded by
Sobieska, Muhlen-Sarkey and Carter, while Trusia and Sutphen advanced to
meet and check the too curious Russian.

He smiled blandly as he tacitly acknowledged to himself that he had been
gracefully repulsed in one direction. Glancing at the baggage of the
party, he bent over Trusia's hand with almost real deference.

"So soon?" he inquired with a gesture toward the trunks. "It is almost
as if I was hurrying you off," he laughed. Sutphen was reading what was
back of the man's eyes. The Russian seemed so sure of his game that
like a cat with a mouse, he played at friendliness. "I am going again to
Schallberg, soon," he continued in his same manner of large good nature,
"and hope the beastly hole will furnish more excitement this time. Could
you arrange it, eh, Colonel?" and he turned smilingly to the troubled
Krovitzer.

"We'll try," replied the veteran, "forewarned is always forearmed."

Vladimar assumed a look of gravity. "Let's not speak of arms, good
friends, for your--for all our sakes. There's my train! Adieu; _bon
voyage_." Without waiting to see the impression of his words, he left
them. They were all conscious of an unrest caused by the Russian's
advent. He had mentioned his return to Schallberg; could he know of what
was going forward? Trusia summoned the Hereditary Servitor.

That those waiting in Krovitch should be informed of their coming, Josef
was directed by her to send an already prepared cipher dispatch. The
white-haired servitor did so with commendable alacrity. Assured that the
operator had actually transmitted it, he filled in a blank for himself,
with the following simple message: "Reach Bregenz Thursday. Be on hand.
Josef." Dating it, he handed it to the official. The latter carefully
read and reread it, then turned quizzically to Josef.

"A thousand pardons, m'sieu," he said, "but you have given no address."

"How stupid," laughed the old fellow. "It is for Fraulein Julia Haupt,
Notions Merchant, 16 Hoffstrasse, Bregenz."

Long before their first objective was reached, the journey had proven
exceedingly irksome to one member of the party; while, for the greater
part of the time, a conscious restraint held both Trusia and Calvert in
a silence broken only when the monotony grew unbearable. Stovik, lost in
wonderment at his future regal state, and a trifle awed at the high-bred
girl beside him, added but little to the conversation. The Countess
Muhlen-Sarkey awoke only when there was a fitful attempt to break the
embarrassment which held all the others. The quondam Parisian openly
welcomed each stopping-place as an excuse to escape from such
uncongenial companionship. In the throngs on the platforms he found both
transient excitement and opportunities of stretching his cramped and
restless limbs. Josef conscientiously attended him on these brief
excursions, never relaxing for an instant his grave watchfulness over
his royal charge.

There was a protracted stop at Bregenz. Being at the entrance of the
Austrian Tyrol, there followed a rigid frontier examination of baggage.
The three men excused themselves to Trusia and descended to the station
in order to expedite matters as much as possible by their prompt
appearance and presence. Apparently by accident, in the pushing crowd,
Josef and his royal charge were separated from Carter, who was
temporarily lost to view. Having no apprehension on that score, they
gave no heed to his absence, but shouldered their way to the groups
about the piled-up trunks where they knew he would rejoin them. After
having their belongings properly _visèd_, the pair stood watching the
panorama of the crowd.

Carter, at last catching sight of his fellow travelers, noted with some
apprehension that they were being pretty closely watched by an
alert-looking, middle-aged man. Receiving a covert nod from Josef, the
latter had disappeared at once into the human medley. With all
expedition, therefore, the American rejoined them. He read a question in
Josef's eyes which changed into a defiance as the latter read in the
newcomer's that the incident had not escaped him.

Just then Stovik caught him by the arm. "Look, Major," he cried,
indicating a vivacious Austrienne at no great distance from where they
stood, "isn't that a dainty morsel?" Carter turned to see that the
woman was freely indulging in an ocular conversation with His Majesty.

"Monsieur," Carter commenced in dignified remonstrance, only to be cut
short by a peevish King.

"See here, Carter, official business does not begin until we reach
Schallberg. I'll practically be a prisoner for life if all goes well. I
am not going to give up without just one more fling at the pomps and
vanities of this wicked world."

To emphasize his assertion, he smiled gaily at the pretty woman, whose
lips parted in audacious invitation.

"But the Duchess," Carter persisted, frowning.

"That's just it," Stovik replied unblushingly. "I am not accustomed to
such women as Her Grace. When near her I have to keep a tight rein on my
tongue for fear of being guilty of a _faux pas_. A pinch of a round
cheek, a warm kiss given and returned, an arm about a lithe waist, is
what I like. Her Grace is an iceberg."

Carter flushed angrily at the comparison. He restrained with some
difficulty the stinging words of rebuke which sprang to his lips in
Trusia's defense.

"Oh, I know what you would say," continued the royal scamp. "I admit her
patriotism, sacrifices, devotion, and all that sort of thing. Frankly,
though, we are too dissimilar ever to get along together. The
differences are temperamental. Environment and education have made an
insuperable barrier to our mutual happiness."

A hope he could not restrain lighted Carter's face at these careless
words. "Do you mean," he inquired gravely, simulating a solemnity he
felt but little, "do you mean that you will not marry Her Grace of
Schallberg?"

The King, coming close, looked searchingly into Carter's eyes and
laughed in faint raillery; he partially understood. His reply was
evasive. "It is not every one," he said, "who can gain a throne by
marrying a pretty girl." Shrugging his shoulders, he abruptly left his
companions and approached the woman, with whom he did not seem to have
any difficulty in establishing a cordial relation.

Carter reluctantly retraced his steps to the car. He was joined by
Josef. The American nodded his head savagely toward where the monarch
could be seen in high glee at his conquest. Taking this, apparently, as
an indication that his persuasive offices were desired in that
direction, Josef approached his royal master with deferential
remonstrance. He touched the elbow of the oblivious King, who instantly
turned. Irritated by what he could see of the express disapproval of
his conduct in the smug face of the servitor, he inquired harshly what
the fellow wanted.

"Beg pardon, m'sieu," stammered the old man, "but the train starts
immediately." If Josef's poor efforts had been intended to persuade the
return of the King they had been made with but little understanding of
the character of the man addressed. The contrary effect was produced.

"So do I," responded His Majesty curtly, annoyed at what he considered
an impertinent surveillance. "I shall rejoin the party at Vienna. You
may call me when we arrive. Not before." He turned his back upon the
discomfited Josef.

Carter, on reentering the car, braced himself to render an acceptable
yet plausible excuse for Stovik's absence. The Countess Muhlen-Sarkey
was placidly sleeping in the corner. Trusia was sitting with
palm-propped chin, gazing straight out of the window. This kept the full
view of her face away from such of the party as might chance to enter
the car. Carter saw enough, however, to convince him that she had been
weeping. One forgotten tear hung tremulously on her lashes as though too
reluctant to part with her grief. A fierce resentment seized him. He
turned to leave the car, determined to drag back the graceless King by
the neck if necessary.

"Don't go," she pleaded as though comprehending his intentions. Unable
to refuse her request he sat down beside her.

"Duchess," he began in the alternative of explanation; "His Majesty----"

"Has chosen to ride in another car," she interrupted, loyally unwilling
that even he should criticise the King of Krovitch. "It is his right. I,
a subject, would not attempt to pass in judgment upon the acts of my
sovereign." There was a sad weakening of voice as she completed her
defense, which convinced Carter that she had seen the whole disgusting
performance.

"Forgive me," he said very gently.

"I saw," she admitted in distress. A woman, urged by pride, she had at
first refused his sympathy. Finding pride insufficient for her solace,
she now, womanlike, sought what she had refused. The entrance of Josef,
at this juncture, however, and the resumption of the journey, deprived
Carter of what had been the most propitious moment he had yet had to
bind her heart indissolubly to his own.

How much the King had disclosed, how much the woman had discovered,
Carter was unable to find out, as Stovik maintained a sulky silence in
the face of all inquiries.



XIX

IT WAS JUDSON'S FAULT


Calvert Carter had a very democratic conversation with His Majesty of
Krovitch. They were standing on the platform of the station at Vienna
waiting with ill-concealed impatience for the train which was to carry
them into Krovitch. Needless to say, their talk turned upon the King's
recent misbehavior. It contained a sketchy outline of what the American
considered would happen did the monarch again put such an affront upon
Her Grace.

"You threaten, Major Carter?" asked Stovik with the insolence
inseparable from a recent exaltation from humble life.

"No, Your Majesty," replied Carter, no whit annoyed by the other's
ill-temper; "I never threaten. I promise." That was all that was said.
Neither Eugene Delmotte in his proper person nor the future ruler of
Krovitch was able, however, to withstand the cool, hard glitter in the
American's eyes.

They boarded the waiting train as they came to this understanding. King
Stovik's conduct for this new journey was exemplary. Nor were there
other pretty coquettes available. He even exerted himself sufficiently
to take an interest in the general conversation, at which Trusia's face
brightened with appreciation.

Houses, fields, woods, mountains and sky fled by as the train sped on.
At last the Vistula was crossed. Trusia's face grew radiant as the
landmarks of her country began to appear on every hand. With grumbling
wheels the cars drew nearer Schallberg.

"See, away off there to the northeast. There, that tiny speck against
the sky," she cried rapturously as one returning home from a long
sojourn abroad. "That is my castle. Do you see it, Your Majesty?" she
asked, as she turned appealingly to him. "Schallberg, your capital, lies
this side of it. The city is in a valley on the far side of this
mountain we are now climbing." The whole party were peering out of the
windows on the rapidly changing landscape, eagerly awaiting the first
view of the place of their hopes.

The train, sobbing out its protests against the steep ascent, soon
brought them into a region of puzzling circumstances. Flashing past
rural crossroads, they could see large groups of excited peasants
talking, gesticulating and laughing, as they one and all were pointing
in the direction of the capital. To their greater bewilderment, videttes
in jaunty black and gold could be seen, as if courting publicity,
patroling the public highways.

"What can it mean?" asked Trusia, whose heart beat wildly with a surmise
she dare not voice.

The crest of the mountain was reached. The city lay spread before them.
Over the Government buildings floated the Lion of Krovitch. The
standard, waving gently in the breeze, seemed beckoning them to
approach.

"The city is ours," burst simultaneously from their lips. The train in
one headlong descent drew up at the station at Schallberg.

Looking out they could see a multitude of eager, expectant faces turned
trainward. All Schallberg and most of the surrounding country had
congregated to welcome their sovereign.

In the front rank Carter espied his former friends, while last but not
least a jubilant Carrick awaited his alighting. A guard was drawn up
about the platform on which stood the little group of officers.

Urged to the front, King Stovik was the first to step into view of the
throng. Recognizing him, the officers drew their swords and raised them
high above their heads.

"Long live King Stovik!" they cried.

For the life of a sigh there was a silence while the multitude realized
that this man was their King. Then a pandemonium of cheers shattered
the air. A roar of two centuries of repressed loyalty greeted him. He
would indeed have been of meagre soul not to have been touched by such
devotion. Handkerchiefs, hats, and flags were waved by his people--his
people--at sight of him. What could be the limited fame of an artist
compared to the devotion of an entire people for their sovereign? He
stood erect, proudly lifting his hat to the full height of his arm in
dignified response. There came a mightier cheer.

"Long live Stovik Fourth!"

"God save the King of Krovitch!"

"A Lion for the Bear!"

Filled with the moment's majesty, Stovik stepped down to greet his
officers.

Next came Trusia. The crowd caught sight of her happy, inspired face.
She was recognized by all; they knew and worshiped her. A wilder cry, a
mightier joy, made up of mingled cheers and tears, went up at sight of
her. Her bosom heaved, her lips trembled. At the thought of her
country's salvation her glorious eyes grew soft and moist. Lovingly,
almost maternally, she held out her arms to her beloved countrymen.

Somewhere in the crowd a woman's voice was heard to cry: "Saint Trusia;
angel!" Ten thousand voices took up the acclaim. She shook her head
reprovingly as she, too, joined the group about His Majesty. After
Carter and the others stepped upon the platform, the former looked about
him for his whilom chauffeur. Carrick, with some difficulty, pushed his
way through the crowd and was soon at his master's side.

"'Ave a pleasant trip, sir?" he asked, his mobile countenance abeam with
joy at the meeting. The aide cast a significant glance at the crowd,
then at the Krovitch standard, before replying.

"Fairly, Carrick," he said. "I notice that you and our friends have been
busy hereabouts in our absence," he added, hinting at an enlightenment.

The Cockney's face grew red with embarrassment as he answered lightly,
"Yes, we 'ave sort of kept our hands in, sir. It's a long story," he
appended, appreciating that his master must have some natural curiosity
regarding the premature change in plans which had resulted in the
capture of the city before the coming of the King. The American smiled,
he felt sure that the fellow had had a greater part in the proceedings
than he would like to confess in public. Something on Carrick's sleeves
seemed to confirm this supposition.

"All right," he answered, "I guess it will keep until we have reached
our quarters. By the way how did you get the chevrons of a
sergeant-major? That's the highest rank a non com. can aspire to."

Carrick grinned. "That's part of the story, sir," he retorted.

Zulka, having made his devoirs to the sovereign, now approached his
friend.

"Surprised, Cal?" he queried.

"I surely am, Zulka. How----" Carter began when he was interrupted by
the Count who laid a friendly hand upon his shoulder.

"Things are moving," said the Krovitzer with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm
busy, ask Carrick." He chuckled as if it were a huge joke.

"I feel as if I had missed something big," the American replied with the
generous regret of one who would have thoroughly enjoyed his own share
of the labor.

"Thank Carrick for that. Here comes Sutphen. He'll be Marshal for this,"
he said as the grizzled commanding officer approached. All three
saluted.

"Congratulations, Colonel," said Carter as the elder man acknowledged
their formal courtesies.

"Sorry I can't congratulate you, Major," the veteran replied with a dry
chuckle; "the truth is that you have lost a valuable asset by the
victory." Calvert was properly mystified.

"So?" he questioned; "I haven't missed anything yet."

"A good attendant," the other explained, pointing to the Cockney. "Our
army will never let him go, now. They'd sooner give him my place.
Nothing but continued obstinacy on his part hinders him from wearing
shoulder straps."

"Carrick seems in high favor about here," Carter remarked as a more
pronounced hint for enlightenment. Sutphen grunted.

"Let him tell you, then," he said. "Excuse me. Her Grace is looking this
way." He straightway departed to escape explanations and Zulka followed
him.

While these greetings were being exchanged, the populace were not idle.
With enthusiastic vigor they had removed the horses from the equipages
meant for the royal party, and now, through a spokesman, begged
permission to draw the carriages themselves as a token of their devoted
allegiance. Stovik gaily agreed when their request was explained to him.

"Come with me, Sergeant," Calvert requested. Elated at the opportunity,
the Cockney leaped into the landau beside him. Pulled, pushed and
surrounded by a cheering, happy pack, the entire suite was whirled along
toward Trusia's castle. When well under way, the New Yorker turned to
the man beside him. He seemed to beg Carrick for an explanation of the
day's mystery.

"Well," he ejaculated, in the assurance that the Cockney always
comprehended his monosyllabic meanings. Carrick reddened sheepishly
under the other's gaze.

"You remember Judson? Sergeant Judson, of old E Troop?" he inquired, not
knowing how to commence his narrative.

"Yes," Carter replied, "what of him?"

"It's his fault," Carrick answered, pointing at the densely packed mass
of Krovitzers about them.

"What are you driving at?"

"It's this wye, sir," said his whilom chauffeur, taking grace of words.
"You know we struck this plyce yesterday. Feelin' out o' plyce among
them furrin-speakin' Krovitzers I hiked down to the Russian guard
mount."

"You mean that you understood Russian better than the native language?"

"Not that, sir, but I knew I would feel more at 'ome there than I would
with the big bugs. When I got there the band was a plyin' over at the
side o' the square, the flags was aflyin', and blyme me if something
didn't stick in my throat, thinkin' of old times, sir." His eyes grew
soft at the recollections evoked. "When it came time for 'Sergeants
front and centre' I got to thinkin' how old Sarge Judson used to stalk
up as proud as Colonel Wood himself. I 'ad to rub my bloomin' eyes, for
large as life, there was Doc Judson with all them whiskered chaps."

"Surely, Carrick," interrupted the astonished Carter, "you must be
mistaken. You don't mean Sergeant Judson of the First Volunteer
Cavalry?"

"The syme, sir. When they countermarched back to barracks I saw 'im
again. That was fine, sir," said the fellow enthusiastically. "Quite
like old times, sir. Right 'and grippin' the piece; left 'and swingin'
free. Swingin' along, swingin', swingin', swingin' to the music o' the
band. When a fellow who is out of it has been in the service, 'e feels
bloomin' soft when 'e sees the fours sweep by 'im. I wanted to cheer and
swing me bloomin' cap just to keep from blubberin'. Then, right guide of
his four, come Judson. Six paces awye he saw me. He turned white, then
red, but like the good soldier 'e was, 'e never let it spoil 'is
cadence. 'E tipped me the wink and passed by. I waited. Presently 'e
came back. 'Are you with the gang at the castle?' 'e arsked. I said I
was. 'Cut it, Bull, and run,' 'e said. They used to call me John Bull,
you know. Then 'e added slow as if 'e was not sure 'e 'ad the right to
tell--'I'm on to their game. To-morrow mornin' I'm goin' to squeal on
'em to the commandant. That'll give you plenty o' time for you to get
awye. For old times' syke, Bull,' 'e said as 'e gripped my 'and."

Then Carrick went on to narrate how Judson had told him that a fellow
named Johann, who had broken jail, had just that morning drifted into
the guardhouse where the sergeant had the relief. He had promised Judson
if given twenty-four hours' start he would disclose a big game of
treason. Judson promised, and the fellow,--none other than the
pent-browed peasant,--had related all he knew of the Krovitzers' plans.
Carrick confessed to some trepidation when he had heard that so much was
known outside their own party. But he had stood his guns manfully and
refused to fly. He gave as his reason his loyalty to Calvert Carter.
When Judson learned that his old captain was walking straight into the
impending peril he was greatly surprised, but promised to take care of
him or forfeit his life. Carrick by way of reply had innocently inquired
who was sergeant of relief that night.

"'E was wise, though," said Carrick with a laugh. "'E looked at me
suspiciously. 'I am,' 'e said with a jerk; 'why?'

"'Better 'ave ball cartridges,' I says, 'I'm goin' to give you a
surprise. That's a fair warnin' for a fair warnin', Doc,' I said. 'E
showed 'e was worried. 'E begged me not to do it, sayin' that they'd
'ave ball cartridges an' reinforcements a-plenty to-morrow, which is
to-day, sir. I knew by that that they were shy at that time, sir. I
found out that their strength was only 'arf a battalion. We sprung our
surprise last night, sir, overpowered the sentries and took the bloomin'
town."

"It will surely be traced to Judson, Carrick. You know what that means
for him. I hope the poor fellow made his escape before they had the
chance of standing him up against the wall. Did you see him again?"
Carrick's mobile face took on an unaccustomed gravity.

"Once," he answered with some effort. "Don't worry, sir, the Russians
won't bother _him_. You see," he hurried on with obvious haste, "we
sneaked on each sentry until we came to Number One Post. It was near the
gates--connected by phone and electric light wires with the barracks."

"How did you manage?"

"Cut the bloomin' wires."

"Didn't the guard rush out?"

"They did, sir. Couldn't find their pieces in the dark. They rushed
right into the arms of the two companies Colonel Sutphen had there
waiting for them. Only one, a sergeant, 'ad grit enough to fight. 'E
picked me out, sir. Rushed me with 'is sword and gave me all I could
do," said Carrick giving gallant tribute to a valiant foe. The Cockney
became silent.

"Well?" inquired Carter after a prolonged season of expectancy.

"The old trick you taught me in E Troop did for 'im, sir. As 'e fell, 'e
said, 'Bull, you are a damned rascal,' and laughed as if the joke was on
'im. 'I'm done for, Bull,' 'e went on, 'but I'd rather die this wye in a
fair fight with a friend, than blindfold against the wall for a traitor.
Take care o' Cap Carter, 'e said. Then 'e croaked."

"Judson," cried Carter regretfully at the death of a brave man.

"Judson, of old E Troop," replied Carrick solemnly. "We sounded taps
over 'im this mornin', sir."



XX

A SOUND AT MIDNIGHT


Two days later a royal banquet followed by a cotillion celebrated the
coming of the King. The monarch was in the white uniform of a Field
Marshal, above which his handsome face rose in striking contrast. His
collar, heavy with gold embroidery, seemed held in place by the Star of
the Lion. At his right hand sat Trusia, resplendent and warmly human,
while flanking him on the left was the grizzled Sutphen. Carter's place
as an aide was far down the side of the table. Only by leaning forward,
and glancing past those intervening, could he get a glimpse of the
marvelous woman, who, young as she was, had made this event a
possibility.

Sallies, laughter, repartee came floating down to him. A momentary pang
of envy shot through him that the royal party, which to him meant
Trusia, should be in such high feather. Owing to his remoteness it was
impossible for him to participate in their mirth, so he resigned himself
to the duty of entertaining the daughter of an elderly nobleman who was
under his escort.

"And you," he said, "you, too, are delighted with the dashing King.
Confess."

"I am afraid," she laughed back, "that all girls, even in America, dream
what their ideal king should be."

"Your sex's ideal man?" he inquired quizzically.

"Oh, no, monsieur," she replied with grave, wide eyes. "Our ideal man is
only a prince."

"Then your ideal king must be something more than a man," he said in
soberer mood as she unfolded to him the working of a maiden mind, which
is always awe-inspiring.

"Yes," she responded, "something less than a god."

"And the maidens of Krovitch, what have they dreamed?"

She glanced up to see if his expression matched the apparent gravity of
his words. Reassured by the entire absence of banter in his face, she
answered him sincerely. She was too guileless to analyze his possible
mental attitude save by these superficial indications. "A demigod like
our ancient sovereign, Stovik First," she responded reverently.

"So you have deified His Majesty already?"

"God save His Majesty from ill," she answered, "but I think he is very
human--and handsome." She blushed uneasily. A merry peal of laughter
from the group about the King drew their attention. Leaning her elbow on
the cloth, the girl turned her head to learn the cause of the hilarity.
Carter, thankful for the opportunity, employed the pause in studying
Trusia. The Duchess's eyes were sparkling like some lustrous jet. The
deep flush of the jacqueminot burned in her cheeks as she smilingly
regarded Natalie, the heroine of the jest. Was all this scintillation a
mask, he wondered, or had the coming of the King--the remembrance of her
vow--driven the recollection of that momentary surrender in Paris from
her heart? He sighed. The girl next him turned in apology.

"Forgive me, monsieur, for forgetting you. But Her Grace--is she not
beautiful? When she makes us girls forget, is it any wonder the youths
of Krovitch are oblivious of our poor existence?"

"She has had many suitors, then?" Carter to save him could not refrain
from the question.

"A legion," she answered; "but all have withdrawn nobly in favor of the
King. Even Paul Zulka and Major Sobieska. They are transferring to him
their lives and their swords to please her."

A slight commotion at the head of the table again caused them to turn
their heads in that direction. The King was rising.

"He is going to announce his betrothal," suggested the girl at Carter's
side. Carter's face grew grim and white. But such was not the royal
intent. Being assured that all present understood French, King Stovik in
a short speech thanked the people of Krovitch for their devotion to his
House. He promised that, if destiny placed him on their throne, he would
treat his power as a trust for them.

"For this day at least we give ourselves over to the joy of meeting you.
To-morrow comes the fearful care of kings. You have labored faithfully,
to-night be merry," he said in conclusion. He lifted a bubbling glass
from the table. "Our battle cry, my lords, is 'God and Krovitch.'"

There was an hysteric outburst. Men and women leaped to their feet to
drain the toast. When the King regained his seat the cheers subsided.
Slowly, impressively Trusia arose at his side, the light of inspiration
radiating from her glorious self like the warm light that comes from the
sun.

"There can be only one other toast after that, my people," she said.
"God save the King." Like a real prayer, solemn and soul-felt, arose a
responsive, "God save the King." Then deliberately, that the glasses
might never be profaned with a less loyal toast, the guests snapped the
fragile stems between their fingers and cast the dainty bowls to the
floor in tinkling fragments.

At a signal from Stovik the banquet was over. He arose, and, taking
Trusia by the hand, escorted her to the great hall to lead the cotillion
with him. The royal pair having departed, the guests arose and, in the
order of their precedence, filed into the ballroom in the train of their
King.

The first figure, patriotically named the "Flag of Krovitch," was danced
by Stovik, Trusia and seven other couples all nearly related to royalty,
each person waving a small silken flag bearing the Lion of their race.

Carter, from the throng, with hungry eyes saw but one wondrous form,
supported on the arm of royalty, glide through the graceful maze. A lull
came in the music and Stovik, bowing the Duchess to her seat, turned
with evident relish to a coquettish brunette who had assured him that
they were first cousins.

Having fulfilled the demands of Court etiquette in yielding first place
to her sovereign, Trusia was now free to indulge any other preference
for partners for the ensuing figures. The American glanced covetously
toward the place where Sobieska and Zulka stood, expectantly awaiting
her invitation. With a mild negation of her head she passed them, moving
to where Carter was engaged talking to the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey.
Seeing her approach, his heart beat with a foolish hope and his remarks
to his matronly auditor, took on a perplexing shade of incoherence.
Evidently Trusia shyly expected him to accept the courtesy; as through a
myriad phantoms, where only she was real, he threaded his way to her
side.

"You are the stranger within our gates," she explained as in rhythmic
unison they drifted into the cadence of the waltz.

"Have I awakened," he inquired, "or is this part of the dream I had in
the Boulevard S. Michel?"

"It must have been a dream, monsieur," she said with sad finality. "It
is folly to encumber one's life with useless dreams."

"Your Grace wishes it?" he asked in halting syllables wrenched from a
heavy heart.

"For your own happiness, now," she answered with a meaning nod toward
the King.

"But," he pleaded, "it was such a beautiful dream."

"Dreams are--sometimes. Then we awake." He felt the slight tremor
against his arm as she spoke.

"I wish," he sighed impotently, "that you were an American girl."

She smiled mechanically to hide the sadness welling in her breast.
"Wishes," she murmured resignedly, "are too near akin to dreams for me
to indulge them. Besides I have a country to hope for. Why should I join
you in such a wish?"

"Have you, then, realized your wishes in His Majesty?" It was a brutal
thing to say; he saw it when too late to recall the words which had
passed his lips.

She shrank as if struck. Her eyes spoke the volumes of her appeal. They
read in his a hopeless prayer for forgiveness, and graciously, gently,
she pressed his arm under her hand as a sweet upward glance assured him
of absolution. Like the sigh in his own soul, sweet and low, the music
died out. The figure was finished.

Pleading fatigue, Carter sought the quarters assigned him in the castle.
His senses were awhirl, his spirits high in the chimera that Trusia
cared for him. Had he been compelled to remain in attendance he felt
certain that he would have bruited his glad tidings abroad. Between the
throbs of hope, however, with growing insistence threaded the stinging
pulses of despair and pity; despair that destiny would never give her to
him as wife, pity that she should sacrifice her own sweet self to a man
who had no real affection for her. Hers was a nature, he well knew,
requiring the full measure of tenderness to bloom in its fullest beauty.
Believing her beyond his reach he felt a sudden overpowering sense of
utter loneliness. Fully clad as he was, he flung himself upon his bed,
but his arm, his breast, still tingled with the contact from the dance.
Sleep held aloof from him. Darkness was no refuge from her tempting
face, for, visible to his soul, it stood between him and the gloom.

From the distant hall, augmenting his restlessness, came occasional
snatches of music mingled with the hum of voices. The hours passed on
while he tossed nervously on his bed. Then the music stopped. Laughter
and farewells floated up to him. In a few minutes all was silence save
for the footfalls of the sentries on their posts.

Somewhere in its boat of song, the nightingale was floating on the sea
of darkness. Drawn aimlessly by the pathos of the songster's lay, Carter
wandered to the window to gaze out into the moonless midnight. Racking
his quivering heart, his imagination dwelt on a pictured life with
Trusia, emphasizing the sweet moments of her complete surrender.

Time lost all measure in his rhapsody. He might have stood leaning over
the sill a day or a second, when a sound, persistent and murmuring,
haled him back to mundane things. Intermittently, but with growing
volume, from somewhere beyond the wall of black, came the echoes of an
army in passage. He could separate the different noises. That, he
recognized by its deep grumbling noise, was cannon; the rattling sound,
like an empty hay wagon, was caissons, while the muffled, thudding echo
was cavalry at the trot. The force, apparently a heavy one, did not seem
to be coming from Schallberg. He leaned far out of the window
challenging the darkness with his peering eyes. Dimly he could descry
the plateau about the castle with its low bastions at the cliff's edge.
Indefinite shapes pacing along the wall he knew to be Krovitzer
sentries. He fancied he heard a challenge on the distant road, a halt,
then the invisible army took up its march again.

Straining every sense, he concluded that the force was moving from, and
not toward, the frontier. Sutphen, then, for some unknown reason, must
have consented to withdraw part of his none too strong army from points
which Carter believed to be greatly in need of reinforcement. He debated
with himself, therefore, the military necessity of confirming these
impressions. Knowing, however, how prone to offense the plethoric
Colonel could be, and reassured by the fancied challenges, he
relinquished the idea. Growing drowsy with the extra mental exertion, he
divested himself of his clothing and was soon in bed and asleep.

During his slumber another detachment passed, then another, while just
before dawn a heavy force of infantry at double time went down the road.

Carter arose late the next morning. After a hasty breakfast, too early,
however, for the other participants in the evening's festivities, he
buckled on his sabre and, taking his fatigue cap, strolled out upon the
terrace. He found the Minister of Private Intelligence pacing moodily
back and forth on the stone flags. Acknowledging his salute, Carter
stopped and spoke.

"Anything doing?" he inquired with a cheerful air.

Sobieska nodded. "Zulka's in command of Schallberg. Sutphen with a small
force occupies Markos due east of the capital. Lesky's Rifles have
seized Bagos on a line with both at the western frontier. This completes
our alignment on the south. Wings have been thrown out from both Markos
and Bagos to the extreme north, making a monster 'E' of which we are the
middle arm."

Carter betrayed surprise. "Well, what force was that which passed during
the night?" he asked. "I thought you said Sutphen had only a small
command on the frontier, yet there were two or three parks of heavy
artillery went by."

"I didn't hear them," responded Sobieska, "but Josef reported them as
reinforcements from the Rifles for the frontier. There may have been
some cannon, but not as many as you think. He dare not weaken his
strength that way."

"It seemed to me," said Carter dubiously, "that they marched from the
frontier, not toward it. But how did Josef come to report it? Where was
the officer of the guard?"

Sobieska turned an indulgently commiserating smile on Carter.

"Haven't you heard?" he asked as he lightly flicked the ash from his
morning cigar. Carter pleaded ignorance.

The Privy Counselor drew close to his shoulder and spoke in a
confidential tone. "Josef has made himself indispensable to His Majesty.
He begged for, and yesterday received, a commission as Colonel of
Hussars as a return for services in restoring the King to his own.
Whether or not at his own request, he was yesterday appointed Officer of
the Guard. It was in the line of his duty that he reported." He next
spoke as to one in whom he could safely confide. "I don't like the look
of things there," he said, pointing toward the frontier. "There weren't
too many men, in my opinion, to hold it as it was. Now they have
withdrawn part of that force. Unless they can mobilize quickly on this
road we are holding wide open arms for Russia's forces. However," he
said hopefully, "last night's movement may have been to cure the evil."

Setting them down to the vagaries of darkness, Carter dismissed his
surmises of the night before as untenable in the face of this
explanation. His companion continued his promenade nervously along the
front of the castle. Carter joined him.

"There is another matter," said the Krovitzer with a slight contraction
of his brows, "that is causing me some little annoyance. I am very
punctilious about some things and exact promptitude as the greatest
qualification in my subordinates. I should have had dispatches from
London and Paris two days ago. I am out here now waiting for Max to
arrive with them. It's a minor matter, but it has made me uneasy."

"Information concerning Carrick?" Carter queried.

"Yes," Sobieska replied. "What is that?" he asked with more than usual
animation as the dull sound of distant booming interrupted them.

"Krupp guns," Carter answered, as much in surprise as for the
information of the other. "Russia must have awakened at last. Sounds
like a general engagement," he said as the volume of the distant sounds
increased.

"We'll have to inform His Majesty. Hope he is awake." Sobieska started
for the door. Carter lingered, for just then Trusia appeared in the
entrance.

She seemed a part of the sweet, pure morning. Clad in an informal riding
habit, such as he had frequently met in early rides in Central Park, in
her starched waist, khaki skirt and broad-brimmed felt, she made a
charming picture against the grim doorway.

"Plotting?" she asked with a gay little smile, shaking her bamboo crop
at them. "You look like surprised conspirators. Major Carter, I'll have
to claim your escort this morning. Casimir is still asleep. I'm afraid
Lady Natalie danced him to death last night, the will-o'-the-wisp. His
Majesty has his duties for some hours to come, as I can tell by that
portentous frown on Sobieska's face. I, alone, once so busy, now find
time hanging heavy on my hands. Can you come?"

"My only duty, Highness, is to serve you. That makes any duty a
pleasure."

"Rather well done," she said with head on one side critically, "just a
trifle stiff. I saw Carrick at the stable and anticipated your
acquiescence. He is saddling a mount for you. Here he comes now," she
added, as the clatter of hoofs on the flags approached from the
direction of the stables.

The Cockney approached leading two horses. He held Trusia's foot as she
leaped lightly into the saddle. After he was satisfied that she was
properly mounted he came to the off side of Carter's horse. There was a
request written in every line of the earnest face.

"Well?" asked Carter bending down from his saddle.

"May I go too, sir? Just as groom, sir. Please, sir?" he added, seeing a
shade of dissent upon his master's face. "The truth is, sir, I 'ad a bad
dream last night. Don't laugh," he pleaded as the corners of Carter's
mouth twitched suggestively, "don't laugh. It was too real, too
'orrible. I thought an army rode over you and 'Er Grace and tramped you
down. You called out to me to 'elp. I could 'ave saved you, but was too
far away. Let me go, sir; just as groom. I'll keep far be'ind." The
fellow was honestly distressed, so Carter sent him to Trusia, who gave
him the desired permission. Then for the first time the Major noted that
Carrick wore his sabre. The holster by his saddle held a revolver.



XXI

CARRICK WAS FAR BEHIND


Carrick was far behind. Overhead the tattered roof of leaves made a
lacework of the sun. Birds were singing; their bright eyes turned
curiously on the young couple passing beneath their verdant bowers. Tiny
feathered brides nodded dainty heads, urging the great, stupid, human
fellow to sing the love song in his heart to the girl by his side. "Mate
now," they chirped, "in leaf time, in flower time, while fields are warm
and nature yielding. The great mother, herself, commands it."

The impulses of nature were astir in the breasts of both Trusia and
Carter, awakening in each a silent rebellion against a destiny which was
forcing them to talk of trivial nothings which add naught to the greater
issues of life. So far they had bowed to the dictates of destiny, but
were growing more and more restive under the self-imposed restraint.

The horses stopped to drink from a stream which crossed their path.
Carter, glancing in the direction of its source, saw that a heavy limb
had fallen from a dead tree, blocking the passage of what had otherwise
been but a wavering string of water. Restrained, however, it had
mounted higher and higher, until at last, broadened, strengthened, and
deepened, it had swept triumphantly over the dam and kept on its way. He
felt that he was undergoing the same process in restraining the natural
expression of his love for Trusia. Unconscious of his comprehension,
she, too, had grasped the lesson of the stream. Their satiny nozzles
dripping sparkling drops of water, the horses resumed their progress
beneath the forest colonnade.

Trusia turned to him. Her resolution had been difficult to reach.

"When Krovitch is free," she said, "you must still remain with our
army." She observed him covertly as she awaited his reply. The
hopefulness, which at first drew him erect, gradually disappeared,
leaving in its wake the bending lines of despair. There was a drawn look
in his face as he turned to answer.

"No," he said, and moodily turned his eyes away again.

"That means you will return to America." A subtle sensitiveness could
have construed this to embrace a query, a request and a regret. The
slightest quiver inflected her voice as she had spoken, but she bravely
finished without a break. Poor girl, she, too, was suffering. She was
sending away her ideal lover with only a meagre taste of maiden romance
to make life all the more sorrowful for the having. All this he felt. As
he recognized what it must mean to her--to any woman--deprived of man's
right of initiative in declaration, he was tempted to gather her roughly
in his arms and carry her away from duties, friends, country even, to
fulfil her own happiness, which was his. The maxillary muscles ached
with the strain his restraint put upon them.

"I must go. I must," he replied. "Pride, honor, sanity demand it."

"It is better so," she said softly as she bent her head. She, a Jeanne
D'Arc to her people, was inured to sacrifice. Above all, sweet and
clean, she saw Duty shine through Love as the sun shone through the
leaves above her head. So was the royal duchess fortified for her
future. Then Trusia, beautiful and desirable, Trusia, the woman,
rebelled that destiny should have ignored her in the plans for Trusia
the princess.

"I will never see you again--as a dear friend--after you have gone. But
I--but Krovitch will never forget you." Then in her royal pride that
felt no noble confession could shame her womanhood, she turned almost
fiercely upon him.

"Oh, why was I chosen for the sacrifice? Why couldn't I be as other
women? Natalie need not drive her friends away. Alone; I stand alone."
Her breath came in short, sobbing gasps which she fought courageously to
silence.

Carrick was far behind. Forgetting everything except the quivering heart
of the girl beside him, Carter leaned over and drawing her gently toward
him, patted the convulsive shoulders with awkward masculine solace. Like
a child in the shelter of maternal arms, the glossy head, forgetful for
the instant, nestled against his shoulder, soothed and at peace. While
Duty had manacled the queen, the woman had been justified. Then she
sighed. With a weary gesture of renunciation she sat upright in her
saddle, looking directly to the front. A single tear hung quivering on
her lashes.

"Another dream for the Queen to sigh over," she commented with a quick
laugh, flavored of wormwood.

"Why must it be?" he queried. "You do not love the King." Then all the
tide of courage flooding past his lips, he asserted against all
denial,--"You love me."

The regal head drooped as she turned from him.

  "'I would not love you, dear, so much,
  Loved I not honor more,'"

she quoted sadly.

"But it is not honor; it is sacrifice," he argued.

"What duty is not?" she questioned sadly.

"It is madness," he fumed impotently.

"Think of my people." She shook her head in magnificent self-abnegation,
putting aside the tenderer visions which were thronging her heart,
picturing her life with the man at her side. "Their welfare demands it."

He leaned across to plead with her. The loose flying tresses of her hair
touched his cheeks in elusive salute. They beckoned him closer and ever
closer. His heart could be heard, he feared, so loudly did it beat. He
could feel the great red surges being pumped through arteries, too small
for their impulsive torrents. They choked him.

"Trusia," he cried hoarsely, for the first time using her Christian
name. The entire soul of the man, every particle of his entity, had
entered into the saying of that name.

Startled, she turned to learn the reason for his vehemence; that voice
had spoken so compellingly to her eyes, ears, heart and body, and had
sought out every resistance and overcome it. Her eyes, held captive to
his gaze, were wide with question.

"I love you," he continued with quiet masterfulness, as one who, staking
all on one throw of the dice, dispenses with pretense and braggadocio
in the face of despair. "Listen to me. I would make you happy. I'd be
your devoted slave, till white-haired, aged and blissful, life should
pass from us gently as the echoes of a happy song of spring."

"You make it so hard for me," she said pleadingly.

"Forgive me, sweetheart, but love will not be denied," he answered. "Let
the King have Krovitch, and you come with me." His face was close to
hers, his heart was slowly, strongly closing on her own fluttering
heart.

She felt that, unless she could at once throw off the spell, in another
minute she would be limply lying in his arms in complete surrender to
his plea. For a long eternity it seemed that, strive as she would, she
could not conquer herself. Then she sat erect; the victory was won.

"I cannot; I cannot," she replied tensely, the last modicum of will
summoned to resist what he sought and she desired. "The King"--she
began, bethinking her of her reason; "you know that he is not always
prudent. Mine is a hot-headed though loyal people. I must be by to guide
him--for Krovitch. But, ah, 'twill be with a heavy heart!"

He leaned across from his saddle. "I care not for Krovitch so much as
you do. Tell me that you love me."

She turned away her face that the eye of the man might not see and be
blinded by the white light of the woman's love which shone in her own
countenance.

"Say it, Trusia," he urged; "say it for my soul's peace."

With a royal pride in the confession, she turned her head, meeting his
regard with level eyes.

"I love you, Calvert," she responded simply.

Carrick was far behind. Though she struggled faintly, he drew her to
him. Her face was turned up to his. Her eyes shone misty, dark and
wonderful, like the reflection of stars on the shimmering waters of a
lake. They illumined his soul. Her lips for the first time received a
kiss from any lover. Then cheek to burning cheek, they passed the crest
of a little hill and rode slowly down its thither side.

Like an accusation, from some place behind them, rang out the
unmistakable clang of sword on sword. They reined in their horses to
listen.

"Carrick," hazarded Trusia, voicing the premonition paralyzing both.
Then, forgetful of self, in the chivalrous creed of her race, she
pointed back in the direction of the noise. "Go," she commanded, "he
needs you."

"But you?" he demurred, his first thought, lover-like, being for her
safety. His eyes fell approvingly upon the thick covert by the roadside.
He nodded suggestively toward it.

"Yes, I'll be safe--I'll hide," she promised eagerly; "now go." He
fairly lifted his horse from its feet as he swung it around. In mighty
bounds it carried him over the crest of the hill.

Two hundred yards away, Carrick could be seen defending himself gamely
against the combined attack of three mounted men. Something, even at
that distance, about their uncouth horses and absurdly high saddles,
sent a shiver of recognition through Carter. He had seen thousands of
their ilk along the Neva. The trio of strangers were Russian Cossacks.
How had they passed the Krovitch outposts some miles back? The boldness
of their onslaught argued the presence of reinforcements in the
neighborhood. Could it be part of a reconnoissance in force? The sudden
memory of the passing of the invisible army in the darkness came back to
Carter with sinister meaning. He realized that it had been an invasion
by a Russian army. Krovitch had been betrayed--by Josef. Carrick was in
danger.

He roweled the horse's side. The animal, smarting under the punishment,
plunged forward like some mad thing. Settling firmly back in his saddle
for the crash to come, Carter drew his sabre with the yell that had
swept the Americans up San Juan Hill and the Spaniards out of Cuba.

One Cossack, startled at the unexpected shout, turned his head for an
instant in the direction of the approaching succor. It served for
Carrick. Like a tongue of lightning his nimble sword entered the tough
brown throat. Even from that distance the American could distinguish the
"Ht" of the brute as he fell, lifeless, in the road. In order to make
short work of the agile swordsman, the other two closed grimly in. The
Cockney had had some difficulty in disengaging his blade from the
falling man, permitting his adversaries to push their ponies so close to
his sides that he could work only with a shortened blade. Appreciating
what terrific additional handicap this would be to Carrick, Carter was
yet scarcely prepared for the immediate tragedy that followed. Like the
phantasmagoria of dreams, he saw the Cockney, cut, slashed, and pierced,
fall heavily from his horse.

Just a second too late, he burst upon them. With the yell of a baffled
animal Carter hurled himself upon the nearest Cossack. His fury was
volcanic. Terrified by such titanic rage the pair gave way as to
something superhuman, wielding an irresistible sword. Blood-lust made
him see everything through a mist, red and stinging. He was a Cave Man.
His opponents were pigmies who shrank back, appalled, by his murderous
might. One Slav saw death beckon him, so fell, wild-eyed, to the ground,
his neck spurting a fountain of blood. The other, too paralyzed with
terror to fight or flee, stood irresolutely in the mid-road, his ugly
face twitching with an idiotic grin. Carter, hell in his heart, rode
fiercely against his horse. The Cossack raised a futile blade. Carter
battered it down with vengeful satisfaction, driving its point through
the fellow's heart.

The last of the Russian trio lay dead upon the ground, but Carter, in
short nervous excursions, rode back and forth as he searched for new
prey. The mood for killing--and killing--was upon him. He was a
primitive savage.

His horse shied violently and stood still. Blinded with rage, the rider
would have wreaked his unreasoning hatred on the animal who, even for a
second, had stopped the ceaseless, prowling movements inseparable from
the man's strange jungle mood. With a curse he drove his spurs deep. The
poor brute quivered, but would not budge. Carter looked ahead of him to
ascertain the cause, determined if it was a living obstacle, to batter,
slash, and cut it into nothingness.

He met the white, smiling face of Carrick, who, dying, was striving to
regain his feet. The red mist of carnage passed from Carter's eyes and
sanity came back to him. Dismounting, he bent over the stricken Cockney.

"I was insane, Carrick, old chap," he said brokenly, as he drew his hand
heavily across his aching brow. "I thought they had done for you." A sob
choked him, caused by the recollection of the dream the fellow had urged
as a reason for accompanying his master. The tables had turned bitterly
against him.

Looking with that affection in his eyes that sometimes does exist
between men, Carrick saw the thought with the weird prescience of the
dying. "Dreams go by contraries, sir," he said and attempted a laugh.

"But it might have been Her Grace, Carrick, old man. You have saved her
life." He grasped the fast chilling hand and wrung it fervently.

"Her Grace is safe, then?"

Carter striving busily to stanch half a score of wounds, nodded
affirmatively.

"It's my last scrap, sir," the Cockney said simply.

"Nonsense. We'll pull you through." Carter lied manfully, but the other
shook his head in resignation to the inevitable.

"She's a lydey--you understand--but would it be too great a shock--to
'er--for me to speak to 'er--before--before--I croak?" he stammered
wistfully.

"I'll get her, old man." Gently he lifted the wounded Carrick, carried
him to where, aside from the road, a bed of moss made a more comfortable
pillow for the stricken red head, then, with a sigh, he set out to bring
Trusia. Roweling deep, he raced with Death to bring a woman's solace to
a dying man.



XXII

CARRICK IS KING


"Where is Carrick?" Her question came from the thick copse in which she
was concealed. "You have had news, I know," she said, stepping into view
and glancing searchingly into his troubled countenance. "Is he wounded?"
He could have gathered her into his arms and kissed her as she stood
before him, but that the very air seemed charged with impending
disaster. As gently as brevity would permit, he told her of Carrick's
fate. Together they rode swiftly back to where Carrick lay, fighting his
last triumphant adversary, Death himself.

"No Lunnon sights to see," he muttered in his delirium; "no concert
songs to'ear.... Ah, Meg, you was cruel 'ard on poor Tod, but damn you,
I loves you still."

"A woman betrayed him," she said. Carter nodded a grim assent. Her lips
quivered. Her eyes brimmed to the brink with priceless womanly sympathy.
"Perhaps," she said rising and turning away, "perhaps he wouldn't care
for us to know."

Carter drew her back gently. "I don't think he would mind--if you knew.
Poor chap, his has certainly been a hard fate."

Responding to the appeal in their hearts, which penetrated the numbing
faculties, Carrick, in one final effort, threw off the shackles of Death
and stood free for a season. His eyes opened at first without
recognition for the pair bending over him. Then a gradual joy warmed the
cooling embers of his life.

"'Ighness," he cried; the neighborhood of Death stripped his speech to
its native crudeness. "'Ighness, a man carries to 'is grave the face of
one woman in 'is 'eart. Hi knows that much to me sorrow. Captain, 'ere,
beggin' your pardon, loves you, but daren't sye so for fear of 'Is
Majesty. You don't love the King, you love Captain Carter. God bless
'im, 'e's the best man ever breathed. For Gawd's sake, 'Ighness, don't
let 'im carry your sweet face to the grave with 'im unless your love
goes with hit. You two was made for each other."

As a blade loses its sharpness from continuous wear, so dulled the eyes
of Carrick in his combat with Death. In the bitterness of his strife he
struggled to his elbow. Who can tell of the range of one's soul or the
might thereof? On the brink of Eternity, Life wrestled with Death. The
body was to be bared of the soul. Was the soul to be stripped of the
associations it had formed in this existence? Might it not also strive
for a continuance of its entity even as the man struggled for further
living? Does the soul return to a nebulous state without further
initiate perceptions after a life--a span--of activity? Was it merely
recollections, or did his desperate spirit revisit the route of its life
in a fruitless flight from Death? His voice came from far away, and what
he said showed that he was at least living over the older days.

"Yes, Meg, Hi loves you. There hisn't a king, girl, has Hi would change
plyces with for you.... Posies for yer winder. Let 'em grow, till we've
other posies in our 'ome. Yer blushin', Meg. Ha! Ha!... Oh, Gawd, me
'eart's broke.... Forget?... Hit's you, Doc Judson, as will look arter
Captain Carter now. Good-bye, Doc.... Why, there's 'er face again. Damn
you, Meg. Hi hates you, but Hi loves you.... Captain Carter.... Ah-h-h."

His struggle with Love, with Life, and with Death was over. With a
long-drawn sigh of relief his spirit had passed. His head was turned to
the man who had befriended him.

Hand in hand, Trusia and Carter arose and stood over the pulseless form.
Trusia was the first to speak.

[Illustration: "DON'T LET 'IM CARRY YOUR SWEET FACE TO THE GRAVE WITH
'IM UNLESS YOUR LOVE GOES WITH IT"]

"We cannot leave him here, dear. Poor, poor Carrick," and she threatened
to sob. Carter slipped his arm about her comfortingly. As though
returning, birdlike, to its nest, her head cradled itself against his
shoulder, her arm timidly sought his neck and for one brief second she
was content.

"Come," he said almost brutally to dissipate the apathy which death had
thrown upon them both. "I'll carry him." He assisted her to mount, then,
Carrick in his arms, he scrambled into the saddle. As they swung at a
gallop out of the woods, a shot whistled past his head.

"Are you hurt, dear?" she cried.

"No; these woods seem Russianized, though. Pray heaven the road is not,"
and with strained eyes to the front, with word and spur, they raced for
the lane to the castle.

"Something is amiss, dear; I know; I feel it. Still no matter what it
is," she said, turning and laying her hand with a trustful little
movement upon his arm, "I have your love, my King." With one foot on the
flat step of the castle entrance, as she said this Trusia turned to
Carter, a world of capitulated love in her eyes. The wicket opened with
a more ominous creak than was its wont, it seemed. The Sergeant thrust
his shaggy pate through the narrow opening in answer to their knock. On
seeing who it was he stepped out to where he would have ample space for
the full salute he always gave Her Grace. Some perplexity on the simple
face aroused her forebodings anew.

"What is it, Sergeant?" she inquired anxiously. "Who is here?"

"Can't make heads or tails of it, Your Grace; not that I have any right
to, but one gets figuring on what is going on around him when he is
idle. It must be very important, since Colonel Sutphen has been summoned
from the frontier. Count Zulka has not arrived yet, but a courier was
sent for him, too. His Majesty is also here, but it seems that Count
Sobieska sent out all the orders. The courier from Paris arrived about
an hour before the Privy Council was summoned. Then Josef was sent for.
Then, though kept in the office, he was put under arrest. Search has
been made everywhere for Your Grace. My commands were to invite you to
enter as soon as you could be found. I will announce you."

"You must come, also," the girl insisted, turning to Carter.

"But Carrick?" he objected, as he looked down at the lifeless figure in
his arms.

"Bring him in," she replied. "Though too late to do him further
service, Krovitch shall not forget his devotion and his sacrifice."

They opened and entered the door of Sobieska's office. A faint commotion
heralded the sight of Carrick which Carter attributed to natural
surprise; he had no idea that it held a deeper significance. He placed
the blood-stained form upon a leather lounge, folding the hands across
the breast. The pallid features seemed to have taken on a strange
nobility in death.

It needed but a scant glance to prove that something was wrong, an odd
repression filled the air with a myriad silent surmises. Trusia's eyes
were blazing. Then Carter, following their direction, noted that the
Minister of Private Intelligence, against all etiquette, was seated
calmly at his desk, while His Majesty was standing. Josef, at one corner
of the room, was guarded by the pair of soldiers who had been placed to
watch Carter and Carrick the day of their arrival. A strapping young
fellow, pale and mud-splashed, a bandage about his head, his left arm in
a sling, leaned heavily against the wainscoting.

As Trusia courtesied low to Stovik, Sobieska arose, a slight frown
marking a thin line between his brows, to bow sadly in the direction of
the body on the lounge. His back was deliberately turned upon the
Parisian with such studied insolence of action that the Duchess could
not permit it to pass unrebuked.

"The King!" she said.

There followed--silence. Stovik and the courier dropped to their knees
with bowed heads. Sobieska, gloom encircled, stood with bent head and
quivering lips. His sombre eyes were fixed upon the inanimate Cockney as
though to this modern he would recall the miracle of Lazarus. Then out
of the well of his woe, came his voice, deep, and grief-laden. In the
simplicity of life's greatest emotion, he pointed toward the couch.

"The King?" he questioned, looking straight into Trusia's eyes now. "The
King? Does not your blood--your common heritage--tell you that the King
is dead? God rest His Majesty."

She turned from one to the other in total bewilderment; finally, as
though trusting none other, she came to Carter for enlightenment. He had
comprehended in a glance.

"What do they mean?" she begged plaintively. "My poor head is awhirl in
all this gloom."

"Carrick is King," he answered. A single tear, a perfect pearl of pity,
hung abashed upon her cheek.

"It is so," assented the Minister, as she awaited his confirmation.
Gradually her grief dried in the realization of the awful deception
which had been practiced by some one on her country. The flame of her
burning rage shot suddenly into sight.

"What treason brought him here, then?" she asked haughtily, pointing
indignantly at Stovik.

The latter smiled deprecatingly, as Sobieska answered, "Part of a
Russian plot, Highness, of which, so far as we can ascertain, this
gentleman has been the innocent victim. It was by such a plan they
sought to lure all the patriots within the boundaries of our land, then
to draw their net about us. I pray God that we still have time."

"Who was it?" she inquired with lips white and drawn, and brow
contracted.

"Josef."

All eyes were turned upon the accused, whose inscrutable countenance
underwent no shadow of a change, no fear of death was there, no regret
for infamy. If the expression had altered at all, it was to display a
shade more of triumphant insolence. The Duchess turned sternly to him.

"Is this true?" she asked, loathing the necessity of speaking to him.
Yet there was no passion in her voice; the situation was too grave for
that.

He smiled his hateful, unchanging smile, as he bowed a taunting assent.

"You shall die," she said, in the same level tones. She was not cruel,
had not lost an iota of her womanliness. The crushing magnitude of his
falsity to her country made her forget that she was aught else than the
regent for these people and that here was a matter of primitive,
vindictive justice which must be settled by her hand.

"When?" Josef's tone ridiculed the sentence imposed.

"At dawn," she answered, her scornful glance sweeping his colorless
face.

For the first time, his aspect was nearly that of a man. He held his
head erect, the cringe disappeared from his back, the obsequiousness
from his manner. Then while an eye might wink, he took on the appearance
of a snake with high-held head--about to strike.

"In about one hour," he boldly asserted, "the troops of His Imperial
Majesty will have surrounded, yes, and entered this place. If harm comes
to me, you all shall swing. Schallberg, Lore, Bagos are already ours.
What," he continued with a comprehensive sneer, including all present,
"did you think that you had conquered the Bear so handily?"

They felt it was the unwelcome truth he was speaking. All day the
distant booming of guns had sounded in their ears as the "death bells"
ring for the superstitious gude-wife.

"All last night as you laughed and danced," Josef continued, "a Russian
army, unchallenged, passed your gates, and could have taken you all.
Knowing that it had you safe when needed, it pushed on to the bigger
game, the capture of your capital. At daybreak it began battering down
those walls you thought you held so firmly."

The wrath, gathering in a purple cloud on Sutphen's brow, now broke into
a storm. "He must have known," he said pointing at the pseudo-king. "He
appointed you officer of the day," and the outraged Colonel wheeled
about on Josef, who scarcely deigned a smile of commiseration for such
ignorance.

"He knew nothing," he finally volunteered. "I brought him here so that
if Russia won, I could save my dupe. If Krovitch won, a true revelation
of his real status would make him my debtor for life."

"Why?" Sobieska asked amid a stillness freighted with the prophecy of a
startling revelation. All held their breath as Josef, turning slowly
from countenance to countenance, read the disdain which he inspired.

"He has kissed you," he said pointing a bony finger at Trusia, "and
would have married you." Her face crimsoned at the memory of that
betrothal salute, formal and public as it had been. Waiting until the
scene had time to rise before her eyes, he continued that by no chance
should the import of his words be missed, "He is my son." The pride of
the parent snake was in the eyes that he turned upon the Parisian, who
turned his head away, ashamed of such regard.

"May God forgive us both," he whispered, "but I disown you."

For the first time a hint of color appeared in the parchment hue of
Josef's cheek and for the first time a human note sounded in his voice.
"My son," he began with a slight outstretching of his hands, "my son, I
wanted you to be wealthy, great, not the spawn of a hereditary servitor,
not a struggling artist." Slowly, as he realized that the artist would
have none of him, the wonted bitter look crept back into his face,
leaving it wan as ever, while additional defiance increased the grim
lines about his mouth.

There followed a breathless silence. Somewhere, to the actual pain of
all but one present, a bird was singing in the outside world. The sound
came faintly to their ears as from another existence--the shadow sound
of dreams. In the room itself reigned the cold stillness of death. Then
gradually a sigh of sounds crept in. Increasing in volume, it shaped
itself into an approaching medley of shouts, hoof-beats, scattering
rifle shots, a fierce sentry challenge, a reply,--then a steed halted on
the stone flags of the courtyard. They waited breathlessly for the added
disaster all felt was coming. Their senses, cloyed by grief, knew that
whatever it was of ill-omen, it could not touch them now. Still they
listened. The wicket in the entrance door was heard to open. An
irregular, halting, desperate step came up the hall.

With a lunge, the door flung open. Zulka, bleeding, grimy, and gasping,
tottered into the room.

"Schallberg! Schallberg!" he whispered faintly, "Lore! Bagos! all are
taken!" And he fell heavily to the floor.

They pressed forward, excepting Josef, who, in the prevailing excitement
slipped from the room. His escape was unnoticed for the time being, as
Zulka, struggling to his feet, told them the story of the attack upon
the capital and the death blow to their hopes.

"You left your post alive, Paul," said Her Highness reproachfully.

"Don't say that," he begged, raising his hopeless face to read her
condemnation. "With the five survivors of the last assault, I escaped,
Highness, to bring the news, so that you might be saved. My companions
mark the road to Schallberg. The enemy followed me to your very gates. I
wish," he said, with a gulping sob, "that I, too, lay dead with those
brave fellows in the ruins of our ancient capital." He raised his face,
all powder-stained, as he searched the room with eyes that glowed with a
desire for righteous vengeance. No countenance present wore the insignia
of guilt. "Where is the traitor?" he asked. For the first time Josef's
absence was noted.

Sobieska ran to the door. "Stop Josef before he gets to the road," he
cried to the sergeant, who seemed utterly amazed at such a command.

"Excellency," he replied, "Josef never passed me through this door."
Trusia approached the excited Minister.

"It is no use to attempt to stop him," she said with a shake of the
head. "He knows of the secret passage to the inn. Doubtless he has
already joined his comrades."

Sobieska groaned. "He'll give the alarm. We will be cut off."

"If we want to save Her Grace," said Carter, "we will have no time to
lose. We do not wish to be mewed up here. We'd better make a dash for
the forest and trust to God to reach the frontier. Take this, Paul," he
said, thrusting a flask into the hands of the nobleman, who was swaying
upon uncertain legs. "Brace up." He caught his friend as the latter was
about to topple over.

"It must be Trusia first," said the Krovitzer, grasping the American's
hand with a pressure which was fervently returned.

"It will always be Trusia," he replied firmly.

Not yet enlightened, Zulka now approached Delmotte, before whom he
knelt. "Your Majesty absolves me for leaving my post?" he besought.

"I am not your king, Count," said the Parisian, honestly chagrined at
his false position. "He lies dead over there," and he indicated the
temporary bier. "I have unhappily been the victim of an imposture." Then
hurriedly Sobieska recited to Zulka the outline of the conspiracy and
Delmotte's connection with it.

"If you will let me help," said the artist appealing to them all, "I'll
show you that though a bourgeois Frenchman, I know how to die."

Trusia held out her hand impulsively. "I thank you, monsieur," she said
simply. "Forgive me if I have been late in discovering that you are a
brave man."

Divested of his fancied power, Delmotte was again the amiable
boulevardier, as could be seen by the manner in which he received the
plaudits of the men, with whom he now was rated as a comrade-in-arms.

Zulka, meanwhile, having learned how Sobieska had unearthed Carrick's
claims to the crown, had approached and lifted the lifeless hand to his
lips.

"May God rest Your Majesty," he murmured reverently. He arose and spoke
quietly to his companions. "He must be interred before we leave. In a
few days, no doubt, the castle will be razed to the ground. It is not
fitting that a King of Krovitch should be the feast of wolves and
ravens."

So Carrick, with a scanty following, was carried to the little chapel,
behind the throne-room, where the sarcophagi of the ancient kings could
be seen lining the walls.

Upon his head they placed the crown. His hands were crossed upon the
sceptre he had never dreamed of wielding, while, dearer than all to him
in life, upon his breast they placed the heirloom he had prized,--the
grand medal of the Lion.

His body was placed in the mausoleum of the first Stovik, his ancestor.
No royal name was cut, but the place of his burial was deeply graved in
the hearts of all present. Had he lived he had been a farcical king,
but dead he was as imposing as the grandest monarch of them all.

Sorrowfully they turned and left the mortuary. Returning to Sobieska's
office, impelled by the necessities of the moment, they plunged into the
plans for an immediate flight from the castle.

"The highways are already swarming with Cossacks," said Zulka. "Once
gain the shelter of the woods, however, and we can hide by day and
travel at night until we reach the frontier."

"How many have we in the garrison?" inquired Trusia, who had
instinctively placed herself at Carter's side.

"Half a platoon of cavalry," replied Sobieska gravely, thinking of the
meagreness of their force for the occasion.

"One more," said Muhlen-Sarkey entering the room. He bent above Trusia's
extended hand as serenely as though they were both figuring in a court
function and not a congress of death.

"Living nearer Schallberg," he explained, "I saw how matters stood, and
immediately packed off the women folk to the boundaries. I then came
here to offer my services, my sword, if necessary."

"Courageous heart," applauded Trusia, touched by the old fellow's
loyalty. At her commendation his face, as round as a schoolboy's,
lighted up with happiness.

"The roads?" Carter questioned eagerly.

The old nobleman shook his head, regretting that he could furnish no
information concerning their state. "I do not know. Anticipating that
they would be crowded, though," he coughed suggestively, and his eyes
twinkled, "I came through the woods. Met one inquisitive young Russian.
Convinced him it would be impossible for him to tell all he knew." The
Treasurer touched his sword with a gesture which the men understood. "He
contracted an impediment to his speech."

While the horses were being hastily saddled, Trusia had the garrison
assembled in the courtyard and explained to the heart-broken soldiers
that Krovitch's dream of independence was over, giving them free
permission to leave their colors at once if any so desired. When she
called for volunteers to aid in her escape every man sprang forward,
loudly cheering Trusia, then Krovitch.



XXIII

NOBLESSE OBLIGE


"Marie, you are to go with the first detachment. You, Therese, with the
second. Your mistress will ride with the gentlemen of her household."

Clad in the Duchess's clothes, as they had volunteered devotedly, the
better to throw off pursuit from Her Grace, the maids with many tearful
protestations of undying loyalty took their allotted places in the
cavalcade which was forming in the courtyard of the castle.

"First section," rang out the preliminary command, "draw sabres. By
fours, left. March. Trot," and the first of the forlorn hope was
started. The troops swung by the little group which held Trusia in its
centre. As the head of the scanty column came abreast of where she sat
in her saddle, the lieutenant, Casimir, turned on his horse, his voice
husky with emotion, to give a command. "Present sabres," he cried, and a
score of blades were pointed heavenward, perhaps for the last time for
the royal house of Schallberg. Something caught in Trusia's throat as
the gallant band swept by to challenge Death that _she_ might live.

After these had turned into the narrow incline, Marie in their midst,
the second detachment followed, gravely saluting their loved liege lady.

Swords in hand, then, came the grave-faced men who had borne her hopes
for Krovitch in their hearts. Courageous as any knights of old, their
faces betrayed what an awful price they considered this flight to be.
Alone, they would have preferred to have fought it out to the last drop
of blood in their veins, but had yielded to the expedient because the
girl's safety was dearer to them than their most cherished wish. At the
foot of the declivity, the entire force reunited before finally
debouching into the road.

"Should our party be attacked," suggested Sobieska, "it is imperative
that Her Grace should be hurried right on to the frontier without
awaiting the issue of the combat. Some one must accompany her. Will Your
Highness choose?" he turned to her with a deep bow, a wistful light
glowing in his cynical eyes.

"If Major Carter will accompany me," she said almost timidly, "I will
select him." The others pressed forward to wring his hand in silence.

"We are ready, Lieutenant Casimir, advance your men," cried Sutphen.

"Columns of eights. First section to the right, second section to the
left. March. Trot. Gallop," rang out the commands, as, with their last
cheer for Krovitch, the troopers dashed into the highway to clear the
space for Trusia. A wild confusion of sounds apprised those waiting that
at least one party had engaged adversaries.

"Now," shouted Carter rising in his stirrups. With an involuntary cheer,
they bolted for the cover of the woods across the road. They beheld
Casimir's little band hotly engaged with an entire troop of cavalry, but
it was stubbornly, unyieldingly, holding the Cossacks back. On the left
the remaining squad merely awaited the passing of the Duchess to go to
their comrades' assistance.

With such speed as the underbrush and rough ground would permit, the
court party, headed by the white-haired Sutphen, plunged onward to the
lane which led to the charcoal burner's hut. They were soon beyond even
the sounds of the conflict. Carter, riding at Trusia's right, saw the
tears gathering for the devoted heroes they had deserted of such cruel
necessity.

They swept into the narrow lane and reached the crest of that little
hill where sudden sorrow had made mock of sudden joy. Coming toward
them, as if apprised of their neighborhood, they saw a squadron of
Russian cavalry numerically overwhelming. Both parties stopped for the
breathing space preliminary to the death grip.

"We cannot turn back. We'll have to fight, gentlemen," said the fleshy
Treasurer. "Who knows," he said with a quaint smile, "it may reduce my
flesh." He turned back his sleeve very deliberately and carefully until
his arm was bare to the elbow. Drawing his sword, he securely fastened
the thong on the hilt about his wrist that no matter how fierce the
_mêlée_, he would not be disarmed. Delmotte imitated his example. Giving
the blade a preparatory swing, the doughty Treasurer settled back in his
saddle with a sigh of anticipation.

Zulka and Sobieska rode back to Trusia.

"Just for 'Auf wiedersehn,'" they said smilingly. Trusia held out her
hands to them with sweet impulsiveness. In turn they took them and
carried them to their lips. Sobieska turned to Carter for a parting
word. "The charcoal burner is loyal. He can hide you by day and guide
you by night. None knows better all the byways and secret paths in the
forests. By to-morrow evening you should be safe in Austria. Good-bye,
Highness," he said, turning to Her Grace. "God bring you safe through."
His voice was hoarse with repression.

"Good luck, Carter," said Zulka, and turned away as he spoke.

[Illustration: "FOR TRUSIA!" THEY SHOUTED, AND THEN, "FOR KROVITCH!"]

Bustling good-naturedly in the very jaws of danger, Muhlen-Sarkey made
his adieux with no ruffle disturbing his customary urbanity. "Sorry we
can't have your help," he remarked to Carter; "you have the place of
honor, though. No need to caution you. Go now. Go quickly."

"Wait," said Trusia, holding up a denying hand. "See, they are sending
out a single rider around our flank." A courier detaching himself from
the main body of their foes could be seen making his way past their line
through the wilderness.

"To report that the quarry has been run to earth." Carter gathered up
his reins grimly as he spoke. "Come, Highness," he said to the girl who
was lost in some sad dream.

"I do not wish to leave them. It seems so heartless," she burst forth.
Then she turned to him appealingly as to that one who must henceforth
order all things for her guidance. "Let me stay," she begged, "I can die
like a Krovitzer."

"For you to fall into their hands, sweetheart," he whispered, "might
mean worse than death. Would you leave such a reproach to haunt the
survivors? The enemy is already approaching; come." His insistent hand
was at her bridle and compelled her compliance.

The Krovitzers, with high-bred courage, spurred forward to meet their
opponents, scorning to await the attack of even such superior numbers.

"For Trusia!" they shouted, and then, "For Krovitch!" as they engaged
with a crash which halted the fugitives by its vehemence.

"A short life and a merry one, a stout blade and a noble one," they
heard Muhlen-Sarkey shout as he lunged forward with a laugh into the
thickest of the fray. At the first onslaught they saw Delmotte fall
apparently dead. Carter drew the girl away from the sight of further
carnage.

"He has proven himself a gallant gentleman," said Carter for her
comfort, as once more they entered the protection of the patriarchal
trees.



XXIV

STOLEN SLEEP


Caution is slow-footed. It was already night when they drew in sight of
the little blur of lamp-light in the charcoal burner's window. The girl
at Carter's side straightened herself briskly in her saddle and gave an
involuntary sigh of relief.

They had neither time to hail him nor a chance to dismount, before the
bearded face of the occupant appeared in the doorway, which he
cautiously closed behind him. He held up a warning finger. Approaching
Trusia's side, he uncovered his head and humbly lifting her skirt's edge
kissed its hem. He spoke in a tone too low for Carter's ear, but Trusia,
turning, conveyed to her escort the substance of his remarks.

"He says that he already has guests--uninvited ones--in his home. A
Cossack picket has been quartered upon him. At present they are asleep.
He learned of our possible fate from them, and waited at the window,
watching for such chance stragglers as might escape. He offers to guide
us to a cave, which Krovitzers deserting from the Russian army have
been accustomed to make their refuge against pursuit. We can lie safely
hid there to-night and to-morrow he will guide us to the Vistula. Or, if
we would rather, he will immediately lead us to a path which if we
follow should bring us to the riverside by dawn. Which shall it be,
Calvert?" He was stirred to the depths of his nature by her unreserved
trust in him.

"Can you stand the longer journey?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, with you," she replied gently.

"Let us push on, then," he suggested. "We cannot put too many miles
between us and pursuit. Tell him, though, to bring some food and at
least one blanket for you."

Upon learning her decision the faithful fellow disappeared into the
cabin, from which he presently emerged carrying two parcels which he
handed to Carter. Cautioning them to follow as silently as might be, he
plunged without further comment into the darkest shadows about them,
which, upon their nearer approach, disclosed a tiny footpath in which
they found it impossible for them to ride abreast. The peasant, with the
lantern which he had lit when well out of sight of the hut, was plodding
silently ahead, so Carter dropped back, keeping both eyes and ears open
for any sight or sounds that might warn him of the neighborhood of
strangers. The path grew each moment wilder and more impassable for
equestrians. The low branches of the trees more than once whipped their
faces. Three times did Trusia's horse stumble over some projecting root
directly in their route. After the eternity it takes to cover five miles
on an unknown road in chaotic darkness, the charcoal burner turned to
his princess.

"From now on, Highness," he said with an apologetic gesture, "the road
is too narrow for horses."

She turned to Carter, awaiting his decision. It was an odd picture they
made. He could not but note it. The peasant held his lantern on a level
with his shaggy head which alternated in deep shadows and high lights.
About them, within the zone of its rays, the huge trunks of trees stood
out on every side, their tops lost in the surrounding darkness. Before
him, but partially revealed by the illumination, sat the girl upon her
horse, her head turned to him with an expression emphasized by the
encircling gloom.

"Well?" she asked, recalling him from his observations.

"We'll have to abandon them," he answered, dismounting and reluctantly
helping her to the ground. When Trusia offered the horses to Hans, he
refused, saying that their possession might lead to the pursuit of the
fugitives.

Trusia fondly drew the satiny muzzle of her own steed down to her cheek.

"I hate to do it, Saladin," she murmured chokingly, "but I have to; you
understand, dear horse." She kissed the soft nose that was resting
affectionately on her shoulder. "You will have to drive him away,
Calvert," she said turning to the man at her side, "I cannot." The steed
seemed to comprehend, for with a whinny that was almost a sigh, he
coaxingly nozzled her hand and rubbed his shapely head against her arm.

"Good-bye, Saladin," she cried wistfully, as in obedience to a sharp
smack on their flanks, the horses trotted off into the thicket and were
swallowed up in the gloom.

Hour after hour Carter and Trusia, led by Hans, trudged ahead, silently
advancing upon the wall of darkness ever facing them. Their reflections
were absorbing them and each respected the sanctity of the other's
thoughts. After the second five miles had been accomplished, they
suddenly came upon a clear space under the unveiled splendor of the
stars. At their feet, reflecting the glory of the heavens, bubbled a
forest spring. Hans dropped at Trusia's feet, and catching her hand,
mumbled some grief-hampered words.

"He must go back now," she explained to Carter. "He says our way is
plain from here on. We are to follow this path until daylight. By then
we should reach a similar clearing, where his brother, Carl, has his
ovens. There we can get shelter. When we have had sufficient rest, Carl
will guide us to the frontier. That last part of the road Hans does not
know. Once at the river, he says, there is a ferry, used by peasants,
which will take us across to Austria."

"Why must he go?" Carter inquired, his every suspicion aroused for the
woman he loved.

"Should he be missing in the morning from his hut, the soldiers would
guess the reason for his absence. His wife and infant would probably pay
for his loyalty with their lives."

"And this Carl, how can he vouch for his loyalty?" Carter persisted.

"I know Carl," said the girl sweetly. That was enough.

The peasant stood to one side as the pair passed him. One glance into
the honest eyes was sufficient to convince Carter that the man had
spoken the truth.

Soon nothing could be seen of the shadowy figure on the forest edge
which stood watching until darkness swallowed the form of his beloved
suzerain. Side by side again, the two persisted along the starlit way of
their hopes, until they, too, entered another forest beyond. Here,
though aided by the lantern Hans had left with them, they lost the
narrow lane a score of times; disuse had made it almost invisible.

At last, gray with mourning, the tardy day awoke. With heavy limbs and
straining eyes, they stumbled at last into view of the promised haven of
thatch.

A premonition of something amiss caused Carter to pause as they hastened
toward it. The door, unlatched, swung open desolately upon creaking
hinges. No smoke beckoned from its chimneys, no sign of personality bade
them draw near. Trusia choked back the sob as she clung heavily to
Carter's arm.

"It is empty," she prophesied.

"The fellow is about some place, doubtless," Carter answered cheerfully,
that she might not be panic-stricken by his acquiescence. "You stay
here. I'll scout about a bit,--and find him," he added as an
afterthought. Leaving both his pack and revolver with her, he approached
the house with the same caution he would have displayed in routing out a
grizzly bear.

In the tiny enclosure in front of the cabin, he found the disturbing
evidence of the visitation of a number of horses in the marred and
furrowed soil of the garden, torn by a score of hoofs. Cossacks had been
here. He paused, with straining ears, by the door, listening for some
portent from within. No sound gave him a clue as to the situation inside
the single room which made up the peasant home. He entered boldly.

Trusia's heart pounded in lonely centuries, it seemed, as she prayed
fervently for his reappearance. Presently, staggering beneath a burden
of suggestive shape, Carter came out and took his way to the dense
underbrush behind the cabin. He returned to the hut for a spade and pick
and went back to the underbrush. His absence seemed interminable. Then,
with blistered hands, he stepped out of the thicket at her side.

"What was it? What kept you so long?" she asked, startled by his sudden
appearance and petulant with exhaustion.

"Don't ask me, sweet," he begged, "but come and rest for an hour or so.
I'll be the sentry at your gate."

"But the Cossacks may come," she hesitated.

"Lightning never strikes twice in the same place," he assured with a
grim meaning for himself in the words. "Come, the coast is clear."

"But that you carried," she held back as the doubt arose, for she had
seen.

"Without benefit of clergy, poor fellow," he replied seeing that it was
too late to deceive her. "I hoped you wouldn't notice."

Gently he urged her to the hut. Freshening the pallet with twigs and
leaves, he spread the double blanket they had brought upon the bed and
then withdrew to mount guard while she might snatch some rest.

With his back against the wall, seated on a rude bench outside the
cabin, he watched the heavy-eyed sun arise and yawn. Once from the cabin
a sigh floated.

"Rest well, sweetheart," he called. "Our flight has just commenced."



XXV

THEY MEET JOSEF


He dared not sleep. Thousands of aching demons in his weary limbs
promised him surcease if he would. Every stir in nature, each drowsy
twitter of the birds, coaxed him to relax his watchfulness, but he
resisted. Time seemed a paralytic as Carter waited the passing of the
day. A score of times his head bent forward in weariness. He could feel
pain pass from him like a sigh, only to be called back as in reaction he
would jerk his head up to wakefulness.

Slumber reigned indoors. As the hours dragged on, it seemed to the
watchful lover that something was surely wrong. He had heard no sound,
no stir, no sigh, for an age of patience. Half ashamed of his own
boldness, he tiptoed in to where she lay. Her face was pale with
languor; no breath appeared to stir her breast. With a great leap his
mind went back, fearing, to that scene by the roadside as she lay
fainting in his arms. He reached out and touched her wrist. Again he
gave thanks that, beneath his finger, life flowed serenely in its
course.

He turned and went back to his seat on the bench. He counted time now
by the throbbing of his nerves. The sun passed its zenith, began to
droop; still Trusia slept and Carter kept a sleepless vigil. Great and
red, in the west, the sun was setting as the girl came out and laid a
soft, comforting hand upon his shoulder.

"I have been selfish, Calvert," she said in self-accusation. "I should
have let you rest first. You have had the greater labor and worriment.
We will eat something now, then I shall watch while you sleep."

"I am not tired," he protested, yawning as he spoke. "Even though I have
not slept I have dreamed--of you." He marveled at the mystery which bade
a rose pink creep into a girl's cheek and pass and come again.

The simple food provided by Hans was a delectable feast to the wayworn
pair, who appreciated it down to the last allotted crumb.

After the final morsel had disappeared, they quietly conversed, but
while they talked, Carter's head lurched forward and he was asleep.
Sweetly, with the maternal impulse found even in maidens, she drew the
heavy head to her and smiled happily at its weight upon her breast. She
bent forward to listen, for sweetened in the dream he held, she heard
her name whispered in adoration.

The shadows were creeping upon them. Evening had drawn the curtain
across reluctant day. In the dusk, sinister figures appeared to crouch
and creep by every bush and tree. Inevitable as darkness it seemed, they
gathered from every side. Her fright numbered them as a myriad. They
were three. Unwilling in her solicitude to disturb her sleeping lover
until the last moment, she drew her revolver. Then with chilling
misgivings she realized that these men had followed the path used by
herself and Carter.

Some acute sympathy--maybe his dreams, maybe a prescience which never
slumbers--awoke Carter with a full realization of the imminent danger
which threatened.

"Come," he said, arising to his full height, "you must go in." He pushed
her through the door and stood in the narrow entrance, awaiting the
onslaught. "They outnumber me," he laughed, "but it is a dark night.
That reduces the odds. You see, sweetheart, that while in the gloom they
may hit friends, yet if it comes to sword play I can't possibly hit any
one else but them." He actually chuckled as he rolled back the sleeve on
his right arm. "They won't use pistols unless I do, for they don't know
how near we are to reinforcements. Neither do we for that matter," and
he smiled again. "Have you that revolver?" he inquired, quite serious
this time. "No, I don't want it," he said as she held it out to him.
"You know what to do with it if the time comes."

They had not long to wait. Their opponents, confident of success, came
rapidly forward. One figure was familiar even in the gloom. It was
Josef. With a leap the trio were upon Carter. He felt the impact of
their blades like pulse beats in the darkness as they met his own steel.
As weapon met weapon in clanging song his spirits arose. He wanted to
chant to the dainty, cruel rhythm of the tempered strokes. He knew on
the instant that he should vanquish these foes. Muscle after muscle,
sinew after sinew, thickened and grew lean alternately as thrust
followed guard. His body, moving with his arm, seemed following some
primitive dance--the orgy of the Sword, the prince of battle weapons.

He heard a smothered gasp in the darkness, succeeded by a curse in a
familiar voice.

"You, Josef?" he queried with a satisfied laugh.

"Not yet, m'sieu the American," came back the sneering answer. "You
first," it taunted, just beyond Carter's reach in the gloom. The remark
was followed by a slight touch in the shoulder from which the warm
blood spouted as the keen point was withdrawn.

"Not quite low enough for me, Josef," answered Carter. "That was only a
scratch. Try a ripost. I don't intend to wound _you_. I am going to kill
you."

"You'll have no chance. We are three and we will carry off the Lady
Trusia. She'll be a dainty bit for our feasting." A sob behind him
apprised him that she had heard.

"Cur," Carter cried, and drove straight for the neck he knew held a
smirking face. With the slipping of Carter's foot, Josef escaped death
at the price of a companion's life, behind whom Josef had escaped
Carter's vengeance. The American, hearing the suggestive thud in the
darkness, pushed his advantage, with the result that soon an angry snarl
told him that the second Russian was wounded. The fellow dropped his
sword to clasp his right wrist, then fled, closely followed by the
discreet servitor. When Calvert had recovered his balance, the Gray Man
had disappeared.

"There is no time to lose," he called to Trusia, "we must start at once
before that old rascal brings reinforcements." Though he jestingly
belittled its importance, she insisted upon bandaging the wound in his
shoulder and made much of him, womanlike.

"I do not care if they should send a dozen men," she said, dazzling the
gloom with her eyes; "my king, my lover, could defeat them all!" He
dared not kiss her, then, as they both would have wished. Her isolation
made her holy.

"That," he said, pointing southwardly, "is our general direction. Fate
must guide our steps."



XXVI

THE VISTULA!


It was a weary journey. Confused, discouraged, losing their paths a
score of times each hour, they lurched forward through the gloom of
night and the unfeeling dawn of the next day. They prayed a ceaseless
prayer for succor and--the Vistula. They were hungry, for the last crumb
of food had been lost in fording a boisterous stream in their road, and
in the darkness they had been unable to recover it. Rough stones cut
Trusia's feet, but she uttered no complaint. The brambles tore her
clothes, and scarred her hands, while more than one low-hanging limb
clutched at her hair. Nor did Carter fare any better.

The second morning found them helplessly lost in the forest. By sheer
strength he broke down saplings and built a wigwam in which Trusia could
rest. He caught a rabbit, off which they fared for one meal and still
frugally saved a portion for the necessities of mid-day. When that time
came around, the girl generously insisted that he should take it all,
there not being enough for both, and he having been unable to snare any
other unwary woodland denizen. Of course he refused. She looked at him,
grief-stricken and imploring. Still he would not yield. Then came their
nearest approach to a quarrel. Fatigued, depressed, bewildered, it is no
wonder that the strained nerves gave way.

"See, Calvert," she said at last, looking at him through tear-dimmed
eyes, "I give in. I'll feel like a cannibal, though; I know I
shall--eating your strength." Unable to refrain under the yielding
influences, he bent toward her for a kiss of reconciliation, but she
gently held him off.

"Not yet," she said gravely, "not yet."

With mid-afternoon they resumed their weary advance and maintained their
plodding way through the night. Along toward dawn of this, the third,
day of their flight, a suggestive, recurrent, monotonous sigh in the air
told their hopeful ears that they were drawing near a large body of
water.

"Do you hear it, Calvert?" she asked ecstatically, a convulsive hand
upon his elbow.

"Yes," he answered in a voice husky with thanksgiving, "it is right over
the breast of that bank of firs. Oh, little girl," he said bending the
depths of his eyes into her soul, "I am glad for you. You are safe."

"I have been safe all along with you, Calvert," she smiled up into his
face.

He half turned away his head, her smile was as intoxicating as strong
wine. "Don't say that," he said guiltily. "I am but a man and more than
once--in the solitude--I was tempted."

She smiled an Eve-taught reproof. "Yet you did not yield, my lover.
Come, let us race the last few steps for the first view of the river."

Their clothes in flags, disheveled, bruised, unkempt, like wild things
of the woods, they rushed from the forest to the edge of the river. The
Vistula!

"There lies Austria," he cried exultantly, pointing to the other shore.

"And here--and here," she cried with a little sob halting her
words,--"and here lies--here lies poor, poor Krovitch." Tears came and
saved her reason, for under the heavy strain her senses reeled. Then
both together they searched for the ferry; but doubtless miles away from
the end of the tiny path, it was a hopeless task to search further. As
despondently they gave up the quest, Carter turned a grove-covered bend
in the river.

"Look, Trusia," he called back to her; "a yacht--an American yacht!
See," he cried in a frenzy of delight, "there is the flag. The flag--the
stars and stripes! Oh, fate is kind." He seized the girl and whirled
her around in a dervish dance of joy, hallooing at the top of his voice.

There came an answer presently to his cheers. "They have heard us,
doubtless," he said, peering shipward. Then his eyes lit with a new
discovery. "That's the New York Yacht Club pennant. Owner's aboard and
I'm darned--I beg pardon--if it isn't Billy Saunderson's signal at the
peak. Funny that they answered our hail when no one seems on deck."

"Hark, Calvert, what is that?" asked Trusia apprehensively. He bent his
head fearfully toward the forest. Shouts, the crackling of fallen twigs,
cheers and commands in Russian, greeted their ears.

"And we thought it was some one on the boat," was his only comment. "You
are too late, Mr. Tsar," he called back as he waved his hand as if in
farewell. "My countryman is a friend of mine," he said in explanation to
the trembling girl. "He will give us a berth, never fear. We will have
to swim for it, though."

"But I can't swim a stroke, Calvert. I will only hamper you. You save
yourself, sweetheart. They will never take me. I promise you. Do go,
dear."

"Nonsense. Will you trust yourself with me? I can handle two like you."

She looked at him with that look that a man need see but once in a
woman's eyes and hold life cheap for its purchase.

"Calvert, I would trust you any place after this journey."

In the unlit gray of dawn, the waters were dark and chill. Carter was
numbed; he realized for the first time how mercilessly their cruel
journey had drawn on his strength. His stroke seemed laborious from the
very start, and his clothes hampered him. The girl obediently clung to
his shoulders.

About a quarter of the distance to the island in midstream was
accomplished. That diminutive patch of soil was a mutually acknowledged
boundary between Russia and Austria. A fierce yell of triumph caused the
swimmer to pause in his efforts. He looked back over his shoulder to see
the first pair of pursuers push their wiry mounts into the river. Then
with a groan he realized that the stream was dotted with horsemen.

It seemed almost a hopeless task to strive to reach the boat. That haven
of safety was anchored a good two hundred yards below and beyond the
isle. Gritting his teeth, however, he redoubled his efforts.

"They are gaining on us, dear," Trusia prompted.

"If it comes to the worst we can go down together, but we are not caught
yet. How close are they?"

"Not two hundred yards away," she replied after a careful backward look.

Carter caught sight of a man on deck of the vessel and hailed him with
desperately good lungs. The seaman seemed to take one fleeting look at
the struggle in the water and then disappeared hastily down a
companionway.

"How near are they now, Trusia?" gasped Carter.

"They have gained only about ten yards."

Calvert's head seemed the bursting hive of a million stinging bees. His
arms ached horribly. His legs were flung out like useless flags. He made
superhuman efforts to keep up the unequal struggle.

"How near are they now, sweetheart?" he asked again, his voice rasping
out sharply under his strain.

"They have gained only another ten yards, beloved," she responded
solacing as a sweet woman does in the very teeth of despair.

His mouth and tongue were swollen and his throat was parched. His head
throbbed wildly with an ugly drumming, while each breath seemed a solid
thing racking his burning lungs with a novel pain.

"I'll make it--I'll make it--I'll make it," he repeated in
semi-conscious determination. "How near now?" he gasped back to her.

"They have gained in all about fifty yards." She began to weep softly.
It acted like a spur to his flagging strength. It was helpless womankind
calling upon man for succor. His eyes felt like overripe fruit, ready to
burst, and blue flashes of pain danced before them. Then all things
looked black--a veil had fallen in front of him.

"I'll make it--I'll make it--I'll make it," his iteration sounded like a
mocking echo flung back into his ears. "I must not sink," he asserted to
himself. "Not until I have saved Trusia," his thoughts were becoming
incapable of coherence.

"Aboard the _Bronx_. Aboard the _Bronx_." His voice sounded a long way
off. His movements were becoming feebly automatic. He was sure a
maliciously grinning horseman was reaching out for Trusia, though it was
impossible to see him.

"Now?" he gasped.

"Only five yards away," she answered calmly.

It is easy to die, easier to drown, when there is no escape.



XXVII

YOU ARE STILL MY KING


It seemed that the shadows were being withdrawn from his eyes, just as a
curtain is pulled back from a window. As consciousness became a more
certain quantity he wondered vaguely why he did not feel drenched and
uncomfortable, instead of cozy and warm. He was aware of a pinkish-gray
blur hanging above his head; this slowly resolved itself into a human
face. While he could not distinguish the features in the darkened light
of the room, he was certain that it was that of a woman.

"Trusia," he cried ecstatically.

"Please be quiet," responded an unfamiliar voice in a tone of
undemurrable authority. He pondered. He puzzled. Finally he gathered
courage to speak.

"Who are you?" he queried dubiously.

"I am the nurse," came back indulgently through the dim haze of
semi-consciousness still enveloping him.

"Nurse," he exclaimed, throwing off the gray mist, to notice for the
first time that he was in his own bed and room, in New York City.
Accepting conditions as they were for the time being, he settled back
and sighed the long, indolent sigh of convalescence. He glanced
expectantly toward the door, Carrick should be coming soon with the much
needed shaving things. Carrick? It all came back to him now. He no
longer was satisfied to lie back comfortably on the pillow and dream the
hazy dreams of the convalescent. Carrick was dead and he himself had
been drowned--but Trusia? He groaned in great distress. The nurse
hastened to his side.

"Are you in pain?" she asked, a trifle surprised that such a symptom
should appear in this case.

"No," he said abstractedly, his mind revisiting the banks of the
Vistula; "no, I am not in pain. I was thinking."

The nurse held a draught to his lips. Carter resolutely put it to one
side. "Wait," he commanded, "I must know how I came here, or I will not
rest with a thousand soporifics."

"Mr. Saunderson picked you up just as you were drowning in the Vistula.
You have been ill ever since--delirious."

"Good old Billy," he said in gratitude, then turned a silent inquiry on
the nurse. She saw the awful heart-hunger in his eyes and, had she
followed her impulse, would have thrown a sisterly arm about him in
solace, so compelling was the look, so hopeless its message. "Was
any--was any one saved with me?" he ventured. "Did any one come with me
here? On the boat? For God's sake, nurse, tell me." His quivering life
seemed hanging in the balance. The magnitude of his gravity filled the
woman with sudden apprehension. She feared equally to tell him or refuse
him.

"I was not there, Mr. Carter. I cannot tell," she compromised. "Mr.
Saunderson will make his usual call this afternoon. You can ask him; he
will doubtless tell you." Partially reassured by this, Carter fell
asleep.

When he awoke he felt much stronger. The nurse was standing at the
bedside smiling down at him.

"Mr. Saunderson is waiting in the library. If I let him come in to see
you, will you be good?"

Carter readily promised, as he would have anything just then, at the
opportunity of resolving his doubts. Saunderson was ushered in quietly;
when he bent over the patient, the latter wrenched the proffered hand
with hysterical strength.

"See here, Carter, this won't do," said his caller, making a wry face;
"I believe that you have been shamming these two months."

"Two months?" Carter sat upright. "Have I been laid up that long?"

"To the very day," said Saunderson, smiling.

"Tell me, Billy, how you came to be out there. I want to thank you for
saving my life, though I don't know yet whether you have done a wise or
a foolish thing."

"So? How soon can you let me know? Dorothy says it's the only sensible,
useful thing I've ever done. You always were a favorite of Mrs.
Saunderson, you know."

"It's a serious matter, Billy, so I want the truth for what I'm going to
ask you. Give it to me straight from the shoulder and don't mince
matters. Promise?"

"I must confess, Cal, I don't see what you're driving at, but I suppose
it's all right. Yes, I promise. Now, fire away. Wait a minute. Perhaps
I'd better lead off with how I got there. You've been pretty loose up
here, you know," he touched his forehead by way of illustration.
"Perhaps I may save you the worry of framing up questions--my account
may cover everything."

"Did I talk much--rot?" asked Carter.

"Yes, rather. Calling all the time for Trusia--said Carrick was a
King--and lots more of the same kind. Who was Trusia?"

"The Duchess of Schallberg." Carter's reply was unnaturally grave and
his face solemn and tense. "Tell me, Billy," he requested quietly,
"when I sank--was there any one with me?"

"It might have been a bundle of rags--it might have been a man or a
woman, I rather thought it was a woman. What did you do, Cal, run off
with some Cossack's wife?"

"It was Her Grace."

"The deuce it was!" exclaimed Saunderson.

Carter bent forward until their faces were close. "Oh, Billy," he begged
piteously, "don't tell me you let her drown! Don't tell me she is dead!
Don't----"

"I didn't. She isn't," said Saunderson with more care for denial than
lucidity. He laid a restraining, friendly hand on Carter's shoulder.

"You saved her too, then?" The thin talon-like hand clutched Billy's
like a vise.

"No," answered Saunderson reluctantly, beginning to see how matters
stood.

"Where is she then?" was the eager question.

"See here, Cal, you haven't given me a chance to tell you how I came to
be there. I'm just aching for the opportunity too. You don't know it,
but I had a bet with Jackson that you'd go over there when the matter
became known to you. Naturally I took more than a casual interest in
Krovitch after that. Reports got disturbing, so I ran the _Bronx_ over
to sort of hang around until needed. To be perfectly frank, I was
looking for you. When the skipper called me that morning and said some
one was swimming for the boat I took a long guess that it was you. The
first time you sank the launch was almost on top of you. We pulled you
out of the very claws of a Cossack."

"But the girl?--But Her Grace of Schallberg?" It was pitiable how abject
a strong man could become.

"If that was the Duchess of Schallberg, Cal, a second Russian picked her
up, apparently unconscious, and made off with her--toward the Austrian
shore. Just why he went that way no one seemed to know. His comrades
fired after them. No, don't start; no one hit. Bum shots, those
Asiatics."

Seeing the terrible pressure under which Carter was laboring, the nurse
came forward at this juncture and sent Saunderson away. For some
unaccountable reason Carter could not force the conviction on himself
that serious evil had befallen Trusia. Hope departs only with life.
Paradoxical as it may seem, he worried not about her safety, but about
the dangers which, without his aid, she could overcome only with great
difficulty. Such is the egotism of love. He reverted anxiously to the
story of her questionable rescue. Who could the Cossack have been--why
hadn't he returned to his comrades? Why,--why,--why? Question followed
question, like the alarm bells at a fire. At last he wearily fell
asleep.

He opened his eyes the second time to find the day was gathering
darkness from the corners and niches of the room.

"Nurse," he called. In an instant, silent as the gloaming, she
approached the bed. "Might I have my mail? It must have been
accumulating for months."

"You must not read," she said firmly.

"Then read for me," he urged.

Wise as any daughter of Eve, she selected intuitively that one letter
which she knew would satisfy him so that he would forget there were
others. It bore the post-mark "Wien."

"Here is one from Vienna," she explained, "shall I read that?"

"Yes, yes," he acceded, tingling with anticipation. She tore off the
edge with feminine precision. "Who wrote it?" he queried, unable to
await its perusal. He was partly up now, leaning forward on his elbow,
his white face gleaming through the dusk. The green shade of the lamp
accentuated his pallor.

"It is signed 'Sobieska,'" she replied, after turning to the
subscription.

"Oh," he said in evident disappointment, and sank back on the pillow.

"Here's what he says:


     "MY DEAR MAJOR CARTER:

     "When Her Grace, under your escort, left us on the road to the
     charcoal burner's we had a desperate fight. Muhlen-Sarkey, after
     giving a good account of himself, fell like the noble gentleman he
     was and jested with death. Zulka was killed in a three-to-one
     fight. Delmotte fell badly wounded but not seriously. Casimir and
     the rest were killed. A cut over the head rendered me unconscious
     and I fell across Delmotte. Supposing that we were dead, anxious
     for repairs themselves, the Russians did not disturb us. About dusk
     I came to and aided Delmotte across the frontier. I returned,
     determined to reinforce you and Her Grace if I could catch up with
     you, for I had found out how things were at your first
     stopping-place.

     "Carefully following the path to the ferry, imagine my surprise at
     espying a man running rapidly along the same path but toward me.
     The mutual discovery was simultaneous. It was Josef. He, quicker
     than I could, drew his revolver. By dodging behind trees, however,
     I got past him. Had I not had a more sacred duty to Her Grace just
     then, I should have risked all for the pleasure of killing that
     snake. After this rencounter, I proceeded more carefully until I
     reached the cabin in the clearing. Here I found the bodies of two
     Russian Cossacks, dead apparently from the night before. Both had
     been killed by the sword. Your work, as I surmised. One was a
     lieutenant. I appropriated his uniform as a safeguard in case I met
     other interruptions. His horse was luckily tethered in the woods.
     Thanking my good fortune, I mounted and pushed on.

     "I soon was to be enlightened as to the dangers of your flight;
     though in sympathy with the quarry I was running with the hunters.

     "Stimulated by a large reward, offered by their commandant at
     Schallberg, the country was overrun by Russians searching for the
     Lady Trusia. I constantly met them. Being very ignorant fellows,
     they took me for what I seemed to be. By working on their credulity
     I got each party that I met to believe that I had private
     information as to the whereabouts of the fugitives whom I had been
     despatched to capture by the commanding officer himself. Of course
     forbidding them to follow me, they all trailed after me. Supposing
     that you had followed the bypath, I plunged right through the most
     trackless part of the wilderness, to keep the pursuit as far from
     you as possible. What my fate would be when they discovered I had
     cheated them, I didn't stop to weigh; if I knew Her Grace was safe,
     I could but die.

     "Imagine my despair when, on reaching the Vistula, I found I had
     actually led the pursuit right upon you. At first I considered the
     advisability of selling my life then and there, carrying down as
     many as possible in death with me, but I saw that my sword could
     not account for enough to scare off the pursuit. When you took to
     the water, I apparently joined the chase. By your side, in the
     water, I would have a better chance. I helped Her Grace to escape.
     Was sorry to leave you, but my first duty was to save her. You were
     not wholly neglected either. I saw you pulled aboard a yacht,
     which, not seeing my desperate signals, took its course at once
     toward the mouth of the river.

     "Her Grace is safe. I have offered her the poor protection of my
     impoverished name, only to learn that she loves you. I assure you
     that since I learned this, no sister could receive tenderer
     treatment. I congratulate you. Come at once. Frankly, my scanty
     funds will be exhausted in three weeks' time. It is impossible to
     get employment here."

There followed some friendly phrases, their address in Vienna, and the
subscription.

"What is the date of the letter?" Carter asked apprehensively.

"June second," came the quiet reply.

"And to-day is----"

"July seventeenth."

"What has become of them?" he groaned. "What can they think of me? A
messenger boy, nurse, at once. Are you paralyzed?"



XXVIII

A RE-UNION


Four short months before, Carter and Carrick had set out for Krovitch.
It did not seem possible that so many conclusive, completed events could
have transpired in that limited time. It seemed more like some whirlwind
dream to the man who, pale and wan, sat in the reading-room of the
Racquet Club gazing indolently at the passing throng outside the club
windows. It was Calvert Carter, of course, who so reasoned.

Carrick was dead, he continued in his reflections. Of a certainty this
had been a grievous blow, but even this was overshadowed by the doubt as
to the whereabouts of his beloved Trusia.

"Four months ago," he said aloud in his surprise, "the same man sat in
this same club, before this same window, and"--he paused, while his hand
ran along the arm of the chair as he glanced down at it,--"in this very
chair. He fretted because life could not give him enough of excitement
and contest--could not give him love. Well, to show him that her
resources were boundless, Life gave him all he wanted--then took back
her gifts." Relapsing into silence again with a heavy sigh, he
contemplated the strange warp of destiny.

Trusia, his beloved Trusia,--where was she? Wealth had not been spared,
nor time, in a hitherto fruitless effort to locate her. On this, his
first excursion from the sick-room, he was already planning to take up
the search himself--to scour Europe until he found her. Yet some
instinct, stronger than he dared admit, warned him that she was closer
to him where he now sat.

Puzzled, he gazed out the window, hoping that the panorama of the moving
crowds would ease his worried mind. A man's face detached itself from
the encircling throng, catching and holding Carter's attention. He
leaned eagerly forward, why, he could not have explained. At this, the
man, also turned and looked. An impartial observer of both would have
said that these two were in doubt as to whether they recognized each
other. The man on the sidewalk, while clean, was rather seedy-looking
and apparently a foreigner. His face was drawn and hollow as though
privation had sculptured there. His beard was full and streaked with
gray. His eyes alternately burned with the fires of inward visions and
dulled with disappointment at hopes destroyed. Carter arose and went
closer to the window, with steps still unsteady in his convalescence.

The stranger had passed, but, noting Carter's action, repassed,
evidently as much at loss as the man inside. To him, too, there was
something strangely familiar about the thin, pale face, the languid,
hopeless air, of the man in the club window,--but they were not the
attributes of the man he remembered. Nor was this shade the vigorous
friend he had known so short a while before.

Carter walked deliberately out to the street and extended his hand to
the passer-by who had so strangely moved him. Recognition was complete.

"It is you, at last, Sobieska," he said as the thin hand of the
Krovitzer closed over his own. A smile lighted up the half-veiled eyes,
he read in the American's soul that word of their distress had come too
late.

"Come into the club," Carter urged him. Sobieska smiled grimly as he
glanced down at his shabby garments. Carter understood.

"Let's walk out to the Park," suggested the Krovitzer. "I have something
to tell you that I know you are anxious to hear. Wait, though, until we
get out of the crowd. You don't want Fifth Avenue as an audience, do
you?" he asked as he noted the quick joy which lit Carter's face.

"Just one question," Calvert begged. "Is she well?"

"Yes," replied the Krovitzer, confining himself to the naked assent.
Then, pitying the man who had been so wofully shaken since their parting
in Krovitch, he opened the gate of Pity a bit and added, "She is in New
York."

Carter stopped short in the street and turned to read in the other's
eyes whether this promised miracle was true or false. He reached out and
caught Sobieska's hand and wrung it with the fervor he would fain have
loosed in a cheer.

"Thank God," he said vehemently. "Are we going to her, now?"

Sobieska nodded an affirmative.

"Is it far?"

"Not over two miles."

"And you intend to walk? Great Scott, man, do you think I have lead in
my veins instead of blood?"

"No, Carter, but remember that I have no longer money at my command.
Poverty has taught me strange tricks of economy. Pride would not let me
think of asking you if you preferred riding."

"You might have known," said Carter reproachfully, "that every cent I
have would be at your disposal for such an errand."

His companion nodded his head wearily. Was the fellow not satisfied, he
thought? It meant that he was being led to the woman that he, Sobieska,
loved with fervor equal to Carter's. Why should he hasten the minute
that would place her in the American's arms? Ah, well, Trusia loved him.
That must suffice. They entered a cab which had drawn up in answer to
Carter's hail.

"I will not apologize for our lodgings," said Sobieska, as he gave a
cheap East Side locality to the driver as their destination. "Thousands
of my countrymen have no better."

As the cab rattled along, he gave the details of their varied
vicissitudes and the determined faith of Trusia in Carter, culminating
in her insistence that they come to New York to find him. "Some woman
instinct told her that you had not received my letter and she feared
that some calamity had befallen you that nothing but her coming would
dispel." By the work of his hands and the sweat of his brow he had
finally been able to secure their passage on an ocean steamship.

"We arrived two weeks ago to-morrow," said the Krovitzer. "Twice I
called at your house, three times at your club. They supposed I was some
beggar, no doubt, and never gave you my messages. Having no money over
actual necessities for either telephones or postage stamps, I took the
poor man's way of communicating with you while I sought work--waited
till I could see you. In fact, Carter, to be perfectly frank, I did not
know but that our altered circumstances might influence you as it has
some other acquaintances I have appealed to."

"That is unjust, Sobieska," said Carter.

"I should have known better," answered Sobieska apologetically, "but,
Carter, we have had some pretty hard knocks. You were silent to my
letter--how could I guess you were ill? I was rebuffed at both your
house and club. A sensitive man might well read your acquiescence in
such treatment. Will you accept my apology? Here we are," he added, as
the cab drew up to the curb.

"Don't apologize," said Carter, shaking him by the hand, while his eyes
hungrily devoured the front of the tenement with avidity that sought for
some sign of Trusia. "Is this the place?" The grimy pile was sanctified
in his eyes as it sheltered the woman to whom he had given his whole
heart.

Trembling like an eager child, after dismissing the cabby, he scrambled
breathlessly after his guide up steep and dirty stairs to the third
floor, past passages and open doors, which showed more than one family
huddled together in single apartments.

"She does not live as these?" he asked with repugnance.

"No," said his companion, regarding a group with unconcealed
compassion, "I was fortunate enough to secure a separate room for her,
poor as it is." But the man nobly concealed the price he had had to pay,
to be content to sleep upon a straw mattress in a sub-cellar--nor did
Trusia know what sacrifices her former minister was making for her
meagre comforts.

The door of an apartment stood open at the end of the next turn in the
entry. Both men, hushed by conflicting emotions, stood regarding the
scene before them.

At a window, her face a trifle thinner, more _spirituelle_, because of
her heartaches, sat Trusia. The light, touching the edges of her hair,
glinted into an iridescent halo about her face. Across her knees lay a
little child. Its mother, with anxious, peasant face, was bending over
its ailing form, while the large, whole-souled regard which Trusia bent
upon the tiny form made a picture of a modern Madonna.

Then, the air whispered its tidings to her soul. She glanced up and saw
Carter standing in the passageway. Gently placing the infant in the
maternal arms held out for it, she arose and without a spoken word came
to him; came so close that there was nothing for him to do but to take
her tenderly in his arms. Assured of their right, her hands lay on his
shoulders, while her eyes sought out his soul.

Then, careless whether the whole world looked on or not, their lips met
gently, lingeringly.

"Though all thrones have fallen," she sighed blissfully, "you are still
my King."

"Trusia, my Trusia," he said, while Sobieska fled silently from their
view.

FINALE





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