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Title: Mrs. Fitz
Author: Snaith, J. C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Mrs. Fitz" ***

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[Illustration: Dramatis Personæ]



[Frontispiece: Assassination of the King of Illyria]



MRS. FITZ


BY

J. C. SNAITH



HODDER & STOUGHTON'S

SEVENPENNY LIBRARY



HODDER AND STOUGHTON

LONDON -- NEW YORK -- TORONTO

1912



CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

ACCORDING TO REUTER


CHAPTER II

TRIBULATIONS OF A M.F.H.


CHAPTER III

THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION


CHAPTER IV

THE MIDDLE COURSE


CHAPTER V

ABOUNDS IN SENSATION


CHAPTER VI

EXPERT OPINION


CHAPTER VII

COVERDALE'S REPORT


CHAPTER VIII

PREPARATIONS FOR THE CAMPAIGN


CHAPTER IX

ON THE EVE


CHAPTER X

ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS


CHAPTER XI

THE ORDERS FOR THE DAY


CHAPTER XII

THE MAN OF DESTINY


CHAPTER XIII

FURTHER PASSAGES AT NO. 300 PORTLAND PLACE


CHAPTER XIV

A DEPLORABLE INCIDENT


CHAPTER XV

AN INTERNATIONAL ISSUE


CHAPTER XVI

HORSE AND HOUND


CHAPTER XVII

A GLARE IN THE SKY


CHAPTER XVIII

MRS. ARBUTHNOT BEGINS TO TAKE NOTICE


CHAPTER XIX

HER ROYAL HIGHNESS RECEIVES A LETTER


CHAPTER XX

A LITTLE DIPLOMACY


CHAPTER XXI

THE EXPECTED GUEST


CHAPTER XXII

A VISIT TO BRYANSTON SQUARE


CHAPTER XXIII

PROVIDES AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE THEORY THAT
  THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM


CHAPTER XXIV

HIS ILLYRIAN MAJESTY FERDINAND THE TWELFTH


CHAPTER XXV

THE FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE


CHAPTER XXVI

A WALK IN THE GARDEN


CHAPTER XXVII

PROVIDES A LITTLE FEMININE DIVERSION


CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WRITING ON THE WALL


CHAPTER XXIX

THE CAST OF THE DIE


CHAPTER XXX

REACTION


CHAPTER XXXI

NEWS FROM ILLYRIA


CHAPTER XXXII

MORE ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS


CHAPTER XXXIII

IN THE BALANCE


CHAPTER XXXIV

THE CREATURES OF PERRAULT



CHAPTER I

ACCORDING TO REUTER

"It is snowing," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"Worse luck!" growled I from behind my newspaper.  "This unspeakable
climate!  Why can't we sack the Clerk of the Weather?"

"Because he is a permanent official," said Joseph Jocelyn De Vere
Vane-Anstruther, who was coming into the room.  "And those are the
people who run the benighted country."

Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther was in rather smart kit.  It was
December the First, and the hounds--there is only one pack in the
United Kingdom--were about to pay an annual visit to the country of a
neighbour.  With conscious magnificence my relation by marriage took a
bee-line to the sideboard.  He paused a moment to debate to which of
two imperative duties he should give the precedence: i.e. to make his
daily report upon the personal appearance of his host, or to find out
what there was to eat.  The state of the elements enabled Mother Nature
"to get a cinch" on an honourable æstheticism.  Jodey began to forage
slowly but resolutely among the dish covers.

"Kedgeree!  Twice in a fortnight.  Look here, Mops, it won't do."

Mrs. Arbuthnot was perusing that journal which for the modest sum of
one halfpenny purveys the glamour of history with only five per cent.
of its responsibilities.  She merely turned over a page.  Her brother,
having heaped enough kedgeree upon his plate to make a meal for the
average person, peppered and salted it on a scale equally liberal and
then suggested coffee.

"Tea is better for the digestion," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with her
natural air of simple authority.

"I know," said Jodey, "that is why I prefer the other stuff."

"Men are so reasonable!"

"Do you mind 'andin' the sugar?"

"Sugar will make you a welter and ruin your appearance."

A cardinal axiom of my friend Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins, née Ogbourne,
late of Brownville, Mass., is "Horse-sense always tells."  Among the
daughters of men I know none whose endowment of this felicitous quality
can equal that of the amiable participator in my expenditure.  It told
in this case.

"Better give me tea."

"Without sugar?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with great charm of manner.

"A small lump," said Jodey as a concession to his force of character.

The young fellow stirred his tea with so much diligence that the small
lump really seemed like a large one.  And then, with a gravity that was
somewhat sinister, he fixed his gaze on my coat and leathers.

"By a local artist of the name of Jobson," said I, humbly.  "The second
shop on the right as you enter Middleham High Street."

"They speak for themselves."

"My father went there," said I.  "My grandfather also.  In my
grandfather's day I believe the name of the firm was Wiseman and
Grundy."

"It's not fair to 'ounds.  If I was Brasset I should take 'em 'ome."

"If you were Brasset," I countered, "that would hardly be necessary.
They would find their way home by themselves."

"Mops is to blame.  She has been brought up properly."

"It comes to this, my friend.  We can't both wear the breeches.  Hers
cost a pretty penny from those thieves in Regent Street."

"Maddox Street," said a bland voice from the recesses of the _Daily
Courier_.

"Those bandits in Maddox Street," said I, with pathos.  "But for all I
know it might be those sharks in the Mile End Road.  I am a babe in
these things."

"No, my dear Odo," said the young fellow, making his point somewhat
elaborately, "in those things you are a perisher.  An absolute
perisher.  I'm ashamed to be seen 'untin' the same fox with you.  I
should be ashamed to be found dead in the same ditch.  I hate people
who are not serious about clothes.  It's so shallow."

My relation by marriage produced an extremely vivid yellow silk
handkerchief, and pensively flicked a speck of invisible dust off an
immaculate buckskin.

"My God, those tops!"

"By a local draughtsman," said I, "of the name of Bussey.  He is
careful in the measurements and takes a drawing of the foot."

"'Orrible.  You look like a Cossack at the Hippodrome."

"The Madam patronises an establishment in Bond Street.  One is given to
understand that various royalties follow her example."

"They make for the King of Illyria," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"That is interesting," said I, in response to a quizzical glance from
the breakfast table.  "The fact is, my amiable coadjutor in the things
of this life has a decided weakness for royalty.  She denies it
vehemently and betrays it shamelessly on every possible occasion."

"Very interestin' indeed," said her brother.

In the next moment a cry of surprise floated out of the depths of the
halfpenny newspaper.

"What a coincidence!" exclaimed Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "There has been an
attempt on the life of the King of Illyria.  They have thrown a bomb
into his palace and killed the brother of the Prime Minister."

"In the interests of the shareholders of the _Daily Courier_," said I.

"Be serious, Odo," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "To think of that dear old
king being in danger!"

"Yes, the dear old king," said Jodey.

"I think you are horrid, both of you," said Mrs. Arbuthnot with the
spirit that made her an admired member of the Crackanthorpe Hunt.
"Those horrid Illyrians!  They don't deserve to have a king.  They
ought to be like France and America and Switzerland."

"They will soon be in that unhappy position," said I, turning to page
four of the _Times_ newspaper.  "According to Reuter, it appears to
have been a _bonâ fide_ attempt.  Count Cyszysc----"

"You sneeze twice," suggested Jodey.

"Count Cyszysc was blown to pieces on the threshold of the Zweisgarten
Palace, the whole of the south-west front of which was wrecked."

"The wretches!" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "They are only fit to have a
republic.  Such a dear old man, the ideal of what a king ought to be.
Don't you remember him in the state procession riding next to the
Kaiser?"

"The old Johnny with the white hair," said Jodey, reaching for the
marmalade.

"He looked every inch a king," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, "and Illyria is not
a very large place either."

"In a small and obscure country," I ventured to observe, "you have to
look every inch a king, else nobody will believe that you are one.  In
a country as important as ours it doesn't matter if a king looks like a
commercial traveller."

"By the way," said Jodey, who had a polite horror of anything that
could be construed as _lèse majesté_, "where is Illyria?"

"My dear fellow," said I, "don't you know where Illyria is?"

"I'll bet you a pony that you don't either," said Jodey, striving, as
young fellows will, to cover his ignorance by a display of effrontery.

"Haven't you been to Blaenau?  Don't you know the Sveltkes?--hoch!
hoch!"

"No; do you?" said the young fellow, brazenly.

"They are the oldest reigning family in Europe," said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
severely.

"How do you know that, Mops?" said the sceptical youth.

"It says so in the German 'Who's Who,'" said the Madam, sternly, "I
looked them up on purpose."

"My dear fellow," said I, "if you knew a little less about polo, and a
little less about hunting the fox, and a little more about geography
and foreign languages and the things that make for efficiency, you
would be _au courant_ with the kingdom of Illyria and its reigning
family.  Tell the young fellow where that romantic country is, old
lady."

"First you go to Paris," said the Madam, with admirable lucidity.  "And
then, I'm not sure, but I think you come to Vienna, and then I believe
you cut across and you come to Illyria.  And then you come to Blaenau,
the capital, where the king lives, which is five hundred miles from St.
Petersburg as the crow flies, because I've marked it on the map."

"Well, if you've really marked it on the map," said I, "it is only
reasonable to assume that the kingdom of Illyria is in a state of
being."

"You are too absurd," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "The place is well known
and its king is famous."

"I wonder if there is decent shootin' in Illyria," said Joseph Jocelyn
De Vere, with that air of tacit condescension which gained him
advancement throughout the English-speaking world.  "One might try it
for a week to show one has no feelin' against it."

"Where there is a king there is always decent shooting," I ventured to
observe.

Mrs. Arbuthnot returned to her newspaper.

"They want to form a republic in Illyria," she announced, "but the old
king is determined to thwart them."

"A bit of a sportsman, evidently," said her brother.  "But never mind
Illyria.  Give me some more coffee.  We've got to be at the Cross Roads
by eleven."

"No mortal use, I am afraid," said I.  "The glass has gone right back.
And look through the window."

"Good old British climate!  And on that side they've got one of the
best bits o' country in the shires, and Morton's covers are always
choke-full of foxes."

In spite of his pessimism, however, my relation by marriage continued
to deal faithfully with the modest repast that had been offered him.
Also he was fain to inquire of the mistress of the house whether
_enough_ sandwiches had been cut and whether _both_ flasks had been
filled; and from the nominal head of our modest establishment he sought
to learn what arrangements had been made for the second horsemen.

"They will not be wanted to-day, I fear."

"Pooh, a few flakes o' snow!"

It was precisely at this moment that the toot of a motor horn was
heard.  A sixty-horse-power six-cylindered affair of the latest design
was seen to steal through the shrubbery _en route_ to the front door.

"Why, wasn't that Brasset?"

"His car certainly."

"What does the blighter want?"

"He has brought us the information that Morton has telephoned through
to say that there is a foot of snow on the wolds and that hounds had
better stay at the kennels."

"Pooh," said Jodey, "he wouldn't have troubled to come himself.  You've
got a telephone, ain't you?"

"Doubtless he also wishes to confer with Mrs. Arbuthnot upon the state
of things in Illyria.  He is a very serious fellow with political
ambitions."

Further I might have added--which, however, I did not--that the Master
of the Crackanthorpe was somewhat assiduous in his attitude of
respectful attention towards my seductive co-participator in this vale
of tears, who on her side was rather apt to pride herself upon an
old-fashioned respect for the peerage.  The prospect of a visit from
the noble Master caused her to discard the affairs of the Illyrian
monarchy in favour of a subject even more pregnant with interest.

"If it is Reggie Brasset," said she, renouncing the _Daily Courier_,
"he has come about Mrs. Fitz."

"Get out!" said the scornful Jodey.  "You people down here have got
Mrs. Fitz on the brain."

Out of the mouths of babes!  It was perfectly true that, in our own
little corner of the world, people _had_ got Mrs. Fitz on the brain.



CHAPTER II

TRIBULATIONS OF A M.F.H.

Brasset it certainly was.  And when he came into the room looking
delightfully healthy, decidedly handsome, and a great deal more serious
than a minister of the Crown, his first words were to the effect that
Morton had telephoned through to say that they had a foot of snow on
the wolds and that hounds had better stay where they were.

"Awfully good of you, Brasset, to come and tell us," said I, heartily.
"Have some breakfast?"

"No, thanks," said Brasset.  "The fact is, as we are not going over to
Morton's, I thought this would be a good opportunity to--to----"

For some reason the noble Master did not appear to know how to complete
his sentence.

"Yes, Lord Brasset," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with an air of acute
intelligence.

"A good opportunity to--to----" said Brasset, who in spite of his
seriousness really looked absurdly young to be the master of such a
pack as ours.

"Yes, Lord Brasset," said Mrs. Arbuthnot again.

"Yes, quite so, my dear fellow," said I, without, as I hope and
believe, the least appearance of levity, for the uncompromising eye of
authority was upon me.

"What's up, Brasset?" said Jodey, who contrary to the regulations was
lighting his pipe at the breakfast table, and who combined with his
many engaging qualities an extremely practical mind.  "You want a glass
of beer.  Parkins, bring his lordship a glass of beer."

With this aid to the body corporeal in his hand, and with a pair of
large, serious and admirably solicitous eyes fixed upon him, the noble
Master made a third attempt to complete his sentence.  This time he
succeeded.

"The fact is," said he, "I thought this would be a good opportunity
to--to"--here the noble Master made a heroic dash for England, home and
glory--"to talk over this confounded business of Mrs. Fitz."

Mrs. Arbuthnot sat bolt upright with an air of ecstasy and the
expression "There, what did I tell you!" written all over her

"Quite so, my dear fellow," said I, in simple good faith, but happening
at that moment to intercept a glance from a feminine eye, had perforce
to smother my countenance somewhat hastily in the voluminous folds of
the _Times_.

"What about her?" inquired the occupant of the breakfast table, who,
whatever the angels might happen to be doing at any given moment, never
hesitated to walk right in with both feet.  "I was saying to Arbuthnot
and my sister just as you came in, that you people down here have got
Mrs. Fitz on the brain."

"Yes, I am afraid we have," said Brasset, ruefully.  "The fact is,
things are coming to such a pass that they can't go on."

"I agree with you, Lord Brasset," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with conviction.

"Something must be done."

"It is so uncomfortable for everybody," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "And I
can promise this, Lord Brasset"--the fair speaker looked ostentatiously
away from the vicinity of the leading morning journal--"whatever steps
you decide to take in the matter will have the entire sympathy and
support of every woman subscriber to the Hunt."

"Thank you very much indeed, Mrs. Arbuthnot," said the noble Master,
with feeling, "I am very grateful to you.  It will help me very much."

"We held a meeting in Mrs. Catesby's drawing-room on Sunday afternoon.
We passed a resolution expressing the fullest confidence in you--I
wish, Lord Brasset, you could have heard what was said about you."  The
Master's picturesque complexion achieved a more roseate tinge.  "Our
unanimous support and approval was voted to you in all that you may
feel called upon to do."

"A thousand thanks, my dear Mrs. Arbuthnot."

"And we hope you will turn Mrs. Fitz out of the Hunt.  I also brought
forward an amendment that Fitz be turned out as well, but it was
decided by six votes to four to give him another chance.  But in the
case of Mrs. Fitz the meeting was absolutely unanimous."

"My God," said the occupant of the breakfast table.  "If that ain't the
limit!"

"Mrs. Fitz is a good deal more than the limit."  Mrs. Arbuthnot's eyes
sparkled with truculence.

"Have a cigarette, my dear fellow," said I, offering my case to the
unfortunate Brasset as soon as the state of my emotions would permit me
to do so.

Brasset selected a cigarette with an air of intense melancholy.  As he
applied the lighted match that was also offered him he favoured me with
an eye that was so woebegone that it must have moved a heart of stone
to pity.  On the contrary, my fellow-pilgrim through this vale of tears
had turned a most becoming shade of pink, which she invariably does
when she is really out upon the warpath.  Also in her china-blue
eyes--I hope such a description of these weapons will pass the
censor--was a look of grim, unalterable ruthlessness, before which men
quite as stout as Brasset have had to quail.

The noble Master took a nervous draw at his Egyptian.

"Look here, Arbuthnot," said he, "you are a wise chap, ain't you?"

"He thinks he's wise," said my helpmeet.

"Every man does," said I, modestly, "not necessarily as an article of
faith but as a point of ritual."

"Yes, of course," said Brasset, with an air of intelligence that
imposed upon nobody.  "But everybody says you are a wise chap.  That
little Mrs. Perkins says you are the wisest chap she has met out of
London."

This indiscretion on the part of Brasset--some men have so little
tact!--provoked a stiffening of plumage; and if the china-blue eyes did
not shoot forth a spark this chronicle is not likely to be of much
account.

"Stick to the point, if you please," said I.  "I plead guilty to being
a Solomon."

"Well, as you are a wise chap," said the blunderer, "and I'm by way of
being an ass----"

"I don't agree with you at all, Lord Brasset," piped a fair admirer.

"Oh, but I am, Mrs. Arbuthnot," said Brasset, dissenting with that
courtesy in which he was supreme.  "It's awfully good of you to say I'm
not, but everybody knows I am not much of a chap at most things."

"You may not be so clever as Odo," said the wife of my bosom, "because
Odo's exceptional.  But you are an extremely _able_ man all the same,
Lord Brasset."

"She means to attend that sale at Tatt's on Wednesday," said the
occupant of the breakfast table in an aside to the marmalade.

"Well, if I am not such a fool as I think I am"--so perfect a sincerity
disarmed criticism--"it is awfully good of you, Mrs. Arbuthnot, to say
so.  But what I mean is, I should like Arbuthnot's advice on the
subject of--on the subject of----"

"On the subject of Mrs. Fitz," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with the coo of the
dove and the glance of the rattlesnake.

"Ye-es," said the noble Master, nervously dropping the ash from his
cigarette on to a very expensive tablecloth.

"Odo will be very pleased indeed, Lord Brasset," said the superior half
of my entity, "to give you advice about Mrs. Fitz.  He agrees with me
and Mary Catesby and Laura Glendinning, that she must be turned out of
the Hunt."

Poor Brasset removed a bead of perspiration from the perplexed
melancholy of his features with a silk handkerchief of vivid hue, own
brother to the one sported by the Bayard at the breakfast table, in a
futile attempt to cope with his dismay.

"Is it usual, Mrs. Arbuthnot?"

"It may not be usual, Lord Brasset, but Mrs. Fitz is not a usual woman."

"My dear Irene," said I, judicially--Mrs. Arbuthnot rejoices in the
classical name of Irene--"my dear Irene, I understand Brasset to mean
that there is nothing in the articles of association of the
Crackanthorpe Hunt to provide against the contingency of Mrs. Fitz or
any other British matron overriding hounds as often as she likes."

Although I have had no regular legal training beyond having once
lunched in the hall of Gray's Inn, everybody knows my uncle the judge.
But I regret to say that this weighty deliverance did not meet with
entire respect in the quarter in which it was entitled to look for it.

"That is nonsense, Odo," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "I am sure the Quorn----"

Brasset's misery assumed so acute a phase at the mention of the Quorn
that Mrs. Arbuthnot paused sympathetically.

"The Quorn--my God!" muttered the Bayard at the breakfast table in an
aside to the tea-kettle.

"Or the Cottesmore," continued the undefeated Mrs. Arbuthnot, "would
not stand such behaviour from a person like Mrs. Fitz."

"Do you think so, Mrs. Arbuthnot?" said the noble Master.  "You see, we
shouldn't like to get our names up by doing something unusual."

"An unusual person must be dealt with in an unusual way," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot, with great sententiousness.

"Mary Catesby thinks----"

The long arm of coincidence is sometimes very startling, and I can
vouch for it that the entrance of Parkins at this psychological moment,
to herald the appearance of Mary Catesby in the flesh, greatly
impressed us all as something quite beyond the ordinary.

"Why, here _is_ Mary," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, giving that source of light
and authority a cross-over kiss on both checks.  It is the hall-mark of
the married ladies of our neighbourhood that they all delight to
exhibit an almost exaggerated reverence for Mary Catesby.

I have great esteem for Mary Catesby myself.  For one thing, she has
deserved well of her country.  The mother of three girls and five boys,
she is the British matron _in excelsis_; and apart from the habit she
has formed of riding in her horse's mouth, she has every attribute of
the best type of Christian gentlewoman.  She owns to thirty-nine--to
follow the ungallant example of Debrett!--is the eldest daughter of a
peer, and is extremely authoritative in regard to everything under the
sun, from the price of eggs to the table of precedence.

The admirable Mary--her full name is Mary Augusta--may be a trifle
over-elaborated.  Her horses are well up to fourteen stone.  And as
matter and mind are one and the same, it is sometimes urged against her
that her manner is a little overwhelming.  But this is to seek for
blemishes on the noonday sun of female excellence.  One of a more
fragile cast might find such a weight of virtue a burden.  But Mary
Catesby wears it like a flower.

In addition to her virtue she was also wearing a fur cloak which was
the secret envy of the entire feminine population of the county,
although individual members thereof made it a point of honour to
proclaim for the benefit of one another, "Why _does_ Mary persist in
wearing that ermine-tailed atrocity!  She really can't know what a
fright she looks in it."

As a matter of fact, Mary Catesby in her fur cloak is one of the most
impressive people the mind of man can conceive.  That fur cloak of hers
can stop the Flying Dutchman at any wayside station between Land's End
and Paddington; and on the platform at the annual distribution of
prizes at Middleham Grammar School, I have seen more than one small boy
so completely overcome by it, that he has dropped "Macaulay's Essays"
on the head of the reporter of the _Advertiser_.

Besides this celebrated garment, Mary was adorned with a bowler hat
with enormous brims, not unlike that affected by Mr. Weller the Elder
as Cruikshank depicted him, and so redoubtable a pair of butcher boots
as literally made the earth tremble under her.

Her first remark was addressed, quite naturally, to the unfortunate
Brasset, who had been rendered a little pinker and a little more
perplexed than he already was by this notable woman's impressive entry.

"I consider this weather disgraceful," said she.  "It always is when we
go over to Morton's.  Why is it, Reggie?"

She spoke as though the luckless Reggie was personally responsible for
the weather and also for the insulting manner in which that
much-criticised British institution had deranged her plans.

"I am awfully sorry, Mrs. Catesby.  Not much of a day, is it?"

"Disgraceful.  If one can't have better weather than this, one might as
well go and have a week's skating at Prince's."

The idea of Mary Catesby having a week's skating at Prince's seemed to
appeal to Joseph Jocelyn De Vere.  At least that sportsman was pleased
not a little.

"English style or Continental?" said he.

Mary Catesby did not deign to heed.

"I am awfully sorry, Mrs. Catesby," said Brasset again, with really
beautiful humility.

Mrs. Catesby declined to accept this delightfully courteous apology,
but gazed down her chin at the unfortunate Brasset with that ample air
which invariably makes her look like Minerva as Titian conceived that
deity.  Silently, pitilessly, she proceeded to fix the whole
responsibility for the weather upon the Master of the Crackanthorpe.

She had just performed this feat with the greatest efficiency, when by
no means the least of her admirers put in an oar.

"I'm so glad you've come, Mary," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "We were just
having it out with Lord Brasset about Mrs. Fitz."

An uncomfortable silence followed.

"Is she a subject for discussion in a mixed company?" said I, to
relieve the tension.

"I should say not," said Mary.  "But Reggie has been so weak that there
is no help for it."

"The victim of circumstances, perhaps," said I, with generous unwisdom.

"People who are weak always are the victims of circumstances.  If
Reggie had only been firmer at the beginning, we should not now be a
laughing-stock for everybody.  To my mind the first requisite in a
master of hounds is resolution of character."

"Hear, hear," said the occupant of the breakfast table, _sotto voce_.

The miserable Brasset, whose pinkness and perplexity were ever
increasing, fairly quailed before the Great Lady's forensic power.

"Do you think, Mrs. Catesby, I ought to resign?" said he, with the
humility that invites a kicking.

"Not _now_, surely; it would be too abject.  If you felt the situation
was beyond you, you should have resigned at the beginning.  You must
show spirit, Reggie.  You must not submit to being trampled on publicly
by--by----"

The Great Lady paused here, not because she was at a loss for a word,
but because, like all born orators, she had an instinctive knowledge of
the value of a pause in the right place.

"By a circus rider from Vienna," she concluded in a level voice.



CHAPTER III

THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION

"I know, Mrs. Catesby, I'm not much of a chap," said Brasset, "but
what's a feller to do?  I did drop a hint to Fitz, you know."

"Fitz!!"  The art of the _littérateur_ can only render a scorn so
sublime by two marks of exclamation.

"What did Fitz say?" I ventured to inquire.

"Scowled like blazes," said Brasset, miserably.  "Thought the
cross-grained, three-cornered devil would eat me.  Beg pardon, Mrs.
Catesby."

The noble Master subsided into his glass of beer in the most lamentably
ineffectual manner.

I cleared my voice in the consciousness that I had an uncle a judge.

"Brasset," said I, "will you kindly inform the court what are the
specific grounds of complaint against this much-maligned and
unfortunate--er--female?"

"Don't make yourself ridiculous, Odo!"

"Odo, you know perfectly well!"

It was a dead heat between Mrs. Arbuthnot and the Great Lady.

"Order, order," said I, sternly.  "This scene belongs to Brasset.  Now,
Brasset, answer the question, and then perhaps something may be done."

It was not to be, however.  The nephew of my uncle failed lamentably to
exact obedience to the chair.

"My dear Odo," said Mary Catesby, in what I can only describe as her
Albert Hall manner, with her voice going right up to the top like a
flag going up a pole, "do you mean to tell _me_----?"

"That you don't know how Mrs. Fitz has been carrying on!" the Madam
chipped in with really wonderful cleverness.

"I don't, upon oath," said I, solemnly.  "You appear to forget that I
have been giving my time to the nation during this abominable autumn
session."

"So he has, poor dear," said the partner of my joys.

"Like a good citizen," said Mary Catesby, most august of Primrose Dames.

"Thank you, Mary, I deserve it.  But am I to understand that Mrs. Fitz
has flung her cap over the mill, or that she has taken to riding
astride, or is it that she continues to affect that scarlet coat which
last season hastened the end of the Dowager?"

"No, Arbuthnot."  It was the voice of Brasset, vibrating with such deep
emotion that it can only be compared to the _Marche Funèbre_ performed
upon a cathedral organ.  "But it was only by God's mercy that last
Tuesday morning she didn't override Challenger."

"Allah is great," said I.

"Upon my solemn word of honour," said the noble Master, speaking from
the depths, "she was within two inches of the old gal's stern."

"Parkins," said a voice from the breakfast table, "bring another glass
of beer for his lordship."

To be perfectly frank, liquid sustenance was no longer a vital
necessity to the noble Master.  He was already rosy with indignation at
the sudden memory of his wrongs.  Only one thing can induce Brasset to
display even a normal amount of spirit.  That is the welfare of the
sacred charges over which he presides for the public weal.  He will
suffer you to punch his head, to tread on his toe, or to call him
names, and as likely as not he will apologise sweetly for any
inconvenience you may have incurred in the process.  But if you
belittle the Crackanthorpe Hounds or in any way endanger the humblest
member of the Fitzwilliam strain, woe unto you.  You transform Brasset
into a veritable man of blood and iron.  He is invested with pathos and
dignity.  The lightnings of heaven flash from beneath his long-lashed
orbs; and from his somewhat narrow chest there is bodied forth a far
richer vocabulary than the general inefficiency of his appearance can
possibly warrant hi any conceivable circumstances.

Mere feminine clamour was silenced by Brasset transformed.  His blue
eyes glowed, his cheeks grew rosier, each particular hair of his
perfectly charming little blond moustache--trimmed by Truefitt once a
fortnight--stood up on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.  In
lieu of pink abasement was tawny denunciation.

"I'll admit, Arbuthnot," said the Man of Blood and Iron, "I looked at
the woman as no man ought to look at a lady."

"Didn't you say 'damn,' Lord Brasset?" piped a demure seeker after
knowledge.

"I may have done, Mrs. Arbuthnot, I admit I may have done."

"I think that ought to go down on the depositions," said I, with an
approximation to the manner of my uncle, the judge, that was very
tolerable for an amateur.

"I _honour_ you for it, Lord Brasset.  Don't you, Mary?"

"Endeavour not to embarrass the witness," said I.  "Go on, Brasset."

"Brasset, here's your beer," said Jodey, rising from the table and
personally handing the Burton brew with vast solemnity.

"I may have damned her eyes," proceeded the witness, "or I mayn't have
done.  You see, she was within two inches of the old gal, and I may
have lost my head for a bit.  I'll admit that no man ought to damn the
eyes of a lady.  Mind, I don't say I did.  And yet I don't say I
didn't.  It all happened before you could say 'knife,' and I'll admit I
was rattled."

"The witness admits he was rattled," said I.

"So would you have been, old son," the witness continued
magniloquently.  "Within two inches, upon my oath."

"Were there reprisals on the part of the lady whose eyes you had damned
in a moment of mental duress?"

"_Rather_.  She damned mine in Dutch."

Sensation.

"How did you know it was Dutch, Lord Brasset?" piped a seeker of
knowledge.

"By the behaviour of the hounds, Mrs. Arbuthnot."

"How did they behave?"

"The beggars bolted."

Sensation.

"My aunt!" said the occupant of the breakfast table with solemn
irrelevance.

"So would you," said the noble Master.  "I never heard anything like
it.  In my opinion there is no language like Dutch when it comes to
cursing.  And then, before I could blink, up went her hand, and she
gave me one over the head with her crop."

Sensation.

"Upon my solemn word of honour.  I don't mind showing the mark to
anybody."

"Where is it, Lord Brasset?"

Mrs. Arbuthnot rose from her chair in the ecstatic pursuit of
first-hand information.  Her eyes were wide and glowing like those of
her small daughter, Miss Lucinda, when she hears the story of "The
Three Bears."

"Show _me_ the scar, Reggie," said a Minerva-like voice.

"Let's see it, Brasset," said the occupant of the breakfast table,
kicking over a piece of Chippendale of the best period and incidentally
breaking the back of it.

The somewhat melodramatic investigations of a thick layer of Rowland's
Macassar oil and a thin layer of fair hair disclosed an unmistakable
weal immediately above the left temple of the noble martyr in the cause
of public duty.

"If it don't beat cockfighting!" said Jodey in a tone of undisguised
admiration.

"If it hadn't been for the rim of my cap," said the noble martyr in
response to the public enthusiasm, "it must have laid my head clean
open."

"In my opinion," said Mary Catesby, speaking _ex cathedra_, "that woman
is a perfect devil.  Reggie, if you only show firmness you can count
upon support.  They may stand that sort of thing in a Continental
circus, but we don't stand it in the Crackanthorpe Hunt."

"Firmness, Brasset," said I, anxious, like all the world, to echo the
oracle.

The little blond moustache was subjected to inhuman treatment.

"It's all very well, you know, but what's the use of being firm with a
person who is just as firm as yourself?"

The Great Lady snorted.

"For three years, Reggie, you have filled a difficult office passably
well.  Don't let a little thing like this be your undoing."

"All very well, Mrs. Catesby, but I can't hit her over the head, can I?"

"No, but what about Fitz?" said a voice from the breakfast table.

"Ye-es, I hadn't thought of that."

"And I shouldn't think of it if I were you," said I, cordially.  "Fitz
with all his errors is a heftier chap than you are, my son."

Brasset's jaw dropped doubtfully--it is quite a good jaw, by the way.

"Practise the left a bit, Brasset," was the advice of the breakfast
table.  "I know a chap in Jermyn Street who has had lessons from Burns.
We might trot up and see him after lunch.  Bring a Bradshaw, Parkins.
And I think we had better send a wire."

"I wasn't so bad with my left when I was up at Trinity," said Brasset.

Mrs. Arbuthnot shuddered audibly.  She has long been an out-and-out
admirer of the noble Master's nose.  Certainly its contour has great
elegance and refinement.

"Brasset," said I, "let me urge you not to listen to evil
communications.  If you were Burns himself you would do well to play
very lightly with Fitz.  He was my fag at school, and although
sometimes there was occasion to visit him with an ash plant or a
toasting fork in the manner prescribed by the house regulations at that
ancient seat of learning, I shouldn't advise you or anybody else to
undertake a scheme of personal chastisement."

"Certainly not, Reggie," said Mary Catesby, in response to Mrs.
Arbuthnot's imploring gaze.  "Odo is perfectly right.  Besides, you
must behave like a gentleman.  It is the woman with whom you must deal."

"Well, I can't hit her, can I?" said Brasset, plaintively.

"If a cove's wife hit me over the head with a crop," said the voice of
youth, "I should want to hit the cove that had the wife that hit me,
and so would Odo.  I see there's a train at two-fifteen gets to town at
five."

Brasset's eyes are as softly, translucently blue as those of Miss
Lucinda, but in them was the light of battle.  He no longer tugged at
his upper lip, but stroked it gently.  To those conversant with these
mysteries this portent was sinister.

"Is Genée on at the Empire?" said he.

"Parkins knows," said Jodey.

Parkins did know.

"Yes, my lord," said that peerless factotum, "she is."

In parenthesis, I ought to mention that Parkins is the _pièce de
resistance_ of our modest establishment.  Not only is he highly
accomplished in all the polite arts practised by man, but also he is a
walking compendium of exact information.

"How's this?" said Jodey, proceeding to read aloud the telegram he had
composed with studious care.  "Dine self and pal Romano's 7.30.  Empire
afterwards.  Book three stalls in centre."

"Wouldn't the side be better?" said Brasset.  "Then you are out of the
draught."

Before this important correction could be made Mary Catesby lifted up
her voice in all its natural majesty.

"Reginald Philip Horatio," said the most august of her sex, "as one who
dressed dolls and composed hymns with your poor dear mother before she
made her imprudent marriage, I forbid you absolutely to fight with such
a man as Nevil Fitzwaren.  It is not seemly, it is not Christian, and
Nevil Fitzwaren is a far more powerful man than yourself."

"Science will beat brute force at any hour of the day or night," was
the opinion of the breakfast table.

Mrs. Catesby fixed the breakfast table with her invincible north eye.

"Joseph, pray hold your tongue.  This is very wrong advice you are
giving to a man who is rather older and quite as foolish as yourself."

The Bayard of the breakfast table rebutted the indictment.

"The advice is sound enough," said he.  "My pal in Jermyn Street has
won no end of pots as a middle-weight, and he'll soon have a go at the
heavies now he's taken to supping at the Savoy.  He'll put Brasset all
right.  He's as clever as daylight, a pupil of Burns.  I tell you what,
Mrs. C., if Brasset leads off with a left and a right and follows up
with a half-arm hook on the point, in my opinion he'll have a walk
over."

"Reggie, I forbid you _absolutely_," said the early collaborator with
the noble Master's mother.  "It is so uncivilised; besides, if Nevil
Fitzwaren happened to be the first to lead off with a half-arm hook on
the point, we should probably require a new Master.  And that would be
so awkward.  It was always a maxim of my dear father's that foxes were
the only things that profited by a change of mastership in the middle
of December."

"Your dear father was right, Mary," said I, gravely.

"Dear father was infallible.  But seriously, Reggie, if anything
happened to you we should really have nobody to take the hounds now
that for some obscure reason they have made Odo a member of Parliament."

"If a cove's wife hit me," came the refrain from the breakfast table in
a kind of drone, "I should want to hit the cove that had the wife that
hit me.  See that this wire is sent, Parkins, and tell Kelly that I am
running up to town by the 2.15 and shall stay the night."

"Jodey, don't be a fool," said I.  "Brasset, I want to say this.  I
hope you are listening, Mary, and you too, Irene.  Where Fitz and his
wife are concerned, we have all got to play lightly."

I summoned all the earnestness of which I am capable.  Even Mary
Catesby was impressed by such an air of conviction.

"I fail to see," said she, "why we should be so especially considerate
of the feelings of the Fitzwarens, when they are the last to consider
the feelings of others."

"You can take it from me, Mary, that Fitz and his wife are not to be
judged altogether by ordinary standards.  They are extraordinary
people."

"Tell me what you mean by the term extraordinary?" said my
inquisitorial spouse.

"Does it really require explanation, _mon enfant_?"

"It means," said the plain-spoken Mary, "that Nevil Fitzwaren is an
extraordinarily reckless and dissolute type of fellow, and that Mrs.
Nevil is an extraordinarily unpleasant type of woman."

I am the first to admit that that ineffectual thing, the mere human
male, is not of the calibre openly to dissent from a considered
judgment of the Great Lady.  But to the amazement of men and doubtless
of gods, for once in a way her opinion was publicly challenged.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room when the occupant of the
breakfast table took up the gage.

"Fitz is a bad hat."  Joseph Jocelyn De Vere removed the pipe from his
lips.  "Everybody knows it.  But Mrs. Fitz is a thousand times too good
for the cove that's married her."

Such an expression of opinion left his sister open-mouthed.  Mary
Catesby lowered her chin and her eyelashes at an indiscretion so
portentous.

"The Fitzwarens," said that great authority, "are a very old family,
and Nevil has the education, if not the instincts, of a gentleman, but
as for this circus rider he has brought from Vienna, she has neither
the birth, the education nor the instincts of a lady."

This tremendous pronouncement would have put most people out of action
at once.  But here was a man of mettle.

"She's tophole," said that Bayard.  "I've never seen her equal.  If you
ask my opinion there's not a chap in the Hunt who is fit to open a gate
for Mrs. Fitz."

The young fellow had fairly got the bit between his teeth and no
mistake.

"One doesn't ask your opinion, Joseph," said Mary Catesby, with a
bluntness that would have felled a bullock.  "Why should one, pray?  I
know no person less fitted to express an opinion on any subject."

"I've followed her line anyhow, and I've been proud to follow it.  She
can ride cunning, too, mind you.  I've never seen her equal anywhere,
and don't suppose I ever shall."

"No one questions her riding.  She was born and bred in a circus.  But
a more unmitigated female bounder never jumped through a hoop in pink
tights."

It was below the belt, and not only Jodey but Brasset, who, inefficient
as he is in most things, is unmistakably a sportsman of the first
class, also felt it to be so.

"Mrs. Fitz has foreign ways," said the noble Master, "but she can be as
nice as anybody when she likes.  I've known her be awfully civil."

"She is not without charm," said I, feeling that it was up to me to
play up a bit.

"She's _it_," said Jodey.  "She's the sort of woman that would make a
chap----"

"Shoot himself," chirruped the noble Master.

Disgust and indignation are mild terms to apply to Mrs. Catesby's wrath.

"Pair of boobies!  You are as bad as he is, Reggie.  But it was always
so like your poor mother to take things lying down."

"Oh, come now, Mrs. Catesby, haven't I said all along that she had no
right to hit me over the head with her crop?"

"The safest place in which to hit you, anyway."  The Great Lady was in
peril of losing her temper.

The question of Mrs. Fitz was a very vexed one in the Crackanthorpe
Hunt.  It had already divided that proud institution into two sections:
i.e. the thick and thin supporters of that lady and those who would not
have her at any price.  It need excite no remark in the minds of the
judicious that the male followers of the Hunt, almost to a man,
admired, as much as they dared in the circumstances, a very remarkable
personality; while its feminine patrons, with a unanimity quite without
precedent in that august body, were conspiring to humiliate, as deeply
as it lay in their power, a personage who had set three counties by the
ears.

The Great Lady proceeded to temper her wrath with some extremely
dignified pathos.

"It is a mystery to me," said she, "how men who call themselves
gentlemen can attempt to defend a creature who offered a public affront
to the Duke and dear Evelyn."

"I presume you mean the affair of the bazaar?" said I.

"I do; a lamentable fracas.  Dear Evelyn never left her bed for a
fortnight."

"Dear me!  Are we to understand that actual physical violence was
offered to her Grace?"

"Don't be childish, Odo!  I was present and saw everything, and I can
answer for it that no such thing as violence was used."

"Then why did the great lady take to her bed?"

"Through sheer vexation.  And really one doesn't wonder.  It was
nothing less than a public insult."

"Tell me, Mary, precisely in three words what did happen at the bazaar.
All the world agrees that it was a desperate affair, yet nobody seems
to know exactly what it was that occurred."

Mrs. Catesby enveloped herself in that mantle of high diplomacy that
she is pleased so often to assume.

"No, my dear Odo, I don't think it would be kind to the Duke and dear
Evelyn to say actually what did occur.  To my mind it is not a thing to
be spoken of, but I may tell you this--it has been mentioned at
Windsor!"

It was clear from the Great Lady's demeanour that at this announcement
we were all expected to cross ourselves.  Only Mrs. Arbuthnot did so,
however.

"Oh, Mary!"  The china-blue eyes swam with ecstasy.

"If you wish to convey to us, my dear Mary," said I, "that a royal
commission has been appointed to inquire into the subject, all
experience tends to teach that there will be less prospect than ever of
finding out what did happen at the bazaar."

"Tell us what really did happen at the bazaar, Mrs. Catesby," said
Brasset.  "I am sorry I wasn't there."

"No, Reggie, I am _much_ too fond of dear Evelyn to disclose the truth
to a living soul.  But I may tell you this: the incident was far worse
than has been reported."

"I understand," said I, solemnly lying, at the instance of the
histrionic sense, "that Windsor earnestly desired that the incident,
whatever it was, should be minimised as much as possible."

The bait was gobbled, hook and all.

"How did you come to hear that, Odo?  Even I was not told that."

"Who told you _that_, Odo?" Mrs. Arbuthnot twittered breathlessly.

"There was a rumour the other day in the House."

"The idle gossip of the lobbies," the Great Lady was moved to affirm.

But we were straying away from the point.  And the point was, in what
manner was public decency to mark its sense of outrage at the conduct
of Mrs. Fitz?



CHAPTER IV

THE MIDDLE COURSE

Although so many conflicting rumours were abroad as to the unparalleled
affront that had been offered to the Strawberry Leaf--some accounts had
it that "dear Evelyn" had been called "a cat" within the hearing of the
Mayor and other civic dignitaries of Middleham, while others were
pleased to affirm that she had had her ears boxed before the eyes of
the horrified reporter for the _Advertiser_--there was the implicit
word of Brasset that he had been subjected not only to unchaste
expressions in a foreign tongue, but had actually been in receipt of
physical violence in his honourable endeavour to uphold the dignity and
the discipline of the Crackanthorpe Hunt.

I hope and believe I am a lenient judge of the offences of
others--fellow-occupants of our local bench delight to tell me so--but
even I was so imbued with the spirit of the meeting as to allow that
some kind of official notice ought to be taken of the outrageous
conduct of Mrs. Nevil Fitzwaren.  From the first hour of her appearance
among us, a short fifteen months ago, she had gathered the storm-clouds
of controversy about her.  Almost as soon as she appeared out cubbing
she became the most discussed person in the shire.  Her ways were
unmistakably foreign and "unconventional"; and certainly, in the saddle
and out of it, her personality can only be described as a little
overpowering.

In the beginning it may have been Fitz himself who contributed as much
as anything to the notoriety of his continental wife.  Five years
before, the only surviving son of a disreputable father had let the
house of his ancestors in a state of gross disrepair, together with the
paternal acres, to a City magnate, and betook himself, Heaven alone
knew where.  Wise people, however, were more than willing that the
President of the Destinies should retain the sole and exclusive
possession of this information.  Nobody had the least desire to know
where Fitz the Younger, unmistakable scion of a somewhat deplorable
dynasty, was to be found, except, perhaps, a few London tradesmen, who,
if wise men, would be sparing of their tears.  They might have been hit
so much harder than proved to be the case.  Wherever Fitz had gone,
those who knew most of him, and the stock from which he sprang,
devoutly hoped that there he would stay.

For five years we knew him not.  And then one fine September afternoon
he turned up at the Grange with a motor car and a French chauffeur and
a foreign wife.  It may not seem kind to say so, but in the interests
of this strange but ower-true tale, it is well to state clearly that
his return was highly disconcerting to all sections of the community.
His name was still an offence in the ears of an obsequious and by no
means over-censorious countryside.  Rural England is astonishingly
lenient "to Squoire and his relations," but Master Nevil had proved too
stiff a proposition even for its forbearance.

Howbeit, Fitz had hardly been a week at his ancestral home with his
foreign wife and his motor car when there began to be signs of a rise
in Fitzwaren stock.  It was bruited abroad that he was paying his
debts, fulfilling long-neglected obligations, that he had given up the
bowl, and that, in a word, he was doing his best to clear a pretty
black record.  Indeed, the upward tendency of the Fitzwaren stock was
so well maintained, that it was decided by the Committee for the
Maintenance of the Public Decency that the august Mrs. Catesby should
call on his wife and so pave the way for the _entente_.  After all, the
Fitzwarens were the Fitzwarens, and our revered Vicar--the hardest
riding parson in five counties--clinched the matter with the most
apposite quotation from Holy Writ in which he has ever indulged.

The august Mrs. Catesby bore the olive branch in the form of a couple
of pieces of pasteboard to the Grange in due course; Mrs. Arbuthnot,
the Vicar's wife, Laura Glendinning, and the rank and file of the
custodians of the public decency followed suit; and such an atmosphere
of the best type of Christian magnanimity prevailed, that it was quite
on the _tapis_ that "dear Evelyn" herself, the Perpetual President and
Past Grand Mistress of this strenuous society, would shoot a card at
the Grange.  To show that this is not the idle gossip of an empty tale,
there is Mrs. Catesby's own declaration, made in Mrs. Arbuthnot's own
drawing-room in the presence of Laura Glendinning and the Vicar's wife,
"that had Mrs. Fitz only been presented she was in a position to know
that dear Evelyn would have called upon her."

That was the hour in which the Fitzwaren stock touched its zenith.
Thenceforward there was a fall in price.  Nevertheless, it was agreed
that Fitz was a reformed character.  A glass of beer for luncheon, a
glass of wine for dinner, and a maximum of three whiskies and sodas
_per diem_; handsome indemnity paid to the daughter of the landlord of
the Fitzwaren Arms; propitiation galore to persons of all degrees and
shades of opinion; appearance with the ducal party at the Cockfoster
shoot; regular attendance at church every Sunday forenoon.  Fitz made
the pace so hot that the wise declared it could not possibly last.
They were wrong, however, as the wise are occasionally.  Fitz had more
staying power than friends and neighbours were prepared to concede to
the son of his father.  But in spite of all this, once the slump set in
it continued steadily.

Those who had known Fitz before the reformation were not slow to
believe that it was no strength of the inner nature that had rendered
him a vessel of grace.  It was excessively creditable, of course, to
the black sheep of the fold, but the whole merit of the reclamation
belonged not to the prodigal, but to the nondescript lady from the
continent who had not been presented at Court.  The depth of Fitz's
infatuation for that unconventional creature was really grotesque.

To the merely masculine intelligence it would have seemed that an
influence so beneficent over one so besmirched as poor Fitz must have
counted to that lady for righteousness on the high court scale.  But
the Committee for the Maintenance of the Public Decency came to quite
another conclusion.  The mere male cannot do better than give _in
extenso_ the Committee's report upon the matter, and for the text of
this judicial pearl our thanks are due to the august Mrs. Catesby.  "If
she had been Anybody," that great and good woman announced, "one would
have felt it only right to encourage Nevil Fitzwaren in his
praise-worthy effort, but as dear Evelyn has been informed, on
unimpeachable authority, that she used to ride bareback in a circus in
Vienna, it is quite clear that the wretched fellow is in the toils of
an infatuation."

After this finding by the Committee, holders of Fitzwaren stock
unloaded quickly.  Yet there were some of these speculators who were
loth to take that course.  Fitz, the harum-scarum, with his nails
trimmed, was a less picturesque figure than the provincial Don Juan;
but there were those who were not slow to aver that the fair
_equestrienne_ he had had the audacity to import from Vienna was quite
the most romantic figure that had ever hunted with the Crackanthorpe
Hounds.

Doubtless she had been born in a stable and reared upon mares' milk,
but to behold her mounted upon the strain of the Godolphin Arabian, in
a tall hat, military gauntlets and a scarlet coat was a spectacle that
few beholders were able to forget.  In the opinion of the Committee,
there can be no doubt whatever that it hastened the end of the Dowager.
The old lady drove to the meet at the Cross Roads, behind her fat old
ponies and her fat old coachman John Timmins, in the full enjoyment of
all her faculties, with a shrewd wit, an easy conscience and a good
appetite, took one glance at Mrs. Nevil Fitzwaren, told John Timmins in
a hoarse whisper to go home immediately, had a stroke before she
arrived, and passed away without regaining consciousness, in the
presence of her spiritual, her medical, and her legal advisers.

In the inflamed state of the public mind, it was necessary that persons
of moderate views should be wary.  I had seen Mrs. Fitz out hunting,
and in this place I am open to confess that I was sealed of the tribe
of her admirers.  Not from the athletic standpoint merely, but from the
æsthetic one.  Quite a young woman, with superb black eyes and a forest
of raven hair, a skin of lustrous olive, a nose and chin of
extraordinary decision and character; a more imperiously challenging
personality I cannot remember to have seen.  Professional Viennese
_equestriennes_ are doubtless a race apart.  They may be accustomed to
exact a homage from their world which in ours is reserved more or less
for the "dear Evelyns" and their compeers.  But the gaze of this
haughty queen of the sawdust, when she condescended to exert it, was
the most direct and arresting thing that ever exacted tribute from the
English male or fluttered the devecotes of the scandalised English
female.  Her "what-pray-are-you-doing-on-the-earth?" air was so vital
that it sent a thrill through the veins.  Small wonder was it that the
hapless Fitz had struggled so gamely to pull himself together.  She was
a woman to make a man or mar him.  As Fitz was marred already, the
sphere of her activities were limited accordingly.

Like most men of moderate views, at heart I own to being a bit of a
coward.  At any rate it would have taken wild horses to drag the
admission from me that I was an out-and-out admirer of the "Stormy
Petrel," as with rare felicity the Vicar of the parish had christened
her.  For by this time our little republic was cloven in twain.  There
were the Mrs. Fitzites, her humble admirers and willing slaves, whose
sex you will easily guess; and there were the Anti-Mrs.-Fitzites,
ruthless adversaries who had sworn to have her blood, or failing that,
since Atalanta was an amazon indeed, to make the place so hot for her
that, in the words of my friend Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins, "she would have
to quit."

How to dislodge her, that was the problem for the ladies of the
Crackanthorpe Hunt.  It was in the quest of a solution that the
illustrious Mrs. Catesby had honoured us with a morning call.

"Odo Arbuthnot," said that notable woman, "it is my intention to speak
plainly.  Mrs. Fitz must leave the neighbourhood.  We look to you, as a
married man, a father of a family and a county member, to devise a
means for her removal."

"Issue a writ," said I.  "That seems the most straightforward course.
If our assaulted and battered friend, Brasset, will swear an
information, I shall be glad to sign the warrant."

"Do you think she could be taken to prison?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
hopefully.

"Don't attempt to beg the question."  The Great Lady was not to be
diverted from the scent.  "Be more manly.  We expect public spirit from
you.  Certainly this business is extremely disagreeable, but it does
not excuse your pusillanimity.  To my mind, your attitude all along has
suggested that you are trying to run with the hare and to hunt with the
hounds."

This was a terrible home-thrust for a confirmed lover of the middle
course.  I hope I am not wholly lacking in spirit, but such a charge
was not easy to rebut.  While I assumed a statesmanlike port, if only
to gain a little time in which to cover my exposed position, my
relation by marriage, with a daring which was certainly remarkable in
one who is not by nature a thruster, took up the cudgels yet again.

"If I were you, Odo," said he, "I should let 'em do their own dirty
work."

I felt Mary Catesby's glance flash past me like the lightning of heaven.

"Dirty work, Joseph?  I demand an explanation."

"I call it dirty," said that gladiator.  "I like things straightforrard
myself.  If you think a cove is askin' for trouble hand it out to him
personally.  Don't set on others."

Before the woman of impregnable virtue to whom this gem of morality was
addressed, could visit the Bayard at the breakfast table according to
his merit, we found ourselves suddenly precipitated into the realms of
drama.

For this was the moment in which I became aware that Parkins was
hovering about my chair and that a sensational announcement was on his
lips.

"Mr. Fitzwaren desires to see you, sir, on most urgent business."

The effect was electrical.  Mary Catesby suspended her indictment with
a gesture like Boadicea's, queenly but ferocious.  Brasset's pink
perplexity approximated to a shade of green; the eyes of the Madam were
like moons--in the circumstances a little poetic license is surely to
be pardoned--while as for the demeanour of the narrator of this
ower-true tale, I can answer for it that it was one of total
discomfiture.

"Mr. Fitzwaren here?" were my first incredulous words.

"I have shown him into the library, sir," said Parkins, solemnly.

"You cannot see him, Odo," said the despot of our household.  "He must
not come here."

"Important business, Parkins?" said I.

"Most _urgent_ business, sir."

"Highly mysterious!" Mrs. Catesby was pleased to affirm.

Highly mysterious the coming of Nevil Fitzwaren certainly was.  A
moment's reflection convinced me of the need of appeasing the general
curiosity.  I took my way to the library with many speculations rising
in my mind.  Nothing was further from my expectation than to be
consulted by Nevil Fitzwaren on urgent business.



CHAPTER V

ABOUNDS IN SENSATION

Astonished as I was by the coming of such a visitor, the appearance and
the manner of that much-discussed personage did nothing to lessen my
interest.

I found him pacing the room in a state of agitation.  His face was
haggard, his eyes were bloodshot, he was unkempt and almost piteous to
look upon.  And yet more strangely his open overcoat, which his
distress could not suffer to keep buttoned, disclosed a rumpled shirt
front, a tie askew and a dinner jacket which evidently had been donned
the evening before.

"Hallo, Fitz," said I, as unconcernedly as I could.

He did not answer me, but immediately closed the door of the room.
Somehow, the action gave me a thrill.

"There is no possibility of our being overheard?" he said in a hoarse
whisper.

"None whatever.  Let me help you off with your coat.  Then sit down in
that chair next the fire and have a drink."

Fitz submitted, doubtless under a sense of compulsion.  My four years'
seniority at school had generally enabled me to get my way with him.
It was rather painful to witness the effort the unfortunate fellow put
forth to pull himself together; and when I measured out a pretty stiff
brandy-and-soda his refusal of it was distinctly poignant.

"I oughtn't to have it, old chap," he said, with his wild eyes looking
into mine like those of a dumb animal.  "It doesn't do, you know."

"Drink it straight off at once," said I, "and do as you are told."

Fitz did so with reluctance.  The effect upon him was what I had not
foreseen.  His haggard wildness yielded quite suddenly to an outburst
of tears.  He covered his face with his hands and wept in a painfully
overwrought manner.

I waited in silence for this outburst to pass.

"I've been scouring the country since nine o'clock last night," he
said, "and I feel like going out of my mind."

"What's the trouble, old son?" said I, taking a chair beside him.

"They've got my wife."

"Whom do you mean by 'they'?"

"I can't, I mustn't tell you," said Fitz, excitedly, "but they have got
her, and--and I expect she is dead by now."

Words as wild as these to the accompaniment of that overwrought
demeanour suggested an acute form of mental disturbance only too
clearly.

"You had better tell me everything," said I, persuasively.  "Perhaps I
might be able to help a little.  Two heads are better than one, you
know."

I must confess that I had no great hope of being able to help the
unlucky fellow very materially, but somewhat to my surprise he answered
in a perfectly rational manner.

"I have come here with the intention of telling you everything.  I must
have help, and you are the only friend I've got."

"One of many," said I, lying cordially.

"It's true," said Fitz.  "The only one.  Like that chap in the Bible,
the hand of every man is against me.  I deserve it; I know I've not
played the game; but now I must have somebody to stand by me, and I've
come to you."

"Well," said I, "that is no more than you would do by me in similar
circumstances."

"You don't mean that," said Fitz, with an expression of keen misery.
"But you are a genuine chap, all the same."

"Let's hear the trouble."

"The trouble is this," said Fitz, and as he spoke the look of wildness
returned to his eyes.  "My wife went in the car to do some shopping at
Middleham at three o'clock yesterday afternoon expecting to be back at
five, and neither she nor the car has returned.

"And nothing has been heard of her?"

"Not a word."

"Had she a chauffeur?"

"Yes, a Frenchman of the name of Moins whom we picked up in Paris."

"I suppose you have communicated with the police?"

"No; you see, the whole affair must be kept as dark as possible."

"They are certainly the people to help you, particularly if you have
reason to suspect foul play."

"There is every reason to suspect it.  I am afraid she is already
beyond the help of the police."

"Why should you think that?"

Fitz hesitated.  His distraught air was very painful.

"Arbuthnot," said he, slowly and reluctantly, "before I tell you
everything I must pledge you to absolute secrecy.  Other lives, other
interests, more important than yours and mine, are involved in this."

I gave the pledge, and in so doing was impressed by a depth of
responsibility in the manner of my visitor, of which I should hardly
have expected it to be capable.

"Did you see in the papers last evening that there had been an attempt
on the life of the King of Illyria?"

"I read it in this morning's paper."

"It will surprise you to learn," said Fitz, striving for a calmness he
could not achieve, "that my wife is the only child of Ferdinand XII,
King of Illyria.  She is, therefore, Crown Princess and Heiress
Apparent to the oldest monarchy in Europe."

"It certainly _does_ surprise me," was the only rejoinder that for the
moment I could make.

"I want help and I want advice; I feel that I hardly dare do anything
on my own initiative.  You see, it is most important that the world at
large should know nothing of this."

"Why, may I ask?"

"There are two parties at war in Illyria.  There is the King's party,
the supporters of the monarchy, and there is the Republican party,
which has made three attempts on the life of Ferdinand XII and two on
that of his daughter."

"But I assume, my dear fellow, that the whereabouts in England of the
Crown Princess are known to her father the King?"

"No; and it is essential that he should remain in ignorance.  Our
elopement from Illyria was touch and go.  Ferdinand has moved heaven
and earth to find out where she is, because she has been formally
betrothed to a Russian Grand Duke, and if she does not return to
Blaenau he will not be able to secure the succession."

"Depend upon it," said I, "the Crown Princess is on the way to Blaenau.
Not of her own free will, of course.  But his Majesty's agents have
managed to play the trick."

"You may be right, Arbuthnot.  But one thing is certain; my poor brave
Sonia will never return to Blaenau alive."

Fitz buried his face in his hands tragically.

"She promised that, you know, in case anything of this kind happened,
and I consented to it."  The simplicity of his utterance had in it a
certain grandeur which few would have expected to find in a man with
the reputation of Nevil Fitzwaren.  "Everybody doesn't believe in this
sort of thing, Arbuthnot, but I and my princess do.  She will never lie
in the arms of another.  God help her, brave and noble and unluckly
soul!"

This was not the Fitz the world had always known.  I suddenly recalled
the flaxen-haired, odd, intense, somewhat twisted, wholly unhappy
creature who had rendered me willing service in our boyhood.  I had
always enjoyed the reputation in our house at school that I alone, and
none other, could manage Fitz.  I recalled his passion for the "Morte
d'Arthur," his angular vehemence, his sombre docility.  In those
distant days I had felt there was something in him; and now in what
seemed curiously poignant circumstances there came the fulfilment of
the prophecy.

"Let us assume, my dear fellow," said I, making an attempt to be of
practical use in a situation of almost ludicrous difficulty, "that it
is not her father who has abducted the Princess Sonia.  Let us take it
to be the other side, the Republican party.

"It would still mean death; not by her own hand, but by theirs.  They
twice attempted her life in Blaenau."

"In any case, it is reasonably clear that not a moment is to be lost if
we are to help her."

"I don't know what to do," said Fitz, "and that's the truth."

I confessed that I too had no very clear idea of the course of action.
It occurred to me that the wisest thing to be done was to take a third
person into our counsels.

"You ask my advice," said I; "it seems to me that the best thing to do
is to see if Coverdale will help us."

"That will mean publicity.  At all costs I feel that that must be
avoided."

"Coverdale is a shrewd fellow.  He will know what to do; he is a man
you can trust; and he will be able to Bet the proper machinery in
motion."

My insistence on the point, and Fitz's unwilling recognition of the
need for a desperate remedy, goaded him into a half-hearted consent.
In my own mind I was persuaded of the value of Coverdale's advice, in
whatever it might consist.  He was the head of the police in our shire,
and apart from a little external pomposity, without which one is given
to understand it is hardly possible for a Chief Constable to play the
part, he was a shrewd and kind-hearted fellow, who knew a good deal
about things in general.

Poor Fitz would listen to no suggestion of food.  Therefore I ordered
the car round at once, and incidentally informed the ruler of the
household, and the expectant assembly by whom she was surrounded, that
Fitz and I had some private business to transact which required our
immediate presence in the city of Middleham.

"Odo," said she whose word is law, with a mien of dark suspicion, "if
Nevil Fitzwaren is persuading you to lend him money, I forbid you to
entertain the idea.  You are really so weak in such matters.  You have
really no idea of the value of money."

"It will do you no good with your constituents either," said Mary
Catesby, "to be seen in Middleham with Nevil Fitzwaren."

To these warning voices I turned deaf ears, and fled from the room in a
fashion so precipitate that it suggested guilt.

No time was lost in setting forth.  As we glided past the front of the
house, I at least was uncomfortably conscious of a battery of hostile
eyes in ambush behind the window panes.  There could be no doubt that
every detail of our going was duly marked.  Heaven knew what theories
were being propounded!  Yet whatever shape they assumed I was sure that
all the ingenuity in the world would not hit the truth.  No feat of
pure imagination was likely to disclose what the business really was
that had caused me to be identified in this open and flagrant manner
with the husband of the luckless circus rider from Vienna.



CHAPTER VI

EXPERT OPINION

Every mile of the eight to Middleham, Fitz was as gloomy as the grave.
In spite of the confidence he had been led to repose in my judgment, he
seemed wholly unable to extend it to that of Coverdale.  He had a
morbid dread of the police and of the publicity that would invest any
dealings with them.  The preservation of his wife's incognito was
undoubtedly a matter of paramount importance.

It was half-past twelve when we reached Middleham.  We were lucky
enough to find Coverdale at his office at the sessions hall.

"Well, what can I do for you?" said the Chief Constable, heartily.

"You can do a great deal for us, Coverdale," said I.  "But the first
thing we shall ask you to do is to forget that you are an official.  We
come to you in your capacity of a personal friend.  In that capacity we
seek any advice you may feel able or disposed to give us.  But before
we give you any information, we should like to have your assurance that
you will treat the whole matter as being told to you in the strictest
secrecy."

Coverdale has as active a sense of humour as his exalted station allows
him to sustain.  There was something in my mode of address that seemed
to appeal to it.

"I will promise that on one condition, Arbuthnot," said he; "which is
that you do not seek to involve me in the compounding of a felony."

"Oh no, no, no, no!" Fitz burst out.

Fitz's exclamation and his tragic face banished the smile that lurked
at the corners of Coverdale's lips.

I deemed it best that Fitz should re-tell the story of his tragedy, and
this he did.  In the course of his narrative the sweat ran down his
face, his hands twitched painfully, and his bloodshot eyes grew so wild
that neither Coverdale nor I cared to look at them.

Coverdale sat mute and grave at the conclusion of Fitz's remarkable
story.  He had swung round in his revolving chair to face us.  His legs
were crossed and the tips of his fingers were placed together, after
the fashion that another celebrity in a branch of his calling is said
to affect.

"It's a queer story of yours, Fitzwaren," he said at last.  "But the
world is full of 'em--what?"

"Help me," said Fitz, piteously.  His voice was that of a drowning man.

"I think we shall be able to do that," said Coverdale.  He spoke in the
soothing tones of a skilful surgeon.

"The first thing to know," said the Chief Constable, "is the number of
the car."

"G.Y. 70942 is the number."

Coverdale jotted it down pensively upon his blotting-pad.

"Have you a portrait of Mrs. Fitzwaren?" he asked.

"I have this," said Fitz.

In the most natural manner he flung open his overcoat, pulled away his
evening tie, tore open his collar, and produced from under the rumpled
shirt front a locket suspended by a fine gold chain round his neck.  It
contained a miniature of the Princess, executed in Paris.  Both
Coverdale and I examined it curiously, but as we did so I fear our
minds had a single thought.  It was that Fitz was a little mad.

"Will you entrust it to me?" said Coverdale.

Fitz's indecision was pathetic.

"It's the only one I've got," he mumbled.  "I don't suppose I shall
ever be able to get another.  I ought to have had a replica while I had
the chance."

"I undertake to return it within three days," said Coverdale, with a
simple kindliness for which I honoured him.

Fitz handed the locket to him impulsively,

"Of course take it, by all means," he said, hurriedly.  "I know you
will take care of it.  Fact is, you know, I'm a bit knocked over."

"Naturally, my dear fellow," said Coverdale.  "So should we all be.
But I shall go up to town this afternoon and have a talk with them at
Scotland Yard.

"I was afraid that would have to happen.  I wanted it to be kept an
absolute secret, you know."

"You can depend upon the Yard to be the soul of discretion.  It is not
the first time they have been entrusted with the internal affairs of a
reigning family.  If the Princess is still in this country and she is
still alive, and there is no reason to think otherwise, I believe we
shall not have to wait long for news of her."

Coverdale spoke in a tone of calm reassurance, which at least was
eloquent of his tact and his knowledge of men.  Overwrought as Fitz
was, it was not without its effect upon him.

"Ought not the ports to be watched?" he said.

"I hardly think it will be necessary.  But if Scotland Yard thinks
otherwise, they will be watched of course.  Whatever happens,
Fitzwaren, you can be quite sure that nothing will be left undone in
our endeavour to find out what has really happened to the lady we shall
agree to call Mrs. Fitzwaren.  Further, you can depend upon it that
absolute discretion will be used."

We left Coverdale, imbued with a sense of gratitude for his cordial
optimism, and I think we both felt that a peculiarly delicate business
could not be in more competent hands.  He was a man of sound judgment
and infinite discretion.  Throughout this singular interview he had
emerged as a shrewd, tactful and eminently kind-hearted fellow.

As a result of this visit to the sessions hall at Middleham, poor Fitz
allowed himself a little hope.  He had been duly impressed by the man
of affairs who had taken the case in hand.  However, he was still by no
means himself.  He was still in a strangely excited and gloomy
condition; and this was aggravated by his friendlessness and the
feeling that the hand of every man was against him.

In the circumstances, I felt obliged to yield to his expressed wish
that I should accompany him to the Grange.  As the crow flies it is
less than four miles from my house.

The home of the Fitzwarens is a rambling, gloomy and dilapidated place
enough.  An air pervades it of having run to seed.  Every Fitzwaren who
has inhabited it within living memory has been a gambler and a _roué_
in one form or another.  The Fitzwarens are by long odds the oldest
family in our part of the world, and by odds equally long their record
is the most unfortunate.  Coming of a long line of ill-regulated lives,
the heavy bills drawn by his forbears upon posterity seemed to have
become payable in the person of the unhappy Fitz.  Doubtless it was not
right that one who in Mrs. Catesby's phrase was a married man, a father
of a family, and a county member, should constitute himself as the
apologist of such a man as Fitz.  But, in spite of his errors, I had
never found it in my heart to act towards him as so many of his
neighbours did not hesitate to do.  The fact that he had fagged for me
at school and the knowledge that there was a lovable, a pathetic and
even a heroic side to one to whom fate had been relentlessly cruel,
made it impossible for me to regard him as wholly outside the pale.

I can never forget our arrival at the Grange on this piercing winter
afternoon.  My car belonged to that earlier phase of motoring when the
traveller was more exposed to the British climate than modern science
considers necessary.  The snow, at the beck of a terrible north-easter,
beat in our faces pitilessly.  And when we came half frozen into the
house, we were met on its threshold by a mite of four.  She was the
image of her mother, with the same skin of lustrous olive, the same
mass of raven hair, and the same challenging black eyes.  In her hand
was a mutilated doll.  It was carried upside down and it had been
decapitated.

"I want my mama," she said with an air of authority which was
ludicrously like that of the circus rider from Vienna.  "Have you
brought my mama?"

"No, my pearl of price," said Fitz, swinging the mite up to his
snow-covered face, "but she will be here soon.  She has sent you this."

He kissed the small elf, who had all the disdain of a princess and the
witchery of a fairy.

"Who is dis?" said she, pointing at me with her doll.

"Dis, my jewel of the east, is our kind friend Mr. Arbuthnot.  If you
are very nice to him he will stay to tea."

"Do you like my mama, Mistah 'Buthnot?" said the latest scion of
Europe's oldest dynasty, with a directness which was disconcerting from
a person of four.

"Very much indeed," said I, warmly.

"You can stay to tea, Mistah 'Buthnot.  I like you vewy much."

The prompt cordiality of the verdict was certainly pleasant to a humble
unit of a monarchical country.  The creature extended her tiny paw with
a gesture so superb that there was only one thing left for a courtier
to do.  That was to kiss it.

The owner of the paw seemed to be much gratified by this discreet
action.

"I like you vewy much, Mistah 'Buthnot; I will tell you my name."

"Oh, do, please!"

"My name is Marie Sophie Louise Waren Fitzwaren."

"Phoebus, _what_ a name!"

"And dis, Mistah 'Buthnot, is my guv'ness, Miss Green.  She is a tarn
fool."

The lady thus designated had come unexpectedly upon the scene.  An
estimable and bespectacled gentlewoman of uncompromising mien, she
gazed down upon her charge with the gravest austerity.

"Marie Louise, if I hear that phrase again you will go to bed."

As Miss Green spoke, however, she gazed at me over her spectacles in a
humorously reflective fashion.

Marie Louise shrugged her small shoulders disdainfully, and in a tone
that, to say the least, was peremptory, ordered the butler, who looked
venerable enough to be her great-grandfather, to bring the tea.  The
_congé_ that the venerable servitor performed upon receiving this order
rendered it clear that upon a day he had been a confidential retainer
in the royal house of Illyria.

"I am afraid, Miss Green," said I, tentatively, "that your post is no
sinecure."

"That mite of four has the imperious will of a Catherine of Russia,"
said Miss Green, with an amused smile.  "If she ever attains the estate
of womanhood, I shudder to think what she will be."

Fitz entreated me to dine with him.  I yielded in the hope that a
little company might help him to fight his depression.  The meal was
not a cheerful one.  Under the most favourable conditions Fitz is not a
cheerful individual; but I was obliged to note that of late years he
had learned to exercise his will.  In many ways I thought he had
changed for the better.  He had lost his coarseness of speech; he was
scrupulously moderate in what he ate and drank, and his bearing had
gained in reserve and dignity.  In a word, he had grown into a more
civilised, a more developed being than I had ever thought it possible
for him to become.

It was past eleven when I returned to my own domain.  The blizzard
still prevailed, and I found Mrs. Arbuthnot in the drawing-room
enthroned before a roaring fire, which happily served as some
mitigation of the arctic demeanour with which my return was greeted.
This, in conjunction with the adverse elements through which I had
already passed, was enough to complete the overthrow of the strongest
constitution.

The ruler of Dympsfield House--Dympsfield House is the picturesque name
conferred upon our ancestral home by my grandfather, Mr. George
Arbuthnot of Messrs. Arbuthnot, Boyd and Co., the celebrated firm of
sugar refiners of Bristol--the ruler of Dympsfield House was ostensibly
engaged in the study of a work of fiction of a pronounced sporting
character, with a yellow cover.  Works of this nature and the
provincial edition of the _Daily Courier_, which is guaranteed to have
a circulation of ten million copies _per diem_, are the only forms of
literature that the ruler of Dymspfield House considers it "healthy" to
peruse.

When I entered the drawing-room with a free and easy air which was
designed to suggest that my conscience had nothing to conceal and
nothing to defend, the wife of my bosom discarded her novel and fixed
me with that cool gaze which all who are born Vane-Anstruther consider
it to be the hall-mark of their caste to wield.

"Where have you been, Odo?" was the greeting that was reserved for me.

"Dining with Fitz," said I, succinctly.

A short pause.

"What did you say?"

I repeated my modest statement.

A snort.

"Upon my word, Odo, I can't think----!"

It called for a nice judgment to know which opening to play.

"Fitz is in trouble," said I.

"Is that _very_ surprising?"

It is difficult to render the true Vane-Anstruther vocal inflections in
terms of literary art.  A similar problem is presented by the
unwavering glint of the china-blue eye and the subtle curl of the lip.

"In the sense you wish to convey, _mon enfant_, it is surprising.  Fitz
is one of the poor devils who are by no means so black as they are
painted."

A toss of the head.

"Don't forget that I have known Fitz all his life; that we were at
school together; and that one way and another I have seen a good deal
of him."

"I wouldn't boast about it, if I were you.  The man is a byword; you
know that.  It is not kind to me."

I was in mortal fear of tears.  That dread accessory of conjugal life
is permitted by the Code De Vere Vane-Anstruther in certain situations.
However, although the weather was very heavy, for the time being that
was spared me, and I breathed more freely.

Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther, who had a cigarette between his
lips, and was lying full length upon a chintz that was charmingly
devised in blue and yellow, inquired whether I had mentioned to Fitz
the subject of a meeting with the outraged Brasset.

"If the weather don't pick up," said this Corinthian, "we shall go up
to town to-morrow, and my pal in Jermyn Street will put Brasset through
his facings.  With a bit of practice Brasset ought to be able to give
Fitz his gruel."

"I fail to see," said I, "why the unfortunate husband should be brought
to book for the sins of the wife."

"If you take to yourself a wife," said my relation by marriage, with a
didacticism of which he is seldom guilty, "it is for better or for
worse; and if your missus overrides the best 'ound in the pack and then
'its the Master over the head with her crop because he tells her what
he thinks of her, you are looking both ways for trouble."

"It is a hard doctrine," said I.

"If a chap is such a fool as to marry, he must stand to the
consequences."

"He must!"

Such a prompt corroboration of the young fellow's reasoning can only be
described as sinister.  A flash of the china-blue eyes came from the
vicinity of the hearthrug.

"How did Mrs. Fitz bear herself at the dinner table?" inquired the
sharer of my joys.  "Did she eat with her knife and drink out of the
finger bowls?"

"No, _mon enfant_, I am compelled to say that she did not."

Mrs. Arbuthnot frowned a becoming incredulity.

"You surprise one."

"Perhaps it is not altogether remarkable."

"A matter of opinion, surely."

"Personally, I prefer to regard it as a matter of fact.  You see, Mrs.
Fitz was not at the dinner table."

"Where was she, may I ask?"

"She had gone up to town."

"And was that why her husband was so upset?"

"There is reason to believe that it was."

"Oh!"

There was great virtue in that exclamation.  My amiable coadjutor, as I
knew perfectly well, was burning to pursue her inquiries, but her
status as a human being did not permit her to proceed farther.  There
are many advantages incident to the proud condition of a De Vere
Vane-Anstruther, but that almost inhuman eminence has its drawbacks
also.  Chief among them are the limits imposed upon a perfectly natural
and healthy curiosity.  It is not seemly for a member of that
distinguished clan to enter too exhaustively into the affairs of her
neighbours.

On the following morning, in spite of the behaviour of the weather, we
were favoured by an early visit from Mrs. Catesby.  She was in high
feather.

"You have heard the news, of course!" she proclaimed for the benefit of
Mrs. Arbuthnot and with an expansion of manner that she does not always
permit herself.  "Of course Odo has told you what brought Nevil
Fitzwaren here yesterday morning."

"Oh no, he hasn't," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, rather aggrievedly.

"Is it conceivable, my dear child, that you have _not_ heard the news?"

"I only know, Mary, that Nevil Fitzwaren is in trouble.  Odo did not
think well to supply the details, and really the affairs of the
Fitzwarens interest one so little that one did not feel inclined to
inquire."

"The creature has bolted, my dear."

In spite of Mrs. Arbuthnot's determination to take no interest in the
affairs of the Fitzwarens, she was not proof against this melodramatic
announcement.

"Bolted, Mary!"

"Bolted, child.  And with whom do you suppose?"

"One would say with the chauffeur," hazarded Mrs. Arbuthnot, promptly.

Mrs. Catesby's countenance fell.  She made no attempt to dissemble her
disappointment.

"Then Odo _has_ told you after all."

"Not a syllable, I assure you, Mary.  But I am certain that if Mrs.
Fitz has bolted with anybody, it must have been with the chauffeur."

"How clever of you, my dear child!"  The Great Lady's admiration was
open and sincere.  "Such a right feeling about things!  She has
certainly bolted with the chauffeur."

"Odo," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, triumphant, yet imperious, "why didn't you
tell me all this?"

"_Mon enfant_," said I, in the mellowest tones of which I am master,
"you gave me clearly to understand that the affairs of the Fitzwarens
had no possible interest for you."

Mrs. Arbuthnot went to the length of biting her lip.  By withholding
such a sensational bit of news, I had been guilty of an unheard-of
outrage upon human nature.  But she could not deny my plea of
justification.

"Nevil Fitzwaren is far luckier than he deserves to be," said the Great
Lady.  "It is a merciful dispensation that dear Evelyn did not actually
call upon her.  I feel sure she would have done, had I not implored her
not to be hasty."

"But Mary, I was under the impression that you called upon her
yourself."

"So I did, Odo.  But that was merely out of respect for the memory of
Nevil's mother.  Besides, it was only right that somebody should see
what her home was like."

"What was it like, Mary?" said I.

Mrs. Catesby compressed her lips.

"I ask you, Mary.  You alone sacrificed yourself upon the altar of
public decency; you alone are in possession of the grim facts."

"Let us be charitable, my dear Odo.  After all, what can one expect of
a person from a continental circus?"

"What indeed!" was my pious objuration.

"There is only one thing, I fear, for Nevil to do now," said the Great
Lady.  "He must get a divorce and marry his cook."

The august matron denied us the honour of her company at luncheon.  She
was due at the Vicarage.  And there was reason to believe that she
would drink tea at the Priory and dine at the Castle.  It was so
necessary that the joyful tidings of the Divine justice that had
overtaken the wicked should be spread abroad.



CHAPTER VII

COVERDALE'S REPORT

In the afternoon I rode over to the Grange to learn if there was any
news and to see how Fitz was bearing up.  He was certainly doing
uncommonly well.  His face was less haggard, his eyes were not so wild,
while a change of linen and a razor had helped his appearance
considerably.

Coverdale had telegraphed to say that the car had been traced to a
garage in Regent Street, and that before long he hoped to be in
possession of further information.

Fitz seemed to regard the finding of the car as a favourable omen.  At
least his emotions were under far better control than on the previous
day.  His manner was no longer overwrought, and he was able to take a
more practical view of the situation.

He promised to keep me informed of any fresh development, and I left
him without misgiving.  He seemed much more fit to cope with events
than when I had left him the night before.

It was in the afternoon of the following day that I saw Fitz again.  It
happened that I was just about to set out from my own door when he
drove up in a dogcart.  He was accompanied by Coverdale.

Fitz has a curiously mobile countenance.  It is quick to advertise the
fleeting emotions of its owner.  This afternoon there was a light in
his eye and a look of resolution and alertness about him which said
that news had come, and that, whatever its nature, Nevil Fitzwaren was
not prepared to submit tamely to fate.

"I was on the point of coming to see you," I explained as I led them in.

The presence of Coverdale seemed to indicate an important development.
It would have been difficult, however, to deduce so much from the
bearing of the Chief Constable.  He is such a discreet and sagacious
individual, that no amount of special information is capable of
detracting from or adding to his habitual air of composed importance.

My visitors were supplied with a little sustenance in a liquid form
before I asked for the news; and then in answer to my demand Fitz
called upon Coverdale to put me _au fait_ with the latest information.

It appeared that Coverdale had hastened to take Scotland Yard into his
confidence, and that that famous organisation had been able in a
surprisingly short space of time to shed a light upon the mysterious
disappearance of Mrs. Fitz.

"She has been traced to the Illyrian Embassy in Portland Place," said
Coverdale.

"Indeed!" said I.  "In that case we can congratulate you, Fitz, that
she is likely to come by no harm in that dignified seclusion."

"Yes, that aspect of the affair is decidedly favourable," said
Coverdale.  "But as far as the Commissioner is able to learn, the lady
is to all intents and purposes being held a close prisoner."

"A very singular state of things, surely."

"Decidedly singular.  But there can be no doubt that the Illyrian
Ambassador is acting upon strict instructions from his Sovereign."

"He must be a pretty cool hand, to kidnap the wife of an Englishman in
this country in the broad light of day, and the monarch for whom he
acts strikes one also as being a pretty cool customer."

Coverdale laughed.  He knocked the ash off the end of his cigar with an
air of reflective enjoyment.

"Kings are kings in Illyria," said he.  "Saving the presence of the
son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth, his Majesty is no believer in this
damned constitutional nonsense.  He has his own ideas and his own
little way of carrying them out."

"He has, apparently.  But unfortunately for Ferdinand the Twelfth and
fortunately for his son-in-law, Fitz, we in this country are rather
decided believers in this damned constitutional nonsense.  I daresay,
Coverdale, your friend the Commissioner will be able to put his
Illyrian Majesty right upon the point."

The stealthy air of enjoyment that was hovering about Coverdale's
rubicund visage seemed to deepen.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" he said, with a cheerful puff, "but it
seems it is not quite so easy as you'd suppose."

I confessed to surprise.

"You see, Arbuthnot, even in a country like ours, kings are entitled to
a measure of respect.  The reigning family of Illyria--under the favour
of our distinguished friend"--the Chief Constable bowed to Fitz with a
solemn unction that to my mind was indescribably comic--"has ties of
blood with nearly all the royal houses of Europe; the Illyrian Embassy
is by no means a negligible quantity at the Court of Saint James, for
if Illyria is not very large it is devilish well connected; and again,
as the Commissioner assures me, an embassy is sacred earth which lies
outside his jurisdiction."

"He seems to have come up against rather a tough proposition."

"He is the first to admit it.  Here we have a flagrant outrage
committed upon the personal property of a law-abiding Englishman, under
his own vine and fig-tree, in his own little county; the perpetrators
of the outrage sit unconcerned in Portland Place; yet there seems to be
no machinery in this admirably governed and highly constitutional
island which can redress this flagrant hardship."

"But surely, Coverdale, a way can be found?"

"The Commissioner declined point-blank to undertake anything on his own
responsibility.  Accordingly we went to the Foreign Office and had an
interview with an Official.  The Official didn't seem to know what the
practice of the Office was in such cases, for the simple reason that it
was the first time that the Office appeared to have acquired any
practice in them.  But upon one point he was perfectly clear.  It was
that the Commissioner would do well to return without delay to his
fingermarks and his photographs of notorious criminals, and contrive to
forget that "L'Affaire Fitz" had been brought to his notice."

"But that is absurd."

"That is how the matter stands at all events," said Coverdale with an
air of detachment.

"Did the Official confer with the Minister?"

"Yes; and the Minister conferred with the Official; and their joint
wisdom amounted to this: if a British subject indulges in the luxury of
a Ferdinand the Twelfth for a father-in-law, he must refer to God any
little differences that may arise between them, because the law of
England does not contemplate and declines to take cognisance of these
domesticities."

"It is incredible!"

"I agree with you, Arbuthnot; and yet if you look at the matter in all
its bearings, it is difficult to see what other conclusion could have
been arrived at.  The whole affair bristles with difficulties.  There
is no specific evidence that the Crown Princess of Illyria is actually
in need of aid.  Although many of the details of her flight from
Blaenau five years ago are known to the Foreign Office, it is in
complete ignorance of the fact that she was in residence in this
country.  And again, the whole thing is far too delicate to risk a fall
with the Illyrian Ambassador."

"Certainly the national horror of looking foolish appears to justify
the F.O. in the _rôle_ of Agag.  But in my humble judgment its masterly
inactivity is desperately hard on a British subject."

"Well," said Coverdale, having recourse to the plain man's philosophy,
"if a British subject will indulge in a Ferdinand the Twelfth for a
father-in-law!"

During our extremely piquant discussion--to me it was certainly that,
however tame and flat it may appear in the bald prose in which it is
now invested--the person most affected by it was a study in sombre
self-repression.  He spoke not a word, he hardly indulged in a gesture;
yet his whole bearing had significance.  And when at last the time came
for him to speak, he used a quiet deliberation as though every word had
been sought out and weighed beforehand.

"There is only one thing to be done," he said.  "As the law won't help
me, I must help the law."

Not only in its substance, but also in the manner of its delivery, such
an announcement was entirely worthy of the son-in-law of Ferdinand the
Twelfth.

I saw the rather amused uplift of Coverdale's eyebrows, but knowing the
unusual calibre of the speaker, I felt instinctively that at this stage
a display of scepticism would be out of place.  Fitz was quite capable
of helping the law of England, if he really felt that it required his
assistance.

"I can't thank you, Coverdale," he said simply.  "You have done for me
what I can't repay.  This applies to you also, Arbuthnot.  I shall
never forget what you've done for me.  But now I am going to ask you
both as fellow Englishmen, with wives and children of your own, to
stand by me while I try to get fair play."

Such words affected us both.

"You can certainly count upon me for what I may be worth," said I, "but
frankly, my dear fellow, I fail to see what you can do in face of the
Foreign Office decree."

"I shall play Ferdinand at his own game and beat him at it as I've done
before to-day."

It was a vaunt that Fitz was entitled to make.  The elopement from
Blaenau must have been the work of a bold and resourceful man.

"Of one thing I am convinced," Fitz proceeded: "there is not an hour to
lose.  My wife may be taken back to Blaenau at any moment.  I am
confident that von Arlenberg, the Ambassador, has orders from
Ferdinand.  If I am to save the life of Sonia, I must act without
delay."

Coverdale nodded his head in silence, while I felt a pang of dismay.
The argument was clear enough, but Fitz's impotence in the presence of
events made him a figure for pity.

His demeanour, however, betrayed no consciousness of this.  In those
strange eyes there was purpose, and something had entered his voice.

"I want half a dozen good fellows--sportsmen--to stand by me.  You are
one, Arbuthnot.  You too, Coverdale.  You will stand by me, eh?"

The Chief Constable looked a little uneasy.  To the official mind such
a request was decidedly ambiguous, not to say uncomfortable.

"I should be glad, Fitzwaren," said he, "if you will tell me precisely
what responsibilities I shall incur if I pledge myself to this course."

"It depends on circumstances," said Fitz.  "But if I find my back to
the wall, as I daresay I shall before I am through with this business,
I should like to have at my elbow a few men I can trust."

"So long as you don't depute me to throw a bomb into the Embassy!" said
Coverdale.

Fitz's scheme for the recovery of his lawful property was not so
drastic as that, yet when it came to be unfolded it was somewhat of a
nature to give pause to a pair of Englishmen converging upon middle
age, pledged especially to observe the law.

"I intend to have her out of Portland Place.  She must come away
to-morrow.  There is not an hour to lose.  But I must find a few pals
who are good at need, because it won't be child's play, you know."

"It certainly won't be child's play," agreed the Chief Constable, "if
it is your intention to break into the Illyrian Embassy and seize the
Crown Princess by force."

"There is no help for it," said Fitz, quietly.

Coverdale grew thoughtful.  It was tolerably clear that Fitz was
contemplating an act of open violence; and as a breach of the peace
must at all times be construed as a breach of the law, it was scarcely
for him to aid and abet him.  At heart, nevertheless, the worthy Chief
Constable was a downright honest, four-square, genuine fellow.  He did
not say as much, but there was something in his manner which implied
that he had come to the conclusion that those repositories of justice,
national and international, Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office, were
conniving at a frank injustice to a fellow Briton.

"It is a hard case," said Coverdale; "and in the circumstances I don't
altogether see how you can be blamed if you take reasonable steps to
recover your property."

"In other words, Coverdale," said I, "you are prepared to countenance
the raid on the Illyrian Embassy?"

The Chief Constable laughed.

"I don't say that exactly.  And yet, after all, this is a free country;
and if a parcel of damned foreigners bagged my wife, and the law could
afford me no redress, I'm afraid, I'm sadly afraid----"

"It would be 'Up Guards and at 'em'?"

"Upon my word, Arbuthnot, I'm not sure it wouldn't!"

"Thank you, Coverdale," said Fitz.  "And I take it that both of you
will go up to London with me to-morrow."

"What do you ask us precisely to do?"

"Leave the details to me"--Fitz's air was that of a staff officer.
"You can trust me not to go out of my way to look for trouble.  But it
is not much use for one man single-handed to attempt to force his way
into the Illyrian Embassy for the purpose of effecting the rescue of
the Crown Princess."

"It would be suicidal for one man to attempt it," we agreed.

"What is the minimum of assistance you will require?" said I.

"Half a dozen stout fellows ought to be able to manage it comfortably.
There's Coverdale and you and me.  If I can enlist three others between
now and to-morrow, the thing is as good as done."

Fitz's calm tone of optimism was certainly surprising.  The Chief
Constable and myself exchanged rather rueful glances.  We appeared to
have pledged ourselves to a course of action that might have the most
serious and far-reaching consequences.



CHAPTER VIII

PREPARATIONS FOR THE CAMPAIGN

One thing was perfectly clear; we were pretty well in a cleft stick.
So heartily had we espoused the cause of a much-injured man, that to
withhold practical assistance, now it was needed so sorely, was hardly
possible.  Yet there could be no doubt that discomfiture and perplexity
were beginning to play the deuce with the Chief Constable's official
placidity.  I also, "a married man, a father of a family, and a county
member," began to have qualms.

"Three other stout fellows," said Fitz, "who are not afraid of a tight
place and who can be trusted with a revolver, are almost a necessity.
The trouble is to find them."

On many occasions since, I have had cause to review my conduct in this
crisis.  Whether it was that of a sane, judicial-minded, law-abiding
unit of society I have never been able to determine.  Doubtless I erred
egregiously.  All the same I shall always protest that Nevil Fitzwaren
was a much-injured man.  Moreover, now that the call to arms had come
to him, nature had thought fit to invest him with that occult power
that makes a man a leader of others.  I could not have believed such a
transfiguration to be possible.  He seemed suddenly to emerge as the
possessor of a steadfastness of purpose and a strength of will which
commanded sympathy in almost the same measure that his pathetic
helplessness had in the first place aroused it.

"Can you suggest three stout fellows, Arbuthnot?  Gentlemen, if
possible, and chaps to be trusted.  Of course they will have to know
the why and wherefore of it all."

Under the spell that Fitz was wielding over me I became the victim of
an inspiration.  In a flash there came into my mind the three gamesters
necessary to complete the _partie_.  They were Jodey, his friend in
Jermyn Street, "who had had lessons from Burns," and that much-enduring
but thoroughly sound-hearted fellow, the Master of the Crackanthorpe.
For an instant I reflected with the Napoleonic gaze of Fitz upon me.
And then through sheer human weakness I committed the most signal
indiscretion of which a tolerably blameless existence had ever been
guilty.  I permitted the names of these three champions to cross my
lips.

Coverdale turned his sombre eyes upon me.  They were devoid of anger,
but extremely full of sorrow.

"You old fool!" he said under his breath.  "You look like landing us
fairly."

"Well," whispered the egregious I, "we can't leave the poor chap in the
lurch at this stage of the proceedings, can we?"

"I suppose not; but this business looks like costing me my billet.  Let
us pray God he don't intend to shoot the ambassador."

"Not he," said I, assuming a cheerfulness I did not feel, in the hope
of minimising my lapse from the strait way of prudence.  "He is a very
sensible fellow and a devilish plucky one."

The immediate result of my indiscretion was that I was urged to summon
my relation by marriage, in order that his valuable services might be
enlisted.  With that end in view, Parkins was sent in search of him.
He returned all too soon with the information that he was over at the
Hall playing billiards with Lord Brasset.

"Two birds with one stone!" said Fitz, exultantly.  "The best thing we
can do is to go over and see them."

The Hall is not more than a hundred yards or so from our modest
demesne; and at Fitz's behest we set forth in quest of recruits.

"Nice state o' things!" growled Coverdale _en route_.

In due course we were ushered into Brasset's billiard-room.  The owner
thereof and my relation by marriage were engaged in a friendly but
one-sided game of shilling snooker.  The latter, in accordance with his
invariable practice of "putting his best leg first" to atone for the
lifelong handicap of having been born a younger son, was potting three
times the number of balls of his charmingly amiable and courteous
opponent.

"Hullo, you fellows," said Brasset.  "Take a cue and join us."

The presence in that place of the husband of Mrs. Fitz was wholly
unlooked-for, but neither of the players betrayed their surprise.  Any
surprise they had to display was duly forthcoming later.

Most people who have mixed at all with their fellows are more or less
finished dissemblers.  But Brasset and Jodey were by no means proof
against the extraordinary tale that Fitz had come to unfold.

"Heiress to oldest reigning family in Europe!" exclaimed Brasset, whose
perturbation and bewilderment were comic in the extreme.  "In that case
she had an absolute _right_ to hit me over the head with her crop, even
if she did go rather far in overriding Challenger."

As for Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther, his countenance was a
study.

"Well, I always said she was _it_,"  he murmured rapturously.

"Stand by you--ra-_ther_!" said Brasset.  "Only too proud.  I've got a
beautiful Colt revolver in my bureau.  Shot a lion with it in Africa."

"Then you ought to be able to manage an ambassador in Portland Place,"
said I.

"Ra-_ther_!"

"It's a go, then?" said Fitz.  "I can count on you fellows to give me a
hand.  We may have to put it across that swine von Arlenberg, although
of course he is merely obeying the orders of Ferdinand."

"Yes, of course."

The two recruits to the cause of the Crown Princess beamed joyfully.
They took the oath of fealty, which merely assumed the form of
promising to dine at Ward's before the event, and promising to sup at
the Savoy after it.

The sixth person essential to the success of Fitz's scheme was the
unknown sportsman of Jermyn Street, who had had lessons from Burns.
Jodey was emphatic in his declaration that his friend, whom he
proclaimed as "the amateur middle-weight champion of the United
Kingdom," would be only too eager to seize one of the great
opportunities of his life.  A telegram was immediately concocted for
this paladin, who was urged to turn up at Ward's on the morrow at the
appointed hour.  "Bring a revolver with you.  There will be a bit of
fun going after dinner," was a clause that the author of the telegram
was keenly desirous to insert.

Opinion was divided as to the wisdom of inserting the clause in
question.  To the shrewd and cautious official mind, as represented by
Coverdale, it would be sufficient to urge a sensible and law-abiding
citizen to give the proposed dinner party a wide berth.  Personally, I
was of Coverdale's opinion; Fitz and Brasset "saw nothing out of the
way in it," while its author was convinced that so little would the
clause in question be likely to deter his friend O'Mulligan, that it
would invest a commonplace invitation to dine at Ward's and sup at the
Savoy with a sufficient spice of romance to preclude "the best
sportsman that ever came out of Ireland" from having a previous
engagement.

Youth will be served.  Jodey's lucid argument carried weight enough for
the telegram to be sent to Jermyn Street in all its pristine integrity.
Coverdale looked rueful all the same, and I felt his gaze of grave
reproach upon me.  The leader of the enterprise, however, was far from
sharing the misgivings of the Chief Constable.  On the contrary, he
felt that the cause of the Princess Sonia had gained three valuable
recruits.

Certainly, the demeanour of Brasset and of my relation by marriage left
nothing to be desired from the point of view of whole-heartedness.
They were only too eager to embrace the opportunity of redressing a
notorious wrong.  Coverdale and I could by no means rise to their
enthusiasm.  We were both over forty, and at that time of life the
average man cannot evoke that quality, unless it is in the pursuit of a
peerage, but in our innermost hearts we were fain to feel that it did
them honour.

To Brasset's suggestion that we should dine with him that evening, in
order that we might evolve, as far as in us lay, a plan of campaign, we
yielded a ready response.  Incidentally, it may be well to state that
Brasset is unmarried, and that his mother was spending the winter at
San Remo.

It was in sore travail of the spirit that I walked back to Dympsfield
House, and proceeded to hunt for the weapon which was kept in my
dressing-room as a precaution against burglars.  Ruefully it was taken
from its sanctuary and examined.  Then I went in search of the ruler of
the household.  Having found her pottering about the greenhouse, I
broke the news that I was dining out that evening, and that on the
morrow duty called me to the metropolis, because I feared that my aged
grandmother's chronic bronchitis had taken a turn for the worse.

Both these announcements were accepted with more serenity than the
inward monitor had led me to anticipate.

"By all means dine with Reggie Brasset, although I think it is very
wrong of him not to ask me.  And by all means go to London to-morrow to
see poor dear Gran, and"--here it was that the first small fly was
disclosed in the ointment--"take me.  Now that the weather has gone all
to pieces, it is a good time to see the new plays; and I must have at
least two new frocks and one of those chinchilla coats that everybody
is wearing."

There are occasions when the most reciprocal nature may regard marriage
as an overrated institution.

"But, my dear child," I gasped, "did you not promise upon your sacred
word of honour that if you had that mare at the beginning of November,
you would not want to exceed your dress allowance before the summer?"

"Did I?" said a voice of bland inquiry.

"Did you, _mon enfant_!"

"But then you see the poor thing has been lame for quite a fortnight."

It was man's work to convince Mrs. Arbuthnot, delicately, tenderly, but
quite firmly, that not for a moment could her demands be entertained.
How in the end it was contrived I shall not attempt to explain.  Who
among us is competent to render these hearthrug diplomacies in a just
notation?  But by some occult means I was able to effect a compromise
upon terms which only a sanguine temperament could have hoped for.  I
was to be permitted to dine with Brasset and play a quiet rubber of
bridge, and on the morrow I was to go to town to spend the week-end
with my grandmother; in consideration of which benefits, the second
party to the contract was to spend the week-end with her admirable
parents at Doughty Bridge, Yorks, and become the recipient of a sable
stole and an oxidised silver muff chain.

I could not help feeling that such a compact was extremely honourable
to the political side of my nature.  I had been prepared for pearl
earrings or a new opera cloak at the least.  There can be little doubt
that tolerably regular attendance at the House of Commons during the
course of three sessions does not a little to equip a man for the more
complex phases of civilised life.

Brasset's impromptu dinner party that evening was a decided success.
For this happy result he was not a little indebted to the foresight of
his amiable and ever-lamented father.  The wine was excellent.  Even
the Chief Constable, who looked as sombre as a cardinal and as rueful
as Don Quixote, swallowed the brown sherry with approbation, toyed with
the lighter vintages, sipped the port wine with sage approval, admired
the old brandy, and told one of the best stories I have ever heard in
my life.

At the conclusion of this masterpiece of refined ribaldry, Brasset gave
a peremptory little tap on the table and rose to his feet.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I ask you to drink the health of the Crown
Princess of Illyria.  May God defend the right!  With the toast, I beg
to be allowed to couple the name of our friend and neighbour, Mr. Nevil
Fitzwaren."

The toast was honoured in due form.

"Thank you, gentlemen."  Fitz's reply was made with touching
simplicity.  "God _will_ defend the right.  He always does.  But I
thank you all from the bottom of my heart for standing by me to see
that I get fair play.  It's good to be born an Englishman."

"Hear, hear; quite so," said the Chief Constable.

Out of the corner of one rueful eye, however, the head of our
constabulary favoured me with a glance that was at once whimsical and
lugubrious.  The thought was ever present in that official breast that
the slightest hitch in a decidedly precarious adventure would be
fraught for all concerned in it with consequences which he did not care
to contemplate.



CHAPTER IX

ON THE EVE

A calm inquiry into the case rendered it inconceivable that two pillars
of the Constitution should commit themselves irrevocably to a scheme of
action whose true sphere was the boards of a playhouse or the pages of
a lurid romance.  By what lapse of the reason had they permitted
themselves to drift into a position so ludicrous yet so eminently
dangerous?  Possibly it was right for irresponsible youth; possibly it
was right for men of temperament like the heroic Fitz; but for
Lieutenant-Colonel John Chalmers Coverdale, C.M.G., late of His
Majesty's Carabineers, and Odo Arbuthnot, Member of Parliament for the
Uppingdon Division of Middleshire, it was confessedly an egregious
folly.

We were both past the age when such a scheme would have appealed to our
high spirits as a superior sort of "rag."  Once embarked upon it, who
should say whither it might lead?  It was impossible to foretell the
course of such an adventure.  Two such devotees of law and order did
well to entertain misgivings, even with the winecup in their hands.

As far as the other side of the picture was concerned, Fitz was fully
entitled to regard himself as a much-injured man.  It is true that in
the first instance he had taken the liberty of contracting a morganatic
marriage with a princess in the direct line of succession of a reigning
house.  But in a country like ours, where the freedom of the subject
and the right of the individual to shape his own destiny form the
keystone of the arch upon which the fabric of society is raised, it was
impossible not to sympathise keenly with Fitz.  All freeborn Englishmen
could not fail to resent the intervention of an irresponsible third
party, who was recklessly determined to violate a tie that had the
sanction of God.

Over our cigars, when the servants had left the room, the orders for
the morrow were discussed.

"I hope, Fitzwaren," said the Chief Constable, "that you fully realise
the extreme gravity of your undertaking.  A single error of judgment, a
single slip in your mode of procedure, and we are certain to find
ourselves very badly landed indeed.  Personally, I hope very much that
you will leave lethal weapons out of the case.  If we carry them we run
up against the law; and not only will they prejudice our cause but
there is no saying to what they may lead."

"I should like," said I, "to identify myself with these remarks of
Coverdale's.  I concur entirely."

Fitz removed the cigar from his lips and leaned back in his chair.  He
seemed to be pondering deeply.

"I respect the opinion of both of you," he said, speaking with a good
deal of deliberation after a pause that was somewhat lengthy.  "You are
quite right in one sense, but in the most important sense of all I am
sure you are wrong.  I should like everybody who is going into this
business to understand clearly that it is most likely to prove
extremely serious.  We must take every reasonable precaution, because
the moment we enter von Arlenberg's house we carry our lives in our
hands.  I know these Illyrians; as soon as they understand our game
they will use no ceremony.  Law or no law, they will shoot us like dogs
if they think it is necessary.  And I can assure you they will think it
is necessary, unless we get them with their hands up."

"I don't like lethal weapons," said the Chief Constable.

"I don't like them either," said Fitz, "but if we are to come through
with this business, we shall be compelled to carry them."  Suddenly his
voice sank.  "The truth is, this game is so dangerous, that I don't
urge anybody to take part in it.  Let any man who thinks the cause is
good enough follow me with a loaded revolver in his right-hand trouser
pocket; and let any man who doesn't keep out of it and I shall be the
last to blame him."

In the language there may not have been persuasiveness, but there was a
good deal in the tone.  Fitz's manner was that of a leader of others;
of one who foresaw the risks he incurred; who embraced them
deliberately; who having once formed his plan stuck to it whatever it
might entail.

Coverdale had seen service in Zululand, the Transvaal, and in Eygpt;
Brasset and I had borne a humble share in the recent transactions in
South Africa; yet in an unconscious way we were all susceptible to the
play of a powerful will and a magnetic personality.  Cynics may say it
was the wine that turned the scale--the juice of the grape is the fount
of many a hardy resolution--but I prefer to think it was the quality of
Fitz himself.  Retreat at the eleventh hour might have been construed
as dishonourable, but men like Coverdale had no need to be
fantastically nice upon the point of honour.  It was, I think, that
Fitz carried conviction.  His was the inestimable gift of rising with
his theme.  Heaven knew! the enterprise was foolhardy, but the man
himself was a good one to follow.

All the same, when we adjourned our meeting with the compact that we
should assemble at Middleham railway station on the morrow in time to
catch the 3.30 to London, I went home in a state of depression.  Were I
to have been hanged at cock-crow I could not have found my bed more
unsympathetic.  Most of the night I lay awake in a state of the most
unworthy apprehension.  The very intangibility of the business of the
morrow seemed to make it a nightmare.  Had it been a duel, or a
definite pitting of one known force against another, it would have
seemed less uncomfortable, less sinister.  As it was, we did not know
precisely to what we stood committed.  The thing might prove merely
farcical.  On the contrary, it might involve battle, murder and sudden
death.

A dozen times in the dismal darkness the question was put, by what
chain of events had a mildly egoistical hedonist, the husband of a
charming lady, the father of a merry blue-eyed daughter, with a
reasonable competence and an ambition to excel at golf, come to imperil
all these delectable things?  Merely at the beck of a wild-living
profligate who felt he had been wronged.

Stated as bluntly as this in the high court of reason the whole thing
seemed absurd.  There was so much to lose and so little to gain.  The
scheme was preposterous.  Nevil Fitzwaren might certainly be the victim
of an injustice, but what of Miss Lucinda and her mama?  True,
Coverdale was also a party to the scheme; but he was by nature
adventurous, a seeker after something fresh.  To be sure he imperilled
his billet, but he was understood to have private means.

"Odo Arbuthnot," said the thin voice of reason at three o'clock in the
morning, "you must withdraw from this incredibly foolish and
reprehensible proceeding."

Howbeit, the voice of reason never sways us entirely.  Accordingly I
made a particularly feeble breakfast, wrote a letter to my grandmother
in Bolton Street, sped the Madam, looking supremely gay and engaging,
on the way to her fond parents at Doughty Bridge, Yorks, read the
immortal story of "The Three Bears" to Miss Lucinda for the thousand
and first time, carefully overhauled the six-chambered weapon which a
professional criminal had yet to put to the test, and in a miserable
frame of mind sat down to luncheon in the company of my relation by
marriage.

It may be that the holy state of wedlock makes cowards of us all.
Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther was certainly not embarrassed by
such qualms as these.  He was even more serenely magnificent than usual
in a suit of grey tweeds aggressively checked and a waistcoat that was
conducting a violent quarrel with a Zingari necktie; while his air of
hopeful enjoyment of life as it was and as it was going to be, provoked
some rather pregnant reflections upon the crime of homicide.

"O'Mulligan's wired.  Mad keen.  A regular nut."

The well of English undefiled grows more copious with the process of
ages.  By what mysterious alchemy the quality of mad keenness
transforms its possessor into "a regular nut" I was too low-spirited to
elucidate.

"Fitz is a game bird, ain't he?"  Flamboyant youth heartily poured half
a bottle of Worcestershire sauce over its cutlet.  "Didn't think he had
it in him.  Merely shows how you can be deceived."

I groaned in spirit, but plucked up the courage to take a dismal nibble
at a piece of toast.

"That chap Coverdale is a bit of a funkstick.  Made himself rather an
ass about those firearms."

I assented feebly.

"Bet you a pony they want our photographs for the _Morning Mirror_."

I rose from the table and took a turn in the kitchen garden.  When your
heart is fairly in your boots, the society of your peers has its
drawbacks.

At half-past two, punctual to the minute, the toot of the car was heard
at the hall door.  Miss Lucinda received a parting salute and an
illicit box of chocolates which consoled her immensely for the
temporary loss--permanent perhaps in the case of one--of both her
parents.

I confess to being one of those weak mortals who on a journey is
invariably accompanied by the consciousness of having left something
undone or having omitted to pack some unremembered but quite
indispensable necessary.  Three-fourths of the way to the station I was
haunted with this feeling in a more acute form than usual, and then
quite suddenly, with a spasm of perverse joy, it occurred to me that I
had left the burglar's foe in its secret receptacle.

"Thank God for that!" was the pious hyperbole which ascended to heaven.

At the station we were not the first to arrive on the scene, although
there was a full quarter of an hour in hand.  Fitz in a fur overcoat of
some pretensions bore a look of collected importance which was quite in
keeping with the _rôle_ he had to fill.

"Tickets are taken," said he, "and carriage reserved for five."

In front of the bookstall a yellow newsbill displayed the contents of a
London evening paper, issued at noon.  "The Attempt on the Life of the
King of Illyria.  Latest Details."

"Clumsy fools," said the son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth, gloomily.
"They seem to have bungled the business badly, but they bungle
everything in Illyria."

"His Excellency, the Ambassador, would appear to be an exception to the
general rule."

Fitz bestowed upon me a murderous glower.

Brasset arrived full five minutes in advance of the London express.
Pink and cherubic, his recent perplexity had yielded to an omnipresent
look of peace.  His well-groomed air suggested that he took a simple
pleasure in being alive.

The question, however, for the four conspirators assembled on the
Middleham platform was, what had happened to the Chief Constable?  Was
it conceivable that the noble Brutus had left us in the lurch?
Remembering my own travail of the spirit, which still endured, it
seemed most natural and becoming to my partial judgment, that one so
wise had repented of his folly at the eleventh hour.

Howbeit, my lips were sealed upon these illicit thoughts.  Fitz himself
suspected no treachery.  He ushered us into the reserved compartment
with immense dignity, and retained the left-hand corner seat, with the
back to the engine, for the missing warrior.

"Coverdale is cutting it fine," I ventured to remark.

"There is a minute yet," said Fitz, with an insouciance which, to use a
much-abused expression, was Napoleonic.

A porter who suffered from rickets put in his head.

"All London, gentlemen?"

"Yes," said Fitz, introducing a shilling to a grimy but willing palm.
"And just see that the station-master keeps the train a few minutes for
Colonel Coverdale."

"Agen the regulations, you know, sir," said the porter, with polite
misgiving.

"Against what regulations?" said the undefeated Fitz.

"The Company's."

"Against the Company's regulations!  Who the devil are the Company that
_they_ should have regulations?"

This was a poser for the porter, who made a rather ineffectual apology
for such a piece of assumption on the part of the Company.  But the
station-master's bell was ringing, and I, peering wildly through the
window, in the vain hope that my mentor, my hope, my stand-by might
after all appear, could see never a sign of Lieutenant-Colonel John
Chalmers Coverdale, C.M.G., late of His Majesty's Carabineers.



CHAPTER X

ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS

But what is that?  A commotion away up the platform, under the clock.
Yes, it is he, the faithful and the valiant!  At least it is not he,
but one Baguley, a superannuated police-sergeant, bereft of an eye in
the service of the public peace.  He staggers along under the
oppressive burden of a kit bag of portentous dimensions, and twenty
paces behind, sauntering along the platform with the most leisurely
nonchalance in the world, blandly indifferent to the fact that the
London express is due out, is the impressive and slightly pompous bulk
of the fifth conspirator, the great Chief Constable.

There is a tremendous touching of hats along the platform.  Even that
true Olympian, the guard of the London express, contrives to dissemble
his legitimate impatience, while Coverdale and his kit bag come aboard
the reserved compartment.

"Cutting it rather fine, weren't you?" said I, with a tremor of relief
in my voice.

"Time enough," said the Chief Constable, subsiding with a growl and a
glower into the left-hand corner.

A shrill blast from the guard, a whistle and a snort from the engine,
and we were irrevocably committed to the untender hands of destiny.

We were an ill-assorted party enough.  Fitz the embodiment of masterful
determination, with his black eyes glowing with their inward fire;
Brasset and Jodey as cheerful and almost as _blasé_ as two
undergraduates on their way to attend a point-to-point race meeting;
Coverdale and the humble individual responsible for this narrative,
silent, saturnine and profoundly uncomfortable.

It is true that I was favoured with one fragment of the Chief
Constable's discourse.  It was communicated with pregnant brevity ten
miles from Bedford.

"You old fool!" was its context.

"It was Fitz who kept the train for you," I countered weakly.

Whoever was to blame we were fairly in for it now; and to repine was
vain.

"I am glad about your friend O'What's-his-name," said Fitz to Jodey.
"A man of his hands, hey?  By the way, I believe you did mention a
revolver."

My relation by marriage grinned an almost disgustingly effusive
affirmative.

"I suppose you fellows have all remembered to bring one?"

Somehow my looks betrayed me.

"You've brought one, Arbuthnot?"

I began to perspire.

"The fact is," said I, "I had a capital .38 Webley, but it appears to
be mislaid."

"That can be easily remedied.  I have brought three in case of
emergency."

"How lucky," said I, with insincerity.

We were converging upon the metropolis all too soon.

"I have engaged six bedrooms at Long's Hotel," said Fitz.

"Only five will be necessary," said I, "as O'Mulligan lives in Jermyn
Street."

"You have forgotten Sonia."

It is true that for the moment I had forgotten the cause of all our
woes.  Fitz had not, however; indeed, he had forgotten nothing.  Not
only did he appear to have everything arranged, but he seemed to have
taken cognisance of the smallest detail.

"I have ordered quite a decent little dinner at Ward's," said he.  "You
can always depend upon good plain, solid, old-fashioned English
cooking.  They give you the best mulligatawny in London.  I must say
myself, that if I have to do a man's work, I like to have a man's meal.
And I think we can depend on some very decent madeira."

"It is very satisfactory to know that," said Coverdale, with his
deepest growl.

"There is nothing like madeira in my opinion," said Fitz, "if you are
going to be busy and you want to keep cool."

"That is something to know," said the Chief Constable, without
enthusiasm.

"I should think it was," said Fitz.  "Do you know who gave me the tip?"

The Chief Constable gave a growl in the negative.

"Ferdinand himself.  And what that old swine don't know of most things
is not much in the way of knowledge.  He once told me he practically
lived on madeira throughout the Austrian campaign; and the night before
Rodova he drank six bottles.  He says nothing keeps you so cool and
sharp as madeira."

"Umph," the Chief Constable grunted.

Brasset and Jodey, however, two extremely zealous subalterns in the
Middleshire Yeomanry, were much impressed.

In three taxis we converged upon Long's Hotel; Brasset and Jodey in the
first; the Chief Constable and his kit bag in the second; Fitz and
myself in the third.  A very respectable blizzard was raging; the
streets of the metropolis were in a truly horrid condition, wholly
unfit for man or beast; and the atmosphere had the peculiar raw chill
of a thoroughly disagreeable winter's night in London.  But at every
yard we slopped precariously through the half-melted slush of the
streets, Fitz seemed to wax more Napoleonic.  He was not in any sense
aggressive; there was not a trace of undue mental or moral elevation,
yet he was the possessor of a subtle quality that seemed to render him
equal to any occasion.

"There is just one thing may undo us," he confessed to me.

"Fate?"

"No; to my mind fate is never your master, if you really mean to be
master of it.  But there may be a spy.  Von Arlenberg is as cunning as
a fox.  And if he thinks I may have something to say in the matter, he
will take care that nothing is done without his knowledge.  Probably we
are being followed."

To test his grounds for this suspicion, Fitz suddenly ordered the
driver to stop.  He thrust his head out of the window, and then an
instant later told our Jehu to drive on.

"Just as I thought," he said.  "There is another taxi behind."

My companion became silent.

"Something will have to be done," he said.  "It won't do for von
Arlenberg to know too much."

During the remainder of the journey Fitz found not a word to say.

When we came to the quiet family hotel in Bond Street our leader seemed
still preoccupied.  Certainly he had grounds for his foreboding.  A
fourth taxi drew up behind the three vehicles we had chartered; and I
observed that a man got out of it and, discharging his taxi, entered
the hotel.  As he passed me I was careful to note his appearance.  He
was a short, sallow, foreign-looking individual, with the collar of his
overcoat turned up; a commonplace creature enough, who on most
occasions would pass without remark.

While we inquired for our rooms, he sat in the lounge unobtrusively.
Save for Fitz's own conviction upon the point, it would never have
occurred to me that we were undergoing a process of espionage.

No sooner had Fitz secured his room, than he said, in a tone
considerably louder than he used as a rule, that he had some business
to see after, and that he would be back in an hour.

The man seated in the lounge could not fail to hear this announcement.
And sure enough, hardly had Fitz passed out of the hotel, when the
fellow rose and also took his leave.

"What is Fitzwaren's game now?" inquired Coverdale.

I refrained from advancing any theory as to the nature of Fitz's game.
For that matter, I had no theory to advance.  It was clear enough that
the leader of our enterprise was fully justified in his suspicion, but
what his sagacity would profit him, I was wholly at a loss to divine.
I was convinced that the business that had called him so suddenly into
the sleet-laden darkness of the streets had to do with the man who had
passed out of the hotel upon his heels; yet precisely what that
business was, it was futile to conjecture.

Prior to our departure for Ward's the time hung upon our hands somewhat
heavily.  Brasset and Jodey utilised some of it in bestowing even more
pains than usual upon their appearance.  In these days it is not
necessary to don powder, ruffles and a brocaded waistcoat for the
purpose of dining at Ward's, but there is an unwritten law which
expects you to wear a white vest at least with your evening clothes.
Even Coverdale and I thought well to comply with this sumptuary law.
We were both past the age when one's tailor is omnipotent; but when in
Rome, those who would be thought men of the world are careful to do
like the Romans.

Four carefully groomed specimens of British manhood greeted Fitz in the
hotel foyer upon his return.  It was then five minutes to seven, and
our mentor entered in a perfectly cool and collected manner.  He
apologised, perhaps a thought elaborately, for the necessity which had
deprived us of his society.  Twenty minutes later he was looking as
spick and span as the rest of us.

While the hotel porter was whistling up the necessary means for our
conveyance to Saint James's Street, I found Fitz at my elbow.

"By the way," said he in a casual undertone, "did you mention to the
others about the fellow who followed us in the taxi?"

The answer was in the negative.

"I'm glad of that.  I think it will be wise if you don't.  It might
worry them, you know.  And there is no need to worry about him now."

"Have you thrown him off the scent?"

"Yes," said Fitz, quietly.  "We shall have no more trouble from that
sportsman."

I forbore to allow my curiosity any further rein upon this subject.
Beneath Fitz's cool and cordial tone was a suggestion that he would
thank me to dismiss it.  Howbeit, I had no hint as to what had happened
outside in the street, and I was burning to know.

It was a minute past the half-hour when we arrived at Ward's, but the
punctual O'Mulligan was there already.  He rejoiced in the name of
Alexander; his freckles were many and he had a shock of red hair.  His
nose was of the snub variety; his ears stuck out at right angles; his
eyes were light green; and his jaw was square and massive and the most
magnificently aggressive the mind of man can conceive.  Regarded from
the purely æsthetic standpoint, Alexander O'Mulligan might be a subject
for discussion, yet he was as full of "points" as a prize bulldog.  He
was not so tall as Coverdale, but every ounce of him was solid muscle;
his chest was deep and spreading, his hands were corded, and he had the
grip of a garotter.

Alexander O'Mulligan shook hands all round with the greatest
comprehensiveness.  As he did so he grinned from ear to ear in the
sheer joy of acquaintanceship.  Fitz was his first victim and I was his
last, but each of us would as lief shake hands with a gibbon as with
our friend O'Mulligan.  The fellow was so abominably hearty.  He shook
hands as though it was the thing of all others he loved doing best in
the world.

The dinner was admirable.  Whether it was force of example, or the
magnetic presence of Alexander O'Mulligan, I am not prepared to say,
but certainly we did ourselves very well.  Upon first entering the
hallowed precincts of Ward's, I had been in no mood to appreciate
"really good old-fashioned English cooking."  One would have thought
that only the most _recherché_ of dinners would have tempted us in our
present state of mind.  But somehow our new friend O'Mulligan dispensed
an atmosphere of Gargantuan good humour.

Hardly had we come to close quarters with the far-famed mulligatawny,
which was quite appropriate to the conditions prevailing without, when
our latest recruit insisted that one and all must dine with him on the
morrow, and then adjourn to the National Sporting Club, for the purpose
of witnessing "Burns's do with the 'Gunner.'"

If I live to the age of a hundred and twenty, I shall not forget our
little dinner at Ward's.  Six commonplace specimens of _les hommes
moyens sensuels_ with lethal weapons in their pockets and anything from
pitch and toss to manslaughter in their hearts!  Really, it was the
incongruous carried to the verge of the _bizarre_.

Fitz at the head of the table was gracious to a degree.  The fellow was
revealing a whole gamut of unsuspected qualities.  His composure, his
half-gay, half-sinister _insouciance_, his alertness, his knowledge,
his faculty for action, which seemed to grow in proportion with the
demands that were made upon it--such an array of qualities was
curiously inconsistent with the heedless waster the world had always
judged him to be.

Now that he had come to grips with fate the real Nevil Fitzwaren was
emerging with considerable potency.  As far as "the married man, the
father of the family, and the county member" was concerned, the
fellow's dæmonic power was the cause of his dining quite reasonably
well.  As for Coverdale, after swallowing his plate of mulligatawny,
his glance ceased to reproach me.  His habitual philosophy and the
old-fashioned English cooking began to walk hand in hand.  The
evening's business was quite likely to cost him his billet, but at
least it was sure to be excellent fun.  Besides, when he stood fairly
committed to a thing, it was his habit to see it through.

Dinner was conducted in the spirit of leisurely harmony which is due to
the traditions accruing to the shade of John Ward, who left this vale
of tears in 1720.  Fitz assured us that there was no hurry.  If we got
a move on about nine we should have plenty of time to do our business
with his Excellency.

"You haven't quite explained the orders for the day, my dear fellow,"
said Coverdale, taking a reverential sip of the famous old brandy.



CHAPTER XI

THE ORDERS FOR THE DAY

"The orders for the day don't need much explanation," said Fitz.
"Merely see that there are six cartridges in your revolver; keep it in
your trouser pocket with your hand on it, and then follow the man from
Cook's."

"Like all schemes of the first magnitude," said I, "it appears to be
simplicity itself."

"It is this confounded revolver business," said Coverdale, "that I
should like to see dispensed with.  It might so easily land us in
serious trouble."

"It is far more likely to land us out of serious trouble," said Fitz.
"But this I can promise: they will not be produced except in the last
resort."

It was clear that the question of the revolvers had made Coverdale as
uneasy as it had made me; but the only thing to be done now was to pin
implicit faith upon the saneness of Fitz's judgment.  Certainly he had
aroused respect.  His method of communicating to Alexander O'Mulligan
the nature of the cause, and the need for absolute obedience to the
word of command, appeared to kindle awe and admiration in equal parts
in the breast of the middle-weight champion of the United Kingdom.

"Do exactly as you are told, O'Mulligan, and do nothing without orders,
unless they begin to shoot, and then you begin to shoot too.  By the
way, Arbuthnot, did I understand you to say you had forgotten to bring
a revolver?"

I admitted the impeachment.

"I have several spare ones in my overcoat"--the tone of reproof was
delicate.  "Is there any one else who has forgotten to provide himself
with one?"

"There is also a spare one at my rooms round the corner," said
Alexander O'Mulligan, with an air of modest pride.

Fitz honoured the new recruit with a nod of curt approval.  In any
assembly of law-breakers the Bayard from Jermyn Street would be sure of
a hearty welcome.  His face had expanded to the most moonlike
proportions, which the freckles and the prominent ears set off
fantastically; and in the green eyes was a look of genuine ecstasy,
beside which the emotion in those of Brasset and Jodey was mere hopeful
expectation.

Fitz took out his watch and studied it with the air of the Man of
Destiny.

"Fourteen minutes to nine," said he.  "At nine o'clock I shall drive
alone to No. 300 Portland Place, in a taxi.  At four minutes past nine
Coverdale and Arbuthnot will follow.  They will ask for the Ambassador,
Coverdale giving the name of General Drago, and Arbuthnot the name of
Count Alexis Zbynska.  You will be shown into a waiting-room while your
names are taken in to his Excellency.  If he is in, he will receive
you; if he is not, Grindberg, or one of the other secretaries, or one
of the Attachés will have a word with you.  Keep your mufflers up to
your ears and have the collars of your overcoats turned up.  If von
Arlenberg is not in, say you will wait for him.  You can use Illyrian,
or French, or broken English.  Of course your object, in any case, will
be to gain time and keep in the house until you receive further
instructions.  Am I clear?"

"Reasonably clear," said Coverdale.  "If we gain access to the house we
are not to leave it until we hear from you?"

"That is so."

"And what about Alec and Brasset and me?"  The earnestness of my
relation by marriage was wistful.

"O'Mulligan will leave four minutes after Coverdale and Arbuthnot.  He
will merely give his name as Captain Forbes, who desires to fix an
appointment with von Arlenberg upon a private matter of importance.  He
won't be able to fix it; but they will send a chap to talk to you,
O'Mulligan.  You must be very long-winded and you must use your best
English, and you must waste as much time as you can.  Understand?"

O'Mulligan beamed like a seraph.

"And Brasset and me?" said the pleading voice.

"Brasset will leave four minutes after O'Mulligan.  He will be Mr.
Bonser, a messenger from the Foreign Office, with a letter for von
Arlenberg.  Here you are, Brasset, here is the letter for von
Arlenberg."

With a matter-of-factness which was really inimitable, Fitz tossed
across the tablecloth the missive in question, copiously daubed with
red sealing-wax.

"Brasset," said Fitz, "you will be careful not to give this most
important letter into the keeping of anybody save and except his
Excellency, Baron von Arlenberg, Ambassador and Plenipotentiary
Extraordinary to his Majesty the King of Illyria, at the Court of Saint
James."

"I hope the superscription is correct," said I, misguidedly.

Fitz looked me down with the eye of a Frederick.  The sympathy of the
table was with him entirely.

"Somebody will want to take it to the Ambassador," said Fitz.  "But
Brasset, your instructions are that you deliver this document to his
Excellency in person."

With an air of reverence, Brasset inserted the letter with its
portentous red seal in his cigar-case.  The most exacting of ministers
could not have desired a more trustworthy or a more eminently discreet
custodian for an epoch-making document than the Master of the
Crackanthorpe.

"How shall I know old von Thingamy when I see him?" inquired the
messenger from the Foreign Office.

"You won't see him," said Fitz.  "But you must make it appear that you
want to see him particularly."

"But if I should happen to see him?"

The Master of the Crackanthorpe was awed into silence by a Napoleonic
gesture.

"Where do I come in?" said the pleading voice from the wilderness.

"You come in, Vane-Anstruther," said Fitz to my relation by marriage,
"four minutes after Brasset.  You are Lieutenant von Wildengarth-Mergle
from Blaenau, with a letter of introduction to the Illyrian Ambassador.
Here is your card, and you can give it to anybody you like."

The recipient was immensely gratified by the card of Lieutenant von
Wildengarth-Mergle of the Ninth Regiment of Hussars when it was
bestowed upon him.  His manner of disposing of it was precisely similar
to that adopted by Brasset in the case of the letter from the Foreign
Office.  His bearing also was modelled obviously upon that of that
ornament of high diplomacy.

"I assume," said I, "that we are all to bluff our way into the Illyrian
Embassy; and once we are there we are to take care to stay until we are
advised further?"

"That is so."

"But let us assume for a moment that we get no advice?"

"If I do not come to you by ten minutes to ten, or you are not sent for
by then, you are all to leave any ante-room you may be in, and you are
to walk straight up the central staircase, taking notice of nobody.  If
they try to stop you, merely say you wish to see the Ambassador."

"And if they use force?"

"Make use of it yourself, with as much noise as you can.  And if you
still fail to hear from me, then will be the time to think about
retirement.  Does everybody understand?"

Everybody did apparently.

"It is seven minutes to nine.  Time we began to collect our taxis."

Fitz rose from the table, and in a body we went in search of our coats
and hats.  For my fellow conspirators I cannot speak, but my heart was
beating in the absurdest manner, and my veins were tingling.  There was
that sense of exaltation in them which is generally reserved for a
quick twenty minutes over the grass.

"Give me that revolver," said I.

As Fitz smuggled the weapon into my hand, I could feel my pulses
leaping immorally.  This sensation may have been due to my having dined
at Ward's; although doubtless it is more scientific to ascribe it to
some primeval instinct which has resisted civilisation's ravages upon
human nature.

As I stealthily inserted the weapon into the pocket of my trousers, I
stole a covert glance at the solemn visage of the Chief Constable.  The
great man was smiling benignly at his thoughts, and smoking a big cigar
with an air of Homeric enjoyment.

As Fitz, tall-hatted and fur-coated, picked his way delicately down the
slush-covered steps to where his taxi awaited him, he turned to offer a
word of final instruction to his followers.

"Coverdale and Arbuthnot 9.4; O'Mulligan 9.8; Brasset 9.12;
Vane-Anstruther 9.16.  If you hear nothing in the meantime, at 9.50 you
go upstairs."

"Righto," we chorussed, as Fitz boarded his chariot with a
self-possession that was even touched with languor.

We watched him turn into Piccadilly, and then proceeded solemnly to
invest ourselves in coats and mufflers.  Four minutes is not a long
space of time, yet it is quite possible for it to seem an age.  Before
the hall clock pointed to 9.4, one might have had a double molar drawn,
or one's head cut off by the guillotine.

"300 Portland Place," said the Chief Constable in tones which somehow
seemed astonishingly loud, while I squeezed as far as possible into the
far corner of the vehicle for the better accommodation of my stalwart
companion.

"Dirty night," said the Chief Constable.  "Not fit for a dog to be out.
Have the glass down?"

It may have been an overwrought fancy, but I thought I perceived a
slight, but unmistakable tremor in the voice of the head of the
Middleshire Constabulary.

"Not for me, thanks," said I.  "These things are so stuffy."

The head of the Middleshire Constabulary agreed with me.  The
impression may have been due to a disordered fancy, but I thought I
detected a note of embarrassment in the Chief Constable's laugh.

From Saint James's Street to Portland Place is not far, and this
evening we seemed to accomplish the journey in a very short time.
Having dismissed our taxi at the door of the Ambassador's imposing
residence, we each looked to the other to ring his Excellency's
door-bell.

"General," said I, "you are my senior, and I feel that your Illyrian,
or your French, or your broken English or any other language in which
you may be moved to indulge, will carry more weight than mine."

"Oh, do you!  By the way; I have forgotten my name."

"General Drago."

"And yours?"

"Count Alexis Zbynska."

"Well, here goes."

The gallant warrior gave a mighty tug at the bell.  This met with no
attention; but at the second assault on the ambassadorial door-bell,
the massive portal was swung back, slowly and solemnly, by a gorgeous
menial.  In the immediate background there were others.

"I am General Drago, and I wish to see the Ambassador."  The Chief
Constable's precision of phrase was really majestic.

The stalwart Illyrian, who seemed to be quite seven feet high from the
crown of his wig to the soles of his silk stockings, bowed and led the
way within.

When we had crossed his Excellency's threshold, and just as a gorgeous
interior had unfolded itself to our respectful gaze, a very
urbane-looking personage in evening clothes and a pair of white kid
gloves took charge of us.  He led us through a spacious hall containing
pillars of white marble, whence we passed into a waiting-room,
immediately to the right of a distinctly imposing alabaster staircase.
In this apartment the light was dim and religious, and the atmosphere
had a chill solemnity.  Our friend of the white kid gloves presented us
with a slip of paper apiece, and indicated an inkstand on the table.

"Write our names in Illyrian," I whispered to my fellow conspirator.
"They will carry more weight."

The Chief Constable inscribed his own name on the slip of paper very
laboriously, in the Illyrian character.  When he had accomplished this
feat, I proceeded as well as in me lay, and with a deliberation quite
equal to his own, to commit to paper the name of the Herr Graf Alexis
von Zbynska.  I was beset with much misgiving as to the correct manner
of spelling it, and therefore had recourse to a number of superfluous
flourishes in order to conceal my ignorance as far as possible.

When the gentleman of the white kid gloves had solemnly borne away the
slips of paper, the Chief Constable proceeded to remove a bead of
honest perspiration from his manly forehead.

"Of all the cursed crackbrained schemes!" he muttered.  "What does the
madman expect us to do now!"

"Say as little and waste as much time as we can," said I, "and at ten
minutes to ten, if we are still alive, we are to make our way up that
staircase."

The head of the Middleshire Constabulary subsided into incoherence
mingled with profanity.

The gentleman of the white kid gloves had closed the door upon us.  The
gloom and the silence of the room was terribly oppressive.  With
ticking nerves, I made a survey of its contents.  The furniture
appeared to consist of a large table with massive legs, half a dozen
chairs covered in red leather, a full-length portrait in oils, by
Bruffenhauser, of his Illyrian Majesty, Ferdinand the Twelfth, in which
the victor of Rodova appeared in full regalia in a gilt frame, a really
magnificent-looking old gentleman; while on a separate table at the far
end of the room was the Almanach de Gotha.

It began to seem that our suspense was going to last for ever.  Not a
sound penetrated to us from beyond the closed door.  At last Coverdale
took out his watch.

"Is it ten minutes to ten yet?" I inquired anxiously.

"No; it still wants a couple of minutes to half-past nine."

To be condemned to support such tension for a whole twenty minutes
longer was to place a term upon eternity.

"Hadn't we better open the door," said I, "so that we can hear if
anything happens?"

My fellow conspirator concurred.

I opened the door accordingly and looked out in the direction, of the
alabaster staircase.  A man was descending it in a rather languid
manner.  There was something curiously familiar about his appearance.
As soon as he saw me standing at the foot of the stairs he quickened
his pace.  It was clear that he wished to speak to me.

"Keep cool," he said, and to my half-joyful bewilderment I recognised
the voice of Fitz.  "You and Coverdale had better leave your overcoats
in that room and go up.  Go into the first room on the left on the
first floor!"

With a coolness that was almost incredible, Fitz sauntered away across
the wide vestibule with his hands in his pockets, while I returned to
Coverdale with this latest command.

We obeyed it with a sense of relief.  Anything was better than to sit
counting the seconds in that funereal waiting-room.  Divested of our
overcoats, we went forth up the staircase, doing our best to appear
quite at ease, as though there was nothing in the least unusual in the
situation.

Half-way up we were confronted with two men coming down.  They looked
at us with quiet intentness and seemed inclined to speak.  Coverdale
passed on with set gaze and rigid facial muscles, an art in which, like
so many of his countrymen, he is greatly accomplished.  His
"Speak-to-me-if-you-dare" expression stood us in excellent stead.  The
two men passed down the stairs without venturing to address us, and we
went up.

The first room on the left, on the first floor, was a larger and more
cheerful apartment than the one from which we had come.  It was better
lit; there was a bright fire, and it was furnished with taste, after
the fashion of a drawing-room.  There were books, photographs, and a
piano.

The room was empty, but we had been in it scarcely a minute when a
servant entered to offer us coffee.  We did not disdain the
ambassadorial bounty.  Excellent coffee it was.

We were toying with this refreshment when a stealthy rustle apprised us
that we were also about to receive the indulgence of feminine society.
A young woman, tall and graceful, fair to the eye and charmingly
gowned, came into the room with a sheet of music in her hand.  The
presence of a pair of total strangers did not embarrass her.

"Do you like Schubert?" said she, with a delightful foreign intonation.

"I think Schubert is charming," said I, with heartiness and promptitude.

The lady flashed her teeth in a rare smile and sat down at the piano.
I arranged her music with a care that was rather elaborate.

It was not Schubert, however, that she began to play, but a haunting
little "Impromptu" of Schumann's.  Her playing was good to listen to,
for her touch was highly educated; also it was fascinating to watch her
movements, since she was an extremely graceful and vivid work of nature.

Very assiduously I turned over her music.  The occupation in itself was
pleasant; also it seemed to give some sort of sanction to our unlawful
presence.  Coverdale, with his hands tucked deep in his pockets,
appeared to listen most critically to the lady's playing; although, as
I have heard him declare himself, the only form of music that appeals
to him is "a really good brass band."

In the course of the performance of Schumann's "Impromptu" the audience
of the fair pianist gained in number and authority.  Like the famous
Pied Piper of Hamelin, the thrilling delicacy of her touch began to
entice quaint beasts from their lair.  Alexander O'Mulligan sauntered
into the drawing-room at about the fourth bar.  He wore his most
seraphic grin, and his ears were spread to catch the most illusive
chords of melody.  He gave Coverdale a jovial nod and winked at me.  It
was clear that the amateur middle-weight champion of Great Britain was
enjoying himself immensely.

Hardly had Alexander O'Mulligan advised us of his genial presence, when
Brasset and my relation by marriage came in upon tiptoe.  The sight of
us all with an unknown lady discoursing Schumann for our benefit was
doubtless as reassuring as it was unexpected.  In the emotion of the
moment Jodey gave the amateur middle-weight champion a fraternal dig in
the ribs.

However, our party could not be considered complete without the
presence of the chief gamester.  The "Impromptu" had run its course and
the gracious lady at the piano had been prevailed upon to play
something of Brahms', when the master mind, whose arrival we were
nervously awaiting, appeared once more upon the scene.  Fitz came into
the room looking every inch the Man of Destiny.



CHAPTER XII

THE MAN OF DESTINY

It was not in looks alone that Fitz resembled the Man of Destiny.  The
peremptory decision of his manner fitted him for the part.  The
beautiful musician and her subtle cadences were significant to him only
in so far as they could serve his will.  Fitz entered in the midst of a
rhapsody played divinely; and with an unconcerned air he went straight
up to the piano, and, with Napoleonic effrontery, placed his elbow
across the music.

"Sorry to interrupt you, Countess, but there is no time to lose."

The Countess lifted her fingers from the keys, and her teeth flashed in
a smile that had an edge to it.

A shrug of the shoulders from the _pianiste_; and Fitz began to talk
with considerable volubility in his fluent Illyrian.  My nurture has
been expensive; and on the admirable English principle of the more you
pay for your education the less practical knowledge you acquire, let it
cause no surprise that my acquaintance with the Illyrian tongue is
limited to a few expletives.  Therefore I was unable to follow the
course of Fitz's conversation.

Perforce I had to be content with watching his play of gesture.  This,
too, was considerable.  The air of languor which it had pleased him to
assume in the crises of his fate was laid aside in favour of a
wonderful ardour and conviction.  He drummed his fingers on the top of
the piano and urged his views with a fervour that might have moved the
Sphinx.

At first the fair musician did not seem prepared to take Fitz
seriously.  Her smile was arch, and inclined to be playful.  But Fitz
was in an epic mood.

He had not come so far upon a momentous enterprise to be gainsaid by a
woman's levity.  The man began to wax tremendous.  He kept his voice
low, but the veins swelled in his forehead, and he beat the palm of his
right hand with the fist of his left.

Before such a force of nature no woman could be expected to maintain
her negative attitude.  Fitz's Illyrian became volcanic.  In the end
the lady at the piano spread her hands, said "Hein!" and rose from the
music stool.  A moment she stood irresolute, but the gaze upon her was
that of a serpent fixed upon the eyes of a bird.  The man's
determination had won the day.  For, clearly at his behest, she quitted
the room, and Fitz, white and tense, yet with blazing eyes, followed
her.

For the moment it seemed that he had forgotten his fellow conspirators.
But as soon as he had passed out of the room he turned back.

"Stay where you are," he said.  "You will be wanted presently."

The five of us were left staring after him through the open door of the
drawing-room.  It was the Chief Constable who broke the silence.

"What's his game now?"

"He appears to be engaged in convincing a woman against her will," said
I.  "Were you able to follow the conversation?"

"Not altogether.  He appears to have made up his mind that Madame shall
do something, and Madame appears to have made up hers that she won't.
But exactly what it is, I can't say.  I don't mind betting a shilling,
all the same, that the damned fellow will get his way.  Upon my word I
have never seen his equal!"

The Chief Constable laughed in a hollow voice, and removed another bead
of honest perspiration from his countenance.

Fitz's departure with the Countess marked the renewal of our suspense.
Here were the five of us landed indefinitely, biting our thumbs.  The
situation was rather absurd.  Five law-abiding Englishmen assembled
with fell intent in a private house, yet knowing very little of the
business they had on hand.  Each had made his way by stealth, and under
false pretences, into the very heart of the place.  In this comfortable
drawing-room we had no _locus standi_ at all.  To all in the
establishment we were total strangers, and to us they were equally
strange.  Would Fitz never return?  Would the call to action never be
made?  A man with a high forehead and the look of an official came to
the threshold of the room, looked in upon us pensively, and then went
away again.  Two minutes later a second individual repeated the
performance.  Doubtless we were five strange and unexpected birds--but
the whole business was beginning to be ridiculous.

I looked at my watch.  It was twenty-five minutes past ten.  Then the
undefeated O'Mulligan sat down at the piano and began to play the
latest masterpiece in vogue at the Tivoli.  The strains of his
searching melody had the effect of bringing to us another servant with
a further supply of coffee.

"Can you tell me if the Ambassador is dining out to-night?" I said to
the servant.

"Yes, sir," said the man who was English.  "At Buckingham Palace, but
he will be home before eleven."

"Is the Crown Princess dining there also?"

"No, sir, I believe not."

"She is in the suite of rooms on the next floor?" I said carelessly.

"Yes, sir."

When the man had withdrawn I was congratulated.

"Well done, you!" said Coverdale.  "Useful information."

"I wonder if Fitz knows as much," said I.

"Of course he does.  The infernal fellow has thought this thing out
pretty well.  He knows the game he's playing."

This was reassuring from one whose habit was averse from optimism.

Inspired with the knowledge that his Excellency was dining at
Buckingham Palace, Alexander O'Mulligan began to pound away more
heartily than ever upon the upright grand.

"Give your imitation of church bells and a barrel organ, Alec," said a
humble admirer, insinuating a trifle more ease into his bearing.

"Do you think they will mind if we smoke here?" said Brasset,
plaintively.  "I am dying for a cigarette."

However, before the Master of the Crackanthorpe could have recourse to
this aid to his existence, Fitz returned.  He was alone, and he was
peremptory.

"What an infernal din you fellows kick up!"  He fixed his dæmonic gaze
upon the amateur middle-weight champion.  "Leave that piano and come
and be presented to my wife."

At last we were coming to the horses.  There was a perceptible squaring
of shoulders and a shooting of cuffs, and then Fitz led the way out of
the room, followed by Coverdale and the rest of us in review order.  We
were conducted up another marble staircase and along a lengthy
corridor, through a succession of reception-rooms, until at last we
found ourselves in an apartment larger and more ornate than all the
others.  Its sombre richness was truly imposing.  Pictures, tapestry,
candelabra, carpets and furniture all combined to give it the air of a
state chamber.

Three ladies were seated at the far end of this magnificent room.  One
was the fair musician upon whom Fitz had imposed his will; another was
a mature and stately dame, with snow-white hair and patrician features;
and the third, reclining upon a chair with a high gilt back, was the
"Stormy Petrel," the Crown Princess of Illyria.

As soon as we came into the room the two other ladies rose, leaving the
Princess seated in state.  Fitz presented each of us with all the
formality that the most sensitive royalty could have desired.  His
manner of recommending us to her Royal Highness was dignified,
authoritative and not without grace.  As far as we were concerned, I
hope our bearing was not lacking in the necessary punctilio.

Hitherto it had been our privilege to see Mrs. Fitz out hunting in her
famous scarlet coat, when to be sure she had been the centre of much
critical observation.  But at such times the princess was merged in the
brilliant horsewoman; and it goes to prove how easily "the real thing"
may pass for the mere audacity of the intrepid adventuress, if one
comes to consider that the bearing of "the circus rider from Vienna"
awoke no suspicions in respect of her status.

It would be easy to indulge in a page of reflection upon the subject of
Mrs. Fitz.  Her style was quite as pronounced in the saddle as it was
in the salon, but the experts in that elusive quality had failed, as
they do occasionally, to appreciate its authenticity.  Doubtless they
would have failed again to render the genuine thing its meed, had we
not the assurance of Fitz that we were in the presence of the heiress
to the oldest monarchy in Europe.

It is time I attempted to describe this noble creature.  But it is vain
to seek to portray a great work of nature.  Above all else I think she
must be regarded as that.  She was prodigal in beauty; imperious in the
vividness of her challenge; splendid in the arresting candour of her
dark and disdainful eyes.  There was a compelling power before which
the world of men and things was prone to yield; but there was pathos
too in that valiant self-security, which knew so little yet exacted so
much; and beyond all else there was the immemorial fascination of a
luckless, intensely sentient being, who seemed in her own person to be
the epitome of an entire sex at the dawn of the twentieth century.

One by one we paid our homage, and it was not rendered less by the
romance of the circumstances.

"You are brave men!" she said in a voice wonderfully low and clear in
quality.  "We Sveltkes have known always how to esteem men of courage."

Coverdale, as the doyen of the party, took upon himself to speak for
us.  He held himself erect and bowed much too stiffly to pass muster as
a courtier.  But he had a kind of plain, almost rough, sincerity which
atoned a little for his resolute absence of grace.

"If we are to have the privilege, ma'am," said the Chief Constable, "of
making ourselves useful, I am sure we shall all feel very proud and
honoured."

There is often something rather charming in a plain man's attempt at
the ornate.  So honourable an awkwardness caused the eyes of her Royal
Highness to glow with humour and kindliness.

"_Mais oui, mon cher_, I know it well, _les Anglais sont des hommes
honnêtes_."  Suddenly she laughed quite charmingly, and enfolded the
six of us in a glance of the highest benevolence, with which,
doubtless, her favourite dogs and horses had often been indulged.  "Do
you know, there is something in _les Anglais_ that I like much.  Quiet
fellows, eh, always a little _bête_, but so--so trustworthy.  Yes, I
like them much."

There was something soft and quaint and entirely captivating in the
accent of her Royal Highness.  The smile in her eyes was frankness
itself.

"I hope, ma'am," said the Chief Constable, still labouring valiantly
with his politeness, "that we shall deserve praise."

The Princess continued to smile.  A very characteristic smile it was.
A little girl admiring her array of dolls, or old Frederick of Prussia
reviewing his regiment of giants, might have been expected to indulge
in a very similar gesture.  We were honest Englishmen, quiet fellows, a
little _bête_, who were always to be trusted; and her _naïveté_ was
such, that it was bound to inform us of these facts.

"You must know my ladies.  They will like to know you, I am sure."

The elder was the Margravine of Lesser Grabia; the fair admirer of
Strauss the Countess Etta von Zweidelheim.  The bows were profound; and
not for a moment did the look of high indulgence quit the face of her
Royal Highness.

"The Margravine is a dear good creature, Colonel Coverdale.  Many times
she has helped me when I could not do my sums.  I never could do sums,
because I always thought they were stupid.  But she is such a kind,
faithful soul, my dear Colonel, and not at all stupid, like the sums
she used to set me.  As for her cooking, it is excellent.  If you are
not otherwise engaged, my dear Colonel, I should recommend you to marry
her."

The younger section of her Royal Highness's bodyguard, Brasset, Jodey
and O'Mulligan, gave ground abruptly.  The amateur middle-weight
champion of Great Britain nearly disgraced us all by choking audibly.
But really the expression of blank dismay upon the weather-beaten
countenance of the Chief Constable was stupendous.  However, his
presence of mind and his courtier-like politeness did not for a moment
desert him.

"Delighted, I'm sure," he murmured.

"I feel sure, a man so brave as Colonel Coverdale has a good wife
already," said the lady of the patrician features, speaking excellent
English with great amiability.

A further development of this alluring topic was precluded by the
entrance of a fourth lady into the room.  She carried an opera cloak.
Clearly this was designed for the use of the Princess.'

Her Royal Highness, however, preferred to tarry.  Fitz, hovering round
her chair, found it hard to veil his impatience.  Too plainly the
delay, which was wanton and unnecessary, was setting his nerves on
edge.  His wife must have been conscious of it, since she patted his
sleeve with an air at once soothing and maternal.  Nevertheless she
showed no haste to forgo the comfort of the room or the pleasure of the
society in which she sat.

"I was hoping," said Fitz, "that we could get away before the return of
von Arlenberg."

The smile of the Princess was of rare brilliancy.

"Ah yes, the dear Baron.  Perhaps it is better."

Fitz took the cloak from the hands of the lady, but before he could
place it around his wife's shoulders voices were heard at the far end
of the long room.

Three men had entered.

The first of these to approach us was a tall, stout and florid
personage wearing full Court dress and so many decorations that he
looked like a caricature.  Certainly he was a magnificent figure of a
man, but, at this moment, a little lacking in serenity.  His face
showed traces of a consternation that would have been almost comic had
it not been rather painful.  At the sight of the six of us he spread
out his hands and gesticulated to those who had come with him into the
room.

In an undertone he said something in Illyrian, which I did not
understand.

In striking contrast to the perturbation of the Ambassador the manner
of the Princess was as amiable and composed as if she were seated in
the castle at Blaenau.

"Ah, Baron, you have dined well?"

"Excellently, madam, excellently!" said the Ambassador.  The
consternation in his face was slowly deepening.

"_Très bien_; it is well.  I have heard my father say that cooking was
the only art in which the good English are not quite perfect.  And _le
bon roi Edouard_, I hope he is in good health?"

"In robust health, madam, in robust health."

The dismay in the eyes of the Ambassador was rather tragic.  His gaze
was travelling constantly to meet that of his two companions, stolid
men who yet were at a loss to conceal their uneasiness.  On the other
hand, the air of the Princess was charmingly cool and _dégagé_.

"Baron," said she, "do you know my husband?"

Her smile, as she spoke, acquired a malice that made one think of a
sword.

"Madam, I have not the privilege," said the Ambassador coldly.

Somehow the manner of the reply gave one an enlarged idea of his
Excellency's calibre.  If in such a situation it is permissible for a
humble spectator to speak of himself, I felt my throat tighten and my
heart begin to beat.

"Well, Baron," said the Princess, "it is a privilege that I am sure you
covet.  His Excellency the Herr Baron von Arlenberg, my dear father's
representative in England, Mr. Nevil Fitzwaren, squire of Broadfields,
in the County of Middleshire."

The Ambassador bowed gravely and then held out his hand.

Fitz returned the bow of Ferdinand the Twelfth's representative
slightly and curtly, but ignored his hand altogether.



CHAPTER XIII

FURTHER PASSAGES AT NO. 300 PORTLAND PLACE

The Princess was amused.

"_Aha, les Anglais!  Très bons enfants!_"

The royal eyebrows had an uplift of mischievous pleasure.

"And this, dear Baron," said her Royal Highness, "is my good friend
Colonel Coverdale, who has smelt powder in the wars of his country."

Fitz's open rudeness seemed to help the Ambassador to sustain his
poise.  He bowed and offered his hand to the Chief Constable in a
fashion precisely similar to that he had used to the husband of the
Princess.

The Chief Constable shook hands with the Ambassador.  It was amusing to
observe the manner in which each of these big dogs looked over the
other.  The representative of Ferdinand the Twelfth was a man of
greater calibre than his first appearance had led us to believe.

"It is pleasant, madam," said he, "to find you surrounded by your
English friends."

The dark eyes brimmed with meaning.

"Confess, Baron, that you did not think I had so many."

"Your Royal Highness is not kind to my intelligence," said his
Excellency.

"Confess, then, you did not think that such was their courage?"

"I will perjure myself if your Royal Highness desires it."  The
Ambassador's laugh was not so gay in effect as it was in intention.
"But could I believe that you would admit any save the bravest to your
friendship?"

"Then you recognise, Baron, that my friends are brave?"

"Unquestionably, madam, they are brave."

"Explain then, Baron, why you did not guard the doors of my prison?
For what reason, when you went out to dine this evening, did you forget
to lock them and put the keys in your pocket?"

Before the subtle laughter in the eyes of his questioner the Ambassador
lowered his gaze.

"I trust your Royal Highness does not feel that one of the oldest, if
one of the humblest, servants of the good King has so little regard for
your Royal Highness as to seek to debar her from the simplest of
pleasures?"

"It has not occurred to your Excellency that that of which you speak as
the simplest of pleasures may prove for yourself the greatest of
calamities?"

At this point the Ambassador was tempted to dissemble.

"I am at a loss, madam, to read your thoughts."

"Liar!" muttered Fitz in my ear.

"Your Excellency appears to have a store of natural simplicity," said
the Princess.

The Ambassador bowed.

"Is it not a great thing to have, madam, in these days?"

"Has it not occurred to your Excellency that it is a luxury that those
who would serve their Sovereign occasionally deny themselves?"

"If it pleases your Royal Highness to exercise your delightful wit at
the expense of the humblest servant of the good King!"

"It does not please me, Excellency.  It grieves me to the heart."

With an address that was remarkable the Princess changed her tone.
Quite suddenly the clear and mellow inflection of light banter was
exchanged for one of coldly wrought reproof.

"I am sorry, madam," said the Ambassador, simply and with sincerity; "I
am a thousand times sorry.  I can never forgive myself if I have
wounded the susceptibilities of your Royal Highness.  Already I had
hoped I had made it clear that the least of your servants has not been
a free agent in all that has been done.  I am the humble instrument of
an august master."

"I agree with you, Herr Baron, that the King, in his wisdom, cannot do
wrong.  But it is because you have betrayed the service of your master
that I am unhappy."

The Herr Baron lowered his eyes.

"Please God," he said humbly, "the least of the King's servants will
never betray the service of him to whom he owes everything."

The Princess laughed, a little cruelly.

"Speeches, Baron," said she.

"Will your Royal Highness deign to explain in what manner I have
betrayed the service of my master?"

"If you press the question, I will answer it.  At the command of the
King, you take me by force and you imprison me in your house until that
hour in which I can be removed to the castle at Blaenau.  And then, in
an unlucky moment, you open the door of my cage, and I am once again a
free person in the company of my friends."

The Princess rose abruptly, and with a disdain that was like a rapier
suffered Fitz to place the cloak about her shoulders.

The Ambassador retained his self-possession.  In his bearing, in the
cold lustre of his eyes, in the rigidity of the jaw, were the evidence
of an inflexible will.

"The orders, madam, of the King, my master, are explicit," he said in a
low voice.  "It grieves me bitterly that I cannot suffer them to be set
aside."

"So be it, Herr Baron."  The great dark eyes of the Princess transfixed
the Ambassador like a pair of swords.

In the midst of these passages Fitz reassumed his _rôle_ of
generalissimo.

"Arbuthnot," he whispered to me, "you and Brasset and Vane-Anstruther
guard the farthest door.  Let no one enter or pass out.  Coverdale and
O'Mulligan will look after the other one."

In silence, and without ostentation, we disposed ourselves accordingly.
Clearly it had not occurred to the Ambassador to expect compulsion to
be levied in his own house, by half a dozen commonplace civilians in
black coats.

We had hardly taken up our places when Fitz, who stood by the side of
the Princess, received from her a look that was also a command.
Thereupon, for the first time, he deigned to address the Ambassador.

"Baron von Arlenberg," he said, "the friends of her Royal Highness have
no wish to use _force majeure_, but her Royal Highness desires me to
inform you that she has it at her disposal.  All the same, she is
hopeful that your natural good sense will spare her the necessity of
employing it."

Fitz's words were well spoken, but his tone, scrupulously restrained as
it was, had an undercurrent of menace that the Ambassador and his two
secretaries could hardly fail to detect.  The cold eyes of his
Excellency seemed to blaze with fury, but he made no reply.

The Princess took the arm of her husband, and moved a pace in the
direction of the farther door.  At the same moment the Ambassador made
a movement to the left where a bell-rope hung from the wall.

"Baron von Arlenberg," said Fitz, in a tone that compelled him to stay
where he was, "if you touch that rope I shall blow out your brains."

Fitz had the revolver in his hand already.  He covered the Ambassador
imperturbably.  The two secretaries, although confused by the swiftness
of the act, moved forward.

"Keep away from the bell-rope, gentlemen," said Fitz.  "I shall not
hesitate."

The secretaries halted indecisively beside their chief, and as they did
so Coverdale left his post by the nearer door and, revolver in hand,
solemnly mounted guard over the bell-rope.

"I am afraid, gentlemen," said Fitz, "you have no choice other than to
respect the wishes of the Princess.  And she desires that you stay in
this room until she has left the Embassy."

However, with all his coolness, Fitz had made two important
miscalculations.  On the right there was another bell-rope, and there
was also the lady of the silver hair, the Margravine of Lesser Grabia.
I sprang from my post and literally wrenched the rope from her fingers,
but not before she had pulled it as hard as she could.

Escorted by Fitz, the Princess passed out of the room, while the
friends of her Royal Highness assumed an aspect of quiet, but
determined hostility, in order to prevent the Ambassador, his
secretaries, the Margravine, who looked furious, and the fair player of
Schumann, who appeared to be consumed with mirth, from following her.

Hardly had the Princess passed through the farther door, which Brasset
and Jodey had the honour of holding for her, before the Countess Etta
von Zweidelheim collapsed upon a convenient sofa.

"It is petter than Offenbach!" she said, beginning to weep softly.

Whether it was actually better than Offenbach, I am not competent to
affirm, but I can answer for it that for all except that charming but
risible lady it was a great deal more serious.  The Ambassador was a
brave man, and he had strength of will, but as becomes one of his
calling he was in no sense a fool.  He had seen that in the eyes of
Fitz which had assured him that a too-punctilious regard for the will
of his Sovereign would not only be futile, but indiscreet.  And no
sooner had Fitz and the royal lady vanished from his ken, than there
were Coverdale and the rest of us to contend with.

The Chief Constable with his back to the wall, even without a firearm
in his stolid fist, is a very considerable figure of a man who will not
brook nonsense from anybody.  Then Alexander O'Mulligan, by the farther
door, had a personality by no means deficient in persuasiveness.

Scarcely had the Princess departed before O'Mulligan's door was tried
from without.  The amateur middle-weight champion of Great Britain set
his back against it with great success.

"Help! help!" called the Margravine in a deep bay, which it seemed to
our alarmed ears must have been audible for half a mile.  "Save the
Princess!  Help!  Help!"

In response to the appeal, a greater and ever-increasing pressure was
brought to bear upon the door.  The hinges groaned, and the panels
trembled; and at last Alexander O'Mulligan suddenly withdrew his
weight, and divers persons tumbled headlong, one over another,
pell-mell into the room.

"I think we had better go," said Coverdale, in the midst of this chaos.

The five remaining champions of the Princess's freedom gathered
together and, their weapons still in hand, withdrew in excellent order.
But one resplendent apartment led to another, equally resplendent, and
amid the labyrinth of doors and corridors we could not find the
staircase.  And immediately behind us the outraged Ambassador and his
retinue were gaining every instant in numbers and morale.

The situation was ludicrous, yet not without its peril.  It was hard to
know what would happen, and there was very little time in which to form
a conjecture.  Besides, it was of great importance that we should find
our way downstairs without delay, for our presence there might be
sorely needed.

As it happened, our thanks were due to the Ambassador that we were able
to find the staircase.  For he and a number of excited persons flocked
past us and pointed a direct course thereto.  They got down first, but
we followed hard upon their heels.

On the ground floor all was peace.  The men in livery and divers stray
officials were serenely unconscious of what had occurred.  Fitz had
donned his overcoat, and with stupendous coolness was preparing to
depart.  Just as the Ambassador came into view, he led the Princess
into the outer vestibule.

"They can't stop 'em now," said Coverdale.  "We had better look after
our coats and hats, and then find our way to the Savoy."

This was true enough, for the door leading to the street was already
open.

Waiting by the kerb was an electric brougham which Fitz had had the
forethought to provide.  Coverdale and I retrieved our property from
the waiting-room at the foot of the staircase, while the others went in
search of theirs; and so quickly was this accomplished, that we were
able to witness an incident that was not the least memorable of the
many of that amazing evening.

The Ambassador realised that the game was lost as soon as he saw the
open door and the brougham in readiness.  Therefore he refrained from
passing beyond the inner vestibule.  It is expected of an ambassador
that he shall do no hurt to his dignity in the most exacting situations.

But there is an astonishing incident still to be recorded.  Fitz,
having placed the Princess in safety in the brougham, returned into the
house.  Walking straight up to the Ambassador, he addressed him in
terms of measured insult.

"You cowardly dog," he said.  "I would shoot you like a cur if it were
not for the laws of the country.  You are not worth hanging for.  But I
will meet you at Paris at the first opportunity.  Here is my card."

Before he could be prevented he gave the Ambassador a blow upon the
cheek with his open hand.  It was not heavy, but it was premeditated.

The members of the Embassy closed around Fitz.

"Come into the ballroom, sir," said the Ambassador, who had turned
deadly pale.

"When I have seen the Princess into safety I will oblige you," said
Fitz.  "But it would be more convenient if we arranged a meeting in
Paris."

"You shall meet me now, sir," said the Ambassador.

Coverdale moved forward into the circle that had been formed.

"I am afraid that is impossible," said the Chief Constable.  "The
practice of duelling has no sanction in this country.  For all
concerned it will surely be more convenient to meet at Paris."

Coverdale's intention was pacific, and he is a man of weight, but the
principals in this affair were likely to be too much for him.

"Arbuthnot," said Fitz, "be good enough to accompany the Princess to
the Savoy.  We will come on presently."

For a moment the issue hung in the balance.  The Ambassador had
demanded satisfaction and Fitz was more than willing to grant it.  But
Coverdale was equally resolute.  To the best of my capacity I seconded
his efforts, but with men so headstrong and so implacable it was almost
impossible to exert any kind of authority.

"If you don't care to support me," said Fitz to Coverdale, "perhaps you
will not mind taking the place of Arbuthnot.  I daresay you other
fellows will come on to the ballroom."

To our dismay, Fitz, with a reassumption of the Napoleonic manner,
turned towards the staircase.

"What is to be done?" I inquired of the Chief Constable anxiously.  "I
am a man of peace myself, but one of us must see him through."

"I agree with you--the cursed firebrand!  But one of us must stay, and
the other must look after the Princess."

The Chief Constable did not conceal the fact that he had a predilection
for the latter duty.

"I don't know much about affairs of honour," said I, "and I should
greatly prefer that a man of more experience took a thing like this in
hand; but I can quite believe that your official position----"

"Official position be damned!" said the Chief Constable.  "If you
honestly think I shall be of more use than you, there is no more to be
said.  We are here to make ourselves useful and we must see this thing
through."

"Very well, I will look after the Princess, and you go to the ballroom
and do what you can to save the situation."



CHAPTER XIV

A DEPLORABLE INCIDENT

It was with a feeling akin to despair that I saw Coverdale follow the
others up the stairs.  In the first place my own position was
invidious.  But there was nothing to be done.  It was beyond question
that Fitz must have a tried man like Coverdale at his elbow, whilst
also it was necessary that a person with some pretensions to
responsibility should take charge of the lady who was safely outside in
the electric brougham.  Yet, uppermost in my thoughts, was a more
insistent care.  The affair had taken a very ugly turn.  Fitz had shown
himself to be a man who did not stick at trifles, whilst von Arlenberg,
unless his manner belied him, was cast in a similar mould.  It was
therefore with some uneasiness that I went to offer my services to her
Royal Highness.  That distinguished personage was seated greatly at her
ease, yet with a slight frown upon her somewhat imperious countenance.

"Where is Nefil?" said she.

"I have to tell you, ma'am," said I, "that Mr. Fitzwaren
is--er--discussing certain important matters with his Excellency, and
that if it is agreeable to you he desires me to accompany you to your
hotel."

"What are the matters?"  Her gaze in its directness seemed to pass
right through me.

"There are--er--certain details that have to be adjusted."

"Well, I hope Nefil will be able to shoot straight."

Whether I was more taken aback by the cynicism of the remark or by its
sagacity, it would be fruitless to inquire.  But to this pious hope I
had nothing to add; and I stood feeling decidedly uncomfortable at the
door of the car.  There was no room in front by the side of the
chauffeur, and I had received no invitation to take a seat within.

The pause was awkward, but somehow there seemed to be no help for it.

"Well?" said the lady, not without a suspicion of acerbity.

Even that I could not take for an invitation to get in.  I stood
acutely conscious that my embarrassment told against me.

"Aha, _les Anglais_!"  The malice was not too genial.  "Would you haf
me open the door?"

I told the chauffeur to drive to the Savoy, and took the proffered seat
by the side of the Crown Princess of Illyria.

The discovery has no claim to be original, but in order to find out
what a woman really is, one should sit with her alone and
_tête-à-tête_.  The opportunity for frankness is not likely to be
neglected upon either side, since a display of that engaging quality
upon the one part seems automatically to evoke it on the other.

No sooner was I seated by the side of Mrs. Fitz than I felt more at
ease.  She was so sentient, so responsive; a creature who, beneath the
trenchant reserve of her manner, was alive in every nerve.

She patted my knees with her fan.

"Aha, _les Anglais_!"  In the light of the lamps, I thought her eyes
were like stars.  "So brave, so honest and so _bête_--I love them all!"

The spell of her presence seemed to overpower me.

"My brave Nefil will kill him, will he not?"

"I fear," said I, "that one of them will not see to-morrow."

"Indeed, yes; it cannot be otherwise."

Her calmness amazed me.  And yet there was nothing callous or unnatural
in it.  Perhaps it might be described as the outward expression of an
imperial nature.  At least that was the impression that I gained.  When
her servants drew their swords in her cause they must not look for a
prick in the arm.  Let them prepare to stake their lives and to yield
them gladly.  I shivered slightly; it was barbarous that a woman could
thus offer the father of her children to the gods, yet it was sublime.

All too soon we arrived at the restaurant where Fitz had ordered supper
for seven.  The place was filling up rapidly after the theatres.  We
sat on a sofa in the foyer to wait for our party; I with an acute
anxiety and a sense of foreboding that held me tongue-tied; my
companion with a detachment of mind that in the circumstances seemed
almost inhuman.  For her sake a man was being done to death; one whom
she loved, or one whom her father honoured.  But whatever Fate's
decree, her nature was schooled to the point of submission.

Seated by my side in the foyer, she subjected the throng of returning
playgoers to a frankly humorous and malicious scrutiny.  These English
who were so _bête_ amused her vastly.  The clothes they wore, the airs
they gave themselves, the things they did and the things they refrained
from doing, not a detail escaped that audaciously frank, that alertly
curious intelligence.

"Your women are not as you, you fine, big English good dogs," she said,
bestowing another indulgent pat upon my knees.  "_Les Anglaises_, how
prim and pinched they are, what dresses they wear, and how they do
walk!  But I adore _vos jolis hommes_: was ever such distinction, such
charm, such stupidity!  _Mon père_ shall have an English regiment.  I
will raise it myself, and be its colonel."

Her laughter was deep and rich and full of malice.  Even I, stupid and
stricken with fear as I was, was yet sufficiently indiscreet to attempt
to seize the opportunity.

"It will be the easiest thing in the world, ma'am.  Have you not raised
it already?"

Another indulgent pat was my reward.

"_Très bon enfant_!  _Quel esprit_!  You shall sit by my side when we
eat."

Her ridicule had a velvet sheath, but even an Englishman, who felt as
miserably ineffectual as did I, was susceptible of the thrust.

It is difficult for the average Briton, acutely conscious that he is
enduring the patronage of a superior, to be easy, graceful and natural
in his bearing; to say the appropriate things in the appropriate way,
and to carry off the situation lightly.  Every moment that I sat by the
side of her Royal Highness in the centre of the public gaze, I felt my
position to be growing more invidious.  The pose of my companion seemed
to become more Olympian; while if I ventured a half-hearted _riposte_
or a timid pleasantry, I suffered for it; or if I remained silent and
respectful--and that after all is the only course to take in the
presence of our betters--I furnished an additional example of the
heaviness of my countrymen.

I came to the conclusion that the less I said the better it would fare
with my over-sensitive dignity, but even the utterance of an occasional
monosyllable did not save me.

"When I hear the big dogs growl, the English masteefs, I say to myself,
'Ah, the dear fellows, how excellently they speak the language!'"

Unless one springs from the Chosen Race, it takes more than three
generations to produce a courtier.  I felt myself to be growing stiffer
and generally more infelicitous in my demeanour.  And then, as if to
complete my overthrow, there entered the foyer a supper-party, whose
appearance on the scene I could only regard with horror.

Who has not felt that among the astral bodies there is a malign power,
a kind of Court Dramatist, who arranges sinister coincidences and
mischievous surprises for us humble denizens below, in order to divert
the privileged onlookers sitting in heaven?  The supper-party which
came into our midst, which looked as though it had been to see "The
Importance of Being Earnest," and had been shocked by its reprehensible
levity, consisted of Dumbarton, our illustrious neighbour, "dear
Evelyn" high of coiffure and robed in pink satin, the august Mrs.
Catesby, and the highly respectable George, with one or two others of
minor importance as far as this narrative is concerned, although in
other spheres not prone to yield pride of place to anybody.

It was clear from the rigid, slow and undeviating manner in which the
ducal party walked past our sofa, that we were discovered.  Mrs.
Catesby, in particular, gazed down her nose with really awful
solemnity; George, the highly respectable, wearing his Quarter Sessions
expression; Dumbarton, looking like a Royal Duke painted in oils; and
"dear Evelyn," his pink-robed spouse, a really admirable picture of
what can be achieved in the way of high-bred hauteur.  I can only say
that, speaking for myself, I addressed a humble prayer to heaven that
the floor might open and let me through.

A chill of apprehension settled upon me.  I sat very close, not daring
to move an eyelid.

Alas! as the procession filed past, there arose a note of derision; a
clear, resonant, bell-like note.

"Ach, pink!  Pink in dis climate and wis dat complexion!"

Even the _chef de reception_ was compelled to follow the example of
Mrs. Catesby of looking down his nose with really awful solemnity.

The sweat sprang to my miserable forehead.  I never have a nightmare
now without I dream of pink satin.  The ducal party passed beyond our
ken, leaving me shattered utterly and more than ever at the mercy of my
companion.  However, to my relief, the "Stormy Petrel" began to betray
a care in regard to her husband.  It began to seem that the aim of his
adversary had been the straighter.

Fitz was certainly a desperate fellow, and my intercourse with the lady
whom he had prevailed upon to share his name rendered that aspect of
his character the more clear.  What enormous grit the man must have to
abduct such a lioness and to attempt to keep house with her upon a
basis of equality.  But had he met his overthrow at last?  Had he
tempted fate once too often?  The hands of the clock were creeping on
towards midnight.

"Nefil has missed his aim."  The voice of the Princess trembled.

Almost immediately, however, this was proved to be not the case.  There
were further arrivals in the foyer; five men entered together, and the
first of these was Fitz.

It may have been the fault of my overwrought fancy, but it seemed to me
that each of the five was looking excited and pale.  My companion rose
to receive them.  "It is well," she said.  "It is well."  She turned to
Fitz, who looked ghastly, and extended her hand with a gesture that I
can only compare to that of Medusa.  Fitz bore the hand to his lips.

"What happened?" I said to Coverdale in a hoarse whisper.

"Don't ask!" he said, half turning away.

"Do you mean----" I said; but the sentence died in my throat.

The invasion of the supper-room was a pretty grave ordeal to have to
face.  The stress of that day, woven of the very tissue of excitement,
had told upon me; and again I was in the grip of a nameless fear.
Instead of following in the train of Mrs. Fitz into the glare of a too
notorious publicity, I wanted to run away and hide myself.

The room was crowded with people who were there to see and to be seen.
We had to make our way past a number of tables to one reserved for us
at the far end of the room.  In the middle of our progress, like a lion
in the gate, was the ducal party toying elegantly with quails and
champagne.

Each member of her Royal Highness's bodyguard, including the
indomitable O'Mulligan, was looking downcast and unhappy and far from
his best.  But the lady herself, in bearing and in manner, made no
secret of her status.  She was the Heiress-Apparent to Europe's oldest
monarchy condescending to eat in the midst of barbarians.

It was clear that the ducal party was fully determined to take an
extreme course.  By the animation of its conversation and its assiduous
regard for quails and champagne, it evidently hoped to make the fact
quite plain that our privacy would be respected if only we had the
decency to extend a like indulgence to theirs.

Alas! in certain kinds of warfare there are no sanctities.

"Ach, pink!" said Mrs. Fitz, in that voice which had such a terrible
quality of penetration.  "Can any one tell me _why_ pink----?"

The nervous fancy of a married man, a father of a family, and a county
member, seemed to detect a titter from the adjoining tables.  Coverdale
pressed forward sombrely.  Her Royal Highness, instinct with a ruthless
and humorous disdain, went forward too.  Fitz, however, lingered a
moment, and touched his distinguished neighbour upon the shoulder with
incredible Napoleonic heartiness.

"Hullo, Duke!" he said.

"How are you, Fitzwaren?" said the great man, in a voice that seemed to
come out of his shoes.

"Never mind the Missus!" said the Man of Destiny, with a comic
half-cock of the left eye at the patrician aspect of her Grace.  "It's
only her fun."

The man's effrontery, his cynicism, his absence of taste, were
staggering.  But what a sublime courage the fellow had.  On he
sauntered, with his hands buried in his pockets, in the wake of
Coverdale and her Royal Highness.  Brasset and I, walking delicately,
were crowding upon his heels, when what can only be described as a
peremptory and insistent hiss recalled us to the danger zone.

"Reggie!  Odo Arbuthnot!"

We proffered a forlorn salute to the most august of her sex.

"Beg pardon, Mrs. Catesby, didn't see you, y'know."

Brasset's apologetic feebleness was in singular and painful contrast to
the epic breadth of the inconceivable Fitz.

"Don't dare to offer me a word, either of you," said the Great Lady, in
a whisper of Homeric truculence.  "You are committing the act of social
suicide.  When I think of your mother, Reggie, and of your wife and
daughter, Odo Arbuthnot, I----but I will say nothing.  But it is social
suicide for all of you, including that fatuous police constable."

The flesh cannot endure more than a given amount of suffering, although
the measure of its capacity is so terrible.  But whatever it was, I was
already past it.

"Pink is certainly a trying colour," I whispered.

"Dear Evelyn will never forgive it.  Have none of you a sense of
decency?  It is madness!"

I agreed that it was, and retreated limply to the next table but two.

Our supper party should have been a dismal function, but somehow it was
not.  It was only reasonable to assume that some fell occurrence had
taken place at the Embassy, but whatever its nature was, its witnesses
began to pull themselves together under the magnetic influence of Mrs.
Fitz.  Her imperious gaiety, if it did not wholly banish Coverdale's
abysmal gloom, did much to make it less.  As for the other members of
the party, conscience-stricken and uneasy at heart as they were, it was
impossible not to respond to her power.

Even the Master of the Crackanthorpe, whose sense of humour is of a
decidedly primitive order, indulged in a loud guffaw at one of her
pungent remarks.

"Restrain yourself, my dear fellow, for heaven's sake!" I admonished
him.  "Dumbarton is already looking like doom.  Your presence here has
already cost the poultry fund fifty pounds, see if it hasn't.  If he
hears you laugh in that way he will close his covers and stick up wire."

"Don't care what he does!" said the Master of the Crackanthorpe, with
an unnatural brightness in his eyes.

The siren had indeed a terrible power.  The imperious glance, the
distended nostril, the mobile lips, the skin of gleaming olive, the
whole figure vivid with the entrancing charm of sex and the romance of
ages--who were we, _les hommes moyens sensuels_, that we should have
the strength of soul to resist it all?  Nature had fashioned a
sorceress; and when she takes the trouble to do that, she bestows, as a
rule, a consciousness of power upon her chosen instrument, and the
determination to wield it ruthlessly.  We drained our glasses and
basked in her smiles.

Our laughter waxed higher; our joy in her presence the more unguarded.
I retained discretion enough to be aware that no detail of our conduct
was lost upon the august party two tables away.  Every guffaw of which
we were guilty would be used against us.  What had happened to the
impeccable tradition of reticence and right thinking that men of known
probity should yield with this publicity to the blandishments of a
queen of the sawdust?

It was a desperately unlucky position; but we were committed to it
irrevocably.  Nothing now could save our good name among our
neighbours.  Yet that half-hour after midnight was crowded and
glorious.  Who were we, weak-willed mediocrities, that we should resist
the moment?  After the passes we had braved in the service of one so
splendid and so ill-starred, after the long-drawn suspense we had
endured, could we be insensible to the gay music, half-affectionate,
half-insolent, of our names upon her lips?

Coverdale sat by the right of the sorceress, I by the left--responsible
men--yet even with the Gorgon's eye of the Great Lady upon us, we were
fain to publish to the world that we were neither less nor more than
the bond-slaves of the circus rider from Vienna.



CHAPTER XV

AN INTERNATIONAL ISSUE

By a merciful dispensation, the ducal party withdrew at twenty-five
minutes past twelve, doubtless to avert the ignominy of compulsion at
the half-hour.  By that means we were at least spared any further
ordeal that might be forthcoming from that quarter.  And yet would it
have been an ordeal?  That conflict which a little while ago had seemed
so demoralising to the overwrought nerves was now only too likely to be
hailed as the sublimity of battle.

We were loth to obey the inexorable decree of the Licensing Act, but
there was no choice.  Happily the five minutes' start enjoyed by our
friends and neighbours gave us a clear field, and without further
misadventure the "Stormy Petrel" was escorted to her chariot.  She
drove off with Fitz to her hotel, while the rest of us, in no humour
for repose, yielded to the suggestion of Alexander O'Mulligan, "that we
should toddle round to Jermyn Street and draw him for a drink."

It had begun to freeze.  Although the pavements were like glass,
overhead the stars were wonderful.  The shrewd air was like a balm for
the fumes of the wine and the spirit of lawlessness that had aroused us
to a pitch of exaltation that was almost dangerous.  We decided to
walk, if only to lessen the tension upon our nerves.  The three junior
members of the conspiracy walked ahead, a little roisterous of aspect,
arm in arm, uncertain of gait--to be sure the condition of the streets
afforded every excuse--and their hats askew.  At a respectful distance
and in a fashion more decorous they were followed by the Chief
Constable and myself.

"And now, Coverdale," said I, "have the goodness to explain what you
meant when you told me not to ask what happened to the Ambassador?"

I received no answer.

"My dear fellow," I urged, "I think I am entitled to know."

"You ought to be able to guess!"

"I don't understand; Fitz is certainly safe and sound.  How did you
manage to bring them to reason?"

"They were not brought to reason."

The grim tone alarmed me.

"What do you mean?"

I stopped under a street lamp to look into the face of my companion.

"I simply mean this," said he.  "The madman shot him dead!"

Involuntarily I reeled against the lamp post.

"You can't mean that," I said feebly.

"If only we could deceive ourselves!" said Coverdale, in a hoarse tone.
"All the time I sat at supper with that--that woman I was trying to
persuade myself that the thing had not happened.  The whole business
ought to be a fantastic dream, but my God, it isn't!"

"Well, it was his life or Fitz's, I suppose?"

"Yes, there can be no question about that.  The Embassy people admit
it.  And there is this to be said for those fellows, they know how to
play the game."

"A pretty low down game anyhow.  If they steal a man's wife they must
take the consequences."

"I agree; but the circumstances were exceptional.  And give those
fellows their due, as soon as we came to the ballroom they played the
game right up."

"What will happen?"

"No one can say; but they can be trusted to give nothing away."

"But surely the whole thing must come out?"

"Quite possibly; but one prefers to hope that it may not.  It is a very
ugly affair, involving international issues; but the First Secretary--I
forget his name--appeared to take a very matter-of-fact and
common-sense view of it.  After all, Fitzwaren has merely vindicated
his rights."

Dismally enough we followed in the wake of the others.  All day we had
been hovering between tragedy and farce, never quite knowing what would
be the outcome of the extravaganza in which we were bearing a part.
But now we had the answer with no uncertainty.

"All along, some such sequel as this was to be feared," said I, "and
yet I fail to see that any real blame attaches to us."

"Do you!  If you ask my opinion, we have all been guilty of
unpardonable folly in backing this fellow Fitzwaren.  Really, I can't
think what we have been about.  Before the last has been heard of this
business, it strikes me that there will be the devil to pay all round."

In my heart I felt only too clearly that this was the truth.

At O'Mulligan's rooms we drank out of long glasses and were accorded
the privilege of inspecting his "pots."  The trophies of the amateur
middle-weight champion of Great Britain, who claimed Dublin as his
natal city, made an extremely brave array.  But neither they, nor the
refreshment that was offered to us, were able to dispel the gloom that
had descended upon one and all.

"There is one thing to be said for this chap Fitzwaren," said Alexander
O'Mulligan, in a tone that was not devoid of reverence.  "He is grit
all through!"

Truth there might be in this reflection, but there was little
consolation.  Sadly we bade adieu to Alexander O'Mulligan and went to
our hotel to bed, yet not to sleep.  For myself, I can answer that
throughout the night I had dark forebodings and distorted images for my
bed-fellows; and it was not until it was almost time to rise that I was
at last able to snatch a brief doze.

It was fair to assume that the slumbers of the others had been equally
precarious, for at ten o'clock I found myself to be the first of our
party at the breakfast table.  In a few minutes I was joined by
Coverdale, who carried the morning paper in his hand.

He directed my attention to the obituary notice of H.E. the Illyrian
Ambassador, who, it appeared, had met his death at the Illyrian Embassy
in Portland Place at 11.30 o'clock the previous evening, in peculiarly
tragic and distressing circumstances.  It appeared that his Excellency,
a noted shot who took a keen interest in firearms of every description,
was engaged in demonstrating to various members of the Embassy certain
merits in the mechanism of a new type of revolver, of which his
Excellency claimed to be the inventor, when the weapon went off,
killing the unfortunate nobleman instantly.  The brief statement of the
tragic event was followed by a eulogium, in which the dead Ambassador's
martial, political and social attainments, and the irreparable loss,
not only to his sovereign, but to the polity of nations, was dealt with
at length.

"Those fellows have done well," said Coverdale.  "But I should be glad
to think that the last has been heard of this."

This conviction I shared with the Chief Constable, but it was good to
find that thus far Illyrian diplomacy had proved equal to the occasion.
It had the effect of giving me a better appetite for breakfast, and in
consequence I ordered two boiled eggs instead of one.

There was one other item of sinister interest to be found among the
morning's news.  In glancing over it my attention was drawn to the
brief account of a mysterious tragedy which had been enacted in Hyde
Park near the Broad Walk the previous evening between six and seven
o'clock.  A man who, according to papers found in his possession, bore
the name of Ludovic Bolland, of Illyrian extraction, had been found
dead with a bullet wound in the brain.  It was not clear whether it was
a case of murder or suicide.  The police inclined to the former
opinion, but at present were not in possession of any information
capable of throwing light upon the subject.

I did not reveal to Coverdale the fell suspicion that I could not keep
out of my thought.  The incident of the taxi following us, the
foreign-looking man who had entered the hotel, and Fitz's words and
subsequent conduct, all conspired to form a theory that I was very loth
to entertain and yet from which I was unable to escape.  It certainly
had the effect of making me profoundly uncomfortable and caused the
second egg I had ordered to be superfluous after all.

Beyond all things now I longed to return to my country home without
delay.  The past twenty-four hours formed a page in my experience
which, if impossible to erase, I earnestly desired to forget.



CHAPTER XVI

HORSE AND HOUND

In spite of the fact that Fitz had accepted Alexander O'Mulligan's
invitation to witness "Burns's do with the 'Gunner'" at the National
Sporting Club that evening, he retrieved his motor from the garage in
Regent Street, wherein Illyrian diplomacy had placed it, and
immediately after luncheon set out for the country with that other item
of his recovered property.  He was accompanied by Coverdale.  The Chief
Constable seemed to feel that the peace of our county could not endure
if he spent another night in the metropolis.  He was certainly able to
return in the simple consciousness of having done his duty.  Like a man
and a brother he had stood by a fellow Englishman in the hour of his
need.

To one of primitive rural instincts, such as myself, London under even
the most favourable conditions is apt to pall.  During the reaction
which followed the excitements of the previous night it filled me with
loathing.  But I owed it to an ingrained love of veracity that I should
drive to Bolton Street to offer consolation to my grandmother in the
hour of her affliction.  She is a charming old lady, and she knows the
world.  She was unaffectedly glad to see me and immediately ordered a
fire to be lit in the guest-chamber, although "she really didn't know
that I was in need of money."  My explanation that it was spontaneous
natural affection which had led me to seek first-hand information on
the perennial subject of her bronchitis, merely provoked a display of
the engaging scepticism that seems to flourish in the hearts of old
ladies of considerable private means.

At the first moment consistent with honour--to be precise, on the
following Monday at noon--I found myself on No. 2 platform at the Grand
Central.  The guilt of my conscience was agreeably countered by the
thrill of relief in my heart.  I was going back to the Madam and Miss
Lucinda.  Less than three days ago long odds had been laid by an
overwrought fancy that I should never see them again.  Howbeit, the
fates, in their boundless leniency, had ordained that I should return
to tell the tale.

Yet, if I must confess the truth, such havoc had been worked with the
delicately hung nervous system of "a married man, a father of a family,
and a county member" that it would not have surprised me in the least,
even now I had taken my ticket for Middleham, to find the hand of a
well-dressed detective laid on my shoulder, or to find a revolver next
my temple at the instance of some sombre alien.  Still, these fears
were hardly worthy of the broad light of day or of the distinction of
my escort.  Not only was my relation by marriage returning with me, but
he had prevailed upon the amateur middle-weight champion of Great
Britain to accept Brasset's cordial invitation that he should satisfy
himself that the gentle art of chasing the fox was quite as well
understood by the Crackanthorpe Hounds as by the Galway Blazers.

In the presence of Alexander O'Mulligan's epic breadth of manner it was
impossible for a man to take pessimistic views of his destiny.  If I
had a suspicion of the skill of a Dickens or a Thackeray I should try
to give that "touch of the brogue" which flavoured the conversation of
this paladin like a subtle condiment.  Attached to our express in a
loose box, in the care of a native of Kerry, was "an accomplished
lepper" up to fifteen stone, not merely the envy of the Blazers, but of
every man, woman, and child in the kingdom of Ireland.  If his price
was not three hundred of the yellow boys, his owner cordially invited
anybody--_anybody_ to contradict him violently.

Next to Alexander O'Mulligan's horse and his breadth of manner, his
clothes call for mention.  Their cut and style must be pronounced as
"sporting."  In particular his waistcoat was a thing of beauty.  It was
a canary of the purest dye, forming a really piquant, indeed æsthetic,
contrast to the delicate tint of green in his eye.  The presence in
that organ of that genial hue is thought by some to invite the
presumption of the worldly; but according to Joseph Jocelyn De Vere
Vane-Anstruther, whose humble devotion to his hero was almost pathetic,
it called for a very stout fellow indeed "to try it on" with the
amateur middle-weight champion of Great Britain.

Nevertheless, like every paladin of the great breed, Alexander
O'Mulligan was as gentle as he was brave.  He had hardly set foot in
Dympsfield House, which he did somewhere about tea-time on the day of
his arrival in our parish, before he captured the heart of Miss
Lucinda.  He straightway assumed the _rôle_ of a bear with the most
realistic and thrilling completeness.  Not only was his growl like
distant thunder in the mountains, but also he had the faculty of
rolling his eyes in a savage frenzy, and over and above everything
else, a tendency to bite your legs upon little or no provocation.  It
was not until he had promised to marry her that she could be induced to
part with him.

The ruler of Dympsfield House returned from Doughty Bridge, Yorks,
equally felicitous in her health and in her temper.  We dined agreeably
_tête-à-tête_ with the aid of Heidsieck cuvée 1889.  I reported that
the venerable inhabitant of Bolton Street, Mayfair, was supporting her
affliction with her accustomed grace and resignation; and duly received
the benediction of my parents-in-law, who in the opinion of their
youngest daughter had never been in more vigorous health--which is no
more than one expects to hear of those who dedicate their lives to
virtue.

I was in the act of paring an apple when Mrs. Arbuthnot said, with an
air of detachment that was Vane-Anstruther of very good quality, "By
the way, has anything been heard of that creature?"

"Creature, my angel?" said I.  If my tone conveyed anything it was that
the world contained only one creature, and she at that moment was
balancing a piece of preserved ginger on her fruit knife.

"The circus woman."

"Circus woman?" said I, blandly.  Our glasses were half empty and I
filled them up.  "Somehow," said I, "this stuff does not seem equal to
the Bellinger that your father sends us at Christmas."  Strictly
speaking this was not altogether the case, but then truth has many
aspects, as the pagan philosophers have found occasion to observe.

"Mrs. Fitz, you goose!"

"She has come home, I believe," said I, with a casual air, which all
the same belonged to the region of finished diplomacy.

"Come home!"  The fount of my felicity indulged in a glower that can
only be described as truculent, but her flutelike tones had a little
piping thrill that softened its effect considerably.  "Come home!  Do
you mean to say that Fitz has taken her back again?"

"There is reason to believe he has done so."

"What amazing creatures men are!"

"Yes, _mon enfant_, we have the authority of Haeckel, that matter
assumed a very remarkable guise when man evolved himself out of the mud
and water."

"Don't be trivial, Odo.  To think she has dared to come home.  If I
were a man and my wife bolted with the chauffeur, I wonder if she would
dare to come home again?"

"The hypothesis is unthinkable.  Freedom and poetry and romance,
translated into that overtaxed, down-trodden bondslave, the registered
and betrousered parliamentary voter!"

The next morning the Crackanthorpe met at the Marl Pits.  All the world
and his wife were there.  The lawless mobs which are the curse of
latter-day fox-hunting are not quite so rampant in our country as they
are in that of more than one of our neighbours.  Why this merciful
dispensation has been granted to us no man can explain.  It may be that
we have not a sufficient care for the "bubble reputation."  But as our
reverend Vicar says, our immunity is one further proof, if such were
needed, that the Providence which watches over the lowliest of God's
creatures is essentially beneficent: certainly a very becoming frame of
mind for a humble-minded vicar in Christ who keeps ten horses in his
stables and hunts six days a week.

Brasset in a velvet cap winding the horn of his fathers is a figure for
respect.  Even the Nimrods of the old school, who feel that his
courtesy and his care for the feelings of others are beneath the
dignity of the chase, accord to his office a recognition which they
would be the last to grant to his merely human qualities.  This morning
the noble Master was esquired by his distinguished guest.  The
O'Mulligan of Castle Mulligan, pride of the Blazers, possessor of the
straightest left in the western hemisphere, was immediately presented
to the mistress of Dympsfield House.

That lady, mounted so expensively, that her weakling of a husband was
deservedly condemned to bestride a quadruped that Joseph Jocelyn De
Vere Vane-Anstruther publicly stigmatised as "an insult to the 'unt,'"
was instantly prepossessed, as her daughter had been, in favour of the
amateur middle-weight champion.  Certainly his blandishments were many.
Grinning from ear to ear, revealing two regular and gleaming rows of
white teeth, his bearing had both grace and cordiality.  His smile in
itself was enough to take the bone out of the ground, and he had all
the charming volubility of his nation.  As for his aide-de-camp, he too
deserves mention.  Having done very well at "snooker" the previous day,
my relation by marriage was looking very pleasant and happy in the most
perfectly fitting coat that ever embellished the human form.  He was
mounted on Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the _pièce de résistance_ of his
stable.

We were accepting the hospitality of the Reverend, an agreeable
function that was rendered necessary by the fact that his parsonage is
within a mile of the tryst, when portentous toot-toots accompanied by
prodigious gruntings assailed our ears.

"I say, Jo," said Alexander O'Mulligan in an aside to his admiring
camp-follower, "here comes ould Fizzamagig."

This elegant pseudonym veiled the identity of the most august of her
sex.  The famous fur coat and the bell-shaped topper converged upon the
Rectory gravel, at the instance of a worn-out dust distributor whose
manifold grunts and wheezes all too clearly proclaimed that it belonged
to an early phase of the industry.

It was the broad light of day, I was in the midst of friends and
brother sportsmen, but once again the chill of apprehension went down
my spine.  For an instant I had a vision of pink satin.  Mrs. Catesby
accepted the glass of brown sherry and the piece of cake respectfully
proffered by the Church.  But while she discoursed of parochial
commonplaces in that penetrating voice of hers, it was plain that her
august head was occupied with affairs of state.  Her grave grey eye
travelled to the middle of the lawn, where the noble Master was sharing
a ham sandwich with Halcyon and Harmony; thence to the inadequately
mounted Member for the Uppingdon Division of Middleshire; thence to the
Magnificent Youth and the heroic O'Mulligan.  Finally in contemplative
austerity it rested upon the trim outline of the lady whose habit had
not a fault, although there is reason to believe that in the eyes of
one it erred a little on the side of fashion, who with the aid of the
Parsoness and Laura Glendinning was engaged in putting the scheme of
things in its appointed order.

Once again I was undergoing the process of feeling profoundly
uncomfortable, when we were regaled with an incident so pregnant with
drama that a mere private emotion was swept away.  An imperious vision
in a scarlet coat, mounted on a noble and generous horse, came in at
the Parson's gate.  She was accompanied by the son-in-law of Ferdinand
the Twelfth.

"What ho, the military!" murmured Alexander O'Mulligan.

To the sheer amazement of all, save three of his followers, the Master
of the Crackanthorpe was the first to greet Mrs. Fitz.  A recent
incident was fresh in the minds of all.  It was pretty well understood
that "the circus rider from Vienna" and her cavalier entered the
Rectory grounds without an invitation, for the Fitzwaren stock stood
lower than ever in the market.  It was expected of our battered and
traduced chieftain that at least he should withhold official
recognition from these lawless invaders.  He was expected to vindicate
his office and maintain what was left of his dignity by looking
assiduously in another direction.  But he did nothing of the sort.

In the most heedless and tactless manner the noble Master proceeded to
forfeit the sympathy, the esteem, and the confidence of those who had
hitherto dispensed those commodities so lavishly.  It would be hard to
conceive a more grievous affront to the feminine followers of the
Crackanthorpe than was furnished by the Master's personal reception of
the lady in the scarlet coat.  The grave, yet cordial humility of his
bearing, admirably Christian in the light of too-recent history,
received no interpretation in the terms of the higher altruism.

"He will have to resign," breathed the august Mrs. Catesby in the ear
of the outraged Laura Glendinning.

It was a relief to everybody when a move was made to the top cover.
Without loss of time the question of questions was put.  Was the famous
ticked fox at home?  Was that almost mythical customer, whose legend
was revered in three countries, in his favourite earth?

In a half-circle, each thinking his thoughts, and with a furtive eye
for his neighbour, we waited.

A succession of silvery notes from the pack at last proclaimed the
answer to the question.  As usual the father of cunning had set his
mask for Langley Dumbles.  One of the stiffest bits of country in the
Shires lay stretched out ahead.  Two distinct and well-defined courses
were immediately presented to the field.  The one was pregnant with
grief yet fragrant with glory.  The other, if not the path of honour,
was certainly more appropriate to the married man, the father of the
family, and the county member, particularly if the wife of the member
has a weakness for three-hundred-guinea hunters.  There was also a
middle course for those who, while retaining some semblance of
ambition, have learned to temper it with prudence, observation, and
sagacity.  It was to the middle course that nature had condemned old
Dobbin Grey and his rider.

Not for us the intemperate delights of the thruster.  Crash through a
bullfinch went Alexander O'Mulligan, the pride of the Blazers.  Almost
in his pocket followed the lady in the scarlet coat.  Almost in hers
followed Mrs. Arbuthnot.  Laura Glendinning and little Mrs. Josiah P.
Perkins were obviously hardening their hearts for prodigious deeds of
gallantry.  It was already clear as the sun at noon that if our old and
sportsmanlike friend, whose jacket had the curious ticking, only kept
to the line it generally pleased him to follow, some very jealous
riding was about to be witnessed among the feminine followers of the
Crackanthorpe Hounds.

"My God, they call this 'untin'!" said Joseph Jocelyn De Vere
Vane-Anstruther, who to his disgust had allowed himself, in the
preliminary scuffle for places, to be nonplussed by the unparalleled
ardour of these Amazons.

One thing was obvious.  Old Dobbin Grey and his rider were a little too
near the centre of the picture.  Let us blush to relate it, but at the
obsequious promptings of memory we moved down the hedgerow of that wide
and heavy pasture, yea, even unto its uttermost left-hand corner where
a gate was known to lurk.  But alas!  Nemesis lurked also in that
corner of the landscape.  For we were doomed to discover that the
eternal standby of the lover of the middle course, nay the indubitable
emblem of it, the goodly handgate, had been removed of malice prepense,
and in lieu thereof was a stiff and upstanding post and rails, freshly
planted and painted newly!

It was a great shock to the old horse.  It was also a crisis in the
life of his rider.  The rails looked terribly high and stout; we had
lost so much time already that every second was priceless if we were to
see hounds again.  It was hard on the old horse, yet it really seemed
that there was only one thing to be done.  However, before resolve
could be translated into action, other lovers of the middle course bore
down upon us; no less a pair than Mrs. Catesby mounted upon Marian.

"It was my intention not to speak to you again, Odo Arbuthnot," said
the august rider of Marian, "but if you will give us a lead over that
post and rails we will follow."

"_Place aux dames_," said I, with ingrained gallantry.  "Besides, you
are quite as competent to break that top rail as we are."

"Out hunting," said the high-minded votary of Diana, "you must behave
like a gentleman, even if at the Savoy----"

With due encouragement the old horse really did very well indeed,
hitting the top rail fore and aft it is true, describing in his descent
a geometrical figure not unlike a parabola, but landing on his legs and
gathering himself up quite respectably in the adjoining fifty acres of
ridge and furrow.  With a little pardonable condescension, I turned
round to look how Marian would behave with her resolute-minded
mistress.  It is no disparagement to the Dobbin to say that Mrs.
Catesby's chestnut is a cleverer beast than he ever was, also she has
youth on her side; and she is taller by a hand.  She grazed the rail
with her hind legs, but her performance was quite good enough to be
going on with.

Mrs. Catesby can ride as straight as anybody, but now she is "A Mother
of Seven" who writes to the _Times_ upon the subject of educational
reform, and she has taken to sitting upon committees--in more senses
than one--she feels that she owes it to the mothers of the nation that
she should set them an example in the matter of paying due respect to
their vertebrae.  The negotiation of the post and rails had put us on
excellent terms with ourselves, if not with each other, and side by
side we made short work of the fifty acres of ridge and furrow; popped
through a sequence of handgates and along a succession of lanes; and
made such a liberal use of the craft that we had painfully acquired in
the course of more seasons than we cared to remember, that in the end
it was only by the mercy of Allah that we did not head the fox!

The fortune of war had placed us in the first flight, but the
celebrated customer was still going so strong that we should have to
show cause if we were going to remain there.

The noble Master was looking very anxious.  Well he might, for between
him and his hounds was the lady in the scarlet coat.  Mounted upon the
most magnificent-looking bay horse I have ever seen she seemed fully
prepared to hunt the pack.  And I grieve to relate that following hard
upon her line, and as close as equine flesh and blood could contrive
it, was Mrs. Arbuthnot on her three-hundred-guinea hunter.

"Look at Mops," quoth a disgusted voice.  "Clean off her rocker.  Hope
to God there won't be a check, that's all!"

Jodey soared by us, taking a fence in his stride.

On the contrary, old Dobbin Grey was beginning devoutly to hope that a
check there would be.  But, as game as a pebble, the old warrior
struggled on.  It would never do for him to be cut out by Marian, and
in that opinion his rider concurred.  Luckily we found an easy place in
the fence, but all too soon a more formidable obstacle presented
itself.  It was Langley Brook.  Very bold jumping would be called for
to save a wet jacket; and it is an open secret that, even in his prime,
the Dobbin has always held that the only possible place for water is a
stable bucket.

We decided to go round by the bridge.  A perfectly legitimate
resolution, I am free to maintain, for ardent followers of the middle
course.  Having arrived at this statesmanlike decision there was time
to look ahead.  It was not without trepidation that we did so.  In
front was a welter of ambitious first flighters.  Yet, as always, the
one to catch the eye was the lady in the scarlet coat.  Utterly
heedless, she went at the Brook at its widest, the noble bay rose like
a Centaur and landed in safety.  Sticking ever to her, closer than a
sister, was Mrs. Arbuthnot.  I shuddered and had a vision of a broken
back for the three-hundred-guinea hunter, and a ducking for its rider.
Happily, if you are a member of the clan Vane-Anstruther, the more
critical the moment the cooler you are apt to be; also you are born
with the priceless faculty of sitting still and keeping down your
hands.  The three-hundred-guinea hunter floundered on to the opposite
bank, threatened to fall back into the stream, by a Herculean effort
recovered itself and emerged on _terra firma_.

It was with a heart devout with gratitude that I turned to the bridge.
To my surprise, for as all my attention had been for the Brook I had
had none to spare for the field as a whole, I found myself cheek by
jowl with Jodey.  In the hunting field I know no young man whom nature
has endowed so happily.  His air of world-weariness is a cloak for a
justness of perception, which apparently without the expenditure of the
least exertion generally lands him there or thereabouts at the finish.

"The silly blighters!--don't they see they have lost their fox?"

This piece of criticism was hurled not merely at the Amazons, who had
already negotiated the water, but also at the noble Master and his
attendant satellites who were in the act of following their example.

"Reggie is quite right for once," said a voice from the near side,
severe and magisterial in quality.  "It is his duty to prevent, if he
can, his hounds being overridden by those unspeakable women.  If Irene
belonged to me I should send her straight home to bed."

"Ought to be smacked," said the sportsman on the off side, cordially.
"Anybody'd think she'd had no upbringin'!"

Feeling in a sense responsible for the misbehaviour of my lawful
property, I "lay low and said nuffin."  Indeed, there was precious
little to be said in defence of such conduct in the presence of the
whole field.

On the strength of Jodey's pronouncement we crossed the bridge at our
leisure.  As usual his wisdom hastened to justify itself.  Reynard was
tucked snugly under a haystack, doubtless with his pad to his nose.  He
was upon sacred earth, where, after a tremendous turn-up with Peter,
the Crackanthorpe terrier, the Crackanthorpe hounds and the
Crackanthorpe huntsman reluctantly left him.

A halt was called; flasks and sandwiches were produced; and the
honourable company of the less enterprising, or the less fortunate,
began to assemble in force without the precincts of the Manor Farm
stackyard.  Conversation grew rife; and at least one fragment that
penetrated to my ears was pungent.

"Look here, Mops," was its context, "when do you suppose you are goin'
to give over playing the goat?"

The rider of the three-hundred-guinea hunter was splashed with mud up
to her green collar, her hair was coming down, her hat was anyhow, her
cheeks were flame colour, and the sides of Malvolio were sobbing.

"_Mon enfant_," I ventured sadly to observe, "it may be magnificent,
but it is not the art of chasing the fox, even as it is practised in
the flying countries."

The light of battle flamed in the eyes of the star of my destiny.

"What nonsense you talk, Odo!  Do you think that the circus woman----"

"Sssh!  She will hear you."

"Hope she will!"

"Fact is, Mops," said her admonisher in chief, "as I've always said,
you are only fit for a _provincial_ pack."

Having thus delivered himself Mrs. Arbuthnot's brother washed his hands
of this "hard case" in the completest and most effectual manner.  He
turned about and bestowed his best bow upon the circus rider from
Vienna.  The act was certainly irrational.  The behaviour of the lady
in the scarlet coat was quite as much exposed to censure.  To be sure
her nationality was to be urged in her defence, but then, as the sorely
tried Master confided to me in a pathetic aside, "she had been out
quite often enough to learn the rules of the game."

"You can't expect Crown Princesses, my dear fellow, to trouble about
rules," said I.  "They make their own."

"Then I wish they would hunt hounds of their own and leave mine to me,"
said the long-suffering one tragically.  "It turns me dizzy every time
I see her among 'em.  If Fitz had any sense of decency he would look
after her."

"Fitz is the slave of circumstance.  Brasset, if you are a wise fellow
and you are not above taking the advice of a friend, you will never
marry the next in succession to an old-established and despotic
monarchy."

"My God--no!"  The voice of the noble Master vibrated with profound
emotion.

In honour of this resolution we exchanged flasks.



CHAPTER XVII

A GLARE IN THE SKY

The Society for the Maintenance of the Public Decency has a record of
long and distinguished usefulness, but never in its annals has it been
moved to a more determined activity than during the week which followed
this ill-starred run.  The Ruling Dames or Past Grand Mistresses--I
don't quite know what their true official title is--of this august body
met and conferred and drank tea continually.  Those who were conversant
with the Society's methods made dire prophecy of a public action of an
unparalleled rigour.  But beyond the fact that Mrs. Arbuthnot's
china-blue eyes had an inscrutable glint, and that Mrs. Catesby's
Minerva-like front was as lofty and menacing as became the daughter of
Jove, nothing happened during this critical period which really aspires
to the dignity of history.

Three times within that fateful space the noble Master led forth his
hounds; three times was it whispered confidently in my ear by my little
friend Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins with a piquant suggestion in her accent
of her old Kentucky home, which sometimes overtakes her very charmingly
in moments of acute emotion, "that if the tenderfoot from the rotunda
hit the trail, Reg would take the fox-dogs home"[1]; three times did
the lady in the scarlet coat do her best to override the fox-dogs in
question; three times, as the veracious historian is fain to confess,
nothing happened whatever.  It is true that more than once the noble
Master looked at the offender "as no gentleman ought to look at a
lady."  More than once he cursed her by all his gods, but never within
her hearing.  Rumour had it that he also told Fitz that if he didn't
look after his wife he should give the order for the kennels.
Unfortunately, Miss Laura Glendinning was the sole authority for this
melodramatic statement.

However, on the evening of the seventh day the stars in their courses
said their word in the matter.  Doubtless the behaviour of the astral
bodies was the outcome of a formally expressed wish of the Society; at
least it is well known that certain of its members carry weight in
heaven.  Whether Mrs. Catesby and the Vicar's Wife headed a deputation
to Jupiter I am not in a position to affirm.  Be that as it may, on the
evening of the seventh day fate issued a decree against "the circus
rider from Vienna" and all her household.

Let this fell occurrence be recorded with detail.  Myself and
co-partner in life's felicities had had a tolerable if somewhat
fatiguing day with the Crackanthorpe Hounds.  We had assisted at the
destruction of a couple of fur-coated members of society who had done
us no harm whatever; and having exchanged the soaked, muddy and
generally uncomfortable habiliments of the chase for the garb of peace,
had fared _tête-à-tête_--Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther
regaling his friends at the Hall with the light of his countenance and
his post-prandial skill at snooker--with sumptuous decency upon baked
meats and the good red wine.

We were in the most harmonious stage of all that this chequered
existence has to offer; taking our ease in our inn while our nether
limbs, whose stiffness was a not unpleasing reminiscence of the
strenuous day we had spent in the saddle, toasted luxuriously before a
good sea-coal fire; smoking the pipe of peace together, although this
is by way of being a figure of speech, since Mrs. Arbuthnot affected a
mild Turkish cigarette; comparing notes of our joint adventures by
flood and field, with the natural and inevitable De Vere
Vane-Anstruther note of condescension quite agreeably mitigated by one
tiny liqueur glass of the 1820 brandy--a magic potion which ere now has
caused the Magnificent Youth himself to abate a few feathers of his
plumage.  We were conducting an exhaustive inquiry into the respective
merits of Pixie and Daydream, and I had been led with a charm that was
irresistible into a concurrence with the sharer of my bliss that both
were worth every penny of the price that had been paid for them,
although I had not so much as thrown a leg over either of these
quadrupeds of most distinguished ancestry.

"It is rather a lot to pay, but you can't call them dear, can you,
because they _do_ fetch such prices nowadays, don't they?  And Laura is
perfectly green with envy."

"I'm glad of that," said I, with undefeated optimism.  "If her
greenness approximates to the right shade it will match the Hunt
collar.  How green is she?"

"Funny old thing!"  Mrs. Arbuthnot's beam was of childlike benignity.
"She is not such a bad sort, really.  Besides, plain people are always
the nicest, aren't they, poor dears?  Yes, Parkins, what is it?"

Parkins the peerless had entered the drawing-room after a discreet
preliminary knock for which the circumstances really made no demand
whatever.  He had sidled up to his mistress, and in his mien natural
reserve and a desire to dispense information were finely mingled.

"Beg pardon, ma'am, but have you seen the glare in the sky?"

"What sort of a glare, Parkins?"  A lazy voice emerged from the seventh
heaven of the hedonist.  "Do you mean it's a what-do-you-call-it?  A
_planet_ I suppose you mean, Parkins?"

"It can hardly be a _comet_, ma'am," said Parkins, with his most
encyclopaedic air.  "It is so bright and so fixed, and it seems to be
getting larger."

"So long as it isn't the end of the world," said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
fondling her gold cigarette-case with a little sigh.

"It looks to me like the Castle, ma'am.  It is over in that direction.
I remember when the west wing was burnt twelve years ago."

"You think the Castle is on fire?" said I.

I also was in the seventh heaven of the hedonist.  But gathering my
faculties as resolutely as I could, I rose from the good sea-coal fire
and assisted Parkins to pull aside the curtains.

"By Jove, you're right.  There is a blaze somewhere, But isn't it
rather near for the Castle?"

"It might be the Grange," said Parkins.

I was fain to agree that the Grange it might be.  Somehow that seemed a
place excellently laid for disaster.  The announcement that the Grange
was on fire brought Mrs. Arbuthnot to the window.  Born under Mars, the
star of my destiny is nothing if not a woman of action.  In spite of
her present rather lymphatic state she ordered the car round
immediately.  Within five minutes we were braving a dark and stormy
December night.

The beacon growing ever brighter as we went, it did not take long to
convince us that the Grange would be our destination.  It is to be
feared that we broke the law, for in something considerably under half
an hour we had come to the home of the Fitzwarens.

A heartrending scene it was.  The beautiful but always rather desolate
old house, which dates from John o' Gaunt, seemed already doomed.  A
portion of it was even now in ruins and on all sides the flames were
leaping up fiercely to the sky.  Engines had not yet had time to come
from Middleham, and the progress of the fire was appalling.

A number of servants and villagers had devoted themselves to the task
of retrieving the furniture.  On a lawn at some distance from the house
an incongruous collection of articles had been laid out: a picture by
Rubens side by side with a trouser-press; a piece of Sèvres cheek by
jowl with a kitchen saucepan.  Standing in their midst in the charge of
a nurse was the small elf of four.  Her eyes were sparkling and she was
dancing and clapping her hands in delight at the spectacle.  The nurse
was in tears.

Mrs. Arbuthnot had not seen the creature before.  But her instincts are
swift and they are sure.

"Come with me," she said to the nurse.  "Saunders will take you in the
car to Dympsfield House.  They will make up a bed for you in the day
nursery and see that you get some warm food."

Hardly had the little girl suffered herself to be led away by the
prospect of a new adventure before two men came towards the spot where
I stood.  They were grimy and dishevelled, and the upper part of their
persons seemed to be enveloped in folds of wet blanket.  They were
staggering under a very large and unwieldy burden which was swathed in
a material similar to that which they wore themselves.

With much care this object was deposited upon a Sheraton table, and
then I found myself greeted by a familiar voice.

"Hullo, Arbuthnot!  Didn't expect to see you here.  Very good of you to
come."

It was the voice of Fitz speaking with the almost uncanny _insouciance_
of the wonderful night at Portland Place.  He cast off the curious
wrappings which encumbered his head, and said to his companion, who was
in similar guise, "I'm afraid it has us beat.  The sooner we get out of
this kit the better."

There came an incoherent growl out of the folds of wet blanket.

"Why, Coverdale!" I said in astonishment.

"I think we ought to make a sporting dash for that Holbein," said the
growl, becoming coherent.  "That is, if you are quite sure it isn't a
forgery."

"Personally I think it is," said Fitz, in his voice of unnatural calm.
"But my father always believed it to be genuine."

"Better take the word of your father.  Let us get at it."

It was the work of a moment to strip the wrappings off the retrieved
masterpiece upon the Sheraton table.

"Can I help?" said I.

"If you want to be of use," said Fitz, "go and give the Missus a hand
with the horses."

Leaving Fitz and Coverdale to make yet another entry into what seemed
hardly less than a furnace of living fire, I made my way round to the
stables.  To approach them one had to be careful.  The heat was
intense; sparks and burning fragments were being flung a considerable
distance by the gusts of wind, and masonry was crashing continually.
The out-buildings had not yet caught, but with the wind in its present
quarter it would only be the work of a few moments before they did so.

My recollection is of plunging, rearing and frightened animals, and of
a commanding, all-pervading presence in their midst.  Amid the throng
of stable-hands, villagers, firemen and policemen who had now come upon
the scene, it rose supreme, directing their energies and sustaining
them with that imperious magnetism which she possessed beyond any
creature I have ever seen.  I heard it said afterwards that she alone
had the power to induce the twelve horses to quit their loose boxes;
that one by one she led them out, soothing and caressing them; and that
so long as she was with them they showed comparatively little fear of
the roaring furnace that was so near to them, but that no sooner were
they handed over to others than they became unmanageable.

Certainly it was due to a consummate exhibition of her power that the
horses were got out of their stalls without harm to themselves or to
others.  They were confided to the care of the friendly farmers of the
neighbourhood, who, assembled in force, were working heroically to
combat the flames.  All night long the work of salvage went on, but in
spite of all that could be done, even with the aid of numerous
fire-engines from Middleham, nothing could save the old house.  It
burnt like tinder.  By three o'clock that December morning it was a
smouldering ruin, with only a few fragments of stone wall remaining.

At intervals during the night some of the Grange servants had been
dispatched to Dympsfield House, with as many of the personal belongings
of their master and mistress as they could collect.  Our establishment
is a modest one, but not for a moment did it occur to Mrs. Arbuthnot
that it would be unable to offer sanctuary to those who needed it so
sorely.

The fire had run its course and all were resigned to the inevitable
when Mrs. Arbuthnot, without deigning to consult the nominal head of
our household, made the offer of our hospitality to Fitz and his wife.
At her own request she had previously forgone an introduction to "the
circus rider from Vienna"; and now in these tragic December small hours
she deemed such a formality to be unnecessary.  Verily misfortune makes
strange bedfellows!

If I must tell the truth, it surprised me to learn that the Fitzwarens
had been prevailed upon to accept the hospitality of Dymspfield House.
True, they were homeless; but, looking at the case impartially, it
seemed to me that they had not been very generously treated by their
neighbours.  The foibles of "the circus rider from Vienna" had aroused
a measure of covert hostility to which the most obtuse people could not
have been insensible.  Had the average ordinary married couple been in
the case of Fitz and his wife, I do not think they would have yielded
to Mrs. Arbuthnot's impulsive generosity.

The Fitzwarens, however, were far from being ordinary average people.
Therefore, by a quarter to five that morning they had crossed our
threshold; and as some recompense for the privations of that tragic
night they were promptly regaled with a scratch meal of coffee and
sandwiches.

One other individual, at his own suggestion, accompanied our guests to
Dympsfield House.  He was of a sinister omen, being no less a person
than the Chief Constable of the county.  His presence at the fire had
been a matter for surprise.  And when, as we were about to quit the
unhappy scene, he came to me privately and said that if we could
squeeze a corner for him in the car he should be glad to come with us,
that surprise was not made less.



[1] In the opinion of Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins this passage fully
guarantees the author's total ignorance of a very great proposition.



CHAPTER XVIII

MRS. ARBUTHNOT BEGINS TO TAKE NOTICE

It was a little before six when the ladies retired in the quest of
their lost repose.  No sooner had they left us than we lit our pipes
and drew our chairs up to the fire.  In patience I awaited the riddle
of the Chief Constable's presence being read to me.

"Arbuthnot,"--the great man sucked at his pipe pensively--"there are
several things that Fitzwaren and I are agreed that you ought to know."

Fitz nodded his head in curt but rather sinister approval.

"Yes, tell him," he said.

"Before Fitzwaren accepted your hospitality," said the great man, "he
asked my advice."

"Oh, really?" said I.

"And I think it only right to mention"--the air of the great man
reminded me of my old tutor expounding a proposition in Euclid--"that
it is upon my advice he has accepted it."

"I ought to feel honoured."

"Well, yes, perhaps you ought."  The Chief Constable removed his pipe
from his lips and tapped it upon an extremely dirty boot.  "But whether
you will feel honoured when you have heard all we have to say to you I
am not so sure."

"Nor I," said Fitz.

"You see, Arbuthnot, we have a rather delicate problem to deal with.
It is neither more nor less than the personal safety of the Princess."

"I hope," said I, "her Royal Highness will be at least as safe here as
she would be anywhere else."

"That is the crux of the whole matter.  Fitzwaren and I have come to
the conclusion that, for the time being, the Princess will actually be
safer in this house than she would be in any other."

"Really!"

"Our local police, acting in conjunction with Scotland Yard, hope to be
able to ensure her safety, that is if she and her friends take
reasonable care."

"You may depend upon it, Coverdale, that as far as my wife and I are
concerned we shall do nothing to jeopardise it."

"That is taken for granted.  But her present position is much more
critical than perhaps you are aware."

"I know, of course, that Ferdinand the Twelfth is determined to have
her back in Illyria."

"Yes, and further than that, the Republican Party is equally determined
that she never shall go back to Illyria.  The events of last night have
furnished another proof of their sentiments."

"I don't understand."

"There is reason to believe that the destruction of the Grange is the
work of an incendiary.  That is to say, a bomb was thrown through one
of the windows, as was the case at Blaenau recently.  There can be no
question that the object of the crime was to kill the Princess, as it
was to kill the King, but in each case the business was bungled.  In
this instance, rather miraculously, not a soul was hurt, although the
house, as you know, has been entirely destroyed.  A bomb was thrown
into the dining-room, but as dinner happened to be half an hour later
than usual, nobody was there."

This grisly narrative gave me a sharp shock, I confess.  And I must
have betrayed my state of mind, for the Chief Constable favoured me
with a smile of reassurance.

"Put your trust in the Middleshire police," said he, "with a little
assistance from the Yard.  They won't play that game twice with us, you
can depend upon it.  If the Yard had not been rather late with their
information they would never have played it at all.  Our people were
actually on the way to the Grange when the outrage was committed."

For all the air of professional reassurance, the married man, the
father of the family, and the county member was thoroughly alarmed.

"It is all very well, Coverdale, but what guarantee is there that even
at this moment they are not dropping bombs into our bedrooms?"

"Four men in plain clothes are patrolling your park, and will continue
to do so as long as the Princess remains under your roof."

It would have been ungrateful not to express relief for this official
vigilance.  But that it was felt in any substantial measure is more
than I can affirm.

"Of course, my dear fellow," said Fitz, "now that you are in possession
of all the facts of the case, you have a perfect right to withdraw the
offer of your hospitality.  Coverdale and I are agreed that it will do
much to promote my wife's safety for the time being, because this house
will be kept under continual observation.  But as soon as I can make
other arrangements I shall do so, of course.  And if you really believe
that the safety of your house and family is involved, we shall have no
alternative but to go at once."

To what length ought we to carry our altruism?  Here was a grave
problem for the married man, the father of the family, and the county
member.  In spite of the opinion of the cool-headed and sagacious
Coverdale, I could not allay the feeling that to harbour the "Stormy
Petrel" was to incur a grave risk.  But at the same time it was not in
me to turn her adrift into the highways and hedges.

"Now that we have had due warning of what to expect," said Coverdale,
"these gentry will not find it quite so easy to throw bombs in this
country as they do in Illyria.  And if I thought for one moment you
were not justified in extending your hospitality to the Princess I
should certainly say so."

Events are generally too strong for the humble mortals who are content
to tread the path of mediocrity.  We had already offered sanctuary to
the Crown Princess of Illyria.  A little painful reflection seemed to
show that to revoke it now would be rather inhuman and rather cowardly.
All the same, it was impossible to view with enthusiasm the prospect of
four men in plain clothes continually patrolling the park.

"By the way," said the Chief Constable, "you will, I hope, treat this
business of the bombs as strictly confidential.  It won't help matters
at all to find it in the morning papers."

"I appreciate that; but won't the servants be rather curious about
those four sportsmen in plain clothes?"

"Ostensibly they are there to look after a gang of burglars who are
expected in the neighbourhood."

"Not exactly a plausible story, I am afraid!"

"The story doesn't matter, so long as they don't suspect the truth.
And as Mrs. Fitzwaren's _incognito_ has been so well kept, there is no
reason why they should."

So much for the latest development of this amazing situation.  From the
very moment the curtain had risen upon the first act of the
tragi-comedy of the Fitzwarens I had seemed to be cast for the
uncomfortable _rôle_ of the weak soul in the toils of fate.  From the
beginning it had been contrary to the promptings of the small voice
within that I had borne a part in their destinies.  And here they were
established under my roof, a menace to my household and the enemies of
all peace of mind.

It only remained to make the best of things and to hope devoutly that
Fitz would soon arrange to relieve us of the presence of the "Stormy
Petrel."  But in spite of all the dark knowledge it was necessary to
keep locked up in one's heart, there was an aspect of the matter which
was rather charming.  To watch the lion and the lamb lying down
together, a veritable De Vere Vane-Anstruther playing hostess to the
fair _equestrienne_ from a continental circus was certainly pleasant.

I think it is up to me to admit that at the core Mrs. Arbuthnot is as
sound as a bell.  Certainly her demeanour towards her guests was
faultless.  Indeed, it made me feel quite proud of her to reflect that
had she really known the true status of our visitor she could have done
nothing more for her comfort and for that of her _entourage_.  Her
foibles were condoned and "her little foreign ways" were yielded to in
the most gracious manner; and after dinner that evening it was a great
moment when our distinguished guest volunteered to accompany on the
piano her hostess's light contralto.

I took this to be symbolical of the complete harmony in which the day
had been spent.  Confirmation of this was forthcoming an hour later,
when we had the drawing-room to ourselves.

"Really she is not half such a trial as I feared she would be," Mrs.
Arbuthnot confessed.

"If you meet people fairly and squarely half-way," said I, in my
favourite _rôle_ of the hearthrug philosopher, "there are surprisingly
few with whom you can't find something in common."

"Perhaps there is such a thing as being too fastidious."

"We are apt to draw the line a little close at times, eh?"

"Some of these Bohemians must be rather interesting in their way," said
Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"No doubt they have some sort of a standard to which they try to
conform," said I, with excellent gravity.

"Of course she is not _exactly_ a lady.  Yet in some ways she is
_rather_ nice.  Doesn't look at things in the way we do, of course.
Awfully unconventional in some of her ideas."

"By unconventional you mean continental, I presume?"

"No, not continental exactly.  At least, I was 'finished' in Dresden,
but I didn't learn anything of that kind."

"Had you been 'finished' in an Austrian circus perhaps you might have
done."

"I hardly think so.  They don't seem to be ideas you could pick up.  I
should think you would have to be born with them.  They seem somehow to
belong to your past--to your ancestors."

"It has not occurred to me that circus-riders were troubled with
ancestors."

"Hardly, perhaps, in the sense that we mean.  But there is something
rather fine in their way of looking at things."

"A good type of Bohemian would you say?"

"Surprisingly so in some ways.  She doesn't seem to care a bit about
money and she is absolutely devoted to Fitz.  She doesn't seem to care
a bit about jewels, either.  She has got some positively gorgeous
things, and if there is anything I care to have she hopes I'll take it.
Of course I shall do nothing of the kind, but I should just love to
have them all."

"She appears to have had her admirers in Vienna, evidently."

"That is what one can't make out.  She has three tiaras, and they must
be priceless."

"Nonsense, _mon enfant_.  Even the glamour of the sawdust a thousand
times reflected cannot transmute paste into the real thing."

"But the odd part of it is they _are_ real.  I am convinced of it; and
Adèle, my maid, who was two years with dear Evelyn, is absolutely sure."

"Is it conceivable that the possessor of three diamond tiaras would
choose to jump for a livelihood through a hoop in pink tights?"

"Yes, I know it's absurd.  But nothing will convince me that her
diamonds are not real."

"And she offered you the pick of them?"

"The pick of everything except the smallest of the three tiaras, which
she thought perhaps her father might not like her to part with."

"One would have thought that he would at least have set his affections
upon the largest of the three."

"Really, I can hardly swallow the circus."

"You haven't by any chance asked her the question?"

"Dear no!  One wouldn't like to ask a question of that sort unless one
knew her quite well.  I don't think she was ever in a circus at all.
Or if she was, she may have been a sort of foundling."

"Stolen by gipsies from the ancestral castle in her infancy.  After
all, there is nothing to prevent her father being a duke."

"I don't think it would surprise me, although, of course, she is rather
odd.  But then in all ways she is so different from us."

"Did you observe whether she ate with her knife and drank out of the
finger-bowls?"

"Her manners are just like those of anybody else.  I am asking Mary to
dine here on Friday, so that she can see for herself.  It is her ideas
that are un-English; yet, judged by her own standard she might be
considered quite nice."

"Mrs. Arbuthnot, surely a very generous admission!"

"Let us be fair to everybody.  I'm not sure that one couldn't get
almost to like her.  There is something about her that seems to take
right hold of you.  Personal magnetism, I suppose."

"Or some uncomfortable Bohemian attribute?  Can it be, do you suppose,
that the standard the English gentlewoman likes the whole world to
conform to would be none the worse for a little wider basis?"

"Don't be a goose!  A person is either a lady or she isn't, but she may
be frightfully entertaining and fascinating all the same."

"Yes, that has the hall-mark of truth.  There are cases in history.
Miss Dolly Daydream, for example, of the Frivolity Theatre."

Mrs. Arbuthnot reproved me for the levity with which I treated a grave
issue.  Upon the receipt of my apology she regaled me with the
astounding fact that Mrs. Fitz looked down on the English.

"Is it conceivable?" said I, the picture of incredulity.

"Really and truly she does.  Quite laughs at us.  Says we are so
stupid--so _bête_, that's her word.  And she says we are so conceited.
She seems to think we have very little education in the things that
really matter."

"Is she old-fashioned enough to believe that there is anything that
really matters?"

"In a way she does."

"How antediluvian!  What does she believe it is that really matters?"

"She seems to think it's the soul."

"Dear me!  I hope you made it clear to her that that part of the
Englishman's anatomy is never mentioned in good society?"

"She knows that, I think.  She says why the Romans are ashamed of it is
what she can't fathom."

"She pays us the compliment of comparing us to the Romans?"

"She says we are the Romans."

"In a re-incarnation, I presume?"

"I suppose she means that--she is so awfully odd.  And for the Romans
to give themselves airs is too ridiculous."

"Has she no opinion of the Cæsars?"

"The Cæsars don't amount to much, in her opinion.  We are going to have
another lesson before long, she says, and it will be a very good thing
for the world."

"If by that she means that materialism leads to a _cul-de-sac_, and
that it takes a better creed than that to raise a reptile out of the
mud, perhaps we might do worse than agree with her."

"She certainly never said anything about any 'isms.'  But I don't
understand you anyway."

"It seems to me, _mon enfant_, she has had a good deal to say about the
'isms.'  But then, as you say, she's so foreign.  Was there anything
else about her that engaged your attention?"

"Heaps of things.  She is terribly superstitious, a tremendous believer
in fate.  She thinks everything is fore-ordained, and that the same
things keep happening over again."

"Doesn't her oddness strike you as rather out of date?"

"Absurdly.  But it is not so much her ideas as the way she lives up to
them that makes her so different from other people.  There was one
thing she told me really made me laugh.  She said that Nevil was her
twin-soul, and that they lived in Babylon together about three thousand
years ago."

"I should think that is not unlikely."

"Be serious, Odo."

"There are more things in earth and heaven, Horatia, than are dreamt of
in your philosophy.  Go to bed like a wise child, and dream of hunting
the fox, and see that this Viennese horsewoman doesn't addle that brain
too much."

Mrs. Arbuthnot confessed namely that she didn't feel in the least like
sleep.

"I think I'll have another cigarette," she said.

"Sitting up late and smoking to excess will destroy that magnificent De
Vere Vane-Anstruther nerve."

"Goose!  Yet I am not sure that this circus woman hasn't destroyed it
already.  Do you know, I've never been in the least afraid of anybody
before, but I rather think I'm a bit afraid of her.  She really is
wonderfully odd."

A slight tremor seemed to invade the voice of Mrs. Arbuthnot.  I was
fain to believe that such a display of sensibility was extremely
honourable to her.  For, even judged as a mere human entity, our guest
was quite apart from the ordinary, and it would have implied a measure
of obtuseness not to recognise that fact.

Taking one consideration with another, I felt the hour was ripe to let
Mrs. Arbuthnot into the secret.  As things were going so well, it was
perhaps not strictly necessary; yet at the same time I had a
premonition that I should not be forgiven if the wife of my bosom was
kept too long in innocence of our visitor's romantic lineage.

"That cigarette of yours," said I, "means another pipe for me, although
you know quite well that it makes me so bad-tempered in the morning.
But I think I ought to tell you something--that is if you will swear by
all your gods not to breathe a word to a living soul, not even to Mary
Catesby."

Mrs. Arbuthnot pricked up her ears properly.

"Why, of course.  You mean it is something about this Mrs. Fitz?  I
know it."

"What do you know?"

"I can't explain it, but as soon as I spoke to her it came upon me that
she was something quite deep and mysterious."

"Well, it happens that she is.  Things are not always what they seem.
I am going to give you a guess."

"There is something Grand-Duchessy about her.  You remember that woman
we met at Baden-Baden?  In some ways she is rather like her."

"And do you remember your old friend the King of Illyria?--'the old
johnny with the white hair,' to quote Joseph Jocelyn De Vere."

"The dear old man in the Jubilee procession?"

"The Victor of Rodova; the representative of the oldest reigning
monarchy in Europe."

"Yes, yes.  Such an old dear."

"Well, our friend Mrs. Fitz happens to be his only child, the Heiress
Apparent to the throne of Illyria.  What have you to say to that?"

For the moment Mrs. Arbuthnot had nothing at all to say, but she looked
as though a feather would have knocked her over.

"It is a small world, isn't it, _mon enfant_?"

"It really is the oddest thing out!"  Mrs. Arbuthnot's feminine
organisation was quite tense.  "It doesn't surprise me, and yet it is
really too queer."

"Ridiculously queer that humdrum people like us should be entertaining
royalties unawares."

"Not nearly so queer as that she should have married Nevil Fitzwaren.
How did she come to marry him?"

"They are twin-souls who lived in Babylon three thousand years ago."

"That is merely silly."

"My authority is her Royal Highness."

"Fancy the Crown Princess of Illyria running off with a man like Fitz!"

"There is reason to suppose that he makes her happy."

"Why, one day she will be Queen of Illyria!"

"She may be or she may not."

"Well, I can't believe it anyway!  There is no proof."

"There is no proof beyond herself.  And I confess that to me she
carries conviction."

For an instant Mrs. Arbuthnot knitted her brows in the process of
thought.  She then concurred with a perplexed little sigh.

"But how dreadfully awkward it will be," she said in a kind of rapture,
"for poor dear Mary Catesby!"



CHAPTER XIX

HER ROYAL HIGHNESS RECEIVES A LETTER

Pledged to secrecy, Mrs. Arbuthnot earned a meed of praise for her
behaviour during a crowded and glorious epoch.  If you entertain the
Crown Princess of an active and potent monarchy it is reasonable to
expect that things will happen.

Things did happen in some profusion during the sojourn of her Royal
Highness at Dympsfield House.  Owing to the course taken by events
which I shall have presently to narrate, that sojourn was prolonged
indefinitely.  The resources of our modest establishment were taxed to
the uttermost, but throughout a really trying period it is due to Mrs.
Arbuthnot to say that she was a model of tact, discretion, and natural
goodness.

She would have been unworthy the name of woman--a title not without
pretensions to honour, as sociologists inform us--had she not literally
burned to communicate her knowledge of the true identity of "the circus
rider from Vienna."  But some compensation was culled from the fact
that her co-workers in the cause of the Public Decency grew
increasingly lofty in their point of view.  Even the promptings of a
healthy human curiosity would not permit Mrs. Catesby to eat at our
board in order that she might see for herself.  Mournfully that woman
of an unblemished virtue shook her head over us.

"It was not kind to dear Evelyn.  It was right, of course, to
sympathise with the Fitzwarens in their misfortune.  But the place was
old, and George understood that it was covered by insurance.  And
fortunately all the pictures that were worth anything--and some that
were not--had been saved.  But to take them under one's wing as we had
done was quixotic and bound to give offence.  Besides, that kind of
person would be quite in her element at the village inn, the Coach and
Horses."

Nevertheless, Mrs. Arbuthnot bore every reproof with a stoical
fortitude.  What it cost her "not to give away the show," to indulge in
the phrase of Joseph Jocelyn De Vere, it would be idle to estimate.
But she was true to the oath she had sworn on the night of the great
revelation.  Not to a living soul did she yield her secret.

To Jodey himself what he was pleased to call "the royal visit" was a
matter for undiluted joy.  It is true that he was turned out of his
bedroom, the best in the house, which commands an unrivalled view of
Knollington Gorse, and had to be content with humbler quarters; but our
Bayard was so perfectly _au courant_ with all that had happened, even
unto the presence of the four men in plain clothes in the shrubbery,
that the situation was much to his taste.

When the Princess was not herself present, it pleased him to treat the
whole thing as a matter for somewhat laborious satire.

"Ain't you got a bit o' red carpet and an awning for the front steps,
Mops?  And why don't Odo sport his order at dinner?  Can't see the use,
myself, in having an order if you don't sport it for royalty.  Must put
your best leg first.  Buck up a bit, old gal, else her Royal 'Ighness
will think you haven't been used to it.  Anyhow, you must tell Parkins
to be damn careful how he decants that '63."

In the presence of Mrs. Fitz, however, the demeanour of my relation by
marriage was not unlike that of a linesman standing at attention on a
field day.  His deportment was so fearfully correct in every detail;
his attire so extraordinarily nice--he discarded gay waistcoats and
brilliant neckties as being hardly "the thing"--his hair was groomed so
marvellously, and he was so overpoweringly polite that it was a source
of wonder how the young fellow contrived to maintain the standard he
had prescribed for himself.

It was a period of anxiety, yet it was not without its interest.  In a
very short time Mrs. Arbuthnot had divined the _raison d'être_ of the
four men in the park, but this did nothing to impair her sense of
hospitality.  Fitz did not favour us with much of his company except in
the evening.  During the day his energies were absorbed with the
arrangements for the rebuilding of the Grange, and, as I gathered, with
further provisions for the safety of his wife.  All the same, limited
as was the time at his disposal, it was our privilege to watch him
sustain the domestic character.

Whatever the incongruity of their fortunes, it was clear that Fitz and
his wife had a genuine devotion for one another.  And in spite of their
apartness and the idea they conveyed of living entirely to themselves
without reference to the lives of humbler mortals, each seemed to
possess a quality worthy to inspire it.  In a measure I was privileged
to share their confidence during the time they stayed under our roof;
and it was characteristic of them both that at heart they had a rather
charming and childlike frankness.  Each of them revealed unexpected
qualities.

I think I am entitled to say that I never shared the hostility they
seemed to arouse in others.  All his life long Fitz, as far as I had
known him, had been condemned to play the part of the black sheep.
Partly it may have been due to his habit of refusing to go with the
tide; of his declared hatred of any kind of a majority.  He had always
been a law unto himself, and had given a very free rein to his
personality.  To me he had ever stood revealed as one capable of
anything; of the greatest good or of the greatest evil; and to behold
him now in the domestic circle, in close affinity with the magnetic
being in whom the whole of his life was centred, was to find him
endowed with a charm and a fascination which had no place in the nature
of the Nevil Fitzwaren that was seen by the eyes of the world.

To me there was something beautiful and also a little pathetic in the
relationship which seemed to exist between these two diverse souls.
Their implicit faith in the rightness of each other, their sense of
adequacy, was a very rare thing.  So many of the ignoble things of
life, questions of material expediency, of shallow prejudice, of
partial judgment, they seemed to have ruled out altogether.  And this
could not have been otherwise if one reflected that a veritable kingdom
of this world was the price that had been paid for this true fellowship.

My previous encounters with Mrs. Fitz had been of a somewhat trying
nature.  But on the domestic hearth she was much less formidable.  The
impetuous arrogance which had proved so disconcerting to everybody was
not so much in evidence.  Her charm seemed to become rarefied as it
grew more humane.  The childlike directness of her point of view began
to emerge more and more and to enhance her fascination; indeed, her way
of looking at things became a perpetual delight to such sophisticated
minds as ours.

Her total inability to take us seriously was quite piquant.  Our
England and all that was in it amused her vastly.  She would compare it
to an enchanted land in one of Perrault's fairy-tales.  But our code of
life, our manners and customs, our ideals, our mechanical contrivances
and, above all, our solemnity concerning them, never failed to appeal
to her sense of humour.

It was my especial pleasure to converse with her after dinner.  I
should not say that the art of conversation was her strong point, and
it was not until she had been a week in our midst that I was able to
come to anything approaching close quarters with her.  But it was worth
making the effort to get past the barrier that was unconsciously
erected by her air of disillusion, of patient, plaintive tolerance.

There was a quaint definiteness about her ideas.  Touching all
questions that had real significance her thinking seemed to have been
done for her generations ago.  All that lay outside the life of the
emotions was to her the wearisome iteration of a constitutional
practice, a necessary but somewhat painful part of the order of things.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about her was her humility.  The pomp
of kingship was to her the hollowest of all chimeras.  It merely
resolved itself into the guardianship of a profoundly ignorant, an
undeveloped and an extremely thankless proletariat.  "_Hélas!_ poor
souls, they don't know what is good," was a phrase she used with a
maternal sigh.  The divine right of kings was part and parcel of the
cosmic order; a fact as pregnant and inviolable as the presence of the
sun and the planets in the firmament.  To be called to the state of
kingship was an extremely honourable condition, "but you had always to
be praying."  It was also honourable and not so irksome to be an
unregarded unit of the proletariat.

I am not sure, but I incline to the belief, that the fact that I had a
seat in the House enabled her to support my curiosity with more
tolerance than she might have done had I been without some sort of
official sanction.  She regarded me as a chosen servant of _le bon roi
Edouard_; either my own personal grace or that of my kindred had
commended itself to the guardian of the state.

"Are not," said I, "the members of the Illyrian Parliament elected by
the people?"

"Yes, my father gave the people the franchise in 1890, and the nobles
have never forgiven him.  So now the people choose their sixty deputies
out of a list he draws up for their guidance; the lords of the land
choose another sixty from among themselves; and then, as so often
happens, if the two Chambers cannot agree, the King gives advice."

"The King of Illyria has heavy duties!"

"My father loves hard work."

"Are you troubled, ma'am, with a democratic movement in Illyria, as all
the rest of Europe appears to be at the present time?"

The gesture of her Royal Highness was one of pity.

"_Hélas_, poor souls!"

It was delicate ground upon which to tread.  But the fascination of
such an inquiry lured me on where doubtless the canons of good taste
would have had me stay.

"Would you not say, ma'am, your Republican Party was a menace to the
state?"

"They don't know what is good, poor souls."  Her voice was gentle.
"They will have to learn."

"Will the King be the means of teaching them?"

"_Hélas!_ he is too old.  It must be left to fate.  Poor souls, poor
souls!"

During the sojourn of her Royal Highness at Dympsfield House, we saw a
good deal of the Chief Constable of our county.  In a sense he had made
himself responsible for the safety of us all.  His vigilance was great,
and its unobtrusiveness was part of the man.  No precaution was
neglected which could minister to our security; and he gave his
personal attention to matters of detail which less thorough-going
individuals might have considered to be beneath their notice.

He was particularly insistent that the Princess should give up her
hunting, and that she should confine the scope of her activities, as
far as possible, to the grounds of the house.  To this she was not in
the least amenable.  An out-and-out believer in fate, and a subscriber
to the doctrine of what has to be will be, the bullets of the anarchist
had no terrors for her.  To Coverdale's annoyance, she continued to
hunt in spite of his solemn and repeated warnings.  And when he was
moved to remonstrate with Fitz upon the subject, he met with the reply,
"She pleases herself entirely."

"But, my dear fellow," said the Chief Constable, "surely you must know
that she is exposing herself to grave risks."

"If a thing seems good to her she does it," was Fitz's unprofitable
rejoinder.

The great man was frankly annoyed.

"That is very wrong, to my mind," he said with some heat.  "It is
unfair to those who have made themselves responsible for her safety."

"It is a question of free-will," said Fitz, "and she knows far more
about that than most people.  And when it comes to a matter of choosing
right, she has a special faculty."

So inconclusive a reply merely ministered to the wrath of the Chief
Constable, who in private complained to me bitterly.

"I wish to heaven they would quit the country," he said.  "They are a
source of endless worry and expense.  We do all we can to help them,
and I must say the Yard is wonderful, yet they can't be induced to take
the most elementary precautions.  I regret now, Arbuthnot, that I urged
you to shelter them.  I had hoped they were rational and sensible
people, but I now find they are not."

"You think, Coverdale, the danger is as real as ever?"

"Frankly I do.  Ferdinand the Twelfth has played it up so high in
Illyria that the Republicans are determined to make an end of the
monarchy."

"But didn't she renounce her right to the throne when she married Fitz?"

"In effect she may have done so, but the Illyrian law of succession
will not contemplate such an act.  Ferdinand makes no secret of the
fact, apparently, that he will compel her to marry the Archduke Joseph,
and that she must succeed to the throne."

"How is it possible for him to give effect to his will?"

"He is a strong man, and if he sets his mind upon a particular course
of action few have been able to deny him."

"Then you think her marriage with Fitz is merely an episode in what is
likely to be a brilliant but stormy career?"

"Always provided it is not cut short by one of those bullets it is our
duty to anticipate.  I can only tell you that the Foreign Office is now
very anxious to get her out of the country, and that if they dared they
would deport her."

"Ho, ho!"

An academic admirer of our constitutional practice, I was fain to
indulge in a whistle.

"And, strictly between ourselves," said the Chief Constable, "if only
the right government were in, deported she would be."

"A fine proceeding, I am bound to say, for a country with our
pretensions to liberalism!"

"Under the rose, of course."  The Chief Constable permitted himself a
dour smile.  "I daresay it would make a precedent, and yet one is not
so sure about that.  But one thing I am sure about, and that is that
some of us are devilish unpopular in high places.  They would not be
averse from making things rather warm for certain individuals who shall
be nameless.  They are pretty well agreed that we ought to have kept
our fingers out of the pie.  As old L. said to me yesterday, she has
got to leave the country, and the sooner she goes the better it will be
for all concerned."

All this tended to bring no comfort to the married man, the father of
the family, and the county member.  If anything, it deepened his
anxiety.

It is only just to state, however, that this feeling was not shared by
Mrs. Arbuthnot.  To be sure, she was not acquainted with all that
happened.  But as far as she was concerned the element of danger in the
case was an essential and rather delightful concomitant to its romance.

The Vane-Anstruther hyper-sensitiveness to that mysterious ideal "good
form" rendered it necessary that Mrs. Arbuthnot should perform a
volte-face.  This she proceeded to do with really amazing completeness
and efficiency.  No sooner was the true identity of our visitor
established, than, as far as the ruler of Dympsfield House was
concerned, there was an end of the circus rider from Vienna and all her
works.  The ingrained Vane-Anstruther reverence for royalty, due I have
ever been led to believe to an uncle who held a Household appointment,
received full play.  The lightest whim of the Princess--except before
the servants it was ever the Princess--was law.

Mrs. Arbuthnot did not go without a reward.  Such an incursion did she
make upon the royal regard that in a surprisingly short time she was
addressed as Irene, and about the end of the first week of the visit
the intelligence was confided to me that the Princess had asked to be
called Sonia.  Without a doubt we were living in a crowded and glorious
epoch.  And I do not think its glamour was in any degree impaired by
the strictures of the world.

It is not too much to say that the Crackanthorpe ladies were
scandalised by the open and flagrant treason of Mrs. Arbuthnot.  She
had taken the queen of the sawdust into the bosom of her family.
Together they hunted the fox; together they overrode the Crackanthorpe
Hounds.  Loud and bitter were the lamentations of Mrs. Catesby.  The
whole county shook its head.

Mrs. Arbuthnot wore the crown of martyrdom with extraordinary grace and
nerve.  Her conduct in public was marked by a cynical impropriety, a
flagrant audacity at which the world rubbed its eyes and wondered.

"I really believe," said Mrs. Catesby one day as together we made our
way home through the January twilight, "that if Irene belonged to me I
should chastise her.  Can you be unaware that she allows the creature
to call her by her first name?  And Laura Glendinning assures me that
with her own ears she heard her address her as Matilda, or whatever the
name is she received in baptism."

"Yes, it's a desperate situation," I agreed, with a sigh which had
perhaps a greater sincerity than it was allowed the credit.

"I hold you entirely responsible," said the Great Lady.  "And so does
everybody who knows the true facts of the case.  That deplorable
evening at the Savoy--and now you actually find her house-room in order
that she may demoralise your wife!  What a merciful thing it is that
your dear, good, devoted mother, the most refined of women, is no
longer with us!  By the way, Odo, I suppose you have heard that there
is some talk of asking you to resign your seat?"

"That is news to me, my dear Mary, I assure you."

"The Vicar thinks you ought.  He seems to think that if you have any
Christian feeling about things you will do so on your own initiative."

"It is so like the Church of England not to realise that by the time a
man reaches the age of forty he has gone over to Buddha."

"I don't know in the least what you mean, but I hope it is nothing
improper.  But I can assure you that the Vicar's opinion is shared by
others.  The Castle is dreadfully wounded.  Poor dear Evelyn will never
forgive it--never!  No more fishing in Scotland and no more shooting.
At any rate, it will be a mere waste of time and money for you to stand
again."

It only remained for me to agree very cordially with Mrs. Catesby, and
to confess to surprise that my constituents had not made the discovery
sooner.

"But," said I, cheerfully, "here we are at that fine example of late
Jacobean art known as Dympsfield House.  I would that I could prevail
upon you, Mary, to honour our guest by drinking a cup of tea in her
presence.  It would be a graceful act which I am sure we should all
appreciate."

"I have a conscience, Odo Arbuthnot," said the Great Lady, with a
severity of mien that rendered the announcement superfluous.  "Also I
have some kind of a standard of morals, manners and general conduct
which I strive to live up to."

At the gate I said _au revoir_ to the outraged matron.  Having disposed
of my horse, I made my way indoors.  The ladies had come home in the
car and were at the tea-table already.  Among a number of other
weaknesses which go with a strong infusion of the feminine temperament,
I confess to a decided partiality for the cup which cheers yet does not
inebriate.

Mrs. Arbuthnot was pouring out the tea and her Royal Highness was
standing in front of the fire.  She was reading a letter, and to judge
by her brilliantly expressive countenance, its contents were affording
a good deal of exercise for her emotions.

"I wish, Sonia, I could convert you to cream and sugar," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot, declining to entrust the cup to my care, but rising
importantly and personally handing it to the occupant of the hearthrug.

"Oh, no, t'ank you.  Lemon _à la Russe_.  What a people to take cream
and sugar in their tea!"

She enforced her idea of the absurdity by giving Mrs. Arbuthnot a
playfully affectionate pinch of the ear.

"I have a piece of news for you, my child.  Now, you must not laugh."

"Oh, no, Sonia, I will not laugh."

The somewhat exaggerated note of Mrs. Arbuthnot's obedience was not
unlike that of the model girl of the class being examined by the head
mistress.

"Now, Irene, be quite good.  Not even a smile."  The Princess held up a
finger of mock imperiousness.  "Dis is most serious.  Shall I tell you
now, or shall I to-morrow tell you?"

"Oh, please, please," piped Mrs. Arbuthnot, "please tell me at once.
Is it those absurd Republicans?"

"Oh no, my child; it is something much more interesting.  My father is
on his way to England."

In sheer exultation Mrs. Arbuthnot gave a little leap into the air.

"O-oh!" she gasped.

"Think of it, my child!  The royal and august one coming to this funny
little island, where everything is according to Perrault.  He is coming
with old Schalk."

"O-oh!" gasped Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"You don't know Schalk.  Wait till you have seen Schalk and then you
will die.  He will kill you quite.  He looks like dis, and he walks so."

Her Royal Highness made a face that was really comic and took a few
steps across the carpet in imitation of Schalk going to the House of
Deputies.

"Are they _really_ coming?"

"On Thursday they arrive at Southampton."

"They will go straight to Windsor, of course?"

"Oh no, my child; it is not a visit of state.  It is quite a secret,
what you call _incognito_.  The king is coming to make obedient his
wicked daughter.  _Helas!_"

With tragic suddenness the Princess dropped her voice and the laughter
died in her eyes.  But Mrs. Arbuthnot was too far deeply engrossed in
her own wild and extravagant thoughts to pay heed to the change.

"But if the King does not go to Windsor, where else can he go?" said
she.  "An hotel doesn't seem right, somehow, although, of course, there
are some rather nice ones in London."

"I think, my child," said the Princess, "it were best that my father
came to us.  They have anarchists in London.  Besides, I insist that
you see Schalk.  He will make you laugh until you shed tears."

It was as much as ever Mrs. Arbuthnot could do to keep herself in hand.

"Oh, Sonia," she cried, "do you really think the King will come to us?"

"_Mais oui, certainement_, that is his intention.  But it is a secret,
a grand secret, you must not fail to remember.  _Le bon roi Edouard_
must not know he is in this country.  His name will be Count Zhygny;
and perhaps our good Odo here will be able to find him a little
shooting.  Hares, partridges, anything that goes on four legs will
amuse him; and you must never forget, my good Odo, that he is the best
player at _Britch_ in Illyria.  Now mind you don't play very high, or
he will ruin you.  And so will Schalk."

"I thank you, ma'am, for the information," said I, gravely.



CHAPTER XX

A LITTLE DIPLOMACY

The announcement that Ferdinand the Twelfth, accompanied by his famous
minister, Baron von Schalk, was on his way to this country and that he
was coming straight to Dympsfield House can only be described as a blow
to one confirmed in the habit of mediocrity.  Had I had only myself to
consult in the matter, I should have urged, with all the vigour of
which my nature is capable, that it would be quite impossible for us to
put them up.  The lack of accommodation that was afforded by our modest
establishment; the obscurity of our social state; our radical unfitness
for the honour that was to be thrust upon us; all these disabilities
and many another surged through my brain, while I laved my tired limbs
and struggled into a "boiled" shirt, and tied my "white tie for
royalty" in accordance with the sumptuary decree of Joseph Jocelyn De
Vere.  So acute, indeed, became the conviction that something must be
done to turn the tide of events that I was fain to go next door to
Fitz.  That worthy was in the act of brushing his hair.

"You've heard the news, I suppose?" said I, and as I spoke I caught a
glimpse of my own gloomy and shirt-sleeved apparition in a
looking-glass.

"What news, old son?" said the Man of Destiny, negligently shaking
something out of a bottle on to his scalp.  "Not been shootin' at
Sonia, have they?  Police are devilish vigilant.  I'm hanged if we
haven't had a couple of mounted detectives with us all day.  They rode
like it, anyway."

"Do you mean to say you haven't heard?" said I, positively hating the
man for his coolness.  "Hasn't the Princess told you that her father is
on his way to this country, and that he is coming straight to us?"

Fitz laid down his hair-brushes and turned round to face me.

"Get out!" he said.  "Ferdinand coming here!"

"Yes; she had a letter this evening to that effect."

Fitz betrayed astonishment.  And under the mask of his habitual
indifference I thought he also betrayed something else.

"That poisonous old swine coming here!" he muttered.

"Yes; he is coming with Baron von Schalk."

"They generally hunt in couples.  He never goes anywhere without his
familiar.  But I don't like your news at all."

"I like the news as little as you do," said I.  "Really, we can hardly
do with them here."

Fitz stroked his chin pensively, and then shook his head.

"It looks as though we shall have to put up with them, I'm afraid.  If
they are really on the way, I don't quite see how we can shirk them.
Ferdinand is coming as a private person, I presume?"

"So I gather.  But what do you suppose is his motive in making this
sudden pilgrimage to see his daughter?"

Fitz did not answer the question immediately.

"It admits of only one explanation," he said at last.  "His other
scheme having failed, he has the audacity to take the thing in hand
himself.  But that is his way.  Whatever may be thought of his policy
and the style in which it is carried out, it can't be denied that he is
a very remarkable man.  But I wish to God he would keep away from
England!"

The son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth ended with an abrupt outburst.
Evidently the prospect of coming to grips with his august relation was
not to be viewed lightly.

"But it hardly seems right," he said, "for him to take pot-luck at the
Coach and Horses.  I shall be immensely grateful, Arbuthnot, if you
will put him up here, and of course it is quite understood that I stand
the shot."

"The question of the shot, my dear fellow, doesn't enter into the case
at all.  But, you see, we are just simple, ordinary folk, and we are
not quite up to this sort of thing; and then again, our accommodation
is limited."

"Oh, that will be all right.  If you can squeeze in Ferdinand and old
Schalk here, their people can stay in the village."

I am not often troubled by anything in the nature of an inspiration,
but desperation has been known to quicken the most lethargic minds.

"By Jove," said I, "there's Brasset.  He is mounted on a far better
scale than we are.  The very man!  I'm sure, if the matter were
mentioned to him, he would feel himself highly honoured."

"Yes," said Fitz, "it is not half a bad idea.  I will mention it to
Sonia."

"Of course, my dear fellow," I explained, "you understand that my wife
and I immensely appreciate the honour of entertaining the King of
Illyria, and if we only had more resources we should be only too
grateful for the chance.  I hope you will make that quite clear to the
Princess."

Solemnly enough the son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth promised that
this should be done, and I descended to the drawing-room in a more
equable frame of mind.  I was able to eat my dinner in the happy belief
that my inspiration had solved an acute and oppressive difficulty.
Emboldened by this reflection and sustained by a sense of danger
overpast, I even went to the length of attempting to pave the way for
the reception of the happy solution.

"By the way," I ventured to announce to Mrs. Arbuthnot at the other end
of the table, "Mr. Fitzwaren has suggested that perhaps it would be
more convenient for Count Zhygny and his friend the Baron if Lord
Brasset entertained them at the Hall.  This seems a most happy
suggestion, and I am quite sure that Lord Brasset will consider it a
very great honour."

Before I had come to the end of this carefully phrased, and, as I
hoped, eminently diplomatic speech, a silent but furious signal was
dispatched by wireless telegraphy across the whole length of the table.
A frown of portentous dimension clouded the brow of Mrs. Arbuthnot as
she turned ruthlessly to the picture of amused cynicism who sat beside
her.

"Really, Mr. Fitzwaren," said she, "that is nonsense.  His Maj--I mean
to say, Count Thingamy has expressed a gracious desire to come here,
and of course, as I have no need to say, we should be the last people
in the world not to respect it.  We shall only feel too _proud_ and
_honoured_, and the longer he stays with us the more _proud_ and the
more _honoured_ we shall feel."

"Quite so, quite so," said I, hurriedly.  "Those are exactly my views;
that goes without saying, of course.  But at the same time, Mr.
Fitzwaren agrees with me that the accommodation at the Hall is far
superior to any that we have it in our power to offer."

"I didn't say that exactly, old son."  Fitz turned the tail of an
amused eye upon his hostess.  "I rather think that is one of the things
that ought to be expressed differently.  Rather open to
misconstruction, as the old lady said when something went wrong with
the airship."

"Irene quite understands what I mean," said I, with the valour of the
entirely desperate.  "The Hall, don't you know, is one of the show
places of the country--ceilings by Verrio, and so on.  Then, of course,
Brasset's a peer, and, as it were, marked out by predestination to do
the honours to Count Zhygny."

There was the imperious upraising of a jewelled paw, in company with a
flash of eyes across the rose-bowl in the centre of the table.  I was
reminded of the lady in Meredith whose aspect spat.

"You are talking sheer nonsense, Odo.  Your father is coming here,
isn't he, Sonia dear?  It is all arranged, and there will be heaps of
room.  Lucinda will go to Yorkshire to see her Granny; and Jodey can go
to the Coach and Horses; and you, Odo, can sleep over the stables, and
I am sure that Mr. Fitzwaren won't mind giving up the nicest bedroom to
his Maj--I should say, Count von Thingamy.  You won't, now will you,
Mr. Fitzwaren?"

"I am yours to command, Mrs. Arbuthnot," said Mr. Fitzwaren, with his
chin pinned down to the front of his shirt, and gazing straight before
him with his smiling but sardonic eye.  "And if there is anything I can
do to add to the comfort of the Count, I need hardly say that I shall
be most happy."

"There!" said Mrs. Arbuthnot, triumphantly.  "Not another word, please,
else Sonia will think we don't deserve such an honour."

Her Royal Highness regaled us all with a benevolent flash of her
wonderful teeth.

As one in the coils of fate, I had to submit with the best grace I
could to its decree.  So far was the sharer of my joys and the
participator in my sorrows from viewing the prospect of the royal
coming with disfavour, that she might be said to revel in it.  There
was a fire in her eye, a lightness in her step; the mere thought of the
glamour that was so soon to invest her household served to envelop her
in an atmosphere of mental and moral elevation that can only be
described as lyrical.

Later in the evening I received a Caudle lecture upon my absence of
tact.  "What possessed you, Odo, to talk at dinner in that way!  I
don't know what dear Sonia must have felt, I'm sure.  One would really
think, to hear you, that we positively didn't want to entertain the
King."

"Let us assume, _mon enfant_," said the desperate I, "in a purely
academic spirit, that almost inconceivable hypothesis."

"Really, Odo, there are times when you seem to take a pride in being
_bourgeois_."

"In this instance, my child, the indictment justifies itself.  All the
same, we are what we are; it is hardly kind to hold any man responsible
for his antecedents."

"Don't think for a moment that I blame you because your grandfather was
in trade; although, of course, trade was not so respectable then as it
is now.  Why I blame you, Odo, is because you don't always make the
best of yourself.  That was almost the only thing dearest Mama had
against you.  Now, for the love of goodness, let us hear no more about
the King going to the Hall to stay with Reggie Brasset!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE EXPECTED GUEST

In the face of this manifesto by the powers, there was only one course
to adopt.  That course was submission.  Fitz, while professing to
sympathise with my embarrassment, was too cynical to help me much.  The
hospitality of the Hall might be more regal in its character, but then,
if the august visitor came to us, think what a snug family party we
should be!

The King was due at Southampton that day week, and his dutiful
son-in-law proposed to meet him there.  In spite of his casual and
nonchalant airs, he had an inborn instinct for behaving well on great
occasions.  Ferdinand the Twelfth having affirmed his determination to
visit our shores, it seemed to Fitz that it behoved all concerned to
make the best of a bad business.  It was a sad bore that he should have
decided to do any such thing, but at the same time it might prove an
amusing and possibly an instructive experience to have the victor of
Rodova dwelling among us in Middleshire.

For Mrs. Arbuthnot these were great days.  Almost the first thing she
did was to borrow an under-footman from Yorkshire.  She also provoked a
state of anarchy in the kitchen by engaging for a fortnight a cordon
bleu lately in the service of a nobleman.  Our much-maligned and
occasionally inebriated household goddess was fairly good for plain
dishes, but certainly not for such as were to be set before a king.
Upon inquiry of his daughter as to what dishes would make the best
appeal to the royal palate, the Princess was fain to declare that if
the victor of Rodova might be said to have a weakness for anything in
particular it was for tomatoes.

It was my privilege to be present when, one morning at breakfast, the
mandate was issued to Joseph Jocelyn De Vere that for the time being it
was necessary that he should seek other quarters.

"I am really so sorry," said his sister in a birdlike voice, "I am
really so dreadfully sorry.  But what can we do?  Two rather important
members of the Illyrian Cabinet are coming from Blaenau to see dear
Sonia, and of course it is only right that we should put them up."

"That is what all that talk about Count This and Baron That amounts to,
is it?" said the young fellow, coolly.  "Well, now, Mops, you don't
suppose I am going to put myself to the trouble of clearin' out for a
couple of bally foreigners, do you?  This box suits me very well, and
the Coach and Horses is quite a second-rate sort of pub."

"You can have your meals here, of course, but it would hardly be right
to send foreigners of distinction to the village inn."

"Foreigners of distinction!  Why, it would take the King himself to
uproot me."

Such a moment was too much for Mrs. Arbuthnot's dramatic sense.

"Well, it so happens," said she, with a carefully calculated unconcern,
"it is the King himself."

Jodey laid down his coffee-cup.

"Tell that to the Marines!" said he.

"If you don't believe me, you had better ask Sonia.  Of course, it is a
tremendous secret.  The visit is a strictly private one, and his
Majesty's _incognito_ must be rigidly preserved."

"I should rather think so," said the sceptical youth.  "I expect Fitz
is pulling your leg."

"Oh no, he isn't," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "Why should he, pray?  The
King arrives at Southampton on Thursday, and Nevil will meet him there.
His Chancellor, Baron von Schalk, accompanies him, and they are coming
straight to us."

"If it don't beat cock-fightin'!"

"It is really quite natural that the dear old King should wish to see
his daughter," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, with pensive dignity.

But it is only fair to Mrs. Arbuthnot to say that her dramatic
announcement had wrought sensibly upon her brother.

"I suppose there is no help for it," he said, cheerfully.  "I expect I
shall have to clear out.  But I daresay Brasset will find me a crib if
I explain how it is."

"There must be not a word of explanation to anybody," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot, with an official air.  "Not a soul must know it is the King."

"Brasset will be all right.  He's an awfully diplomatic beggar; been an
_attaché_ at Paris, and so on.  You can trust him to keep a secret."

Mrs. Arbuthnot pondered.  The gravity of her mien was enormous.

"Well, if you tell Reggie Brasset, you must give me your word of honour
that you positively won't speak of it to another living being.
Strictly _incog._, you know, and if it got out there might be serious
international complications.  Of course I had to write and tell Mama,
else she would never have let me have Thomas.  Besides, she is
consulting Uncle Harry upon one or two points of etiquette."

"Oh, is she!  Evidently going to be a devilish well-kept secret this
is!"

"I should think it is.  Why, I haven't even told Mary Catesby, yet I
suppose I shall have to, because she is frightfully well up in that
sort of thing."

"If you don't disdain a word of advice from a lowly quarter," said I,
modestly, "you will leave Mary Catesby out of your calculations."

My only guerdon was the flash of an imperious china-blue eye.  Other
reward there was none.

"Seems to me," said Jodey, "we had better have Brasset to dine with us
pretty often.  You will want somebody to talk to the old buffer.  I'm
not much of a hand at conversation myself."

"No, Joseph," I ventured to remark, "but you are good and brave and
modest.  How goes the ballad that Irene so charmingly discourses?  'Be
good, sweet child, and let who will be clever.'"

I desisted, for from two points of the compass a double-distilled
Vane-Anstruther gaze was trained upon me.  My relation by marriage
drank his coffee and fished out a vile old pipe, and lit it amid the
most magniloquent silence to which I have ever been a contributor.

But events were moving apace.  The passing of each day brought us
sensibly nearer the all-important event.  With advice and aid from her
Royal Highness, Mrs. Arbuthnot proceeded to set her house in order with
no uncertainty.  The King liked a room with a south aspect, it
appeared, and a bath-room leading out of his dressing-room.  By a
special dispensation of providence these things happened to be
forthcoming.  Red was the predominant hue of the carpet and
bed-hangings in the chamber of state.  The picturesque fancy occurred
to Mrs. Arbuthnot that purple would be more appropriate.  Her Royal
Highness thought it really didn't matter, but Joseph Jocelyn De Vere,
who was called in to arbitrate, concurred with Mrs. Arbuthnot.  The
bill from Waring's was £65 12_s._ 9_d._ less five per cent. discount
for cash.

On the morning of Wednesday a paper of instructions arrived from Uncle
Harry _via_ Doughty Bridge, Yorks.  It seemed to attach chief
significance to the wine, which should be of the best quality and
abundant in quantity.  Deponent adjured his niece to be especially
careful about the madeira, as all the royalties he had had the honour
to meet at table were extremely partial to that beverage.  "I am
sending a case of ours in the care of Thomas, unknown to your father,"
was interspersed in the form of a note in the maternal hand.  In
effect, Uncle Harry's instructions might be said to resolve themselves
into as much madeira and as little fuss as possible.

Fitz also was not inactive.  He had accepted the impending visit of his
father-in-law, wholly distasteful to him as there was reason to believe
it was, in quite the temper of the philosopher.  Since the King's
enemies were so rife in our part of the world, the first thing he did
was to take the Chief Constable into his confidence.  He then went up
to town, spent two hours in Whitehall at the feet of more than one
Gamaliel, called upon the General Manager of the Great Mid-Western
Railway and arranged for a special train to be run through from
Southampton to Middleham, and rounded up his day with the purchase of a
new silk hat at Scott's.

The historic Thursday came at last, and shortly after seven A.M. Mr.
Nevil Fitzwaren set forth to Southampton, arrayed in a very smart
Newmarket coat, patent leather boots and his new silk hat.  Even when I
had witnessed his setting out in the full panoply of war, I could
hardly realise that we were on the threshold of so high an occasion.  I
hope I do not attach an undue importance to the kings of the earth.
But even an insignificant unit of a constitutional country, with
perhaps something of a slight personal bias in the direction of
democracy, could not allay a thrill of lively anticipation of what the
day would bring forth.

According to the journals of the age, Ferdinand the Twelfth stood for
an advanced type of despot.  His word was law in Illyria.  I spent half
my morning in the hunting up and perusal of a recent number of one of
the magazines, in which appeared a character-study of this famous man
by one who claimed to know him intimately.  Therein he figured as a
benevolent reactionary; as one who in the fullest sense of the term
believed himself to be the father of his people.  He dispensed justice
alike to the rich and the poor; but whether he was right or whether he
was wrong, he allowed no appeal from his verdicts.

In the opinion of the writer of the article, the King of Illyria was
one of the strongest men of his epoch.  Poised as he had been all his
life on the crater of a volcano, which issued continual threats of
eruption, he had abated no point of his public or domestic policy in
response to the rumblings below.  He believed himself to possess an
infallible knowledge of that which was good for his people, and he was
prone to dispense his universal panacea in liberal doses.  Yet he
differed fundamentally from other potentates of a similar faith, as,
for instance, his Russian nephew and his Turkish and Persian
contemporaries, inasmuch as he had faith in the essential virtue of his
subjects.

In spite of the fact that the modern distemper of anarchy had infected
his kingdom, and had led to three cowardly attempts on his life,
Ferdinand the Twelfth had furnished a convincing proof of his strength
of character by declining to saddle his people with the responsibility
of what he chose to consider as isolated acts of fanaticism.  From the
earliest times any individual or body of freemen of the Kingdom of
Illyria had enjoyed the right of personal access to their sovereign.
He was ready to give them advice in the most commonplace affairs.  In
many ways he was more like an enlightened friend and neighbour of
liberal views than a despotic ruler whose word was law.  It was said
that he would advise a working-man about the choice of a calling for
his son, or he would fix the amount of a daughter's dowry.  "To take
the King's opinion" had become a proverbial phrase throughout the land;
and it was said that in the case of two farmers haggling over the price
of a horse, whenever the phrase was used it received a literal
interpretation.

The consequence of this accessibility was an abundant popularity among
all classes in the state.  In living up to the letter of the truly
royal tradition that every Illyrian enjoyed the King's friendship, he
had conserved his power, and in spite of many a sinister growl in
consequence of severe taxation and many flagrant abuses of authority,
the volcano had remained inactive throughout a long and not inglorious
reign.  His campaign in the 'sixties against the might of Austria,
culminating in the historic day of Rodova, had been a wonder for wise
men, and had only been rendered possible by the almost superstitious
faith of all classes of a comparatively small community.

In his final survey of the character and attainments of one of the most
significant figures of the age, the writer of the article indulged in
the prophecy that with Ferdinand the Twelfth a symbol of true kingship
would pass away.  The forces of modernism were too strong in Illyria,
as elsewhere in Europe, to be held longer at bay.  It was only by a
miracle that the doors of the historic castle at Blaenau had been
barred against them so long.  Only an extraordinary personal power and
an unflinching strength of will had kept them unforced.  For none could
deny that the sublime example of trusting all men and fearing none had
gone hand in hand with the gravest abuses; yet, whatever was their
nature, it could at least be said that they owed their origin to no
ignoble source.  A king in every true essential, Ferdinand the Twelfth
had the defects of his qualities.  The standard of well-being in
Illyria was high, but it was by no means widely dispersed.  As is the
case within the borders of all despotisms, the rich were the rich and
the poor were the poor in Illyria.  In many respects the condition of
the people recalled that of France before the Revolution; and it would
be a source of surprise to none who were in a position to observe the
present situation if, at the eleventh hour, the fate of Louis XVI
overtook this present uncommonly able and uncommonly misguided ruler.

By the light of what this day was to bring forth, I made an anxious
study of this document.  If I cannot say that I derived reassurance
from it, at least it did nothing to diminish my curiosity.  It was to
be our privilege to entertain a type of true kingliness under our roof.
If one of those culinary disasters occurred to which even the best
regulated households are susceptible, and we were constrained to offer
burnt soup or an underdone cutlet to the father of his people, it was
to be hoped that his trembling host and hostess would not have to
forfeit their heads.

As far as the King's daughter was concerned, it had seemed to us that
the announcement of his coming had brought unhappiness.  Her alert,
half-humorous, half-malicious interest in everything around her which
made her charm, had seemed to give place to the brooding preoccupation
of one who felt a deep distrust of coming events.  In particular I
thought this was shown in her relation to her small daughter.

Prior to the receipt of the King's letter, Mrs. Fitz had shown no undue
devotion to this piece of mischief incarnate who answered to the name
of Marie, who defied her governess, bullied the servants and the
domestic pets, and who fiercely contended in season and out with Miss
Lucinda, a milder and more legitimate household despot.  But by the
time we had come to this historic Thursday, it was as though her mother
could not bear this elf out of her sight.  It was, of course, natural
that she should ardently wish that Marie should behave nicely to her
Grandpapa, but there was something almost tragic in this new anxiety
concerning her.  There could be no doubt its root struck deep.

To those who understood her ways and moods, it was clear that something
weighed upon her heavily.  It was even in the expression of her face;
there was a strange decline of her vivacity, and a slackening of
interest in the things around her.  By the time Thursday came she
seemed most unhappy.

The Crackanthorpe had no fixture for that day, and in the light of
after events, perhaps, it had been well if they had.  All the morning
she was curiously silent and _distraite_.  She divided most of her time
between the stables and the society of her horses and the nursery and
the society of her singularly wilful and intractable daughter.  At
luncheon she refused every dish, contenting herself with a glass of
water and a piece of dry toast.  Not a word did she speak until near
the end of the meal, when quite suddenly she clasped her hands to her
head, and exclaimed in a deep guttural voice, hardly recognisable as
her own--

"I t'ink I will go mad!"

There was something indescribably tragic in the exclamation.  I rose
and withdrew from the room, and made a sign to the servants to follow.
Mrs. Arbuthnot was left alone with the unhappy lady, and as I went out
I remarked to her that I was going into the library.

About ten minutes afterwards, Irene came to me there.  She was looking
pale and anxious and not a little alarmed.

"She is suffering dreadfully, poor thing," she said, not without a
suspicion of tears.  "She is almost out of her reason, and she is
making a frantic effort to control herself."

"Can you gather what the trouble is?"

"She has a terrible fear of something.  What it is I don't know.  She
keeps talking in Illyrian."

"Is it her father's coming?"

"Yes, it has upset her dreadfully."

"Is she afraid of him?"

"Yes, pathetically afraid.  But there is also something else she fears."

"I suppose she is thinking of her husband and her child?"

"Yes, poor soul!  How I wish we could help her!"

"It is not easy to help the children of destiny."

"Never until now have I realised what a dreadful life it is these
people lead.  She is suffering terribly.  Do you know of anybody who
understands the stars?"

"The stars!"

"Yes, she says she wants to know what the stars are doing.  It is
ridiculous superstition, of course, and I told her so.  But she shook
her head in the oddest way, and she looked so tragic and unhappy that
she nearly made me cry."

"Isn't there an astrologer in Bond Street?  But it's a hundred to one
he's a charlatan."

"They all are, of course."

"The Princess doesn't appear to think so.  And there is my cracked old
Uncle Theodore who lives in Bryanston Square.  He is supposed to be no
end of an authority upon the stars."

"Well, it is utterly ridiculous, but I am afraid nothing can be done
with her until she has consulted somebody.  Give her your Uncle
Theodore's address and let her catch the 2.20 to town, and she will be
back before the King comes."

"She can't go alone.  In her present state of mind somebody must be
with her.  Can't you persuade her to wait until she has seen her
father?"

"She is suffering so much that it would be a mercy to relieve the
strain in any way."

"Very well, I will take her to see old Theodore.  I will send him a
wire to tell him that a lady is coming to consult him about the stars;
and also I had better telephone to Coverdale to let him know what's
happening.  It is hardly wise to go to London without an escort.  Then
there is the monarch to be arranged for.  But Fitz will wire the
authorities direct from Southampton the approximate time of his
arrival."

Luckily Coverdale was at the Sessions Hall.  But when I informed him of
the Princess's sudden determination to go to town by the 2.20 he very
nearly fused the wires.  "How the blank did she suppose that with her
blank father due at Middleham at 6.50 the Middleshire Constabulary
could arrange for her to go gallivanting to the blank metropolis that
blank afternoon?"  Without venturing in any way to enlighten the
official nescience or to mitigate its temperature, I attempted with
infinite tact and patience to explain, yet withholding all reference to
the stars as I did so, that in the circumstances there was no help for
it.  This being a matter upon which the Princess had fully made up her
mind, it behoved the Middleshire Constabulary to defer to her wishes
with the best possible grace.

"Well, my friend," said the Chief Constable, "let me tell you, you are
running a devil of a risk.  But I shall communicate with Scotland Yard,
and ask them to look after you.  Still, as the King arrives this
evening, the four men you have with you had better remain on duty at
the house.  And," concluded the head of the Middleshire Constabulary,
"I would to God the whole blank, blank crowd----!!"

A married man, a father of a family, and a county member somewhat
hurriedly replaced the receiver.



CHAPTER XXII

A VISIT TO BRYANSTON SQUARE

Unwillingly enough, I set out with our guest to consult my Uncle
Theodore.  Assuredly it was a scheme in which common sense, in the
general acceptation of that elusive quality, had no part.  Yet, however
preposterous the proceeding, it was an act of common humanity to take
even an extravagant measure for the relief of such an acute suffering.
It was impossible not to pity the unhappy creature.  Her eyes were wild
and her appearance had been transformed into that of a hunted animal.

On the way up to town we were fortunate enough to secure a carriage to
ourselves.  Throughout the journey my companion hardly addressed a word
to me, but she continued to betray many tokens of mental anguish.  The
train was punctual, and by a few minutes after four o'clock we were in
Bryanston Square.

It is only once in a lustrum that I visit my Uncle Theodore.  He is
rich, a bachelor, and in the family is regarded as an incorrigible
crank.  The champion of lost causes, a poet, a radical, a practitioner
of the occult, a scorner of convention, and a robust hater of many
things, including all that relates to the merely expedient, the
utilitarian and the material, he is looked upon as a dangerous heretic
who might be more esteemed if he belonged to a less eminently
responsible clan.

Howbeit, I confess that I never visit my Uncle Theodore without feeling
constrained to pay a kind of involuntary homage to his personality.  He
has a way with him; there is a something about him which is the
absolute negation of the commonplace.  He is tall and extraordinarily
frail, with a picturesque mop of orange-coloured hair, and a pair of
large round eyes of remarkable luminosity, which seem like twin moons
of liquid light.

It was our good fortune to find this bravo at home and in receipt of my
telegram.  I left my companion in another room while I went forth and
bearded the lion in his den.  Dressed in a velvet jacket, a red tie and
a pair of beaded Oriental slippers he was in the act of composition,
and was writing very slowly with a feathered quill upon a sheet of
unruled foolscap.

"I am writing a letter to the time-serving rag that disgraces us," he
said with a kind of languid vehemence, "and the time-serving rag won't
print it, but I shall keep a copy and publish it in a pamphlet at the
price of three-pence."

"Then put me down for four copies," said I.  "You know I always regard
you as one of the few living masters of the King's English."

"The King's English!  The King, my boy, has no English.  He has less
English than the average self-respecting costermonger."

"The well of English undefiled, then."

"That is better.  You are perfectly right.  It is my firm conviction
that my prose is quite equal to my poetry, and yet these dunces persist
in saying that we poets can't write prose.  Swinburne couldn't, it's
true, and with tears in my eyes I used to beseech him to give up
trying.  But he was an obstinate little fellow.  Milton couldn't,
either.  But Goethe now, Goethe could write prose as well as I can
myself, and so could Wordsworth if he had liked, and so could Shelley.
As for that yokel from Stratford-on-Avon, if there is anybody who dares
to say he couldn't write prose, I should like to have the pleasure of
contradicting him."

"I think," said I, "you will be among the prose-writers after your
death.  If I survive you, I shall hope to prepare a collected edition
of the letters you have had rejected by the newspapers."

"That's a bargain, my boy.  I will select them for you.  It will be a
nice little legacy to leave to posterity.  A hundred years hence they
will speak of me as the British Lucian who opened the stinking
casements of a putrid age and let in God's honest sunlight.  What a
time we live in, and what a poisonous crew inhabits it!  Why, do you
know, my boy, we have less real freedom in this country than they have
in Illyria."

The totally unexpected mention of the blessed word Illyria startled me
considerably.  That sinister kingdom was evidently in the air.

"You are right, Theodore," said I.  "'The stinking casements of a
putrid age'--that is a phrase I shall remember when next I am at the
point of asphyxiation upon the green benches of the Mother of
Parliaments."

"What a football-kicking, boat-tugging, gymnasium-bred crew they must
be to stand such an atmosphere day after day, night after night!  I
shouldn't have thought that a really _polite_ man could have existed in
it for three days.  I wonder what Edmund Burke thinks of the place when
he enters it now."

A rough working knowledge of the subject with which I had to cope
rendered it imperative that I should make a determined effort to lay
hold of his head before he took charge of me altogether.

"Theodore," said I, "I am not here to yield to the delight of your
conversation, much as I yearn to do so.  I have brought a lady with me
who desires to consult you about the stars."

He seemed to laugh a deep, hollow laugh out of the depths of himself,
much as an ogre might be expected to do.

"Vain superstition!" he guffawed, as he stretched out his long tenuous
hands.  "O ye upper-middle-class British Pharisees, that ye should
condescend!  Who is this weak vessel that would consult the stars?
Not, I trow and trust, a daughter of the late Sir John Stubberfield,
Bart.?"

"The late Sir John Stubberfield, Bart." was a symbol erected
permanently in his mind, with which he toyed when he was moved to
exercise his fancy at the expense of his countrymen.

"Not a daughter of Sir John," I assured him.  "An even more potent
personage."

"Impossible, my boy!  A veritable daughter of Sir John stands at the
apex of human endeavour.  She is the crown of social, political and
philosophical beatitude.  Do you forget that it was a daughter of Sir
John Stubberfield, Bart., who married a Prosser?  Do you forget it was
a daughter of Sir John Stubberfield, Bart., who had issue an heir male,
a little Prosser?"

"Peace, peace, my good Theodore.  You have a bare half-hour in which to
read the stars in their courses for a fair unknown.  And I beg that you
will treat her tenderly, for she is a brave woman and an unhappy."

"Aha!"  The Ogre--the name he was known by in the family--sighed a
romantic sympathy.  It may seem out of harmony with the terms in which
I have endeavoured to render the personality of this Berserk, but he
had an almost Quixotic development of the sense of chivalry.  Nothing
so greatly delighted this champion of lost causes as to succour those
who were in distress.

"Produce the languishing vestal, so that the arts of the necromancer
may sustain her.  But stay, my boy; before we go further, may I suggest
that you conform to the conventional practice of confiding the name she
goes by among men?"

"Certainly.  Her name is Mrs. Nevil Fitzwaren."

"Aha!"  The Ogre swung half round in his writing-chair to confront me.
He seemed like a satyr, and the twin moons that were his eyes began to
magnetise me with their uncanny effulgence.  "A woman about thirty, of
foreign extraction?"

"Ye--es."

"Married an English squire about five years ago?"

"How the deuce do you know that?" said I, in amazement.

Again the look of the satyr seemed to transfigure him.

"What, pray, is the use of being a soothsayer without one is permitted
to dabble a little in the black arts?"

"Theodore, my friend," said I, with a somewhat disconcerted laugh, "I
am inclined to think you must be the Devil."

"Perchance, my dear boy, perchance."  The Ogre placed the tips of his
fingers together in a way he had.  "May it interest you to know that
the Devil is a more potent figure in the public life of our little day
than our German friends allow for.  Never despise the Devil, and never
mention him lightly in any company, for he is always looking at you."

The twin moons were enfolding me with a refulgence that in the dim
January twilight was so uncanny that, had I been other than of a fairly
robust materialistic texture, I might have felt a kind of horror.

"It is very interesting that your friend Mrs. Fitzwaren--black hair,
olive complexion, remarkable appearance, a type you can't place--should
come to me like this.  The fact is, my dear boy, things are not always
what they seem.  Judging by the recent behaviour of one or two rather
important planetary bodies, and of the new body of which our observant
French friends have lately learned to take cognisance, the visit of
your friend Mrs. Nevil Fitzwaren to your cracked Uncle Theodore at his
local habitation in Bryanston Square may have some kind of a bearing on
the destiny of nations.  How say you?"

"My dear Theodore," I expostulated, from motives of policy, "my dear
Theodore, you really are, 'pon my word you really are----!"

All the same, it was with a singular complexity of emotion that I went
forth to lead this prophet and soothsayer into the presence of the
Crown Princess of Illyria.

It struck me as I preceded my carpet-slippered relation into the great
bare room that the unhappy lady was looking more distinguished and more
distraught than-ever.  Had I had a merely superficial acquaintance with
our family Berserk I must have had qualms as to the mode of his
reception of his visitor.  In uncongenial company he could be a
positive Boeotian savage, but, again, if it pleased him, he could
display an ease and a sympathetic charm of bearing which was wholly
delightful to those who had the good fortune to call it forth.

As he came shambling in with his flaming tie, his mop of
orange-coloured hair, his hands in his pockets and his heels half out
of his slippers, would it please him to be the polished and gracious
courtier, or the wild Boeotian savage?

His visitor rose to receive him and a grave bow was exchanged.  And for
the first time in my knowledge of her Mrs. Fitz seemed at a loss for
speech.  Small wonder was it, for this gaunt, lean presence with the
faun-like smile and the still, full, luminous gaze, seemed to hold the
key to realms of infinite mystery and power.

"If you will come to my room, we can talk," he said, quite gently.

As he was about to lead the way, he half turned and leered at me
ogre-like over his shoulder with his peculiarly significant malice.

"Tell Peacock to give you the _Sporting Times_ and a cigar and a
whisky-and-soda, my dear boy," he said.

"Thanks," said I, "but I am afraid you cannot be allowed more than
twenty minutes for your interview.  It is imperative that Mrs.
Fitzwaren should catch the 5.28 from the Grand Central."

"The 5.28 from the Grand Central."  He repeated the words as though an
importance was attached to them that they had no reason to claim.  Then
he added musingly, "I am not so clear as I should like to be that you
will be wise to catch it.  It would be better, I think, if Mrs.
Fitzwaren could arrange to travel to-morrow."

"Impossible, my dear Theodore.  Mrs. Fitzwaren is staying with us, and
we must certainly be back to dinner."

The Princess nodded her concurrence.

"Well, well, if you really must.  And perhaps I exceed my prerogative."

The singular creature proceeded to lead the way to his study.  I was
left to meditate alone for twenty minutes upon this latest expression
of his personality.  Never before had I realised so fully that he was
the possessor of gifts the nature of which was as a sealed book to the
common mortal.  There had been occasions when we "in the family" had
been tempted to believe that there was a strong infusion of the
charlatan in his pretension to occult knowledge.  A prophet is not
without honour save in his own country.

But as I sat this January evening in his house in Bryanston Square, I
realised more fully than I had ever done before that the last word has
yet to be uttered in regard to the things around us.  It was as though
all at once my cranky relation in his carpet slippers, his velvet coat
and his red tie had brought me into a more intimate contact with the
Unseen.

Somehow, and for no specific reason that I was able to discover, my
unruly nerves began to tick like a clock.  The temperature of the room
was not high, but a perspiration broke out all over me.  A full five
minutes I sat in the silence of the gathering darkness not quite
knowing what to do and not caring particularly.  It was as though the
enervating atmosphere of my uncle's nearness had taken from me the
power of volition.

It never occurred to me to ring the bell, and yet I had merely to press
the button at my elbow.  Nevertheless, when a servant entered with a
lamp it was a real relief.

"Hullo, Peacock!" said I, issuing with a little shiver from my reverie.

Somehow it seemed that that retainer, trusted, elderly, responsible,
looked singularly pale and meagre in the lamp-light.

"Are you very well, Peacock?"

"Thank you, sir, not very."  The old servant sighed heavily.

"Why, what's the matter?"

The old fellow proceeded to draw the curtains and then turned to face
me with a kind of nervous defiance.

"Fact is, Mr. Odo," he said, "this place is getting too much for me.  I
am afraid I shan't be able to go on much longer.  Fact is, Mr.
Odo"--the old man lowered his voice to a whisper of painful
solemnity--"it is contrary to the will of God."

"What is contrary to the will of God?"

"The goings on, sir, of Mr. Theodore.  My private opinion is--and I say
to you, Mr. Odo, what I wouldn't say to another"--the voice of the old
fellow grew lower and lower--"that Mr. Theodore is getting to know a
bit more than any man ought to: in fact, sir, more than the Almighty
intended any man should."

"What do you mean, Peacock?  You are not growing superstitious in your
old age, are you?"

I strove to speak in a light tone.  But in my own ears my voice sounded
curiously high and thin.

"I mean this, sir.  The line ought to be drawn somewhere.  And Mr.
Theodore doesn't know where to draw it.  The people he has here,
sir--it's--well, it's appalling!  Clairvoyants, mediums, mahatmas,
Indian fakirs, table-turners, spirit-rappers, and I can't say what.
Communion with spirits is all very well, sir, but it is contrary to the
will of God.  The Almighty never intended, sir, that we should pry into
all the secrets of existence."

"How do you know that, Peacock?"

"I know by this, sir."  The old fellow tapped the centre of his
forehead solemnly.  "The thing that lies behind this."

To my surprise the old servant wrung his hands and burst into tears.

"It can't go on, sir--at least, as far as I am concerned.  Either Mr.
Theodore will have to mend his ways or I shall have to leave him.  I
have been a long time with Mr. Theodore, and of course I was with his
father before him, and I daresay I am getting old, but do you know what
we have got in the attic, sir?"

"What have you got in the attic, Peacock?"

"An Egyptian mummy, sir.  It is several thousand years old, and I am
convinced that a curse is on it.  I wouldn't enter that attic, sir, not
me, not for all the wealth of the Rothschilds."

"I was not aware that you were superstitious, Peacock," said I, with a
very ineffectual assumption of the formal tone of the married man, the
father of the family, and the county member.

"It is not superstition, sir, but I know what I know.  That mummy has
got to leave this house, or I shall leave it."

"Is that the fiat of the True Believer?"

"I don't fear God the less, sir, because I fear an Egyptian mummy, if
that is what you mean."

"But you are inclined to think there are more things in earth and
heaven than it is well for the average man to be concerned with?"

"I am convinced of that, sir; and if Mr. Theodore doesn't get rid of
that mummy and amend his goings on, I shall be compelled to give
notice."

Stated baldly, the old fellow's words may seem ridiculous.  But as he
uttered them his distress was so sincere that it was impossible to deny
him a meed of sympathy.

"Quite right, if you do, Peacock," I agreed.  "And you can lay it to
that honest conscience of which you are rightly proud that you have
served the family long and faithfully, and that no one will question
your right to an annuity."

"Oh, that will be all right, sir," said the old retainer; "even if Mr.
Theodore does act contrary to the will of God, nobody can deny that he
is a perfect gentleman."

"Is not that rather a confirmation of the ancient, theory that the
Devil was the first perfect gentleman?"

"I have not thought of that before, sir, but now you mention it, it is
certainly worth thinking about."

Having lent sanction to this profound truth, the old fellow went out of
the room.  But I recalled him from the threshold.

"By the way, Peacock, Mr. Theodore told me to ask for the _Sporting
Times_, a cigar and a whisky-and-soda."

"Very good, sir."  The old fellow withdrew.

"And thank God for them!" I muttered devoutly to the bare walls.



CHAPTER XXIII

PROVIDES AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE THEORY THAT THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT
THEY SEEM

When the old man returned with this sustenance for the material state,
I was moved to inquire how it was that such an intellectual rawhead and
bloodybones as this too-assiduous diver into the sunless sea of the
occult should subscribe to a journal of such a texture and complexion.

"Is it, Peacock, do you suppose, that, like Francis the first Lord
Verulam, he would take all knowledge for his province?"

"He goes racing, sir," said Peacock, not without a suggestion of pride.
"And, what is more, sir, he wins so much money that none of the
bookmakers will have anything to do with him these days if they can
help it.  Why, do you know, sir, he has given me the name of the winner
of the Derby three years running a whole fortnight before the race."

"Did you reconcile it with your conscience, Peacock, to back the horse?"

"Not the first time, sir, because, you see, I was hardly convinced it
would win.  It was a new fad with him then.  But when I found it did
win, and he gave me the tip the next year, it seemed to be flying in
the face of providence, as it were, to throw away the chance, so I had
on a sovereign and won nine pounds ten."

"And the third time, Peacock?"

"The third time, sir, I made it five and I won forty.  And if I can
stand his goings on, sir, until next Epsom week, and he gives me the
tip again, I intend to put on all my savings."

I had scarcely the heart to ask the old fellow what his conscience had
to say in the matter.  Doubtless it was one of those organisms that
only responded to the call of the higher metaphysics.  It was a
patrician conscience, no doubt, which only concerned itself with the
ultimate.

Anyhow, before I could gratify my curiosity on this point, the
re-emergence of my Uncle Theodore saved his retainer from an inquiry.
A glance at my watch convinced me that we had not a moment to lose if
we were to catch the 5.28 from the Grand Central station.

Uncle Theodore took an almost paternal leave of his visitor.  He
conducted her to the taxicab which awaited us; and in a voice of
gentleness, of winning deference, he bade her God-speed.  When she
offered him her hand, as it seemed almost timidly, he pressed it to his
lips.

"Fear nothing," I heard him say under his breath softly, and I thought
the unhappy lady smiled wanly with her great gaunt eyes.

As I was about to enter the cab, Theodore placed his hand on my
shoulder.

"Look after her, my dear boy."  His voice had the fervour of a
benediction.

My companion appeared to have shed much of her distraction in the
course of her interview with the weird inhabitant of Bryanston Square.
The sovereignty of the soul seemed once more in her keeping.  No longer
did she convey the impression of one passing through an insupportable
mental crisis.  Whatever fate had in store for her, it was as though
she had strength to endure it.

It was in the nature of a race against time to the Grand Central
station.  I had promised the driver of our taxi a substantial guerdon
if he caught the train.  Undoubtedly he did his best, but fate decreed
that he was not to earn it.  An anxious study of my watch revealed the
issue to be still in the balance; but just as it began to seem that we
were gaining a little on the clock, there came a sharp report, followed
by an almost simultaneous crash of glass, and then a confused
succession of happenings.

Our vehicle stopped abruptly; a brief interval of nothingness seemed to
intervene; and the next thing of which I was cognisant was that the
lights had gone out and that a man with a pale face and a
straw-coloured moustache was looking in at us through the window.

"Hope you are not hurt, sir."  The voice sounded remote, but I could
detect its note of anxiety.  "Is the lady all right?"

Somewhat dazed, almost as if I were passing through a dream, I heard
the voice of my companion speaking with calmness and reassurance.  Then
I heard the voice of the man again:

"I am afraid your Royal Highness will have to go on in another taxi."

And then the door opened, and I got out unsteadily and found myself in
the midst of much traffic and a press of people.  I then grew conscious
that some of these had a way with them, and that they were directing
things with a sort of calm officiousness.

My dazed senses welcomed the helmet of a policeman.

"Call a taxi, please," said I, addressing him in a voice that somehow
did not seem to belong to me.  "Must catch the 5.28 Grand Central,
whatever happens.  Will give you my card."

As I spoke I turned to help my companion out of the vehicle, and in the
act nearly measured my length on the kerb.  Strong and sympathetic
hands seemed to come about me, and again the voice of the man with the
straw-coloured moustache sounded in my ear, decisive but kindly and
respectful.

"There is a doctor across the road, sir.  Can you walk, sir?  Lean your
weight on me."

"5.28 Grand Central," was my incoherent, almost involuntary rejoinder.
"The Princess."

"Yes, yes, sir," said the voice of my friend in need breaking in again
on my senses.  "The Princess will be all right with us."

Almost as if by magic a passage was made for us through the whirlpool
of traffic.  We seemed to be in the middle of a street that appeared
quite familiar, and policemen and extremely efficient persons in dark
overcoats seemed to abound.

"The Princess," I continued to mutter vaguely at intervals.

"I am with you," said a low and calm voice at my side.

She was helping my unknown friend to support me across the road.  By
some subtle means her nearness seemed to brace and stimulate my
faculties.

"I fear we shall not catch the 5.28, ma'am," I said.

"What _does_ it matter?"  The tone of her voice seemed to give me
strength and capacity.

A few yards away, down a side street, was the house of a doctor.  It
seemed but a very little while before I was in a cosy, well-lighted
room, with a fire burning cheerfully, and a tall, genial individual
with a red head and a Scotch accent was talking to me and holding me by
the arm.

"Pray sit down, madam," I heard him say in his pleasant brogue.  "I
hope you are none the worse for your accident?"

"Not at all, t'ank you," replied my companion in a cordial tone; and
then the man who had taken charge of me was heard to say to a colleague
who had followed us into the house, "Perhaps the Doctor will allow you
to use his telephone, Mr. Johnson.  Ring up the Superintendent and then
go and see what Inspector Mottrom is doing."

The Doctor gave me a bottle to sniff, and then for the first time I
realised that I had an intolerable stinging in the arm.  I glanced at
it and saw that the sleeve of my coat was soaked with blood.

"If you will come into the surgery," said the Doctor, following the
direction of my glance, "we will have a look at it.  A breakage of
glass, apparently."

"Yes," said my friend in need, who was evidently a Scotland Yard
inspector, answering for me promptly, "the cab was pretty well smashed
up."  Then he added in an undertone for my private ear, "Don't mention
the shots, sir.  I am going to telephone to the railway people to
arrange for a special train as soon as you are ready to go on.  I think
it will be safer, and two of our inspectors will accompany the train."

"Thank you very much indeed," I said, gratefully.

Never until that moment had I fully realised the organised efficiency
of the Metropolitan Police.

As soon as I entered the surgery I came perilously near to a fall on
the carpet, somewhat to my disgust, for I appeared to have sustained no
injury beyond the damage to my arm.  Further recourse, however, to the
smelling-bottle defeated this temporary weakness.

After traversing the injured member with light and deft fingers, the
Doctor procured a bowl of warm water, a sponge and a pair of scissors.
He cut away the sleeve of the overcoat, then of the coat and the shirt,
revealing a state of things at which I had no wish to look.  After the
application of an antiseptic in warm water he was able to give an
opinion.

"I am afraid," he said, "this is not the work of glass."  He worked
over the quivering flesh with a finger.  "A bullet has been at work
here.  It has glanced along the lower arm apparently, but it does not
appear to have lodged in it.  An incised wound.  There may be a
fracture.  Can you move your arm in this way?"

With this request I was able somewhat painfully to comply.

"That is good," said the Doctor.  "No fracture."

It was surprising how soon and how readily the injured member yielded
to the deft skill of this good Samaritan.  Twenty minutes of assiduous
treatment, which, however, was fraught with some pain, as it included
the operation of stitching, did much not only for the damaged limb but
also for its owner.  By that time I seemed to have quite overcome the
shock of these events; and with my arm encased in bandages and resting
in a black silk handkerchief, and the good Doctor having lent me an
overcoat to replace my own mutilated one, I was given a pretty stiff
brandy-and-soda and pronounced fit to travel.

"It is undoubtedly the work of a bullet," said the Doctor at the end of
his labours.  "But I suppose it is no business of mine.  If I am not
mistaken, the men who brought you here are Scotland Yard detectives."

I smiled at the Doctor's perspicacity and asked him to be good enough
to take a card out of my cigar-case.

"Some day, perhaps, I shall be able to explain to you what the accident
really was and how it came to happen.  In the meantime I cannot do more
than thank you most sincerely for all that you have done for me."

There and then I took leave of this true friend, and with a sense of
devout thankfulness that I was no worse off than I was, continued the
journey to the Grand Central station.  When at last we came to that
well-known terminus the great clock over the entrance was pointing to
five minutes past six.

Our arrival there seemed an event of some importance, to judge by the
demeanour of a number of people who appeared to take an interest in it.
Indeed, so much respectful attention did it excite that it seemed to be
rather in the nature of an anti-climax to have to pay our Jehu.

As soon as we had entered the booking-hall no less a personage than the
station-master, frock-coated and gold-laced, came up to us and took off
his hat.

"Train ready to start, sir, as soon as her Royal Highness desires.
Platform No. 5.  This way, sir, if you will kindly follow me."

We passed along to Platform No. 5, engaging as we did so the
good-humoured interest of the British Public.  Here a special saloon
was awaiting us, also a carriage for the accommodation of our friends
from Scotland Yard.  By a quarter past six we had started on our
journey.

My companion had borne all our vicissitudes _en route_ from Bryanston
Square with the greatest fortitude and composure.  It was no new
experience for her chequered life to be exposed to the bullets of the
assassin.  This latest effort of the King's enemies she appeared to
regard with stoical indifference.  Even in the shock of the calamity
itself she did not lose her self-possession.  And through all our
tribulations her attitude of maternal solicitude was charmingly sincere.

As I came to regard her from the opposite corner in our special saloon,
it was clear that a great change had been wrought in her by the visit
to the magician of Bryanston Square.  It was a change wholly for the
better.  In lieu of the overwrought intensity which had been so painful
for her friends to notice, was that calm and assured outlook upon the
world of men and things which had ever been her predominant
characteristic in so far as we had known her.

"Irene will scold me dreadfully," she said, "for bringing you home like
this."

"Surely it is the reverse of the case, ma'am.  Instead of me looking
after you, I really don't know what I should have done without your
help."

"My poor Odo, you won't be able to hunt for a month at least."

"Perhaps it is for the best.  I shall have more time to think about the
dragon of socialism which is threatening to devour us all."

"Even here you have that disease"--there was a half-humorous lift of
the royal eyebrow--"even in this quaint place.  Why, it is a disease
that is spreading all over the world.  If only the dear people would
understand that it was never intended that they should think for
themselves; that it is so much wiser, so much less expensive, so much
more profitable in every way that they should have those who are used
to policy to think for them!  How can Jacques Bonhomme, dear, good,
ignorant, stupid fellow, know what is good for him, what is good for
his country, what is good for Europe, what is good for the whole world!"

"The trouble, ma'am, as far as this island is concerned, is that our
Jacques is becoming such a shrewd, sensible personage, who is learning
to go about with his eyes uncommonly wide open."

"Ants and bees and dogs and horses, my good Odo, are shrewd and
sensible enough, but Jacques must learn to keep his place.  Everything
is good in its degree, but I cannot believe that a watchmaker is fitted
to wind up the clock of state any more than a common soldier is fitted
to win the day of Rodova."

"Ah, the day of Rodova!  I wonder if we shall find the Victor waiting
for us when we get back to Dympsfield House."

I thought a faint cloud passed over the brows of my companion.

"_Mais, oui,_" she said in a soft, low tone.  "I wonder.  And old
Schalk.  He is such a character.  You will die when you see Schalk."

"A very able minister, is he not, ma'am?"

"Like all things, my good Odo," said her Royal Highness, "Schalk is
good in his degree.  He has his virtue.  He is learned in the law, for
instance, but there are times when, like poor Jacques Bonhomme, Schalk
would aspire to take more on his shoulders than nature intended they
should bear.  But there, do not let us complain about Schalk.  He is
the faithful servant of an august master; do not let us blame him if he
grows old and difficult.  I once had a hound that grew like Schalk.  In
the end I had to destroy the honest creature, but of course that is not
to say my father will destroy Schalk."

"Quite so, ma'am," said I, with a grave appreciation of the fine
distinction that it might please his Majesty to draw in the case of
Baron von Schalk.

I relapsed into reverie.  What kind of a man was this celebrated
sovereign?  How would he harmonise with the humble middle-class English
setting to which he was on the point of confiding himself?  At this
stage it was vain to repine, but as I reclined on the cushions of our
royal saloon, with my arm throbbing intolerably and my temples too,
what would I not have given to be through with the onerous duty of
entertaining such a guest!

As thus I sat with our train proceeding full steam ahead to Middleham,
my nerves began to rise up in mutiny.  Why, oh, why! had I not been
firmer?  What could a comparative child, without the slightest
experience of any walk of life save her own extremely circumscribed
one, know of the exigencies of such a situation?  How could she
appreciate all that was involved in it?  A kind of mental nausea came
upon me when I realised that I had allowed myself to become responsible
for the personal safety and the general well-being of the King of
Illyria during his sojourn in England.

The anxieties in which his daughter had involved us were severe enough,
but in the case of her father they seemed a hundred times more complex.
Certainly they were far too much to ask of any private individual in
the middle station of life.  It was in vain that I invoked an incipient
sense of humour.  Sitting alone with a Crown Princess in a special
train, with a bullet wound in your arm, is not apparently an ideal
situation in which to exercise it.  I might laugh as much as I liked at
poor George Dandin himself.  His embarrassments in the pass to which
his wife's infatuation for realms beyond their own had brought him
might be truly comic, but the married man, the father of the family,
and the county member was quite unable, in his present shattered
condition, to accept them with the detachment due to the true Olympian
laughter.

Not to put too fine a point upon the matter, the married man, the
father of the family, and the county member was in an enfeebled mental,
physical and moral state when our special made its first stop.  With a
startled abruptness I emerged from my unpleasant speculations.  Could
we be at Middleham already?  Hardly, for according to my watch it was
only ten minutes past seven.  I let down the window and found that it
was Risborough.

In about a minute the guard of the train, the local station-master, and
the two detectives who were accompanying us as far as Middleham, came
to the door of the carriage.

"Extremely sorry, sir," said the station-master, "but you won't be able
to go beyond Blakiston.  There's been a terrible accident to the 5.28."

My heart gave a kind of dull thump at this announcement.

"The driver ran right through Blankhampton with all the signals against
him.  The train has been smashed up to matchwood."

"My God!"

The station-master dropped his voice.

"The full number of casualties has not yet been ascertained, sir, but
at least half the passengers are killed or injured."

"How ghastly!"

"Awful, sir, awful.  It is the worst accident we have ever had on the
Grand Central system."

"Poor souls, poor souls!" said my companion.  "God rest them!"

"We haven't had a really bad accident for twenty-two years.  But this
breaks our record with a vengeance.  I can't think what the poor chap
was doing.  As good a driver as we've got, to go and do a thing like
that----"

The station-master, a venerable and grizzled man with a stern, heavily
lined face, suddenly lost his voice.

"Fate," said my companion with a sombre smile.  "Who shall explain the
workings of destiny?"

Who, indeed!  Had it not been for the bullets of the would-be assassin
we should, in all probability, at that moment have been both among the
dead.  What, after all, does our human foresight matter in the sum of
things?  All the same, I could not help recalling with a sense of
wonder my Uncle Theodore's anxiety that we should not travel by the
ill-fated 5.28.

"You will be able to go on as far as Blakiston," said the
station-master, "and the Company has arranged for motor cars to meet
the train to take you on to Middleham."

"What is the distance from Blakiston to Middleham?"

"About eighteen miles."

When the train went forward the current of my thoughts was altered
completely.  My former speculations seemed mean beyond comparison with
such an event as this.  Who shall read the ways of providence?  A flesh
wound in the arm and a late dinner were a small price to pay after all.

Upon arriving at Blakiston we found two motor cars awaiting us: one for
the Princess, the other for our escort.  A consultation with the
chauffeurs disclosed the fact that by proceeding direct home _via_
Parlow and Little Basing instead of by way of Middleham, a matter of
seven miles would be saved.  Therefore, after a wire had been sent to
Middleham to inform our people of this change of route, we entered upon
the final stage of our adventurous journey.

In spite of the fact that we exposed ourselves to the charge of driving
recklessly, even if not to the actual danger of the public, our
destination was reached without further mishap.  By twenty-five minutes
to nine we had turned in at the lodge gates of Dympsfield House.  All
the windows of that abode were a blaze of light.  Doubtless the royal
guest had arrived and, let us hope, was enjoying his dinner.

However, no sooner had we entered the house than we were met by Mrs.
Arbuthnot.  She was dressed for a gala night, very _décolletée_ in her
best gown, carrying a great quantity of sail in the way of
jewels--jewels were being worn that year--and with a coiffure that
absolutely baffles the pen of the conscientious historian.  But, alas!
Mrs. Arbuthnot was on the verge of tears.



CHAPTER XXIV

HIS ILLYRIAN MAJESTY FERDINAND THE TWELTFH

His Majesty had not arrived, and the dinner was spoiling.

"No news of the King?" I asked, keeping well in the background, for I
had no wish for Mrs. Arbuthnot to observe my condition prematurely.

"Nevil said in his telegram that he would be here about a quarter past
seven, and it is now five minutes past nine," said Mrs. Arbuthnot
tearfully.

"Five-and-twenty minutes to nine, _mon enfant_, according to
Greenwich," said I, as reassuringly as the circumstances permitted.
"Your clock is wrong by half an hour.  But there has been a bad
accident at Blankhampton.  Would they come by Blankhampton?  If they
did, that would be bound to delay them."

"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "If anything has happened to the King!
And oh, Sonia dear, how late you are!" she added reproachfully.  "I was
getting so horribly nervous about you.  And you not here to present me
or anything!  But now you've come it is all right.  Just be a dear and
have a look at the table before you go up to dress."

The Princess, however, had scarcely had time to yield to Mrs.
Arbuthnot's suggestion, and I was in the act of walking upstairs in a
state of uncomfortable anxiety in regard to the operation of changing
my clothes, when from the vicinity of the hall door there came the
sounds of fresh arrivals.  I hurried to it, to be greeted immediately
by the voice of Fitz.

"Rather late," he said with that air of languor which afflicted him on
great occasions.  "Line blocked at Blankhampton.  Devil of a smash.
Tiresome cross-country journey, but we've turned up at last."

"Safe and sound, I hope?"

"Right as rain."

As we walked together down the front steps to the open door of the car
that stood at the bottom in the darkness, I was conscious that my pulse
was a thought too rapid for a tacit subscriber to the theory of
democracy.  I held the door while an enormous figure of a man
disengaged himself slowly, and not without difficulty, from the
interior.

I made a somewhat lower bow than the Englishman in general permits
himself.  A smiling and subtle visage, at once handsome and venerable,
was promptly turned upon me, and I found myself exchanging a cordial
and powerful grip of the hand.

Ferdinand the Twelfth ascended the front steps in the charge of his
son-in-law, while I held the door for the second occupant of the car to
alight.  I made an obeisance only a shade less in depth than the one I
had bestowed upon the Sovereign.  Baron von Schalk was small and
dapper, with a face full of intelligence and not unlike that of a bird
of prey.  As we exchanged bows, it seemed that every line of it, and
there were many, was eloquent of power.

"I hope the journey has not tired his Majesty?" I ventured to say.  "It
must have been very tedious."

Baron von Schalk smiled passively, made a deep guttural noise and
answered in very tolerable English, "On the contrary, most interesting.
The King never tires himself."

At the top of the steps, framed in a glow of soft light from within,
were Mrs. Arbuthnot and the Princess.  Standing side by side, they
appeared to be vying with one another in the depth and grace of their
curtseys.  No sooner had the King ascended to them than he took a hand
of each in his own and led them into the hall, as though they had been
a pair of his small grandchildren.  There was a spontaneity about the
action which was charming.

Half an hour later we were assembled in the drawing-room.  The King
promptly offered his arm to his hostess, and led the way in the
direction of her unfortunate meal.  His daughter placed her hand very
lightly upon the arm of the Chancellor, directing an arch look over her
shoulder at me as she did so, as if she would say, "There is no help
for it!"

Fitz and I, walking side by side, brought up the rear of the
procession.  The Man of Destiny had a very fell visage.

"What have you done to your arm?" he asked.

"Got smashed up in a taxi this afternoon."

"Where?"

"Oxford Street, I believe."

"What were you doing there?"

"The Princess had important business in town, and I went with her."

"Important business in town!  She never said a word to me about it.
Was she in the accident too?"

"Yes, but luckily she didn't get a scratch.  And of course this is only
a slight superficial wound."

The slight superficial wound did its best to contradict me by throbbing
vilely.

Ferdinand the Twelfth sat on the right of his hostess, his Chancellor
on her left.  It is the due, I think, of our recent and temporarily
imported culinary artist, lately in the service of a nobleman, to say
that he had done extremely well in trying circumstances.  There is no
sauce like hunger, of course, but it was observed that the King ate
heartily, and, although verging upon the statutory term of human life,
seemed not one penny the worse for his long and trying journey.

He spoke English with an agreeable fluency.  Not only did he know this
country very well indeed, but we gathered that he was accustomed to
find it pleasant.  Seen across a dinner-table it was clear that his
portraits had not in the least exaggerated his natural picturesqueness.
It was a noble, leonine head, a thing of power and virility, framed
with a mane of white hair.  His eyes were heavy-lidded, but deep-seeing
and almost uncomfortably direct and penetrating in their gaze; yet
where one might have expected calculation and cold detachment there was
an impenetrable veil of kindliness which served to obscure the
elemental forces which must have lurked beneath.

There were tomatoes among the _hors-d'oeuvres_, and there were tomatoes
in the soup.  When the Victor of Rodova made a significant departure
from the custom of our land by smacking his lips and astonishing the
impassive Parkins by saying, "Make my compliments to de _chef_ upon his
_consommé_; I will haf more," his hostess hoisted the ensign of the
rose, and her Royal Highness beamed upon her.

"There, Irene! what did I not tell you, my child?" she exclaimed
triumphantly.

"Oliver has a devil of a twist upon him, evidently," murmured the
son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth, in an aside to his host of such
deplorable banality that an apology is offered for its appearance in
these pages.  "I wish it would choke the old swine."

"On the contrary, he seems a quite kindly and paternal old gentleman."

"Ha, you don't know him!"

I admitted that I did not and that I looked forward to our better
acquaintance.

The hostess and her humble coadjutor in the things of this life felt it
to be a supreme moment in the progress of the feast when the royal lips
were brought to the brink of the paternal madeira which had reached us
so opportunely, if so illicitly, from Doughty Bridge, Yorks.  But our
suspense was resolved at once.  The Victor of Rodova raised his glass
to his hostess with the most benignant glance in the world, and for the
second time Mrs. Arbuthnot hoisted the ensign of the rose.

Certainly the royal expansion had a charm that was all its own.  Being
called for the first time to my present exalted plane of social
intercourse, I had had no opportunity of observing anything quite like
it, other than in the manners of Fitz and his wife which had proved
such a scandal to our neighbourhood.  But the Victor of Rodova was so
spontaneous in his actions and so unstudied in his gestures, and he
appeared to wear his heart on his sleeve with such a childlike
facility, that to one nurtured in our insular mode of self-repression
it was as good as a play to be in his company.

One thing was clear.  From the first it was plain that Mrs. Arbuthnot
had achieved a great personal triumph.  And in the particular
circumstances of the case I am constrained to append the courtier-like
phrase, "nor was it to be wondered at."  Speaking out of a moderately
full knowledge of the subject in all its chameleon-like range of
vicissitude, from grave to gay, from lively to severe, in gowns by
Worth, in frocks by Paquin, in costumes by Redfern, in nondescript
creations by "the woman who makes things for Mama," I had never seen
the subject in question keyed up to quite this degree of allure.  Mrs.
Arbuthnot was magnificent.

The King beamed upon her and she beamed upon the King.  More than once
he pledged her in the paternal madeira; and before the modest feast had
run its course Fitz gave me a stealthy kick on the shin.

"Tell her to keep her door locked to-night," he said in one of his
sinister asides.

The bluntness of the words was most uncomfortable, but there was no
reason to doubt their sincerity.  It was a piece of advice at which one
so incorrigibly _bourgeois_ as its recipient might have taken offence.
That he did not do so should be counted to him, upon due reflection, as
the expression of some remote strain of a more azure tint!

"I know the King's majesty only too well," said the son-in-law of
Ferdinand the Twelfth.

When the ladies had left us, the King talked in the friendliest manner
and always with that engaging simplicity that was so unstudied and so
charming.  He was curious to know what I had done to my arm, and when I
told him he inquired minutely as to the nature of the wound, and gave
me advice as to its treatment.  This piece of consideration recalled
the magazine article I had lately studied.  Here seemed a practical
illustration of the fact that in a literal sense he was the father of
his people.

"You must show it to me to-morrow," he said.  "And I will give you some
ointment I always carry, made by my own chemist to my own prescription.
Schalk laughs at my chemistry, but that's because he's jealous.  I will
apply it for you, and in three days you will see the difference.  What
are you laughing at, Schalk?"

"A man may laugh at his thoughts, sir, may he not?" said Schalk, with a
dour smile.

"Not in the presence of the little father, Schalk, unless he shares
them with the little father.  What are you laughing at?  But there,
since you bungled that treaty with the wily Teuton your thoughts are
not of much consequence.  You know I don't care a doit for your
thoughts, Schalk, since you went to Berlin.  The thoughts of Schalk,
forsooth!  The wine is with you, you rascal.  Remember that in England
it is not considered to be good breeding to get drunk before your King."

"In Illyria, sir, that is always held to be impossible," said Schalk.

Ferdinand the Twelfth indulged in a guffaw.

"Good for you, impious one!  Nay, fill up your glass before you pass
it, and keep out your long nose, else our English friends will think we
have no manners in Illyria."

When it pleases a monarch to unbend, the laughter his sallies evoke may
seem overmuch for his wit.  But it is an excellent custom to laugh
heartily at the humour of kings.  Ferdinand the Twelfth, in spite of
his long journey, was in a very gracious mood and indulged us with many
sallies at the expense of his Chancellor.  Baron von Schalk, however,
was well able to defend himself.  It must be allowed, I think, that the
royal wit was neither very refined nor very courteous.  Rough and
primitive, it had something of a Gargantuan savour.  But his own
deep-voiced appreciation of it was a perpetual feast.  He also told one
or two stories of a true Rabelaisian cast.  They were told with an
immense gusto, and he led the laughter himself with a whole-heartedness
which was quite Homeric.  Before the bottle the Victor of Rodova was
magnificent company.  It was impossible not to respond to his
unaffected, if extremely catholic, good-humour.

When we joined the ladies we found them playing a game of patience.
The Father of his People immediately carried a chair to the side of
Mrs. Arbuthnot, sat beside her and offered pertinent help in the
arrangement of her cards.  "But this game is only fit for people like
Schalk," he declared.  "Britch is the game we play in Illyria."

Interpreting such a remark as being in the nature of a command, the
hostess swept her cards together, and imperiously ordered her spouse to
get the bridge markers.

"How shall we play, sir?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"Togezzer, madame, you and I," said the King, with an air of homage,
"_if_ you please.  I can see you play well."

"Oh, sir!" said Madame, for the third time hoisting the ensign of the
rose.  "How can you possibly know that?"

"Infallible signs, milady," said the King, laughing.  "Trust an old
soldier to read the signs.  First, your ears, if I may say so.  They
have shape and position, just like my own.  That means a well-balanced
mind.  And that dainty head, _c'est magnifique_!  What intellect behind
that forehead!  Now give me your hand--the left one."

Milady gave the King a much bejewelled paw.

"Ouf!" said he, "what ambition!  You will never hesitate to call _sans
atout_.  The heart-line is very good, also.  There will be no other
partner for Ferdinand.  Schalk can have whom he pleases."

It pleased Baron von Schalk to choose her Royal Highness, and a very
interesting game began.

"We must take care, milady," said Ferdinand the Twelfth, "we simple
children of nature.  I expect they will cheat us horribly.  Schalk has
very little in the way of a conscience, and nothing delights Sonia so
much as to overreach a confiding parent."

As he spoke it pleased this simple child of nature to revoke in a very
flagrant and palpable manner.

"No diamonds, partner?" said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"None whatever," said the King, blandly.  "I think a small deuce will
take that trick, eh, Schalk?"

"So it appears, sir," said the long-suffering Chancellor.

I was led aside by the son-in-law of Ferdinand the Twelfth.

"If you watch this game, old son," said he, "you will gain an insight
into the monarchical basis of the constitution of Illyria.  Let us
watch what the plausible old ruffian does with the nine of diamonds."

Happily the game was not being played for money.  But it was
characteristic of the Illyrian ruler, that in even the simple matter of
a game at cards he was incapable of conducting it other than in a
manner peculiarly his own.



CHAPTER XXV

THE FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE

It was past two o'clock when the _partie_ was dissolved.  No sooner had
our guests retired to their repose than Mrs. Arbuthnot turned
enthusiastically to her lord.

"What a perfectly lovely old man!  Such charm, such distinction; so
kind, so unaffected, and oh, so simple!  There is something in being a
king, after all."

"Things are not always what they seem, _mon enfant_," I remarked
uneasily.

"He is a perfect old darling."

"He is one of the deepest men in Europe, as all the world knows."

"He is a dear."

"Personally, I have no wish to meet him in a lonely lane on a dark
night, if I should happen to have anything upon me that I cared to
lose."

"Why, goose, you are jealous!"

"Put not your trust in princes, my child."  And, reluctantly enough, I
confided Fitz's piece of advice.

Howbeit, I was more than half prepared for Mrs. Arbuthnot's queenlike
indignation.

"What do you mean, Odo?" said she, majestically.  The outraged delicacy
of a De Vere Vane-Anstruther is a very majestic thing.

"Either you promise, or I don't sleep over the stables."

"This is all the doing of Fitz!  He has an insane prejudice."

"Fitz is a very shrewd fellow, and he knows our guest rather better
than either of us.  You must not forget that kings are kings in
Illyria."

"I don't understand."

"You must promise, even if you don't."

"I shall do nothing of the kind.  It is a humiliating suggestion.
Besides, it is all so _bourgeois_."

"I was waiting for that.  But, whatever it is, I have quite made up my
mind.  Either you promise, or I don't sleep over the stables."

"Then I refuse; absolutely and unconditionally I refuse," said Mrs.
Arbuthnot, with what can only be described as _hauteur_.

It was our first _impasse_ in the course of six years of double
harness.  I have never disguised from myself that I am a weak mortal.
Mrs. Arbuthnot has never disguised it from me either.  The habit of
yielding more or less gracefully to the imperious will of the superior
half of my entity had become second nature.  But there was a voice
within that would not have me give way.

"Absolutely and unconditionally!  I consider it odious.  And why should
you insult me in this manner----"

The star of my destiny was rising to the heights of the tragedy queen.

"If you would only make the effort to understand, my child," I said
patiently, "what is implied in your own admission that there is
something in being a king, after all!"

"You are insanely jealous.  He is a perfect dear, and he is old enough
to be one's grandfather."

For once, however, I was adamant.  Together we ascended the stairs;
together we entered her ladyship's chamber.  There was not adequate
accommodation for the two of us.  The best rooms had been placed at the
disposal of Fitz and his wife, and of the King and his Chancellor.
Leading out of this apartment, however, was a small dressing-room with
a sofa in it.  I opened the door and, as I did so, delivered my final
ultimatum.

"Irene, you will either do as you are asked, else I spend the rest of
the night in there."

"Pray do as, you choose."  Mrs. Arbuthnot was pale with indignation.
"But I shall not lock the door."

"So be it."

Leaving the door of the dressing-room slightly ajar, I lay down on the
sofa just as I was, and composed myself for slumber as well as an
entirely ridiculous situation would permit.  Precisely how it had come
about it was hard to determine, but I was prepared to inflict upon my
overwrought self, for the events of that long day had been many and
remarkable, a still further amount of bodily discomfort.  But Fitz's
hint had overthrown a married man, a father of a family, and a county
member, whatever the sense of humour had to say about it all.

In the process of time I forgot sufficiently the dull tumult of my
brain and the throbbing of my arm for my jaded nerves to be lulled into
an uneasy doze.  How long I had been oblivious of my surroundings I do
not know, but quite suddenly a cry seemed to break in upon my senses.
I awoke with a start.

The room was in total darkness save for a thread of light which came
through the partially open door of the adjoining chamber.  But sounds
and a voice proceeded from it.

I rose from my sofa and listened at the threshold.

"Little milady, little Irene."

The pleading accents were familiar, and paternal.  I pushed open the
door and entered the room.  A distracted vision with streaming hair and
in a white nightgown was sitting up in bed; while candle in hand a
magnificent figure in a blue silk Oriental robe over a brilliant yellow
sleeping-suit was confronting her.

"Little milady.  Little Irene."

I fumbled for the knob of the electric light, found it and turned it up.

I was face to face with a subtle and smiling visage.  There was
astonishment in it, it is true, but it was also full of humour and
benevolence.

"Why, my friend," said Ferdinand the Twelfth in his most paternal
manner, "pray what are _you_ doing here?"

I confess that I could find no answer to the royal inquiry.

In the circumstances it was not easy to know what reply to make.
Indeed so completely was I taken aback that I could not find a word to
say.  Coolly enough the King stood regarding me with that bland and
subtle countenance.  But as those smiling eyes measured me they gave me
"to think."  I carried one arm in a sling, I was without a weapon, and
the Father of his People was a man of exceptional physical power.

As a measure of precaution, I reached pensively for the poker.

A transitory gleam flitted across the King's face, but the royal
countenance was still urbane.

"Madame should have locked her door," he said, with an air of humorous
reproach.  "Dat is a good custom we haf in Illyria."

"Your Majesty must forgive us," said I, without permitting my glance to
stray towards the half-terrified vision that was so near to me, "if we
appear _bourgeois_.  The fact is, we are not so familiar as we should
like to be with the usages of the great world."

The King laughed heartily.

"There is nothing to forgive, my good friend," he said with an air of
splendid magnanimity.  "But Madame should certainly have locked her
door.  However, let us not bear malice."

With a superbly graceful gesture, in which the paternal and the
humorous were delightfully mingled, the King withdrew.

Horror and incredulity contended in the eyes of Mrs. Arbuthnot.  But I
did not think well to spare her the reverberation of my triumph.

"There is something in being a king, after all, _mon enfant_."

Mrs. Arbuthnot was only able to gasp.

"Do not let us blame him; he is the Father of his People.  But
apparently it would seem that that which may be _bourgeois_ in the eyes
of the matrons of the Crackanthorpe Hunt is really the highest breeding
in Illyria."

Thereupon I laid down the poker as pensively as I had taken it up,
sought to compose the star of my destiny, who was beginning to weep
softly, and bade her good morning.

Outside the door I lingered a moment to hear the key click in the lock
in the most unmistakable manner.

With the aid of a candle I made my way to my temporary quarters over
the stables.  The hour was a quarter to five.  Little time was left for
further repose, but it was used to such advantage that it was not
without difficulty that my servant was able to rouse me at a quarter to
eight.  By the time I was putting the finishing touches to my toilet I
was informed that Count Zhygny was below, inspecting the horses.

Count Zhygny, to give our illustrious guest his _nom de guerre_, which,
like nearly all Illyrian proper names, it is well not to attempt to
pronounce as it is spelt, was stroking the fetlocks of Daydream with an
air of knowingness when I joined him.  Dressed in a suit of tweeds and
a green felt hat, he looked the picture of restless energy.  Seen in
the light of day he was far older than he had appeared the previous
night.  Hollows were revealed in his cheeks, and there were pouches
under his eyes.  His hands shook and his brow had many lines, but every
one of his many inches was instinct with a natural force.

His greeting was frank and hearty and as cordial as you please.  There
was not a trace of resentment or embarrassment.  But, from the manly
ease of his bearing, it was abundantly clear that the king could do no
wrong.

He linked his arm through mine, and together we strolled in to
breakfast.  At the sideboard I helped him to bacon and tomatoes, and
Mrs. Arbuthnot gave him coffee.

The manner of "little milady" was perhaps a thought constrained when
she received his Majesty's matutinal greeting.  To encourage her he
pinched her ear playfully.

Mrs. Fitz did not grace this movable feast, and Fitz and the Chancellor
were rather late.

"You have taken a long time over your devotions, Schalk," said the
King.  "I am glad it does not cost me these pains to keep on good terms
with heaven."

"I also, sir," said Schalk drily.

"I see you have the English _Times_ there, Schalk.  What is the news
this morning?"

The Chancellor adjusted a pair of gold pince-nez and began to read
aloud from that organ of opinion.

"'Blaenau, Wednesday evening.  The Illyrian Land Bill was read a second
time in the House of Deputies this afternoon.'"

"Ha, that is important," said the King, laughing.  "What a
well-informed journal is the English _Times_!  Do you approve of the
Illyrian Land Bill, Schalk?"

"Since I had the honour of drafting it, sir, to your dictation, I
cannot do less than endorse it."

"And read a second time already, says the English _Times_, in the House
of Deputies.  I always say they have some of the best minds of the
kingdom in the Lower House."

"Trust them to know what is good for themselves," said Schalk sourly.

It was tolerably clear, from the Chancellor's manner, that his royal
master was enjoying a little private baiting.

"Why, Schalk," he said, "I believe you are still harping on Clause
Three."

"I have never reverted, sir, from my original view," said the
Chancellor, "that under Clause Three the peasantry is getting far more
than is good for it.  I have always felt, sir, as you are aware, that
this is a concession to the pestilential agrarian agitator, and I feel
sure the First Chamber will proclaim this opinion also."

"Well, well, Schalk," said the King cheerfully, "is it not the function
of the First Chamber to disagree with the Second, and what is the
Little Father for except to soothe their quarrels by flattering both
and agreeing with neither?"

"Your Majesty is pleased to speak in riddles," said the Chancellor,
with gravity.

"What a cardinal you would have made, Schalk!" said his master.  "But
if you have really made up your mind about Clause Three, we must look
at it again.  I agree with you that it is not good for growing children
to eat all the cake.  We must keep a little for their elders, because
they like cake too, it appears."

"Everyone is fond of cake," said the Chancellor sententiously, "but
there is never quite enough to go round, unfortunately."

"That is a happy phrase of Schalk's," said the King, making the
conversation general with his amused air; "'the pestilential agrarian
agitator.'  Have you that kind of animal in England?"

"We are infested with him, sir," said the member for the Uppingdon
Division of Middleshire, the owner of a modest thousand or so of acres.
"The people for the land, and the land for the people!  The country
reeks of it."

"It is the same everywhere," said the King.  "A great world movement is
upon us.  The wise can detect the voice of the future in the cry of the
people, but there are some who stuff wool in their ears, eh, Schalk?"

Ferdinand the Twelfth assumed a port of indulgent sagacity.  This
half-serious, half-bantering fragment of his discourse, and half a
dozen in a similar tenor to which it was my privilege to listen, seemed
to establish one fact clearly.  It was that the King was not the slave
of his ministers.  He was a man with a keen outlook upon his time,
deliberately unprogressive, not in response to the reactionary forces
by which he was surrounded, but because he held that it was not good
for the world to go too fast.

His article of faith was simple enough, and in his conduct he did not
hesitate to embody it.  He conceived it to be the highest good for
every people to have a king; a wise, patient and beneficent law-giver
to correct the excesses of faction; one to stand at the helm to steer
the ship of state through troubled waters.

Whether his conception of the monarchical condition was right or wrong,
he was able to enforce it with all the weight of his personality.  He
believed profoundly in the divine right.  In the assurance of his own
infallibility he seemed to admit no limit to his own freedom of action.

He believed that the future of his country was in his hands.  It was in
order to conserve it that he had come to England in this singular and
unexpected manner.  Having chosen a Royal Consort for his only
daughter, she whose act of revolt was but a manifestation of
sovereignty carried to a higher power, he was prepared come what may to
enforce his will.

All through this little history I have tried to show how comedy strove
with tragedy as the play was unfolded.  The spectators were never quite
sure which way the cat would jump.  Infinite opportunity for laughter
was provided, but underneath this merriment lay that which was too deep
for tears.  Viewed upon the surface, the precipitation into our midst
of such an elemental figure as Ferdinand the Twelfth was food for an
inextinguishable jest, but the reverse of the medal must not be
overlooked.

Every hour the King spent under our roof was a slow-drawn torture for
Fitz and his wife.  Holding the romantic belief that they were
twin-souls whom destiny had linked irrevocably together, they were
everything to one another.  But running counter to this faith were
those incalculable hereditary forces which the King with incomparable
power and address was marshalling against it.

Now was the time for the Princess to yield.  In his own person the King
had come to demand of her that once and for all she should take up the
burden of her heritage.  If now she declined to heed, the days of the
Monarchy were numbered.

It was only too clear to us onlookers that a terrible contest was being
waged.  In two or three brief days the Princess seemed worn to a
shadow; the look of wildness was again in her eyes: her whole bearing
confessed an overwhelming mental stress.

Fitz also suffered greatly.  And his travail was not rendered less by
the fact that Ferdinand did not scruple to make a personal appeal.

About the third night of his ordeal, Fitz accompanied me to my quarters
over the stables.

"Arbuthnot," he said, sinking into a chair, "I have been thinking this
thing out as well as I can with the help of Ferdinand, and he has made
me see that my rights in the matter are not quite what I thought they
were.  I do not complain.  He has talked to me as a father might to a
son, and he has brought me to see that our position in the sight of God
may not be quite what we judged it to be."

I was hardly prepared for such a speech on the lips of Fitz.  That it
should fall from them so simply gave me an enlarged idea of the forces
that were being brought to bear upon him.



CHAPTER XXVI

A WALK IN THE GARDEN

In the last resort the issue lay with Sonia.  Her husband had the
wisdom to recognise that; although his own happiness was at stake, the
matter was beyond the restricted sphere of the personal equation.

In the crisis of his fate it has always seemed to me that Fitz
displayed the inherent nobility of his character.  Once the King, with
immense force and cogency, had revealed the situation in its true
aspect, his son-in-law, without abating a single claim to his wife's
consideration, yet refrained from unduly exercising the prerogative
conferred upon him by their spiritual affinity.

It was wise and right that Fitz should detach himself as far as
possible from the conflict that was being waged between father and
daughter.  But, although he did what lay in his power to simplify the
issue, he could not banish the image of himself from his wife's heart.
He furnished the motive power of her existence.  Emotion held the
master-key to her nature.  In any conflict between love and duty, love
could hardly fail to win.

Fitz suffered intensely as the struggle went on.  He even threw out a
hint to me that he might be tempted to take a certain step to help his
wife to a possible solution of the problem.

"The longer this goes on," he said to me in the small hours of the
morning, "the more clearly I realise that Sonia's place is with her own
people.  I have been blind, and I have been mad, and I owe it to
Ferdinand that I have been able to see myself in my true relation to
the issue in which fate has involved us.  It is six years since I first
saw Sonia on the terrace of the Castle at Blaenau.  I was travelling
about the world trying to find ease for my soul.  I knew that she was
unhappy, and she knew that I was, but we were young and not afraid.  We
met continually, for I had the _entrée_ to the Castle as the grandson
of the Elector of Gracow, whose daughter married my grandfather, George
Fitzwaren of tragic memory.

"We used to sit out on the Castle terrace, Sonia and I, night after
night, watching the stars in their courses, while her father dragooned
his parliament and hoodwinked his people.  She was lonely, outcast and
unloved; there was none to whom she could speak her thoughts; she was
oppressed with the sense of her destiny.

"She said that when she first met me she wondered where she had seen me
before.  She said that my presence haunted her like a half-remembered
vision, until it began to merge itself into her dreams of a former
existence and a happier state.  And as she said this, her voice grew
strangely familiar.  For me it unlocked the doors of memory.  It was
like the faint, far-off music you can hear sometimes, the music of the
wind in winter sweeping across infinite, illimitable space.

"She allowed me to kiss her, and we knew then we held the key to the
riddle of existence.  We were twin-souls made one again, and together
we would go through all time and all eternity.

"But I think we are beginning now to realise that the sense of oneness
is alien to the human state, and that the hour is at hand when we must
separate and go out again into the night of ages alone."

In a condition of desolation the unhappy man rocked his meagre body to
and fro as thus he spoke.

"If it will really help her," he said, "I think I shall put an end to
my present life.  At least, I shall ask Ferdinand to do it, for I doubt
whether any man in the true enjoyment of his reason has really the
power to do it for himself.  And yet, perhaps one ought not to say
that.  So much can be done by prayer."

"Surely it is contrary to the will of God?" I said with a kind of
horror.

"It is, undoubtedly," said Fitz, "as regards humanity at large.  But it
sometimes happens, you know, that one among us plays the game up so
high that he gets a special decree.  I almost think, Arbuthnot, that I
have heard the Voice--and if I have, my unhappy Sonia will be able to
go back to her people for a term, and I shall ask you, as my oldest
friend, a man whom my instincts tell me to trust, to accept the charge
of my little daughter."

To one poised delicately upon the plane of reason such a speech could
not fail to be shocking.  But it was so sincere, so reasoned, the
holder of these views was so entirely the captain of his soul, that his
words, as he uttered them, seemed to derive a kind of sanction which as
I commit them to paper they do not appear to possess.

The counsel of one man to another does not amount to much in those
cases where the subject-matter of their discussion has been already
referred to the High Court.  But I felt that I should be unfaithful to
the elements that formed my own nature, acutely conscious as I was of
their imperfect development, if I did not seek to give them some sort
of an expression at such a moment as this.

"Fitz," I said, "I can claim no right to address you, except as a
younger brother.  You belong to a higher order of things; your life is
more developed than mine, but I ask you in the name of God to refrain
from the step you contemplate, unless you are absolutely convinced,
beyond any possibility of error, that there is no other way out."

The unhappy man made no reply.  His face had begun to seem
unrecognisable.

I rose involuntarily from the chair in which I sat.

"Let us walk in the garden," I said.

The suggestion appeared to shape itself on my lips, regardless of the
will's volition.  It was, perhaps, a recovered fragment of man's
heritage floating downwards from the past.

I opened the door and we went downstairs into the garden.  It was the
middle of the night; what there was of the moon was almost wholly
obscured; the air was mild with the purity of recent rain.  Up and down
the wet lawns we walked, bareheaded and in our slippered feet.

Suddenly lights flashed upon us out of the shrubbery.

"It is all right," I called.  "Do not disturb us.  Go into another part
of the grounds."

The voice seemed unlike my own, but the watchers obeyed it.

Nature exhorted us as we walked in the garden.  Her purity, her calm,
the incommunicable magic of her spaciousness, the thrall of her
splendour entered our veins.  We were her children, flesh of her flesh,
bone of her bone.  The mighty Mother spoke to us.

A little wind moved softly among the gaunt branches of a pine.

"I must make quite sure that the Voice has spoken to me," said Fitz.

The unhappy man walked to the pine-tree, knelt down and seemed
involuntarily to shroud his face with his hands.

I shrank back and turned away.

Quite suddenly my heart leapt with surprise and dismay.  An unexpected
and sinister presence was by my side.

"I pity that poor fellow," said a voice softly.  "I pity them both."

It was the voice of the King.

Habited in a voluminous mantle, the Victor of Rodova linked his arm
through mine in his paternal manner.

"Come, my friend," he said in a voice of urgent kindliness, "let us
walk in the garden."

Together we walked over the lawns, the King and I, with slow and
measured steps.

"It is a beautiful night."  Ferdinand the Twelfth took off his hat.

"God is in His heaven, sir," I said, softly.

"You are a God-fearing people," said the King; "that is a good thing.
What can we do in the world without the fear of God?  This night
reminds me of the night before Rodova.  It was just like this, a calm,
soft air, a little moist.  You could hear the wind creeping softly
among the pine-trees.  At the bottom of your garden there was the
gentle noise of a little river.  All night the little fishes were
leaping and playing in its clear waters, and living their lives
joyously as it seemed good to them.  And beyond the river were the
Austrians, sixty thousand men with horses and cannons.

"The God of Armies had given the soul of my country into my care.  Was
she to remain a free and independent people as she had been since the
time of Alvan the First, or was she to be trampled under the heel of
the oppressor?  All night I walked in the garden, and I remember I
knelt down under the pine-tree yonder, as our friend is doing there.
It is a wonderful thing how history keeps happening over again."

The King's voice had grown hushed and solemn.

"To-night is another crisis in the history of our country.  I am older
than I seem; there is a voice within which tells me that my course is
almost run.  That is why I have come to speak with my daughter.  It is
the business of us Sveltkes to hold the balance in the scales of
destiny.  Since the time of Alvan the First there has been an unbroken
line of monarchy; perhaps it is decreed that it shall end to-night.
But yet I cannot think so.  The unseen power which enabled us to
withstand the might of Austria will invest my daughter with wisdom and
grace."

There was a footfall on the soft turf, and we turned to find that Fitz
had joined us.

"Ha!  Nevil," said the King in a voice of parental tenderness.  "I was
explaining to our good friend how this night reminds me of the eve of
Rodova.  Our lady the moon was in her present quarter; yonder was Mars,
blood-red on the eastern horizon.  There behind us was Jupiter, exactly
as we see him to-night; but on the night of Rodova Uranus was not
visible.  It was a grave crisis in the history of our country; to-night
is a grave crisis also, for I feel that a term has been placed to my
days.  But I walked all night in the garden, and I knelt down beneath a
single pine-tree, and the God of Armies spoke to me.  'Fear nothing,'
said the God of Armies.  'At the break of day, cross the river that
flows at the bottom of the garden, and all will be well.'"

The light of the moon fell upon the King's face, That smiling and
subtle visage looked strangely luminous.

"An hour before daybreak," the King went on, "Parlowitz came to me.
'Weissmann has come up in the night,' he said, 'with twenty thousand
men.  If we cross the river, all is lost.'  'Fear nothing, Parlowitz,'
I said.  'At daybreak we cross the river.  The God of Armies would have
it so.'  'Then, sire,' said Parlowitz, 'give this to my wife when next
you see her'--Parlowitz unfastened the collar of his tunic and took off
a locket which he wore round his neck--'and tell her that it is my wish
that our second son John should succeed to my estate.'  I then bade
adieu to Parlowitz, for he would have it so; and as the dawn was
breaking he was shot through the breast at the head of his division.
But that was a glorious day in the annals of the Illyrian people; and
you, my dear Nevil, will have seen the noble statue that has been
raised to the memory of Parlowitz on the terrace at Blaenau."

"I have seen the statue," said Fitz, calmly.  "A monument of piety, but
abominable as a work of art."

"It is the work of the best sculptor in Illyria," said the King.

"There are no sculptors in Illyria," said Fitz, bluntly.

The King fell into a muse.  I was sensible of Fitz's grip upon my arm.

"It is wonderful," said the King, softly, "how history continues to
happen over again.  I seem to hear the voice again in the upper air:
'At daybreak, cross the river at the bottom of the garden, and all will
be well.'"

The grip upon my arm grew tighter.

"Do not leave me," said Fitz in a hoarse whisper.

All night long the three of us walked up and down the lawns before the
house.  In one of the upper windows was a light.  It was Sonia's room.

Few words passed between us, and in the main it was the King who spoke.
Never once did Fitz relax his grip upon my arm.  Indeed, as the hours
passed, it seemed to grow more tense.  It had the convulsive tenacity
of one who in the last extremity fights to keep the body united to the
soul.

Even I, who make no claim to be highly sensitised, was susceptible of
the ominous challenge of the force that was enfolding us.  Silence was
even more terrible than speech.  The resources of the ages were in the
scale against us.

"For God's sake do not leave me!" said my unhappy friend in a whisper
of terror.

At last the first faint pencilings of the dawn began to declare
themselves in the upper air.  My slippered feet were soaked and my
teeth were chattering with the chill of the morning.  A curious
sensation, which I had never felt before, began to steal over me.  With
a thrill of suffocating, incommunicable horror I began slowly to
realise that I was no longer the master of myself.

Fitz's convulsed grip was still upon my arm, but the sense of him had
grown remote.  He was slipping farther and farther away.

"Hold me!" he whispered; and again, "Hold me!"  The stifled voice was
like that of one in whose company I was drowning.

The voice of the King sounded quite near, although it was with dull
stupefaction that I heard his words.

"The day is breaking.  The river flows at the bottom of the garden."

The fingers of my friend no longer clasped my arm.  In the half-light I
saw the King produce a revolver from the folds of his mantle.  He
handed it to Fitz with a paternal, almost deprecating gesture, and we
were both powerless to deny him.  It seemed to me that I was standing
outside all that was happening.  The sense of distance appeared ever to
increase.

I witnessed the King kiss the forehead of his son-in-law, and heard him
give him his blessing.  Then I seemed to hear the voice of Fitz crying
piteously,

"Sonia, Sonia, help me!"

"Look over there," said the King; "the day is breaking.  It is another
glorious sunrise for the people of Illyria."

"Yes, indeed, sir," said a voice that broke the spell.

The prayer of Fitz had been heard.  Sonia had come unperceived into our
midst.

"I have come to taste the morning, it is so good," she said.  "And you,
how early you have risen!"

The King laughed.  He seemed to enfold his daughter with that visage of
smiling subtlety.

"We have been walking in the garden, my friends and I," he said.  "We
have had a pleasant talk together.  The position of the stars reminded
me of the eve of Rodova, except that Uranus was not with us.  It is
always well to know the position of Uranus."

I felt Fitz slip the revolver into my hand.

"Come," he said in his tone of natural decision, "let us go and have a
bath and get ready for breakfast."

While the King continued to discourse amiably with his daughter we made
our escape.

In the privacy of my room over the stables we removed the cartridges
from the revolver.

Fitz handed the weapon to me.  "Keep it," he said, "as a memento of
Ferdinand the Twelfth.  I should have crossed the river if Sonia had
not heard my call."

Fitz shivered; but in his haggard face I thought that reason was still
enthroned.



CHAPTER XXVII

PROVIDES A LITTLE FEMININE DIVERSION

At the breakfast table, Mrs. Arbuthnot was moved to inquire of our
distinguished guest whether he would care to meet some of our friends
and neighbours at dinner.  His _incognito_ should be preserved rigidly;
and perhaps a few fresh faces would serve to lighten the tedium of his
stay in our midst.  The King assented to the proposal with his usual
hearty good-humour.

Personally I was deeply grateful to Mrs. Arbuthnot for having had the
inspiration to make it.  I was prepared to welcome anything that would
withdraw me from the perilous altitudes upon which I had been walking
throughout the night.  I might be said to yearn for anything that could
re-attach me to the humbler plane of men and things, in whose
familiarity lay mental security.

After breakfast, however, when I came to discuss this apparently
innocent proposal with Mrs. Arbuthnot, it was clear that something
lurked behind it.

"I have got a little plan, you know," said she, with a plaintive,
childlike air.  "They have all been so uppish with me lately that I
have thought of a little plan of scoring them off properly."

"By asking them to meet royalty and giving them an excellent dinner?"

"There shall be nothing wrong with the dinner," said Mrs. Arbuthnot,
"but it ought to be very amusing.  I shall drive round to Mary's at
once and ask her to forgive the short notice, but Sonia's father has
unexpectedly turned up and, much against our will, we are having to
entertain him."

"Where is the jest?  The bald and painful truth is seldom amusing."

"Goose!  As they are all convinced that Sonia was formerly a circus
rider in Vienna, what can be more natural than that her father is the
proprietor of the circus?"

"True, madam.  But how will you explain away his title?"

"It will be the simplest thing out.  You can always buy a title in
Illyria, like you can here.  The old circus man has made a fortune and
purchased a title accordingly."

I confessed that that had a fairly plausible sound.

"They will swallow it, see if they don't," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, giving
an ever freer rein to her invention.  "And the old circus man is really
too funny, and if Mary Catesby and Laura Glendinning and George and the
Vicar and Mrs. Vicar, and that pushing little American would like to
see for themselves, we shall be very glad for them to dine here
to-morrow evening.  And," concluded Mrs. Arbuthnot, in a tone in which
childlike conviction and a natural love of mischief were excellently
blended, "just see if they don't, that's all!"

"But why, my child?  I confess that I cannot see any particular charm
in such an entertainment."

"They will come, if only to score us off afterwards, you goose.  You
don't know them as well as I do."

I confessed that I did not.

Mrs. Arbuthnot lost no time in driving round to her friends, and
returned in high glee with them all in her net.

"What did I say!" she declaimed triumphantly.  "I called first on Mary.
I knew, if I persuaded her, the rest would be easy.  Well, you know her
little way.  She read me a terrible lecture about the duties of my
position.  As the wife of the member, my responsibilities were simply
enormous.  Not on any account would she sit down at the same table as
Mrs. Fitz.  But I drew such a fancy portrait of the old circus man and
of his friend the ring-master, who was almost as funny as himself, that
I got her to consent.  So she and George are coming."

"Mischievous monkey!"

"Then I went on to the Vicarage.  The Vicar had no engagement, but he
hummed and hawed, until I told him Mary was coming, so he is coming
too, and he is going to bring Lavinia.  Then there will be Laura and
the little American and Reggie Brasset, and Jodey, of course.  We shall
be quite a family party, and it ought to be tremendous fun."

"Won't Brasset and Jodey be rather flies in your ointment?  Don't they
know your guilty secret?"

"I shall tell them all about it, of course, and they will help us to
carry it off.  And I mean to ask Colonel Coverdale to come too.  He
will like to meet the King, and we must persuade him not to give us
away."

I was in no mood to give free play to whatever I may have in the way of
a sense of humour.  But Mrs. Arbuthnot's scheme, doubtful as it was on
the score of morality, had at least the merit of diverting the current
of my thoughts into another channel.  It certainly did something to
lessen the tension.

Mrs. Arbuthnot laid her plans with considerable precaution.  She had a
long and extremely animated conversation over the telephone with the
Chief Constable.  I could almost hear the great man growl and chuckle
as she expounded her wicked design.  But in the end he was unable to
resist her and he was in her net as well.  Jodey and Brasset, of
course, were only too eager to lend a hand, and both agreed with her
"that they all deserved to be scored off properly."  Personally, the
workings of the "scoring-off" process were a little too much for my
enfeebled mental system, but I was informed peremptorily that I always
was a dull dog.

Determined to leave nothing to chance, Mrs. Arbuthnot even went to the
length of taking Fitz into her confidence.

"You know, Nevil," she said, engagingly, "how they have behaved to
Sonia and what they have said about her behind her back."

"What have they said?"  Fitz's indifference bordered upon the sublime.

"Why, don't you know?"  Mrs. Arbuthnot transfixed the Man of Destiny
with starlike orbs.  "Don't you know that when Laura Glendinning found
out that Sonia rides just as straight as she does and that she looks
much smarter, it made her frightfully jealous?"

"Did it indeed!" grunted the Man of Destiny.

"And can you believe, Nevil,"--the starlike orbs grew ever rounder and
more luminous--"she circulated the story that dear Sonia was a circus
rider from Vienna!"

"Oh, really!"  Fitz concealed a yawn in a rather perfunctory manner.

"And, what is more, she got everybody to believe it."

Fitz's boredom was dissembled with a smile of twelve-horse-power
politeness.

"And so, to score them off," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, rising to pleasantly
histrionic heights, "I have invited the ringleaders to dinner to-night
to meet the circus rider's father, the proprietor of the circus, who
has made a fortune out of his show and has bought himself a title, as,
of course, you can in Illyria.  And Baron von Schalk is the ringmaster
of his circus."

The Man of Destiny guffawed with languid inefficiency and declared that
the plot was like a comic opera.  In my private ear he recorded an
opinion subsequently to which it would be hardly kind to give publicity.

"Nobody but a woman would have thought of it," he said.  "If it turns
out to be funny, so be it, but I must say it looks like spoiling a good
meal--you've got a top-hole cook, old son--and making things damned
uncomfortable for everybody."

I adjured Fitz, who, like myself, was evidently in no mood to
appreciate refined humour, to wait and see.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Chalmers Coverdale, C.M.G., late of His
Majesty's Carabineers, was the first to arrive.

"Sailing rather near the wind, aren't you?" was his greeting to his
hostess, who in her best gown was a ravishing example of picturesque
demureness.

"I think it will go all right," said she.  "Mary Catesby and George
will be too killing."

Certainly, when that august matron arrived she was very _grande dame_
and honest George five feet three inches of meticulous good breeding.
They greeted Fitz and his wife with a distant reverence.  Ferdinand the
Twelfth and his famous minister had not yet appeared upon the scene.
Most of their day had been spent upon the much-debated Clause Three of
the Illyrian Land Bill.

Eight o'clock is the hour at which we dine in the Crackanthorpe
country.  It is the established custom for regular followers of that
distinguished pack to be extremely hungry at that hour.  As the
presentation timepiece chimed the hour from the drawing-room
chimneypiece, there was a full muster of Mrs. Arbuthnot's dinner
guests: the Vicar and his wife, looking rather pinched and formal,
their invariable attitude towards public life, yet the Vicar wearing a
somewhat worldly pair of shoes of patent leather and equally worldly
mauve socks and rather short trousers; Miss Laura Glendinning, our
local Diana, who looked horse and talked horse and who would doubtless
have eaten horse had it been in the menu; my charming little friend,
the relict of Josiah P. Perkins of Brownville, Mass.; the noble Master
enveloped in a sartorial masterpiece and a frown of perplexity; his
_aide-de-camp_, Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther enveloped ditto,
but leaning up not ungracefully against a corner of the chimneypiece
with his hands in his pockets, not looking at anybody, not speaking to
anybody, but with a covert gaze fixed upon the drawing-room door in
quest of early information in regard to Ferdinand the Twelfth.

In the middle of the _salon_ the august Mrs. Catesby discussed the
Minority Report with the Vicar of the parish and Prison Reform with the
Chief Constable, whilst I, sharing the largest and most comfortable
sofa with Mrs. Nevil Fitzwaren, had to answer a succession of
sympathetic inquiries in regard to my arm.

"A mere scratch," everybody was assured.  "Lucky it wasn't worse.  Fact
is, those taxis are rather dangerous."

The presentation timepiece chimed a quarter past eight.  The proprietor
of the Viennese circus and his faithful acolyte were yet to seek.
Romantic figures as they doubtless were--at least, there was the
authority of the hostess that such was their nature--the manner in
which they were obstructing the serious business of life was hard to
condone.

Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins came up to our sofa.  She gave a demure,
down-looking glance at the lady seated by my side, who was decidedly
_piano_, which of course was as it should be, and made the plaintive
confession, "I am so hungry.  I wouldn't mind the hind leg off that
satinwood table."

"You have full permission to have it," said I.

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins, "it would spoil the suite.  But
hardly any breakfast, a sandwich at the Top Covert, in which there was
hardly any hog, one cup of tea at the Vicarage, and you know what that
is, and now--oh dear!----"

In these harrowing circumstances I conceived it to be my duty to find
out what was toward.  I yielded my place to Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins, and
as she collapsed into it, I heard her say, "I suppose if you once get a
cinch on circuses you make a regular pile right soon?"

But as I made to go forth in search of Ferdinand the Twelfth, lo and
behold! that monarch came in with his minister.  He was wearing no
orders, there was nothing to enhance or to distort his personality, but
it struck me that his bearing had a simple majesty beyond that of any
person I had ever seen.

"Make our apologies, milady," he said in a low voice, which was yet
quite audible to most in the room, since upon his entrance the
conversation had been suspended automatically.  "That mad Dutchman is
waving his torch over the powder keg, and we had forgotten the time."

And then, with the greatest simplicity and good-nature, he started to
make a tour of the room, shaking each man by the hand heartily, saying
"Very pleased to meet you, sir," and bowing to each lady in turn with
smiling gravity.  He then gave the hostess his arm.

At the table I had Mrs. Catesby on my right hand, Mrs. Josiah P.
Perkins on my left.

"What a lovely man!" said Charybdis on the left.

"I don't believe," said Scylla, "that he has any connection with a
circus whatever."

"He is Mrs. Fitz's father, anyhow."

"What is his name?"

"Count Zhygny, but titles are cheap in Illyria."

"It is a noble head," said the Great Lady.

"Objective criticism is proverbially unsafe," I hazarded.  "His
daughter has a noble face."

"He is just bully."  Charybdis was waxing enthusiastic.  "Quite
Bawston."

The Great Lady addressed herself in grim earnest to the serious
business of life, and I am bound to say--although doubtless I am the
wrong person to insist on the fact--that it was worthy of all the
attention that was paid to it.  We were twenty-five minutes late at the
post, as Jodey had complained bitterly to his hostess, but the
distinguished _chef_ lately in the service of a nobleman had fairly
excelled himself.  Good-humour, nay, even cordiality, reigned all along
the line.

"Are those pearls real?" said an imperious whisper from the right.

"I am not a judge of precious stones," I admitted, "although in the
process of time I think I shall be."

"One can't believe they are real.  If they are, they must be priceless.
What a wonderful head that man has!  And who, pray, is the other?"

"Herr Brouss is his name.  The circus-ring is his vocation."

"I once met a distinguished foreigner, a Baron Somebody, a great
politician who looked exactly like that.  It was at Spa or one of those
foreign watering-places.  By the way, Odo, what did the other man mean
by 'the mad Dutchman is waving his torch over the powder keg'?  I see
in the paper this morning that relations are strained between Germany
and Illyria.

"It is one of those cryptic phrases to which we have not the key."

"What a delicious _entrée_!  This is coals of fire with a vengeance.  I
hope you are not living beyond your means."

"Try the madeira--I see our excellent Vicar has discovered it.  I am
wondering, Mary, whether I could win a little support again in high
places, as an out-and-out opponent of socialism in any shape or form."

"I will make no rash promises, Odo"--the Great Lady took a wary sip of
the paternal vintage--"but I will speak to dear Evelyn if you wish,
although you certainly don't deserve to be forgiven."

"I hope you will assure her that no one has a profounder veneration for
a poor but deserving class."

In spite of the fact that Fitz and his wife remained silent and
preoccupied, the progress of the feast was marked by a temperate
gaiety.  The hostess was on the crest of the wave.  She made no attempt
to veil an almost indecent sense of triumph.  Precisely why she should
have harboured it I cannot say, but she betrayed all the outward and
visible signs of that emotion.  There was a light in her eye, there was
a piquancy about her discourse, there was a deferential archness in her
attitude towards the high personages by whom she was surrounded, which
communicated themselves to the whole table.  In response to her sallies
the reverberations of the royal laughter were loud and long.

"Toppin' good sort, ain't he?" said my relation by marriage in a moment
of expansion to Miss Laura Glendinning.

"Who is a toppin' good sort?" said that literal Diana.

"Why, the King, of course."

"I have never met him," said Diana.

"Where, pray, did you meet him, Joseph?" was the severe inquiry of the
Great Lady over the brim of her madeira.

"In the paddock at Newmarket," said the young fellow, making a
brilliant recovery.

"Fathead!" said the noble Master in a whisper of indulgent languor.
"You nearly blewed it then."

The royal laughter continued to reverberate.

"I suppose he began life as a clown?" said the Great Lady.

"Nearly all these circus chaps do, don't they?" said Jodey, who nearly
suffered misfortune in a too strenuous desire to preserve his gravity.

"Or as a bare-back rider," said I, taking up the parable.

"One would certainly say a clown," said the Great Lady.  "Dear me, what
manners!"

The port wine had appeared and had been duly dispensed.  At this
precise moment Ferdinand the Twelfth was giving the table-cloth a
peremptory tap.  He rose, glass in hand.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my good friends," said he.  "I haf one toast to
propose.  We will drink, if you please, to the health of _le bon roi
Edouard_.  God bless him!"

Upon the Chief Constable's extremely prompt initiative the company did
not hesitate to follow the Circus Proprietor's lead.

"The King!  God bless him!"

This incident, which the Circus Proprietor had invested with such
authority that it seemed perfectly in order, nearly led to the undoing
of Jodey and his noble friend.  Overborne by the emotion of the moment,
they indulged in a little side show of their own.  The toast of _le bon
roi Edouard_ having been honoured in form the rest of the company sat
down at once, but our two sportsmen remained upon their feet.  Filling
up their glasses, they turned towards the illustrious guest and
repeated the solemn formula:

"The King.  God bless him!"

"Sit down, you asses," said the Chief Constable in a truculent
undertone.

Nevertheless, the proprietor of the circus bowed to them and smiled
paternally.

"One shouldn't look for too much," said the Vicar, "but I think the old
fellow is a bit of a sportsman."

"Not at all a bad fellow," said honest George, expansively.  "Not at
all a bad fellow.  Not at all a bad fellow."

However, a subtle fear lay within the breast of a married man, a father
of a family, and a county member, lest our excellent Vicar had spoken
in excess of his knowledge.  I foresaw that the ordeal by fire was
coming.  When the ladies left the room desperation urged me to bestow a
pointed hint upon the Church.

"Perhaps, Vicar," I said, plaintively, "if you joined the ladies?  Not
at all a bad fellow, you know, not at all a bad fellow, but perhaps
not--er--altogether--don't you know!"

"None the worse for that," said the hardest riding parson in three
counties, filling up his glass with composure and with cordiality.  "If
you think the old buffer can appreciate a yarn, I will tell that old
one of my Uncle Jackson's.  It is rather a chestnut these days, but
perhaps he mayn't have heard it."

The clerical effort was by no means _vieux jeu_.  And it is only just
to the Church to mention that the style of the raconteur compared very
favourably with that he affected in his vocation.  Ferdinand the
Twelfth guffawed heartily, and replied with a couple of masterpieces
that brought the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.  I am afraid
there was only one cheek, however, in which the emblem in question was
able to find sanctuary, and truth compels me to assert that it was
neither that of the Church nor the Police.

For nearly an hour by the clock the bottle was circulated and we were
royally entertained.  Ferdinand had had a rich and various experience
of life.  Much had he seen and done; he had made and unmade history; he
was of the world, he loved it and he courted it; no personality had
emerged upon the European chequer-board during the past half-century of
whom he could not discourse out of a full and intimate knowledge.  If
it pleased him, he could pull aside the curtain and disclose the
showman making the puppets dance in the political theatre.

He spoke with immense gusto; his zest of life was magnificent, and
somewhat strangely there was nothing cynical or ignoble about his point
of view.  For the best part of an hour he held the least wise of us in
thrall.  He had an abundance, an overplus of nature, and subtle and
Jesuitical--for want of a happier word--as he doubtless was, there was
something humane and great-hearted about him as a man.

He gave away the great ones of the earth, showing them in their habit
as they dwelt.  He made them neither less nor more than they were.
Naught was set down in malice, but his anecdotes mostly had a
Rabelaisian tang which sprang from a prodigality of nature.  He was a
great and not unbeneficent force who drained the cup of life to the
lees, smacked his lips heartily, and demanded more.  His philosophy
seemed to be to fear God but not to scruple to use to the full all the
noble and infinite gifts of your inheritance.  His rule of conduct,
however, was not, to measure men by their strength but by their
weakness.  "Every man has his blind spot," he said, _apropos_ of
Bismarck.  "Find it and he is yours."

Such a crowded hour of wisdom, wit and historic revelation was an
experience that even a dullard was not likely to forget.  George
Catesby and the Vicar alone were unacquainted with the identity of our
guest, and as far as they were concerned the cat was more or less out
of the bag.

When we joined the ladies we found that card-tables had been set out.
Mrs. Arbuthnot and Coverdale engaged Mrs. Catesby and the King.  No one
watching the play could fail to be amused by the Circus Proprietor's
caustic but good-humoured reflections upon the performance of his
partner.  The Great Lady bore it all, however, with a stoical humility.
To my surprise, she cut in for a second rubber, and her demeanour made
it clear to Jodey, who disdained games like "_britch_" and preferred to
watch the royal _partie_, "that she smelt a rat."

"I expect the show has pretty well given itself away by now," he said
in an aside to his host, "but anyhow they have been scored off
properly."

The mystery of "scoring off" was still too much for my inadequate
mental processes.  But I gathered that there was a consensus of opinion
among persons of a more vivid intellectual cast that such indeed was
the case.

"We sha'n't half pull her leg, I don't think"--in the exuberance of the
hour the young fellow relapsed into a semi-lyrical music-hall comedy
vein--"about the old circus johnny who drank a health unto his Majesty.
I only wish old Alec had been there, that's all."

"A digger, madame, a digger," said the Circus Proprietor in a tone of
humorous expostulation, "when you haf not a treek!"

The Great Lady accepted the reproof with Christian meekness.

It was not until hard upon midnight that the departing guest was sped
in divers chariots; the Church in the identical "one-hoss shay" of
inimitable and pious memory.  "So many thanks, Mrs. Arbuthnot, for a
really _memorable_ evening," said the Church, with a wave of a somewhat
unclerical bowler.

Plutocracy in the little person of Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins had a Daimler
of sixty horse power.  She gave a lift to a less fortunate sister in
the person of Miss Laura Glendinning.  The Great Lady and the excellent
George, "a good vintage sound but dull," as I have heard him described
by a friend and neighbour, had recourse to a medium of travel of twelve
horse power only, as became the representatives of our sorely
impoverished land-owning class.

"_Such_ a success, my dear!" said the Great Lady, bestowing her parting
blessing.  "But," in a voice of mystery, "I shall _insist_ upon the
whole thing being cleared up."



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WRITING ON THE WALL

The morning which followed these tempered gaieties was cold and bright.
The King borrowed my nicest gun and, accompanied by his son-in-law, our
retainer Andrew, and an old field spaniel who answered to the name of
Gyp, proceeded to put up a hare or two in the stubble.  My physical
state precluded my raising a gun to my shoulder, but I deemed it wise
to be of the party.  Accidents have been known to occur, and--but
perhaps it is well not to pursue this vein of speculation.

Destiny is a vague term which provides the veil of decency for many
secrets, and firearms have often been the chosen instruments of its
decrees.  Doubtless I was growing too imaginative.  Certainly the
adventures I had undergone during the past few weeks had left a mark
upon my nerves, but when I recalled our vigil, which was still so fresh
in my thoughts as to seem strange and terrible, I could not view the
prospect of Ferdinand the Twelfth and his dutiful son-in-law sharing
the innocent pastime of a little rough shooting without a secret fear.

I am glad to say that the course of the morning's sport lent no colour
to this apprehension.  The King was an excellent shot, and even a
strange gun made little difference to his prowess.  He displayed both
science and accuracy.  But to see him standing cheek by jowl with Fitz,
each with a cocked weapon in his hand; to watch them scramble through
gaps and over stiles and five-barred gates, for in spite of his years
and his physique Ferdinand was a wonderfully active man who took an
almost boyish pride in his bodily condition, was to feel that the life
of either was hanging by a thread.

However, as I have said, all this was the unworthy fruit of an
overwrought imagination.  The sportsmen returned to luncheon safe and
sound, with a modest bag of the fowls of the air and the beasts of the
field.

In the afternoon, at the instance of Mrs. Arbuthnot, whose happy
thought it was, we all motored over to inspect the Castle.  The Family
was understood to be in Egypt, and the ducal stronghold is the show
place of the district.

The rumour as to the Family's whereabouts proved to be correct, and a
profitable hour was spent in the casual study of magnificence.  The
King took a genuine interest in all that he saw.  In particular he was
charmed with the view from the terrace, which is modelled upon
Versailles, with a long and far-spreading vista of oaks and beeches and
a herd of deer in the foreground.

He expressed a keen appreciation of the Duke's collection of works of
art; yet he permitted himself to wonder that a private individual
should have such pictures, such tapestries, such furniture, such
porcelain, such armour, such metal work, such carpets, such painted
ceilings and heaven knows what besides.

"It is pretty well for a subject," said Ferdinand the Twelfth.

"His Grace of Dumbarton, sir," said I, "owns four other places in these
islands on a similar scale of magnificence; he owns a million and a
quarter acres, of which a portion is in great centres of industry, his
income is rather more than £500,000 a year, and he is accustomed in his
public utterances to describe himself as a member of a poor but
deserving class."

Ferdinand the Twelfth pondered a moment with an amused yet wary smile.

"If he lived in Illyria," he said, "I think his grace would have to be
content with less, eh, Schalk?"

"It would not surprise me, sir," said the Chancellor, with an
expressive shrug.  "I confess it does not appear economically sound for
a State to allow its private citizens to accumulate such quantities of
treasure.  Whatever the measure of their public capacity I fail to see
how they can rise to their responsibilities."

"But if," said I, "the State mulcts his grace of a farthing's-worth, it
is immediately denounced as a robber.  Property is the most sacred
thing we know in this country."

"His grace came by all this honestly, I hope?" said the King, with an
amused air.

"He came by it under forms of law, certainly."

"Which he himself did not make, I hope!" said the King, laughing.

"No, sir; his grandfather and the nominees of his grandfather and so on
managed that little business.  Quite a constitutional proceeding, of
course."

"I appreciate that," said Ferdinand the Twelfth, with his subtle smile.
"The British Constitution has long been the envy of nations.  I suppose
our friend the Duke is a man of great public spirit who has rendered
signal service to the British Empire."

"On the contrary, he prefers the pleasant obscurity of the English
gentleman."

"His forbears, then?"

"The late Duke was an imbecile; and I am afraid if anyone took the
trouble to search the records of the family since it came to this
country from Germany about the year 1700, there is only one episode
involving signal public spirit recorded in its archives."

"A glorious victory, a Blenheim, a Waterloo, I presume?" said Ferdinand
the Twelfth.

"No, sir; peace has her victories also.  This distinguished family has
won the Derby Horse Race on two occasions."

"A wonderful people, Schalk!" said the King, laughing.

Her Royal Highness clapped her hands impulsively in the face of Mrs.
Arbuthnot.

"There, Irene, what did I say!" she exclaimed.  "Perrault!--wherever
you go in this little island you find Perrault.  My father has now
found Perrault.  Even Schalk has found him."

"Sonia dear, you are too funny!" said Mrs. Arbuthnot, 'with a
plaintively childlike air of tacit condescension.

The King informed his grace's steward, a gentleman with a bald head and
a very conventional aspect, who awaited us in the entrance hall to see
us safely off the premises, that he would like to write his name in the
visitors' book.  Unaware of the identity of Ferdinand the Twelfth and
by no means approving of the general trend of our conversation, the
steward said with cold politeness that he feared the visitors' book was
only used by his grace's guests.

The King took up a piece of red pencil that lay on a writing-table.

"We will write on the wall," he said, blandly.

The steward was shocked and scandalised, but no heed was paid to his
protests.  The King wrote his name on the wall in bold and firm English
characters, immediately beneath Lely's portrait of the founder of the
family.

This accomplished, the King gave the pencil to his daughter, who
inscribed her name also.  She in turn gave it to the Chancellor, who
followed her example.  He then gave the pencil to Mrs. Arbuthnot.

That lady coloured with embarrassment, but at the King's express desire
she wrote her name too; and when it came to the turn of the
Conservative member for that part of the county he had no alternative
but to obey the royal command.

Our names duly appeared on the wall in the following order:

  _Ferdinand Rex
  Sonia
  Von Schalk
  Irene Arbuthnot
  Nevil Fitzwaren
  Odo Arbuthnot, M.P._


Upon the completion of this act of vandalism, the Victor of Rodova
turned to the steward.

"Haf the goodness to inform his grace," he said, "that the King of
Illyria accepts entire responsibility for the writing on the wall.  It
is the writing on the wall for him and for his country."

As we went towards the motor cars which awaited us at a side entrance,
we had to pass down a flight of stone steps.  In the descent the King
was seized with a sudden and momentary faintness.  He reeled, and had
it not been for the promptitude of the ever-watchful Chancellor he must
have fallen.

"Dat is the writing on the wall for the people of Illyria," said the
Victor of Rodova with humorous stoicism as he recovered himself.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE CAST OF THE DIE

Upon the return to Dympsfield House, three telegrams in cypher were
waiting for the King.  Two secretaries, who with divers other
unofficial members of his suite were staying at the Coach and Horses,
were in possession of the library, which had been placed at the royal
disposal.  At dinner that evening we were informed that the Teutonic
display of red fire had provoked a grave internal crisis in Illyria.
The National Bank was about to suspend payment; Consolidated Stock was
at fifty-nine; and his Majesty must leave these shores in the course of
Saturday.

I could not repress a sigh of relief, although, to be sure, this was no
more than the evening of Wednesday.

"Old Vesuvius is beginning to rumble again," said the King, with a
laugh that sounded rather sinister, "but he cannot make us believe in
him.  How say you, my child?"

He looked across the table at the Princess, who was as pale as death.

Here was the indication of the final and supreme crisis for her and for
her husband, and the hearts of those to whom she had come to mean much
were torn with pity.  Elemental, uncontrollable forces had her in their
toils.

Fitz, too, had all our pity.  The strain of true grandeur at the heart
of the man, which all that was superficial could not efface, had
asserted itself in this season of anguish.  A lesser nature might have
taken steps to relieve his wife of the torment of his presence.  But in
the watches of the night he had referred the question, and now, come
what must, he would meet his fate.

There was reason to believe that he had already thrown his weight in
the scale on the side of Ferdinand.  He had stopped short of
self-immolation, it was true; he had placed another interpretation on
the Voice; but it seemed to me, his friend, that his whole bearing was
a piece of altruistic heroism which could have had few parallels.

"Ferdinand is right," he said as we kept vigil in my quarters.  "The
interests of a great people are of more account than a chap like me.  I
know it, and Sonia knows it too."

The words were torn from him.  It was curious how this contained and
self-reliant spirit yearned for the sanction that it was in the power
of a sympathetic understanding to bestow.  If he dealt himself a mortal
wound he must have a friend at his side.  If he had superhuman
strength, at least he had human weakness.  Men of valour are proud as a
rule.  Fitz in the hour of his passion had a humility, a craving for
the countenance of his fellows that I could only do my best to render
in a humble way.  The walk of mediocrity saves us from many things, but
I suppose there are seasons in the lives of some who wear its badge
when we would willingly forgo its comfortable consciousness of immunity
for some diviner gift.

It was as though my unhappy friend was bleeding, perhaps to death, and
I knew not how to stanch his wound.

Neither of us sought our beds that night, but sat and smoked hour after
hour, in silence for the most part, beside a dead fire.  He wished me
to be near him, almost as a dumb animal yearns for those who show a
sympathetic understanding of its pain, even if they are powerless to
make it less.

As thus we sat together my mind envisaged the chequered career of my
companion in all its phases.  I recalled him in his first pair of
trousers at his private school; I recalled him as my fag in that larger
cosmogony in which afterwards we dwelt together.  As his senior, in
those days I had unconsciously regarded him as less than myself.  But
this night, as I sat with him, consumed with pity for the tragic wreck
of his fortunes, I realised that he was one whose life was passed on a
higher, more significant plane than mine could ever occupy.

It was good to feel that I had nothing with which to reproach myself in
regard to my attitude towards him in those distant days.  His fits of
depression, his outbursts of devilry, his dislike of games, the streak
of fatalism that was in him, his impatience of all authority, had
exposed him to many hardships.  But I was glad to think that I need not
accuse myself of imperfect sympathy towards this fantastically odd, yet
high and enduring spirit.

Thursday came and passed in gloom.  Even Ferdinand, that heart of
steel, was feeling the poignancy of the crisis.  Throughout the day
Sonia did not appear.  But in the evening Irene sat with her in her
room.

"If I were she," she declared to me later, with tearful defiance, "I
would not go back--that is, unless they accepted my husband as their
future king."

"They cannot do that."

"I think the King himself is so wrong.  He hates Nevil, and he has not
the least affection for poor little Marie, his granddaughter.  It is a
dreadful state of things."

I concurred dismally.  Yet it was a state of things arising so
naturally, so inevitably out of the special circumstances of the case
that it seemed almost to forfeit a little of its tragic significance.

"If only she is strong enough to hold out until Saturday!" said my
feminine counsellor.  "But I am rather afraid.  She is quite weak in
some ways."

"There is a weakness, isn't there, which is a higher form of strength?"

"Can you mean that she will not be weak if she consents to return to
Illyria to marry the Archduke Joseph?"

"She owes a duty to her people."

"She owes a duty to her husband and child."

Thursday ended as it began and Friday brought no solace.  The Princess
reappeared among us in the afternoon.  She was pale and composed, and
as the twilight of the January afternoon was gathering, she and Fitz
rode out together.  The King, at the same hour, walked in the muddy
lanes with von Schalk.

"They leave us to-morrow morning at eleven," Mrs. Arbuthnot informed
me, "and Sonia has not had her things packed.  I believe the worst is
over.  She would have told me had she decided to go."

I was unable to share her optimism.  From the first I had felt that the
stars in their courses would prove too much for the unhappy lady.  And
nothing had occurred to remove that fear.

The King returned from his walk, and suave and subtle of countenance,
it pleased him to toy with a cup of Mrs. Arbuthnot's tea, while he
toasted his muddy gaiters at the fire.

"My daughter has not returned from her ride?"

"No, sir," I answered him.

"The last ride together," said the King, gently.  "One of your
excellent English poets has a poem about it, has he not?"

A thrill passed through my nerves at the almost cruel directness of the
King's speech.  I saw that in the same moment the eyes of Mrs.
Arbuthnot had filled with tears.

"You have great poets in England," said the King, softly.  "They are
the chief glories of a nation, and your country is rich in them.  We
have great poets in Illyria also.  There is Bolder.  We are all proud
to be the countrymen of Bolder.  When you come to see us at Blaenau I
think you will like to meet him."

As the King spoke in his paternal voice, I was conscious of his hand
upon the breast of my coat.  He had pinned a piece of black ribbon upon
it, to which was attached a silver star.

"I am afraid, sir," I said, suffering some embarrassment, "no man ever
did less to deserve the Order of the Silver Star of Illyria."

The King took my hand in his with that wonderful cordial simplicity
that was so hard to resist.

"A friend in need is a friend indeed, Mr. Arbuthnot, as your English
saying has it.  And, madame, when together we lead the cotillon at
Blaenau, I hope you will honour us by wearing this."

The King laid a jewel of much beauty upon the tea-table.

"Oh, sir," said Mrs. Arbuthnot, smiling faintly through wet eyelashes.

Standing before the fire, teacup in hand, the King talked to us quite
simply and pleasantly and sincerely.  He was a man of great power of
mind and his outlook upon life was large and direct.

"You have many ways in this country that I should like to see in ours,"
he said.  "But we in Illyria make haste slowly.  The climate is not so
bracing.  I am afraid we do not think so forcibly.  And there is a
wider gulf between the rich and the poor."

There was a note of regret in the King's tone.  He seemed to be turning
his eyes to the future, and in the process his face grew tired and
melancholy.  It was then that I realised that this man of infinite
vigour and power was said to be near the end of his course.

At dinner we were enlivened by his gaiety.  His charm was hard to
resist, so rich and full it was and so spontaneous.  But my thoughts
strayed ever away from the King, his wisdom and his persiflage, to
those who were one flesh in the sight of God, who were dining together
for the last time.

Their courage was a noble, even an amazing thing.  The stoicism with
which they ate and drank and bore a part in the conversation while a
chasm had opened beneath their feet was almost incredible.  Throughout
the perpetual oscillation from comedy to tragedy, from tragedy to
comedy, from comedy to tragedy again of their life together, they had
borne their parts with a heroic constancy, and even in this dark phase
they were equal to their task.

The die was cast.  On the morrow the Princess would return to her
people, marry the Archduke, and when the time came accept the throne.
It was part of the dreadful covenant the King had exacted that she
would never see Fitz and their child again.

I passed a night of weary wretchedness.  Do what I would, I could not
keep Fitz out of my thoughts.  About three o'clock I rose and dressed
and put on my overcoat and walked out into the garden.  Somehow I
expected to find him there.  But there was not a trace of him, and
every window in the house was dark.  A spirit of desolation seemed to
pervade everything--so dark and chill was the night.  There was not a
star to be seen.

I went back to my room, coaxed up the fire, seated myself beside it and
lit a pipe.  Presently I heard a footfall on the stairs.  It was Irene,
pale and weary with much weeping.  Daylight found her asleep in my arms
with her head on my shoulder.

The day of the King's departure had come at last.  There was a general
scurry of preparation, but precisely at eleven o'clock a procession of
six motor cars started from our door for Middleham railway station,
whence a special train would proceed to Southampton.  It was Sonia's
wish that Irene and I should accompany her to the train; and poor Fitz,
half stunned as he was, determined to play out the game to the end, and
with one of his odd outbursts of cynicism affirmed his sportsmanlike
intention of "being in at the death."

The King, his daughter, the Chancellor, and Mrs. Arbuthnot were in the
second car, preceded by a special escort from Scotland Yard.  Fitz and
I had the third to ourselves; the Secretaries were in the fourth; the
fifth and sixth conveyed the valets, her Royal Highness's maid, and a
considerable quantity of luggage.

As the procession, at the modest rate of twelve miles an hour, came
into the pleasant village of Lymeswold, where our revered Vicar has his
cure of souls, there was a considerable amount of bunting displayed in
the vicinity of the Coach and Horses.  And from the windows of the
Vicarage itself depended the Union Jack side by side with the silver
Star of Illyria on a green ground.  Mrs. Vicar waved a white
pocket-handkerchief from the gate of the manse, but the Vicar was
bearing a chief part in a more dramatic tableau that had been arranged
on the village green.  Here the village school was drawn up, the girls
in nice white pinafores and the boys looking almost painfully well
washed.  Each had a small flag that was waved frantically, and the
Vicar standing at their head led a prodigious quantity of cheering,
while Ferdinand the Twelfth took off his hat and bowed.

But all this was merely a prelude to the historic spectacle that we
came upon presently.  At the top of the steep hill leading to the Marl
Pits, that favourite haunt of "the stinkin' Middleshire phocks," lo and
behold! all the Crackanthorpe horses, all the Crackanthorpe men, not to
mention their ladies, their hounds and the entire hunt establishment,
even unto Peter the terrier, were assembled in full array of battle, as
became the hour of eleven o'clock in the morning of a rare scenting day
in the middle of January.  The cavalcade lined each side of the road,
and our motor cars passed through it on their lowest speed, to a
running accompaniment of cheers and hunting noises and a waving of hats
and handkerchiefs.

Evidently the scene had been carefully stage-managed and formed a
handsome and appropriate _amende_.  It did not fail of its appeal to
the broken-hearted circus rider from Vienna.  She responded by kissing
her hand repeatedly, and her father lifted his hat and bowed
continually as though it were a state procession.

The heart of Mrs. Arbuthnot was in pieces, but it was a great moment in
the history of the clan.  The china-blue eyes were brimming over with
their tears, but they were still capable of radiating a subtle feminine
light of triumph.  The noble Master blew a blast on his horn and his
aide-de-camp, Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther, marked the royal
progress by hoisting his hat on his whip.  As we passed Mrs. Catesby,
who looked very red, the brims of whose hat looked wider and whose
whole appearance approximated more nearly than ever to that of Mr.
Weller the Elder, I bestowed a special salutation upon her, of, I fear,
somewhat ironical dimensions.  The Great Lady responded by shaking her
whip at me in a decidedly truculent manner.

Our procession passed on to Middleham railway station, which we reached
about a quarter to twelve.  A considerable crowd had assembled about
its precincts.  The roadway and the entrance to the station were
guarded by a body of mounted police, and a small detachment of the
Middleshire Yeomanry in the charge of no less a person than Major
George Catesby, who saluted us with his sword.

On the platform we were received by a number of local dignitaries, and
foremost among these, tall and austere, but with the faint light of
humour in his countenance, was Lieutenant-Colonel John Chalmers
Coverdale, C.M.G., late of his Majesty's Carabineers.

The King and his Chancellor took a brief but cordial leave of us and
stepped briskly into the royal saloon; and then I felt the pressure of
a woman's hand, and I heard a low, broken whisper, "Be good for my sake
to Nevil and little Marie."  The Princess then took the hands of Mrs.
Arbuthnot in each of her own, kissed her wet cheeks, and was handed
into the train by the husband she had promised never to see in this
life again.



CHAPTER XXX

REACTION

The week which followed the royal departure was a season of reaction at
Dympsfield House.  The tension of our recent life had been well-nigh
unendurable.  But now the die was cast, the problem solved; we could
live and move and enjoy our being according to our wont.

To be sure the unhappy Fitz was still our anxiety.  He and his small
daughter were still under our roof, and would so remain until the house
of his fathers had been rebuilt or until such time as he should choose
some other asylum for his shattered life.

It is not too much to say that Fitz, with all his quiddity, had become
dear to us.  The tragic wreck of his life had called forth all that
latent nobility which I at any rate, as his oldest friend, had always
known to be there.  His submission to the fate which he had himself
invoked had seemed to soften the grosser elements that were in his
clay.  He had now only his small elf of four to live for.  In that
vivid atom of mortality were reproduced many of the characteristics of
the ill-starred "circus rider from Vienna."

During the first few days a kind of stupor lay upon Fitz.  He hardly
seemed able to realise what had happened.  He went out hunting and
actively superintended the rebuilding of the Grange, almost as if
nothing had occurred to him.  But, all too soon, this merciful veil was
withdrawn from his mind.  He became consumed by restlessness.  He could
not sleep nor eat his food; he could not settle to any sort of
occupation; nothing seemed able to engage his interest; his mind lost
its stability, and slowly but surely his will began to lose that
reawakened power that it had seemed to be the special function of his
marriage to sustain and promote.

By the time the first week had passed we began to have forebodings.
Already signs were not wanting that the demons of a sinister
inheritance were silently marshalling themselves in order that they
might swoop down upon him.  One afternoon I found him asleep on a sofa
drunk.

As Coverdale was well acquainted with his temperament and all the most
salient facts in its history, and as, moreover, he was a man for whose
natural soundness of judgment I had the greatest respect, I was moved
to take him into my confidence.

"He must get away from England," said Coverdale, "for a time at any
rate.  And he must go soon."

This was an opinion with which I agreed.  It happened that Coverdale
knew a man who was about to start on a journey across Equatorial Africa
and who proposed to form a hunting camp and indulge in some big game
shooting by the way.  Such a scheme appeared so eminently suited to
Fitz's immediate needs that I hailed it gladly.

Alas! when I discussed this project with him he declined wholly to
entertain it; moreover he declined with all that odd decision which was
one of his chief characteristics.

"No," he said.  "I must stay here and see to the building of the house,
and I must look after Marie."

It was in vain that I launched my arguments.  The scheme did not appeal
to him and there, as far as he was concerned, was the end to the matter.

"I must look after Marie," he said.  "We are getting her to do sums.
Her mother could never do a sum to save her life."

Argument was vain.  Such a nature was incapable of accepting a
suggestion from an outside source; the mainspring of all its actions
lay within.

The total failure of the attempt to get him to respond to so hopeful an
alternative vexed me sorely.  At the time it seemed to promise the only
means of saving him from the danger which already had him in its toils.
He grew more and more restless; his distaste for food grew more
pronounced, and in an appallingly short time it became clear to us that
whatever there remained to be done for him must be done at once.

We were helpless nevertheless.  To anything in the nature of persuasion
he remained impervious.  He could not be brought to see the nearness of
the danger.  It was like him never to heed the question of cost.  He
could never have ordered his life as he had done, had he not had the
quality of projecting the whole of himself into the actual hour.

Those who had his welfare at heart were still taking counsel one of
another in respect of what could be done to help him through this new
crisis, when a mandate was received from Mrs. Catesby to dine at the
Hermitage.  Fitz was included in it, but it did not surprise us that he
declined an invitation which less uncompromising persons were inclined
to regard in the light of a command.

It was not that he bore malice.  He was altogether beyond the pettiness
of the minor emotions; it was as though his entire being, for good or
for evil, had been raised to another dimension or a higher power.  But
as he said with his haggard face, "I don't feel up to it."

Lowlier mortals, more specifically Mrs. Arbuthnot and myself, accepted
humbly and contritely.  We felt that a certain piquancy would invest
the gathering.  Not that we knew exactly who had been bidden to attend
it, but Mrs. Arbuthnot's feminine instinct--and what is so impeccable
in such matters as these?--proclaimed this dinner party to be neither
more nor less than the public signature of the articles of peace.

Accordingly we set out for the Hermitage, not however without a certain
travail of the spirit, for poor Fitz would be left to a lonely cutlet
which he would not eat.  As a matter of fact, when we went forth he had
not returned from London, where he had spent most of the day in
consultation with his solicitors.

There assembled at the Hermitage, at which we arrived in very good
time, nearly every identical member of the company we expected to meet.
Coverdale, Brasset, Jodey, who still enjoyed the hospitality of our
neighbour, the Vicar and his Lavinia, Laura Glendinning, Mrs. Josiah P.
Perkins.  Also, as became one whose house provided a kind of _via
media_ to that greater world of which the Castle was the embodiment,
Mrs. Catesby's dinner table was graced by a younger son and a
daughter-in-law of the ducal house.

Good humour reigned.  It might even be said to amount in the course of
the pleasant process of deglutition to a sort of friendly _badinage_.
An atmosphere of tolerance pervaded all things.  If bygones were not
actually bygones, they were in a fair way of so becoming.  At least
this particular section of the Crackanthorpe Hunt was on the high road
to being once again a happy and united family.

The revelation of the "Stormy Petrel's" identity had had a magic
influence upon an immense aggregation of wounded feelings.  It was now
felt pretty generally that all might be forgiven without any grave
sacrifice of personal dignity.  It was conceded that great spirit had
been shown on both sides, but in the special and peculiar circumstances
a display of Christian magnanimity was called for.

Irene was morally and wickedly wrong--the phrase is Mrs. Catesby's
own--in keeping the secret so well.  Of course "the circus proprietor"
had deceived nobody: it was merely childish for Irene to suppose for
one single moment that he would; and for her to attempt "a score" of
that puerile character was positively infantile.  But in the opinion of
the assembled jury of matrons, plus Miss Laura Glendinning specially
co-opted, it was felt very strongly that Irene had not quite played the
game.

"Child," said the Great Lady, speaking _ex cathedra_, with a piece of
bread in one hand and a piece of turbot on a fork in the other, "when I
consider that I chose your husband's first governess, quite a refined
person, of the sound, rather old-fashioned evangelical school, I feel
that it was morally and wickedly wrong of you to withhold from me of
_all_ people the identity of the dear Princess."

"But Mary," said the light of my existence, toying demurely with her
sherry, "I didn't know who she was myself until nearly a week after the
fire."

The Great Lady bolted her bread and laid down her fork with an
approximation to that which can only be described as majesty.

"Would you have me believe," she demanded, "that when you took her to
your house on the night of the fire you really and sincerely believed
that she was merely the wife of Nevil?"

"Yes, Mary," said the joy of my days, "I really and sincerely believed
that she was the circus--I mean, that is, that she was just Mrs. Fitz."

General incredulity, in the course of which George Catesby inquired
very politely of the Younger Son if he had enjoyed his day.

"Never enjoyed a day so much," said the Younger Son, with immense
conviction, "since we turned up that old customer without a brush in
Dipwell Gorse five years ago to-morrow come eleven-fifteen g.m."

"Eleven-twenty, my lad," chirruped the noble Master.  "Your memory is
failin'."

"Irene," said the uncompromising voice from the end of the table, "I
cannot and will not allow myself to believe that you were not in the
secret before the fire."

"Tell it to the Marines, Irene," said Mrs. Josiah P. Perkins.

"Wonder what she will ask us to believe next," said Miss Laura
Glendinning.

"What indeed!" said the Vicar's wife.

"It isn't human nature," affirmed Lady Frederick.

"Very well, then," said the star of my destiny, with an ominous sparkle
of a china-blue eye, "you can ask Odo."

"Odo!"  I give up the attempt to reproduce the cataclysm of scorn which
overwhelmed the table.  "Odo is quite as bad as you are, if not worse.
He knew from the first.  He knew when the Illryian Ambassador came in
person to the Coach and Horses and fetched her in his car; he knew when
she chaffed dear Evelyn so delightfully that night at the Savoy."

"What if he did?" said the undefeated Mrs. Arbuthnot.  "He didn't tell
me.  Did you now, Odo?"

With statesmanlike mien I assured the company that Mrs. Fitz's identity
was not disclosed to our household despot until some days after her
arrival at Dympsfield House.

"I am obliged to believe you, Odo," said Mrs. Catesby.  "But mind I
only do so on principle."

Somehow this cryptic statement seemed to minister to the mirth of the
table.  It was increased when the Younger Son, who evidently had been
waiting his opportunity, came into the conversation.

"Odo Arbuthnot, M.P.," said he, "I expect when Dick sees what you have
done to his wall he'll sue you.  Anyhow I should."

The approval which greeted this sally made it clear that the incident
had become historical.

"By royal command," said I; "and what chance do you suppose has a mere
private member against the despotic will of the father of his people?"

"A gross outrage.  An act of vandalism.  Postlewaite says----"

"Postlewaite's an ass."

"Whatever Postlewaite is, it don't excuse you.  He says you were all
talking the rankest Socialism, and he was quite within his rights not
to give you the book."

"I repeat, Frederick, that Postlewaite is an ass.  If the Postlewaites
of the earth think for one moment that the Victors of Rodova will turn
the other cheek to the retort discourteous, the sooner they learn
otherwise the better it will be for them and those whom they serve."

"Hear, hear, and cheers," said my gallant little friend, Mrs. Josiah P.
Perkins, in spite of the fact that the Great Lady had fixed her with
her invincible north eye.

"Ferdinand Rex one doesn't mind so much," proceeded Frederick, "and the
Princess is all right of course, and von Schalk is a bit of a Bismarck,
they say; but when you come to foot the bill with Odo Arbuthnot,
M.P.--well, as Postlewaite says, it is nothing less than an act of
vandalism.  The M.P. fairly cooked my goose, I must say."

The M.P. was very bad form, everybody agreed, with the honourable and
gallant exception of _la belle Americaine_.

"Might be a labour member!  I don't know what Dick'll say when he sees
it."

"Two alternatives present themselves to my mind," said I, impenitently.
"Postlewaite can either clear off the whole thing before he returns, or
else append a magic 'C' in brackets after the offending symbols."

"You ain't entitled to a 'C' in brackets.  You grow a worse Radical
every day of your life and everybody is agreed that it is time you came
out in your true colours."

"Hear, hear," from the table.

"I've half a mind to oppose you myself at the next election as a
convinced Tariff Reformer, Anti-Socialist, Fair Play for Everybody, and
official representative of a poor but deserving class."

"We shall all be glad to sign your nomination paper," affirmed George
Catesby.

"Well, Lord Frederick," said my intrepid Mrs. Josiah, "I will just bet
you a box of gloves anyway that you don't get in."

"And I'll bet you another," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.

"He's not such a fool as to try," said the noble Master.

"Frederick," said the Great Lady, "stick to your muttons.  You have
plenty to do to raise breed and quality.  Why not try a cross between
the Welsh and the Southdown?  At least I am convinced that in these
days the House of Commons offers no career for a gentleman."

"I've a great mind to cut in and have a shot anyway," said the scion of
the ducal house, with a mild confusion of metaphor.  "I don't see why
these Radical fellers----"

Whatever the speech was in its integrity, it was destined never to be
completed.  For at this precise moment the door was flung open in a
dramatic manner, and a haggard man, wearing an overcoat and carrying
his hat in his hand, broke in upon Mrs. Catesby's dinner party.



CHAPTER XXXI

NEWS FROM ILLYRIA

The man was Fitz.

"A thousand apologies," he said.  "So sorry to disturb you.  But
there's news from Illyria."

Such a very remarkable obtrusion enchained the attention of us all.
And this was not rendered less by the self-possession of the speaker's
manner.

"Ferdinand has been assassinated."  Fitz's tone was slow and contained.
"The Monarchy has been overthrown; Sonia is a close prisoner in the
Castle at Blaenau, and her fate hangs in the balance."

"What is your authority?" said Coverdale.

"Reuter," said Fitz.  "A telegram is printed in the evening papers.  I
happened to buy one at the book-stall as I left town."

He produced the _Westminster Gazette_ from the pocket of his overcoat
and handed it to the Chief Constable.

"You don't suppose," said Coverdale, frowning heavily, "that they are
capable of personal violence towards the Princess?"

"At bottom they are only half civilised," said Fitz, "and when their
passions are aroused they are capable of anything.  You will see the
telegram says the government is in the hands of a committee of the
people.  And no wise man ever trusts the people and never will."

This feudal sentiment was uttered in a tone of the oddest conviction.

"By Jove!" said the scion of the ducal house.  "Here is the chap we are
looking for."

But the intrusion of Fitz was too deadly serious for any side issue to
be allowed to distract our attention.

"I apologise to you, Mrs. Catesby, for spoiling your dinner party like
this," he said, "but it is my firm conviction that if the Princess is
to be saved there is not a moment to lose."

"One is inclined to agree with you," said Coverdale, slowly and
thoughtfully.  "Has it occurred to you that anything can be done?"

Fitz's reply, given quietly enough, was characteristic of the man.

"To-day is Monday," he said.  "By midnight on Thursday we shall have
her out of Blaenau."

"Impossible, my dear fellow, impossible," said the Chief Constable, "if
this account is correct."

"Nothing is impossible," said the Man of Destiny.  "There is just time
now to catch the ten o'clock to-night from Middleham.  First thing
to-morrow morning we will get our papers if we can, and if we can't
we'll go without them.  We shall be in Paris some time in the
afternoon; and if all goes well by Wednesday evening we shall be in
Vienna.  By five o'clock on Thursday we ought to be at Orgov on the
Milesian frontier, and six hours' easy riding over the mountains with a
couple of baits will land us at Blaenau."

We who knew Fitz and had followed him in high affairs knew better than
to venture upon criticism of this bald and unconvincing scheme.  Those
who did not know him could only smile incredulously.

"Sounds easy," said Lord Frederick, "but assuming, Fitzwaren, that you
get to Blaenau like that, what can it profit you if the Princess is in
the Castle under lock and key?"

"Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage," quoted the Man
of Destiny.  "Once we get to Blaenau we shall have her out of the
Castle, never fear about that.  But there is no time to discuss the
matter now.  If we go at once and collect our gear--so sorry, Mrs.
Catesby, but absolutely unavoidable--we can be in town by
twelve-fifteen, arrange about our papers and keep well in front of the
clock."

The man's calm assumption that we should all unhesitatingly follow his
lead and commit ourselves to this rather mad and certainly most
uncomfortable enterprise was remarkable.

"There is not a minute to lose," he said.  "By the way, Arbuthnot, I've
told Peters to pack a kit-bag for you.  And this time, old son, you had
better see that you don't forget your revolver."

Under the goad of the Chief Constable's uneasy eye I was fain to gaze
at the black silk handkerchief, which still bore my wrist.

"I'm afraid I'm a lame duck anyway," I said.

"You will do to hold the horses at the foot of the Castle rock.
Climbing up the face of that cliff will be out of the question as far
as you are concerned.  Now then, you fellows," the Man of Destiny took
out his watch, "you have just two minutes to finish your port and get
your cigars alight and then it's boot and saddle."

"Nevil," said the imperious voice of the Great Lady, "I am really
afraid you are mad."

The Man of Destiny did not deign to heed this irrelevant suggestion.

The exigencies of historical truth render it necessary to record the
fact that Joseph Jocelyn de Vere Vane-Anstruther was undoubtedly the
first respondent to the call.  My relation by marriage drank his port
wine and rose in his place at Mrs. Catesby's board.  There was a fire
in his eye and the suspicion of a hectic flush upon his countenance
which seemed to contrast strangely with the habitual languor of his
bearing.

"First thing we must do is to send a wire to old Alec," he said;
"although he is certain not to be in if we send it.  If we get to town
by twelve-fifteen I will trot round to the Continental.  The beggar is
sure to be there until they kick him out, as there is a ball to-night
at Covent Garden."

This reasoning may have been lucid and it may have been pregnant; at
least it recommended itself to the comprehensive intellect of the Man
of Destiny.

"Quite right, Vane-Anstruther.  I shall hold you responsible for
O'Mulligan."

"Joseph," said the Great Lady upon a stentorian note, "are you mad
also?"

Hardly had this pertinent inquiry been advanced when the noble Master
was on his legs.

"So awfully sorry, Mrs. Catesby," he said with a long-drawn sweetness
of apology, "but it can't be helped in the circumstances, can it?  I
leave hounds in the care of George and Frederick.  Keep Potts up to his
work, George, and see that he pays proper attention to their feet.  And
Frederick, I charge you to make it your business to see that Madrigal
has a ball every Friday."

"Reginald," said his hostess with great energy, "in the unavoidable
absence of your widowed and unfortunate mother I absolutely forbid you
to bear a part in this hare-brained enterprise.  I really don't know
what Nevil can be thinking of."

In Ascalon whisper it not, but this was the precise moment in which I
found the cynical eye of the Chief Constable upon me for the second
time.  The eye was also wary and a little pensive, but the great man
rose in his place with an air of profound rumination.  He slowly
cracked a walnut and then turned to the butler, with a coolness which
to my mind had a suspicion of the uncanny.

"Just tell my chap to have my car round at once," he said; and then
with great deference to his hostess, "a thousand apologies, Mrs.
Catesby, but you do see, don't you, that it can't be helped?"

Whether I rose to my feet by an act of private volition or at the
subconscious beck of another's compelling power, there is no need to
attempt to determine.  But somehow I found myself upon my legs and
adding my own imperfect apologies to the equally imperfect ones of the
Chief Constable.

"Odo Arbuthnot," said my hostess, "sit down at once.  A married man, a
father of a family, and a county member!  Sit down at once and get on
with your fruit.  Colonel Coverdale!  I am surprised at you."

"Finished your port, Arbuthnot?" said Fitz, calmly.  "Time's about up.
But I've told your chap about the car."

Consternation mingled now with the lively feminine bewilderment, but
Mrs. Arbuthnot, whom Fitz's news had excited and distressed, issued no
personal edict.  If the life of Sonia was really at stake it was right
to take a risk.  Nevertheless it showed a right feeling about things to
betray a little public perturbation at the prospect of being made a
widow.

"Jodey and Reggie and Colonel Coverdale must go," said Mrs. Arbuthnot.
"They haven't wives and families dependent upon them.  But you, Odo,
are different.  And then, too, your wrist.  You would be of no use if
you went."

"I shall do to hold the horses at the foot of the Castle rock," said I,
saluting a white cheek.

Fitz was already withdrawing from the room with his volunteers when
Lord Frederick rose in his place at the board.

"Look here, Fitzwaren," he said.  "If you have a vacancy in your
irregulars I rather think I'll make one."

"By all means," said Fitz.  "The more the merrier."

Bewilderment and consternation mounted ever higher around Mrs.
Catesby's mahogany.

"Freddie!  Freddie!"  There arose a tearful wail from across the table.

"You ought to be bled for the simples, Frederick," said his hostess.

However, even as the Great Lady spoke, honest George, most
conscientious of husbands, and notwithstanding his rank in the
Middleshire Yeomanry, the most peace-loving of men, was understood to
make an offer of active service.

"Well done, George," said his friend the Vicar.  "I shouldn't mind
coming as the chaplain to the force myself."

"George," said an imperious voice from the table head, "George!"

The Man of Destiny halted a moment on the threshold of the banquet hall
with the frank eye of cynicism fixed midway between the Great Lady and
the warlike George.

"George!  Sit down!"

Finally George sat down with a covert glance at his friend the Vicar.

By the time we had got into our overcoats and mufflers and the means of
travel had been provided for us, a scene with some pretensions to
pathos had been enacted in the hall.

"Odo, you really ought not, but if dear Sonia really is in danger----!"

"We shall all be back a week to-night," the Man of Destiny informed my
somewhat tearful monitor with a note of assurance in his voice.

Moving objurgations of "Freddie!  Freddie!" were mingled with the
clarion note of Mrs. Catesby's indignation.

"It is a mad scheme, and if you get your deserts you will all be shot
by the Illyrians."

But Fitz and I were already seated side by side in the car.  We waved a
farewell to the bewildered company upon the hall steps, and then the
fact seemed slowly to be borne in upon my numbed intelligence that yet
again I was irrevocably committed to this latest and maddest call of my
evil genius.  There he sat by my side, his cigar a small red disc of
fire, and he self-possessed, insouciant, dæmonic, almost gay.

The flaccid, rudderless creature of the past ten days was gone as
though he had never been.  It was hard to realise that this born leader
of others, who courted war like a mistress, the magic of whose
initiative the coolest and sanest could not resist, was the self-same
broken fragment of human wreckage who twenty-four hours ago had not the
motive power to perform the simplest action.  But there could be no
question of the magic he knew how to exert over the most diverse
natures; and as we sat side by side in the semi-darkness of the car
while it flew along the muddy, winding and narrow roads to Dympsfield
House, I yielded almost with a thrill of exultation to the director of
my fate.



CHAPTER XXXII

MORE ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS

We had no difficulty in reaching Middleham railway station, that
familiar rendezvous, at the appointed time.  Even Lord Frederick, who
lived farther afield than any of us, was able, by putting a powerful
car to an illegal use, to arrive on the stroke of the hour.

It was to be remarked that the prevailing tone in our coupe was one
which almost amounted to gaiety.  Judged by the cold agnostic eye, the
scheme was only a little this side of madness.  But it had the sanction
of a high motive.  Further, we were brothers in arms who had smelt
powder together upon a more dubious enterprise; we had faith in one
another; and above all we were sustained, one might even say
translated, by the epic quality of an incomparable leader.

Fitz smoked his cigar and cut in at a rubber of bridge with an air of
indulgent and serene content.

"It is lucky," he said, "that I know an old innkeeper on the frontier
who will be rather useful if we have to go without passports.  He is
about a mile on the Milesian side, and will be able to provide us with
horses and smuggle us across in the darkness.  He will also find for us
a couple of guides over the mountains."

"You say we can get from the frontier to the Castle at Blaenau in six
hours?" inquired the gruff voice of the Chief Constable.

"Yes, unless there is a lot of snow in the passes."

"But if the country is in a state of revolution, aren't we likely to be
held up?"

"Perhaps; perhaps not.  We shall find a way if we have to take an
airship.  Eh, Joe?"

The Man of Destiny gave my relation by marriage a fraternal punch in
the ribs.

"Ra-_ther_!"  That hero was in the act of cutting an ace and winning
the deal.

"I shall arrange," said Fitz, "for a change of horses at Postovik,
which is about half way.  If all goes well we shall be at the foot of
the Castle rock a little before midnight on Thursday.  I am thinking,
though, that we may have to swim the Maravina."

"Umph!" growled the Chief Constable, declaring an original spade, "a
moderately cheerful prospect on a January night in Illyria."

"It may not come to that, of course.  But all the bridges and ferries
are sure to be guarded.  And even if they are, with a bit of luck we
may be able to rush them."

As our leader began to evolve his plan of campaign it could not be said
to forfeit any of its romance.  But I think it would be neither fair
nor gracious to Mr. Nevil Fitzwaren's corps of irregulars to say that
this spice of adventure made less its glamour.  We could all claim some
little experience of war and that mimic sphere of action "that provides
the image of war without its guilt, and only thirty per cent. of its
dangers."  Some of us had taken cover upon the veldt and others had
crossed the Blakiston after a week's rain; and we all felt as we sped
towards the metropolis at the rate of sixty miles an hour, and at the
same time endeavoured to restrain the cards from slipping on to the
floor, that whatever Fate, that capricious mistress, had in store for
us, our hazard was for as high a stake as any set of gamesters need
wish to play.

Punctual to the minute, we came into the London terminus.  As on the
occasion of that former adventure, we posted off to Long's quiet family
hotel, with the exception of Joseph Jocelyn De Vere Vane-Anstruther,
who confided his kit-bag to the care of his man Kelly, and adjured him
to see that a decent room was found for him, while he went "to rout out
Alec at the Continental before they fired the beggar out."

"Tell him we leave Charing Cross at ten-forty in the morning," said
Fitz.  "That will give me time to see what can be done in the way of
papers, although as far as Illyria is concerned, diplomatic relations
are pretty sure to have been suspended."

Driving again to Long's Hotel, I was regaled with the remembrance of
our former journey; of the incident of the cab which followed us
through the November slush; of the weird sequel; of that long night of
alarums and excursions, which yet was no more than a prelude to a
chaotic vista of events.

I recalled the drive from Ward's with Coverdale; the slow-drawn
tragi-comedy of suspense; the waiting-room at the Embassy, the plunge
up the stairs, the charming player of Schumann, the presentation to her
Royal Highness.  I recalled the passages with the Ambassador and their
terrible issue; the drive with the Princess to the Savoy; the episode
of the pink satin at which I could now afford to laugh.  Again I
recalled our _bizarre_ visit to Bryanston Square; our reception by my
Uncle Theodore, his "Fear nothing" and his still more curious prevision
of that which was to come to pass.  I recalled our dash for this same
Grand Central railway station and the merciful shattering of our hopes
midway.  I recalled the Scotland Yard inspector with the light
moustache, the hand of the Princess guiding me through the traffic, the
cool-fingered doctor, the bowl of crimson water at which I did not care
to look.  Finally, in this panoramic jumble of wild occurrences, the
memory of which I should carry to the grave, I recalled that noble,
complex, misguided emblem of our species, the Victor of Rodova, the
clear-sighted, subtle yet great-hearted hero of an epoch in the destiny
of nations; the father of his people, whom his children had slain even
while the hand of death was already upon him.

I pictured him lying riddled with bullets on the steps of his palace at
Blaenau, riddled with the bullets he had so often despised.  Even from
the brief account in the evening papers it was clear that the end of
the Victor of Rodova had been heroic.

The smouldering volcano had burst into flame at last.  A tax-gatherer
had been slain in an outlying district.  At the signal, a whole
province, at the back of one half-patriot, half-brigand, rose up,
marched armed to the Capital, and called upon the King at his palace to
grant a charter to the people.  The King met them alone, as was his
custom, on the steps of his palace, and having listened with kindness
and patience to their demands, made the reply "that he would take steps
to procure the charter for his people if the peccant son who had slain
a faithful servant treacherously was rendered to justice."

Whether the King deliberately misread the temper of his subjects, or
whether he overestimated the personal power it was his custom to exert,
was hard to determine, but in this reply which was so strangely
deficient in that high political wisdom in which no man of his age
excelled him, lay his doom.  The leader of the armed mob, who himself
had slain the tax-gatherer, laughed in the King's, face, and
immediately riddled him with bullets.  And as the King fell, the
burghers of Blaenau poured in at the gates, the soldiers revolted
because their wages were over-due, possession was taken of the Castle;
and the long-deferred republic was proclaimed.

"And where were the aristocracy and the supporters of the monarchy
while all this was happening?" I asked, as we sat in the lounge at the
hotel having a final drink before turning in.

"Reading between the lines of the dispatch," said Fitz, "I should be
inclined to say that they had conspired to throw Ferdinand over at the
last and to let in the people.  I can reconcile the facts on no other
hypothesis."

"Why should they?"

"The aristocracy have always been jealous of his power.  He has walked
too much alone."

"It is hard to believe that they would yield up their country to mob
law."

"They have their own safety to consider.  A small and exclusive class,
not accustomed to move very actively in public affairs, they have
little control of events.  And the army having joined with the people,
their only hope is to sit on the fence and try to hold what they have."

"You are convinced of the Princess's danger?"

"There is no question of that.  Having decided to make an end of their
rulers, the French Revolution is quite likely to be enacted over again.
They are a semi-barbarous people, and few will deny that they have
suffered."

On the morrow Fitz was early abroad.  The morning papers brought
confirmation of the news from Illyria.  The King was dead; the Crown
Princess was a close prisoner at Blaenau in the hands of the
insurgents; the Chancellor and other ministers had fled the country; a
number of regiments had massacred their officers; and it was expected
that a Committee of the People would take over the government.

At Charing Cross we found Alexander O'Mulligan already waiting for us.
He was in the pink of health and his grin was extraordinarily
expansive.  Fitz arrived with the necessary tickets for the whole
party, but had only been able to procure passports as far as the
frontier.  But, as he explained, this need not trouble us, as we should
leave the train before we came there and make our way over the
mountains in the darkness.

As our train wound its way through suburbia we began more clearly to
realise the promise of a crowded and glorious week.  The motive was
adequate; and although the Chief Constable and myself had a sense of
the profound rashness of the scheme, we shared the common faith in Fitz.

Our route was by way of Paris.  It was more direct to go from
Southampton, but there was very little difference in the point of
actual time.

When we reached Paris, soon after five that afternoon, we learned that
in spite of the representations of the Powers, the fate of the Princess
still hung in the balance.  We stayed only an hour and then took train
again.

All night we travelled and all through the next day; and then, as Fitz
had predicted, shortly after five o'clock in the evening of Thursday we
had come to the township of Orgov, a mile from the Illyrian frontier on
the borders of Milesia.  Here we found a shrewd old peasant who had
acted as the friend of Fitz on a former occasion, and with whom he had
already communicated by telegraph.  The old fellow shook his head over
the state of affairs in the neighbouring kingdom, but provided us with
a couple of trustworthy guides through the mountains and seven
tolerable horses, one apiece for each member of our party.

Fitz affirmed his intention of getting to Blaenau in six hours.  The
innkeeper, however, declared frankly that this was impossible.  The
winter had been severe; heavy drifts of snow lay in the passes, and in
its present state the country itself was full of danger.  Indeed, our
friend the innkeeper was fain to declare that, unless God was very kind
to us, we should never get to Blaenau at all.

However, we were a party of nine, stout fellows, well armed and
tolerably mounted.  And when we started from Orgov a little after six
in the evening, I do not think the sense of peril oppressed us much.
Our mission was of the highest; each of us had faith in himself and in
his comrades.  We were a small but mobile force in fairly hard
condition; and I think it may be claimed for each member of it that he
had a natural love of adventure.



CHAPTER XXXIII

IN THE BALANCE

The air was shrewd as we set out from Orgov.  We took a narrow, winding
bridle-path, uncomfortably steep in places, in order to avoid the
frontier town of Boruna, wherein trouble might lurk.  The stars were
out already, with Mars straight before us wonderfully large and red as
we rode due east.  There was an exhilaration in the atmosphere that was
like wine in the veins; and presently we caught the tail of an icy
blast that made us glad to wrap our cloaks around us.

An impartial view of such an enterprise rendered it clear that the odds
were greatly in favour of a total failure.  How could six men and a
cripple hope to penetrate into the heart of a closely guarded fortress?
And assuming that we got in, by what means did we expect to make our
way out again!  In all conscience the scheme was wild enough, but this
was not the hour in which to lay stress upon that fact.

There can be no doubt that the qualities of our leader were a great aid
to his corps.  Undaunted courage, invincible optimism were his in
amplest measure; and this attitude of mind could not fail to react upon
his comrades in arms.  Moreover, in the most singular degree he
appeared to combine with the audacity of genius, a head for detail and
a shrewd practical wisdom, which very seldom embellish the characters
of those who depend primarily upon the faculty of inspiration.

As mile by mile we traversed these snow-laden Illyrian mountains, the
possibility of anything less than complete success found no place in
his thoughts.  "Nothing is impossible" was his motto, and this he
realised with plenary conviction.  His twin soul was calling him to the
Castle of Blaenau, and not for an instant did he doubt his ability to
obey the summons.

It was our plan to avoid as far as possible all centres of population.
Our guides being men of experience, familiar with all the by-paths and
bridle-roads, we were able to do this, and even to save time in the
process.  But as the innkeeper had insisted, Fitz's optimism had misled
him when he expected to reach the Illyrian capital in six hours.

When we took our first bait, at an inn above the sinister waters of the
Lake of Montardo, it was nearly nine o'clock.  Coffee and cakes were
very acceptable; indeed I have seldom tasted anything so delicious.
But in spite of our diligence and a fair measure of luck, we had come
rather less than twenty miles of the journey.  Our horses were good for
another twelve miles through the formidable pass of Ryhgo, where in the
middle of winter the mountain streams are generally in spate.

We went on after a halt of a quarter of an hour.  As yet we had seen
few signs of the revolution.  But at the inn above Montardo ugly
rumours were rife.  The people and the army were said to have turned
against the aristocracy; they were butchering them by the score, and
the Crown Princess was declared to be dead.

That our mission was being made in vain Fitz declined to believe.  The
man's courage had never seemed so remarkable as when confronted with
this news.

"If she were already dead," he said, simply, "I should have had
information.  I shall not believe it until I hold her corpse in my
arms."

Through the pass of Ryhgo, overshadowed as it is by the gaunt Illyrian
mountains, the narrow path wound along the very edge of a precipice.
Below were the waters of the Lake of Montardo, which as we rode above
it reflected a baleful grandeur to the stars.  The wind was very
piercing now and drove sheer in our faces; not a little did it add to
the dangers of our progress through the pass.  The horses had only to
make a false step and their riders would be hurled a thousand feet into
those terrible black waters gleaming below.

Before we had overcome this most precarious stage of our journey, the
clouds were beaten up rapidly by the wind, and to add to our peril and
discomfort it came on to snow.  It was, therefore, a great relief when
at last we came to an inn at a hamlet with an unpronounceable name
which marked the end of the pass.  It was then eleven o'clock and we
had come little more than half the way.

Here we found a friend awaiting us.  He was an Illyrian acquaintance of
Fitz's, and he had arranged the details of our mountain journey.  A
member of a noble family, he was familiar with the court life at
Blaenau, and had borne the part of a friend in the previous episode
which had culminated in the elopement of the Crown Princess.

He was an agreeable fellow, quite cosmopolitan, and had no difficulty
in making himself understood in French, in which tongue he enjoyed a
greater felicity than any of us.  He answered to the name of John,
although his full title, which was very long and hard to pronounce, I
have forgotten.  He, too, had heard the common report that the Princess
was dead, but chose to express no opinion in regard to the truth of it.

When Fitz outlined his project, he expressed a mild astonishment.

"But how," said he, "will you cross the Maravina?"

"You don't suppose," said Fitz, "that we have come as far as this to be
deterred by the crossing of the Maravina?"

"All the bridges are closely guarded by the Republicans.  The ferries
also."

"We can swim the Maravina, at a pinch."

"You English can do most things," said John, "but don't attempt to swim
the Maravina in the middle of January is my advice."

John's view drew a growl of deep bass approval from no less a person
than the Chief Constable of Middleshire.

"We shall do what we can," said the Man of Destiny, with excellent
indifference.

"Yes, but we damn well needn't do what we can't," said the Chief
Constable _sotto voce_, yet meaning no disrespect to his native tongue.

I must confess to an involuntary shudder, as, at the instance of a
too-active imagination, the waters of the Maravina pierced a pair of
leathers "by a local artist of the name of Jobson."  They seemed
miserably damp already.  And if anything feels more miserable than a
pair of leathers when they are damp, I pray to be spared the knowledge.

High as our mission was, the flesh was loth to quit the warm stove at
the hostelry of "The Hanging Cross" for those terrible purlieus that
wound through the heart of the wild Illyrian mountains.  But at least
we could congratulate ourselves that the pass of Ryhgo was at an end,
and that the black waters of Lake Montardo no longer lay in wait for
the hapless traveller a thousand feet below.  Also the snow had ceased,
the wind had fallen, Mars and his brethren were looking again upon us,
and there was a faint suspicion of a crescent moon.

Our weary beasts had been exchanged for a fresh relay at the hostelry
of "The Hanging Cross."  In addition to a reinforcement in the shape of
John, a led horse with a side saddle accompanied us for the use of the
Princess.  With fairer conditions and a path less perilous to traverse,
we began to improve considerably upon our previous rate of progression.
Then the road began again to grow difficult, but happily the sky kept
clear.

During the later stages of the journey we passed through several
hamlets and small towns.  To judge by the lights in the windows of the
houses and the demeanour of little groups of people in the streets, a
general spirit of uneasiness was abroad.  Men clad in the picturesque
skin caps which are so typical of the country were to be seen carrying
formidable-looking guns; and although such a cavalcade excited their
curiosity they allowed it to pass.

We had no adventures worthy of the name.  In one of the mountain
valleys a deep crevasse was concealed by a drift of snow, and we owed
it to the vigilance of our guides that we were not its victims.  The
wind was still very piercing, but acting upon Fitz's advice before we
started, we had all taken the precaution to be well clad.

Our progress was really better than we realised.  A sudden turn in the
road revealed a very broad and rapid torrent.  It was the Maravina; and
there upon the farther bank was the bluff upstanding rock crowned with
the majestic Castle of Blaenau.  Nestling close about it was a dark
huddle of houses and gaunt church spires of the capital city of Illyria.

"There you are," cried John, with a wave of the hand.  "Now, my
friends, are you tempted to swim across?"

"I daresay we shall find a bridge," said Fitz, nonchalantly enough.

"They are all bound to be guarded by the enemy."

"May be," said the Man of Destiny imperturbably.

Away to the right, at the distance of a mile, was one of the smaller
bridges into the city.  It was a rickety, wooden structure, guarded by
a gate with a turret, which had a quaintly mediaeval aspect.  In front
of the gate a bright coke fire was burning in a bucket, and sprawling
around it in attitudes which suggested varying phases of somnolence
were a number of men in uniform.

A shaggy, fierce-looking, finely-grown fellow rose to his feet and
challenged us.  Fitz replied promptly in his suavest and best Illyrian.
Not a word of the conversation that ensued was intelligible to me, but
it was punctuated by the approving laughter of John and the guides, and
was conducted on both sides with the highest good-humour.

Its conclusion at any rate was in keeping with this surmise.  Fitz was
seen to slip a piece of gold into a furtive palm; the password was
whispered to him; and the gate was opened just far enough for each of
us to pass through one at a time.

"If there is a more corrupt rogue than an Illyrian corporal of
infantry," said John, "on the face of this fair earth, I am glad to say
I have met him not."

"Evil practices breed an evil state," said the sententious Fitz.  "If
chaps have to whistle for their wages what can you expect?"

"Let us hope the custodians of the Castle will prove as susceptible," I
observed, piously.

"Ah, there you have another sort of bird!" said Fitz.

There was a second gate on the city side of the bridge.  This also was
guarded by the soldiery, but the password given boldly got us through
without a question.  There were tall spikes set in a row on the top of
the heavy and unwieldy gate.  They were adorned with a row of human
heads.

To me, I confess, these grisly mementoes brought a shudder.

"They appear to do things pleasantly at Blaenau," said Frederick.

"They can go one better than that, my son," said Fitz, "if they get the
chance.  I should advise each of you, in the case of emergency, to
leave just one cartridge in his revolver."

To a married man, a father of a family, and a county member, with his
left arm in a black silk handkerchief, who did not feel particularly
secure in the saddle as he rode knee to knee across the bridge with his
misguided friend the Chief Constable of Middleshire, the icy wind which
saluted him from the mighty torrent swirling beneath, blew distinctly
"thin."  Somewhat bitterly he began to deplore that decree of fate
which had bereft him of the use of a hand.

Through narrow, close-built streets, whose odours were decidedly
unpleasant, we passed unmolested until we came into the shadow of the
Castle rock.  In the faint light of the stars it towered a sheer and
beetling pile.

Dismounting, we tied the horses to a fence.  Fitz took a dark lantern
from his saddle; and among a miscellaneous collection of articles with
which he had the forethought to provide himself, was a coil of rope.
This it seemed was capable of adjustment into the form of a ladder; and
our leader affirmed his intention of being the first man up the Castle
wall.  He proposed to affix this contrivance to the coping at the top
in order that the others might climb up as easily and as expeditiously
as possible.

There was nothing for it save to resign myself to stay with the two
guides in the charge of the horses.  It would have been a physical
impossibility for a man bereft of the use of an arm to climb that sheer
precipice.

Fitz's parting words of advice to me were characteristic.

"If," said he, "a sentry should come along, and want to know your
business--I don't suppose he will, because they don't appear to have
mounted a picket--knock out his brains at once, and make one of the
guides put on his uniform and shoulder his gun and march up and down.
So long, old son."

The Man of Destiny was gone, perhaps for ever.  As each of my comrades
in arms climbed over the low fence in his wake I wished him good luck.
It seemed hardly a fighting chance that we should ever look on one
another again.

They had left their cloaks behind, and these, together with my own,
were thrown over the horses which had carried us so well.  Tobacco is a
great solace in seasons of tension, but the long-drawn suspense to
which I had to submit soon became intolerable.

To a lover of the _aurea mediocritas_, a twentieth-century British
paterfamilias confirmed in the comfortable security of a civil life,
such a predicament was absurd.  It was painful indeed to march hour
after hour up and down the broken ground at the foot of the Castle
rock.  A pipe was in my teeth, otherwise I was signally exposed to the
rigours of a long January night in Illyria.  A bloody end was my
perpetual contemplation.  And I hardly dared to think what lay in store
for my comrades, the faint hope of whose return it was my bounden duty
to await.

There were moments in this season of poignant misery when I felt myself
to be growing absolutely desperate.  Why be ashamed to make the
confession?  The sensation of impotence was truly terrible.  As the
time passed and not a sound was to be heard, God alone knew what was
being transacted in that frowning eyrie under the cover of the night.

Like most of those who have the unlucky leaven of imagination in their
clay, my instinctive optimism is often on its trial.  While I marched
up and down in the darkness, trying vainly to keep warm, waiting for
that tardy dawn in which death lurked for us all, I would have laid
long odds that the doom of the Princess was sealed already and that my
comrades in arms would share it.

A man should strive in some sort to figure as a hero when he comes to
the purple patches in his own history.  But if a profuse fear of the
immediate future in combination with a lively horror of the present are
compatible with that degree, so be it.  Throughout those hours of
inaction I suffered the torments of the damned.

Again and again I strained nervously to catch a footfall, and each time
I did so Fitz's sinister injunction was in my ears.  I recognised its
wisdom, but what a counsel for a respectable law-abiding Englishman!
Conceive the husband of Mrs. Arbuthnot, the father of Miss Lucinda, the
sensitive product of a settled state of society, lying in wait to knock
out the brains of a fellow creature on hardly any pretext at all!

Prudence is not without a tenderness for those who court her; at least
a liberal supply of tobacco was in my pouch.  In a state of sheer
desperation I smoked away the intolerable hours, and even had tobacco
to share with the guides who placidly awaited the dawn in the lee of
the horses.

These were rugged, silent, contained men.  I had not a word of their
language whatever it was, and I think it was a kind of Milesian
_argot_.  But there was an air of torpid responsibility about them.
They were honest peasants, calm, unimaginative, faithful.

The hour of five was told from half a dozen steeples of the capital.
In less than three short hours the fate of us all would be sealed.  My
mind went back to Middleshire and I could have wept for vexation.
Everything was so happy and comfortable there.  If Mrs. Arbuthnot did
not see eye to eye with me in all things, an occasional discreet
diversity of opinion merely added piquancy to double harness.

Yes, life and all that pertained to it was very dear to me.  It is
proper, of course, to maintain a becoming reticence about that
indissoluble core of egoism that lies at the heart of us all.  But
during these unspeakable hours I could not dissemble it.  Why had it
pleased fate to project this ill-starred creature, one altogether
outside the circle of my interests, one alien in birth, in race, in
fortune, into the quiet backwater of my years!  Was there not a
wantonness in shattering such a comfortable hedonism in this cruel,
meaningless, irresponsible way?

What man can be a hero to his autobiographer!  By all the rules of the
game I ought to have been bathed in a kind of moral limelight as I
walked my miserable beat throughout that cursed Illyrian night.  It
should be the easiest thing in the world to present a picture of
stoical disdain for Dame Fortune and her fantasies.

But the blunt truth is before me, ignoble as it is.  Life meant too
much.  The least of my thoughts should have been dedicated to that high
and noble mission which had lured me from my happy home in an English
county.  I should have had my mind wholly concentrated on the fate of
the royal lady and on that of those stout fellows who had come so far
and who had endured so much that they might serve her.

Well, I will not deny that in a measure my thoughts were for them.  But
I did not dare to speculate on what had happened to them; their fate
was too big with tragic possibilities.  Yet ever uppermost within me
was a sore vexation.  I did not want in the least to die, and I was
determined not to do so.  Unhappily Fitz had not given me the password
which in the last resort might take me across the bridge; I could not
communicate with the guides; I was a stranger in a strange land.

Six o'clock was told from the steeples of the city, but there was not a
sound from the Castle rock.  Despair gripped me by the heart.  The
Princess was dead and my friends had been unable to make their way out
of the fortress they had had the incredible foolhardiness to enter.
But until daylight came I must wait at my post; yea, if I could
contrive it, longer than that it behoved me to remain.

Already the sleeping city was beginning to stir uneasily.  Distant
sounds proceeded from it; within ten paces of our horses a farmer's
wagon had passed along the road.  Figures began to emerge from the
darkness and to re-enter it.  Doubtless they were workmen going to
their toil.  The icy blasts from the river congealed my blood.
Half-past six told from the steeples; housemaids in pink print dresses
were lighting the fires at Dympsfield House.

I began to scourge my brain for a plan of escape in broad daylight from
this accursed place, in case Fitz did not return.  But even my mind was
numbed, and it was under the dominion of two clear facts: I did not
know a word of the Illyrian tongue, and I knew nothing of the habits
and customs of the country.

The row of heads upon the city gate occupied a chamber to themselves in
the halls of my imagination.  In whatever direction I turned my
thoughts, there was that grisly frieze before my eyes.  Presently I
made the discovery that I had bitten the stem of my pipe clean through.

It was now seven o'clock and I had yielded up all hope of Fitz.  So
tragedy after all was to be the end of these wild oscillations which
had begun with broad farce.  The unhappy "circus rider from Vienna" had
been done to death by the people for whom she had given all.  Not only
had they rejected her sacrifice but they had requited it with brutal
treachery.  And the noble man who had loved her, and those brave
fellows who had dared everything to serve her, regardless of lives they
valued as highly as I did my own, had perished in her cause.

Rage and horror began to rise up within me.  God in heaven, was this
the end of our adventure?  It was a quarter past seven; the whole city
was astir.

The dawn was coming.  There were a few faint streaks of grey already
above the Castle rock.  Numbed and helpless I strained my eyes upwards
to that sinister pile.  Cold in body, faint in spirit, I knew not what
to do, nor which way to turn.  And then, before I could realise what
had come to pass, there was a surge of dark and stealthy figures, there
was a hand on my shoulder and a low voice was in my ears.

"The horses!  The horses!"



CHAPTER XXXIV

THE CREATURES OF PERRAULT

Half paralysed as were the physical senses, there was a magic in the
words.  Involuntarily, scarcely knowing what I did, I helped to unloose
the horses.  I saw others climb into their saddles; with a little
friendly help I got into mine.

In the growing light of the dawn, we started at a gentle pace towards
the old and quaint and many-gabled city.  Yet it was still too dark to
see who precisely was of our company.  We came to the bridge, and
halted while Fitz gave the password at the gate.  Suspicious eyes were
cast upon him, but they let us through.

At the farther gate Fitz gave the password again.  There was a little
delay, in the course of which Fitz spoke in a jovial manner with the
corporal of infantry.  Finally another gold piece changed owners, and
then we were allowed to pass on to the open country.

Without having to fire a shot, we had got clear of the city.  As yet I
knew nothing of what had happened during the hours of my suspense, but
I was able to make out in the dim light that two of another sex had
augmented our company.  One riding by the side of Fitz had a familiar
outline; the other, an unknown lady, was accommodated somewhat
insecurely in front of the saddle of Joseph Jocelyn De Vere.

As we turned towards the mountain road there came the booming of a gun
across the turbulent water of the Maravina.

"They are awake at last," said a gruff voice at my elbow.  The Chief
Constable seemed very weary and very grim.

Hard and straight we rode through the comparatively easy country to the
inn at the head of the pass of Ryhgo.  We had to be content with a
change of horses here; there was not time to allow of anything else
beyond a cup of spiced wine.

In broad daylight the pass of Ryhgo was shorn of many of its terrors.
But as we rode above the lake the path was so narrow and its turns so
sharp that care was still necessary.  Happily the wind was now dead.

Even now I was hardly in a state to realise what had occurred.  The
strain upon my mind was still acute; my faculties seemed to have got
out of control.

"We had wonderful luck."  The voice of the Chief Constable sounded
remote and meaningless.  "It was a devil of a climb up that rock, and
I'll lay odds that we should never have got to the top at all, if Fitz
hadn't remembered a secret stairway that led right into the heart of
the place.  Either the burghers of Blaenau had forgotten all about it
or they didn't know of its existence.  But Fitz remembered it all right
as soon as he happened to see the hole in the rock.  When we got in, it
was as black as the tomb, except for Fitz's lantern.

"It was a poisonous journey up an interminable flight of winding stone
steps.  It took us quite an hour to come to the end.  And then we found
ourselves confronted by a door of solid oak, which was three parts
rotten.  It took us another hour to cut through that, and Fitz's
lantern went out and we had to keep striking matches.  I shall never
forget that hour in the dark until my dying day.  And when we got
through that infernal door at last, where do you suppose we found
ourselves?"

"I cannot say," I said, dreamily, with a vague eye upon the black
waters of the lake below.

"Behind the tapestry of the King's bedroom.  A marvellous piece of
luck!  It is a strange providence that watches over some things.  And
there we waited in the darkness, with our hands on our weapons, while
Fitz made his way to the Princess, and he brought her and her woman to
us, and we got clear away without disturbing a soul."

"A wonderful and an incredible story!"

I began to have a fear that I might pitch from my horse.  But we got
through the fell pass of Ryhgo at last, and by three o'clock that
afternoon were in the presence of food and shelter and security in the
hostelry a mile beyond the frontier.  Thereupon a mute prayer passed up
to heaven from the still shuddering soul of a married man, a father of
a family, and a county member.

The unknown lady whom Jodey had borne so gallantly upon his saddle
through the perilous mountain passes was none other than the Countess
Etta von Zweidelheim, that lover of Schubert, that charming interpreter
of Schumann who had made herself responsible for the statement that our
memorable evening at the Embassy was "petter than Offenbach."

Even when she was lifted cold, hungry and desperately fatigued from the
saddle of her cavalier, she was inclined to laugh; and we were able to
raise among us a sort of hollow echo of her mirth when we observed the
solemnity with which my relation by marriage escorted her to the stove
and chafed her bloodless hands to restore the circulation.

The somewhat formal, perhaps slightly embarrassed nature of our
laughter did not fail, even in these circumstances, of its customary
appeal to her Royal Highness.  Her own, however, unloosed a thousand
memories which I shall carry to the grave, and perhaps beyond.

"Aha, _les Anglais_!"  There was a maternal indulgence in the gaunt
eyes.  "_Très bons enfants!_"  Her voice was low, canorous, quaintly
caressing.  "_Très bons enfants!_"

Suddenly she turned and gave both her hands to me.  Lightly my lips
touched the frozen fingers.  For an instant my eyes were upon the
strange pallor of her face; and then they met in a kind of challenge
the sunken brilliancy which gave it life.

"The creatures of Perrault, ma'am," I said, rather hysterically.



THE END



LONDON: HODDER AND STOUGHTON, 1912.





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