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Title: The Laughing Girl
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: "I don’t like men, I never did." (Page 100)]



                                  *The
                             Laughing Girl*


                         By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS



                               AUTHOR OF
                          "The Restless Sex,"
                            "The Dark Star,"
                      "The Business of Life," Etc.



                           With Frontispiece
                             By HENRY HUTT



                           A. L. BURT COMPANY
                          Publishers New York

          Published by arrangement with D. APPLETON & COMPANY



                          Copyright, 1918, by
                           ROBERT W. CHAMBERS



                Printed in the United States of America



                                   TO
                                 MY SON
                                  BOB
                        AT PLATTSBURGH BARRACKS



                               *FOREWORD*


    I

    Here’s a pretty tale to tell
    All about the beastly boche—
    How the Bolsheviki fell
    Out of grace and in the wash!
    —How all valiant lovers love,
    How all villains go to hell,
    Started thither by a shove
    From the youth who loved so well,
    Virtue mirrored in the glass
    Held by his beloved lass.


    II

    _He who grins in clown’s disguise_
    _Often hides an aching heart—_
    _Sadness, sometimes worldly-wise,_
    _Dresses for a motley part—_
    _Cap, and bells to cheat the ears,_
    _Chalk and paint to hide the tears_
    _Lest the world, divining pain,_
    _Turn to gape and stare again._


    III

    You who read but may not run
    Where the bugles summon youth,
    You who when the day is done
    Ponder God’s eternal Truth
    Ere you fold your hands to rest,
    Sheltered from the fierce huns’ ruth,
    Here within the guarded West
    Safe from swinish tusk and tooth
    Laugh in God’s name, if you can!—
    Serving so the Son of Man.


    IV

    _Gorse is growing, poppies bloom_
    _Where our bravest greeted Christ._
    _Is His dwelling, then, the tomb?_
    _Has the sacrifice sufficed?_
    _What is all we have then worth_
    _In Thy sight, Lord, in Thy sight?_
    _Take our offered heart-sick mirth—_
    _Let our laughter fight Thy fight._

    R. W. C.



                          *TABLE OF CONTENTS*


CHAPTER

      I. An Inheritance
     II. Al Fresco
    III. In the Cellar
     IV. Modus Vivendi
      V. An Odd Song
     VI. Master and Maid
    VII. Conservation and Conversation
   VIII. The Knees of the Gods
     IX. Rex, Regis
      X. Clelia
     XI. A Pyjama Party
    XII. Royalty
   XIII. In the Rain
    XIV. The Mysterious Mr. Smith
     XV. A Traveling Circus
    XVI. The Countess
   XVII. More Mystery
  XVIII. The Gangsters
    XIX. Confidences
     XX. A Local Storm
    XXI. Sus Scrofa
   XXII. Particeps Criminis
  XXIII. Thusis
   XXIV. Raoul
    XXV. The Duchess of Naxos



                          *THE LAUGHING GIRL*



                                  *I*

                            *AN INHERITANCE*


There was a red-headed slattern sweeping the veranda—nobody else visible
about the house.  All the shutters of the stone and timber chalet were
closed; cow-barn, stable, springhouse and bottling house appeared to be
deserted. Weeds smothered the garden where a fountain played above a
brimming basin of gray stone; cat-grass grew rank on the oval lawn
around the white-washed flag-pole from which no banner flapped.  An
intense and heated silence possessed the place.  Tall mountains circled
it, cloud-high, enormous, gathered around the little valley as though
met in solemn council there under the vast pavilion of sky.

From the zenith of the azure-tinted tent hung that Olympian lantern
called the sun, flooding every crested snow-peak with a nimbus of pallid
fire.

In these terms of belles-lettres I called Smith’s attention to the
majesty of the scene.

"Very impressive," remarked Smith, lighting a cigarette and getting out
of the Flivver;—"I trust that our luncheon may impress us as favorably."
And he looked across the weedy drive at the red-headed slattern who was
now grooming the veranda with a slopping mop.

"Her ankles might be far less ornamental," he observed.  I did not look.
Ankles had long ceased to mean anything to me.

After another moment’s hesitation I handed Smith his suit-case, picked
up my own, and descended from the Flivver.  The Swiss officer at the
wheel, Captain Schey, and the Swiss officer of Gendarmerie beside him,
Major Schoot, remained heavily uninterested in the proceedings.  To
think of nothing is bovine; to think of nothing at all, and do that
thinking in German, is porcine.  I inspected their stolid features: no
glimmer of human intelligence illuminated them. Their complexions
reminded me of that moist pink hue which characterizes a freshly cut
boiled ham.

Smith leisurely examined the buildings and their surroundings, including
the red-headed girl, and I saw him shrug his shoulders.  He was right;
it was a silly situation and a ridiculous property for a New Yorker to
inherit.  And the longer I surveyed my new property the more worried I
became.

I said in English to Major Schoot, one of the ample, pig-pink gentlemen
in eye-glasses and the uniform of the Swiss Gendarmerie: "So this is
Schwindlewald, is it?"

He blinked his pale little eyes without interest at the low chalet and
out-buildings; then his vague, weak gaze flickered up at the terrific
mountains around us.

"Yes," he replied, "this is now your property, Mr. O’Ryan."

"Well, I don’t want it," I said irritably.  "I’ve told you that several
times."

"Quite right," remarked Smith; "what is Mr. O’Ryan going to do with a
Swiss hotel, a cow-barn, a bottling factory, one red-headed girl, and
several large mountains?  I ask you that, Major?"

I was growing madder and madder; and Smith’s flippancy offended me.

"I’m an interior decorator," I said to Major Schoot.  "I’ve told you
that a dozen times, too.  I don’t wish to conduct a hotel in Switzerland
or Greenland or Coney Island or any other land!  I do not desire either
to possess kine or to deprive them of their milk.  Moreover, I do not
wish to bottle spring water.  Why then am I not permitted to sell this
bunch of Swiss scenery and go home?  What about my perfectly harmless
business?"

Major Schoot rolled his solemn fish-blue eyes: "The laws of the canton
and of the Federal Government," he began in his weak tenor voice,
"require that any alien inheriting property in the Swiss Republic, shall
reside upon that property and administer it for the period of not less
than one year before offering the said property for sale or rent——"

He already had told me that a dozen times; and a dozen times I had
resisted, insisting that there must be some way to circumvent such a
ridiculous Swiss law.  Of what use are laws unless one can circumvent
them, as we do?

I now gazed at him with increasing animosity.  In his uniform of Major
of Swiss Gendarmes he appeared the personification of everything
officially and Teutonically obtuse.

"Do you realize," I said, "that my treatment by the Swiss Confederation
and by the Federal police has been most extraordinary?  A year ago when
my uncle’s will was probated, and that German attorney in Berne notified
me in New York that I had inherited this meaningless mess of house and
landscape, he also wrote that upon coming here and complying with the
Swiss law, I could immediately dispose of the property if I so desired?
Why the devil did he write that?"

"That was a year ago," nodded Major Schoot. Captain Schey regarded me
owlishly.  "A new law," he remarked, "has been since enacted."

"I have suspected," said I fiercely, "that this brand new law enacted in
such a hellofa hurry was enacted expressly to cover this case of mine.
Why?  Why does your government occupy itself with me and my absurd
property up here in these picture-book Alps?  What difference does it
make to Switzerland whether I sell it or try to run it?  And another
thing!—" I continued, madder than ever at the memory of recent
wrongs—"Why do your police keep visiting me, inspecting me and my
papers, trailing me around?  Why do large, moon-faced gentlemen seat
themselves beside me in restaurants and cafés and turn furtive eyes upon
me?  Why do they open newspapers and punch holes in them to scrutinize
me?  Why do they try to listen to my conversation addressed to other
people?  Why do strange ladies lurk at my elbow when hotel clerks hand
me my mail?  Dammit, why?"

Major Schoot and Captain Schey regarded me in
tweedle-dum-and-tweedle-dee-like silence: then the Major said: "Under
extraordinary conditions extraordinary precautions are necessary."  And
the Captain added: "These are war times and Switzerland must observe an
impartial neutrality."

"You mean a German neutrality," I thought to myself, already
unpleasantly aware that all the banks and all the business of
Switzerland are owned by Teutons and that ninety per cent of the Swiss
are German-Swiss, and speak German habitually.

And still at the same time I realized that, unless brutally menaced and
secretly coerced by the boche the Swiss were first of all passionately
and patriotically Swiss, even if they might be German after that fact.
They wished to be let alone and to remain a free people.  And the Hun
was blackmailing them.

Smith had now roamed away through the uncut grass, smoking a cigarette
and probably cursing me out—a hungry, disconsolate figure against the
background of deserted buildings.

I turned to Major Schoot and Captain Schey:

"Very well, gentlemen; if there’s no immediate way of selling this
property I’ll live here until your law permits me to sell it.  But in
the meanwhile it’s mine. I own it.  I insist on my right of privacy.  I
shall live here in indignant solitude.  And if any stranger ever sets a
profane foot upon this property I shall call in the Swiss police and
institute legal proceedings which——"

"Pardon," interrupted Major Schoot mildly, "but the law of Switzerland
provides for Government regulation of all inns, rest-houses, chalets,
and hotels. All such public resorts must remain open and receive
guests."

"I won’t open my chalet!" I said.  "I’d rather fortify it and die
fighting!  I hereby formally refuse to open it to the public!"

"It is open," remarked Captain Schey, "theoretically."

"Theoretically," added Major Schoot, "it never has been closed.  The law
says it must not be closed. Therefore it has not been closed.  Therefore
it is open.  Therefore you are expected to entertain guests at a
reasonable rate——"

"What if I don’t?" I demanded.

"Unhappily, in such a case, the Federal Government regretfully
confiscates the property involved and administers it according to law."

"But I wish to reside here privately until such time as I am permitted
to sell the place!  Can’t I do that?  Am I not even permitted privacy in
this third-rate musical comedy country?"

"Monsieur, the Chalet of Schwindlewald has always been a public ’Cure,’
not a private estate.  The tourist public is always at liberty to come
here to drink the waters and enjoy the climate and the view. Monsieur,
your late Uncle, purchased the property on that understanding."

"My late Uncle," said I, "was slightly eccentric. Why in God’s name he
should have purchased a Swiss hotel and bottling works in the Alps he
can perhaps explain to his Maker.  None of his family know. And all I
have ever heard is that somebody interested him in a plan to drench
Europe with bottled spring-water at a franc a quart; and that a further
fortune was to be extracted from this property by trapping a number of
Swiss chamois and introducing the species into the Andes.  Did anybody
ever hear of such nonsense?"

The Swiss officers gaped at me.  "Very remarkable," said Major Schoot
without any inflection in his voice or any expression upon his face.

Smith, weary of prowling about the place, came over and said in a low
voice: "Cut it out, old chap, and start that red-headed girl to cooking.
Aren’t you hungry?"

I was hungry, but I was also irritated and worried.

I stood still considering the situation for a few moments, one eye on my
restless comrade, the other reverting now and then to the totally
emotionless military countenances in front of me.

"Very well," I said.  "My inheritance appears to be valuable, according
to the Swiss appraisal.  I shall, therefore, pay my taxes, observe the
laws of Switzerland, and reside here until I am at liberty to dispose of
the property.  And I’ll entertain guests if I must.  But I don’t think
I’m likely to be annoyed by tourists while this war lasts.  Do you?"

"Tourists tour," observed Major Schoot solemnly.

"It’s a fixed habit," added Captain Schey,—"war or no war.  Tourists
invariably tour or," he added earnestly, "they would not be tourists."

"Also," remarked Schoot, "the wealthy amateur chamois hunter is always
with us.  Like the goitre, he is to be expected in the Alps."

"Am I obliged to let strangers hunt on my property?" I asked, aghast.

"The revenue to an estate is always considerable," explained Schoot.
"With your inn, your ’Cure,’ your bottling works, and your hunting fees
your income should be enviable, Mr. O’Ryan."

I gazed angrily up at the mountains.  Probably every hunter would break
his neck.  Then a softer mood invaded my wrath, and I thought of my late
uncle and of his crazy scheme to stock the Andes with chamois—a project
which, while personally pursuing it, and an infant chamois, presently
put an end to his dashing career upon earth.  He was some uncle, General
Juan O’Ryan, but too credulous, and too much of a sport.

"Which mountain did he fall off?" I inquired in a subdued voice, gazing
up at the ring of terrific peaks above us.

"That one—the _Bec de l’Empereur_," said Captain Schey, in the funereal
voice which decency requires when chronicling necrology.

I looked seriously at the peak known as "The Emperor’s Nose."  No wonder
my uncle broke his neck.

"Which Emperor?" I inquired absently.

"The Kaiser."

"You don’t mean William of Hohenzollern!"

"The All-Highest of Germany," he replied in a respectful voice.  "But
the name is in French.  That is good politics.  We offend nobody."

"Oh.  Well, _why_ all the same?"

"Why what?"

"Why celebrate the All-Highest’s Imperial nose?"

"Why not?" retorted the Swiss mildly; "he suggested it."

"The Kaiser suggested that the mountain be named after his own nose?"

"He did.  Moreover it was from that peak that the All-Highest declared
he could smell the Rhine. Tears were in his eyes when he said it.  Such
sentiment ought to be respected."

"May I be permitted to advise the All-Highest to return there and
continue his sentimental sniffing?"

"For what purpose, Monsieur?"

"Because," I suggested pleasantly, "if he sniffs very earnestly he may
scent something still farther away than the Rhine."

"The Seine?" nodded Captain Schey with a pasty, neutral smile.

"I meant the United States," said I carelessly. "If William sniffs hard
enough he may smell the highly seasoned stew that they say is brewing
over there.  It reeks of pep, I hear."

The two neutral officers exchanged very grave glances.  Except for my
papers, which were most perfectly in order and revealed me as a Chilean
of Irish descent, nothing could have convinced them or, indeed, anybody
else that I was not a Yankee. Because, although my great grandfather was
that celebrated Chilean Admiral O’Ryan and I had been born in Santiago
and had lived there during early boyhood, I looked like a typical
American and had resided in New York for twenty years.  And there also I
practiced my innocent profession.  There were worse interior decorators
than I in New York and I was, perhaps, no worse than any of them—if you
get what I am trying not to say.

"Gentlemen," I continued politely, "I haven’t as yet any lavish
hospitality to offer you unless that red-headed girl yonder has
something to cook and knows how to cook it.  But such as I have I offer
to you in honor of the Swiss army and out of respect to the Swiss
Confederation.  Gentlemen, pray descend and banquet with me.  Join our
revels.  I ask it."

They said they were much impressed by my impulsive courtesy but were
obliged to go back to barracks in their flivver.

"Before you go, then," said I, "you are invited to witness the ceremony
of my taking over this impossible domain."  And I took a small Chilean
flag from the breast pocket of my coat, attached it to the halyards of
the white-washed flag pole, and ran it up, whistling the Chilean
national anthem.

Then I saluted the flag with my hat off.  My bit of bunting looked very
gay up there aloft against the intense vault of blue.

Smith, although now made mean by hunger, was decent enough to notice and
salute my flag.  The flag of Chili is a pretty one; it carries a single
white star on a blue field, and a white and a red stripe.

One has only to add a galaxy of stars and a lot more stripes to have the
flag I had lived under so many years.

And now that this flag was flying over millions of embattled
Americans—well, it looked very beautiful to me.  And was looking more
beautiful every time I inspected it.  But the Chilean O’Ryans had no
business with the Star Spangled Banner as long as Chili remained
neutral.  I said this, at times to Smith, to which he invariably
remarked: "Flap-doodle! No Irishman can keep out of this shindy long.
Watch your step, O’Ryan."


Now, as I walked toward Smith, carrying my suitcase, he observed my
advent with hopeful hunger-stricken eyes.

"If yonder maid with yonder mop can cook, and has the makings of a
civilized meal in this joint of yours, for heaven’s sake tell her to get
on the job," he said.  "What do you usually call her—if not Katie?"

"How do I know?  I’ve never before laid eyes on her."

"You don’t know the name of your own cook?"

"How should I?  Did you think she was part of the estate?  That boche
attorney, Schmitz, at Berne, promised to send up somebody to look after
the place until I made up my mind what I was going to do.  That’s the
lady, I suppose.  And Smith—did you ever see such very red hair on any
human woman?"

I may have spoken louder than I meant to; evidently my voice carried,
for the girl looked over her shabby shoulder and greeted us with a
clear, fresh, unfeigned, untroubled peal of laughter.  I felt myself
growing red.  However, I approached her.  She wore a very dirty
dress—but her face and hands were dirtier.

"Did Schmitz engage you and are you to look out for us?" I inquired in
German.

"If you please," she replied in French, leaning on her mop and surveying
us out of two large gray eyes set symmetrically under the burnished
tangle of her very remarkable hair.

"My child," I said in French, "why are you so dirty?  Have you by chance
been exploring the chimney?"

"I have been cleaning fireplaces and pots and pans, Monsieur.  But I
will make my toilet and put on a fresh apron for luncheon."

"That’s a good girl," I said kindly.  "And hasten, please; my friend,
Mr. Smith, is hungry; and he is not very amiable at such times."

We went into the empty house; she showed us our rooms.

"Luncheon will be served in half an hour, Messieurs," she said in her
cheerful and surprisingly agreeable voice, through which a hidden vein
of laughter seemed to run.

After she had gone Smith came through the connecting door into my room,
drying his sunburned countenance on a towel.

"I didn’t suppose she was so young," he said. "She’s very young, isn’t
she?"

"Do you mean she’s too young to cook decently?"

"No.  I mean—I mean that she just seems rather young.  I merely noticed
it."

"Oh," said I without interest.  But he lingered about, buttoning his
collar.

"You know," he remarked, "she wouldn’t be so bad looking if you’d take
her and scrub her."

"I’ve no intention of doing it," I retorted.

"Of course," he explained, peevishly, "I didn’t mean that you,
personally, should perform ablutions upon her.  I merely meant——"

"Sure," said I frivolously; "take this cake of soap and chase her into
the fountain out there."

"All the same," he added, "if she’d wash her face and fix her hair and
stand up straight she’d have—er—elements."

"Elements of what?" I asked, continuing to unpack my suitcase and
arrange the contents upon my dresser.  Comb and brushes I laid on the
left; other toilet articles upon the right; in the drawers I placed my
underwear and linen and private papers.

Then I took the photograph which I had purchased in Berne and stood it
up against the mirror over my dresser.  Smith came over and looked at it
with more interest than he had usually displayed.

It was the first photograph of any woman I had ever purchased.  Copies
were sold all over Europe. It seemed to be very popular and cost two
francs fifty unframed.  I had resisted it in every shop window between
London and Paris.  I nearly fell for it in Geneva.  I did fall in Berne.
It was called "The Laughing Girl," and I saw it in a shop window the day
of my arrival in Berne.  And I could no more get it out of my mind than
I could forget an unknown charming face in a crowded street that met my
gaze with a shy, faint smile of provocation.  I went back to that shop
and bought the photograph labeled "The Laughing Girl."  It traveled with
me.  It had become as necessary to me as my razor or toothbrush.

As I placed it on the center of my dresser tilted back against the
looking-glass, for the first time since it had been in my possession an
odd and totally new sense of having seen the original of the picture
somewhere—or having seen somebody who resembled it—came into my mind.

"As a matter of fact," remarked Smith, tying his tie before my mirror,
"that red-haired girl of yours downstairs bears a curious resemblance to
your lady-love’s photograph."

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed, intensely annoyed. Because the same
distasteful idea had also occurred to me.



                                  *II*

                              *AL FRESCO*


Our luncheon was a delicious surprise.  It was served to us on a rustic
table and upon a fresh white cloth, out by the fountain.  We had a
fragrant omelette, a cool light wine, some seductive bread and butter, a
big wooden bowlful of mountain strawberries, a pitcher of cream, and a
bit of dreamy cheese with our coffee.  The old gods feasted no more
luxuriously.

Smith, fed to repletion, gazed sleepily but sentimentally at the
vanishing skirts of my red-headed Hebe who had perpetrated this miracle
in our behalf.

"Didn’t I tell you she’d prove to be pretty under all that soot?" he
said.  "I like that girl.  She’s a peach."

In point of fact her transfiguration had mildly amazed me.  She had
scrubbed herself and twisted up her hair, revealing an unsuspected
whiteness of neck. She wore a spotless cotton dress and a white apron
over it; the slouch of the slattern had disappeared and in its place was
the rather indolent, unhurried, and supple grace of a lazy young thing
who has never been obliged to hustle for a living.

"I wonder what her name is?" mused Smith.  "She deserves a pretty name
like Amaryllis——"

"Don’t try to get gay and call her that," said I, setting fire to a
cigarette.  "Mind your business, anyway."

"But we ought to know what she calls herself. Suppose we wanted her in a
hurry?  Suppose the house caught fire!  Suppose she fell into the
fountain!  Shall I go to the pantry and ask her what her name is?  It
will save you the trouble," he added, rising.

"_I’ll_ attend to all the business details of this establishment," said
I, coldly.  Which discouraged him; and he re-seated himself in silence.

To mitigate the snub, I offered him a cigar which he took without
apparent gratitude.  But Shandon Smith never nursed his wrath; and
presently he affably reverted to the subject:

"O’Ryan," he remarked, leaning back in his chair and expelling
successive smoke rings at the Bec de l’Empereur across the valley, "that
red-haired girl of yours is a mystery to me.  I find no explanation for
her.  I can not reconcile her extreme youth with her miraculous
virtuosity as a cook.  I cannot coordinate the elements of perfect
symmetry which characterize her person with the bench show points of a
useful peasant.  She’s not formed like a ’grade’; she reveals pedigree.
Now I dare say you look upon her as an ordinary every-day, wage-earning
pot-wrestler.  Don’t you?"

"I do."

"You don’t consider her symmetrical?"

"I am," said I, "scarcely likely to notice pulchritude below stairs."

Smith laughed:

"For that matter she dwells upstairs in the garret, I believe.  I saw
her going up.  I’m astonished that you don’t think her pretty because
she looks like that photograph on your dresser."

What he said again annoyed me,—the more so because, since her ablutions,
the girl did somehow or other remind me even more than before of that
lovely, beguiling creature in my photograph.  And why on earth there
should be any resemblance at all between that laughing young aristocrat
in her jewels and silken negligée and my slatternly maid-of-all-work—why
the one should even remotely suggest to us the other—was to me
inexplicable and unpleasant.

"Smith," I said, "you are a sentimental and romantic young man.  You
shyly fall in love several times a day when material is plenty.  You
have the valuable gift of creative imagination.  Why not employ it
commercially to augment your income?"

"You mean by writing best sellers?"

"I do.  You are fitted for the job."

"O’Ryan," he said, "it would be wasted time. Newspapers are to-day the
best sellers.  Reality has knocked romance clean over the ropes.  Look
at this war?  Look at the plain, unvarnished facts which history has
been recording during the last four years. Has Romance ever dared
appropriate such astounding material for any volume of fiction ever
written?"

I admitted that fiction had become a back number in the glare of daily
facts.

"It certainly has," he said.  "Every day that we live—every hour—yes,
every minute that your watch ticks off—events are happening such as the
wildest imagination of a genius could not create.  You can prove it for
yourself, O’Ryan.  Try to read the most exciting work of fiction, or the
cleverest, the most realistic, the most subtle romance ever written. And
when you’ve yawned your bally head off over the mockery of things
actual, just pick up the daily paper."

He was quite right.

"I tell you," he went on, "there’s more romance, more excitement, more
mystery, more tragedy, more comedy, more humanity, more truth in any
single edition of any French, English, Italian, or American daily paper
published in these times than there is in all the fiction ever
produced."

"Very true," I said.  "Romance is dead to-day. Reality reigns alone."

"Then why snub me when I say that your red-headed maid is a real enigma
and an actual mystery? She might be anything in such times as these.
She might be a great lady; she might be a scullion.  Have you noticed
how white and fine and slim her hands are?"

"I notice they’re clean," said I cautiously.

He laughed at me in frank derision, obstinately interested and intent
upon building up a real romance around my maid-of-all-work.  His gayety
and his youth amused me.  I was a year his senior and I felt my age.
The world was hollow; I had learned that much.

"Her whole make-up seems to me suspiciously like camouflage," he said,
"her flat-heeled slippers, for example!  She has a distractingly pretty
ankle, and have you happened to notice her eyes, O’Ryan?"

In point of fact I had noticed them.  They were gray and had black
lashes.  But I was not going to give Smith the satisfaction of admitting
that I had noticed my housemaid’s eyes.

"Her eyes," continued Smith, "are like those wide young eyes in that
pretty photograph of yours.  So is her mouth with its charmingly full
width and the hint of laughter in its upcurled childish corners——"

"Nonsense!——"

"Not at all.  Not at all!  And all you’ve got to do is to put a bunch of
jewels on her fingers and a thin, shimmery silk thing showing her
slender throat and shoulders, and then some; and then you can fix her
hair like the girl’s hair in your photograph, and hand her a guitar, and
drop one of her knees over the other, and hang a slipper to the little
naked foot that swings above its shadow on the floor——"

"I shall do none of those things," said I.  "And I’ll tell you some
more, Smith: I believe it’s your devilish and irresponsible chatter
which has put the unpleasant idea into my head that my red-headed
domestic resembles that photograph upstairs.  I don’t like the idea.
And I’d be much obliged if you wouldn’t mention it again."

"All right," he said cheerfully.

But what he had said about this resemblance left me not only vaguely
uncomfortable, but also troubled by a sort of indefinite curiosity
concerning my cook. I desired to take another look at her immediately.

After a while I threw aside my cigarette: "I’m going into the pantry,"
said I, "to discuss business with my housekeeper.  Here’s the key to the
wine-cellar. There’s more of that Moselle there, I understand."

And I started toward the house, leaving him to twiddle his thumbs and
stare at the Bec de l’Empereur.  Or he could vary this program by
smoking his head off if he chose.  Or investigate the wine-cellar.  But
my cook he could not flirt with as long as I was on the job.

He seemed to be a very nice fellow in his way, but he had put a lot of
nonsense into my head by his random talk.

Yet he was certainly an agreeable young man.  I had first met him in
Berne—that hot-bed of international intrigue, where every other person
is a conspirator and every other a boche.

Now Smith’s papers and passport revealed him as a Norwegian; his reason
for being in Switzerland a purely commercial one.  He had arrived in
Berne, he told me, with a proposition to lay before the Federal
Government.  This was a colossal scheme to reforest parts of Switzerland
with millions and millions of Norway pines and hardwoods—a stupendous
enterprise, but apparently feasible and financially attractive.

So far, however, he had made little headway.  But somewhere in the back
of my head I had a lively suspicion that Shandon Smith was no more a
Norwegian than was I; and that he could tell a very interesting story
about those papers and passports of his if he cared to.  I had lived too
long in New York not to recognize a New Yorker no matter what his papers
showed.

Anyway we seemed to attract each other and during my enforced and
bothersome sojourn in Berne we became companionable to the edge of
friendship.

And when I told him about my ridiculous inheritance and the trouble I
was having in trying to get rid of it, he offered to come up here with
me and keep me company while the Swiss Government was making up its
composite mind about his offer to reforest such cantons as required it.

That is how we came to be here in Schwindlewald together.  I was to stay
until the prescribed time elapsed when I should be allowed by law to
sell the place: he was willing to remain with me until his offer to the
Swiss Government had been either accepted or rejected.

I had begun to like Smith very much.  We were on those terms of easy and
insulting badinage which marks the frontier between acquaintances and
friends.


Now as I entered the house I turned on the threshold and glanced back to
see what Smith was doing. His hat was off; the Alpine breeze was
ruffling his crisp, blond hair.  He sat at ease beside the fountain, a
fresh cigar balanced between his fingers, a cork-screw in the other
hand.  Beside him on the grass stood a row of bottles of light Moselle.
He had investigated the cellar.  And as I watched what appeared to me a
perfectly characteristic type of American from Manhattan Island, his
voice came across the grass to me, lifted in careless song:—

    —"My girl’s a corker,
      She’s a New Yorker,
      She plays the races,
      Knows the sporty places
      Uptown, downtown,
      Always wears a nifty gown."—


"Yes," said I to myself, "you’re a Norwegian—aye don’ t’ank!" which is
good Norwegian for "I don’t think."

And I smiled subtly upon Smith as he drew the first cork from the first
bottle of that liquid sunshine called Château Varenn, and with which one
may spend a long and intimate afternoon without fear of consequences.

As I entered the house his careless song came to me on the summer wind:

    "My girl’s a corker,
    She’s a New Yorker——"


"Such a saga," said I to myself, "could be sung only by that sort of
Viking.  Now why the deuce is that young man in Switzerland?"

But it didn’t matter to me, so I continued along the wide hallway toward
the kitchen in the rear.



                                 *III*

                            *IN THE CELLAR*


She was peeling potatoes in the kitchen when I entered;—she did it as
daintily, as leisurely as though she were a young princess preparing
pomegranates—But this sort of simile wouldn’t do and I promptly pulled
myself together, frowning.

Hearing me she looked up with a rather sweet confused little smile as
though aroused from thoughts intimate but remote.  Doubtless she was
thinking of some peasant suitor somewhere—some strapping, yodling,
ham-fisted, bull-necked mountaineer——

"I have come to confer with you on business," said I, forestalling with
a courteous gesture any intention she might have had to arise out of
deference to my presence.  I admit I observed no such intention. On the
contrary she remained undisturbed, continuing leisurely her culinary
occupation, and regarding me with that engaging little half-smile which
seemed to be a permanent part of her expression—I pulled myself
together.

"My child," said I pleasantly, "what is your name?"

"Thusis," she replied.

"Thusis?  Quite unusual,—hum-hum—quite exotic.  And then—hum-hum!—what
is the remainder of your name, Thusis?"

"There isn’t any more, Monsieur."

"Only Thusis?"

"Only Thusis."

"You’re—hum-hum!—very young, aren’t you, Thusis?"

"Yes, I am."

"You cook very well."

"Thank you."

"Well, Thusis," I said, "I suppose when Mr. Schmitz engaged you to come
up here, he told you what are the conditions and what vexatious problems
confront me."

"Yes, he did tell me."

"Very well; that saves explanations.  It is evident, of course, that if
I am expected to board and feed any riff-raff tourist who comes to
Schwindlewald I must engage more servants."

"Oh, yes, you’ll have to."

"Well, where the deuce am I to find them?  Haven’t you any friends who
would perhaps like to work here?"

"I have a sister," she said.

"Can you get her to come?"

"Yes."

"That’s fine.  She can do the rooms.  Could you get another girl to wait
on table?"

"I have a friend who is a very good cook——"

"You’re good enough!——"

"Oh, no!" she demurred, with her enchanting smile, "but my friend,
Josephine Vannis, is an excellent cook.  Besides I had rather wait on
table—with Monsieur’s permission."

I said regretfully, remembering the omelette, "Very well, Thusis.  Now I
also need a farmer."

"I know a young man.  His name is Raoul Despres."

"Fine!  And I want to buy some cows and goats and chickens——"

"Raoul will cheerfully purchase what stock Monsieur requires."

"Thusis, you are quite wonderful."

"Thank you," she said, lifting her dark-fringed gray eyes, the odd
little half-smile in the curling corners of her lips.  It was
extraordinary how the girl made me think of my photograph upstairs.

"What is your sister’s name?" I inquired—hoping I was not consciously
making conversation as an excuse to linger in my cook’s kitchen.

"Her name is Clelia."

"Clelia?  Thusis?  Very unusual names—hum-hum!—and nothing else—no
family name.  Well—well!"

"Oh, there was a family name of sorts.  It doesn’t matter; we never use
it."  And she laughed.

It was not what she said—not the sudden charm of her fresh young
laughter that surprised me; it was her effortless slipping from French
into English—and English more perfect than one expects from even the
philologetically versatile Swiss.

"Are you?" I asked curiously.

"What, Mr. O’Ryan?"

"Swiss?"

Thusis laughed and considered me out of her dark-fringed eyes.

"We are Venetians—very far back.  In those remote days, I believe, my
family had many servants. That, perhaps, is why my sister and I make
such good ones—if I may venture to say so.  You see we know by
inheritance what a good servant ought to be."

The subtle charm of this young girl began to trouble me; her soft, white
symmetry, the indolent and youthful grace of her, and the disturbing
resemblance between her and my photograph all were making me vaguely
uneasy.

"Thusis," I said, "you understand of course that if I am short of
servants you’ll have to pitch in and help the others."

"Of course," she replied simply.

"What do you know how to do?"

"I understand horses and cattle."

"Can you milk?"

"Yes.  I can also make butter and cheese, pitch hay, cultivate the
garden, preserve vegetables, wash, iron, do plain and fancy sewing——"

I suppose the expression of my face checked her. We both laughed.

"Doubtless," I said, "you also play the piano and sing."

"Yes, I—believe so."

"You speak French, German, English—and what else?"

"Italian," she admitted.

"In other words you have not only an education but several
accomplishments."

"Yes.  But in adversity one must work at whatever offers.  Necessitas
non habet legem," she added demurely.  That was too much for my
curiosity.

"Who are you, Thusis?" I exclaimed.

"Your maid-of-all-work," she said gravely—a reproof that made me redden
in the realization of my own inquisitiveness.  And I resolved never
again to pry into her affairs which were none of my bally business as
long as she made a good servant.

"I’m sorry," said I.  "I’ll respect your privacy hereafter.  So get your
sister and the other girl and the man you say is a good farmer——"

"I told them in Berne that you’d need them.  They ought to arrive this
evening."

"Thusis," I said warmly, "you’re a wonder.  Go ahead and run my
establishment if you are willing. You know how things are done in this
country.  You also know that I don’t care a rap about this place and
that I’m only here marking time until the Swiss Government permits me to
sell out and get out."

"Do you wish to leave the entire responsibility of this place to me, Mr.
O’Ryan?"

"You bet I do!  How about it, Thusis?  Will you run this joint and look
out for any stray tourists and keep the accounts and wait on table?  And
play the piano between times, and sing, and converse in four
languages——"

We both were laughing now.  I asked her to name her monthly compensation
and she mentioned such a modest salary that I was ashamed to offer it.
But she refused more, explaining that the Swiss law regulated such
things.

So that subject being settled and her potatoes pared and set to soak,
she picked up a youthful onion with the careless grace of a queen
selecting a favorite pearl.

"I hope you will like my soup to-night," said this paragon of servants.

I was for a moment conscious of a naïve desire to sit there in the
kitchen and converse with her—perhaps even read aloud to her to relieve
the tedium of her routine.  Then waking up to the fact that I had no
further business in that kitchen, I arose and got myself out.

Smith, lolling in his chair by the fountain with half a dozen empty
Moselle bottles in a row on the grass beside his chair, was finishing
another Norse Saga as I approached:

    —The farmer then to that young man did say:
    "O treat my daughter kindly,
    Don’t you do her any harm,
    And I will leave you in my will
    My house and barn and farm;—
    My hay in mows,
    My pigs and cows,
    My wood-lot on the hill,
    And all the little chick-uns in the ga-arden!"

    The city guy he laffed to scorn
      What that old man did say:
    "Before I bump you on the bean
      Go chase yourself away.
    Beat it! you bum blackmailing yap!
    I never kissed your daughter’s map
    Nor thought of getting gay!
    I’m here on my vacation
    And I ain’t done any harm,
    I do not want your daughter, Bill,
    Nor house and barn and farm,
    Nor hay in mows
    Nor pigs and cows
    Nor wood-lot on the hill.
    Nor all them little chick-uns in the ga-arden!"

    Them crool words no sooner said
    Than Jessie fetched a sob:
    "I’ll shoot you up unless we’re wed!"
    Sez she—"You prune-fed slob!
    Get busy with the parson——"


Here Smith caught sight of me and ceased his saga.

"Yes," I said, "you’re a Norwegian all right. Three cheers for King
Haakon!"

"You speak in parables, O’Ryan."

"You behave in parabolics.  I don’t care.  I like you.  I shall call you
Shan."

"Your companionship also is very agreeable to me, Michael.  Sit down and
have one on yourself."

We exchanged bows and I seated myself.

"By the way," I remarked carelessly, "her name is Thusis."  And I filled
my glass and took a squint at its color.  Not that I knew anything about
Moselle.

"What else is her name?" he inquired.

"She declines to answer further.  Thusis seems to be her limit."

"I told you she was a mystery!" he exclaimed with lively interest.
"What else did she say to you, Michael?"

"Her sister is coming to-night.  Also a lady-friend named Josephine
Vannis; and a farmer of sorts called Raoul Despres."

"Take it from me," said Smith, "that if truth is stranger than fiction
in these days, this red-haired girl called Thusis is no more Swiss than
you are!"

"No more of a peasant than you are a Norwegian," I nodded.

"And whoinhell," he inquired, keeping his countenance, "ever heard of a
South American named O’Ryan?"

"It’s a matter of Chilean history, old top."

"Oh, yes, I know.  But the essence of the affair is that an Irish family
named O’Ryan have, for several generations, merely been visiting in
Chili.  Now one of ’em’s in Switzerland as close to the big shindy as he
can get without getting into it.  And, the question is this: how long
before he pulls a brick and starts in?"

"Chili is neutral——"

"Ireland isn’t.  Sinn Fein or Fusiliers—which, Michael?"

"Don’t talk nonsense," said I, virtuously.  "I’m no fighter.  There’s no
violence in me.  If I saw a fight I’d walk the other way.  There’s none
of that kind of Irish blood in me."

"No.  And all your family in the army or navy. And you practically a
Yankee——"

I stared at him and whistled the Chilean anthem.

"That’s my reply," said I.  "Yours is:

    "My girl’s a corker,
    She’s a New Yorker——"


"What piffle you talk, you poor prune," said this typical Norwegian.

So we filled our glasses to our respective countries, and another round
to that jolly flag which bears more stars and stripes than the Chilean
ensign.

It being my turn to investigate the cellar I went. Down there in one of
the alleys between bins and casks I saw Thusis moving with a lighted
candle—a startling and charming apparition.

What she might be doing down there I could not guess, and she was so
disturbingly pretty that I didn’t think it best to go over and inquire.
Maybe she was counting the bottles of Moselle to keep reproachful tabs
on us; maybe she was after vinegar. No; I realized then for the first
time that the girl was far too pretty for any man to encounter her by
candle-light with impunity.

She did not see me—wouldn’t have noticed me at all in the dim light had
not my bunch of bottles clinked—both hands being loaded, and a couple of
extra ones under each arm.

The sound startled her apparently; she turned quite white in the
candle-light and stood rigid, listening, one hand pressing her breast.

"It is I, Thusis," I said.  "Did I frighten you?"

She denied it rather faintly.  She was distractingly pretty in her
breathless attitude of a scared child.

I ought to have said something cheerful and matter of fact, and gone out
of the cellar with my cargo of bottles.  Instead I went over to her and
looked at her—a silly, dangerous proceeding. "Thusis," I said, "I would
not frighten you for one million dollars!"

Realizing suddenly the magnitude of the sum I mentioned I pulled myself
together, conscious that I could easily make an ass of myself.

So, resolutely expelling from voice and manner any trace of sex
consciousness, I said in the spirit of our best American novelists:
"Permit me, Thusis, to recommend a small glass of this very excellent
Moselle.  Sipped judiciously and in moderation the tonic qualities are
considered valuable as a nourishment to the tissues and nerves."

"Thank you," she said, slightly bewildered.

So I knocked off the neck of the bottle in medieval fashion—which wasted
its contents because she was afraid of swallowing glass, and said so
decidedly.  I then noticed a row of corkscrews hanging on a beam, and
she, at the same moment, discovered a tasting porringer of antique
silver under one of the casks.

She picked it up naïvely and polished it with a corner of her apron.
Then she looked inquiringly at me.

So I drew the cork and filled her porringer.

"It is delicious Moselle," she said.  "Is it Château Varenn?"

"It is.  How did you guess?"

"I once tasted some."

"Another of your accomplishments," said I, laughing. She laughed too,
but blushed a little at her expert knowledge of Moselle.

"I have rather a keen sense of taste and a good memory," she explained
lightly; and she sipped her Moselle looking at me over the rim of the
silver porringer—a perilous proceeding for me.

"Thusis," said I.

"Yes, Monsieur O’Ryan."

"Did you ever, by chance, see that photograph they sell all over Europe
called ’The Laughing Girl’?"

Her dark-fringed eyes regarded me steadily over the cup’s silver edge:

"Yes," she said, "I’ve seen it."

"Do you think that b-b-beautiful c-creature resembles you?"

"Do you?" she inquired coolly, and lowered the cup.  There ensued a
little silence during which I became vaguely aware of my danger.  I kept
repeating to myself: "Try to recollect that your grandfather was an
Admiral."

After a moment she smiled: "Thank you for the tonic, Monsieur.  I feel
better; but I am afraid it was a presumption for me to drink in your
presence.... And no cup to offer you."

"I’ll use yours," said I, taking it.  She was still smiling.  I began to
feel that I ought to pull myself together and invoke the Admiral more
earnestly. But when I remembered him he bored me.  And yet, could it be
possible that an O’Ryan was drinking Moselle in his own cellar with his
cook?  In no extravagance of nightmare had I ever evoked such a
cataclysmic scene.  I have dreamed awful dreams in the course of my
life:—such grotesqueries as, for example, finding myself on Fifth Avenue
clothed only in a too brief undershirt.  I have dreamed that I was
wedded to a large Ethiopian who persisted in embracing me passionately
in public.  Other horrors I have dreamed after dining incautiously, but
never, never, had I dreamed of reveling in cellars with my own cook!

A slight perspiration bedewed my brow;—I said in a strained and tenor
voice not my own, but over-modulated and quite sexless: "Thusis, I am
gratified that the slight medicinal tonic of which you have partaken in
moderation has restored you to your normal condition of mental and
bodily vigor.  I trust that the natural alarm you experienced at
encountering me in the dark, has now sufficiently subsided to enable you
to return to your culinary duties. Allow me to suggest an omelette for
luncheon.... I thank you."

The girl’s bewildered eyes rested on me so sweetly, so inquiringly, that
I knew I must pull myself together at once or never.  But when I evoked
the image of that damned Admiral he was grinning.

"Thusis," I said hoarsely, "you do look like that girl in my photograph.
I—I can’t help it—b-but you do!"

At that her perplexed expression altered swiftly and that bewitching
smile flashed in her gray eyes.

"Good heavens," I exclaimed, "you look more like her than ever when you
smile!  Don’t you know you do?"

Instantly the hidden laughter lurking in the curled corners of her mouth
rippled prettily into music.

"Oh, Lord," I said, "you _are_ ’The Laughing Girl’ or her twin sister!"

"And you," she laughed, "are so much funnier than you realize,—so
delightfully young to be so in earnest!  You consider the world a very,
very serious place of residence,—don’t you, Mr. O’Ryan?  And life a most
sober affair.  And I am afraid that you also consider yourself quite the
most ponderous proposition upon this tottering old planet.  Don’t you?"

Horrified at her levity I tried to grasp the amazing fact that my cook
was poking fun at me.  I could not compass the idea.  All I seemed to
realize was that I stood in my cellar confronting a slender laughing
stranger by candle-light—an amazingly pretty girl who threatened most
utterly to bewitch me.

"I’m sorry!—are you offended?" she asked, still laughing, and her
dark-fringed eyes very brilliant with mischief.—"Are you very angry at
me, Mr. O’Ryan?"

"Why do you think so?" I asked, wincing at her mirth.

"Because I suppose I know what you are thinking."

"What am I thinking?"

"You’re very, very angry with me and with yourself. You are saying to
yourself in pained amazement that you have no business in a cellar
exchanging persiflage with a presumptuous servant!  You are chagrined,
mortified!  You are astonished at yourself—astounded that the solemn,
dignified, distinguished Cabalero Don Michael O’Ryan y Santiago de Chile
y Manhattanos——"

I turned red with surprise and wrath—and then slightly dizzy with the
delicious effrontery of her beauty which daring had suddenly made
dazzling in the candle-light.

For a minute my brain resembled a pin-wheel; then I pulled myself
together, but not with the aid of the Admiral.  No!  The Admiral made me
sick. In my sudden rush of exhilaration I derided him.

"Thusis," said I, when I recovered power of speech, "there’s just one
thing to do with you, and that is to kiss you for your impudence."

"Your own _cook_!  Oh, shocking!  Oh, Señor!  Oh Don Michael——"

—"And I’m going to do it!——" said I solemnly.

"Remember the seriousness of life!" she warned me, retreating a step or
two as I set all my bottles upon the ground.  "Remember the life-long
degradation entailed by such an undignified proceeding, Don Michael."

That was too much.  She saw trouble coming, turned to escape what she
had unloosed: and I caught her near the cellar stairs.

Then, under the lifted candle, I saw her face pale a little, change,
then a flush stain the white skin to her throat.

"Don’t do that," she said, still smiling, but in a quiet and very
different voice.  "I invited it by my silly attitude;—I know it
perfectly well.  But you won’t do it—will you, Mr. O’Ryan?"

"You deserve it, Thusis."

"I know I do.  But don’t."

My arms slipped from her.  I released her.  She was still smiling
faintly.

"Thank you," she said.  "I’m sorry I offered you provocation.  I don’t
know why you seem to tempt me to—to laugh at you a little—not unkindly.
But you _are_ so very young to be so solemn——"

"I tell you I _will_ kiss you if you repeat that remark again!"

It was on the tip of her tongue to retort that I dared not: I saw
defiance in her brilliant eyes. Something in mine, perhaps, made her
prudent; for she suddenly slipped past me and fled up the stairs.

Half way up she turned and looked back.  There was an odd silence for a
full minute.  Then she lifted the candle in mocking salute:

"I defy you," she said, "to tell Mr. Smith what you’ve been about down
here in the cellar with your cook!"  I said nothing.  She mounted the
stairs, her head turned toward me, watching me.  And, on the top step:

"Try always to remember," she called back softly, "that the world is a
very, very solemn and serious planet for a ponderous young man to live
in!"


I don’t remember how long after that it was before I picked up my
bottles and went out to the fountain where Smith sat awaiting me.  I
don’t know what he saw in my face to arouse his suspicion.

"You’ve been in the kitchen again!" he exclaimed.

I placed the bottles on the grass without noticing the accusation.

"What was it this time—business as usual?" he inquired sarcastically.

"I have not been in the kitchen," said I, "although I did transact a
little business with my cook."  I did not add:—"business of making an
outrageous ass of myself."

As I drew the first cork I was conscious of Smith’s silent and offensive
scrutiny.  And very gradually my ears revealed my burning guilt under
his delighted gaze.

Calm, but exasperated, I lifted my brimming glass and bowed politely to
Smith.

"Go to the devil," said I.

"A rendezvous," said he.

And we drank that friendly toast together.



                                  *IV*

                            *MODUS VIVENDI*


Smith’s luggage and mine, and my other effects—trunks, boxes, and
crates—arrived very early the next morning: and several large, sweating
Swiss staggered up the stairs with the impedimenta until both they and
their job were finished.

When I left New York, not knowing how long this business of my
ridiculous inheritance might detain me in Switzerland, I packed several
trunks with clothing and several crates with those familiar and
useful—or useless—objets-d’art which for many years had formed a
harmless and agreeable background for my more or less blameless domestic
career in New York.

Rugs, curtains, furniture, sofa-pillows, books, a clock mantel set,
framed and unframed pictures and photographs including the O’Ryan
coat-of-arms—all this was the sort of bachelor stuff that Smith and I
disinterred from the depths of trunks, crates, and boxes, and lugged
about from corner to corner trying effects and combinations.

Before we had concluded our task I think he had no opinion at all of me
as an interior decorator. Which revealed considerable insight on his
part. And although I explained to him that interior decorators became so
fed up on gorgeous and sumptuous effects that they themselves preferred
to live amid simpler surroundings reminiscent of the Five and Ten Cent
Store, he remained unconvinced.

"It’s like a lady-clerk in a candy shop," I insisted. "She never eats
the stuff she sells.  It’s the same with me.  I am surfeited with
magnificence.  I crave the humble what-not.  I long for the Victorian.
I need it."

He gazed in horror at a framed picture of my grandfather the Admiral.

"Oh God," he said, "what are we to do with this old bird?"

Intensely annoyed I took it from him and hung it over my mantel.  It
wasn’t a Van Dyck, I admit, but it demanded no mental effort on my part.
One can live in peace with such pictures.

"Some day, Smith," said I, "you’ll understand that the constant
contemplation of true Art is exhausting. A man can’t sleep in a room
full of Rubens. When I put on my dressing gown and slippers and light a
cigarette what I want is relaxation, not Raphael.  And these things that
I own permit me to relax.  Why," I added earnestly, "they might as well
not be there at all so little do they distract my attention.  That’s the
part of art suitable for domestic purposes,—something that you never
look at, or, if you do, you don’t want to look at it again."

He said: "I couldn’t sleep here.  I couldn’t get away from that old bird
over the mantel.  However, it’s your room."

"It is."

"Doubtless you like it."

"Doubtless."

"On me," he remarked, "it has the effect of a Jazz band."  And he went
into his own apartment.  For half an hour or so I fussed and pottered
about, nailing up bunches of photographs fanwise on the walls, arranging
knickknacks, placing brackets for curtain-poles and shoving the poles
through the brass rings supporting the curtains.  They had once belonged
to the Admiral.  They were green and blue with yellow birds on them.

After I finished draping them, I discovered that I had hung one pair
upside down.  But the effect was not so bad.  In domestic art one
doesn’t want everything exactly balanced.  Reiteration is exasperating;
repetition aggravating to the nerves.  A chef-d’oeuvre is a priceless
anæsthetic: duplicated it loses one hundred per cent of its soporific
value.  I was glad I had hung one pair of curtains upside down.  I went
into Smith’s room.  He was shaving and I had him at my mercy.

"The principal element of art," said I to Smith, "is beauty—or rather,
perhaps, the principal element of beauty is art—I am not very clear at
this moment which it is.  But I do know that beauty is never noisy.
Calm and serenity reign where there is no chattering repetition of
effects.  Therefore, as an interior decorator, I always take liberties
with the stereotyped rules of decoration.  I jumble periods.  I
introduce bold innovations.  For example: Old blue plates, tea-pots and
sugar-bowls I do not relegate to the pantry or the china-closet where
they belong.  No.  I place them upon a Louis XV commode or a Victorian
cabinet, or on a mantel.  A clock calms the irritating monotony of a
side-board. A book-case in the bath-room produces a surprisingly calm
effect amid towels and tooth-mugs.  A piano in the dining room gives
tone ... if played. And so, in my profession, Smith, I am always
searching for the calm harmony of the inharmonious, the unity of the
unconventional, and the silence of the inexplicable.  And, if I may
venture to say so, I usually attain it.  This is not a business card."

And having sufficiently punished Smith, I returned to my own room.

Lovingly, and with that unerring knowledge born of instinct, I worked
away quite happily all the morning decorating my room, and keeping one
eye on Smith to see that he didn’t drift toward the kitchen. He betrayed
a tendency that way once or twice but desisted.  I think he was afraid I
might decorate his room in his absence.  He need not have worried: I
wanted all my things in my own room.

While I was busy hanging some red and pink curtains in my dressing-room
and tacking a yellowish carpet to the floor—a definitely advanced scheme
of color originating with me—I heard voices in the rear court and, going
to the window, beheld my consignment of brand new servants arriving from
Berne by diligence.

Smith, who had come up beside me to peer out through the blinds, uttered
an exclamation.

"That girl in Swiss peasant dress!—she looks like the twin sister to
your cook!"

"She is her sister.  But she isn’t nearly as pretty."

"She’s infinitely prettier!" he asserted excitedly. "She’s a real
beauty!—for a peasant."

I corrected him in my most forbearing manner: "What you are trying to
convey to me," said I, kindly, "is that the girl is flamboyantly
picturesque, but scarcely to be compared to Thusis for unusual or
genuine beauty.  That’s what you really mean, Smith; but you lack
vocabulary."

"Whatever I lack," he retorted warmly, "I mean exactly what I said!  For
a peasant, that girl is beautiful to an emphatic degree,—far more so
than her sister Thusis.  Be kind enough to get that."

I smiled patiently and pointed out to him that the hair of the newcomer
was merely light golden, not that magnificent Venetian gold-red of
Thusis’ hair; and that her eyes were that rather commonplace violet hue
so much admired by cheap novelists.  I don’t know why he should have
become so animated about what I was striving to explain to him: he said
with unnecessary heat: "That’s what I’m trying to drive into your Irish
head!  That girl is beautiful, and her red-headed sister is merely
good-looking.  Is my vocabulary plain?"

I began to lose my temper: "Smith," said I, "you fell for Thusis before
I noticed her at all——"

"I merely called your attention to the resemblance between her and your
photograph of ’The Laughing Girl.’ And I did _not_ ’fall for her’—as you
put it with truly American elegance——"

"Confound it!" I exclaimed, "what do you mean by ’American elegance’?
Don’t hand me that, Smith—you and your ’My girl’s a corker!’  Of the two
of us you’d be picked for a Yankee before I’d be. And I have my own
ideas on that subject, too—you and your Sagas about—

    "’She plays the races’——"


"In my travels," he said, looking me straight in the eye, "it has
happened that I have picked up a few foreign folk-songs.  You understand
me, of course."

"Yes," I replied amiably.  "I think I get you, Smith.  Whatever you say
goes; and you’re a Viking as far as I’m concerned."

The slightest shadow of a grin lurked on his lips. "Good old Michael,"
he said, patting me on the shoulder.  And, reconciled, we looked out of
the window again in brotherly accord.  Just in time to see the
golden-haired sister of Thusis rise and jump lightly from the wagon to
the grass.

"Did you see that!" he demanded excitedly.  "Did you ever see such grace
in a human being?  Did you, Michael?"

What was the use?  I saw nothing supernaturally extraordinary in that
girl or in her flying leap.  Of course she was attractive in her trim,
supple, dainty, soubrette-like way.  But as for comparing her to
Thusis!——

"Her name’s Clelia," I remarked, avoiding further discussion.  "She’s to
do the rooms; Thusis waits on table and runs our establishment; and that
other girl down there—her name is Josephine Vannis, I believe—she is to
cook for us.  You know," I added, "she also is very handsome in her own
way...."

He nodded without interest.  She seemed to be of the Juno type, tall,
dark-haired, with velvet eyes and intensely white skin,—too
overwhelmingly classical to awaken my artistic enthusiasm.  In fact she
rather scared me.

"And to think that six-foot goddess is my new cook," said I, rather
awed.  I took another intent survey of the big, healthy, vigorous,
handsome girl; and I determined to keep out of her kitchen and avoid all
culinary criticism.

"She’d not hesitate to hand us a few with a rolling-pin," I remarked.
"Juno was celebrated for her quick temper, Shan, so don’t find fault
with your victuals."

"No," he said very earnestly, "I won’t."

My new gardener was now carrying in the assorted luggage,—bundles and
boxes of sorts done up in true peasant fashion with cords.

He seemed to be a sturdy, bright, good-looking young fellow with keen
black eyes and a lively cock-sure manner.

"He’ll raise jealousies below stairs," remarked Smith.  "That young
fellow is the beau ideal of all peasant girls.  He’ll be likely to raise
the deuce below stairs with Thusis and Juno."

Somehow or other the idea of such rustic gallantry did not entirely
please me.  Nor did Smith’s reference to Thusis and his cool exclusion
of Clelia.

"I don’t believe Thusis would care for his type," said I carelessly.
"And if he gets too—too——"  I hesitated, not exactly knowing what I had
meant to say.

"Sure," nodded Smith; "fire him if he bothers Clelia."

I dimly realized then that I didn’t care whether he cut up with Clelia
or not.  In fact, I almost hoped he would.

A little later when I was in my room, alone, and agreeably busy, there
sounded a low and very discreet knocking at my door.  Instantly my
pulse, for some unexplained reason, became loud and irregular.

"Come in," said I, laying aside my work—some verses I had been
composing—trifles—trifles.

Thusis came in.

As the hostile Trojans rose unanimously to their feet when Helen
entered—rose in spite of their disapproval—so I got up instinctively and
placed a chair for her.  She merely dropped me a curtsy and remained
standing.

"Please be seated," said I, looking at her with uneasy suspicion.

"Monsieur O’Ryan forgets himself," she protested in the softest and most
winningly demure of voices. But I saw the very devil laughing at me out
of her gray eyes.

"I don’t know why a man should receive his servants standing," said I.
"Sit down," I added coldly, seating myself.

"Pardon, but I could not venture to seat myself in Monsieur’s
presence——"

Perfectly conscious of the subtle mockery in her voice and manner, I
told her sharply to be seated and explain her errand.  She curtsied
again—a most devilishly impudent little curtsey—and seated herself with
the air of a saint on the loose.

"My thisther Clelia, and my friend Jothephine Vannith, and Raoul
Dethpreth requetht the honor of rethpectfully prethenting themthelves to
Monsieur’s graciouth conthideration," she said with an intentional lisp
that enraged me.

"Very well," I replied briefly.  "You may go back and get rid of your
lisp, and then explain to them that you are to be waitress and general
housekeeper here, and that they are to take their orders from me through
you."

"Yes, Monsieur."

I don’t think she relished my dry bluntness for I saw a slight color
gather in her cheeks.

I thought to myself that I’d come very close to spoiling the girl by my
silliness in the cellar.  I’d made a fool of myself, but I’d do it no
more in spite of her heavenly resemblance to my photograph.

"That will be all at present, Thusis," I said coldly. "Come back in half
an hour for orders.  And see that you wear a clean apron."

Her lovely face was quite red as she passed out, forgetting to curtsey.
As for my own emotions they were mixed.

One thing was certain; there was going to be a show-down between Thusis
and me before very long.

If she were indeed the peasant girl she pretended to be, she’d recover
her balance when I did, and learn her proper place.  If she were,
perhaps, a child of the bourgeoisie—some educated and superior young
girl compelled to take service through family misfortune—and I now
entertained no further doubt that this was really the case—she had
nobody but herself to blame for my present attitude.

But!—but if, by any inexplicable chance, her social circumstances were,
or had once been, even better than bourgeoise, then the girl was a
political agent in masquerade.  But, whoever she was, she had no
business to presume on her wit and insolent beauty to amuse herself at
my expense.  And if she had really been sent by the Swiss police into my
household to keep an eye on me she was going about it in a silly and
stupid manner.

For such surveillance I didn’t care a pewter penny.  Spies had lagged
after me ever since I entered Switzerland.  It was rather amusing than
otherwise.

But, as far as Thusis was concerned, I now decided that, no matter what
she was or had been, she had voluntarily become my servant; and I
intended that she should not again forget that fact.

As I sat there at my desk, grimly planning discipline for Thusis, I
chanced to look up at the photograph of "The Laughing Girl"; and stern
thoughts melted like frost at sunrise.

How amazingly, how disturbingly the lovely pictured features reminded me
of Thusis!

The resemblance, of course, must be pure accident, but what an
astonishing coincidence!

Musing there at my desk, possessed by dreamy and pleasing thoughts, I
gradually succumbed to the spell which my treasured photograph
invariably wove for me.

And I unlocked my desk and took out my verses.

They had been entitled "To Thusis."  This I had scratched out and under
the canceled dedication I had written: "To a Photograph."

I had quite forgotten that I had told Thusis to report for orders in
half an hour: I was deeply, sentimentally absorbed in my poem.  Then
there came a low knocking; and at the mere prospect of again
encountering my exceedingly impudent housekeeper I experienced a little
shock of emotion which started my heart thumping about in a most silly
and exasperating manner.

"Come in!" I said angrily.

She entered.  I kept my seat with an effort.

"Well," said I in an impatient voice, "what is it now?"

Thusis looked at me intently for a moment, then the little devils that
hid in her gray eyes suddenly laughed at me, totally discrediting the
girl’s respectful and almost serious face with its red mouth slightly
drooping.

"Monsieur has orders for the household?" she inquired in her sweet,
grave voice of a child.

That floored me.  I had spoken about giving my orders through her.  I
didn’t know what orders to give.

"Certainly," said I,—"hum-hum!  Let me see.—Let—me—see," I repeated.
"Yes—certainly—the orders must be given—hum-hum!——"

But what the devil I was to order I hadn’t the vaguest idea.

"We’ll have luncheon at one," I said, desperately. She made no
observation.  I grew redder.

"We’ll dine, too," I added.  Her gray eyes mocked me but her mouth
drooped respectfully.

"For further orders," said I, "c-come b-back in half an hour.  No, don’t
do that!  Wait a moment. I—I really don’t know what sort of an
establishment I have here.  Hadn’t I better make a tour of inspection?"

"Monsieur will please himself."

"I think I’d better inspect things."

"What things, Monsieur?"

"The—the linen press—er—the _batterie-de-cuisine_—all that sort of
thing.  Do you think I’d better do it, Thusis?"

"Would Monsieur know any more about them if he inspects these things?"
she inquired so guilelessly, so smilingly, that I surrendered then and
there.

"Thusis," I said, "I don’t know anything about such matters.  They bore
me.  Be a nice child and give what orders are necessary.  Will you?"

"If Monsieur wishes."

"I do wish it.  Please—take full charge and run this ranch for me and
bring me the bills.  You see I trust you, Thusis, although you have not
been very respectful to me."

"I am sorry, Monsieur," she said with a tragic droop of her lovely
mouth.  But her eyes belied her.

"Thusis?"

"Monsieur?"

"I won’t ask you who you are——"

"Merci, M’sieu."

"Don’t interrupt me.  What I am going to ask you, is, why do you
continually and secretly make fun of me——"

"M’sieu!"

"You do!"

"I, M’sieu?"

"Yes, you, Thusis.  Always there is a hint of mockery in your
smile,—always the hidden amusement as though, in me, you find something
ridiculous——"

"Please!——"

"—Something secretly and delightfully absurd——"

"But you know you _are_ funny," she said, looking a trifle scared at her
own temerity.

"What!" I demanded angrily.

"Please be just, Mr. O’Ryan.  I minded my own business until you tempted
me."

That was perfectly true but I denied it.

"You know," she said, "when a man finds a girl attractive the girl
always knows it, even when she’s a servant....  And certain
circumstances made it much more amusing than you realize....  I mean to
be respectful.  I am your servant....  But you know very well that it is
funny."

"What is funny?"

"The circumstances.  You found me attractive. It mortified you.  And the
way you took it was intensely amusing to me."

"Why?"

"Because you are you; and I am I.  Because the fact that you found your
cook attractive horrified you.  That was intensely funny to me.  And
when, waiving the degradation, you actually attempted to kiss your own
cook——"

Laughter burst from her lips in a silvery shower of rippling notes which
enchanted and infuriated me at the same time.

I waited, very red, to control my voice; then I got up and set a chair
for her.  And she dropped onto it without protest.

"What are you doing in my household?" I asked drily.

At that her laughter ceased and she gave me a straight sweet look.

"Don’t you really know?"

"Of course not.  You’re an agent of some sort. That’s evident.  Are you
here to watch me?"

"Dear Mr. O’Ryan," she said lightly, "have I been at any pains to
deceive you?  I’m not really a servant; you learned that very easily.
And I let you learn it—"  She laughed:—"and it was a very pretty
compliment I paid you when I let you learn it."

"I don’t understand you," I said.

"It’s very simple.  My name really is Thusis; I wish to remain in your
employment.  So do my friends.  We will prove good servants.  You shall
be most comfortable,—you and your amusing friend, Mr. Smith—_the
Norwegian_."

I smiled in spite of my suspicion and perplexity, and Thusis smiled too,
such a gay little confidential smile that I could not resist the occult
offer of confidence that it very plainly implied.

"You are _not_ here to keep tabs on me?" I demanded.

"You very nice young man, of course not!"

"Do you really think I’m nice, Thusis?"

"I think you’re adorable!"

The rush of emotion to the head made me red and dizzy.  I had never been
talked to that way by a young girl.  I didn’t know it was done.

And another curious thing about this perfectly gay and unembarrassed
eulogy of hers, she said it as frankly and spontaneously as she might
have spoken to another girl or to an attractive child: there was
absolutely no sex consciousness about her.

"Are you going to let us remain and be your very faithful and diligent
servants?" she asked, mischievously amused at the shock she had
administered.

"Thusis," I said, "it’s going to be rather difficult for me to treat you
as a servant.  And if your friends are of the same quality——"

"It’s perfectly easy," she insisted.  "If we presume, correct us.  If we
are slack, punish us.  Be masculine and exacting; be bad tempered about
your food—"  She laughed delightfully—"Raise the devil with us if we
misbehave."

I didn’t believe I could do that and said so; and she turned on me that
bewildering smile and sat looking at me very intently, with her white
hands clasped in her lap.

"You don’t think we’re a band of robbers conspiring to chloroform you
and Mr. Smith some night and make off with your effects?" she inquired.

We both laughed.

"You’re very much puzzled, aren’t you, Mr. O’Ryan," she continued.

"I am, indeed."

"But you’re so nice—so straight and clean yourself—that you’d give me
the benefit of any doubt, wouldn’t you?"

"Yes."

"That’s because you’re a sportsman.  That’s because you play all games
squarely."  Her face became serious; her gray eyes met mine and seemed
to look far into them.

"Your country is neutral, isn’t it?" she said.

"Yes."

"You are not."

"I have my ideas."

"And ideals," she added.

"Yes, I have them still, Thusis."

"So have I," she said.  "I am trying to live up to them.  If you will
let me."

"I’ll even help you——"

"No!  Just let me alone.  That is all I ask of you."  Her youthful face
grew graver.  "But that is quite enough to ask of you.  Because by
letting me alone you are incurring danger to yourself.

"Why do you tell me?"

"Because I wish to be honest with you.  If you retain me as your servant
and accept me and my friends as such,—even if you live here quietly and
blamelessly, obeying the local and Federal laws and making no inquiries
concerning me or my three friends,—yet, nevertheless, you may find
yourself in very serious trouble before many days."

"Political trouble?"

"All kinds of trouble, Mr. O’Ryan."

There was a silence; she sat there with slender fingers tightly
interlocked as though under some sort of nervous tension, but the faint
hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth—which seemed to be part of
her natural expression—remained.

She said: "And more than that: if you let us remain as your servants, we
shall trust to you and to Mr. Smith that neither one of you by look or
word or gesture would ever convey to anybody the slightest hint that I
and my friends are not exactly what we appear to be—your household
servants."

"Thusis," said I, "what the deuce are you up to?"

"What am I up to?" She laughed outright:—"Let me see!  First—" counting
on her fingers, "I am trying to find a way to live up to my ideals;
second, I am going to try to bring happiness to many, many people;
third, I am prepared to sacrifice myself, my friends, my nearest and
dearest." ... She lifted her clear eyes: "I am quite ready to sacrifice
you, too," she said.

I smiled: "That would cost you very little," I said.

There was another short silence.  The girl looked at me with a curious
intentness as though mentally appraising me—trying to establish in her
mind any value I might represent to her—if any.

"It’s like an innocent bystander being hit by a bullet in a revolution,"
she murmured: "it’s a pity: but it is unavoidable, sometimes."

"I represent this theoretical and innocent bystander?"

"I’m afraid you do, Mr. O’Ryan; the chances are that you’ll get hurt."

A perfectly inexplicable but agreeable tingling sensation began to
invade me, amounting almost to exhilaration.  Was it the Irish in me,
subtly stirred, by the chance of a riot?  Was it a possible opportunity
to heave a brick, impartially and with Milesian enthusiasm?

"Thusis," said I, "there is only one question I must ask you to answer."

"I know what it is."

"What?"

"You are going to remind me that, to-day, the whole world is divided
into two parts; that the greatest war of all times is being waged
between the forces of light and of darkness.  And you are going to ask
me where I stand."

"I am."

The girl rose; so did I.  Then she stepped forward, took my right hand
and rested her other upon it.

"I stand for light, for the world’s freedom, for the liberties of the
weaker, for the self-determination of all peoples.  I stand for their
right to the pursuit of happiness.  I stand for the downfall of all
tyranny—the tyranny of the mob as well as the tyranny of all autocrats.
That is where I stand, Mr. O’Ryan.... Where do you stand?"

"Beside you."

She dropped my hand with an excited little laugh:

"I was certain of that.  In Berne I learned all about you.  I took no
chances in coming here.  I took none in being frank with you."  She
began to laugh again, mischievously: "Perhaps I took chances in being
impertinent to you.  There is a dreadful and common vein of frivolity in
me.  I’m a little reckless, too.  I adore absurd situations, and the
circumstances—when you unwillingly discovered that I was
attractive—appealed to me irresistibly. And I am afraid I was silly
enough—common enough—malicious enough to thoroughly enjoy it.... But,"
she added naïvely, "you gave me rather a good scare when you threatened
to kiss me."

"I’m glad of that," said I with satisfaction.

"Of course," she remarked, "that would have been the climax of
absurdity."

"Would it?"

"Certainly."

"Why?"

"Fancy such a nice young man kissing his cook in the cellar."

"That isn’t what you meant."

"Isn’t it?" she asked airily.

"No."

"What did I mean then, Mr. O’Ryan?"

"I don’t know," said I thoughtfully.

She gave me one of her smiling but searching looks, in which there
seemed a hint of apprehension.  Then, apparently satisfied by her
scrutiny, she favored me with a bewitching smile in which I thought to
detect a slight trace of relief.

"You will keep me, then?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Thank you!"

She stretched out her beautiful hand impulsively: I took it.

"Thanks—and good-by," she said a trifle gravely, Then, with a shadow of
the smile still lingering: "Good-by: because, from now on, it is to be
master and servant.  We must both remember that."

I was silent.

"You will remember, won’t you?" she said—the laughter flashed in her
eyes:—"especially if we ever happen to be in the cellar together?"

I said, forcing a smile and my voice not quite steady: "Suppose we
finish that scene, now, Thusis?"

"Good heavens!" she said:—"and the Admiral watching us!"  She drew her
hand from mine and pointed at the picture over my mantel.

"I’m afraid of that man," she said.  "The cellar is less terrifying——"

"Thusis!"

But she laughed and slipped through the door. "Good-by, Don Michael!"
she called back softly from the stairs.

I walked back slowly to the center of my room and for a long time I
stood there quite motionless, staring fixedly at the Admiral.



                                  *V*

                             *AN ODD SONG*


"There’s one thing certain," thought I; "my household personnel is
altogether too pulchritudinous for a man like Smith, and it begins to
worry me."

Considerably disturbed in my mind I reconnoitered Smith’s rooms, and
found him, as I suspected, loitering there on pretense of re-arranging
the contents of his bureau-drawers.

Now Smith had no legitimate business there; it was Clelia’s hour to do
his rooms.  But, as I say, I already had noticed his artless way of
hanging about at that hour, and several times during the last two weeks
I had encountered him conversing with the girl while she, her blonde
hair bound up in a beguiling dust-cap, and otherwise undeniably
fetching, leaned at ease on her broom and appeared quite willing to be
cornered and conversed with.

My advent always galvanized this situation; Clelia instantly became busy
with her broom and duster, and Smith usually pretended he had been
inquiring of Clelia where I might be found.

He attempted the same dishonesty now, and, with every symptom of
delight, cordially hailed me and inquired where I’d been keeping myself
since breakfast.

"I’ve been out doors," said I coldly, "where I hoped—if I did not really
expect—to find you."

This sarcasm put a slight crimp in his assurance, and he accompanied me
out with docile alacrity, which touched me.

"It’s too good a household to spoil," said I.  "A little innocent
gaiety—a bit of persiflage en passant—that doesn’t interfere with
discipline.  But this loitering about the vicinity of little Clelia’s
too brief skirts is almost becoming a habit with you."

"She’s a nice girl," returned Smith, vaguely.

"Surely.  And you’re a very nice young man; but you know as well as I do
that we can’t arrange our social life to include the circle below
stairs."

"You mean, in the event of travelers arriving, they might misconstrue
such a democracy?"

"Certainly, they’d misjudge it.  We couldn’t explain why our cook was
playing the piano in the living-room or why Clelia laid aside her
dust-pan for a cup of tea with us at five, could we?"

"Or why Thusis and you went trout fishing together," he added
pleasantly.

A violent blush possessed my countenance.  So he was aware of that
incident!  He had gone to Zurich that day.  I hadn’t mentioned it.

"Smith," said I, "these are war times.  To catch fish is to conserve
food.  Under no other circumstances——"

"I understand, of course!  Two can catch more fish than one.  Which
caught it?"

"Thusis," I admitted.  "Thusis happened to know where these Swiss trout
hide and how to catch them.  Naturally I was glad to avail myself of her
knowledge."

"Very interesting.  You need no further instruction, I fancy."

"To become proficient," said I, "another lesson or two—possibly——"  I
paused out near the fountain to stoop over and break off a daisy.  From
which innocent blossom, absent-mindedly, I plucked the snowy petals one
by one as I sauntered along beside Smith.

Presently he began to mutter to himself.  At first I remained sublimely
unconscious of what he was murmuring, then I caught the outrageous
words: "Elle m’aime—un peu—beaucoup—passablement—pas-du-tout——"

"What’s that?" I demanded, glaring at him. "What are you gabbling
about?"

He seemed surprised at my warmth.  I hurled the daisy from me; we turned
and strode back in hostile silence toward the bottling house.

My farmer, Raoul Despres, was inside and the door stood open.  We could
hear the humming of the dynamo.  Evidently, obeying my orders of
yesterday, he had gone in to look over and report upon the condition of
the plant with a view to resuming business where my recent uncle had
left off.

We could see his curly black head, and athletic figure inside the low
building.  As he prowled hither and thither investigating the machinery
he was singing blithely to himself:

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm
    You have done a heap of harm—
    You and yours and all your friends!
    Now you’ll have to make amends."


Smith and I looked at each other in blank perplexity.

"That’s a remarkable song," I said at last.

"Very," said Smith.  We halted.  The dynamo droned on like a giant bee.

Raoul continued to sing as he moved around in the bottling house, and
the words he sang came to us quite plainly:

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm
    Sacking city, town and farm!
    You, your children and your friends,
    All will come to rotten ends!"


"Smith," said I, "who on earth do you suppose he means by
’Crack-brain-cripple-arm’?"

"Surely," mused Smith, "he could not be referring to the All-highest of
Hunland....  Could he?"

"Impossible," said I.  We went into the bottling house.  And the song of
Raoul ceased.

It struck me, as he turned and came toward us with his frank, quick
smile and his gay and slightly jaunty bearing, that he had about him
something of that nameless allure of a soldier of France.

"But of course you are Swiss," I said to him with a trace of a grin
twitching at my lips.

"Of course, Monsieur," he replied innocently.

"Certainly....  And, how about that machinery, Raoul?"

"It functions, Monsieur.  A little rust—nothing serious.  The torrent
from the Bec de l’Empereur runs the dynamo; the spring flows full.
Listen!"

We listened.  Through the purring of the dynamo the bubbling melody of
the famous mineral spring was perfectly audible.

"How many bottles have we?" I asked.

"In the unopened cases a hundred thousand.  In odd lots, quart size,
twenty thousand more."

"Corks?  Boxes?"

"Plenty."

"Labels?  Straw?"

"Bales, Monsieur."

"And all the machinery works?"

For answer he picked up a quart bottle and placed it in a porcelain
cylinder.  Then he threw a switch; the bottle was filled automatically,
corked, labeled, sheathed in straw and deposited in a straw-lined box.

"Fine!" I said.  "When you have a few moments to spare from the farm you
can fill a few dozen cases.  And you, too, Smith, when time hangs heavy
on your hands, it might amuse you to drop in and start bottling spring
water for me—instead of rearranging your bureau drawers."

The suggestion did not seem to attract him.  He said he’d enjoy doing it
but that he did not comprehend machinery.

I smiled at him and made up my mind that he’d not spend his spare time
in Clelia’s neighborhood.

"Raoul," said I, "that was an interesting song you were singing when we
came in."

"What song, Monsieur?"

"The one about ’Crack-brain-cripple-arm.’"

He gazed at me so stupidly that I hesitated.

"I thought I heard you humming a song," said I.

"Maybe it was the dynamo, Monsieur."

"Maybe," I said gravely.

Smith and I walked out and across toward the cow-stables.

There was nothing to see there except chickens; the little brown Swiss
cattle being in pasture on the Bec de l’Empereur.

"If time hangs heavy with you, Smith," I ventured, "why not drive the
cows home and milk them in the evenings?"

He told me, profanely, that he had plenty to do to amuse himself.

"What, for example, did he tell you?"

"Write letters," he said,—"for example."

"To friends in dear old Norway, I suppose," said I flippantly.

"To whomever I darn well please," he rejoined drily.

That, of course, precluded further playful inquiry. Baffled, I walked on
beside him.  But I sullenly decided to stick to him until Clelia had
done the chamber-work and had safely retired to regions below stairs.

Several times he remarked he’d forgotten something and ought to go to
his rooms to look for the missing objects.  I pretended not to hear him
and he hadn’t the effrontery to attempt it.

The words of Raoul’s song kept running in my mind.

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm
    You have done a heap of harm—"


And I found myself humming the catchy air as I strolled over my domain
with my unwilling companion.

"I like that song," I remarked.

"Of course _you_ would," he said.

"Why?"

"Because you’re so bally neutral," he replied ironically.

"I _am_ neutral.  All Chileans are.  I’m neutral because my country is."

"You’re neutral as hell," he retorted with a shrug—"you camouflaged
Yankee."

"If I weren’t neutral," said I, "I’d not be afraid of admitting it to a
New York Viking."

That put him out on first.  I enjoyed his silence for a while, then I
said: "Come on, old top, sing us some more Norse sagas about ’My girl’s
a corker.’"

"Can it!" retorted that typical product of Christiania.

So with quip and retort and persiflage veiled and more or less merry, we
strolled about in the beautiful early summer weather.

"Why the devil don’t you find Thusis and take another lesson in
angling?" he suggested.

"Because, dear friend, Thusis hitched up our horse and went to Zurich
this morning."

"What?  When?"

"Ere the earliest dicky-bird had caroled—ere Aurora had wiped night’s
messy cobwebs from the skies with rosy fingers."

"What did she go for?—that is, what did she say she was going for?"

"To purchase various household necessaries.  Why?"

"She’s a funny girl," he remarked evasively.

"Yes?"

"Rather."

"In what humorous particular do you hand it so generously to Thusis?" I
inquired.

"Oh, you know well enough she’s odd.  You can’t explain her.  She’s no
peasant, and you know it. She’s not Swiss, either.  I don’t know what
she is.  I don’t know quite what she’s doing here.  Sometimes she
reminds me of a runaway school girl: sometimes of the humorless,
pep-less prude who usually figures as heroine in a best seller.  And
sometimes she acts like a vixen! ... I didn’t tell you," he added, "but
I was amiable enough to try to kiss her that first evening.  I don’t
know where you were—but you can take it from me, O’Ryan, I thought I’d
caught hold of the original vestal virgin and that my hour had come for
the lions!"

"You beast," said I, not recollecting my own behavior in the cellar.
"What did she say?"

"She didn’t say anything.  She merely looked it. I’ve been horribly
afraid she’d tell her sister," he added naïvely.

"Smith," I said, laying an earnest hand on his arm, "you mustn’t frivol
with my household.  I won’t stand for it.  I admit that my household is
an unusual one.  Frankly, I have no more idea than you have that Thusis
and Clelia are real servants, or why they choose to take service here
with me. Probably they’re political agents.  I don’t care.  But you and
I mustn’t interfere with them, first, because it disorganizes my ménage;
second, because I believe they’re really nice girls."

"I think so, too," he said.

"Well, then, if they are, we don’t want to forget it.  And also we must
remember that probably they are political agents of some country now
engaged in this war, and it won’t do for us to become involved."

"How involved?"

"Well, suppose I took Thusis more or less seriously?"

"_Do_ you?"

"I didn’t say I did.  I said suppose I do?  Who is she?  With all her
dainty personality and undoubted marks of birth and breeding—with the
irrefutable evidence of manner and speech and presence—with all these
ear-marks by which both she and Clelia seem plainly labeled—_who_ is
Thusis?"

"I don’t know," he said soberly.

"Nor I.  And yet it is apparent that she has taken no pains to play the
part of a peasant or of a servant for our benefit.  Evidently she
doesn’t care—for I venture to believe she’s a good actress in addition
to the rest of her ungodly cleverness.

"But she seems to think it immaterial as to whether or not you and I
wonder who she may be. Mentally, Thusis snaps her fingers at us, Smith.
So does Clelia."

"Clelia is gentler—more girlish and immature," he said, "but she makes
no bones about having been in better circumstances.  She’s sweet but
she’s no weakling.  My curiosity amuses her and she pokes a lot of fun
at me."

"Doesn’t she tell you anything?  Doesn’t she give you any hint?"

"No, she doesn’t.  She’s friendly—willing to stop dusting and exchange a
little innocent banter with me....  Do you know, O’Ryan, I never before
saw such a pretty girl.  She’s only eighteen.  Did you know it?"

"No, I didn’t."

"And Thusis is twenty."

I thought deeply for a while, then:

"We’d better keep away from them except when business requires an
interview," I concluded.

"Why," he pointed out in annoyance, "that leaves _me_ out entirely."

"Of course.  I shall not think of Thusis at all except on terms of
business.  That’s the safe idea, Smith, business,—strictly business.  It
neutralizes everything; it’s a wet blanket on folly; it paralyzes
friskiness; it slays sentiment in its tracks.  Become a business man.
Engage in some useful occupation. Suppose, for example, I pay you a
franc a week to feed my chickens."

"I’ve plenty to do, I tell you."

"Then do it, old top, and steer shy of that little blue-eyed parlor maid
of mine."

He made no answer.  We prowled about until nearly lunch-time.  But the
odd thing was that I had lost my appetite.  It may have happened because
I’d begun to worry a little about Thusis.

What the deuce had that girl been doing in Zurich all this while?  She
was too attractive to go about that seething city alone with market-cart
and horse. Some fresh young officer—

"Smith?"

He looked up, mildly surprised at my vehemence.

"Where the devil do you suppose Thusis is?" I asked.

"In Zurich, isn’t she?"

"Yes, but she’s been gone a long time and she ought to be back."

"Probably," he said, "she’s gallivanting with some handsome young fellow
along the Lake promenade. Possibly she’s lunching at the Baur-au-Lac
with some fascinating lieutenant.  Or maybe they’ve strolled over to the
Café de la Terrasse or to Rupps; or," he went on as though interested in
his irritating speculations, "it may be that Thusis has gone out in a
motor launch with some sprightly cavalier; or she may be at the
Tonhalle, or at Belvoir Park."

"No doubt," said I, exasperated.  "You needn’t speculate further."

"Business over, why shouldn’t Thusis kick up her pretty heels a bit?" he
inquired.

"Because Thusis isn’t that sort."

"How do _you_ know that she isn’t that sort?"

I didn’t, and his question made me the madder.

"Luncheon ought to be ready," he reminded me presently.  I could
actually hear the grin in his voice.

"All right," said I.  "I’m hungry."  Which was a lie.  Then, as we
turned toward the house, Thusis drove into the yard.

Blue ribbons fluttered from her whip, from the fat horse’s head-stall,
from his braided tail.  There were bows of blue ribbon on her peasant’s
apron, too, which danced saucily in the wind.  I went over to aid her
descend from the cart, but she laughed and jumped out with a flash of
white stockings and blue garters.

"I’ve been wondering," said I, "why you were so long."

"Were you worried?"

The demurely malicious glance she flung at me became a laugh.  She
turned to Smith:

"Did he think somebody might kidnap his young and silly housekeeper?"
she inquired.  "Pas de chance!  I am horridly wise!"—she touched her
forehead with the tip of one finger—"and a thousand years old!"—she laid
one hand lightly over her heart.  And turned to me.  "I am a thousand
years of age," she repeated, smiling.  "Such as I are not kidnapped,
Monsieur O’Ryan.  Au contraire.  I myself am far more likely to
kidnap——"

She looked Smith gaily in the eye "—some agreeable young man—some day."
And very slowly her gray eyes included me.

Then she tossed the reins to Raoul who had come up beside the cart:

"A protean moment," she said to me, "and I shall reappear as a very
presentable waitress to wait upon you at luncheon."

And off went this amazing housekeeper of mine dancing lightly away
across the grass with the buckles on her little peasant slippers
twinkling and every blue ribbon a-flutter.

I turned and looked at Raoul.  He returned my gaze with an odd smile.

"Of what," said I, "are you thinking?"

"I was thinking," he replied seriously, "that the world is a very droll
place,—agreeable for the gay, but hell for those born without a sense of
humor."



                                  *VI*

                           *MASTER AND MAID*


I had become tired of following Smith about and of trying to keep an eye
on Clelia.  The little minx was so demure that it seemed difficult to
believe she deliberately offered Smith opportunities for philandering.
Otherwise my household caused me no anxiety; everything went smoothly.
Thusis waited on table and ran the place, Josephine Vannis cooked to
perfection, Raoul had started a garden and the bottling works; and no
tourists had bothered us by interrupting the régime and demanding food
and shelter.

Outwardly ours was a serene and emotionless life, undisturbed by that
bloody frenzy which agitated the greater surface of the globe.

Here in the sunny silence of our little valley ringed by snow peaks, the
soft thunder of some far avalanche or the distant tinkle of cow-bells
were the loudest interruptions that startled us from the peaceful
inertia consequent upon good food and idle hours.

Outwardly as I say, calm brooded all about us. True the Zurich and Berne
newspapers stirred me up, and the weekly packages of New York papers
which Smith and I received caused a tense silence in our rooms whither
we always retired to read them.

Smith once remarked that it was odd I never received any Chilean papers.
To which I replied that it seemed queer no Norwegian newspapers came to
him.

We let it rest there.  As for my household I never saw Josephine Vannis
at all except by accident in the early evening when I sometimes noticed
her in the distance strolling with Raoul.

On Clelia, I kept an unquiet eye as I have said. Thusis I saw only on
strictly business interviews. And Smith thought it strange that there
was so much business to be discussed between us.  But every day I felt
it my duty to go over my household accounts with Thusis, checking up
every item. In these daily conferences there were, of course, all sorts
of matters to consider, such as the farm and dairy reports from Raoul,
the bottling reports, daily sales of eggs, butter, and bottled
spring-water—a cart arriving from Zurich every morning to take away
these surplus items to the Grand Hotel, Baur-au-Lac, with which Thusis
had made a thrifty contract.

This was a very delightful part of the day to me,—the hour devoted to
business with Thusis, while Smith fumed in his room.  Possibly Clelia
fumed with him—I was afraid of that—and it was the only rift in the
lute.

Every morning I tried to prolong that business interview with
Thusis,—she looked so distractingly pretty in her peasant garb.  But
though her gray eyes were ever on duty and her winning smile flashed now
and then across the frontier of laughter, always and almost with malice,
she held me to the matter of business under discussion, discouraging all
diversions I made toward other topics, refusing to accompany me on gay
excursions into personalities, resisting any approach toward that little
spot of unconventional ground upon which we had once stood face to face.

For since that time when, for hours afterward, my hand remained
conscious of her soft, cool hand’s light contact—since that curious
compact between us which had settled her status, and my own, here under
this common roof above us, she had permitted no lighter conversation to
interrupt our business conferences, no other subject to intrude.  Only
now and then I caught a glimpse of tiny devils dancing in her gray eyes;
only at long intervals was the promise of the upcurled corners of her
mouth made good by the swift, sweet laughter always hidden there.

There was no use attempting any less impersonal footing any more; Thusis
simply evaded it, remaining either purposely dull and irresponsive or,
gathering up her accounts, she would rise, curtsey, and back out with a
gravity of features and demeanor that her mocking eyes denied.

Once, as I have said, I discovered a fishing rod in the attic, dug some
worms, and started out upon conservation bent.  And encountering Thusis
digging dandelions for salad behind the garden, explained to her my
attire and implements.  As it was strictly a matter of business she
consented to go with me as far as the brook.  There, by the bridge in
the first pool, she caught the first trout.  And, having showed me how,
retreated, resolutely repelling all suggestions that she take a morning
off, and defying me with a gaiety that made her eyes brilliant with
delighted malice.

"It was my duty to show you how Swiss trout are caught," she called back
to me, always retreating down the leafy path—"but when you propose a
pleasure party to your housekeeper—oh, Don Michael, you betray low
tastes and I am amazed at you and I beg you most earnestly to remember
the Admiral."

Whereupon I was stung into action and foolish enough to suppose I could
overtake her.  Where she vanished I don’t know.  There was not a sound
in the wood.  I was ass enough to call—even to appeal in a voice so
sentimental that I blush to remember it now.

And at last, discomfited and sulky, I went back to my fishing.  But hers
remained the only trout in my basket.  Smith and I ate it, baked with
parsley, for luncheon, between intermittent inquiries from Smith
regarding the fewness of the catch.

And now, it appeared, somebody had already told him that Thusis and I
had gone fishing together that day.  Who the devil had revealed that
fact?  Clelia, no doubt,—having been informed by Thusis.  And no doubt
Thusis had held me up to ridicule.

So now, at the hour when our daily business conference approached,
instead of seating myself as usual at the table in my sitting-room, I
took my fishing-rod, creel, a musty and water-warped leather fly-book,
and went into Smith’s room.

"Suppose we go fishing," I suggested, knowing he’d refuse on the chance
of a tête-à-tête with Clelia the minute I was out of sight.

He began to explain that he had letters to write, and I laughed in
derision and sent my regards to all the folks in dear old Norway.

"Go to the deuce," said I.  "Flirt with my chamber-maid if you want to,
but Thusis will take your head off—"

"Isn’t she going with _you_?"

"—When she returns," I continued, vexed and red at his impudent
conclusion.  It was perfectly true that I meant to take Thusis fishing,
but it was not Smith’s business to guess my intentions.

"You annoy me," I added, passing him with a scowl.  At which he merely
grinned.

In the hallway I encountered Clelia in cap and apron, very diligent with
her duster.

"Clelia," said I pleasantly, "has Raoul brought the mail?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"Where is it?"

"There was only a bill from the Grand Hotel for cartage."

"What!" said I in pretense of dismay, "no letter yet from Mr. Smith’s
wife?  And seven of his children down with whooping-cough!"

"W-wife!" stammered Clelia, her blue eyes becoming enormous.  "S-seven
children!"

"Seven in Christiania," I explained sadly, "the other eleven at school
near Bergen.  Poor fellow. His suspense must be dreadful."

I’m no actor; I saw immediately in Clelia’s face that I had overplayed
my part as well as the total of Smith’s progeny, for the color came
swiftly back and she shot at me a glance anything but demure.

"The other eleven," I explained, "were by his first three wives."

Clelia, dusting furiously, looked around at me over her shoulder.

"At least," she said, "he’s done his duty by his country."

"W-what!" I stammered.

"The population of Norway is so very small," she added gaily.  And went
on with her dusting.

"Minx," thought I to myself as I marched down stairs and out toward the
fountain where, from the servants’ wing of the chalet Thusis could not
fail to observe me.  And she did.  She appeared, presently, account
books under one arm.  Out of the subtle corner of my subtlest eye—the
left one—I observed her.  And with surpassing cunning I selected a
yellow fly from the battered book and tied it on my leader.

"Monsieur!"

"Good-morning, Thusis.  We’re going fishing.  So if you’ll ask Josephine
to put up some war lunch for us—"

"Has Monsieur forgotten his daily business interview?" she inquired
smilingly.

"Not at all.  But we’re going to conserve time as well as food, Thusis.
We can fish and consult at the same time."

"But—"

"All waste must cease," I said firmly.  "We mustn’t waste even a minute
in the day.  And if we can do two things at the same time it is our
economic duty to do them."  I smiled at her.  "I shall dig worms," said
I, "for two, while you prepare lunch for two. That is a wonderful way of
economizing time and labor, isn’t it, Thusis?"

She smiled, bit her lip, as though regretting an indiscretion, looked up
at the cloudless sky, let her gray eyes wander from one snowy peak to
the next, glanced almost insolently at me, then smiled with that
delicious impulse characteristic of her.

"You know you have no business to take me fishing," she said.  "Your
cleverness is not Machiavellian; it is Michael-valian.  It doesn’t
deceive me for one moment, Señor Michael!"

I laughed, picked up a stable-fork that stood against the cow-barn:

"Worms for two; luncheon for two," said I.

"I don’t _like_ that juxtaposition!" she protested. "Do you really wish
me to go with you?  Why won’t you sit here on the edge of the pool and
go over these accounts?"

"Conservation of time and energy forbid doing one thing when two things
can be accomplished at the——"

"You are absurd!"

I went over to the barnyard and began to dig.

"Hasten, Thusis," I called to her.  "I’ll be ready in ten minutes."

"I’ve a good mind not to go," she said.

"You’ve a _good_ mind," said I, disinterring a fine fat worm.

"I have a mind, anyway, and it counsels me not to go fishing with you,
Don Michael."

"Argue with it," said I.  "It’s a reasonable mind, Thusis, and is open
to conviction.  Prove to it that you ought to go fishing."

"Don Michael, you are ridiculous."

"Let it be a modest lunch," said I, "nourishing and sufficient.  But not
a feast, Thusis.  Don’t put in any wreaths of roses, or any tambourines.
But you can stick a fry-pan into the basket, with a little lard on the
side, and I’ll show you how we cook trout in the woods at home."

"In Chile?"

"In the Adirondacks," said I, smiling.

I went on digging and accumulating that popular lure for trout not
carried in the fly-books of expert anglers, but known to the neophyte as
the "Barn-yard Hackle."

Once I glanced over my shoulder.  Thusis was not there.  Presently, and
adroitly dissembling my anxiety by a carefully camouflaged series of
sidelong squints I discovered her near the kitchen-wing of the chalet
talking earnestly to Josephine.

And so it happened that, having garnered a sufficiency of Barn-yard
hackles, I went to the fountain pool to wash my hands.

And when, with playful abandon, I stood drying them upon my
knickerbockers, I saw Thusis emerge from the house carrying my
pack-basket.

She came up rather slowly.

"Here is your lunch," she said, looking at me with an inscrutable
expression suggesting amusement and annoyance in an illogical
combination.

"You mean _our_ lunch," said I.

"I mean _your_ lunch."

"Aren’t you coming, Thusis?"

I looked into the pack-basket and discovered her account books in it.

"An oversight," she said, calmly.  "Give them to me."

I started to fish them out and caught sight of the package of lunch.

"Good heavens!" said I, "there is twice too much for one!"

She appeared to be greatly disturbed by the discovery.

"Josephine has made a dreadful mistake," she said. "She has put up lunch
enough for two!"

"It mustn’t be wasted," said I, gravely.  "I’m afraid you’ll have to
come fishing with me after all, Thusis."

There appeared to be no other way out of it.  At least neither of us
suggested any other way.

"Oh, dear," she said, looking up at me, and the very devil was in her
gray eyes.

Which discovery preoccupied me when she went back to the house for her
hat and for another rod which she had, it seemed, discovered in the
laundry, all equipped for business.

The agreeable tingle of subdued excitement permeated me as she returned
with the rod but without any hat.

"I don’t need one," she said, calmly, pulling out several hair pins.

And then I saw a thick mass of molten gold tumble down; and the swift
white fingers of Thusis dividing it into two heavy braids—a thrilling
sight—and once, in the thrall of that enchantment where I stood
motionless to watch her at this lovely office, I became aware of her
lifted eyes—two celestial assassins intent on doing me deep harm.

Then, still busy with her hair, she moved slowly forward across the
grass beside me, silently, almost stealthily—for, in the slow and supple
grace of her I seemed to divine something almost menacing to me.


Her account books and rod were in my pack-basket. She sauntered along
the shadow-flecked path beside me, at first paying me scant attention,
but singing carelessly to herself in a demi-voix snatches of any vagrant
melody that floated through her mind.

I recognized none of them.  One strange little refrain seemed to keep on
recurring to her at intervals:

    —"And Aphrodite’s throat was white
    As lilies opening at night
        In Naxos,
        In Naxos.
    And red were Aphrodite’s lips—
    And blue her eyes and white her hips
    As roses, sky, and surf that clips
      The golden shore of Tenedos.

    O Tenedos, my Tenedos,
    Set in the purple sea!
    O Naxos, my Naxos,
    I hear you calling me!
      The old gods have gone away;
      I follow them with feet astray,
      But in my heart I’ll faithful be
      To Tenedos and Naxos!"


She strolled on, singing to herself, an absent look in her starry eyes,
switching idly at the leaves with some dead stalk she had picked up.
And no matter what other fragments of melody occurred to her she was
ever coming back to her odd little song of Naxos and of Tenedos, where
flowers and sky and sea matched Aphrodite’s charms.

Now and again I was conscious of a leisurely sideways glance from her as
though indifferently marking my continued but quite uninteresting
existence in the landscape.

When we came to the wooden bridge she rested both hands on the rail and
looked down at the limpid greenish pool.  But her gaze seemed serious
and remote, and I became quite sure she was not thinking about trout.

However, I rigged up her rod for her and was preparing to impale a worm
upon her hook when she noticed what I was about and remarked that she
preferred an artificial fly.

"_That_ one," she added, coming up beside me and looking over my
shoulder at the open fly-book in my hand.

So, that matter settled, we took the leafy path which ran through ferns
along the northern bank of the stream.



                                 *VII*

                    *CONSERVATION AND CONVERSATION*


Thusis hooked the first trout.  It made a prodigious swirl in the pool
and rushed to and fro in the shadowy depths—a slim, frantic phantom
lacing the crystalline water with flashes of pallid fire.

She drew in the trout splashing and spattering in all its rainbow glory,
and I thankfully thumped it into Nirvana and placed it upon a catafalque
of wet green moss in my basket.  Thusis looked on calmly while I
performed the drudgery of the episode, and I heard her singing
carelessly to herself:

    "The old gods have gone away;
    I follow them with feet astray,
    But in my heart I’ll faithful be
      To Tenedos and Naxos!"


"There seems to be a dryad or two left," said I, looking up over my
shoulder where I squatted by the brookside, scrubbing my hands in the
under-water gravel.

"You mean me," she nodded absently, loosening and freeing her leader and
line.

"I sure do, Thusis."

"You’re so funny," she said in the same tranquil, detached voice, as
though she were some young chatelaine and I her gillie.

We went on to the next pool where the green crystal water gushed in and
spread out calmly through the woodland, reflecting every fern and tree.

The silken whistle of her cast made a pretty whispering sound in the
mossy silence, and I watched her where she stood slim and straight as a
silvery sapling searching the far still reaches of the water with the
tiny tuft of tinseled feathers until the surface of the placid pool was
shattered into liquid splinters by the splash of a trout, and her line
vibrated and hummed like a taut violin string.

Like lightning the convulsive battle was joined there in the woodland
depths and the girl, all fire and grace, swayed like a willow under the
furious rhythmic rushes of the unseen fish.

Click-click went her reel, and the feathery whirr of the line accented
the silence.  Then that living opalescent thing sprang quivering out of
its element, and fell back, conquered, in a shower of opal rain.


Toward noon we came to a pool into which poured the stream with a golden
sound between two boulders mantled thick with moss.  And here Thusis
seated herself and laid aside her rod.

"I am hungry," she said, looking over her shoulder at me with the same
aloof composure that all the morning had reversed our rôles as master
and maid.

But even as she spoke she seemed to realize the actual situation: a
delicate color came into her cheeks and then she laughed.

"Isn’t it funny?" she said, springing to her feet. "Such presumption!
Pray condescend to unsling the basket and I shall give Don Michael his
lunch."

"Don Michael," said I, "will continue to do the dirty work on this
expedition.  Sit down, Thusis."

"Oh, I couldn’t permit——"

"Oh, yes, you could.  You’ve been behaving like a sporting duchess all
this morning.  Continue in that congenial rôle."

"What did you say?" she demanded, her gray eyes frosty and intent on me.

"I said you’ve been behaving like a duchess."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because it’s so."

She sat on her mossy throne, regarding me intently and unsmilingly.

"Don’t say that again,—please," she said, coldly.

"I was merely jesting."

"I know.  But please don’t say it in that way. Don’t use that
expression."

"Very well," said I, not relishing the snub.  And I laid out the lunch
in silence, during which operation I could feel Thusis was watching my
sulky features with amusement.

To make sure I looked up at her when I had finished, and caught the
little devils laughing at me out of both her eyes.

"Luncheon’s ready," said I, infuriated by her mockery.

"Monsieur is served," said Thusis, in a voice so diabolically meek that
I burst out laughing; and the girl, as though flinging discretion to the
summer breezes, leaped to her feet with a gay little echo of my laughter
and dropped down on the moss beside the woodland banquet.

"What do I care after all!" she said.  "From the beginning I’ve been at
no pains to deceive you. So in the name of the old gods let us break
bread together."

She picked up a bit of bread, sprinkled a pinch of salt on it, broke it,
and offered me half with a most adorable air.  And we ate together under
the inviolate roof of the high blue sky.

"Now," she said, "you’ll never betray me."

"You knew that in the beginning."

"Did I?  I don’t know.  I’ve been perfectly careless concerning you, Don
Michael."

"Was it from instinctive confidence, Thusis, or out of disdain?"

The girl laughed, not looking up but continuing to poke for olives with
a fork too large for the neck of the flask:

"Disdain you, Don Michael?  How could I?"

"I sometimes believe you do.  You behave very often as though I were a
detail of the surrounding landscape and quite as negligible."

"But it’s an attractive landscape and not negligible," she insisted,
still poking for elusive olives. "Your simile is at fault, Monsieur
O’Ryan."

"Thusis," said I, gravely consuming a sandwich, "you have made fun of me
ever since I laid eyes on you."

"You began it."

"How?"

"You made fun of my red hair."

"It is beautiful hair."

"Indeed?"

"You know it.  You know perfectly well how pretty you are."

"Señor!"

"In fact," said I, offering myself another sandwich, "you are unusually
ornamental.  I concede it.  I even admit that you resemble _The Laughing
Girl_."

"The cherished photograph on Monsieur’s dresser! Oh, that is too much
flattery.  What would the Admiral think to hear you say such things to
your housekeeper!  Don Michael, you are young and you are headed for
trouble.  I beg of you to remember your ancestors."

"How about yours, Thusis?"

"Mine?  Oh, they were poor Venetians.  Probably they ran gondolas for
the public—the taxis of those days, Don Michael—and lived on the tips
they received."

"Thusis?"

"Monsieur?"

"I’d be grateful for a tip—if you don’t mind."

"A tip?"

"Yes.  Just a little one."

The girl held out her glass and I filled it with cool Moselle.

"You’re such a nice boy," she said, and sipped her wine, looking at me
all the while.  She was so pretty that it hurt.

"A tip," she repeated musingly.  "That is the Anglo-Saxon slang for
information.  Is it then that you request information?"

"If you are willing."

"About what, pray?"

"About yourself, Thusis."

"That is unworthy curiosity."

"No, it isn’t curiosity."

She elevated her delicate nose, very slightly. "What, then, do you term
it, Don Michael?"

"Sympathy."

"Oh la!  Sympathy?  Oh, I know _that_ kind.  It is born out of the
idleness of speculation and developed with an admixture of sentimental
curiosity always latent in men."

She laughed: "It’s nothing but emotion, Monsieur. Men call it budding
friendship.  But men really care for no women."

"Why do you say that?"

"It’s true.  Men seek friendship among men. Men like few or no women,
but almost any female. That is the real truth.  Why dodge it?"

"How old are you, Thusis?"

"Not old—as you mean it."

She had finished her luncheon, and now she leaned over and bathed her
lips and fingers in the icy stream.  There, like some young woodland
thing out of the golden age of vanished gods she hovered, playing at the
glimmering water’s edge, scooping up handfuls of golden gravel from the
bottom and letting them slide back through her dripping fingers.

"I’ll tell you this," she said, looking at the water: "I don’t like men.
I never did.  Any I might have been inclined to like I had already been
born to hate....  You don’t understand, do you?"

"No."

She smiled, sat erect, and dried her fingers on her handkerchief.

"Be flattered," she said.  "No other man before you has had even a
glimpse of my real self.  And I really don’t know why I’ve given you
that much.  I ask myself.  I don’t know....  But,"—and her sweet,
reckless laughter flashed—"the very devil seemed to possess me when I
first saw you, Don Michael.  I was amazingly careless.  But you were so
funny!  I was indiscreet.  But you were so solemn and so typically and
guilelessly masculine."

"Was I?" said I, getting redder and redder.

"Oh, yes!" she cried, "and you are still!  You are all man—the most
comprehensive type of your sex—the most logical, and the most
delightfully transparent!  Oh, you are funny, Don Michael.  You don’t
know it; you don’t suspect it; but you are! And that is why I read you
to the depths of your nice boyish mind and heart, and felt that I need
be at no pains to play my little rôle with you."

"Then," said I, "if you consider me harmless, why not trust me further?"

"I do trust you.  You know I’m not born a servant. You know, also, that
nevertheless I’m in service. So is my sister.  So is my friend,
Josephine Vannis.  So is my friend, Raoul Despres.  Well, then!  It
seems to me that I have trusted you, and that you know a great deal
about us all."

"That is not very much to know," said I, so naïvely that Thusis showered
the woods with her delicious laughter.

"Of course it isn’t much, Don Michael.  But just think how you can amuse
yourself in dull moments by trying to guess the rest!"

"I can’t imagine," said I, "what your object may be in taking service
here in this little lonely valley in the Swiss Alps.  If, as seems
probable, you all are agents of some power now at war—what on earth is
the use of coming here?"

Thusis smiled at me, then, resting on one arm, leaned over the cloth on
the moss and made me a little signal to incline one ear toward her.
When I did so she placed her lips close to my ear:

"You have promised always to treat us like your servants in the presence
of others.  Do you remember?"

I nodded.

"Then I ask no more of you than that, Don Michael....  _Until your
country enters the war_."

Her breath close to my ear—the girl’s nearness, and the sweet, fresh
youth of her, all were doing the business for me.

"Thusis?"

"Yes?"

"Lean nearer.  I want to whisper to you."

She inclined her dainty head: the fragrance of her hair interfered with
my articulation:

"My country," said I, "is not likely to go to war.... But I am."

She said, smilingly: "The fine army of Chile is organized and
disciplined on the German plan. Doubtless this fact, and the influence
of German drill-masters, prejudices many Chileans in favor of entering
this war."

I placed my lips close to her little ear:

"Don’t be silly," I whispered.

At that she straightened up with a breathless little laugh and sat
looking at me.

"You knew where I stood," said I.  "Why practice deception?"

"Yes," said she, "you are practically Yankee."

"So is that Viking, Smith."

"I know.  And the Yankees are at war."

"They are, God bless them."

"God bless them," she said; and her face grew very still and serious.

After a silence: "There is a common ground," she said, "on which we both
may stand.  And that is no-man’s land.  To redeem it I am long since
enlisted in the crusade....  Your heart, Monsieur, is enlisted too....
I knew that....  Else I had never trusted you."

"How did you know?"

She shrugged: "Long ago we had all necessary information concerning you
and your Viking friend. Yet for all that it was not prudent for me to so
carelessly reveal myself to you....  But when I saw you—" she laughed
mischievously—"as I have admitted, already, you inspired me to
indiscreet behavior.  And I didn’t resist—knowing you to be safe."

"Safe?"

"Certainly.  And so I permitted myself to relax—a little."

"In the cellar?"

"Yes....  And I nearly paid for it, didn’t I?"

"I ought to have kissed you," said I with sulky conviction.

"Do you think so?"

"I’m sorry I didn’t."

"I’m sorry, too."  She sprang to her feet, laughing and scared: "Wait!
Listen.  I’m sorry only because it was the only moment that ever could
have happened in my life when I might have submitted to that simple and
bourgeoise experience known as being kissed.  Now it can never happen
again, Don Michael.  And I shall journey, unsaluted, to my virgin tomb."

She lifted her gray eyes sparkling with malice:

"Because a young man was too timid to offer me the curious and unique
experience of being kissed, I must expire, eventually, in total
ignorance of that interesting process."

Her face changed subtly as I started to my feet, and something in the
beautiful altered features halted me.

After a moment’s silence: "It’s perfectly rotten of me," she said
slowly.  "But you, also, seem to realize that it can’t happen."

"You mean it can’t happen without forfeiting your friendship, Thusis?"

"Without incurring my hatred," she said in a curiously still voice, her
eyes as cold as grayest ice. "Do it, if you like," she added.  "I
deserve it.  But I shall hate myself and detest you....  Is it worth it?
Seriously, Mr. O’Ryan, is your revenge worth my deepest enmity?"

I shrugged.  "Thusis," said I pleasantly, "you take yourself very
seriously.  Don’t you?"

"Don’t _you_!" she demanded, flushing.

"I’m sorry, but I really can’t."  And I lighted a cigarette and picked
up my fishing-rod.

"You ask me," I continued, switching my flies out over the water,
"whether the possibly interesting operation of kissing you would be
worth your cataclysmic resentment.  How can I guess?  It might not even
be worth the effort involved—on my part. To be frank, Thusis, I’m not at
all convinced that you’d be worth kissing."

"Is that your opinion?" inquired the girl, nibbling at her under lip and
regarding me out of eyes that darkled and sparkled with something or
other I could not quite define.

"That is my opinion," said I pleasantly.  "Besides, I have a photograph
on my dresser which if chastely and respectfully saluted, would, no
doubt, prove quite as responsive to a casual caress as would you.  And
without any disagreeable results."

"Do you do _that_?" she asked, coloring brightly to the temples, her
teeth still busy with her lip.

"I don’t always make a practice of doing it."

"Have you _ever_ done it?"

"I haven’t happened to."

"Do you intend to?"

"What’s the matter with you, Thusis?" I retorted impatiently.  "Does it
concern you what I do to that picture?"

"Yes, it does," she retorted, turning deeply pink.

"In what way?"

"You say the photograph of the Laughing Girl resembles me.  And if you
are under that impression I do not wish you to take liberties with it.
You have no right to—to kiss a picture because you think it looks
like—like somebody you don’t dare kiss!"

Her flushed audacity was irritating me.

"Don’t dare kiss you?" I repeated, switching my rod about in my
increasing exasperation.  "You’d better not repeat that, Thusis!"

Her flushed features quivered, then suddenly her eyes were full of
little devils all mocking me.

"I do repeat it," she said.  "You dare not!"

At the same instant my hook caught in a branch; I gave it a furious
jerk; crack!—my rod broke at the second joint.  And the clear laughter
of Thusis rang out uncontrolled.

"Alas," said she, "this nice young man is violently offended at
something or other."

An unfeigned damn escaped me.

"Mea culpa!" she exclaimed, breathless with laughter.  "Mea maxima
culpa!  This exceedingly nice young man is dreadfully offended."

Mad all through, I picked up the wreck of my rod and stood silent,
mechanically fitting together the splintered ends of the second joint.
Presently I was aware that she had come up behind me.

"I’m a beast," she said in a small, weak voice.

I said nothing.

"Are you _very_ angry, Don Michael?"—sorrowful but subtly persuasive.

"I’ve ruined this rod," said I.

"You may take mine," humbly sweet.

But I feared her gifts and her contrition.

A light breath—a ghost of a sigh escaped her.

"I’m such a beast," she said....  "But I’ve never before taken the
trouble to be beastly to a man—if that flatters you at all, Don
Michael."

"It does not," said I, coolly.

"It should," she retorted.

"Do you know what I think?" said I, turning, after the manner of other
worms.

"What?"

"I think you overestimate your own importance. And that you’d be far
more attractive if you were not too bally busy thinking about yourself
every minute."

"If that is your opinion," she said, "we had better go home at once."

We went, in solemn silence.



                                 *VIII*

                        *THE KNEES OF THE GODS*


The afternoon was growing very warm.  Smith had stretched himself out on
his bed to read a novel and combat flies.  Occasionally he called out to
me demanding to know how soon we were going to have tea by the fountain.

Which incessantly reiterated question put me out of humor—for I was
writing another poem—and presently I got up, cursed him out, and slammed
the door.

Recently something—whatever it was—had driven me pell-mell toward
Parnassus.

As a matter of record, until I had purchased that photograph of The
Laughing Girl, I had never before written a poem or attempted to write
one, or even considered such an enterprise.

Nor had I most remotely suspected myself capable of producing poetry.
Neither had I, hitherto, desired to so express my thoughts and private
emotions.  Of what serious people call the "Urge" I had, hitherto, been
ignorant.

But since the photograph of The Laughing Girl had come into my
possession, hidden springs totally unsuspected had begun to gush and
bubble somewhere deep within me.  And, to my pleased astonishment, I
suddenly found myself not only endowed with the desire but also with the
ability to rhyme.

And now on this warm, quiet, flyful afternoon, and still considerably
upset over my morning on the trout stream with Thusis, I found myself at
my table, abandoning myself to an orgy of self-expression in verse.

Having slammed the door I now returned to my poem; and first I carefully
re-read as much of it as I had accomplished:

    To THUSIS

    I

      Slender girl with eyes of gray—
    Charming mystery called Thusis—
      Teach me all your lore, I pray!—
    How your loveliness seduces—
    How each dimple has its uses
      Leading men like me astray!

    II

      You display in gay array
    Deadly charms, without excuses;
      Are they fashioned to betray
    Hearts unwary, naughty Thusis?
    Are your russet hairs but nooses
      To ensnare some soul distrait?

    III

      Love’s a tyrant, sages say;
    What he chains he never looses,
      Making slaves of grave and gay,
    Dashing blades and gray recluses,
    Snaring with a thousand ruses
      One and all, alackaday!

    ENVOI

      Cupid’s sway the very deuce is!
      His caprices and abuses
        All endure and all obey.
      Laugh away my pretty Thusis
        He’ll get _you_ some summer day!


I re-read the Envoi with satisfaction born of the pride of prophecy.
Also, no doubt, some slight personal bitterness gave an agreeable tang
to the couplets.

"Clever,—very clever," said I, dotting a few i’s and crossing several
t’s.  And, feeling better, I laid away the poem and began to walk up and
down the room exhilarated by my own genius.

"When a man," said I, "can turn out such verses"—I snapped my
fingers—"just like that!—he is in little danger of any sentimental
subjugation."

As I turned, my glance chanced to fall on The Laughing Girl, and, for
the first time, I thought I noticed a faint and delicate malice in her
laughing eyes.

"Good heavens," said I to myself, "how vividly she resembles Thusis!"

Oddly enough as I continued to walk to and fro in my room I began to
feel a trifle less gay, less confident regarding my prophetic poem
depicting the sentimental fate of Thusis.

"She’s really very lovely," thought I, "and three-quarters devil.
She’ll do mischief to man, yet. Probably she’s already done a good deal
to some poor young man....  Poor simpleton! ... Unhappy simp!"

I walked over and looked fixedly at The Laughing Girl.

"Poor simp," I murmured mechanically, not meaning anybody in particular.
But as I said it I lifted my absent and troubled eyes, and beheld my own
reflection in the mirror.  It shocked me.  Never had I believed myself
capable of a simper.  And by heaven I wore one now—a moon-eyed
sentimental simper upon my virgin features.

"Confound it!" said I furiously, "why should I look like that?  What’s
the matter with my face?"

Very deep somewhere within me, in a still and serene obscurity so far
unagitated and un-plumbed, something stirred.

"I—I’m not in d-danger of f-falling in love," said I in a scared voice.
"Am I?"

Something was the matter with my heart.  It had become irregular and
seemed frightened.

"If for one moment I supposed," said I, "that I were actually in the
slightest danger of—of——"

I looked at the Laughing Girl; looked away.  And went to a chair and sat
down.

After a long interval I gave tongue to my inmost convictions.  "It isn’t
done," said I.  "Fancy!  Ha-ha!"

But my laughter was a failure.

I looked up at the Admiral to steady myself.  I had never before
considered his features sardonic. He seemed to grin.

"W-what the devil’s the matter with everything to-day!" I exclaimed,
getting up and beginning to pace the room.

But there was no use blustering.  I suspected what the matter was.  I
was falling in love with Thusis.

"Good Lord!" said I in unfeigned distress, "an adventuress camouflaged
as a servant!  Has an O’Ryan come to this?"

Smith opened the door.  He was in his shirt sleeves and had a pipe in
one hand, a book in the other.

"Whatthehellsthematter?" he asked.  "You’re thumping about in here like
an epileptic cat."

I told him I was exercising.

"Well, you’d better exercise your legs down the stairs," he remarked;
"there’s a wagonful of tourists at the front door."

"The deuce there is!"

"Look out of the window and then get a wiggle on."

Sure enough!  From the window I beheld them. They already were
disembarking.

"Where’s Thusis!" I exclaimed.  "This is the limit.  It’s—it’s a
confounded nuisance."

"Better go below, mine host," said Smith, resuming his recumbent
attitude on his bed and opening his book.  He puffed at his pipe,
swatted a fly with a paper-knife, and looked at me.

"Mine host," he said, "you should greet your guests on the doorstep
wearing a napkin over one arm."

I turned on my heel and went out, and met Thusis in the hallway.

"What the dickens is all this?" I demanded. "Have those tourists the
impudence to come here and ask for accommodations in my house?"

She seemed surprised and also I thought a trifle excited.

"But, Monsieur, was it not understood?"

"Oh, yes, of course it was understood because the idiotic Swiss law must
be obeyed," said I, gnawing my lip in vexation.  "What do they
want—these tourists?  Tea?"

"I think," said Thusis, "they intend to stay."

"Over-night?"

"Longer, Monsieur."

"Hang it all!" I blurted out.  "That spoils our perfectly delightful
privacy."

Thusis observed me sideways.  She wore the fine chemisette of some sheer
stuff and the velvet bodice of the peasantry, both coquettish and cut
low.  Her straight short wool skirt and buckled slippers set off the
fascinating costume of the Canton; but no peasant ever possessed such
slender and thoroughbred loveliness.

I glanced down at her slim feet, at her hands so smooth and so prettily
fashioned; I looked up into her gray eyes uneasily.  And I thought to
myself that I’d show the door to any guest who tried any nonsense with
Thusis.

"Where are these tourists?" I asked sulkily.

"In the big lounging room."

As I started to descend the stairs Thusis touched me on the arm.  A tiny
and complex shock went quite through me at the contact.

"Don Michael?"

"Yes."

"Are you still vexed at me?"

"No."

"Because—I _was_ rude to you.  I did provoke you. I did lay myself open
to light treatment from you. But—I do respect you, Don Michael."

"You are always laughing at me."

"I know.  It’s my way—if I like a person.... I plague them a little....
_If_ I like them."

"But you not only plague me, you ridicule me!"

"You don’t understand.  You couldn’t understand. I myself don’t
understand why I laugh at you and torment you....  Because I never
before did that to a man....  To my sister—to my girl friends, yes.  But
never before to any man."

She stood near me, smiling, watching my expression.

"I like you, Don Michael," she said.

"And I you, Thusis."

"I know it.  It won’t do, either.  I mean that we may laugh a little
together, now and then.  But it is safer not to think of each other
as—as socially—equal."

I said magnanimously: "I am beginning to think of you in that way
already."

"Are you really?"  Her smile flashed out, mischievous, almost mocking.

"A servant?" she added.  "Possibly even an adventuress?  An agent,
anyway, in the service of some government not yours?  You consider
admitting such a woman on terms of social equality?  Oh, Don Michael!
If you like me as much as that you must care a little more for me than
mere liking."

"I do."

She began to laugh—a hushed, delicious sort of laughter, checked
suddenly by my quick flush.

"If I take the trouble to be serious with you," said I, "as much is due
me from you, I think."

It was, for me, utterly impossible to define the series of complex
expressions which succeeded one another in her face.

She seemed inclined to laugh again but bit her lip and looked at me out
of brilliant eyes.  Mirth, surprise, gay disdain, a fleeting
uncertainty, a slight blush,—then the familiar sweet mockery once
more—these I read and followed as I watched her.

"Such a strange young man," I heard her murmur to herself.

"And such a strange girl, Thusis."

"I know.  And you and I have no business to play together.  And we can’t
unless we’re very, very careful.  We ought not to.  You think so from
your standpoint, and I know it from mine.  And yet—if you will be very,
very careful—I’ll risk it—a little while longer....  Because I—I don’t
know why—I like to laugh at you, Don Michael....  And I laugh at those
only whom I like."

"I think," said I, "that I’m rather near to falling in love with you,
Thusis."

"Oh!" she cried with her breathless, bewildering smile, "I couldn’t
permit you to do that!"

"Permit me?"

"No.  You mustn’t.  That would never do!  No—no indeed!  Never!  Just
find me gay and frivolous and rather pretty in my way—just attractive
enough to remain good humored when I plague you."

"If I should fall in love with you I couldn’t help it."

"But it would be such a mistake.  You mustn’t do it.  I don’t wish to
think about such things.  It wouldn’t do for me.  Or for you.  I mean as
far as I am concerned."

"You mean you could not respond, Thusis?"

"Oh, no, I couldn’t."  In her hurried voice there was a faint hint of
alarm, I thought.

I was falling in love.  I knew it.

"Unless you take me lightly—unless you are willing that we play
together," she said, "I couldn’t talk to you, Don Michael.  I may not
take you seriously; nor you, me.  That is essential."

"I may not p-pay court to you, Thusis?"

"Oh, that?  Yes—in the nice way you have been doing.  At least I thought
you had been doing it, haven’t you?"

"Yes—not realizing it.  Yes—that’s what I have really been doing....  Am
I not to make love to you, Thusis?"

"W-what kind of love?"

"Honest, of course."

"D-demonstrative—love?"

"Yes."

"Oh, no!  No, not that sort.  No, please."  For I had taken her smooth
little hand in mine, and she withdrew it swiftly.

"You know," she said, "your guests are waiting."

She laughed.  Then she came up to me slowly:

"Don Michael, do you really like me?"

"Yes."

"Then—will you do something for me?"

"Yes."

"It is this.  In the presence of these tourists remember always that I
am your servant and a Swiss peasant.  Never by word or glance permit
them to believe otherwise.  Do you promise?"

"Yes."

She smiled, laid both her hands frankly in mine.

"I’m going to tell you something," she said. "Your guests below are the
ex-king Constantine of Greece, his wife, the ex-queen; Ferdinand, King
of Bulgaria—or Tzar of all the Bulgars—as he loves to call himself;—and
their several assorted shadows."

My eyes were widening at every word.

"Thusis," I said, "what nonsense are you talking?"

"Michael," she said, using my given name for the first time without some
absurd prefix, "I am telling you the truth.  Those are the people who,
dressed like ordinary tourists, are now seated below drinking coffee and
cognac and eating nice little cakes prepared by Josephine and served by
my sister Clelia."

"Do you mean to say that the ex-king and queen of Greece, and King
Ferdinand of Bulgaria are in Switzerland incognito?" I demanded
incredulously.

"They are,—that is, Ferdinand is here incognito for the first time.  You
know, of course, that Constantine and his queen were living in Berne
since the Allies kicked them out of Greece?"

"I have heard so."

"Well, then, here they are, incognito, without servants or any outward
show, dressed like any tourists, arriving in an ordinary wagon.  Yes,
here they are, evidently desiring to escape observation, arm in arm with
him of Bulgaria.  I thought I’d tell you, Michael."

There was an odd little glint in her gray eyes; an odd smile on her
lips.

"What the devil are these birds doing here?" I asked, astonished.

"These allies of Germany?"

"Yes," I said, disgusted; "what do you suppose these fancy gentlemen are
doing here in a little obscure inn among the Alps while all the world
which they have helped to set on fire is in flames around them?"

Her firm hands pressed mine, very slightly.

"Do you feel it so keenly, Michael?"

"Feel what?"

"That these kings below have helped set the world afire?"

"Certainly I do."

She stood looking at me, her hands still resting in mine.

"And now," she mused, "the Americans are in it. But you are not a
Yankee....  Otherwise—"

"Otherwise what?"

"But you are a Chilean."

"I’m a human being, too.  What do you want me to do, Thusis?"

"Permit me to assign them their rooms."

I said: "You are here to watch these kings.  You knew they were coming.
You are here to watch them in the interest of your government."

"Well, Michael?"

"Is it so?"

"Yes."

I looked at her in wonder, dismay, and deep concern.

This young girl—this fresh, sweet, laughing, slender little thing a spy?
And yet I had vaguely supposed her to be some sort of political agent
masquerading in my service for purposes occult.

But the sinister agent who lurks at the heels of suspects—the shadow
that haunts marked men—the unseen, unheard presence that lingers by
doors ajar, by unlighted corridors, in the shade of trees!—I had not
thought of Thusis in such a way.

Something of this I think she read in my eyes fixed on her, for she
flushed slightly and made as though to withdraw her hands.

But, still looking at her, I lifted her hands tightly imprisoned between
my own, and touched them lightly with my lips.

"Oh," she said faintly, and I felt her sudden impulsive clasp.

"You _are_ fine, Michael," she whispered.  "I ask nothing in the way of
help, only that you give me my chance in this affair."

"Take it," said I.  "There are those imbecile kings!  Raise the devil
with them if you like.  And if you need help——"

"Michael!"

"—You know where to look for it," I ended. "But for goodness’ sake be
careful, Thusis.  Not that I care about myself.  The chances are that
I’ll enlist anyway.  But they’d intern you here in Switzerland if they
catch you at anything militant.  And that would worry me half to death."

"Would it?"

In her laughing voice there was the vaguest hint of a softness I had
never heard there.

"Yes, it would."  I drew her a little toward me, but she turned grave,
immediately, and we stood so in silence while her gray eyes regarded me.

Then she gently disengaged herself.

"Be nice to me.  Michael, even when I don’t deserve it," she said; "even
when"—she laughed almost maliciously—"even when I seem to court
destruction."

"Nevertheless," said I, reddening, "I shall pay court to you."

"Please do."

"And make love to you, Thusis."

"That," she said, "is not even on the knees of the gods: it is
impossible."



                                  *IX*

                             *REX, REGIS——*


As I descended the stairs to greet my unbidden guests, through my noddle
ran the flippant old time sing-song of earliest schooldays—"Rex, Regis,
Regi, Regem, Rex, Rege"—an ironic declension of the theoretical in
contrast to the actual which I could not very well decline.

Now, as I entered the long lounging room which Smith and I had used as
our living-room, I very easily recognized God’s anointed, thanks to
Thusis. Otherwise it never would have occurred to me that what I now
beheld was a bunch of kings in camouflage.

Constantine, the ex-King of Greece, sat near a window drinking a pint of
impossible Greek wine and reading one of last month’s New York
newspapers.  The ex-Queen of Greece stood with hands linked behind her
well-made back, looking out at the mountains.  At another little table
the Tzar of all the Bulgars loomed up majestically.  He was eating
coffee-cakes and drinking coffee.  I could hear him.

As I entered the room they all turned their heads to look at me.  And I
thought I had never gazed upon anything more subtly disturbing than the
Hohenzollern visage of the ex-queen.  Indeed she seemed to lack only the
celebrated imperial mustaches to duplicate the sullen physiognomy of her
brother, the Kaiser.  That family countenance of a balky horse was
unmistakable; so were the coarse features of Constantine, with his face
of a typical non-commissioned officer.  But of all faces I had ever
gazed on the fat, cunning visage of the Bulgarian Bourbon, Ferdinand,
was the most false.  A long thin nose split its fatness; under a pointed
beard a little cruel and greasy mouth hid close, while two stealthy eyes
of a wild thing watched over this unpleasant and alarming combination.

Normally these people would not have noticed me; but now, in their rôles
of tourists, they recollected themselves.

When I quietly introduced myself Constantine got up, and I went over and
welcomed him, bowed to his wife, and, when Ferdinand, also, concluded to
get up, I greeted him with the same impeccable formality.

"So you are the fortunate Chilean gentleman who has inherited this
valuable property," said the ex-queen, her hard Prussian eyes fixed
intently upon me.

"Yes, madam, I am that unfortunate Mr. O’Ryan," said I smilingly.  "The
duties of an inn-keeper are not yet entirely familiar to me but I trust
that my servants can make you comfortable."

The queen remarked indifferently that if she were not comfortable enough
she’d let me know,—and turned her back, paying me no further attention.
Doubtless her scrutiny of me had satisfied her. Possibly the Chilean
flag flying from the flag-pole in front of the house also reassured her.
She gazed out at the Bec de l’Empereur, named from the august nose of
her brother.  Constantine’s flickering glance rested on the rigid back
of his spouse, shifted toward me uncertainly, but always reverted to
that straight, stiff back as though in awe and unwilling fascination.

I went over to the counter and picked up the guest ledger: "May I
trouble you to register in order that I may fulfill my obligations
toward the Swiss police?" I said pleasantly.  For none of them had so
far offered me whatever noms-de-guerre had been decided upon.

At this the queen turned and said something to Constantine in a surly
voice, and he got up with alacrity and swaggered over to the desk.

"M. Constantine Xenos, wine merchant, Zurich, and Madame Xenos," he
wrote, his tongue in his cheek.  His shifty eyes flickered toward King
Ferdinand who had again become rather noisy over his coffee and cakes.
Then, apparently remembering his instructions, he wrote:

"Monsieur Bugloss Itchenuff.  Investments and business opportunities.
Zurich."

He handed me the pen with a flourish: "There you are, Mr. O’Ryan," he
said with a misleading heartiness in his barrack-room voice contradicted
always by restless and furtive eyes and remarkable royal fingers which
were never still—twitching, wandering, searching, unquiet
fingers,—irresolute, uncertain, timid, prying fingers not to be depended
upon in emergencies, never to be trusted, even in their own pockets.

"Do you expect to remain over night, Monsieur Xenos?" I inquired,
glancing at the wet signatures on the ledger, and blotting them.

"Oh, yes," he said.  "This inn looks like a damn fine place to spend a
few weeks in—doesn’t it, Sophy?" appealing to his wife in the loud,
familiar, bluff tone characteristic of him, and which seemed to me
neither genuine nor carelessly frank, but an assumed manner covering
something less confident and good humored.

The Princess of Prussia, so abruptly addressed, turned slowly from her
contemplation of the Bec de l’Empereur:

"We shall remain as long as it suits us," she said coolly.  "And if our
suites are ready——"

"Rooms," corrected the King in jocular protest.

"_Suites_," repeated his wife sharply.

Ferdinand, gobbling his slopping coffee, wiped his wet beard:

"If there are any suites in your chalet," he said to me, "I’ll take
one—that is, if it isn’t too expensive.  I can’t afford anything very
expensive, and I’ll trouble you to remember that."

He got up, continuing to wipe his greasy mouth with the back of a fat,
soft hand, and came toward us,—a massive man, and bulkily impressive
except that his legs were too short for his heavy body, which
discrepancy gave to his gait a curious duck-like waddle.

"I like plenty of privacy," he explained, "that’s what I like.  I want
to see my rooms and I want to know in advance exactly how much they are
going to cost me and what extras are not included in the——"

"Oh, for God’s sake don’t begin that hard luck history of yours,"
interjected Constantine in his best barrack-room manner.  "Mr. O’Ryan is
a gentleman and he’s not going to rob you, Buggy!"

It was instantly evident to me that the Tzar of all the Bulgars did not
like to be called Buggy,—the familiar, affectionate and diminutive, no
doubt, for his first nom-de-guerre, which was Bugloss, and was, in the
Bulgarian language, pronounced Bew-gloss, _not_ Bugg-loss.

The Queen, paying no attention to her loud-mouthed husband or to King
Ferdinand, crossed the room with a firm, quick step, and examined the
ledger and the indifferent penmanship of her royal husband.  Then, to
me:

"Be good enough to show me to my suite," she said.  "My husband will
occupy separate but connecting apartments."

I banged on a large, brass bell.  The door opened. Thusis appeared.

Her instant and abrupt appearance had an odd effect upon these three
people.  They all started perceptibly.  The Tzar of all the Bulgars even
jumped.  Then he stared at her with the intentness of a wild pig in the
rutting season.  And King Constantine also regarded her with a stealthy
sort of pleasure discreetly screened by a mask of bluff and hearty
indifference:

"Now, my good girl," he said loudly, "kindly show us to our quarters and
be quick about it.  And maybe you’ll find a pretty silver franc in your
apron pocket if you step lively!  Such things have happened—haven’t
they, Sophy?"

Thusis curtsied, then I saw her beautiful gray eyes lifted slowly and
fix themselves upon the coldly staring orbs of the Hohenzollern
princess.

"Madame will graciously condescend to follow," she murmured.  "A
thousand reverent excuses that I precede the gracious lady.  But it is
inevitable when the humble guide the well born."

The Queen’s hard, suspicious face never stirred a muscle.  She leisurely
inspected Thusis from head to toe, from toe to head without approval and
without mercy.

"Are you the chamber maid?" she demanded coldly.

"My house-keeper and waitress, Madame," I explained.  "Her name is
Thusis."

The Queen stared intently at Thusis, then very insolently at me:

"Your house-keeper?  Really," she said,—"your _house-keeper_?  Fancy!
One might almost doubt that such a very young girl could possess
sufficient domestic experience for such an important position."

I turned red; not Thusis, however; and either the vulgar innuendo had
left her quite unconscious, or she coolly scorned the implication.  And
she merely smiled upon the Hohenzollern and awaited her Prussian
pleasure.

"Come on, Sophy," said King Constantine, with a covert leer at Thusis’s
ankles.  And they all started upstairs, King Ferdinand shuffling in the
rear with the peculiarly ponderous waddle which characterizes the
progress of an elephant’s hind quarters.

King Constantine halted on the stairs to turn and call back to me in his
noisy, unceremonious, jovial way:

"Wait a bit, O’Ryan!  I forgot to say that we’re expecting some friends
of ours.  So fix ’em up in good shape when they——"

"Go on, Tino!" interrupted the queen impatiently. "Don’t you even know
enough to keep on going when you start?  And God knows," she added in
her disagreeable voice, "it’s hard enough to start you."

"All right, my dear," he exclaimed with his loud forced laugh.  "I only
wanted to rest Buggy’s legs a bit."

And the anointed of the Lord resumed their shuffling progress upward at
the heels of the swift, light feet of Thusis.

As for me I went out to the court where their luggage lay piled.  The
wagon which had brought them was gone, but Raoul stood there, his hat on
one side, hands on hips, chewing a wheat-straw and gazing blandly at the
pile of royal luggage.

"These," said I carelessly, "belong upstairs. Thusis will tell you where
to carry them, Raoul."

"Bien, Monsieur!"

We both looked gravely at the luggage, then my glance rested on his
pleasant, reckless face in which I seemed to notice a gaiety more marked
than usual.

For one moment, as he caught my eye, I thought he was going to wink at
me, but, even as his eyelid quivered, he seemed to recollect himself.
And, with an absolutely indescribable expression, he seized upon the
luggage, and, both arms full, strode toward the back stairs.  And, far
in the passageway, I heard him singing under his breath:

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm,
    You have done a heap of harm——"

until Josephine Vannis came to the pantry door, her superb arms all over
flour, and said in French: "Hush, Raoul, or I slay thee with my
rolling-pin, thou imbecile, curly, hot-head!"

"My Josephine adored," he retorted, "thou slayest me hourly with thy
Olympian beauty——"

"Be silent, addlepate, I implore thee!  Is the very devil in thee,
Raoul, to endanger everything with thy empty-headed audacity?"

"Ruler of hearts," he rejoined, "remain tranquil. _Nous les aurons!_"

I went upstairs, discovered Smith lying on his bed and reading, and then
and there told him the whole story.  He did not appear to be very much
surprised over the royal identity of my guests.

"That sort of king," he remarked, "is likely to run about under foot.
You’ll find them a nuisance."  And he resumed his novel and his pipe.

I went downstairs again.  Raoul passed with more luggage.

I stood motionless listening to the retreating footsteps of Raoul
through the stone passageway.  And, as I lingered, intensely curious and
beginning to feel uneasy, Clelia came out of the kitchen looking like
some flushed, excited school-girl, her golden hair in two braids, and
her blue eyes very brilliant in the bright sunshine.



                                  *X*

                                *CLELIA*


When Clelia saw me a startled expression came into her face, instantly
controlled and concealed by the lovely smile so characteristic of her
and of Thusis.

"Something," said I, "smells very appetizing in there."

"Tea-cakes," she nodded.  "Shall I bring you one from the oven?"

"Bring one for yourself, too, Clelia."

At that she blushed, then with a pretty, abashed smile, went into the
pantry and immediately reappeared with two delicious tea-cakes.

"We mustn’t be caught here doing this," she whispered, offering me one
of the cakes.

"Who’d object?  Raoul?"

"Pouf!" she laughed.

"Who then?  Josephine?  Thusis?"

"Pouf!  Pouf!"

"Smith?"

She blushed a deep pink but shrugged her young shoulders.

"Pouf!" she said calmly.

"Well then, who is there to object to our taking tea together?"

"Your guests, Monsieur O’Ryan."

"My guests!" I mimicked her gaily: "Pouf! for my guests, Clelia.  Do you
think you could find two glasses of fresh milk for yourself and for me?"

"With cream on it?" she inquired naïvely.

"Certainly."

She went back to the pantry.  I heard Josephine demurring, then they
both laughed, and Clelia reappeared with the milk and two more fresh
tea-cakes.

We seated ourselves on the stone milk-bench in the cool, shadowy
passageway.

"The way you behave with your servants," she remarked, "seems almost
scandalous, doesn’t it?"

"Outrageous," said I.  "What does Josephine think?"

"Oh, you haven’t attempted any familiarities with her."

"No.  I’d as soon try to pick up Juno and address that goddess as
’girlie.’"

We both laughed, sitting there side by side absorbing milk and
tea-cakes.

"Now," said I, "the illusion would be complete if you wipe your mouth on
your apron and I do a like office for myself on my sleeve."

She looked up at me and did it.  So did I.

"What else?" she inquired.

"Now we’ll kiss each other, Clelia, and then you’ll go back to your pots
and pans and I’ll go out and hoe potatoes."

"Do you think you’d better kiss me?"

"Yes, I do," said I.

"I’ve never done it."

"What!" I laughed incredulously.

"Why no," she said, surprised.

"Is that true, Clelia?"

"Perfectly."

"And you’re willing to begin on _me_?"

"Oh, pour ça—one must _begin_—if only to know how when necessary."

"You think you ought to know how it’s done?" I inquired, controlling my
gaiety with an effort.

"Well"—she hesitated with adorable indecision—"in an emergency, perhaps,
it might be as well that I know how such things are accomplished."

"It’s up to you, Clelia."

"Is it?"  She thought deeply for a moment. Then: "It’s going to be a
shock to me, I suppose. But I’ve made up my mind that it’s likely to
happen to me some day.  And I think I’d better be prepared....  Don’t
you?"

"Yes, I do." ...

"Besides, I never was afraid of you."

"Of course not.  Nobody is!" said I, laughing.

"Oh, yes, they are."

"Who?"

"Well, for one, my sister, Thusis, is."

"Thusis!  Afraid of _me_!" I exclaimed.

Clelia nodded: "She’s afraid."

"Of me!" I repeated incredulously.

"Well, of herself, too."

"Why?"

"I couldn’t tell you why.  You know Thusis and I differ in some things.
Thusis has her own ideas—about—the world in general.  And I’m afraid her
ideas are rather old fashioned, and that they are going to make her
unhappy."

"Can’t you tell me what her ideas are?" I asked.

"No.  She may tell you if she chooses.  But it isn’t likely that she
will.  Anyway they are not my ideas.  My opinion is that the way to be
happy is to accept the world as it is, not as it was or should be."

"You are quite wonderful, Clelia."

"Oh, no, I’m not.  I’m just a human girl who desires to be happy and who
detests gloom of all sorts—gloomy ideals, gloomy pride, gloomy
conventions that wrap their shrouds around the living and stifle them in
a winding sheet of tradition."

I was astonished to hear this girl so fluently express herself.  In her
soft, fresh, brilliant beauty she seemed to have stepped but yesterday
across the frontiers of adolescence.

"So, if you kiss me," she said, "I don’t think the world is going to
tumble to pieces.  Do you?"

"I do not."

"However," she added, "if Thusis felt the way I do about the world, I
wouldn’t think of letting you kiss me."

I didn’t understand, and I said so.  But she laughed and refused to
explain.

"Life is short and full of sorrow," she said. "And the world is full of
war and we’ll all get hurt, sooner or later, I think.  What a pity!
Because the world really is lovely.  And when one is young, and just
beginning to fall in love with life, one is naturally inclined to taste
what few delights are offered between these storms of death—brief
glimpses of sunshine, Monsieur, that gleam for a few moments between the
thunderous clouds that darken all the world....  So, if you choose to
kiss me——"

We sat quite motionless and in silence for a while. Then:

"How about Smith?" I asked tersely.

"Monsieur Smith?" she repeated, flushing.  "Why do you ask?"

"I don’t know....  I wondered—wondered——"

"_What?_"

"How he’d feel about my kissing you.  He might not like it, you know."

"You mean to tell him!" she exclaimed in dismay.

"No, of course not!  But suppose he sauntered around the corner—during
the process——"

Clelia laughed: "It might do him infinite good," she said, "to see that
_somebody_ is willing to kiss me——"

"What!"

"—Because _he_ won’t.  And he knows, I think, that he could if he asked
to."

"Good heavens!" I said, "I thought Smith had become sentimental over
you, Clelia!"

"He is a very gloomy young man," said the girl with decision.

"But isn’t he very evidently enamored of you?"

"He’s too respectful."

I gasped.

"I can’t goad him into human behavior," she went on with lively
displeasure.  "He must see that I am quite willing to be friendly and
light-hearted,—that I am always ready to stop dusting and sweeping and
making beds to converse with him. But all he does is to follow me about
and remind me of the solemnity of life, and tell me that he is deeply
concerned about my attitude toward the world.  Fancy!  It is not very
gay, you see, my acquaintance with Monsieur Smith."

I was surprised.  What she said presented Smith at a new angle.  I had
supposed him an idle philanderer.

"What worries him about you?" I demanded.

"He seems to think I’m an idiot.  I told him I meant to take life gaily
and happily when opportunity offered, because I, probably, had only a
very short time to live.  I told him that I found the world beautiful
and that I had fallen ardently in love with life.  I told him that I
didn’t want to die without learning a little something about men, and
that my time was short, and I ought to neglect no opportunity."

"What on earth did he say?"

"He became angry."

"Didn’t he say anything?"

She blushed: "Oh, yes.  He said he wouldn’t be used in such a manner.
He said that he desired to be taken seriously or not at all.  At which
solemn statement I laughed, naturally enough.  Then he became furious,
demanding to be informed whether I had the soul of a soubrette or of a
modest and properly brought up young girl.

"And I replied that to be modest did not necessitate deceit and
hypocrisy; that I had told him the truth; that I loved life, adored
happiness, was enamored of the world, knew nothing of men but wished to:
imagined nothing more delightful than to be made love to, intended to
take advantage of the first opportunity that offered."

"W-what did he say to that, Clelia?" I faltered, utterly bewildered.

"A lot of nonsense.  He tried to make me believe that love is a tragic
and solemn business—as though I were not fed up on the solemn and
tragic!

"He said I was a fool and didn’t know what I was talking about.  He
said, in substance, that the subject of love was one to be approached on
tip-toe, with awe, formality, prayer, and fasting.  He said that such a
man as he could love only an ideal, not a human and happy thing in love
with life and willing to prove it with the first young man that passes.
He said that I alarmed and grieved him; that I am unmoral; that my
impulses are purely pagan; that the formalism of civilization alone can
sanction any impulse attraction between his sex and mine."

"What did you say?" I asked, feebly.

"I said, ’Pouf!’  And I meant it."

Her color was high and her eyes very bright.

"I did like him.  He was the first man I had ever had a decent chance to
talk to alone,—I mean the first young man of education.  And, knowing I
hadn’t much time, I was quite willing to play at being in love with him.
I told him so."

"Maybe," said I, in a weak voice, "he wanted to do more than merely play
at being in love."

"But my time is too short," she explained.  "I haven’t time to fall in
love.  Why doesn’t he take what there is to take?"

"Your time is short—what do you mean, Clelia?"

"It is."

"Are you—ill?"

"No," she said impatiently, "I’m in perfect health."

"Then—what makes you suppose you’re going to die soon?"

"I can’t tell you.  Of course I may not die very soon.  But it’s likely
I shall....  And if I do I hope it will teach Mr. Smith a good lesson!"

"W-what lesson?"

"To take what offers and thank the gods!"

She looked up at me and laughed: "You’d better kiss me," she said:
"you’ll never have a chance with Thusis."

I blushed violently.

"Did you think I desired to k-kiss Thusis?"

"I think you are a little in love with Thusis."

"I am."

"How wonderful!  And don’t you desire to kiss her?"

I was silent.

"Because," said Clelia, laughing, "I think she’d like to have you do it.
She’d slay me if she heard me.  And she’d slay herself before she’d ever
let you....  And yet—it _is_ odd!—I’m willing to learn how it feels to
be kissed, but I am not in love; and Thusis likes you and won’t admit
it:—you’ve turned my sister’s head and she’s horribly afraid of you; and
never, never will she let you kiss her.  And there you are!"

After a long silence she looked up at me shyly:

"Shall we?" she asked naïvely.

"I could show you how it’s done," said I.

And then, just at the moment when the deed was about to be accomplished,
a shadow fell across the floor.  I looked up.  Thusis stood there.

Her beautiful face flamed as she met our eyes.

Clelia stood up with a light laugh.  "My first lesson!" she exclaimed,
"and already ended before I learned a word of it!  Take your young man,
sister!  He’s quite as disappointing as his solemn friend!"

And she went into the pantry taking with her our empty glasses.

"So _that_ is the sort of man you are," said Thusis calmly.

The utter hopelessness of the situation turned me flippant.

"Yes," said I, "I am a very dangerous, unprincipled man.  I’m thoroughly
and hopelessly bad, Thusis.  What do you think about me now?"

"What I have always thought about your class,—nothing!" she said in an
even, smiling voice.

"Class!" I repeated, perplexed by the word, and the faint contempt in
her voice.

"Exactly.  That is most accurately what I mean—your class in the social
scale, Mr. O’Ryan.  And you live—down to it."

"Will you explain," said I, amazed and angry, "what you mean to infer?"

"I don’t infer.  I am direct and implicit.  You behave as might be
expected.  Quality demands certain things of itself.  Of you, Mr.
O’Ryan, nothing is demanded.  And nothing involving quality is
expected....  And I have been a great fool," she added quietly.  And
walked out the way she entered, leaving me perplexed and thoroughly
enraged.

And I would not have it left in any such way; and sprang up and overtook
Thusis as she entered the empty living-room.

"What I want to know," said I, "is what you mean by implying that any
social inequality exists between you and me?"

"Between you and your servant?" she inquired mockingly.  And tried to
pass me.

"You didn’t mean that!  You meant something entirely different.  Who are
you, Thusis?  And I don’t care a sou who you are,—_what_ you are! I am
in love with you——"

"—And with my sister?"

"I’m in love with _you_!  You know it!"

"I do _not_!"

"You _do_ know it!  And it disturbs you——"

My voice shook.

"It leaves me utterly indifferent," she said disdainfully; but her gray
eyes were lifted slowly to mine and the color came into her beautiful
face.

"What sort of man are you!" she demanded. "You see how young my sister
is—how silly and inexperienced!  And yet——"

"I’d as soon kiss a healthy kitten," said I.  "She’s attractive because
she is your sister.  Anyway Smith is in love with her——"

"I won’t permit it!" cried Thusis.  "I’ll not tolerate such a thing!"

She clenched her hands; there was a glint of something in her eyes—but
if it came from angry tears they dried before I was sure.

"I’ve brought this on myself," she said.  "I laid myself open to
it—invited familiarity and disrespect from you!  The very devil must
have been in me to so utterly forget myself!  Now I’ve got to pay for
it—pay for it in bitter humiliation—witness such a scene as I have just
witnessed—and then stand here and hear you tell me that—that you are in
love with me!—endure what you say——"

Suddenly it became clear to me what Clelia had meant when she said that
Thusis was afraid of me.

"Thusis," said I, "you won’t have to listen to any more of that from me.
I shall not tell you again that I care for you.  And anyway, in a little
while it will no longer be true.  Because I shall get over it."

She looked up.

"And I want you to know that I am not angry. And even if I were I want
you to understand that you need not be afraid of my resentment."

"I am not!" she flashed out.

"You are!  You are afraid that I might be the sort of creature to
revenge wounded amour propre by proving faithless to the confidence you
gave me. Don’t worry," I added angrily, "because I’d cut my tongue out
or face a firing squad before I’d utter one word to anybody concerning
what you told me about your mission here."

There was a silence.  Then Thusis’ smile came back, a trifle
tremulously:

"You silly boy!" she said.  "Did you think I was afraid of _that_!"

"You say that, in my case, noblesse oblige means nothing to me."

She blushed scarlet: "I was angry—hurt.  I did not mean that."

"You meant it."

"I did _not_!  I tried to believe I meant it.  I knew it wasn’t true.  I
knew it would anger you; that is why I said it."

"Then why are you afraid of me?"

"I?"

"Yes, you, Thusis."

"I am not.  I am afraid of nobody....  Except ... myself."

She looked up at me again, flushed, lovely, and her gray eyes seemed
distressed.

"It’s just myself, Don Michael," she said with a forced smile.  "I seem
changed, different,—and it alarms me—scares me—to find myself capable of
behaving so—so imprudently—with you."

"Thusis!"

But she had passed me in a flash and I heard her light feet flying up
the stairs.  I followed.  She was at the top of the staircase, but heard
me and turned on the landing to look down.

"My behavior with you mortifies me!" she repeated in a hurried whisper.
"Why do you follow me, Michael?"

"Do you have to ask me, Thusis?"

"You mustn’t ever again pursue me," she repeated in a low, breathless
voice.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because—possibly I couldn’t run as fast as you can.  Do you think I
would endure it to be overtaken?  Do you suppose I could tolerate being
run down and caught?  By _you_?  Can’t you comprehend that such a thing
is unthinkable?"

Again that slightest hint of contempt in her voice, not entirely
recognized yet vaguely divined.

I said slowly: "If I really understand, Thusis, then you need not worry.
Because I shall never again take a single step in the world to follow
you."

She seemed to consider this very deeply, standing on the landing and
looking down at me out of her beautiful and serious eyes.

"Suppose," she said, "that you do follow me—not very fast—just saunter
along—so that I need not run?"

She did not smile; neither did I.

"Would that be agreeable to you, Michael?"

"Would it be agreeable to you, Thusis?"

"Yes, it would....  _Please_ don’t come upstairs! Does it give you any
pleasure to scare me and see me run?"

I had one foot on the stairs; and let it remain there.

"When I say saunter, I mean it, Michael.  Just stroll around—in my
vicinity—describing a few leisurely circles—so that I’ll not notice your
approach.  Couldn’t you do that—and keep within sight?"

"I’ll try."

Suddenly her eyes grew brilliant and she smothered a laugh with her
hands.  Then, as both palms clung flat to her laughing lips she
deliberately kissed them and, with a pretty gesture, threw the reckless
salute at me.

"Your humble servant, Don Michael!" she whispered, "your housekeeper
salutes you—and runs!"

Which she did, vanishing like a flash of sunlight in the dusky corridor.

I dropped one hand on the newel-post quite unbalanced by a complexity of
emotions which no experience in life had so far taught me to analyze and
catalogue.

"It’s probably love," said I to myself, calmly enough.  "And what the
devil am I to do about it?"

There was no answer.  Reason, instinct, emotion, appeared to be
paralyzed.

So I climbed the stairs in a blind, mechanical sort of way, and went
into Smith’s room.

"Were you ever in love?" I asked wearily.

He laid aside his novel, unhooked the pipe from his mouth, and
considered me very gravely.

"Yes," he said, "I’ve been in love."

"What did you do about it?"

"The wrong thing, I fancy."

"What was that, Smith?"

"I took the matter too seriously."

"Shouldn’t one?"

"Never!"

I nodded, blankly.

"To be too seriously in love, and to show it," said Smith, "is
disastrous to a man.  It won’t do, Michael.  Unless our sex takes it
gayly and good humoredly we’re patronized.  Take it from me, the solemn
side, the fasting and prayer, must originate in the other sex.  It never
does if we betray such symptoms.  They always wait to see whether we’ll
break out.  And when we do they treat us as though we were sick—kindly
but condescendingly.  You get me?"

"Vaguely."

"All right.  But here’s the other aspect: when we fall in love, and say
so, and then take the object of our vows gayly, amiably, and with
perfect good humor always—no matter how inwardly we doubt and fear and
rage—_then_, Michael, the girl we worship becomes very, very
serious—even ponderous at times—and if she’s got any brain at all it
gets busy and remains busy.  And what preoccupies her mind are questions
concerning whether or not you really do love her seriously enough; and,
if not, whether she can make you do it, which state of intellect causes
perpetual anxiety and chronic uncertainty. And only when these emotions
perpetually preoccupy a girl, can she finally fall in love with you
sufficiently to forget what an ass you really are."

"Smith," said I, "are you in love with Clelia?"

"Yes, damn it," he said serenely.

"Then why don’t you practice your theory on her?"

"My theory," he replied, "is the result of my experience with Clelia.
That is how I came to evolve it.  I believe in it, too.  But it’s too
late to try on Clelia.  Because already she has my number, Michael, and
she knows me for a solemn, single-minded, and serious ass, very, very
deeply in love with her.  She’s on to me, Michael."

I remembered my episode with Clelia and considered it for a while in
silence.  It was apparent to me that the girl’s affections were
completely and healthily disengaged.  Her desire for happiness, her
almost pagan love of gayety, her sheer delight in the mere joy of
living, were not unmoral.  And if, in her pursuit of pleasure there
seemed something feverish, reckless, that was explained by her odd idea
that she had but a little while to live.

"No use to argue, explain, reason, or preach to that girl," said I.
"The thing to do is to give her a jolt."

"A jolt?" he repeated.  "There’s nothing left for me to say or do that
could disconcert that girl. She knows I’m in love with her; she knows
that I have lived a morally decent life, that my high ideals concerning
women have never been lowered, that, to me, love is a sacred——"

"You tried to kiss her sister."

"That," he said, reddening painfully, "was my only lapse from the rigid
conservatism of a life-time.  And doubtless I am now suffering from that
moment of relaxation into folly——"

"Doubtless you are not!" I returned.  "I am certain that Thusis never
mentioned it to Clelia.  And I’m sorry she didn’t because it might have
furnished the required jolt."

Smith became gloomily interested.

"A jolt," I repeated, "is what starts things. Clelia requires one.  All
you need is nerve to administer it."

"How?"

"Why not frivol with Josephine?"

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed.  "A man can’t get gay with a girl like
that!  You might as well try to two-step with the Statue of Liberty!
You might as well play the Doxology on a jazz band!  You might as well
give a burnt-cork show on the Acropolis!  You might as——"

"Calm your alarm," said I.  "That girl, Josephine Vannis, is rather an
overwhelming beauty, I admit.  But it’s just those big, handsome,
impressive, monumentally magnificent girls who fall for some little
squirt——"

"Who the devil do you mean!" he demanded, hotly.

"I don’t mean you.  But you are shorter than she is; you don’t weigh as
much.  Get a move on you! Inject pep into yourself.  Become witty, gay,
degagé, inconsequential, brilliant, light-hearted, bristling with quips
and epigrams——"

"Who?  I?"

"Certainly.  Pull yourself up short.  Eliminate every moral instinct.
Drink more Moselle than you ought to.  Hook arms with that brace of
kings down stairs and pull your hat over one eye!  Then, after you’ve
been the life of the dinner-party, drop into the kitchen and bestow a
few repartees on Josephine.  And if Clelia isn’t shocked I’m a boche!"

"I can’t do all those things," he said uneasily.

"You can try."

So I left him a prey to conflicting emotions, and entered my own room
and sat down on the bed.

"I’m in love," said I to myself, "deeply, inextricably in love!  And
what on earth am I to do about it!"



                                  *XI*

                            *A PYJAMA PARTY*


About midnight I was awakened from agreeable slumber by somebody
knocking at my bedroom door.  I leaned out of bed, switched on the
electric light, got up and opened the door.

King Ferdinand stood there in night-shirt and bare feet holding a candle
that shook like an aspen leaf in the darkness.

"Somebody’s been trying to open my d-door," he stammered.  "I want you
to come in and help me l-look under the b-bed.  Not that I’m n-nervous
or af-f-fraid, b-b-but I d-d-don’t want to be d-disturbed."

"You say you heard somebody trying your door?"

"Yes, I did.  I never sleep well and when I sleep at all I sleep
lightly.  I heard it p-p-plainly, I tell you."

I smiled.  "It’s a windy night," said I.  "Doors and windows rattle."

"Yes, but the wind can’t turn the knob on your door!" he insisted, his
eyes of a wild pig roving nervously about my room.  "I don’t like such
things, and I want you to come and look under my bed."

"Very well," said I, "let us go and look under your bed, Monsieur
Itchenuff."

The Tzar of all the Bulgars was not an agreeable spectacle in his
night-shirt and enormous bare feet. His visage was pasty, his eyes had a
frightened, stealthy restlessness like a wild thing’s that hears and
scents an enemy but has not yet perceived him.

So wabbly was the lighted candle in his large fat hand, that I was
afraid he’d set fire to his night-shirt, and relieved him of it.

"We have our own dynamo here," said I.  "Why didn’t you turn on the
electric light by your bed?"

"It wouldn’t work," he replied.  "Do you suppose somebody has c-c-cut
the wire?"

"Who?"

"God knows!  Everybody has enemies, I suppose. You wouldn’t believe it,
Monsieur, if you knew me well, but even I am affected by enemies."

"Impossible!" said I, looking at him askance as he waddled along
bare-footed beside me.

"Nevertheless, I assure you," he complained in a voice unctuous with
virtuous self-pity, "I, who have never harmed a fly, Monsieur, have
secret enemies who would d-destroy me."

Again I glanced sideways at this Bulgarian assassin—the murderer of
Stambouleff, and of God knows how many others.

We came to the door of his dark bedroom and I went in with the lighted
candle.  First I examined the electric fixture.

"Nobody’s cut your wire," said I.  "The globe’s burnt out."

"Does that seem at all suspicious to you?" he asked in an agitated
voice, coming up behind me.

I smiled.  "That happens daily as you must know."  I got down on my
knees and peered under his bed.  Of course there was nobody there.
Nevertheless he got down on all fours and took the candle to examine
every corner.  Then, puffing, he reared up, shuffled to his flat, splay
feet, and went about peeping into closets, behind curtains and sofas,
moving from room to room in his suite with a stealthy flapping of his
bare feet on the parquet.

Meanwhile I went around trying the several electric switches.  It _was_
odd that all the globes should have been burnt out at once.  Evidently
some fuse in the cellar had blown out.

There was another candle on his dresser.  I lighted it.  And, as it
flickered into yellow flame, something on the floor of the dressing-room
beyond caught the light and sparkled.  And I went forward on tip-toe and
picked it up.

The Tzar of all the Bulgars was busy searching the sitting-room.  Now,
satisfied that there was no intruder concealed about the apartment, he
waddled massively back to where I stood.

"All the same," he said, "I heard the knob of my door squeak."

"There are no robbers in this region," said I with a shrug.

"Monsieur O’Ryan," he said solemnly, "you may not know it but I am a
very important personage—person, I mean—that is," he explained hastily,
"I am important in a business sense.  And I have many envious business
rivals who would not hesitate to follow me secretly from Berne and
attempt to possess themselves of any—papers I might carry—in hopes of
obtaining business secrets."

I said nothing.  He stood on one leg, rubbing one shin with his large,
fat toes, and his little mean eyes roaming everywhere.

"You should have brought a servant or two," I suggested.

"No, no, not this time," he said hurriedly.  "No, this is just an—an
informal little p-pleasure trip with friends—the Xenoses—quite—er—al
fresco—sans façon, you see.  No, I didn’t want servants about."  He shot
a cunning glance at me and checked himself.

So I shrugged, showed him how to double-lock all his doors, bade him
good night, and went back to my own room, trying the corridor lights on
my way. None of them worked.

"There’s no fuse blown out," thought I to myself, staring at my own
bedroom light which burned brightly and which was controlled by the same
switch.

Then, locking my door, I took out of my pocket the small bright object
which I had picked up in Tzar Ferdinand’s dressing-room.

It was a silver filigree button from the peasant costume of Thusis.

Of course she had probably lost it sometime during the day when airing
the suite.  Untidy little Thusis!

I dropped onto my bed still holding the silver button in my closed hand.
Presently I touched it, discreetly, with my lips.  And fell asleep after
a while—to dream that the Bulgarian and the Hohenzollern had cut off my
hands at the wrists and were nailing them to my front door, as happened,
I believe, to Major Panitza.

About three o’clock I awoke in pitch darkness, all quivering from my
dream, and heard the wind in the fir-trees and the slam of a heavy
shutter.

For a while I lay there hoping the shutter would stop banging.  But it
did not.  Then I tried to locate it by the sound.  And after a while I
decided that it must be some shutter on one of the windows overhead.

The servants’ quarters were there.  I didn’t exactly like to go up and
hunt about.  But the racket was becoming unbearable; so I rose again,
got into slippers, trousers and dressing gown, and went out along the
corridor.  It was pitch dark, but I decided not to go back and hunt up a
candle because I could follow the strip of carpet and feel my way to the
service stairs.

And I was doing this in a blind, cautious way, and was just turning the
corridor corner with groping arms outstretched, when, with a soft and
perfectly silent shock, somebody walked into them.

Such a thing is sufficient to paralyze anybody. My heart missed like a
flivver out of gear, then that engine started racing, and my arms
mechanically and convulsively closed around that unseen thing that had
collided with me.

"W-who the devil is it!" I said shakily, as a shocked gasp escaped it
and the thing almost collapsed in my terrified embrace.

Then, as I spoke, my half-stunned wits awoke; a faint fragrance grew on
my senses; the yielding ghost in my arms came to warm life, and two
hands clutched at my imprisoning arms.

"Michael!" she panted.

"Great heavens!  Thusis!" I faltered.

Freed, she leaned against the corridor wall for a few moments in
palpitating silence.  I also needed that interval to recover.

"What on earth is the matter, Thusis?" I managed to whisper at last.

"N-nothing.  There was a shutter blowing——"

"But it’s on the floor above!  It’s on your floor, Thusis."

She was silent for a moment, then: "What are you doing—prowling about
the house at this hour?" she demanded.

"In my case," said I, "it _was_ the shutter."

"Very well.  I’ll go up and fix it, and you may go back to bed."

But I had begun to feel a little troubled, and I made no motion to
depart.

"I’ll fix it," she repeated.  "Good night."

"Thusis?"

"What?"  In her voice I distinguished the slightest tone of impatience,
perhaps of defiance.  "What is it?" she repeated.

"Tell me the truth.  What are you really about in this corridor at three
in the morning?"

"I’ve told you."

"No, you haven’t, Thusis."

After a silence I could hear her laughing under her breath.

"Mind your own business, Michael," she whispered; "I’m not going to
confide in you."

"I want to know what brought you here," said I.

"What if you do wish to know?  I am not obliged to inform you, am I?"

I heard her retreating, and I followed to the service stairs.  Here a
dim light came through a high window faintly silvering the stairs; and I
saw the phantom figure of Thusis standing where she had suddenly
arrested her steps on the stair-case, half-seeing, half-divining, my
pursuit.

"Is that you, Michael?"

"Yes."

"Why do you follow me?"

"I want to talk to you."

"What nonsense!  At three in the morning? Also I am not in conventional
attire."

"I’m not, either," said I, "but we’ll waive ceremony."

"No, we won’t!"

"Yes, we will——"

"No!"

"Why?"

"I’ve told you why.  Do you suppose I wish Clelia or Josephine to find
me sitting on the stairs with you under such circumstances?"

She seated herself on the stairs as she spoke and I came up and leaned
on the newel-post.

"I’m a perfect fool," she said.  But she looked like an angel there in
the vague light of the windy sky, her splendid hair about her face and
shoulders, and her little naked feet drawn close under the hem of her
silvery chamber-robe which she was belting in with rapid fingers.

"Well?" she said, looking up at me.

"I found something which belongs to you," said I, quietly.

"What is it?"

"A silver filigree button."

"Oh.  Where did you find it, Michael?"

"In the dressing-room of King Ferdinand."

There was a pause—a second’s hesitation. "Well," she said, smiling,
"you’ve a clean mind, Michael.  Also you have a sense of humor.  What do
you infer from your very immoral discovery?"

"You might have lost the button this afternoon while airing his
apartment."

"Thank you," she whispered laughingly.

"Or," said I, "you may not have dropped it then."

"What do you mean?" she said bluntly.

"Thusis," said I, "what do you mean by wearing a pistol under your
chamber-robe?"

After a long silence she looked up at me.

"A guess?"

"No.  I felt it when you ran into me in the dark."

She hesitated, then:

"If I should say that I am timid you wouldn’t believe me.  Would you,
Michael?"

"No."

"Then—what do you wish me to tell you?"

"Tell me, for example, why no lights work in King Ferdinand’s suite."

Again there was an interval during which I rather felt than saw her gray
eyes fixed intently on my shadowy face.  Then:

"Has a fuse blown out?"

"No, Thusis."

"Then no doubt the globes are burnt out."

"Do you think it likely that they all burnt out at the same time?"

"It is possible, isn’t it?"

I did not reply.

She waited, then asked me in a mocking voice whether there was anything
further that worried me.

"I was merely wondering," said I, "who it was that awoke King Ferdinand
to-night by trying the knob on his bedroom door."

"Michael!"

"Well?"

"Do you mean to be insulting?"

I went over to her and coolly seated myself on the stair upon which her
feet rested.

"Thusis," said I, "I’m just worried about you. That’s all."

"Will you give me a single sensible reason, Michael, why you should be
worried about me?"

"Yes.  That fat Bulgarian keeps two big automatic guns under his pillow.
And he’s a physical poltroon.  And you can never tell what a coward may
do in a panic."

Her eyes were fastened on me all the while I was speaking but her
expression remained inscrutable.

As I ended, however, it changed subtly.

"And—_that_ is what worries you," she said in an altered voice,—a voice
so winningly sweet that I scarcely recognized it for the gay, engaging,
bantering voice I knew so well.

Then Thusis rose, and I stood up on the step below her.

"You funny boy," she said, "you mustn’t worry about me."

"Does it surprise you?"

She laughed under her breath.

"Nothing surprises me any more, Michael.  I am past being astonished at
anything—at my own behavior, at yours.  You wouldn’t understand me if I
say that, ordinarily, this rather improper costume of mine wouldn’t
embarrass me."

"You mean," said I, "that the social difference between us leaves you
indifferent to me as a man?"

She bit her lip, looked at me with a flushed, distressed little smile.

"Yes, I meant that."

I nodded: "The indifference of a bathing princess to the slaves who
stand beside her litter."

"It was—that way with me—once," she said, wincing, but still smiling
through the color that surged in her face.  "You would wish me to be
honest with you, wouldn’t you, Michael?"

"Certainly.  And tell me, Thusis, who are you who condescend to converse
with a plain republican? And what democratic whim has possessed you to
so unbend?"

"Michael!"

"Yes?"

"You are mocking me!"

"But at least," said I, "you are a princess in camouflage—I don’t mean a
Russian one——"

She turned scarlet with anger and I saw her teeth busy at her under lip
again.

"Piffle," said I.  "You take yourself too seriously, Thusis.  Whatever
else you are you’re the young girl with whom I’m in love—deeply in love.
And I’m going to tell you so, and love you with all my might, and worry
over you, and pursue you with advice and devotion until you make
yourself too impossible."

"And—then?" she demanded in a voice strangled with rage.

"Then," said I, "if you really prove to be too idiotic and impossible, I
shall stroll on until I encounter the next."

"Next—what?"  The fury in her voice scared me, but I pulled myself
together.

"Next girl," said I flippantly.  "You know, Thusis, there _are_ others."

She stood like a statue for a moment.  Then:

"This," she whispered, "is what I ought to have expected for lowering
myself! ... I invited it—this affront——"

"Piffle," said I, "you know in your heart I’d sooner blow my bally
brains out than affront you. Why say such things?  Why pretend to
yourself? You know well enough that I’m so head over heels in love with
you that I don’t know what I say——"

"_I_ do!" she retorted in a white heat.  "And I’ve got to listen to
it—I’m obliged to listen to—to an insolent inferior——"

"I’m not your inferior."

"You are!"

"Why, you silly, unhappy little thing," said I, "what if you are some
funny sort of princess—some pretty highness of the Balkans?  Literature
is full of them, and if you’d read a little fiction you’d learn that
they all marry ordinary, untitled young men like me."

"Must I listen to such outrageous insults?" she demanded, standing up
very straight and slender in her offended pride, and forgetting that her
bare feet under her nightie became the more visible the straighter she
drew herself—lovely, snowy little naked feet as slim and delicate as the
pedal extremities of a perfectly moral and early Victorian Bacchante.

"Am I to stand here and endure this insolence from you?" she repeated,
her gray eyes ablaze.

"Not at all," said I.  "You can always go upstairs to bed, Thusis."

Angry tears glittered in her eyes, not quenching their dangerous
brightness, however.  But I was now as mad as she was.

"Do you suppose," said I, "that this world war, this overwhelming
disaster that is razing hill and city to one horrible and bloody
level—this cataclysm which is obliterating the very contours of the
world God made—is not also going to level such flimsy structures as the
social structure?—such artificial protuberances as elevation of rank?  I
tell you, Thusis, that mankind will emerge naked and equal from this
blood-deluge.  You and I, too, are going to come out of it—if we do come
out—not what our ancestors thought they were, but what we actually are!
Very possibly, in generations gone with buried years, some doddering
potentate may have managed to beget some ancestor of yours.

"What of it?  Who cares to-day?—outside of the Huns and their barbarian
allies?  Who cares what you call yourself, I say?  Who in God’s name
will care to-morrow?  Do you imagine that the peoples who, like Christ,
have descended into hell, can come out of those flames without the
tinsel of rank being burned off?  Do you suppose anything can remain
except pure metal?"

I had let myself loose; and I fairly took away her breath.

She put out one hand and rested it on the bannisters in a dazed sort of
way, still looking at me with a kind of fixed fascination.

"Have you any answer to what I have said?" I added after the silence had
been sufficiently impressive.

She said faintly: "How about the Admiral, Don Michael?"  And, as I
choked and turned crimson, the girl turned, dropped onto the stairs, and
rocked there convulsively, stifling her helpless, hysterical laughter
with both hands over her lips.

I waited, hot with exasperation.  There was nothing else for me to do.

Thusis struggled fiercely with her uncontrollable mirth, evidently
terrified lest the indiscretion of her laughter awake the sleepers in
the house.

"Thusis——"

"Wait!  If you speak I shall expire.  Because you never will know how
funny you are, Michael! Oh——"

I waited until she was able to control herself.

"Thusis," I began, stiffly——

"Oh, don’t!  Please don’t!  I’m too weak.  I’ll go to bed—really I will,
Michael.  And leave you to wrap yourself in your nightie and stalk back
to the Admiral——"

"Damn it all!" I broke out.  She rocked, helplessly, her face buried in
her hands.

After a while she got up, supporting herself by one hand on the
stair-rail.  The other hand pressed her heart.

"Michael dear," she said, "you are perfectly right.  We are what we are.
Nothing alters that. We are born what we are; we die what we are.  No
cataclysm can change what we really are....  As for distinction of rank,
don’t you know, Michael, that social inequality always has existed and
always will?"

"Not artificial social inequality.  Minds alone will dominate.
Personality only will count. Inheritance and tradition will play no part
in the world’s future after this war ends."

"You seem to be quite sure, Michael."

"Perfectly."

"But you are so young to be a prophet and a seer!"

"Good heavens, Thusis, is there nothing serious in you!" I exclaimed
wrathfully.

"Not just at the moment," she retorted, controlling her laughter.  "And
I’d better go to bed or I’ll be suggesting that we start that music-box
down stairs and try a two-step."

I took a step toward her: "It amuses you to be funny," said I, "but
before we take leave of each other suppose you hand me that pistol."

"Indeed I shall not!"

"If you don’t hand it over," said I, "I shall be obliged to catch you
and take it away from you."  And I started toward her.

At that she flew up the stairs, turned on the landing and leaned down
toward me with an adorable gesture.

"Go to the devil!" she whispered softly.  And vanished in the dusk
above.



                                 *XII*

                               *ROYALTY*


The Queen demanded her breakfast in bed. Clelia came to the breakfast
room to tell me so.

I had heard the furious ringing of her bell and I said to Smith that
something of that sort was likely to happen.

"You tell her," said I to Clelia, "that no meals are served in rooms.
What does she expect with only one waitress?"

Clelia went away and Smith and I resumed coffee, toast, and a poached
egg apiece.  Presently Clelia returned, her eyes and cheeks brilliant
with suppressed emotion.

"Well," said I, "what’s the matter now?"

"Madame Xenos is very, very angry, and she demands to see the landlord."

"Did she employ that word?"

"Yes, she did."

"You say she wants to see me?" I asked.

"She insists."

"But you tell me she’s in bed, Clelia.  How can I go up?"

Clelia shrugged her pretty shoulders!  "Queens don’t care.  A landlord
of an inn has no masculine meaning to a queen."

"Is that so!" I said.  "Very well"—I finished my coffee at a gulp—"I’ll
go and see Madame Hohenzollern."

"You’d better be careful," said Clelia, smiling. "She really is a
vixen."

I recollected the story of Constantine, and that it was commonly
believed she had once stuck a knife into Tino when annoyed about
something or other.

But I rose from the table determined to settle her status in my house
once for all.

"And, Clelia," I said, "I’ve heard other bells tinkling.  Those kings
upstairs are no good, and I wouldn’t put it past either of them to
demand that you serve them breakfast in their rooms."

"They have demanded it."

Smith turned an angry red and made as though to rise, but sat down
again.

For a moment I was too mad to speak.  Finally I said: "Of course you
ignored their bells."

"No, I answered them."

"You didn’t go into their rooms!"

"No.  I knocked politely.  Monsieur Xenos flirted with me——"

"What!"

"In a whisper through the keyhole.  So I went away to see what Monsieur
Itchenuff desired."  She laughed and, lifting the coffee-pot, filled
Smith’s cup.  "Monsieur Itchenuff wanted me to bring him breakfast.  He
also said he always breakfasted in bed——"

"Keep away from that pair!" said Smith violently.

But Clelia’s eyebrows went up and so did her nose, mutely signaling
Smith to mind his own affairs.

"Clelia," said he, "I want to talk to you——"

"I’m here to wait on you, not to talk to you!" she retorted.

"Then at least you must listen——"

"Must?  _Must_?  Monsieur Smith, your bullying tone does not please me!"

Here was the beginning of a pretty row.  But I had another on my own
hands so I left them and went upstairs to interview the Queen.

"Come in!" she snapped when I knocked.  Her voice chilled my courage and
I sidled in batting my eyes ingratiatingly.

The Queen was in bed.  Her hair was done up like a lady Hottentot’s, all
screwed into tight little kinks.  Over her sharp, discontented features
cold cream glistened like oleomargarine on a bun.

"I’ve ordered breakfast in bed," she said sharply. "Why am I kept
waiting?"

I explained that there was only one waitress.

"But what of that?" she asked in astonishment. "The other guests can
wait."

"Why should they wait?" I inquired, annoyed.

She shot an arrogant glance at me and started to say something but,
evidently recollecting her incognito as Madame Xenos, merely choked and
finally swallowed her wrath.

"Madame," said I soothingly, for I was really afraid of her, "I am
extremely sorry to inconvenience you, but the rules of the chalet must
be observed by everybody, otherwise confusion in the service is certain
to result——"

"I am not interested in your domestic problems," she said, and turned
over in bed.

"Madame," said I, "let me trouble you to remember that I am not an
innkeeper whom you can bully. I am the grandson of an Admiral!"

At that the Queen sat up and stared at me like a maverick.

"That’s true," she said.  "I had forgotten that distinction.  I am sorry
if I spoke too severely. Nevertheless it’s very annoying."

I said I regretted the necessity of making rules; she yawned and fiddled
with her corkscrew kinks, but nodded acknowledgment to my perfectly
correct bow.  And so I left the Queen, yawning, stretching, and rubbing
her neck and ears with the sleepy satisfaction of an awakened cat.

The bell of King Constantino was still ringing at intervals.  So I
continued along the corridor and knocked very lightly at his door.
Listening, I heard a shuffle of unshod feet within, a rustle, then
through the key-hole a persuasive voice thick with suppressed affection:

"Why so cruel, little one?  Bring me my breakfast on a pretty
tray—there’s a good little girl.  And maybe there’ll be a big, shiny
gold-piece for you if you’re very amiable."

I hesitated, listening to his heavy, irregular breathing, then opened
the door.

The King looked intensely foolish for a moment, then seized me by the
shoulder, drew me into the room, and shut the door.

"We’re a pack of sad dogs, we men!" he said jovially, smiting me
familiarly on the shoulder again. "We’re all up to our little
tricks—every one of us, eh, O’Ryan?  No—no!  Don’t pull a smug face with
me—a good looking young fellow like you! No, no! it won’t do, O’Ryan.
We men ought to be frank with one another.  And that’s me—bluff, rough,
frank to a fault!—just a soldier, O’Ryan——"

"I thought you were a wine-merchant, Monsieur Xenos."

"Oh, certainly.  But I’ve been a soldier.  I’m more at home in barracks
than I am anywhere else."  He chuckled, dug me in the ribs with his
thumb:

"Be a good sport, O’Ryan.  You don’t want both of them, do you?  My God,
man, you’re no Turk, I hope.  Why can’t that very young one—I mean the
yellow haired one—bring me my breakfast and——"

Probably my features were not under perfect control for the King stopped
short and took an instinctive step backward.

"Where do you think you are, Monsieur Xenos?" I asked, striving to keep
my voice steady.  "Did you think you are in a cabaret, or a mastroquet
or a zenana?"

"Oh, come," he began, losing countenance, "you shouldn’t take a bluff
old soldier too precisely——"

"You listen to _me_!  Mind your damned business while you’re under my
roof or I’ll knock your silly head off!"

I looked him over deliberately, insultingly, from the tasseled toe of
his Algerian bed-room slippers to his purple pyjamas clasped with a
magnificent ruby at the throat.

"Behave yourself decently," said I slowly, "or I’ll take you out to the
barnyard and rub your nose in it."

And I went out, leaving Tino stupefied in the center of his bedroom.

The Tzar’s bell was ringing again, but I made no ceremony in his case,
merely jerking open his door and telling him curtly to come down to
breakfast if he wanted any.  Then I closed his door to cut off argument
and continued on.

I met Thusis in apron and dust-cloth, sweeping the stairs.

She looked up almost shyly as I passed her with a polite bow.

"Good morning," she said.  "Did you sleep well, Monsieur?"

"The wind kept me awake," said I drily.

"And me, also."  She glanced out of the stair window, leaning on her
broom.  "It is raining very hard," she observed.  "The mountains will
not be safe to-day."

"How do you mean?" I inquired coolly, but willing to linger, heaven help
me!

"Avalanches," she explained.

"I see."

We remained silent.  Thusis inspected her broom-handle, tucked a curl up
under her white head-cloth.

I said: "You and Clelia seem to exchange jobs rather frequently."

"It mitigates the monotony," she remarked, resting her rounded cheek
against the broom-handle.

"Where did you leave that gun?" I demanded in a low voice.

"Do you remember my reply to you on the stairs last night, Don Michael?"

"You bade me go to the devil."

"That was rude of me, wasn’t it?  And so frightfully vulgar!  Oh, dear
me!  I really don’t know what I am coming to."

She smiled very gaily, however.

"Thusis," said I, "you wouldn’t shoot up any of these kings and queens,
would you?"

At that she laughed outright: "Not if they behave themselves!"

"Seriously——"

"I am quite serious, Don Michael."

"You’re bent on searching their luggage," said I.  "And Ferdinand has
two big automatic pistols."

"You’re such a funny boy," said Thusis with her adorable smile.  "But
now you must run away and let me do my dusting."

Her sleeves were rolled to her shoulders.  I had never seen such perfect
arms except in Greek sculpture. I said so, impulsively.  And Thusis
blushed.

"That is the sort of thing I had rather you did not say," she remarked.

"But if it’s quite true, Thusis——"

"Does one blurt out anything merely because one believes it to be true?
Besides, ill-made or agreeable, my arms do not concern you, Monsieur
O’Ryan."

"Everything that you are concerns me very deeply, Thusis——"

"I will not have it so!"

"But you said I might pay my court to you——"

"But you don’t pay court!  You make love to me!"

"What is the essential difference?"

"To court a woman is to be polite, empressé, always ready to serve her,
always quick with some stately compliment, some pretty conceit, some
bon-mot to please her, some trifle of wit, of gossip."  She cast a
deliciously wicked look at me.  "I have no doubt, Michael, that you
could, without effort, measure up to the standard of a faultless
courtier.... If you’d be content to do so."

That was too much for me.  I stepped toward her and slipped my arm
around her pliant waist. She laughed, resisted, flushed, then lost her
color and clutched my hand at her waist with her own, striving to
unloosen it.

"Don’t do that, Michael," she said, breathing unevenly.

"I love you, Thusis——"

"I don’t wish to listen——"

"I’m madly in love with you——"

"Michael!"

"What?"

"_Are_ you trying to kiss me?"

That is what I was trying to do.  She twisted herself free and stepped
aside; and I saw the rapid pulse in her white throat and the irregular
flutter of her bosom.

For a moment the old blaze flamed once more in her gray eyes and I
expected a most terrifying wigging, but all she said was: "You are very
rough with me," in a small and breathless voice; and, suddenly, to my
astonishment, turned her back and laid her head on the handle of her
broom.

"Thusis——"

"Please d-don’t speak to me."

"I only——"

"I ask you to go."

So I went, leaving her standing there with her clasped hands on the
broom supporting her bowed head.

Smith was sulkily smoking his pipe.  Clelia, beautiful and indifferent,
leaned against the sideboard, awaiting the advent of royalty in the
breakfast-room.

I went on out.  Raoul, standing under the dripping eaves, was just
hoisting an umbrella, and I took advantage of it and went over to the
bottling works.

"We’re making quite a lot of money," said I, looking over the order book
and ledger.

Raoul smiled and ran his well shaped fingers through his curly hair.

"It’s good spring-water," he said, "and God permits you an innocent
income not wrung out of the poor, not cheated out of the less fortunate,
not gouged out of business rivals whose loss is your gain."

I also smiled: "It is quite true, Raoul, that I do harm to nobody by
bottling and selling the water which God has seen fit to send out
gushing from these deep rocks."

"You’d never harm anybody anyway!" he said coolly.  "One knows a
gentleman."

And he went about his work, singing the song he seemed always to
prefer——

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm,
    You have done a heap of harm——"


And I began to wonder how the Queen would like that song if he came
carelessly caroling it in her vicinity.

However, it was not my business to direct the musical inclinations of my
household.  I took the umbrella and, stepping to the door, spread it.

"It’s quite a storm," I remarked.

"There’ll be avalanches," said Raoul.  I thought he spoke uneasily and
that there was a hint of apprehension in the glance he cast up at the
Bec de l’Empereur.

"Of course," said I, "we are safe enough in this valley."

"Yes, but a bad slide might choke the pass."

"What would that do to us, Raoul?"

"Cut us off from the rest of the world," he said simply.

"For how long?"

"Days, weeks—longer perhaps.  Who knows what might happen if a big snow
broke loose from the Bec de l’Empereur?"

"Anyway," said I, "we have sufficient provisions."

"Plenty, Monsieur."

"Then it would mean only a rather dull and exasperating imprisonment."

He looked at me with an odd smile: "It might mean the salvation of the
world—or its damnation," he said.

I was silent but curious.  He smiled again and shrugged.  "For me," he
said, "I pray that no avalanche falls to block this valley within the
week."  He looked upward into the heavily falling rain, standing there
bare-headed.

"I ask," he said in a low, serious voice, "that God should be graciously
pleased to hold His hand for one week longer before He lets loose His
eternal snows upon this valley."


When I returned to the breakfast-room royalty was feeding.  All
acknowledged my greeting with civility, even Tino who, however, also
turned red and nervously pasted his roll with marmalade.

"For diversion," inquired the Queen, "what does one do here?"

I enumerated the out-door sports.  Nobody cared to fish except with a
net.  Tino expressed himself vaguely as in favor of a chamois hunt when
he felt up to it.  The Queen wished to climb the Bec de l’Empereur, but
when I told her there were no guides nearer than Berne and also that
this rain made the mountains very dangerous, she decided to postpone the
ascent.

As for the Tzar of all the Bulgars he paid strict attention to his plate
and betrayed no inclination for anything more strenuous than the facial
exercise of chewing.

While the Queen was there neither King ventured to annoy Clelia, but
after her majesty had left the table they both evinced symptoms of
pinching, furtive leers and smirks.

However, there was a stoniness about my expression which served to
discourage them.  Ferdinand scrubbed his beard in his finger-bowl with a
wallowing sound, dried it noisily on his napkin, rose, bowed to me, and
waddled back upstairs.

Tino seemed very uncomfortable to find himself alone with me.  But I
conversed with him as good humoredly as though I had never told him what
I should do to him in the event of his misbehavior under my roof.  And
we got on well enough.

He had mean eyes, however, and a fussy, jerky, nervous manner, yet
furtive for all that.  An odd monarch with the most false face, except
for Ferdinand’s, that I had ever beheld, though at first encounter one
might easily be deceived and take him for what he pretended to be—a
bluff, noisy, unceremonious, and somewhat coarse soldier with his
tête-de-militaire and his allure and vocabulary of the Caserne.

"We’ve some friends arriving to-day," he said. "Did my wife tell you?"

"Somebody mentioned it yesterday, I believe."

"Well, they’ll be here to-day, so fix them up snugly, O’Ryan."

"The rain may prevent them from starting," I suggested.

"Rain or no rain they’ll be here," he repeated, lighting a strong
cigarette.

He went away presently upstairs.  And I did not doubt they would all
have their noses together in a few moments discussing whatever crisis
had brought them to this lonely little valley without escort or servants
and carefully camouflaged.

I went into the living-room where Smith sat reading.

"What the devil," said I, "has brought these Kings here, Smith?  Can you
guess?"

"I don’t know.  I might," he replied, looking over his book at me.

"Well, what is your guess?"

"Why, I suppose they’re worried.  Things are going very rottenly for the
hun.  British, French and Yank are kicking them about most brutally from
Arras to the Vosges.  That pasty-faced pervert, the Crown Prince, has
had the very pants kicked off him.  The U-boats are a fizzle.  The
Bolsheviki are running into cracks like vermin to escape fumigation.
Austria is sick from Italy’s kick delivered into the pit of her stomach.
Enver Pasha, who was promised the Khediviate of Egypt when the boche
started to carve up the world, is turning ugly and demanding why the
banquet isn’t ready."

He made a weary gesture toward the ceiling.

"Up there," he said, "sits the most cowardly, murderous, and despicable
ruler in the world—Ferdinand of Bulgaria—scared stiff because he’s
beginning to believe he’s bet on the wrong horse.

"With him sit a King and Queen recently kicked headlong out of Greece.
They also are becoming intensely nervous about that promise made by the
hun Kaiser—an oath thundered from Berlin that the boche sword should
restore them to their thrones.

"You see, Michael, they’re worried.  They’ve sneaked away from Berne
incognito to meet here and lay all their cards on the common table.
They’re here to consult, bargain, cheat if they can, but anyway they’re
here to come to some understanding and arrive at some agreement as to
the best means to avert utter disaster.  That’s why they’re here.

"They couldn’t feel safe in spy-ridden Berne; they evidently dare not
trust their own servants.  It is plain to me that Switzerland, which is
mostly pro-boche, engineered the affair, willingly or reluctantly,
because the Kaiser’s sister is involved and the Federal Government is
horribly afraid of the boche.

"You see how it came about, don’t you?  This bunch of royal crooks
desired a safe place for a get-together party.  Long ago they had
planned it. Then you appeared to take possession of your inheritance.

"What could be safer for them than this lonely valley and a neutral
gentleman from Chili to make ’em comfortable?"

"And a Norse Viking," said I.

"Be careful," he said gravely.

"Of course.  But they believe you are what you pretend to be, don’t
they?"

"Absolutely....  And how do you know I am not?" he inquired smilingly.

We exchanged gay but significant glances.  He went on speaking:

"That’s all there is to it," he said, "a bunch of dips trying it on each
other and still held together by the ’cohesive power of plunder’—the
Prussian hun, the Austrian hun, the unspeakable Turk, the bloody Bulgar,
the besotted Bolshevik!—a fine mess, Michael!—and here, under your roof,
are three who have long ago been mugged, and who are known to the police
of civilization everywhere."

"They’ve got their nerve," said I angrily, "to come here and discuss
their dirty schemes!  I’ve a damned good mind to ask them for their
rooms. I’ve got enough of them already, Smith.  I’m hanged if I stand
for this another day——"

His hand closed on my arm in a leisurely grip of steel, and I winced and
looked up at him in surprise and protest.

"_Don’t—spoil—things_," he said quietly.  His level glance met mine with
a metallic glint, and I saw in his features something terrible—a
fleeting gleam like the far reflection of lightning across a thunder
cloud.

"Smith!" I exclaimed.

"Don’t raise your voice, old chap."

"N-no.  But—can’t you tell me just what you really are?"

"I’m really quite all right," he assured me, laughingly.

"I assumed that.  But—are you here, also, to keep an eye on these
kings?"

"Well, you know one can’t help noticing them——"

"Damn!  Answer me."

"I admit," he said, "that they interest me."

So _that_ was what brought Smith here, too!  He must have known they
were coming.  He must have deliberately scraped acquaintance with me for
this purpose.

"I thought," said I bitterly, "that you really liked me, Smith."

"I do, confound you!" he said.  "If I didn’t both like and trust you, do
you think I’d have been so careless in concealing my identity?"

Both Thusis and Clelia had said the same thing to me.

"Smith?"

"What?"

"Did you know Thusis and Clelia before you met them here?"

"No."

"Do you know why they’re here?"

"I can guess."

"Do you know who they really are?"

"No," he said honestly, "I don’t.  And I can not seem to find out.  All
I know is that their purpose in coming here does conflict with mine——"

The pretty fanfare of a postilion’s horn cut him short.

"There," said I, "comes the rest of the precious bunch!"

"’Hail, hail,’" said he gravely, "’the gang’s all here!’"

And we got up and went to the window to inspect the arriving diligence.



                                 *XIII*

                             *IN THE RAIN*


That afternoon I fled the house.  This new invasion of my privacy had
quite upset me. Bulgarian and Greek royalty had been difficult enough to
endure, but this new wagon-load of huns and near-huns proved too much
for me.

If there were any privacy at all to be had it seemed that I must seek it
in the woods.  And thither I fled under an umbrella, a book under one
arm, a fishing rod under the other, and my pockets full of smoking
material.

For I preferred to sit on the wet moss in the rain, and read and smoke
and fish under my ancient green gamp—even if the seat of my trousers did
become soaking wet—rather than listen to the gobbling gabble of those
Teutons and witness their bad manners and their unpleasant personal
habits.

So, as I say, as soon as the new arrivals had registered and had been
assigned to rooms I made up my mind to inhabit the woods during their
occupation of my property, and invited Smith to share my indignant
seclusion.

He declined, probably because, whoever he really was and whatever might
be his job, the one and the other very evidently had to do with this
bunch of assorted boches.

He said very politely that he didn’t enjoy privacy when it was sopping
wet.  He smiled when he said it.  We were standing at the desk in the
big living-room: the huns, both royalty and new arrivals, had gone to
their rooms, and Smith was carelessly examining the register where my
guests’ signatures had been inscribed in the pale and watery ink of the
country.

"A pretty kettle of fish," I commented, looking over his shoulder.  "But
this new consignment of boches doesn’t seem to be camouflaged.  These
are their real names, I fancy."

"I happen to know that they are," said Smith.

He began to read the names aloud just as they were written; and I
noticed the lazy amusement in his pleasant, even voice as he commented
upon each signature:

"’_General Count von Dungheim_’!  Oh, yes; he belonged to Tino’s suite
when he was kicked out of Athens.  They call him ’Droly.’  He did some
dirty work there—instigated the murder of the allied detachments.  He’s
a big, thin Prussian with a capacity for gluttony equal only to the
Bulgarian King’s.  He enjoys only one eye.

"’_Baron von Bummelzug_’!  Oh, certainly.  He’s a Bavarian civilian.  He
engineered the treacherous surrender of that Greek army corps.  He also
was in Tino’s suite, and still is.

"’_Admiral Lauterlaus_’!  Tino’s ex-naval aide. Tried dirty work on the
Allied fleet off Samos.  A Prussian,—mostly belly and head.

"’_Princess Pudelstoff_’!  She was that enormously fat woman, Michael,
who kissed King Ferdinand on both cheeks and left two wet spots.  She’s
one of those German-Russians from Courland attached to the Bulgarian
court, and related to Ferdinand in some degree or other,—irregularly.

"’_Countess Manntrapp_’!  The pretty girl.  You remember her honeyed,
cooing voice when you were presented to her?—and her ecstatic baby
stare, as though acquaintance with a Chilean gentleman had been the
secret ambition of her life, and the realization overwhelmed her?  Well,
old top, there you have Lila Shezawitch, Countess Manntrapp—the widow of
that brainless old reprobate, the cavalryman, who disappeared in some
Russian swamp-hole when Hindenburg made his mark among the lakes.

"’_Adolf Gizzler_’!  Look out for that rat, Michael. He’s a bum
school-teacher, Bummelzug’s secretary.

"’_Leo Puppsky_’!  What do you know about that Bolshevik being here in
Switzerland?  And

"’_Isidore Wildkatz_,’ too!  Here they are with the huns, this pair of
Judases!  Oh, you’re quite right, Michael.  It’s a pretty kettle of
fish.  I don’t blame you for taking to the woods, rain or no rain."

"You won’t come, too?" I asked.  He smiled, and I understood.

He was _such_ a decent sort.  I had become very fond of him.

"All right," said I; "don’t get yourself into trouble.  That’s certainly
a sinister bunch of boches as well as an unpleasant one."

"Good old Michael," he said, patting my shoulder.

So I took to the woods with rod and book, and a camp-stool I picked up
on the veranda.

Heavens, how it rained!  But I stopped at the barn-yard, found a
manure-fork, and disinterred a tin canful of angle-worms.  Then I
marched on in the teeth of the storm, umbrella over my head, and entered
that pretty woodland path which Thusis and I had once trodden together
on our food-conservation quest.

The memory inclined me to sentimental reverie, and, with my dripping
gamp over my head, I slopped along in a sort of trance, my brain a maze
of vague enchantment as images of Thusis or of my photograph of The
Laughing Girl alternately occupied my thoughts.

For, when alone, these two lovely phantoms always became inextricably
mixed.  I could not seem to differentiate between them in memory.  And
which was the loveliest I could not decide because the resemblance was
too confusing.

And so, in a sort of delicious daze, I arrived at the foot-bridge.

Here I spread my camp-stool by the green pool’s edge.  It was a torrent,
now, but still as brilliant and clear as a beryl, and that it lacked its
natural and emerald clarity did not deter me from baiting my hook with
several expostulating worms, and hurling it forth into the foaming
basin.

To hold a fishing rod in one fixed position bores me, and always did.
So I laid the rod on the bank, placed a flat stone on the butt, and,
sheltered under my umbrella, lighted a pipe and opened my book.

But the book soon bored me, too.  It was a novel by one of the myriads
of half-educated American "authors" who resemble a countryman I once
knew who called himself a "natural bone-setter" and enjoyed a large and
furtive practice among neighboring clodhoppers to the indignation of all
the local physicians.

There are thousands of "authors" in the United States.  But there are
very few writers.

And this novel was by an author, and my attention wandered.

Through an opening in the forest on a clear day one might look out upon
a world of mountains eastward.  I realized there could be no view
through the thickly falling rain, but I turned around.  And, to my
surprise, I beheld a cloaked figure poised upon the chasm’s distant
edge, peering out into the storm through a pair of field-glasses.

I knew that figure in spite of the cloak.  Nor could the thickly
slanting rain quench the glorious color of that burnished hair.

"Thusis!" I shouted.

Slowly the figure turned, glasses still poised; and I saw her looking in
my direction.

"I’m fishing!" I called out joyously.  "Come under my umbrella!"

She cast a glance behind her toward the blank void where, on clear days,
the bulk of the Bec de l’Empereur towered aloft in its mantle of
dazzling snow.  Then she slowly walked toward me through the rain.

When she came near to where I sat, she began to laugh; and I never saw
such an exquisite sight as Thusis, bare-headed in the rain, laughing.

"What on earth are you up to, Michael?" she said.

"Fishing.  That herd of huns will eat us out of house and garden if we
don’t catch something.  Sit beside me under the umbrella, Thusis.
There’s room if we’re careful and don’t let the camp-stool collapse."

She gave me an inscrutable glance, stood motionless for a few moments,
then slowly came over.

"Careful now," I cautioned her, rising.  "We must both seat ourselves at
the same instant or this camp-stool will close up like a jack-knife.
Are you ready?"

She laughed and inclined her pretty head.

"Then—one! two! three!  Sit!"

We managed to accomplish it without an accident.

"We’re too close together," she protested.

"Don’t stir," said I.  "Do you feel how it wabbles?"

She tested the camp-stool cautiously, and nodded.

"What an absurd situation," she remarked, glancing up at the gamp which
I held over us.

"I think it’s very jolly."  She didn’t look at me; we were too close—so
close that we might possibly have rubbed noses if either turned.  But in
her side-long glance I noted both amusement and irony.

"Have you caught anything, Don Michael?"

"Not a bally thing."

"What are you reading?"

"A book of sorts—a novel by an ’author’ who lacks education,
cultivation, experience, vocabulary, and a working knowledge of English
grammar.  In other words, Thusis, a typical American ’author,’—one of
the Bolsheviki of literature whose unlettered Bolshevik readers are
recruited from the same audience that understands and roars with
laughter at the German and Jewish jokes which compose the librettos of
our New York musical comedies."

Thusis turned up her pretty nose and shrugged—or tried to,—but nearly
upset me, and desisted.

"It’s silly to sit here like two hens on a roost," she said.

"It’s cozy," said I with a blissful smile that perhaps approached the
idiotic.

"Cozy or not," she insisted, "we resemble a pair of absurd birds."

"Then," said I, "one of us ought to twitter and begin to sing."

We both laughed.  "The last time we were here together," I reminded her,
"you were singing all the while."

"Was I?"

"Yes, and I liked it—although your detachment was not flattering to me."

"Poor Michael.  Did you feel abused?"

"It’s no novel feeling," said I.

"You ungrateful young man!  Do you mean to insinuate that _I_ abuse you?
I—who go fishing with you, stop my house-work to gossip with you, sit on
the stairs with you at three in the morning—and in my nightie, too——"

"What an incident for a best-seller!" said I. "Fancy the fury of the
female critic!  Imagine the rage of the ’good woman’!"

"You are satirical, Don Michael."

"Doesn’t satire amuse you?"

"I adore it."

"Nothing," said I, "so angers ignorance as satire, because it is not
understood, and ignorance becomes suspicious when it does not understand
anything.  Ignorance mistakes dullness for depth. That is why dull books
are so widely read.

"There is, in America, Thusis, a vast desert inhabited by ’authors’ who
produce illiterature.

"Similar deserts, though less in area, exist in other sections of
America.  By its ear-marks, however, I guess that this book was
’authorized’ somewhere west of Chicago.  Don’t read it.  Only ’a good
woman’ could enjoy it."

Thusis laughed.  "Don’t you admire good women and critics?"

"The American critic," said I, "is usually female but not necessarily
feminine in sex.  It is what is reverently known as ’a good woman’—and
like a truffle-hound its nose for immorality is so keen that it can
discover a bad smell where there isn’t any."

Thusis threw back her head and yielded to laughter unrestrained.

"So you think there was nothing immoral in sitting on the stairs with
you in my nightie?"

"Was there?"

"Of course not.  Clean minds are independent of clothes.  As for
clothing, I often wish these were Greek times and I were rid of all my
duds except sandals and a scarf."

"It’s all very well for you to wish that, Thusis, but consider the
spectacle of the Princess Pudelstoff, for example, in Olympian attire——"

And Thusis went off into a gale of laughter, endangering our mutual
stability on the camp-stool. Which scared her,—an unpremeditated bath in
the pool having been narrowly averted—and she said again that it was
silly of us to sit there like a pair of imbecile dicky-birds.

"Then tune up, Thusis.  You seem to know a lot of songs.  I liked that
odd, weird, sweet little song you kept singing about Naxos and Tenedos."

"I didn’t suppose you noticed it, Michael."

"I notice everything concerning you."

Looking at her sideways I saw the charming color deepen in her cheeks.

"Is that paying court to you or making love to you?" I added.

"I don’t know.  Somehow, when you pay court to me, you make it sound
like—the other thing."

"But I _am_ in love——"

"Wait," she said hastily.  "I’ll sing another funny song—the same sort
of song you found so amusing—about Naxos and Tenedos.  It is called
’Invocations.’"

As a little bird looks up to heaven after every sip of water, so Thusis
looked up after inspiration had sufficiently saturated her.  She lifted
her pretty voice as clearly and sweetly as a linnet sings in the falling
rain:

    "Wine poured out to Aphrodite,
    On thy sacred sands,
    In libations to the mighty
    Blue-eyed goddess Aphrodite
    Perfumes all thy strands,
    Scents the meadows and thy woodlands,
    Tenedos, my Tenedos!
    Every maiden understands
    Why each flowering orchard close
    Swims with fragrance of the rose.

    Votive wine that long ago
    Set thy sacred soil aglow
    Sweetens still each Grecian nose
    In Tenedos, my Tenedos!

    II

    God-like Bacchus with his flighty
    Band of laughing jades,
    Drank and sang and every night he
    Got so classically tight he
    Sought thy sylvan glades.
    Snoring where he gaily reveled,
    Tenedos, my Tenedos!
    Mid his pretty nymphs disheveled
    Sleeping off the over-dose,
    Waking late to vinous woes!

    Votive wine that long ago
    Set thy sacred groves aglow,
    Still exhilarates each nose
    In Tenedos, my Tenedos!"


"Oh, the cunning little song!" I exclaimed enchanted.  "But what is
Tenedos, anyway?  It’s an island, isn’t it?"

"It is," said Thusis solemnly.

"Certainly.  I remember.  And so is Naxos—Greek islands in the Ægean."

"I shall mark you perfect," said Thusis gravely. And she wrote "perfect"
in the air with one slim forefinger.

"Why," said I curiously, "do you sing songs about Naxos and Tenedos?"

"Perhaps because I have lived in Naxos and Tenedos."

"I see."

"No, you don’t," said Thusis, smiling.

We sat for a while in silence watching the foaming current swerving my
line.  But no fish moved it.

"They must be pretty—those Greek islands," said I vaguely.

"Do you know their history?"

"No."

"Would you like to hear it?"

"Whatever you say I like to hear," I replied, beginning to ooze
sentiment as well as rain.

"You annoy me," said Thusis.  "Listen sensibly, if you wish me to tell
you about those islands."

Snubbed, I sat silent with an injured expression that afforded her
lively satisfaction, judging from her vivacious voice and manner:

"You are to know, Michael," she began, "that Naxos is one of the
Cyclades, and from the day of the old gods it has been famous for its
wine.

"In the thirteenth century it was conquered by Venice.  It was made into
a duchy.  So was Tenedos.

"But these two Venetian Duchies were conquered and annexed by the
unspeakable Turk in the sixteenth century.  Then Greece recovered
Naxos."

She looked down pensively at her folded hands. Presently they became
interlocked and I saw the fingers twisting nervously.

"There are," she said, "some people—descendants of the old Venetians in
Naxos, who believe that the island ought to belong to Italy ... and that
the duchy ought to be revived and reconstituted."

"Are you one of these people, Thusis?"

"Yes.  I am descended from those Venetians.  I was born in Naxos."

She remained absorbed in her own reflections for a few moments, then:

"Tenedos, also, ought to become a duchy again. The Turk rules it.  He
calls it Bogdsha-Adassi. But it was allied with Greece before Christ
lived. It should be either Grecian or Italian....  And Clelia and I
believe that it rightly belongs to Italy."

"How big an island is it?"

"About seven miles long."

We both laughed.

"Are seven miles worth fighting for?" I asked, amused.

"One’s back-yard is worth fighting for, isn’t it?" she asked calmly.

"Of course.  But not for the purpose of establishing a duchy in it."

Thusis didn’t seem to consider that remark very funny.

"I’ll freely give anything I have," she said hotly, "but I’ll fight like
a wild-cat to resist the robbery of a single button!"

"I _didn’t_ steal that button," said I.  "I brought it back to you—from
Ferdie’s dressing-room."

"I wish you wouldn’t be so flippant, Michael!"

"Am I?"

"Very."

She really seemed vexed and I asked her pardon.

"But you oughtn’t to mention theft to a thief," I added.  "I’m trying to
steal your heart, you know——"

"Michael, you are insufferable!" she exclaimed with a movement of
impatience that almost sent us into the pool.  In fact she clutched me
and held fast while I struggled to recover our balance.  And after I had
reëstablished our equilibrium I was low enough, mean enough, to pretend
we were still in danger, so heavenly sweet it was to me to feel her
little hands close clinging.

Whether or not she discovered my perfidy I was not certain, for
presently she released her grasp and sat very still and flushed beside
me, her eyes fixed on the frivolous brook.

Which drove me uneasily toward conversation—the first refuge of the
guilty.

"And so," said I, in a casual and pleasant voice, "you are really a
descendant of those ancient Venetians who once occupied Naxos."

"I don’t wish to continue the subject," she said.

Snubbed again I relapsed into mournful inertia. Which presently she
inspected sideways.  And after a while she laughed.

"You _are_ so ridiculous," she said.  "No girl, I fancy, can remain
angry with you very long."

"Thusis?"

"What?"

"I want to court you.  May I?"

"Yes—if you don’t make it resemble the other thing."

"I’ll be careful."

"Very well."

And, as I remained buried in reflection: "You may fire when ready,
Michael."

"Have you ever lived in the United States?" I asked, astonished.

"I was educated there," she replied demurely.

"Oh, Lord!" said I, "that accounts for a lot of things!  Why on earth I
didn’t suspect it I can’t imagine——"

"Oh, I’m not typical; I’m international, Michael—cosmopolitan,
inter-urban, anti-insular, so to speak——"

"You’re inter-stellar, you beautiful bright star!——"

"Michael!"

"What?"

"Is that courtship?  Or the other?" she inquired.

"Courtship.  It’s a perfectly proper flight of astronomical fancy.  It’s
a scientific metaphor, Thusis dear.  I’ll tell you another:

    "Some lovers woo the Pleiades
    Who shyly flirt from midnight skies,
    But all my vows and all my sighs
      Are centered in the Cyclades
    Where she I love first saw the light
    —Thusis divine so slim and white—"


"Michael!"

      "I love her noble mind serene,
      I love her ruddy tresses bright,
      I love her slender neck so white,
      I love her heart so young and clean,
      In fact I love her, if she please,
      My goddess of the Cyclades—"


"_Michael!!!_"

"What?" said I, annoyed at being checked in my fine frenzy.

"Is—is _that_ courtship?"

"Certainly!  Did you never hear of a troubadour? I’m improvising and for
God’s sake don’t interrupt me."

At that she relapsed into meek silence.  But I had lost my momentum.  It
was all off; she had ruined that totally unexpected burst of inspired
fluency which had astonished and intoxicated me, whatever it had done to
her.

"Damnation," I said.

"Forgive me, Michael.  I’m so truly repentant.... And it was very, very
beautiful."

"It wasn’t so bad," I admitted, mollified.  "I had no idea I could do
it, Thusis."

"It was—agreeable.  I liked it.  Will you forgive me?  Because when I
interrupted I punished myself most of all."

"You sweet little thing!——"

"I did.  I was worse than Psyche," she went on, "who blew out the
candle—too late—the torch of inspiration—Oh, dear, that metaphor is very
sadly mixed, Michael, but you understand what I mean. Do you pardon me?"

To reassure her I touched her hands which lay clasped in her lap.  She
gave a slight start, but as my hand settled and rested there upon both
of hers she seemed to become unconscious of the contact.

"I had no idea that you could improvise so cleverly," she said.

"Nor I," said I, frankly.  "It’s true, however, that I’ve had some
little practice in writing verses—er—recently."

"Have you been writing verses, Michael?"

"Yes."

"About what?"

"About you."

She became interested in my fishing line, and watched it intently.  But
it was only the current moving it.

"Thusis dear——"

She said hastily: "Remember the difference between courtship and the
other!"

"Won’t you let me make love to you?"

"I can’t, Michael!"

After a pause: "Would you let me if you could?"

"Yes," she said under her breath.

"Dear——"

"Please don’t say that!"

"I want to ask you one thing."

"What?"

"You’re not married, are you?"

"No."

"Then——"

"It’s a more hopeless barrier than that!" she interrupted with a sudden
catch in her breath.  "I can’t let you make love to me.  I can’t let you
love me!  I c-can’t love you—let myself—do it——"

Her voice was drowned in a terrific roar.  All the thunders of the skies
seemed to unite in one tremendous outburst.

Deafened, almost stunned, we sat there partly stupefied by the mighty
concussion which lengthened into bellowing thunder until the bank of the
stream trembled under our feet, and the umbrella wiggled in my hand.

"Good Lord!" I whispered; but Thusis sprang up with a little cry of
dismay.

"Don’t be afraid, darling!" I cried, preparing to gather her to my
breast.  But she was excitedly adjusting her field-glasses and focussing
them on the Bec de l’Empereur.

And then I perceived that the rain had ceased; that the sun was already
blazing through the pass below.

"The devil!" cried Thusis, stamping her pretty foot.  Then, in a fury of
despair, she turned to me and stretched out one arm, pointing toward the
valley pass.

And I saw that it had been utterly obliterated by the mighty avalanche,
the earth-shaking thunder of which had petrified us.

Suddenly the gray eyes of Thusis filled with tears of fury and
disappointment.

"Oh, Michael!  Michael!" she faltered, "what shall we do now!  We had
them all in the trap!  We were ready to spring it to-night!  Oh,
Michael! Michael!  M-my heart is b-broken——"

She walked blindly into my arms—she didn’t know what she was about, I
suppose.  I petted and soothed her; she hid her face on my breast.

"Darling," I said, "I can’t bear to see you suffer. I suppose that you
and Clelia and Josephine and Raoul had some scheme cooked up to kidnap
that bunch of huns at the house and get them over the frontier into
France.  Didn’t you, dear?"

"Y-yes.  And just l-look what’s happened!  Look at this act of God!  Why
has God let it rain?  Why has He let loose this avalanche at such a
moment!—at such an agonizing moment when we had all the rats trapped!
And our own agents on the frontier to let us through! ... Doesn’t God
realize that all civilization—all Christendom is tottering?  Doesn’t He
know what hell threatens it?  Why has He done this thing to us!  Can He
not see France bled white!—England reeling!—Italy agasp!—America only
half ready!—Naxos prostrate under the Greek tyrant’s usurping
heel!—Tenedos thrown to the Turk! I—I have begun to lose my faith in
God!" she cried violently; "the old gods were less cruel—less
indifferent.  And at least they displayed enough interest to take
sides!"

I continued to pet and comfort and soothe her as I would a half
hysterical child.

"God is on duty," I said.  "Who are we to divine His strategy?  Why take
even General Foch.  His own officers can’t penetrate his purpose; much
less can the huns.  But he drives the spirits of evil before him; he
hustles the hellish legions toward destruction in his own way.  The
maddened swine are stampeding, Thusis!  God’s ocean waits."

"Y-yes.  I—shall pull myself together....  I’m ashamed."

"No, you’re all right, Thusis.  Take heart.  And, if there’s any comfort
in knowing I’m with you, always, loyally, through life to death——"

I thought, against my breast, there was the slightest pressure in
response, but concluded that Thusis had merely braced herself to get
away and stand on her own legs.  Which she now did, resolutely, but
keeping her face averted.

We stood so, gazing down in silence at the snow-choked pass which now
cut us off from the world entire.

"After all," said I, "it pens in the huns as well as it cages us.  We
may get them yet."

The girl straightened up and turned toward me. Her features were
radiant, transfigured.

"Nous les aurons!" she cried, throwing her arm out toward the valley
with the superb gesture of some young goddess launching thunderbolts.



                                 *XIV*

                       *THE MYSTERIOUS MR. SMITH*


The distinguished company at the chalet had already gathered on the
veranda apparently to contemplate the flaming sunset when, separating
from Thusis in the woods behind the barn, I sauntered into view with rod
and creel.

Instantly I became a target for Teutonic eyes of the several sorts
peculiar to the hunnish race,—cold disapproving eyes, narrow
bad-tempered eyes, squinting eyes, gimlet eyes, pale pig-eyes,—all
intent on my approach.

"Hello!" cried King Constantine in his loud, bluff way, "have you had
any luck, O’Ryan?"

The fat Princess Pudelstoff began to pant cheerfully in anticipation of
finny food:

"I hope you’ve caught some trout," she said in a thick, good-natured
voice which the rolls of fat on her neck rendered husky and indistinct.
"I like to eat mine _Meunière_ and _Blaue-gesotten_.  I like ’em breaded
and fried in butter.  I like plenty of melted butter."  She pried open
the creel cover as I passed.  "Where are the fish?" she asked with a
gulp of disappointment.

"I’m sorry, Princess——"

"Droly!" she exclaimed in English, turning to General Count von
Dungheim, "he ain’t caught a fish!  And me smackin’ my lips like I was
eatin’ onto a fat filet!  Oh my God!"

Astonished to hear such east-side accents spurting from the lips of the
Princess Pudelstoff, I politely explained that the stream was in flood,
and that trout wouldn’t take hold in high water.  In the midst of my
apology Baron von Bummelzug uttered a disagreeable laugh and said
something rude to Admiral Lauterlaus who stared at me insultingly as he
replied: "Skill is not to be expected in a Yankee.  Instead of a rod he
should have used a net. That’s the way our peasants fish for trout."

I turned red and looked hard at the Admiral. "There’s a net in the
barn," said I, "if you want to try your skill!" which infuriated that
formidable sea-warrior whose ancestry was purely peasant.  He glared at
me angrily and his bushy eyebrows worked up and down like the features
of a mechanical toy.

"I said our peasants fish with a net!" he began, a far, hollow roar
audible in his voice like the sound of the sea in a big shell.

"I heard you," said I.  "You’re welcome to use the net in your own
fashion.  Gentlemen fish otherwise."

I think everybody was astounded.  Only the pretty Countess Manntrapp
shot an amused glance at me.

The others were dreadfully shocked.  As for the Admiral he got to his
feet almost dazed with rage; but before he could expel the bellowing
fury which was congesting his features I lost my own temper and walked
over to him.

"Behave yourself!" I said sharply.  "I tolerate no bad manners under my
roof.  And if you show me any further disrespect you’ll have to leave my
house!"

I think he was too amazed to roar.  King Ferdinand waddled over to him
and plucked him by the arm, restraining him.  King Constantine burst
into a heavy laugh:

"Here, gentlemen!  This will never do!  It’s all a misunderstanding.  No
offense was intended, Mr. O’Ryan——"

"Monsieur Xenos," said I, "it is difficult, I fancy, for a Prussian
Admiral to avoid taking the offensive—except at sea."

And I walked into the house amid the most profound and paralyzed silence
that ever assailed my ears.

Smith, in the living-room, having heard it all, was doubled up with
laughter, but I was in no mood for mirth.

"Did you hear what Admiral Lauterlaus said to me!" I demanded, still
hot.  "Did you hear what that Prussian had the impudence to say to me
under my own roof?"

"Yes, and I heard what you said to him, Michael!"  And off he went into
another fit of laughter.

"You don’t know how funny it is," he said. "They’ve all been conspiring
and perspiring all day long shut up in Tino’s apartment with those two
smelly Bolsheviks.  And just when they’d come to some agreement about
slicing up the world and ruling it among themselves, along you come and
take all the joy out of life by sitting on a Prussian admiral!"

"I certainly shall put him out of the house if he’s impudent to me
again," said I, wrathfully.  "And it will be tough on him if I do,
because an avalanche has blocked the pass and we’re all sewed up here
together!"

"What!" exclaimed Smith with lively interest.

"It’s a fact, Smith.  The entire snow-field on the south shoulder of the
Bec de l’Empereur let go about an hour since.  Didn’t you hear it?"

"I heard what I took to be thunder.  Do you mean we’re blocked from the
outside world?"

"Completely."

"We can’t dig out?"

"Who’s to dig?"

"Good business!" he said, plainly delighted by the news.  "How long will
it last?"

"Thusis says they’ll start digging from the other side, but that it may
take weeks."

"Thusis knows about this?"

"She was with me at the time," said I, blushing.

He looked at me absently: "I wonder," he mused, "what Thusis thinks
about the situation now."

"Our sudden isolation here?"

"Exactly."

"She doesn’t seem to like it....  Tell me something, Smith?"

"What?"

"Do you know why Thusis and Clelia and Josephine Vannis and Raoul
Despres are here?"

"I can guess," he replied, coolly.

"They came here," said I, "to nab Tino and that murderous ass,
Ferdinand, and spirit them across the frontier into France."

"I believe so," he said in a serene but preoccupied voice.

"Now they can’t do it," I added, "because the only way out of this
valley is blocked."

"Quite so."

"Smith?"

"Yes."

"What do you think of their doing such a thing?"

"It’s all right but they can’t get away with it."

"Would you—help them?"

"They haven’t asked me."

"_Would_ you?" I persisted.

"Would _you_, Michael?"

"Well, if I do, the Swiss Government would confiscate my property.  If
Thusis and I succeeded in kidnapping this bunch of Kings, I’d lose this
place."

"And if you failed to bag your Kings," remarked Smith, "the Swiss
Government would still confiscate your estate and lock you up besides."

"And if _you_ went into this affair," said I, "the Swiss would cancel
your forestry contract."

"That," said he with a grin, "would be ruinous, wouldn’t it?"

"What are you, anyway, Smith?" I demanded bluntly.

"A Viking.  What do you think I am?"

"An agent," I replied darkly.

"Timber agent," he nodded.

"Timber nothing.  Much less a Viking.  I’m on to you, Smith."

"Do you think you are?"

"Well, do you wish to know what I believe you to be?"

"You probably have guessed.  So don’t say it too loud, Michael.
Besides, I have taken no pains to conceal my business from you."

"I think you are an agent of the United States Secret Service," said I.
"And I think you learned, somehow or other, that this bunch of Kings was
coming here to conspire.  And I think you very cleverly picked me up in
Berne with a view to being invited here so that you could watch their
activities and keep your government informed.  How near right am I?"

"You ought to know," he retorted, laughing.

"Well then—if I do know—what are you going to do about this enterprise
of Clelia and Thusis? Help them collar this royal gang and smuggle them
across the frontier into France?"

He shook his head: "No, I can’t do that."

"Your duties do not permit such amusements?"

"No.  I am engaged to fulfill a definite duty.  In fact I’m pledged to
carry out a certain mission. It’s a matter of honor.  I’m sorry."

"It limits you?"

"It does."

"Checks any adventurous or romantic inclination toward aiding Thusis and
Clelia to nab Tino & Co.?"

"I’m afraid it does."

"So you can’t do any kidnaping, Smith?"

He laughed.  "Oh, as far as that goes, I may have to do some."

"Kidnaping?"

"Possibly."

"You’re a strange creature, Smith.  And, speaking of strange creatures,
who the devil is that Princess Pudelstoff?  She talks English like an
east-side Jewess."

"She is."

"W-what!!!"

"Certainly."

"The Princess Pudelstoff!"

"Her name was Leah Puppsky.  She’s the sister of Leo Puppsky, the
Bolshevik envoy sent here with his confrere Isidore Wildkatz by Trotzky
and Lenine to confer with Tino and Ferdie.  She was once pretty—and she
acted in an east-side theatre with Nazimova.  Prince Pudelstoff was an
attaché of the Russian Embassy at the time.  He saw her act, fell in
love, and married her,—of course with the Czar’s knowledge and consent.
But why the Czar let him do it is one of those diplomatic mysteries
which remain unfathomed.  Some believe that Rasputin had a reason for
approving such an alliance."  He shrugged.

"What a strange, fat, vulgar, good-natured woman," said I.  "And what a
grotesque company! Can you beat it?—Bulgar and Bolsheviki, King, Queen,
Countess, Baron, Admiral, all jumbled up in this little rest-house where
I am trying to live in peace and privacy.  And now comes an act of God
called an avalanche!—and we’re all trapped together—you and I, Thusis
and Clelia, and this beastly Bulgarian with his beak of a bird of prey;
and that vulgar Greek King and his vixen of a wife,—Oh, Lord!"

"I’m glad God acted," he said cheerfully.

"You’re glad that avalanche fell?"

"Yes; I’m very much relieved."

"Why, in the name of Heaven?"

"It simplifies my duties," he said, smiling.  And that’s all I got out
of him except that he advised me to have nothing to do with this
enterprise of Thusis and her sister.

"They’ll only get you into mischief," he said. "It’s a perfectly crazy
scheme.  Anyway I think it’s nipped in the bud, now."

"If the avalanche hadn’t fallen——"

"That makes a difference.  But it couldn’t have been done anyway.  So
you’d better not encourage Thusis by enlisting with her as a recruit,
Michael. Avalanche or no avalanche it can’t be done."

"Smith," said I, "if Thusis needs me I am going to help her bag this
brace of kings."

"You are?"

"I am."

"You’ll lose your property."

"I can’t help that."

Smith glanced up at me curiously: "You are in love, Michael.

"I think I am."

"Don’t be."

"What!"

"Don’t be in love," he repeated gently.  "It isn’t any use.  It’s no
good, Michael."

What he said annoyed me and he perceived it.

"Oh Lord," he said wearily, "this is a mess all around.  You don’t know
what a mess it is, Michael. But all I can tell you is, _don’t fall in
love with Thusis_!  Because it won’t do you any good."

"What do you mean?  Do you know who Thusis really is?"

"No, I don’t.  But I do know that it will do you no good to fall in love
with her."

"Has it done _you_ any good to fall in love with her sister Clelia?" I
retorted sharply.

"Not a particle."

"Then why have you done it?"

He winced but said pleasantly: "I fell in love with her before I
realized it.  Now I’m falling out of love with her.  I’m curing
myself....  Besides, she cares nothing about me....  It will be easier
for me to cure myself than for you to recover if you fall in love."

"Thusis will not listen to a serious word from me," said I with sudden
bitterness.  "I ought to try to cure myself _now_! ... But I don’t want
to."

"Michael," he said, "the pretty Thusis, also, had better be very
careful, because she already is as close to caring for you seriously as
it is safe for any young girl to care for a man whom she knows she never
is going to marry."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because, although I do not know who Thusis really is, I do know that
she is not going to marry you.  And I do not believe you will ever see
Thusis again after this herd of conspirators leaves Swiss soil."

I thought very hard for a while.  Then: "Smith, I have become firmly
convinced that Thusis is the original of _The Laughing Girl_!  Find out
who she was and you will learn who Thusis is.  I’m certain of this.  Now
who was this Laughing Girl?"

"Nobody knows."

"Have you tried to find out?"

"Yes."

"Did you learn anything at all?"

"Not much."

"What did you learn?"

"That the photographs of The Laughing Girl are not permitted to be sold
in Italy."

I looked at him, perplexed.  He shrugged his shoulders: "Photographs for
sale in European cities," he said, "are usually portraits of
celebrities—actresses, demi-mondaines, royalties.  Do you suppose Thusis
to be one of these?"

"Good heavens!"

"One of the three alternatives is, of course, unthinkable.  Your choice
would seem to lie, then, between royalty and the drama.  _But_—the
photographs of the Italian Royal family are sold everywhere in Italy.
So are photographs of pretty actresses.  Why is the sale of The Laughing
Girl forbidden in Italy?"

"_Forbidden_?  You didn’t say that."

"Forbidden," he repeated calmly.

"That’s very strange," said I.  "What does it signify, Smith?"

"Well, of course, I have my own theory as to that."

"You don’t care to discuss it?"

He shook his head.

"No, Michael.  But it seems to fit in with my general idea concerning
the identity of Thusis."

"And do you, too, believe that Thusis is the original of The Laughing
Girl?" I asked.

"I have come to believe so."

"Then," said I, "I shall marry her!  I’ve been in love with that
photograph ever since I laid eyes on it, and now, when I’ve found the
original, do you suppose I shall let it go at that?  You don’t know the
O’Ryans!"

He began to laugh, but my excitement was rising.

"I’m going to make love to her," said I.  "I’m going to help her bag
these kings if she wants them. And when we tie them neck and heels and
smuggle them into France and turn them over to a pair of strapping
gendarmes I shall enlist with the American forces in France, whether
Thusis accepts me for her husband or not.  That, Smith, is my
unalterable decision and my inflexible programme!  And my property in
Switzerland can go to the devil!"

"There are," said Smith with a peculiar smile, "two reasons why you
should not remain in love with Thusis.  One is that she won’t marry
you."

"What’s the other?"

"The other is that she couldn’t marry you if she wished to."

There was a short silence, then he went on: "Also there are two reasons
why you should not help Thusis to kidnap Tino and Ferdie.  One is that
she isn’t able to."

"What’s the other?"

"The other is that—_I won’t let her_."

I felt myself growing red and angry.

"That sounds almost pro-hun," said I.

"It does sound so," he admitted.

"Of course you’re not pro-German," I added incredulously.

"Of course not," he rejoined calmly.

"Then——"

"I can’t explain.  I’m merely warning you not to aid her in this
affair."

"Does Thusis know your attitude?"

"No, but she will."

"You are going to tell her?"

"No; but _you_ are."

"I certainly shall," said I, warmly.  "And I’d like to know why you are
interfering with what she desires to do."

"I can’t tell you why, Michael; but I’ll tell _her_ why—if she asks me."

"You may be very sure that Thusis will ask you, Smith," said I,
perplexed to the verge of exasperation by his amazing attitude.

"Suppose _you_ tell her," he said, amused.  "All you need do is to
repeat this couplet to her:

    "_Grecian gift and Spanish fig_
    _Help the fool his grave to dig!_"


"What idiot’s jargon is that!" I demanded.

"A jargon that is likely to hold our pretty Thusis for a while.  It is a
word of warning—a signal of danger used by members of a secret society
known as the Ægean League.  Also it is likely to start her looking for
me.  And when she finds me I think she’ll listen to reason and renounce
this silly and useless attempt to trap royalty wholesale for export
purposes.  Not," he added gaily, "that I shouldn’t expire with laughter
to see Raoul and you, for example, take that pair of kings by the slack
of the pants and run them Spanish into France.  I’d applaud it, old top.
I’d give frequent cheers during the process.  But Thusis and Clelia
mustn’t start any such shindy.  No!  And if they inquire why, just
repeat that verse to them and refer them to me."

"Then you are _not_ here to watch these hun conspirators?" I asked in
astonishment.

"Only incidentally."

"Do you mean to say that you are here, primarily, to watch Thusis and
Clelia?"

"That is exactly why I am here, Michael.  And I don’t mind your telling
them so.  I myself was going to tell them.  I had intended to break the
news to them to-night.  But the avalanche makes it unnecessary; they
can’t get out of this valley with their cartload of kings, now.
However, let me suggest that you repeat that couplet to Thusis."

"This," said I, "is a most astounding and disagreeable series of
complications.  I don’t understand them.  I don’t understand Thusis or
you or that bagful of boches downstairs."

"Don’t try to, old chap," he said in his friendly way.  "And above all,
don’t break your heart over Thusis.  For when the snow that blocks the
pass melts, or when somebody digs through, I don’t believe you are ever
likely to see Thusis again."

His kindly sincerity scared and angered me.

"Watch me!" said I.  "An O’Ryan never loves but once.  But when he does
love——"

"All right, old fellow.  Go to it and God help you. They say He has a
warm spot in His heart for the Irish."

I nodded, looking at him very seriously: "It’s quite impossible," said
I, "that she’s royal.  And if she’s an actress I don’t care, because I’m
so deeply in love with her that I don’t know whether I’m afoot or on
horseback.  And when an O’Ryan feels that way the world is his or he
continues on to Heaven."

"Does it really mean Life or Death to you already, Michael?" he asked
gravely.

"Life or death, sink or swim, survive or perish,—as some Yankee orator
said once.  Nothing matters now except Thusis.  That’s my only reason
for living.  Yesterday I wanted wealth, to-day my estate can go to the
deuce.  Yesterday I was a rather sober, decent citizen, perpetrating
interior decoration in New York, to-day I figuratively kick the varnish
off period furniture, tear down tapestries, smash Chinese pottery, and
wipe my feet on the rags of Renaissance!  Art is nothing!  Thusis is
everything.  If she wants a few kings to play with, she shall have them.
I’ll bag them for her.  I’ll do anything in the world for her.  And if
that’s not enough I’ll step off this damned old planet and pull wires
aloft for the honor and glory and happiness of the noblest, sweetest,
loveliest, most beauti——"

A slight exclamation behind me checked my excited confession.

Slowly turning in my tracks I beheld Thusis at the door in cap and
apron.

There was a terrific silence.

Then Thusis, her fair face deeply flushed, dropped us a curtsey.

"Dinner is served, sir," she said faintly.  And was gone like a shadow.



                                  *XV*

                          *A TRAVELING CIRCUS*


The royal traveling circus was already seated and whetting its appetite
with hors d’oeuvres, when I arrived in the dining-room and, saluting my
guests, took my place as host at the head of the long table.

Heaven!  What a collection!  Being incognito, I was not supposed to be
aware of the identity of royalty; but Thusis had seated the ex-queen of
Greece on my right and Tino on my left, and, beyond Queen Sophia, she
had put the Tsar of all the Bulgars,—with a clean napkin where he had
soiled the cover.

The new accessions to this traveling show had, very evidently, decided
among themselves the places at table to which they were entitled by
precedence of rank.  And these they now occupied.

The two Bolsheviki, Leo Puppsky and Isidore Wildkatz, had been relegated
to the foot of the table where they sat hunched up and scowling about
them until noodle soup presently preoccupied them.

I do not know which one of my guests was the noisiest: the Tsar of all
the Bulgars sucked up his soup with the distressingly acute sound of a
sick horse drinking; the Princess Pudelstoff lapped and slobbered and
wheezed in her slopping plate; but the technique of the Bolsheviki was
simple and more effective, being reduced to a primitive, incessant
gobbling noise, followed by patient and persistent scraping.

Behind my chair stood Raoul as extemporary butler; Thusis and Clelia in
spotless caps and aprons sped lightly hither and thither; while from the
depths of the kitchen, Josephine Vannis fed us all with the most
delectable dinner which I think I ever tasted.

Ordinary wine being included on my bill of fare, the Tsar guzzled it
while his sly eye of a wild pig roved about reading labels on the
various bottles of more expensive wine ordered by the others.

The Bolsheviki, having plenty of the Russian people’s money, demanded
"bowcoo tchimpagne"; King Tino drank goblets of a rather heavy claret;
his wife sipped only bottled water, while her cold, steely eyes
glittered from guest to guest.

I conversed politely when spoken to; otherwise I made no effort.  The
Prussian admiral worked his bushy eyebrows and his coarse, fan-shaped
beard while munching, but whether in hostility to me or because he was
built that way, I did not know, and did not care.

He and Baron von Bummelzug sat all hunched up side by side, gobbling in
their whiskers and exchanging Teutonic grunts which seemed to be their
substitute for human conversation.  Herr Secretary Gizzler, factotum to
the Baron, and seated with the Bolsheviki, devastated his plate and
seized ravenously upon anything eatable in his vicinity, which presently
elicited a chattering protest from Puppsky; and a quarrel rapidly
developed until squelched by General Count von Dungheim.

"Silence!" he said angrily: "you make so much noise that it is
impossible to hear oneself eat!"

The Princess Pudelstoff nodded violently, balancing a knifeful of mashed
potato before committing it to its dreadful destiny:

"They act," she said in English, "like they was never to a high-toned
dinner.  It’s them two Bolsheviks that ain’t had a square meal since
Hindy licked the Rooshians at the Missouri Lakes."

Leo Puppsky made a violent gesture at her with the leg of a chicken:

"Is that the way to speak of us?" he said to his sister.  "And you a
Russian and my own sister!"

"Ain’t it true?" she asked with a loud laugh. "Get sense, Leo.  There
won’t be nothing to eat in Rooshia so long as you act ugly to Germany——"

"Princess!" interrupted the queen of Greece, sharply.

"That’s right," said Tino in a loud, good humored voice; "one doesn’t
discuss politics while dining.  No!  One pays strict attention to what
one eats and drinks; eh, Sophy?"

The queen ignored him, and he slyly batted one eye at the pretty
Countess Manntrapp, his neighbor, and tossed off a brimming goblet of
deep red claret.

"Aha!" he said, smacking his lips, "that beats even the wine of Naxos.
Did you ever drink Naxos wine, Countess?"

"No," said she; "is it very excellent?"

"Heady, Countess, heady!  After you crack one bottle you begin to see
the old gods of Greece sitting beside you on pink clouds in their
underclothes——"

"Tino!" snapped the Queen.

The Countess laughed.  "I’d like to see them."  She looked across at me
with her fascinating, audacious smile: "Wouldn’t you like to drink Naxos
wine with me, Mr. O’Ryan, and see the old time gods come down out of the
blue sky and sit at table all about you?"

"It seems to me," said I, bowing, "that Aphrodite has already arrived
among us mortals."

She laughed, acknowledging the raw compliment, then pursing up her red
mouth but uttering no sound she nevertheless formed her question so that
I read every word on her mobile lips:

"Do—you—know—anybody—who—would—play—Adonis—to—my—Venus?"

And she laughed her daring little laugh and made me a pretty gesture,
intercepted by Ferdinand of Bulgaria who took it for himself and
continued to ogle her out of passionate, pig-like eyes until further
engrossed in a new relay of food.

It was a dreadful dinner party.  Both the kings made life wretched for
Clelia and Thusis as they waited on table, slyly pinching them when
unobserved until, from Thusis’ burning cheeks and trembling hands as she
served me, I almost feared she would launch a plate at the royal
libertines.

It was a weird company.  The Bolsheviki chattered and grabbed at food;
all the Germans ate noisily—excepting only the pretty Countess
Manntrapp, who had been Lila Shezawitch, and not a Teuton by birth.

Constantine had had more claret than was good for him and now he was
pouring into himself countless little glasses of brandy, and was
becoming loudly and somewhat coarsely talkative, retailing bits of
barrack-room gossip to General Count von Dungheim and cracking dubious
jokes with Baron von Bummelzug until his wife spoke to him with such
cutting contempt that he winced and relapsed into a half hazy and
giggling exchange of whispers with the Countess Manntrapp.  As for the
Princess Pudelstoff, she had never for one moment ceased stuffing
herself.  Sweat stood in oily beads on her forehead and cheeks; her fat
hands plied knife and fork and spoon without interruption save when she
grasped her beer mug in both jeweled hands and drew mighty and noisy
draughts from the heavy quart receptacle.

The whole performance at my table was becoming a horrid nightmare to me;
I could not see any signs of satiation among these dreadful people—any
desire to call it off and quit and retire to their respective sties.

Smith caught my eye and I saw him suppress the smile that twitched his
features.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that I had news for the traveling circus
that might modify their appetites; and I said, distinctly, and raising
my voice sufficiently to command attention from everybody:

"There is some very serious information which I regret that it is
necessary to share with everybody here.  I did not wish to spoil your
appetites.  But dinner is over, and I had better speak."

All feeding ceased; everybody stared at me.

"I regret that I am obliged to inform you," I continued, "that the snow
field on the south flank of the Bec de l’Empereur, loosened by the warm
deluge of rain, has fallen, completely choking the pass which is our
only entrance to and exit from this valley."

"An avalanche!" exclaimed the Queen of Greece sharply.

"Yes, madame, a very bad one."

"We are blocked in," she gasped.

"Absolutely."

At that the Princess Pudelstoff uttered a squeak of fright: "We’re all
going to starve!" she squealed in alarm; "that’s what he means!  There
isn’t enough food for us and we’ll all die the way they are dying in
Rooshia——"

"There’s plenty of food," I interrupted.

"Ach, Gott sei dank!  Gott sei dank!" she shouted, clapping her pudgy
hands and seizing knife and fork again.

But the others were now rising from their seats, exchanging glances full
of anxiety and perplexity; and, as I left the room with Smith, I saw
them all gathering around the Ex-Queen of Greece as though general
consternation had seized them.  Only the Princess Pudelstoff remained in
her chair, devouring tartlets, her triple chin agitated by a series of
convulsive shudders as she bolted sections of pastry too large for her.

Coffee was to be served _al fresco_; Raoul had set a number of green
iron tables and chairs out by the fountain.

"My heavens, Smith," said I, "we should serve them coffee in a common
trough.  Did you ever before endure such misery at any table?"

"Oh, yes," he said, "I’ve lived in Germany."

"Well I haven’t, and I’m going to skip the demitasse," I rejoined.  And
I walked around the house and entered the back door where two latticed
arbors flanked the stone walk.

Here I seated myself and lighted a cigarette, still unnerved by the
martyrdom of that dinner table.

It was quiet and peaceful in the sunset light under my roof of curly
grape leaves where sun spots glowed amid the tender green and two little
active birds climbed busily and silently about the foliage in search of
aphids.

I had been sitting there for ten minutes, perhaps, when the door opened
behind me and Thusis appeared with coffee.  Her lovely features still
were tinged with the rosy glow of recent wrath; her gray eyes were still
brilliant with the same emotion.

"Coffee, if you please, sir?" she said crisply.

I had risen, smiling.

"You need not have taken so much trouble, Thusis——"

"Pardon.  It is what servants are hired for."

"Why do you keep up this masquerade with me?" I asked, laughingly,
taking the cup from the tray.

But Thusis seemed to be in no pleasant humor, and she turned to go
without answering.

"Thusis!"

She halted.

"I’m sorry those beastly kings annoyed you at table——"

"They’re men," she retorted angrily.  "What can a woman expect?"

"Do you think that is fair to me, Thusis, to lump me with men in
general?"

"I don’t know what’s fair to you.  And I’m really not very particular
about it.  Little chance that men ever suffer too much from being
misunderstood in this world."

"You are amazingly unjust, do you realize it?"

"I’m not sure that I am," she said sullenly.  "You made your début by
trying to kiss your own cook. Tino is coarser, he pinches; Ferdie the
furtive, pushes one with his knees and rolls wild eyes at one.  There
are three masculine examples.  Take your choice, Monsieur," she added,
going.

"Wait!"

She turned haughtily, her gray eyes suddenly insolent.

"Because you are hurt and offended and humiliated by a pair of
scoundrels," said I, "is no reason why you should visit your displeasure
on me."

"I make no difference in men."

"Not even in the man who is in love with you?"

"Love?  _Love_!"  She laughed, not agreeably.  "I am not flattered,
Monsieur, to have offered to me the same adoration which you were quite
willing to bestow upon your cook.  I tell you all men _are_
alike!—including the Pharisee."

"Do you mean me?"

"Haven’t you practically just thanked God you are not like other men?"

"What have I done to deserve this, Thusis?  I’m trying to be patient——"

"You don’t need to be.  Heaven deliver me from a patient man!"

Then I blew up: "You listen to me, you little idiot," I said in a low,
enraged tone; "I’m in love with you and you can’t help it whatever you
choose to do about it.  You came here as a servant and I fell in love
with you as a servant.  You are probably something else—God knows
what—and I’m more in love than ever with God-knows-what!  I don’t care
what you are, servant, bourgeoise, actress, princess, or
demi-mondaine——"

"_What!_"

"I tell you I wouldn’t care.  I love you.  I want to marry you——"

"Marry me if I were—a demi——"

"Yes!" I said violently; "yes! yes! yes!  It’s too late to have whatever
you are make any difference to me.  I’m an O’Ryan and I love only once."

"Do you suppose I’m flattered by what you’ve just shouted at me?  You’d
marry me—or you’d do the same for a demi——"

"Confound it!" I exclaimed, "it’s you, whatever you are!  Can’t you
understand——"

"Certainly I can.  All men are men first, last, all the time.  That
Serbian married Draga; any man will do as much for any drab if he can’t
have her otherwise.  I’ve seen enough of men, I tell you. Royal, noble,
landed gentry, bourgeoisie, peasantry—all are men first, last, all the
time; and all are exactly alike!"

She clenched her hand and confronted me with scornful eyes:

"And why any honest woman should ever fall in love with one of them is
one of those ignoble mysteries which I have never cared to fathom!"

Her contempt and my own fury almost paralyzed me.

I said, finally, in a very quiet voice, not my own:

"Very well, Thusis, expect nothing more of me than you expect of any
man—including those royal gentlemen out yonder.  And I’ll not disappoint
you."

I stepped nearer, forcing a smile:

"You’ve succeeded in slaying any consideration I entertained for your
sex.  You’ve enlightened me. In future I’ll take them as I find them,
easily, lightly, good-humoredly, with gaiety, with gratitude to the old
time gods when they send a pretty one my way."

And I smiled at Thusis who looked darkly back at me with the faintest
hint of uncertainty in her eyes.

"It is wonderful," said I, "how a word or two from a woman sometimes
clears up the most serious situations.  Your revelations concerning my
sex in general have opened my eyes.  I take your word for it that man is
always man, as you explain so convincingly, and that he is, first, last,
and all the time, merely a jackass endowed with speech."

I emptied my coffee cup and set it upon the tray which she held in her
left hand.

"I had," said I, "something else to tell you—and which had nothing
whatever to do with love.  But, on second thoughts, I am so certain that
a self-sufficient girl like yourself is amply able to look out for
herself, that I shall not bother to say what I had intended saying."

Her gray eyes became intently fixed on mine while her color came and
went under the sting of irony.

But I made up my mind to let matters take their course.  If she tried to
body-snatch this Greek and Bulgarian carrion, let her!  If Smith
interfered, let him!  What was it to me after all?  I was becoming fed
up on love and feminine caprice—on kings and queens and shocking
manners,—on intrigue and treachery and counter plot.

Suddenly, as I stood there, a wave of disgust swept over me.  I was sick
of Switzerland; sick of the ridiculous property which was causing me all
this trouble and discomfort; sick of the grotesque whim of Fate which
had yanked me out of an orderly, unaccented life and a peaceful
profession in Manhattan and had slammed me down here in the midst of
love and Alps and kings!

"I’ll chuck the estate and go home!" I exclaimed. "I’ll go now,
to-night!"  And then I remembered the accursed avalanche.

She was watching me intently, curiously, and I noticed she had lost some
of her colour.

"Do you suppose," said I, "that there is any way of climbing over that
mass of snow?—any way of my getting out of this valley to-night?"

"Would you go if you could?" she asked in a rather colorless voice.

"Yes, I would," said I savagely.  "I’ve had enough."

"I’m sorry."

"Sorry that I’ve had enough?" I sneered.

"Sorry you cannot leave the valley to-night," she said quietly.

"Then it is not possible?"

"I’m afraid not....  If it were, I also would leave this valley
to-night."

"With a bagful of kings," I added.

"Yes," she said simply.

"Oh, no, you wouldn’t," said I with unworthy satisfaction in my
knowledge of Smith’s mission. "And let me tell you a thing or two,
Thusis.  You seem to resemble, more or less, a very naughty little girl,
spoiled but precocious, who has run away from school and is raising the
devil out of bounds, throwing stones and ringing door-bells and defying
policemen with derisive tongue.  Pretty soon you’ll be caught and led
home and soundly spanked.  And," I added fervently, "I’d like to be in
the vicinity of that wood-shed when discipline begins."

My laughter was fairly genuine.  I lighted a cigarette and, gazing at
this girl who had so outrageously maligned me, felt so much better that
a macabre sort of gaiety verging upon frivolity invaded me.

"All women," said I, "are women, first, last, and all the time."

Thusis flushed.

"I am wondering," said I airily, "whether the rôle of Adonis might suit
me."

"What!" she exclaimed.

"Adonis," I repeated.  "He was that poor fish of an amateur who played
opposite Aphrodite.  And got the hook.  But the rôle is all right and
it’s a no-character part if you play it straight....  I’m wondering—"
And I smiled at my own thoughts and blew three rings of smoke up at the
sun-lit grape leaves overhead.

Suddenly Thusis unclosed her soft, fresh lips, which seemed a trifle
tremulous:

"That woman," she said breathlessly, "is notorious in Vienna!  And if
you are—sufficiently abandoned—to d-degrade yourself by—an affair—with
her——"

"But what do you care, Thusis?"

Her face flamed.  "I care—_that_!" she said, snapping her white fingers.
And turned swiftly on her heel.



                                 *XVI*

                             *THE COUNTESS*


I was very unhappy.  I was not only madly in love with Thusis but also
mad enough to spank her.  And I sat down in the arbor once more a prey
to mixed emotions.

The two silent little birds had gone to bed.  Soft mauve shadows lay
across the scrubby foreland; snow peaks assumed the hue of pink pearls;
a wavering light played through the valley so that the world seemed to
quiver in primrose tints.

Then, through the pale yellow glory, a girl came drifting as though part
of the delicate beauty of it all,—her frail, primrose evening gown and
scarf scarcely outlined—scarcely detached from the golden clarity about
her.  It was as though she were lost in the monotone of living light the
only accent the dusky symmetry of her head.

I had not realized that the Countess Manntrapp was so pretty.

I was not sure that she had discovered me at all until she turned her
head en passant and sent me one of those vague smiles calculated to stir
the dead bones of saints.

"I suppose," she said, "you only look lonely, but really you are not."

I was lonely and sore at heart.  Possibly she read in my forced smile
something of my state of mind, for she paused leisurely by the arbor and
glanced about her at the grape leaves.

"Evidently," she said, "this spot is sacred to Bacchus.  But I was not
looking for gods or half-gods....  Do you prefer your own company, Mr.
O’Ryan?"

"No, I don’t," said I.  So she entered the arbor and seated herself.
There was only that one seat. With strictest economy it could
accommodate two; but I had not thought of attempting it until she
carelessly suggested it.

"How heavenly still it is," she murmured, an absent expression in her
dark eyes.  "Are you fond of stillness and solitude?"

"Not very," said I.  "Are you, Countess?"

She said, dreamily, that she was, but her side glance belied her.  Never
did the goddess of mischief look at me out of two human eyes as
audaciously as she was doing now.  And it was so transparent a
challenge, so utterly without disguise, that we both laughed.

I don’t know why I laughed unless the soreness in mind and heart had
provoked their natural reaction. A listless endurance of suffering is
the first symptom of indifference—that blessed anodyne with which
instinct inoculates unhappy hearts when the bitterness which was sorrow
wears away and leaves only dull resignation.

"At dinner," she said, "I made up my mind that you are an interesting
man.  I am wondering."

"I came to a similar conclusion concerning you," said I.  "But I’m no
longer wondering how near right I am."

"Such a pretty compliment!  Also it dissipates any doubts regarding
you."

"Did you have any, Countess?"

"Well, you know what I asked you at dinner. You understood?  You read
lips, don’t you?"

"I read yours."

"I wasn’t sure.  You gave me no answer."

We laughed lightly.  "What answer can a mortal make when Aphrodite
commands?" said I.

"Then you are willing to play Adonis?"

"Quite as willing—as was that young gentleman."

"That isn’t kind of you, Mr. O’Ryan.  He wasn’t very willing, was he?"

"Not very.  But possibly he had a premonition of the tragic
consequences," said I, laughing.  "One doesn’t frivol with a goddess
with impunity."

"Are you afraid?"

She turned in the narrow seat.  She was altogether too near, but I
couldn’t help it.  And I was much disturbed to find our fingers had
become very lightly intertwined.

She was smiling when I kissed her.  But after I had done it her smile
faded, and the gay confidence in her expression altered.

I had never expected to see in her eyes any hint of confusion, but it
was there, and a sort of shamed surprise, too—odd emotions for a
hardened coquette with the reputation she enjoyed.

"You proceed too rapidly," she said, the bright but subtly changed smile
still stamped on her lips. "There seems to be no finesse about
Americans—no leisurely technique that masters the intricacies of the
ante-climax.  Did you not know that hesitation is an art; that the only
perfect happiness is in suspense?"

"Didn’t you want to be kissed?" I asked bluntly. "I had perhaps surmised
that it might not be a disagreeable sensation.  Was it?"

She seemed to have recovered her careless audacity, and now she laughed.

"At all events," she said, "I shall not repeat the experiment ... this
evening."  She laid one soft hand in mine with a gay little smile: "Let
us enjoy our new friendship serenely and without undue emotion," she
said.  "And let me tell you how you have made me laugh at what you said
to those absurd Prussians!"

We both laughed, but I was now on my guard with this girl who had come
here in such company.

"No Prussian ever born ever knew how to make a friend," she said.
"To-day they have the whole world against them—even your country——"

"I am Chilean," said I pleasantly.

"Are you _really_?"

"I think you and your friends are quite sure of that," said I drily.

"Suppose," she said in a lower voice, "I tell you that they are not my
friends?"

I smiled.

"You wouldn’t believe me?" she asked.

"What I believe and do not believe, dear Countess, should not disturb
you in the slightest."

"I thought we were friends."

"Do you _really_ think so?"

"I hope so.  I wish it—if you do.  And friendship does not fear
confidences."

"Neutrals have no confidences to make.  My country is not at war."

"Is not your heart enlisted?" she asked, smilingly.

"Is yours?"

"Yes, it is!  See how my friendship refuses no confidence when you ask?
_I_ do not hesitate."

"On which side," said I, warily, "is your heart enlisted?"

"Shall I tell you?"

"If you care to."

She sat looking at me intently, her soft hand in mine.  Then, with a
pretty gesture, she placed the other hand over it, and her shoulder came
into contact with mine.

"I am Russian," she said.  "Is that not an answer?"

"So is Puppsky," I remarked.

For a second an odd expression came over her face and it turned quite
white.  Then she laughed.

"I’ll tell you something," she said.  "I have a girl friend.  I love her
dearly.  I have a country.  I love it still more dearly.  The girl I
love is Adelaide, Grand Duchess of Luxemburg.  Prussia has practically
annexed it.  The country I love is Russia.  Prussia holds it....  Do you
still doubt me?"

"Good Lord," thought I, "how this girl can lie!"  But I said: "Tell me
about Luxemburg, Countess. Is it true that Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria
means to marry the seventeen-year-old sister of the Grand Duchess
Adelaide?"

"Yes," she said.  And I distinctly heard her teeth snap.

"What sort of man is Ruprecht?" I inquired, to steer the conversation
toward easier ground.

"Ruprecht!  Did you ever see him?"

"No."

"Well, he has the manners of the barn-yard and the distinction of a
scullion!  Picture to yourself a man of fifty-seven with a head as
square as a battered bullet and the bodily grace of a new-born camel.
He is the stupidest, coarsest, commonest vulgarian in Europe.

"Why, the man is ridiculous!  He once set all Munich laughing by
appearing in the English Garden on skates wearing his spurs and saber.
And all his military suite had to do likewise.  Picture the result—and
Ruprecht scarcely knew how to stand on the ice!  Why their swords got
between their legs and their spurs did the rest, and the entire lake
resounded with the incessant crash of falling warriors."

She threw back her head and laughed; and I laughed too.

"Such a brute," she said.  "His first wife, daughter of that kindly and
philanthropic oculist, Karl Theodore of Tegernsee, died of his neglect
and ill treatment.  And now, at fifty-seven, he rolls his hog’s eyes in
his freckled face and smirks at a seventeen-year-old child—God help
her!"

I gazed in amazement at the Countess Manntrapp. This was acting with a
vengeance.  Such perfection, such flawless interpretation of the rôle
she was playing for my benefit, I had never dreamed possible. No emotion
could appear more genuine, no sincerity more perfectly mimicked.  Here
was an actress without equal in my entire experience.

Suddenly I caught her eye, and turned very red.

"You don’t believe me," she said calmly, and dropped her head.

There was a painful silence between us.  Presently she looked up at me,
flushed, curious, amused:

"You take me for a Hun, don’t you?"

"If you are not pro-German," said I, much embarrassed, "what are you
doing with those people?"

"Watching them.  And you don’t believe that, either?"

"I’m sorry, Countess."

"Why do you doubt me?"

"Because only a pro-German would confide to a stranger that she is not
one.  Were you really in the Allied service you’d keep your own council.
Secret agents don’t betray themselves to strangers. You have no means of
knowing where my sympathies lie.  How do you know I am not pro-German?"

"By your letters."

"My letters?"

"I opened several," she said naïvely.

"Where!"

"In Berne."

"You stole my letters?"

"Yes, I had to."

"How did you do it?"

"The postman is in my pay."

"That," said I angrily, "is a most outrageous confession, Countess."

"But I had to know what your politics are," she explained gently.
"Besides, if I had not stolen all your letters the Swiss authorities
would have opened them and found out that you are pro-Ally in sentiment.
And then you would not have been permitted to come here and live in this
house.  And all these people would not have come here either.  And I
should have had nobody to help me while keeping these people under
surveillance."

"You count on me to help you?" I demanded, too astonished to remain
angry.

"May I not?" she asked sweetly.

"So that’s the reason," said I, "that you let me kiss you."

"I must be honest, it is."

With every atom of conceit knocked out of me, wincing, chagrined, I
found nothing to say to this pretty woman who sat so close beside me and
looked at me with a half smile hovering on her lips and out of sweet,
dark eyes that seemed utterly honest—God help her.

"It is only your vanity that is smarting a little," she said, smiling,
"not your heart.  I haven’t touched that at all."

"How do you know?" I retorted.

"Because you are in love with somebody else, Mr. O’Ryan."

"With whom?" I demanded defiantly.

"I don’t know.  But you are in love.  A woman can tell."

"I am _not_ in love," said I with angry emphasis, recollecting the
treatment meted out to me by Thusis.  "I’m not in love with anybody."  I
caught her doubting but interested eyes fixed intently on me—"unless," I
added recklessly, "I’m in love with you."

"But you’re not."

We looked at each other curiously, almost searchingly, not inclined to
laugh yet ready, perhaps, for further mischief.  Why not preoccupy my
mind with this amusing and pretty woman, and slay in my heart all regard
for Thusis?

So I kissed her with that object in view.  She said nothing—scarcely
defended herself—sitting with pretty head lowered and white jeweled
hands tightly folded in her lap.

"I’ll take you trout-fishing," said I, determined to exterminate and
root out all tender memories of Thusis.

She looked up: "May I ask you a question?"

"What is it?" I returned, suspiciously, instantly on my guard again.

"Who is Mr. Smith?"

"A Norwegian."  And I explained Smith’s business with the Swiss
government.

She nodded absently.  Probably she did not believe this.  As far as that
was concerned, neither did I.

"Answer me a question, will you, Countess?" said I in my turn.  She
smiled: "What is it?"

"Is your kiss really worth the information you extract from me?"

In spite of her light laughter she turned quite pink, and when I bent
toward her again, she laid her arm across her lips, defending them.

Then, as I was preparing for further indiscretion, the door behind us
opened and was closed again instantly.  I knew it was Thusis.  The
certainty chilled my very bones.

"Who was it?" I asked carelessly.

"Only the waitress," said she.

"The red-haired one?"

"I believe so.  Is she Swiss?"

I did not answer.

The Countess looked up and repeated the question.  "Where did you find
her?" she added.

There was a short silence.  An almost imperceptible change came over her
features.  Then, daintily, and by degrees, she inclined her head a
little nearer.

But it was not in me to betray Thusis for a kiss. Slowly, however, I
became aware that I was betraying myself.

Presently the Countess rose in the gathering dusk, and I stood up
immediately.

She inspected me steadily for a full minute, then that almost
imperceptible smile edged her lips again and she gave me my congé with a
gentle nod.



                                 *XVII*

                             *MORE MYSTERY*


I discovered Smith sitting on the rim of the fountain all alone in the
dusk.

"Good heavens!" I blurted out, "was any man ever so completely entangled
in the web of intrigue as I am?  Plot, counterplot, camouflage,
mystery—I’m in the very middle of the whole mess!

"I don’t know who anybody is or what they’re up to!  Who is Thusis?  Who
is Clelia?  Who is Josephine Vannis?  Raoul?  The Countess Manntrapp?
And who are you, for that matter?  I don’t know! I don’t pretend to
guess."

"What’s the trouble?" he asked, amused.

"Trouble!  I don’t know.  There’s all kinds of trouble lying around.
I’m in several varieties of it. Where is the traveling circus?"

"In Tsar Ferdie’s apartments."

"Probably conspiring," I added.

"Probably."

"What are you doing out here?"

"Oh, I’m not conspiring," he said, laughing, "I’m no saint to converse
with the fishes in your fountain."

"Where is Clelia?"

He said he didn’t know but somehow I gathered the impression that she
was somewhere behind the lighted kitchen windows and that Smith was
hanging around in hopes she might come out to take the air by starlight.

"Have you seen Thusis?" I asked guiltily.  And felt my ears burning in
the dark.

"Why, yes," he said.  "She walked down the road a few moments ago."

"Alone?"

"Yes."

"Probably she went to take a look at the snow blockade," said I.

He nodded.

"Perhaps," I added carelessly, "I had better saunter down that way."

"No," he said, "you’d better not."

"Why?" I asked sharply.

"Starlight and Thusis might go to a young man’s head."

"I’m no longer in love," said I in the most solemn tones I had ever
used.  "I am now able to contemplate Thusis without the stormy emotions
which once assailed me, Smith.  All that is over.  To me she is merely
an interesting and rather pathetic woman.  I feel kindly toward Thusis.
I wish her well.  I would willingly do anything I could to——"

"Piffle."

"What the devil do you mean by that?" I demanded.

"What the devil do you mean by kidding yourself?"

"Haven’t I just explained?"

"You’ve given yourself away.  A man doesn’t utter pious sentiments about
a girl he no longer cares for.  He doesn’t bother to explain his
regenerated attitude toward her.  He doesn’t trouble himself to talk
about her at all.  Nor does he go roaming after her by starlight.  If
you really care for her no longer, let her alone.  If you do care you’ll
get mad at what I say—as you’re doing—and start off to find her in the
starlight—as you’re doing——"

But I was too exasperated to listen to such stuff.


I discovered her, finally, in the starlight just ahead of me,—a slim
shadow on the high-road, outlined against a stupendous mass of snow
which choked the valley like a glacier.

She heard my steps on the hard stone road, looked over her shoulder,
then turned sharply, paying me no further attention, even when I came up
beside her.

"Gracious!" said I, attempting an easy tone and manner; "what a
tremendous fall was here!"

"I have known greater falls," she said very quietly.

"Really?"

"Yes; I once had a friend whose fall was greater."

"Poor fellow!  He fell off a precipice, I presume."

"He fell from his high estate, Mr. O’Ryan."

"Oh.  Did he also have an estate in the Alps?"

She said scornfully: "He fell in my esteem—deep, Mr. O’Ryan—into depths
so terrible that, even if I leaned over to look, I could never again
perceive him."

"Poor fellow," I muttered, chilled to the bone again.

"Yes."  she said calmly, "it was tragic."

"D-did you care for him, Thusis?" I ventured, scared half to death.

"I trusted him."

"D-don’t you trust him any more?"

"He is dead—to me," she said coldly.

There ensued a silence which presently I became unable to endure.

"You know, Thusis, that man isn’t dead——"

"He might better be!"

"You don’t understand him!"

"I no longer wish to."

"He loves you!"

"He does _not_!" she cried in tones so fierce that I almost jumped.

"Thusis," said I in a miserable voice, "you hurt and wounded that man
until he was almost out of his senses——"

"And he lost no time in consoling himself with another woman!"

"He didn’t know what he was doing——"

"He seemed to! ... So did _she_!"

"Thusis—"

"_Did_ you kiss her?"

"I——"

"Did you?"

"Yes."

I was so scared that my teeth chattered when Thusis turned on me in the
starlight.

Her gray eyes were aflame; her little hands were tightly clenched.  I
hoped she would upper-cut me and mercifully put me to sleep, for this
scene was like a nightmare to me.

Then, of a sudden, the slender figure seemed to wilt before my
eyes,—shrink, bend, stand swaying with desperate hands covering the
face.

"Michael," she whispered.  "Michael!"—and her voice ended in a sigh.

Scared as I was I took her in my arms.  She rested her face against my
shoulder.

"You—you don’t really care," I stammered, "do you, Thusis?  _Do_ you, my
darling——"

"Oh, I don’t know—I don’t know.  You’ve hurt me, Michael; I’m all hurt
and—and quivering with your wound.  I don’t know!—I don’t understand
myself.  My heart is sore—all raw and sore.  So is my mind—the blow you
dealt hurts me there, too——"

"But, Thusis dear!  _You_ wounded me, too——"

"Oh, I know....  I scarcely knew what I said.  I don’t know now what I’m
saying—what I’m doing—here in your arms——"  She tried to release
herself, and, failing, buried her face against my shoulder with a
convulsive little shudder.

"You _must_ love me," I whispered unsteadily.  "I can’t live without
you, Thusis."

"But I can’t love you, Michael."

"Can’t you find it in your heart to care for me?"

"In my heart, perhaps....  But not in my mind."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean exactly that....  I can’t consult my—my heart alone....  I must
not.  I dare not.  I am obliged to consult my senses, too.  And—dear
Michael—my senses tell me that I may not care for you—must not fall in
love—with you——"

"Why?"

After a silence she lifted her lovely head and looked up at me out of
beautiful, distressed eyes that dumbly asked indulgence.

"Well, then, you need not tell me, Thusis."

"You’ll know, some day."

"I’ll know, some day, why I won you in spite of everything."

She gently shook her head.

"Yes," said I, "I shall win you, Thusis."

"My heart—perhaps."

"Your mind, too."

We remained so, for a while, not speaking lest the spell be broken.  And
at last she slowly disengaged herself from my arms, then, confronting
me, placed both her hands in mine with a sudden impulse that thrilled
me.

"Let it remain this way, then," she said.  "Win my heart, if you care
to.  I don’t mind going through life with my heart in your kind keeping,
Michael.  I had rather it were so.  I should be less unhappy."

"Unhappy?"

"Yes—because I am going to be unhappy anyway. And if I knew that you
once cared, it would be easier for me—in after years....  Michael——"

"Yes?"

"Would you care for that much of me?"

I drew her nearer.

"You must not kiss me," she whispered.

"I——"

"Please....  It is a sign of troth plighted.... And is desecration
else....  Troth plighted is a holy thing.  And that cannot be between
us, Michael.  That cannot happen....  And so, you must not touch my lips
with yours—dear Michael.... Only my hand—if you do care for me——"

I kissed her hand—then, slowly, each finger and the fragrant palm, until
it seemed to disconcert her and she withdrew it.

"Now take me back," she said in an uncertain voice that trembled
slightly, "and remain my dear, frank, boyish friend....  And let me
plague you a little, Michael.  Won’t you?  And not be angry?"  She asked
so sweetly that I began to laugh—covered her hand with kisses—and
laughed again.

"You little girl," I exclaimed—"oddly mature in some ways—a child in
others—you may torment me and laugh at me now to your heart’s content.
Isn’t laughter, after all, your heaven born privilege?"

"Why do you say that?"

"Oh, Thusis!  Thusis!  I am more convinced than ever of what I have half
believed.  Before I ever set eyes on you I had begun to care for you.
Before I ever heard your voice I had begun to fall in love with you.
Thusis—my Thusis—loveliest—most wonderful of God’s miracles since Eden
bloomed—_you_ are The Laughing Girl!"

"Michael——"

"You _are_!"

Suddenly, as she walked lightly beside me, resting on my arm, she flung
up her head with a reckless, delicious little laugh: "I am The Laughing
Girl!"

A slight yet exquisite shock went clean through me as I realized that
even to the instant of her avowal I had not been absolutely convinced of
her identity with the picture.

"And I wish to tell you," she went on, her smile changing, "that when
the photograph—which unhappily has become so notorious—was taken, I
never dreamed that it would be stolen, reproduced in thousands, and sold
in every city of Europe!"

"Stolen!"

"Certainly!  Do you imagine that I would have permitted its publicity
and sale?  Never has such an exasperating incident occurred in my life!
And I am helpless.  I can’t prevent it."

"Who stole it?"

"I haven’t the slightest idea.  It was this way, Michael; it happened in
my own home on the island of Naxos, and my sister Clelia and I were
amusing ourselves with our cameras, dressing each other up and posing
each other.

"And she dressed me—or rather almost _un_-dressed me—that way—isn’t it
enough to make a saint swear—for when I had developed the plate and had
started to print, somebody stole the plate from the sill of the open
window.  And the next thing we knew about it was when all Europe was
flooded with my picture under which was printed that dubious
caption—’The Laughing Girl.’  Can you imagine my astonishment and rage?
Could anything more utterly horrid happen to a girl?  Had I at least
been fully dressed—but no: there I was in every shop window among
actresses, queens, demi-mondaines, and dissipated dukes just as Clelia
had posed me in the intimacy of our own rooms, all over jewels, some of
me mercifully veiled in a silk scarf, audaciously at ease in my apparent
effrontery—oh, Michael, it nearly killed me!"

"Didn’t you do anything about it?"

"Indeed I did!  But where these photographs were being printed we never
could find out.  All we were able to do was to forbid their importation
into Italy."

"How did you manage that?" I asked curiously.

She hesitated, then carelessly: "We had some slight influence at
court——"

"_Influence?_"

"Possibly it amounted to that," she said indifferently.

"You are known at court, Thusis?"

She shrugged: "We are not, I believe, completely unknown."  She walked
on beside me in silence for a few moments, then:

"I do not wish to convey to you that I am _persona grata_ in Italian
court circles."

"But if you are known at court, dear Thusis, how can you be otherwise
than welcome there?"

"I am _not_ welcome there."

"That is impossible."

"You adorable boy," she laughed, "I must beg of you to occupy yourself
with your own affairs and not continue to occupy yourself with mine."

"That’s a heartless snub, Thusis."

"I don’t mean it so," she said, her hand tightening impulsively on my
arm.  "But, Michael dear, I don’t wish you to speculate about my
affairs.  It does no good.  Besides, the situation in which I find
myself is fearfully complex, and you couldn’t help me out of it."

"Perhaps I can, Thusis."

She laughed: "You are delightfully romantic. You almost resemble one of
the old time cloak-and-sword lovers of that dear Romance which died so
long ago on the printed page as well as in human hearts."

"It is not dead in my breast, Thusis."

"It is dead in every breast.  Only its frail ghost haunts our hearts at
moments."

"When I offered you my heart, Thusis, did you suppose it empty save for
a trace of selfish passion?"

"Men are men....  I do not understand their hearts."

"Take mine; tear it apart, look into it,—even if I die of it.  Will
you?"

Her laugh became less genuine and there was no gaiety in it.

"Tell me what I should find in your heart if I dissected it?"

"Love—and a sword!"

"You—you offer me your life, Michael?"

"This life—and the next."

She made no answer, walking slowly on beside me, her arm linked in mine,
the starlight glimmering on her bent head.  Down the road beyond us the
illuminated windows of my house glimmered.  As we moved toward them
along the stony highroad, I said:

"Thusis dear, I know nothing about you or about your affairs.  I do not
even guess your identity. But that you and your sister are here for the
purpose of taking these miserable kings across the frontier into France,
by violence, I do know.

"And this, also, I have learned, that, if you attempt to execute this
_coup-de-main_, my friend Shandon Smith will do all he can to prevent
it."

The girl stopped as though I had struck her and stared at me in the
silvery lustre of the stars.

"What?" she said slowly.

"I have told you what Smith told me.  He said that he didn’t care
whether or not I informed you. He added that, in case I chose to inform
you, I should also repeat to you the following couplet:

    ’Grecian gift and Spanish fig
    Help the Fool his grave to dig.’"


A bright flush stained her face yet she seemed to be more astounded than
angry.

"Is it possible," she said, "that your friend Mr. Smith—this Norwegian
promoter—repeated that couplet to you?"

"He certainly did repeat it to me, Thusis."

"Did he—did he tell you what it meant?  Did he tell you anything more?"

"He mentioned a secret society called the Ægean League."

"This is amazing," she murmured, looking up the road at the lights of
the house.

"Of all people," she added, "that man Smith, the last person on earth we
could suspect."  She passed her hand across her eyes—a gesture of
perplexity and consternation:

"I wish to find Mr. Smith, Michael.  I desire to see him immediately.
Please let us walk faster."

We fell into a quick pace and she released my arm as the light from the
windows fell on us.

"He was sitting by the fountain," I began.

"He is there now, with Clelia," she exclaimed, and walked directly
toward him where he was seated near Clelia on the stone rim of the pool.

They looked up as we approached, and Smith rose.

"Mr. Smith," said Thusis with a trace of excitement in her voice, "have
you any knowledge concerning my identity?"

If the blunt question were a shock to him he did not show it.  He
answered in his pleasant, even voice:

"I don’t know who you are, Thusis."

"Have you any idea?"

"None."

"How can that be," she asked, flushing, "when you send me such a
couplet?"

"I’ve told you the truth," he said simply; "I don’t know who you are,
Thusis.  I don’t even suspect."  He turned and looked at Clelia who had
risen from her seat on the fountain’s edge.

"You do not like me, Clelia, and now you are going to like me less.  You
resented it when I preached at you concerning proper behavior for a
young girl.  And now that you learn I am going to interfere in your
political and military maneuvers, I suppose you hate me."

Nobody moved or spoke for a moment.  Then Clelia took a step toward
Smith, and I saw her face had become deadly pale.

"No," she said, "I don’t hate you.  On the contrary I am beginning to
like you.  Because it takes a real man to tell the woman he loves that
he means to ruin her."

"Clelia, you and Thusis are ruined only if I hold my hand."

"We are done for _unless_ you hold your hand!" she said.  She stepped
nearer.

"Mr. Smith?" she said sweetly, "you think you are on your honor.  You
are not.  He who has sent you here to thwart us is deceiving you."

"He who sent _you_ here, Clelia,—and _you_, Thusis, is deceiving you,"
he rejoined very quietly.

Thusis said: "You know who sent us, and yet you don’t know who we are!
How can this be, Monsieur?"

"It’s true.  I _do_ know who sent you here.  But you _don’t_!"

Clelia, still very pale, bent her gaze on him.

"Mr. Smith?"

"Yes, I hear you, Clelia."

"Suppose—suppose—I prove kinder to you."

"No," he said, grim and flushed.

Thusis turned sharply on her sister: "Have you given him your heart?"

Clelia answered, her eyes still fixed on Smith:

"I gave it to him from the first—even when I thought him a pious dolt.
And was ashamed.  And now that I know him for a man I’m not ashamed. Let
him know it.  I do care for him."

Smith stood rigid.  Thusis, looking intently at Clelia, went to her and
passed one arm around her waist.

"This can’t be," she said.  Clelia laughed.  "But it _is_, sister.  It
isn’t orthodox, it isn’t credible, it is quite unthinkable that I should
care for him.  But I do; and I’ve told him so.  Now he can ruin us if he
wishes."  And she flung a sweet, fearless glance at Smith which made him
tremble very slightly.

Thusis turned to me an almost frightened face as though in appeal, then
she caught her sister’s hands.

"Listen!" she cried, "I also gave my heart as you gave yours, sister!  I
couldn’t help it.  I found myself in love—"  She looked at me—"I was
doomed to love him.

"But for God’s sake listen, sister.  It is my _heart_ I give.  My mind
and my destiny remain my own."

"My destiny is in God’s hands," said Clelia simply.  "My mind and heart
I give—"  She looked at Smith—"and all else that is myself ... if you
want me, Shan."

"You cannot do it!" exclaimed Thusis in a voice strangled with emotion.
"You can do it no more than can I!  You have no more right than have I
to give yourself merely because you care!  Your heart—yes! There is no
choice when love comes; you can not avoid it.  But you can proudly
choose what to do about it!"

"I have chosen," said Clelia, "if he wants me."

Thusis clenched her hands and stood there twisting them, dumb, excited,
laboring evidently under the most intense emotion.

And what all this business was about I had not the remotest notion.

Suddenly Thusis turned fiercely on her sister with a gesture that left
her outflung arm rigid.

"Do you wish to find the irresponsible political level of those two
Bolsheviki in there?" she said with breathless passion.  "Are you really
the iconoclast you say you are?  I did not believe it!  I can’t.  The
world moves only through decent procedure, or it disintegrates.  Where
is your reason, your logic, your pride?"

"Pride?"  Clelia smiled and looked at Smith: "In him, I think....  Since
he has become my master."

"He is not our master!" retorted Thusis.  "If what we came here to do is
now impossible—thanks to a meddling and misled gentleman in Rome—is
there not a sharper blow to strike at this treacherous Greek King and
his Prussian wife and that vile, Imperial Hun who pulls the strings that
move them?"

Clelia looked at Smith: "Do you know what my sister means?"

"Yes."

"Will you stop us even there?"

"I must."

Thusis, white with passion, confronted him:

"It is not you who are bound in honor to check and thwart us," she said
unsteadily, "but your duped block-head of a master who exasperates me!
Does he know from whom I take my orders?"

"Yes."

"I take them from the greatest, wisest, most fearless, most generous
patriot in the world.  I take my orders from Monsieur Venizelos!"

I started, but Smith said coolly: "Is that what you suppose, Thusis?"

"Suppose?  What do you mean?" she demanded haughtily.

"I mean that you are mistaken if you and Clelia believe that your orders
come from Monsieur Venizelos."

"From whom, then, do you imagine they come?" retorted Thusis.

"From Tino!"

"You dare——"

"Yes, I dare tell you, Thusis, how you have been deceived.  Tino himself
plotted this.  Your orders are forgeries.  Monsieur Venizelos never
dreamed of inciting you to the activities in which you are now
concerned——"

"That is incredible," said Thusis hotly.  "I know who sent you here to
check us and spoil it all—as though we were two silly, headstrong
children! Tell me honestly, now; did not that—that gentleman in Rome
give you some such impression of us?—that we were two turbulent and
mischievous children?"

"I was not told who you were."

"But you were told that we are irresponsible and headstrong?  Is it not
true?"

"Yes."

"And you were sent here to see that we didn’t get into mischief.  Is it
true?"

"Yes."

Thusis made a gesture of anger and despair:

"For lack of courage," she said tremulously, "a timid King refuses the
service we try to render!  We offer to stake our lives cheerfully; it
frightens him. We escape his well meant authority and supervision and
make our way into Switzerland to do him and Italy a service in spite of
his timorous fears and objections.  He has us followed by—_who_ are you
anyway, Mr. Smith?"

"I happen to be," he said pleasantly, "an officer in a certain branch of
the Italian Army."

"Military Intelligence!" exclaimed Clelia.  "And we were warned by
Monsieur Venizelos!"

Thusis flung out her arms in a passionate gesture: "We offer the King of
Italy two royal scoundrels! And he refuses.  We offer the King of Italy
two islands?  And you tell us he refuses.  When we were in Rome he
laughed at us, teased us as though we had been two school-girls bringing
him some crazy plan to end the war.  And now when we are practically
ready to prove our plan possible—ready to consummate the affair and give
him the two most dangerous royal rascals in Europe—restore to Italy two
islands stolen from her centuries ago—the King of Italy turns timid and
sends a gentleman to ruin everything!"

"Because," said Smith pleasantly, "although King Constantine and Queen
Sophia have been deposed, yet, were you to seize them and carry them
across this frontier into France, Greece would resent it. So also would
Switzerland.  And the Allies would merely make two enemies out of an
Allied country and a neutral one for the sake of a few odd kings and
queens.

"And, moreover, if you should proceed, as you had planned, to the
Cyclades; and if you succeed in fomenting a revolution in Naxos and
Tenedos, and induce these two islands to declare themselves part of
Italy, because seven hundred years ago a Venetian conquered them, then
you turn Greece into a bitter enemy of Italy and of the Allies.  And
that is what you accomplish in exchange for a couple of little islands
in the Ægean which Italy does not want."

"Then," retorted Thusis violently, "why did Monsieur Venizelos suggest
that we attempt these things? Is the greatest patriot on earth a traitor
or a fool?"

"No, but Constantine of Greece is.  And the boche is his tutor.  Oh,
Thusis—Thusis!  Can’t you see you have been tricked?  Can’t you
understand that Venizelos had no knowledge of these things you are
attempting in all sincerity?—that you have been deluded by the treachery
of the hun—that those who counseled you to this came secretly from Tino
and the Kaiser, not from Venizelos?"

Thusis gazed at him bewildered.  Clelia, too, seemed almost stunned.

"Do—do you mean to tell me," stammered Thusis, "that these kings know
that Clelia and I are here to try to kidnap them?"

"No," said Smith coolly, "because I censored their mail in Berne.  Their
agents in Rome had warned them, in detail, by letter."

"Had those agents penetrated our identity?"

"They seemed to have no notion of it.  But they described you both
minutely."

Clelia seemed to come out of her trance.  She turned to Thusis and said
in a naïve, bewildered way:

"It’s rather extraordinary, Thusis, that nobody seems to have found out
who we really are....  It’s almost as though we are not of as much
importance as we have been brought up to suppose."

Thusis blushed hotly: "Because," she said, "nobody has discovered our
incognito, is no reason for us to underrate our positions in Europe."

"Still—it is extraordinary that nobody recognizes us.  And we use our
own names, too.  I can’t account for it," she added honestly, "unless we
are of much less importance than we have been accustomed to consider
ourselves——"

Her voice was lost in a fearful scream from the house.

"Good Heavens!" said I, "what has happened?"

At that moment the door flew open and King Ferdinand waddled out in his
wrapper and slippers.

"Help!" he shouted, "help!  Is there a physician in the Alps?"

"I’m one," said Smith, coolly, "among other things."

And we all started hastily for the house.



                                *XVIII*

                            *THE GANGSTERS*


The Tsar of all the Bulgars, wearing a green and yellow wrapper, and
bright blue slippers over his enormous flat feet, exhibited considerable
nervousness as we entered the house.

"I wasn’t doing anything," he said; "I trust that nobody will
misunderstand me.  Heaven is my witness——"

"What’s the matter?" asked Smith tersely.

"The Princess Pudelstoff is screaming.  I don’t know why; I didn’t go
near her——"

We hurried up stairs.  The door of the Princess’ room was open, the
light burning.  The Princess sat up in bed, tears rolling down her
gross, fat face, screaming at the top of her voice; while beside her, in
Phrygian night-cap and pajamas, stood King Constantine.

He had her by the elbow and was jerking her arm and shouting at her:
"Shut your fool head!  Stop it!  There’s nothing the matter with you.
You’ve been dreaming!"

Smith went straight to the bed, shoved Constantine aside, and laid a
soothing hand on the Princess’ shoulder.

"I’m a physician," he said in his pleasant, reassuring voice.  "What is
the trouble, Princess?"

"There’s turrible doin’s in this here house!" she bawled.  "I peeked
through the key-hole!  Them there Bolsheviki next door is fixin’ to blow
us all up.  I seen the bomb a-sizzlin’ and a-fizzlin’ on the floor like
it was just ready to bust!  And then I run and got into bed and I let
out a screech——"

"It’s all right," said Smith kindly.  "It was just a bad dream.  There
isn’t any bomb.  Nobody is going to harm you——"

"I didn’t dream it!  I——"

"Yes, you did.  Calm yourself, Princess.  You have eaten something which
has disagreed with you."

She ceased her screaming at that suggestion and considered it, the tears
still streaming over her features.  Then she began to blubber again and
shook her head.

"I ain’t et hoggish," she insisted.  "If I had et hoggish I’d think I
drempt it.  But I ain’t et hoggish.  That wasn’t no dream.  No, sir!  I
had went to bed, but I was fidgety, like I had a load of coal onto my
stummick.  And by and by I heard them Bolsheviki next door whisperin’.
And by and by I heard a fizzlin’ noise like they was makin’ highballs in
there.

"Thinks I to myself that sounds good if true.  So I gets up and I lights
up and I peeks through the key hole.  And I seen King—I mean Monsieur
Xenos, and Monsieur Itchenuff, and Puppsky and Wildkatz and a long,
black box on the floor in the room next door, and somethin’ sticking out
of it which fizzled without smokin’——"

"It was all a dream, madame," interposed Smith soothingly.  And to my
surprise, he took from his inner breast-pocket a small, flat medicine
case.

"A glass of water and two spoons, please," he said to Clelia.  And she
went away to fetch them.

There was another glass on the wash-stand.  In this he rinsed a clinical
thermometer and inserted it under the tongue of the sobbing Princess.

Thusis and I stood near him, silent.  King Constantine and the Bulgarian
Tsar appeared to be unsympathetic and at the same time slightly nervous.

"If she’d stop gorging herself," remarked Tino, "she’d have no
nightmares."

"I seen _you_ in there!  Yes I did!" retorted the Princess in another
access of wrath and fright, the thermometer wagging wildly between her
lips.  "And I seen you too!" she went on, pointing at King Ferdinand,
who stared wildly back at her out of his eyes of an alarmed pig and
wrinkled his enormous nose at her.

"Don’t tell me I was dreamin’," she added scornfully, "nothing like
that."

Clelia came with the two spoons and glass of water; Smith selected a
phial, mixed the dose, withdrew the thermometer, shook it, examined it,
washed it at the basin, and, returning to his patient, administered a
teaspoonful of medicine.

Then, in the other glass, he dissolved a powder, gave her three
teaspoonfuls of that, and placed the two glasses on the night table
beside her bed.

"If you happen to awake," he said gently, "take a teaspoonful of each.
But I think you’ll sleep, madame.  And in the morning you’ll be all
right."

He turned on King Constantine and the Tsar so suddenly that they both
took impulsive steps backward as though apprehensive of being kicked.

"The Princess needs quiet and rest, gentlemen," said Smith.  "Kindly
retire."

"Perhaps I’d better sit beside her for a while," began Constantine, but
Smith interrupted him:

"I’ll call you into consultation if I want you, Monsieur Xenos."  His
voice had a very slight ring to it; the ex-King of Greece looked at him
for a moment, then winced and backed out of the room, followed by King
Ferdinand who seemed to be in a hurry and crowded on his heels like an
agitated pachyderm.

Clelia, who had remained mute and motionless, looking at Smith all the
while, now came toward him. And in the girl’s altered face I saw,
reflected, deeper emotions than I had supposed her youthful heart could
harbor.

"Do you need me?" she asked.  "I am at your service."

"Thank you, there is nothing more," said Smith pleasantly.  He turned to
include Thusis in kindly but unmistakable dismissal.

Clelia gave him a long, slow look of exquisite submission; Thusis sent
an odd, irresolute glance at me.  As she passed me, following her
sister, her lips formed the message: "I wish to see you to-night."

When they had gone Smith shut and locked the door, and with a slight
motion to me to accompany him, walked over to the bed, seated himself
beside it, and took the fat hand of the Princess Pudelstoff in his as
though to test her pulse.

The lady rolled her eyes at us but lay still, her mottled cheeks still
glistening with partly dried tears.

"What’s on your mind, Princess?" inquired Smith in a soft, caressing
voice.

"Hey?" she exclaimed in visible alarm, and evidently preparing to scream
again.

"Hush.  Don’t excite yourself, madame," he said in his pleasant,
reassuring way.  "There is no occasion for alarm at all."

"Am I a sick woman?" she demanded anxiously. "Is that what you’re
a-goin’ to hand me?  _Is_ it?"

"No, you’re not physically ill.  You have no temperature except as much
as might be due to sudden shock."

"I got the scare of my young life all right," she muttered.  "Say, Doc,
_was_ it a dream?  On the level now, was it?"

"Probably——"

"Honest to God?" she insisted.

"Why do you think it was not a dream, Princess?" he asked gently.

"Why?  Well, I’ve run with Rooshians enough to know a infernal machine
when I see one.  And I never dream plain, that way.  I can see that darn
thing yet—and hear it!  And I can see them men in there all a settin’
onto chairs in a circle like, and a-watching that there bomb sizzling.
It made a blue light but no smoke and no smell.  How could I have drempt
all that so plain, Doc?"

"Princess!  You’re not afraid of me, are you?"

She looked up into his clean-cut, pleasant American face.

"No, I ain’t," she said.  "You come from God’s country"—she suddenly
began to beat her pudgy fists on the sheets—"and whyinhell I ever was
crazy enough to leave little old Noo York I don’t know excep’ I was
damfoolenough to do it!"

Smith smiled at her: "You sure were some peach," he said, dropping
gracefully into the vernacular, "when you played with Nazimova in that
Eastside theater."

The Princess flushed all over, and the radiance of her smile
transfigured her amazingly.

"Did _you_ see me in them days, Doc?"

"You betcha!"

"Well-f’r-God’s-sake!" she gasped in wonder and delight.  "Say, you had
me fooled, Doc.  I understood you was a Norsky—a sort of tree-peddlin’
guy.  But, thinks I to myself, he looks like a Yank. I says so to my
brother, Leo Puppsky——"

"Don’t say it to him again, Princess.  Or to anybody."

At that the Princess fixed her shrewd little eyes on Smith, shifted them
for an instant to me, then resumed her scrutiny of his serene and
smiling features.

"What’s the idea?" she asked at last.

"I’m going to lay all my cards down for you, Princess,—faces up.  I am
an American serving in the Italian army."

"The-hell-you-say!"  There was a silence that lasted a full minute.
Then, suddenly, the Princess began to laugh.  Soft, fat chuckles
agitated her tremendous bosom; a seismic disturbance seemed to shake her
ample bulk beneath the bed-clothes.

"Tabs!" she exclaimed.  "You’re keepin’ tabs on these here
down-and-outers!  That’s what you’re a doin’ of!  Am I right?"

"And what are _you_ doing here in Switzerland, Princess?" he inquired
smilingly.

"Say!  I’m their goat!  Now, do you get me?"

"Not exactly——"

"Well listen.  Puppsky’s my brother.  He was in the suit and cloak
business in Noo York before the Rooshian revolution.  Then he beat it
for Petrograd—workin’ for his own pocket same’s you and me, Doc; and
seein’ pickin’s—Trotzky bein’ a friend of ours, and Lenine a relation. I
was in Stockholm fixin’ to go to Noo York, when that poor fish,
Wildkatz, comes in and talks me into this game.  And look at me now,
Doc! Here I am financin’ this here bunch o’ homeless kings, sittin’ into
a con game, holdin’ all the dirty cards they deal me—busted flushes,
nigger straights, and all like that!  And what," she demanded
passionately, "is there in it for me?  Tino, he says I’ll be a Greek
duchess an’ rule a island called Naxos!—And, Gawd help me, I fell fur
it.  And wherethehell is Naxos?  And is it as big as Coney Island?
Wasn’t I the big dill-pickle to stake ’em to a Greek revolution?  And me
a princess!  Sure, I know a Rooshian princess ain’t much of a swell, and
the Duchy of Naxos looked good to me.

"But the more I mix in with these here kings the wiser I get.
Four-flushers is four-flushers wherever you find ’em.  And these guys is
all alike—old Admiral bushy-whiskers, Bummelzug, General Droly and that
sore-eyed little Gizzler!—all want to sell me gold bricks for real
money!"

She waved her short, fat arms in furious recollection of her wrongs.

"Say, even the Greek Queen ain’t too particular about chousing the
long-green outer me!  She wants to hand me the order of the Red
Chicken!—costs ten thousand plunks!  What do you know about that, Doc?"

I don’t know whether Smith was as amazed as was I by these revelations
in argot.  He smiled his kindly, undisturbed smile and patted her hand
encouragingly; while from depths long plugged burst the excited recital
of the woes of the Pudelstoffs.

"I’m through," she said.  "I got enough.  And I told ’em so at the
meeting after dinner to-night. They talked rough to me, they did.
Puppsky, he got riled and tells me I’m no sister of his.  And the Greek
Queen she was crazy and called me a kike in German.  Which upset my
dinner.

"Say, Doc, the Gophers and Gas-house gangs ain’t one-two-three with this
bunch.  I’m scared stiff they’ll get me—that Ferdie has croaked more
guys ’n people know.  I’m scared Sophy sticks me.  They say she stuck a
hat-pin into Tino.  You bet she knows how to make that big stiff behave!
And she’s got a way of lookin’ at you!—Me, I quit ’em cold to-night.
’Nothing like that,’ says I; ’no revolution in Greece at $250,000 a
revolute!  No Naxos!  No Red Chicken!  Me, I’m on my way via Berne,
Berlin, Christiania, and Noo York!’"

"You’ve quarreled with them, Princess?" asked Smith.

"I sure did.  Say, I don’t have to stand for no rough stuff from
Wildkatz neither.  We ain’t in Petrograd.  But, mind you, I don’t put it
past him to try his dirty tricks on me with bombs!"

"But why——"

"They’re like all gun-men!  Once in you can’t get out, or they’ll try to
get you.  If you’ve got enough and try to quit peaceable they think
you’ve been bought out.  You’re a squealer to them."

"You believe they might offer you violence?" I asked, incredulously.

"How do I know?  What was they doin’ with that bomb?  They’re sore on
me.  They know they’re gettin’ no more dough outen me.  They know I’ve
quit and I’m goin’ back to God’s country."

"But Leo Puppsky is your own brother!" I exclaimed, horrified.

The Princess shrugged her fat shoulders.

"He’s a Red, too.  Bolsheviks is Bolsheviks.  You don’t know ’em.  You
don’t know what they done in Rooshia.  No boche is bloodier.  Call ’em
what you like—call ’em all sons of boches—and you won’t be wrong."

Her flabby features had grown somber; suddenly a shudder possessed her,
and she opened her mouth to scream; but Smith instantly filled the
gaping orifice with medicine, and only a coughing fit followed.

To me he said: "Please leave me alone with her now.  It will be all
right, Michael."

And he turned tenderly to the convulsed Princess and patted her vast
back.



                                 *XIX*

                             *CONFIDENCES*


As I walked through the corridor considerably concerned over the
statements made to us by this east-side Princess and seriously disturbed
by finding myself in the very vortex of this whirlpool of intrigue which
every moment seemed to spew up from its dizzying depths new plots and
counter-plots, I almost ran into the ex-Queen of Greece.

She was in curl-papers and negligee, standing just outside her door, an
electric torch in one hand, a pistol in the other.

"Madame!" I exclaimed, "what in the world is the matter?"

"I don’t like this inn," she said.  "I consider it a suspicious place."

"Madame!"

"What do I know about your inn?" she demanded insolently, "or about you,
either?"

"_Madame!_"

"You _say_ you are a Chilean.  You don’t look it. Neither does your
friend resemble a Norwegian.  If you desire to know my opinion you both
look like Yankees!"

"Madame, this is intolerable——"

"Possibly," she interrupted, staring at me out of chilly eyes that
fairly glittered.  "Possibly, too, I am mistaken.  Perhaps your
servants, also, unduly arouse suspicion—your pretty housekeeper may
really be your housekeeper.  The waitress, too, may be a real waitress.
This is all quite possible, Monsieur.  But I prefer to be prepared for
any eventuality in this tavern!"

And she went into her room and shut the door.

The ex-queen’s insolence upset me.  I was possessed by a furious desire
to turn them all out of doors.  The prospect of living in the same house
with these people for days—perhaps for weeks, seemed unbearable.  Surely
there must be some way out of the valley!

Down stairs I saw Raoul coming from the front courtyard leading two
strange horses attached to a sort of carryall.

"Where on earth did you discover that rig?" I called out to him in the
starlight.

"Two guests have just arrived," he replied, laughing.

I hurried out to where he stood.

"Guests!" I repeated.  "Where did they come from?  Isn’t the pass
closed?"

"Sealed tight, Monsieur O’Ryan.  But when the avalanche fell this
vehicle and its passengers were just far enough inside the pass to be
caught.

"I understand they’ve been digging themselves out of the snow all this
time.  They’ve just arrived and are in the long hall asking for
accommodations."

"Who are they?" I demanded in utter disgust; "more huns?"

"One is a Turkish gentleman," he said.  "The other is the driver.  I
will take care of him.  The Turkish traveler’s name is Eddin Bey, and he
says he’s a friend of Admiral Lauterlaus."

I went into the house and discovered Eddin Bey entering his signature on
the ledger while Clelia with keys and candle waited beside him to show
him to his quarters.

"Ah!" he exclaimed cordially when I named myself, offering his dark,
nervous hand, "I am inexpressibly happy to have the privilege, Monsieur
O’Ryan!  A narrow escape for us, I assure you!—that mountain of snow
roaring down on us and our horses whipped to a gallop!  Not gay—eh?  No,
sir!  And I thought we’d never dig out the horses and our wagon and
luggage!"

I replied politely and suitably, and Clelia presently piloted this dark,
lean, vivacious young man to his quarters across the corridor from
General von Dungheim.

When she returned her flushed, set features arrested my attention.  "Did
that Turk annoy you, Clelia?" I asked sharply.

She shrugged: "Tavern gallantry," she replied briefly: "men of that sort
are prone to it."

I said: "If any of these people annoy you and Thusis come to me at
once."

She laughed: "Dear Monsieur O’Ryan," she said, "Thusis and I know how to
take care of ourselves."  She came nearer, looking up at me out of her
lovely, friendly eyes:

"Thusis is in her room.  It isn’t very proper, of course, but she is
waiting for you.  Will you go?"

"Yes."

Clelia laid one hand lightly on my arm, and her smile became wistful and
troubled:

"You do care for my sister, don’t you?"

"I am deeply in love with her."

"I was afraid so."

"Afraid?"

"Oh, I don’t know how Thusis is going to behave,—how she is going to
take it!" said Clelia in frank anxiety.  "Never before has she cared for
any man; and I don’t know what she’s going to do about you—indeed I
don’t, Mr. O’Ryan!"

"Could you tell me," said I bluntly, "what obstacles stand in the way of
my marrying your sister?"

"Thusis should tell you."

"She isn’t already married?"

"Good Heavens, no!"

"Is it a matter of religion?"

"Thusis must tell you.  I could not speak for her,—interfere with her.
My sister will act for herself—assume all responsibility for whatever
she chooses to do....  As I do."

I took Clelia’s soft hands in mine and looked earnestly into her face:

"You, also, care for a man; don’t you?"

She bent her head in wordless assent.

"What are _you_ going to do about it, Clelia?"

"Whatever _he_ wishes."

"Marry him?"

"If he wishes."

"You are an astounding girl!"

"I am an astounded girl.  I never supposed I should take such a view of
life, of its obligations, of my own position in the world....  Lately,
in the probable imminence of sudden death, I became a little
reckless—perhaps excited—willing to learn in these brief hours the more
innocent elements of love—curious to experience even the least real of
its mysteries—to play coquette in the pretty comedy—even with you——"

She gave me a vague smile and slowly shook her head.

"All the while," she said, "I was in love with him. I didn’t know it
because I didn’t know him.  When I felt frivolous and wished to laugh he
was serious. His solemnity stirred me to audacity; and when I said a lot
of silly things I didn’t mean he preached at me; and I bullied him and
was impudent and showed my contempt for a man who would endure such
tyranny....  That is how it began....  And all the while, not knowing
it, I was falling more completely in love.  Isn’t it odd?"

She smiled, pressed my hands, shook her head as though at a loss to
account for her behavior.

"The first hint of it I had," she said, "was when he coolly warned me
that he would thwart me.  And I looked into his eyes and knew him for
the first time—knew him to be the stronger, the wiser, the more
capable,—and the more powerful.

"And I realized, all in a moment, that he had endured my contempt and
tyranny merely because he chose to; that he was a real man, in cool
possession of his own destiny; that, if he chose, he could clear his
mind of me, and presently his heart; that I was not essential to him,
not necessary; that, indeed, unless I instantly took myself in hand and
made an effort to measure up to him, he’d turn from me,—quite
courteously—and go his own way with a kindly indifference which suddenly
seemed terrifying to me....  And I loved him....  And let him know....
And that is how it happened with me."

After a long pause: "What would happen," I inquired, "if I tried that
sort of thing on Thusis?"

Clelia shook her head: "Thusis and I are different.  I don’t wish to be
a martyr."

"Does Thusis?"

"I’m rather afraid she is inclined that way.  Of course we both were
quite willing to suffer physical martyrdom if we failed to carry off
these wretched kings.  That is a different kind of martyrdom—a shot in
the brain, a knife thrust—perhaps a brutish supplice from the boche——"
She shrugged her shoulders.  "We were not afraid," she added.  "But when
another sort of death suddenly confronted me—the death of love in him I
loved—I had no courage—none at all.  You see I am not the stuff of which
martyrs are fashioned, Mr. O’Ryan."

"Is Thusis?"

"Alas!"

"She prefers to suffer?"

"I am afraid she will become a martyr to a pride which interprets for
her the old, outworn doggerel of ages dead....  I can’t repeat it to
you."

"Noblesse oblige?"

"That phrase occurs in it."

"Oh....  So Thusis, caring for me, will send me away," I said.

"I cannot answer you."

"Can you advise me, Clelia?"

She looked up at me; tears sprang to her eyes; she pressed my hands, but
shook her head.



                                  *XX*

                            *A LOCAL STORM*


I knocked very gently at Thusis’s door and she opened it, signed for me
to enter, then closed it cautiously.

"Do you know," said I, "that it is after midnight?"

"I know it is.  But as long as others don’t know you are here, what does
it matter, Michael?"

"Of course," I muttered, "you and I know there’s no cause for scandal."

Her delightful laughter welled up from the whitest throat I have ever
seen, but she instantly suppressed it.

"We’re very indiscreet," she said mockingly; "we’ve exchanged hearts and
we’re here in my bedroom at midnight.  Can you imagine what that queen
downstairs would say?"

"Had you meant to kidnap her, also?" I inquired.

"No," she said scornfully.  "The Allies can take care of the
Hohenzollern litter after they take the sty."

"Berlin," I nodded.

"Berlin.  Hercules had no such task in his Augean stable.  It _was_
Hercules, wasn’t it, Michael? I always get him and his labors mixed up
with Theseus.  But the Prince of Argolis used address, not bull
force....  His mother’s name was Æthra.... My mother’s name was Æthra,
too."

"That is Greek."

"Very.  And the name of the ancient pal—I mean the name of our old house
on the island of Naxos was Thalassa!—You remember the Ten Thousand?"

"Yes.  Your house overlooked the sea?"

"The Ægean!  You enter from the landward lawn, advance toward the
portico—and suddenly, through the marble corridor, a sheet of azure!
Thalassa!"

I said slowly: "Little white goddess of Naxos with hair like the sun and
eyes of Ægean blue, why have you sent for me to come to your chamber at
midnight?"

Thusis looked at me and her happy smile faded.

"To ask one question," she said very gravely, "and to answer one—if you
ask it."

"Ask yours, first."

"What did that dreadful Princess say to you and to Mr. Smith after I
left the room?"

I told her what had passed.

"What!" she cried fiercely, clenching her hands. "Tino had the impudence
to offer her Naxos as a bribe!"

"The Duchy of Naxos," I repeated.

I have never seen an angrier or more excited girl. She sprang to her
feet and began to pace the bedroom, her hands doubled in fury, her face
tense and white.

"Naxos!" she kept repeating in a voice strangled by emotion.  "That
treacherous Tino offers Naxos to a miserable, fat Russian Princess!  Oh!
Was ever such an insult offered to any girl!  Naxos!  My Naxos!  Could
the civilized world believe it!  Can the outrage on Belgium equal such
an infamy!  Even with the spectacle of martyred France, of Roumania in
Teuton chains, of Russia floundering in blood—could the world believe
its senses if Naxos is betrayed!"

Her emotion was tragic, yet it seemed to me that the lovely Thusis took
Naxos a trifle too seriously. Because I was not at all certain that this
same civilized and horrified world was unanimously aware of the
existence of Naxos.  But I didn’t say this to Thusis.

As she paced the room she wrung her hands once or twice naïvely
deploring the avalanche.

"Because," she said, halting in front of me, "Smith or no Smith, I
should certainly attempt to seize this treacherous, beastly Constantine,
and smuggle him over the frontier.  The traitor!  The double traitor!
For Naxos is not his!  No!  It is a Venetian Duchy.  What if Turkey did
steal it!  What if Greece stole it in turn?  It is Venetian.  It is
Italian.  It is my home and I love it!  It is my birthplace and I
worship it!  It is my native land and I adore it!"

"The King of Italy," I reminded her, "does not seem to desire that Naxos
be included in his domain."

"But _I_ do!" she said passionately.  "I am a Venetian of Naxos.  Have I
not the right to decide where my island belongs?  For six hundred years
my family has owed allegiance to Venice—and naturally, therefore, to
Italy.  Have I not every right to raise the banner of revolt in Naxos
and defy this ruffianly ex-king who comes sneaking stealthily into
Switzerland to plot for his own restoration?—who comes here secretly to
offer Naxos to a vulgar Russian as a bribe for financial aid?—offers to
sell my home for a few millions cash and buy cannon and men and send
them into Greece to fight for him and his rotten throne?"

"Thusis——"

"No!" she said violently, "there is no argument possible.  And God never
sent His avalanche to ruin my hopes and destroy all chance of freedom
for Naxos!  It was the bestial Gott of the boche who loosed the snow up
yonder—the filthy fetish of the hun who did that!"  She flung out her
white arms and looked upward.  And "oh!" she cried, "for one hour of the
old Greek gods to call on!  Oh for the thunderbolts of Zeus!—the spear
of Athene!—the tender grace and mercy of Aphrodite, and her swift and
flaming vengeance when her temples were profaned!—when her children were
betrayed and disinherited!—Naxos—my Naxos——"

All Greek now, pagan, beautiful, the girl’s whole body was quivering
with rage and grief.  And I knew enough to hold my tongue.

While the fierce storm swept her, bending her like a sapling with gusts
of passion, I stood silent, awaiting the rain of tears to end it.

None came to break the tension, though the gray eyes harbored lightning
and her brow remained dark.

"As Naxos falls, so falls the world," she said. "The eyes of
civilization are on her; the fateful writing runs like fire across God’s
heaven!  Let the world heed what passes!  The doom of Naxos is the doom
of freedom and of man!"

I, personally, had scarcely looked at it in that light.  It did not
strike me that the hub of civilization rested on Naxos.  Nor do I
believe the world was under that impression.  But I was not going to say
so to this excited young Naxosienne—or Naxosoise—or Naxosette,—whichever
may be the respectful and properly descriptive nomenclature.

And so, standing near the window, I watched the tempest wax, wane, and
gradually pass, leaving her at last silent, seated on her couch, with
one arm across her knee and her head bent like the "Resting Hermes."

When I walked over and stood looking down at her she reached out and,
without looking, took my hand.

"It is your turn now, Michael; and I already know what question you mean
to ask."

"Shall I ask it, Thusis?"  After a silence her hand closed convulsively
in mine.

"I _do_ love you....  I am not—free—to marry you."

"Could you tell me why?"

She slowly shook her head: "You will learn why, some day."

"Is there no chance, Thusis?"

Again she shook her head.  Presently her hand slipped out of mine and
she rested both elbows on her knees, covering her face.

I dropped onto the couch near her, framing my own head in both hands.

The world had become sunless and quite empty except for human pain....
And so, thought I in a dull sort of way, this ends my romance with The
Laughing Girl....  The Laughing Girl of Naxos..... Not laughing now, but
very much subdued, brooding beside me with both hands covering her face,
and the splendid masses of her hair now loosened to her shoulders like a
hood hiding the bowed features.

"Don’t grieve, Thusis," I whispered, forgetting my own pain; but she
suddenly huddled up and doubled over, crying:

"If you speak to me that way I—can’t—endure it——"  Her voice broke
childishly for the first time, and I saw her shoulders quiver.


We had a rotten time of it—self-restraint on my side, and on hers—a
hard, sharp shower of tears—terrifying to me because of her silence; not
a sigh, not a sob, not even one of those undignified gulps which authors
never mention—but which nevertheless usually characterize all lachrymose
feminine procedure, and punctuate its more attractive silences.


It resembled a natural rainstorm in April—abrupt, thorough; and then the
sun.  For after considerable blind fumbling, she suddenly leaned forward
and dried her eyes with the edge of the bed-sheet.

"There," she said, "is an intimate act which ought to breed mutual
contempt!"

We both laughed.  She found a fresh section of the sheet and used it.

"You are an adorable boy," she said, keeping her face turned away but
busy, now, with her sagging hair.

"It’s got to come right some day," I said with the fatuous stupidity
characteristic of the stymied swain.

"It won’t," she remarked, "but let’s pretend it will....  Is my nose
red, Michael?"

"I can’t see it when you turn your face away."

"I don’t wish you to see it if it’s red."

"But how can I judge——"

We burst into that freer laughter which welcomes the absurd when hearts
are heavy laden.

Her dresser was within reach.  I gazed at her back while she powdered
her nose.

"My eyes are red," she observed calmly.

"No, they’re gray; it’s your hair that is red, Thusis."

It was silly enough to invoke the blessed relief of further laughter.
But when Thusis finally turned toward me there was a new shyness about
her, exquisite, captivating, that held me quiet and very serious.

"What a dreadfully sober gentleman," she said. "The storm’s all over,
and it isn’t going to rain again."

I quoted: "It rains—in my heart——"  And she laid a quick, impulsive hand
on my arm:

"Have I not confessed that I love you?"

"Yes——"

"Very well.  Is it a reason for rain—in your heart or anywhere else?"

"No——"

"Well then! ... You may touch my hand with your lips."

Only her lips could be sweeter than the soft hand I kissed, long and
closely, until she withdrew it with a tremulous little laugh of protest.

"We’re becoming infamous; we’re a scandal, Michael. Have you anything
further to say to me?  If not, please go home to bed."

Casting about in my mind for an excuse to linger I recollected the
advent of Eddin Bey; and I told her about it.

"What a barnyard full!" she said scornfully, "all the creatures,
now,—Turk, Bulgarian, Bolshevik, and boche! ... To see them here—and the
two principal scoundrels almost within my grasp!  I don’t believe I can
stand it," she added breathlessly. "Smith or no Smith, and his
exasperating majesty the King of Italy to the contrary, I think
something is going to happen to Tino and Ferdie as soon as the pass is
cleared."

"One thing more," I said; "do you believe there really was a bomb in the
room next to the Princess Pudelstoff’s?"

"Do you mean, Michael, that those murderous Russians might possibly
suspect Clelia, Josephine, Raoul, and me?"

"Oh no, I don’t think that.  But possibly they had other assassinations
in mind and were trying out a new species of bomb—experimenting with
some untried fuse.  That’s what occurred to me—unless the fat Princess
really did dream it all."

"When I make the beds to-morrow," remarked Thusis, "I shall search very
carefully.  The only trouble is that those Bolsheviki seldom leave their
rooms except to eat.  And then I’m obliged to wait on table."

I nodded, a little troubled.  But it was unthinkable that these
treacherous Reds should even dream of bomb-murder in Switzerland.  Whom
might they desire to slaughter, unless it were the poor, fat Princess?
And they would scarcely blow up an entire establishment in a neutral
country for the purpose of scattering portions of the Princess over the
adjacent Alps.

And yet I began to feel oddly uneasy, now.  Of what such vermin might be
capable I could not guess, with the frightful example of the two
arch-traitors Lenine and Trotzky staring a sickened world in the face,—a
world already betrayed twice since its sad history began—once by Judas,
once by Benedict Arnold.

Judas would have sold the souls of all mankind: Lenine and Trotzky sold
only one hundred and fifty million bodies to the anti-Christ.  Things
were improving on earth after all.

I said: "Smith is a good man to have here at such a time.  He’s a
wonderfully level-headed fellow.  I don’t believe we need worry."

"I ought to dislike him.  But I don’t," remarked Thusis.

"Dislike Smith?"

"He’s turned my sister’s head!"

"But—good heavens!—if she cares for him——"

"I care for _you_!" she cut in crisply.  "But I haven’t lost my head or
my sense of proportion——"

"I wish you had."

She looked at me in silence almost hostile. Suddenly she blushed
furiously:

"I wish I had, too!  I care for you as much as my sister cares for Mr.
Smith!  More!  Much more! I’m—I’m quite hopelessly in love!  But I
don’t—don’t—forget that—that——"

She shook her head but sat looking at me out of tragic eyes—suffered me
to press her lovely hands to my lips, watching me all the while.

"You had better go, Michael."

I laid her hands in her lap.  She clasped them so tightly that the
delicate nails whitened.

"It will come out right," said I, rising.

"It never will....  I—I love you."

At the door I hesitated.  But she did not speak. And I opened it and
went out.



                                 *XXI*

                              *SUS SCROFA*


For two exasperating weeks, now, the Schwindlewald pass had remained
hermetically sealed with snow, utterly isolating the valley. It is true
that a Swiss airplane had appeared overhead and had dropped several tons
of bread which we did not require, and a message couched in hysterical
language reminding us that God would protect us while several score of
sweating Swiss dug us out.

Personally I didn’t care except for the highly objectionable colony of
boches with whom I was obliged to share an imprisonment which otherwise
would never have bored me.

But the royal circus was a dreadful visitation—kings, queen, lesser fry,
and Bolsheviki became almost unendurable, even when, during the first
week of our captivity, they flocked by themselves and conspired to their
hearts’ content.

Had this condition endured, the situation might have been borne with a
certain philosophy.  But the inevitable, of course, happened: one week
of exclusive gregariousness was enough for these people: they began to
bore one another.

It showed first, characteristically, at table.  Tino and spouse, always
engaged in continual bickering to the vast discomfort of everybody, now
had it out in star-chamber proceedings; and the King, badly battered but
jaunty, appeared at table with one eye partly closed and a mouth so
swollen that he could not comfortably manipulate a cigarette.  He
explained that he had bumped his head in the dark. But it was perfectly
understood who had bumped it.

King Ferdinand became moody, and his cunning, furtive features often
bore a white, scared expression. He developed, too, a morbid mania for a
most depressing line of conversation—celebrated assassinations being his
theme,—and he ransacked the history of all times in search of examples,
Eddin Bey slyly assisting him.

Sluggish livers and piggish feeding probably accounted for the sullen
lethargy of Von Dungheim and Bummelzug.  Their ever latent and brutal
tempers blazed at absurd trifles, involving usually the bad manners and
lack of respect shown them by the Bolsheviki, who chattered back at them
like enraged monkeys, terrifying the Princess Pudelstoff who had never
forgotten her "dream."

Admiral Lauterlaus, whose personal habits were always impossible, now
spent most of his time bullying the wretched Secretary Gizzler or, with
a telescope such as chamois-hunters carry, squatted on the veranda steps
and swept the Bec de l’Empereur for "gamps," and heaven knows what else.

Only the Countess Manntrapp and Eddin Bey appeared to retain their good
humor.  The Turk, a handsome fellow of distinguished manners and gay
address, evidently possessed a lively eye for pulchritude. He lost no
time at all in paying his sly court to my servants, beginning with
Thusis, progressing to Clelia, and ending with Josephine Vannis in the
kitchen: and he accepted defeat with such cheerful and humorous alacrity
that they all forgave him, I think, and his perfectly frank suggestions
that they return to Adrianople with him and honor him by becoming the
nucleus for a zenana.

He found, however, a pretty bird of his own vivacious and volatile
temperament in the exceedingly bored Countess Manntrapp.  And they were
often together and apparently having a jolly flirtation, being cleverly
aware of each other’s character and entertaining no delusions.

Except for these two at table and on the veranda, and except for the
companionship of Smith, and now and then an opportunity for a few
cautious words with Thusis, those days would have been insupportable for
me.  A hungry hun is bad enough; an ill-tempered one is worse; but a
bored boche!—imagine a penful of them with time heavy on their hoofs!

The old story—"What’s time to a hawg!"—has no significance among the
_Sus scrofa_ or the "Bosch Vark."  Bored, the embers of that dull,
slumbering rage glow hotter; the sulky silence is broken by grumbling,
then by quarrels; the blind, senseless instinct to brutalize and rend
obsesses.  Small wonder the boche desires a place in the sun where his
herds can spread out from the constricted and common wallow!


Tino had again appeared at luncheon with the other eye done in
thunderous tints of purple, taupe, and an exquisite mauve.  Parallel
scratches adorned his nose; some of his mustache was missing.  But I
must admit he took it jauntily enough, and his bland
explanation—something about tripping over a rock in the woods—was
accepted by all and believed by none.

The queen, still somewhat pasty and pinched from the effects of this
ritual _in camera_, ate haughtily, disdainful of what anybody might
really think, and calm in her conviction that the Hohenzollern is
responsible to Gott alone for whatever a Hohenzollern may choose to do.

That she had done plenty to Tino was painfully visible: but he was in a
jocose and waggish humor, and his barrack-room quips and jests were
plainer than usual.  In fact, they became so coarse that even the
Admiral bristled his beard and eyebrows, sniffing lack of respect for
himself in the loud-mouthed levity of the King.

And I was getting madder and madder, Thusis and Clelia being present to
wait on table as usual, and I was on the point of making a sharp
observation to King Tino, when a sudden burst of applause from the other
end of the table checked me.  The Countess Manntrapp was speaking.  She
continued:

"This enforced imprisonment is becoming exceedingly dull for everybody.
Why not divert ourselves? Has anybody any suggestions to offer?"

"A mountain party," rumbled Admiral Lauterlaus. "I, in my time, a famous
hunter of ’gamps’ have been."

"We don’t wish to break our necks to divert ourselves," sneered the
queen.

"A fishing party!" exclaimed Von Dungheim.  "If there is a good big net
we can all help draw it and clean out every trout in the stream!"

"Droly," expostulated Tino, "you have such wholesale ideas!  Our host
might possibly object, you know."

At the very idea of anybody objecting to the destructive wishes of a
Prussian officer, General Count von Dungheim glared at me.

"Why not give a baby-party?" inquired Smith, blandly.

"A—a _baby_-party!" repeated Baron Bummelzug vacantly, in English; "what
perhaps iss it a baby-party?"

Thusis, serving me, bent over and whispered in my ear: "Not the sort of
baby-parties they gave in Belgium; there are no babies."  And she moved
serenely to serve the queen, her beautiful face placid and inscrutable.

The Princess Pudelstoff began to clap her pudgy hands excitedly:

"A baby-party!  A baby-party!  That’ll be fun! That’ll be great!  And
we’ll have a feed and a spiel——"

"Ach wass!" shouted the Admiral exasperated. "Tell us once what it iss a
baby-party, und stop your noises yet!"

But the excited Princess had become uncontrollable, and she began to
hammer on the table with her fat fists, shouting:

"A feed and a spiel!  For God’s sake somebody start something in this
hellofa hole!"

Amid her clamor and the ominous roaring of the infuriated Admiral, I
tinkled my goblet with my fork and presently secured comparative silence
for Smith.

In a few pleasant phrases he explained to them the simple intricacies of
the American baby-party.

"I’ll come!" cried the Countess Manntrapp, delighted.

"I also!" echoed Eddin Bey.

Tino was visibly enchanted at the prospect, and he clapped King
Ferdinand on his elephantine back exultingly:

"We’ll go as twins!" he cried.  "This is most agreeable to me!  Eh,
Sophy?  I’m half dead for a bit of a frolic!  Everybody must come.
Nobody is to be excused.  Desperate cases require desperate remedies.
Ennui is what is killing us; diversion is what we need!"

He was pounding the breath out of King Ferdinand who began to cough and
dodge and blink wildly at everybody out of his little wild-pig’s eyes,
when I stood up giving the signal.

"The party," announced Smith, "is for to-night! There will be games, a
dance, and a supper.  All are politely invited!"

"My God," said Secretary Gizzler to me, rubbing his bony hands together,
"to what foolishness does noble company resort in order that ennui may
be escaped."

The Princess Pudelstoff overheard him:

"Crape-hanger!" she said, giving him a vigorous dig in the ribs which
almost disarticulated his entire and bony frame.

The majority, however, trooping out to the veranda where they could
teutonically enjoy their coffee and cognac "im grünen," appeared
desirous of engaging in the proposed diversion.

Even the queen deigned to inquire of me whether there was, in the house,
material with which to construct a pair of ruffled panties for her
husband.

Only the Bolsheviki remained aloof, chattering and mouthing together and
waving their soiled fingers at each other and, presumably, at the
bourgeois world in general.


Later, Smith came into my room whither I had retired to resume my series
of poems to Thusis,—a rather melancholy occupation yet oddly comforting,
too.

"Why the devil," said I, "did you suggest such a party?"

"I don’t know.  It occurred to me.  I’m rather tired of their
wrangling."

"But a _baby_-party!"

He laughed: "You see how they take to the idea. Anything to dissipate
this sullen, ugly atmosphere. It gets on my nerves."

"Are _you_ going?"

"Certainly."

"In costume?"

"Of course."

"Good heavens, Smith!  I didn’t think you had it in you to frivol."

"Why—I don’t know," he said, smilingly.  "I’m intensely happy."

I eyed him gloomily: "Yes," said I, "no doubt you are—winning the
affections of the girl you wish to marry.  By the way, has she been
civil enough to tell you who she really is?"

"No," he replied cheerfully.

"Do you mean to tell me you are engaged to marry a girl who refuses to
disclose her identity?"

"Exactly."

"How the devil is she going to marry you?  Under an assumed name?"

"That is for Clelia to decide."

"_That_," said I, "is a most remarkable view to take of the situation."

"Why?  I am in love.  I dare believe she cares for me.  It makes no
difference to me who Clelia may be.  That she is Clelia is enough—enough
that she will be my wife.  And when a man stands for the first time
inside the gates of happiness with the girl he loves—what an ass he’d be
to bother her about details!"

This was a totally new and unexpected Smith, to me.  I never dreamed it
was in him.

"Don’t you agree with me?" he inquired.

I nodded doubtfully.

"Wouldn’t you accept Thusis as she chose to offer herself?" he insisted.

A pang shot through me:

"Good Lord, yes!" I said.  "I’d marry her if she were a beggar or a
convict or the least creature of her sex.  I’d never ask a question; I’d
take thankfully and happily what she offered.  You are right,
Smith—wonderfully right.  If you love, love!  If you don’t, worry!"

"Quite right," he said; "it’s either love or worry; the genuine article
doesn’t admit of both.  If you really love you are satisfied; if you
worry it isn’t love—it’s merely something resembling it.  Love is
specific; there are sub-species and varieties, none the real thing.  The
acid test of love is contentment; baser metal dissolves in trouble, and
the sediment is worry.  I——"

"Oh, shut up!" I burst out, nervously; "you’re too darned eloquent on
the subject.  Besides," I added with a perfectly new and instinctive
suspicion, "you’re so confoundedly contented with yourself that I
believe you have begun to guess the identity of Clelia, and that it
pleases you enormously!"

He reddened.

"_Have_ you any idea who she is?" I insisted.

"A vague idea."

"And that vague idea pleases you?"

"It does," he said with a shy sort of grin.

That was too much for me.  "Go to Guinea!" said I, resuming my pen and
paper and paying him no further attention.


Clelia came for orders, sweet and serious in her garb of service.  Again
I laid aside my poem to Thusis.

"I am glad," said I, camouflaging my melancholy with a sprightly allure,
"that you have renounced kidnaping kings and have decided to kidnap Mr.
Smith instead."

She didn’t seem to think it was funny.  The newly engaged lack humor.

"Josephine," she said with dignity, "suggests this supper-card."  And
she handed me the written sheet.

"Fine!" said I.  "Stuff ’em till they’re unconscious and we’ll have
peace."

At that she laughed.

"Josephine desires to know what time the party is to begin," she said.

"It begins with dinner, Clelia.  They all come in costume.  After dinner
they play games.  Supper at midnight.  Then they dance—God help them."

"The Bolsheviki, too?"

"That’s another breed of cat," said I.  "I haven’t the faintest idea
what they intend to do.  All I know is that they’re not coming to the
party.  So give them a table by themselves in their rooms half an hour
before we dine.  Otherwise those chattering apes are likely to spoil the
party."

She agreed with me.

After she had departed I began again on my poem called "Nobody Home":

    "She who, risen from the sea,—
    Body fashioned from its foam,—
    Once appeared to favor me,
    Now has left me all alone:—
    When I call she’s not at home;
    Silent are the Temple closes
    Where her priestess used to roam
    Smiling at me, crowned with roses
    Underneath the Temple’s dome;
    So I stand outside alone.
    From the dead fire on her altar
    Now I turn away and falter:
    Aphrodite’s not at home.

      Goddess born of sun and sea,
    Goddess born of sea and sun,
      Blue-eyed Venus pity me,
    I would wed my Dearest One:—
    She denies; and I’m undone!"—


Just here I found myself in difficulties: the verse called for two more
words to rhyme with "sun," and the available ones already unused
included such words as bun, dun, fun, gun, hun, nun, pun, run, shun,
ton, and won—at least these were all I could think of—none among them
available for classical purposes.

Much disturbed I sat consulting my Rhyming Dictionary and smoking a
cigarette without relish, when a terrific screaming from the Princess
Pudelstoff’s apartment brought me to my feet and out into the corridor.

The Princess stood in the hallway wringing her hands and almost dancing
with rage and fright while, from their doorway across the hall, Puppsky
and Wildkatz jabbered at her in apparent fury.

"What the dickens is all this!" I demanded angrily.

"They’ve got cooties!" she screamed.  "I suspected it!  I knew it!  All
Bolsheviki have ’em! Don’t let ’em near me!  Lock ’em up and turn the
gas on!  Make ’em take baths!  They don’t want to, but make ’em!"

"What do you mean?" said I, feeling suddenly ill and pale.

"I mean what I say!" she cried, wringing her jeweled hands.  "They’ve
got ’em but we don’t have to have ’em!  We ain’t in the trenches, thank
God! No, nor we ain’t in Rooshia where them things is family pets!  I
d-don’t want any!  I don’t want any even from my own brother——"

I strode over to Puppsky and Wildkatz.

"Get into that room or I’ll knock your heads off!" I whispered in an
ungovernable rage.

They began to chatter at me but thought better of it and fled; and I
tore the key from their door and locked it on the outside.  Then I went
downstairs and out to the stable where I found Raoul and gave him the
key.

"You will take a couple of gallons of sheep-dip," said I, still in a
cold fury, "and you will go up and fill their bathtub with it, and then
you may call me."

"Oh," said Raoul, coolly comprehending, "I can souse them myself,
Monsieur."

"Tell them I’ll beat them to death if they stir until I permit it," I
added.  "Also be good enough to burn their clothing and bedding, and
fumigate their rooms."

"Give yourself no anxiety, Monsieur," he said, amused.



                                 *XXII*

                          *PARTICEPS CRIMINIS*


Toward the dinner hour excitement in the house became intense as the
royal circus fussed and pinned and basted and struggled with its
impromptu costumes.

Bells jangled to summon Thusis and Clelia; the Princess Pudelstoff was
too fat to braid her own hair; the Countess Manntrapp required basting
into her boy’s breeches; the Queen, desiring to go as the infant
Germania, had pasted tin-foil all over her high Austrian corset, but
still it didn’t resemble armor, nor did the oval boiler-lid furnished by
Josephine Vannis particularly resemble a shield.

Otherwise a blonde wig of tow in two obese braids and a shiny fireman’s
helmet of 1840 which I discovered in the garret, consoled the queen.  To
these properties I rashly added an eel-spear; and then, remembering her
quick temper, I feared for King Constantine, wondering whether, if
fatally prodded, he would name me as accessory after the fact.

As for the men, they continually rang for Raoul who acted as dresser and
as messenger between them and Josephine Vannis who had constructed their
costumes from odd scraps and from such of their own garments as would
serve.

Admiral Lauterlaus was monstrous as a sailor-boy of six; Von Bummelzug,
Eddin Bey, Von Dungheim, and Secretary Gizzler were school-lads in
socks, bare knees, and denim blouses.  King Constantine who, it
appeared, rather fancied his own legs, went as a smirking doll in a
costume principally constructed out of his wife’s underclothes.

But the most gruesome sight of all was Ferdinand as a youthful
ballet-girl; and he most horridly resembled an elephant on his hind legs
in a stick-out tulle skirt, and his enormous feet, cross-ribboned, went
shuffling and flapping to and fro as he waddled about busy with powder
and rouge.

Raoul laced his stays and tugged in vain to indent his bulk.  It was
useless, but we got him into his corsage and left him before a mirror
ponderously prancing in imitation of the pony ballet, and singing
la-la-la! furtively peeping the while at his own proportions with the
unfeigned pleasure of perfect approval.

Really, except for the characters of these impossible individuals, the
jolly noise and confusion they made with their preparations and the
lively excitement that pervaded hall, corridor and stair, resembled the
same sort of delightful uproar one hears at a week-end party in a big
country house under similar circumstances.

The queen’s bell had been jangling persistently for some minutes when,
stepping from my room into the hallway to see whether anybody was
answering it, I came face to face with Thusis.

Warm, and delicately flushed with her exertions, she was half vexed,
half laughing now as she cast a prudent glance right and left along the
corridor before slipping through the door into my room.  I followed,
locking the door.

"Michael," she began, "the queen says there are not enough women in the
party and she insists that Clelia and I find costumes and join.  I was
furious—and she’s making a violent row about it now, insisting,
bullying, ordering Clelia about——"

"What!  Ordering my servants about!" I interrupted angrily.

"Yes—your servants, Michael," dropping me an ironical curtsey which
brought me back to my senses. We both laughed.  And suddenly it occurred
to me how adorable Thusis would be at a baby-party.

"Why not?" I exclaimed.  "Why not drop hostilities for an hour and enjoy
the ridiculous? Absurdity always appeals to you, anyway, Thusis," I
added, "and the entire situation is so impossible that it ought to
attract you!"

"It does," she admitted with that engaging and reckless little laugh I
had come to know so well. "Besides, you are my host, Michael, and I am
under your roof.  So who your ragamuffin-bobtail guests may be does not
concern me.  Clelia and I are not responsible, are we?"

"Not at all," said I.  "The ignominy of this royal riff-raff rests upon
my shoulders.  Anyway, you do not need to dance except with me," I added
reassuringly.

"Eddin Bey is rather attractive," she mused, letting her glance rest on
me sideways while the innocent pleasure of this discovery parted her
lips in a honeyed smile.

"All right," said I shortly, "dance with him!"

"Michael——"

"Go ahead and dance with him," I repeated, stabbed by the most ignoble
of emotions.

"What an absolute boy you can be," she said.  "If I do this thing at all
it is because the tension of months is becoming unendurable.  Reaction
from the tragic usually lands one on the edges of the grotesque....  If
you had been a girl, Michael, always sheltered, secure, living a
colorless restricted life, and if you suddenly were cast upon your own
feet with the accumulated responsibility of your race on your
shoulders,—and if, in the very middle of your first years of liberty and
opportunity you suddenly found this wonderful world flaming like hell
all about you, and all its inhabitants at each other’s throats, and all
delight in living turned to hate and fear—and if you concluded to take
your fate into your own hands and run away from authority, and, in your
own way, fight the good fight for God and King and Country,—and if the
strain became, for an hour, too great—wouldn’t you react—perhaps to the
verge of folly?"

"You bet I would, sweetness," said I, taking her lovely hands in mine.

"I was a school-girl," she said, "when—it devolved upon me, and upon
Clelia, to determine our own futures....  The loss of parents is
a—bewildering thing....  Our mania was travel and education to fit us
for—for what we considered to be our rightful future positions in the
world....  We have been in your country,—I don’t mean Chile. We know
England and France—God bless them both.  Then, owing deference anyway if
not perhaps blind obedience to the—to a—gentleman in Italy——"

"The King," I said soberly.

"Yes, the King of Italy.  We were expected to return to Rome and defer
to him all questions concerning our future....  And we ran away."

"Why, Thusis?"

"Because we happen to have minds of our own, Michael."

"And you immediately employed them by concocting a plot to kidnap some
kings!" I said.  "Oh, Thusis, you are the limit!"

"I know I am," she said naïvely.  "A mind that does not range to its
extremest limits is a rather dull one, isn’t it?"

"It is," I admitted, laughing and crushing her hands between my own.
"You are delightfully right, Thusis; you are always deliciously right.
I don’t know who you are except that you’re the lovely and mysterious
Laughing Girl.  What else you may be I don’t know, dearest, but you are
doubtless somebody or the King of Italy wouldn’t bother his clever head
about you and your sister."

"He _does_ bother, I am afraid," admitted Thusis, smiling.  "I’m sorry
we’ve been obliged to annoy him.  But it couldn’t be helped, because we
differed, politically, with the King of Italy.  And we ran away from
Rome to prove to him that our conception of world-politics was right and
his was wrong. And we expect him, some day, to be very grateful to
us—because we really are, Clelia and I, two of his most loyal subjects."

She spoke so frankly, so earnestly, that I dared make no jest of what
she said.

However, I think she saw a glimmer in my eyes, for she flushed.

"Nothing," she said, "is sacred to a Yankee.  Let me go."

"Shall I tell you what is sacred to a Yankee, Thusis?" said I, retaining
her hands.

"No!"

"I’ll tell you all the same: liberty of mind!—liberty within
law!—liberty within the frontiers of conscience."

"Then you do not deny these privileges to me?"

"They _are_ yours, Thusis.  No man can deny essential rights and
liberties."

"You believe I have a right to act as my conscience dictates?"

"Absolutely."

"To run away from authority?"

"If your mind approves."

"And—and devote my life—risk it—to free my native land and restore to my
sovereign what once belonged to him?"

"Naxos?"

"Yes."

I said gravely: "If, in your self-dedication to this work there be no
ulterior motive;—if you undertake this unselfishly, and with a heart
clean of all personal ambition—then, Thusis, I say, go on! ... And I am
at your service."

Twice she started to speak, and hesitated.  In her clear eyes, so
intently, almost painfully fixed on mine, I saw she was fiercely
pondering my words. Her intense and youthful seriousness in her
concentration held me fascinated.  And for a little while neither one of
us stirred.

And it gradually began to appear to me that what I had said to her had
suddenly opened to her young and ardent eyes a totally new view of some
things in the world with which she had, perhaps, believed herself
thoroughly familiar.

She turned from her absorption; and now she was presented to me in
profile with downcast eyes and bitten lip, and a least relaxation of her
slender figure which had been so straight and rigid.

It was becoming evident that she had nothing further to say to me,—no
reply to make to what I had rather ponderously propounded as an ethical
axiom.

But, as responding to the restless pressure, I released her hands, she
turned back and stood looking at me out of painfully perplexed eyes—eyes
that lacked no courage, either, yet doubted, now, almost wistfully.

Then, not speaking, she unlocked my door and went out.


Smith knocked at the doorway communicating between our apartments, and
came in at my absent-minded invitation.

"Of course _you’re_ not in this, are you, Michael?" he inquired.

"We weren’t asked.  Besides, there are too many men now, and the Queen
wants Thusis, Clelia, and Josephine Vannis to serve dinner in costume
and join the party afterward."

"Are they going to do it?" he asked, surprised and amused.

"I don’t know....  Tell me, Smith, whom do you suspect Thusis to be?  I
can see you have some theory concerning Clelia—some idea.  Haven’t you?"

"Yes, I have."

"Would you care to share it with me?"

"Yes.  But I can’t."

"Could you tell me why you can’t?"

"I think I may tell you that much.  The King of Italy requested me to
maintain silence in the possible event of my discovering the identity of
Thusis and Clelia.  I am here on the King’s service, with certain
definite orders.  I shall scrupulously observe these orders.  Among
these is his request concerning the identity of these two charming young
girls."

"Just one thing, then.  _Have_ you discovered the identity of Thusis?"

"No."

"Of Clelia?"

He reddened.  "Yes, I have," he said.  "Or rather she has confirmed what
I had begun to suspect."

"Clelia has told you who she is!" I exclaimed.

"She has."

"Isn’t that disobedience of orders?"

"She told me before I could stop her.  I never dreamed she was going to
tell me.  It came out—like a bolt of lightning—while I—I was—slipping
over her finger that ring I used to wear——"

"She wears it!"

"Yes.  She was glorious.  She——"

"And she’s going to marry you?"

"Yes, God bless her."

So I wrung his hand in silence and strove hard not to let any comparison
of his situation and mine taint with the slightest trace of bitterness
my happiness in his good fortune and my cordial recognition of it now.

Thusis was not mentioned between us.  He didn’t say "buck up, old chap,"
or "go in and win," or any insincere thing of that sort, for I felt that
he believed my case to be hopeless.

Presently he returned to his room and closed the door.  And I sat down
at my table and produced pen and paper with a view to further poetry—my
only form of relief from grief.

But rhymes evaded me; and finally I gave it up and rested my head on
both hands, unhappy, unsatisfied, feeling that I was a failure, and
always had been one.

After all what could such a glorious young thing as Thusis see in an
interior decorator from New York?—a profession into which had minced all
the lady-like young men and lisping sissies in Manhattan!

Perhaps, after all, the profession was all right, but the people who
practiced it were weird and incompetent.  And as for me I was perfectly
aware that I had no taste, no color sense, no glimmering idea of
composition.

Doubtless my artistic and financial success had been due to my utter
incapacity.

I proceeded to masticate the cud of bitterness.


I had been masticating longer than I realized for the light in the room
was already growing less when a knock came at my door; and I shoved my
unuttered verses into the drawer and grunted out, "Come in!"

It was Thusis, transfigured, sparkling, mischievous, audacious.  And she
was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.

Her magnificent ruddy hair, unloosened, framed her face, its upcurled,
burnished ends falling to her waist.

Otherwise she was an exquisite French doll in knee-skirts and sash and
all over pale blue ribbons.

"I’m going to have a good time if I do murder to-morrow, Michael.  Do
you like my costume? Really?  That is so sweet of you!  You always are
the most satisfactory of men!  And you should see Clelia!  She’s like me
only her ribbons and sash are primrose.  She is really charming."

"Thusis," said I, "you and Clelia shall sit at table and Smith and I are
going to turn waiters!  No!" as she exclaimed in protest, "let’s be
logical in our grotesqueries!  This little world of ours here in
Schwindlewald is already absurd enough with you and Clelia waiting on
table.  Let’s turn it completely upside down and stand it on its head."

She finally consented, forced by my gay ardour, and, I think,
mischievously pleased at the prospect of protest from the Queen.

All over the house, now, I could hear snatches of loud laughter as my
Teutonic guests began to gather and visit one another in their costumes.
Thusis fled; and I opened the door and broke the news to Smith.

"Get into your evening duds," I added, "and announce dinner.  We’re all
going stark mad and I’m glad of it."

So I dressed, and found him ready when I was; and we went downstairs
into the large lounging room where Raoul was fitting disks into the
music-box.

He laughed when we told him our intentions, and then we went into the
kitchen and informed Josephine Vannis.  That stately Juno condescended
to smile on us.  She was rather tremendously imposing as a baby with
bonnet and stick-out skirts—as though somebody had decked out a
masterpiece of Praxiteles.

Retiring, Smith murmured: "Only the Parthenon possesses such
awe-inspiring symmetry; only the Acropolis could vie with her.  Did you
ever see such superb underpinning in all your life?"

Stunned by such stupendous symmetry I admitted that I never had.  And we
went away to announce dinner.

But it was not until the noisy company were gathered in the dining-room
that the Queen perceived the two empty chairs and began to realize my
intentions. And she came to me and made angry representations, refusing
to be seated on the right of a servant, or, indeed, to suffer servants
at all at table, and saying that if she chose to admit my waitresses to
the dancing hall, it was because such privileges sometimes were
graciously permitted to the peasantry who never misunderstood such
condescension.

"Madame," said I, "my housekeeper, Thusis, sits in my place at table
this evening.  And if, madame, you are so deeply concerned about it,
comfort yourself with the explanation that in my housekeeper you behold
your host; she is my vice-reine, or vice-roy, or vice-regent—whatever
you like best, madame! She represents me!  In her you see embodied the
inviolable authority of the master of this house wherein you are a
guest!  However, madame, if you prefer to be served alone in the bar, I
will have a table set there for you——"

She almost spat at me; and Thusis entered, her hand linked in Clelia’s.

I think the royal circus was stupefied by the beauty of these two young
girls.  A rather frightful silence reigned for a moment; then the
Countess Manntrapp clapped her jeweled hands and sang out in her clear,
soprano voice: "Brava!  Bravissima! They are beautiful, our little
waitresses!"

Eddin Bey removed his red fez and, swinging it by the tassel, gave three
hochs.

Then, instantly, the cheers broke out everywhere: I gave Thusis my arm;
Smith offered his to Clelia; and we seated them amid shouts and the
waving of napkins, the queen’s eyes glittering like twin daggers all the
while.

Such an uproar as Smith and I served the soup! Gurgles, gulps, scraping,
sucking sounds arose from feeding Teutons.  The fish produced a
frightful clatter of knives and forks, and the Princess Pudelstoff cut
her lip with her knife but stuck a patch on it and joyously immersed it
in gravy.

They—the kings and admirals and generals were drinking too much; I
noticed that in the din.  And toward the wrecked climax of the dinner
when everybody was offering everybody else tinsel bon-bons, and people
were pulling snapping-crackers with one another, I sent Raoul out to
start the music-box; and Josephine Vannis emerged all clean and fresh
and scented to join the revelry.

Her appearance awed us all; again I felt that innate reverence for the
prodigiously beautiful, that awe for things superbly Greek.  Her effect
upon the two kings, however, was pronounced.  The wild-pig eyes of
Ferdinand became fixed and vitreous for a full minute; King
Constantine’s orbs bulged.  Both made straight for her when Thusis gave
the signal to rise; and I saw the exasperated Queen staring at her
spouse and fingering a large, sharp, jeweled pin.

But I went into the dancing room and took command without loss of time;
and Smith followed with a bottle of wine and a roast chicken—our own
dinner which we intended to discuss while supervising this party and
keeping the music-box busy.

"Silence!" said I, hammering on the glass lampshade with my fork.  "The
party begins, like all children’s parties, with children’s games.
’Going to Jerusalem’ will be the first game played!"

"How is that played?" demanded several at once.

I instructed them, gravely; and presently Smith and I, eating our dinner
beside the music-box, beheld our guests in their baby costumes marching
around and around a row of chairs and, at a given signal, falling into
the unoccupied seats with squeals and shrieks and bellows of laughter.

They tired of that, presently, and I laid aside my chicken and glass of
claret and, rising, instructed them in the game called
"Oats-peas-beans."  They listened attentively, but Thusis and Clelia
appeared much disconcerted when further revelations on my part disclosed
that it was a "kissing" game; and they both withdrew, firmly declining
to play it, much to the dissatisfaction of Eddin Bey and Tino.

So Thusis and Clelia came over to where Smith and I were installed, and,
while we resumed our dinner, they cranked the music-box in which I had
inserted a disk containing the immemorial air of "Oats-peas-beans."

We then became pleased observers of royalty and nobility in baby
clothes, hands joined, walking very seriously in a circle in the center
of which stood the Princess Pudelstoff, and singing in unison and with
all their might:

    "_Oats-peas-beans_
    _And barley grow,_
    _Though you and I and nobody knows_
    _Where oats-peas-beans_
    _And barley grow!_"

    "_Thus the farmer sows his seed!_
    (All made motions of scattering something.)
    _Thus he stands and takes his ease!_
    (All with hands on hips.)
    _Stamps his foot,_
    (All stamp)
    _And claps his hand,_
    (All clap.)
    _And turns around to view the land,_
    (All turn.)
    _While waiting for a partner!_
    _While waiting for a partner!_
    _So open the ring_
    _And choose one in_
    _And kiss him when you get him in!_"


The singing ceased; the Princess Pudelstoff giggled; then, to his
dismay, she pounced upon Eddin Bey, almost throttled that handsome
Moslem in her enthusiasm, and gave him a resounding smack amid screams
of laughter and roars of approval.

And then the game waxed fast and furious: Eddin Bey chose the Countess
Manntrapp and kissed her delicately and courteously; she chose King
Constantine, but merely saluted his cheek, much to his exasperation.

Then Tino held the ring, waggish, jocose, bantering everybody with their
expectations.  But though the queen eyed him commandingly, furiously, he
swaggered over to Josephine Vannis and soundly kissed that classic
memorial in animated Grecian marble.

The Teutons behaved rather grossly; King Ferdinand ranged the ring like
a liberated wild hog and presently charged the object of his osculatory
intentions—Josephine.

Probably nobody dared kiss the queen, but such respectful abstention
seemed to please her none the more, for presently she hissed something
into Tino’s ear, and he chose her into the ring with an agility born of
terror.

Once there she glared at everybody and then, with a sneer, selected Tino
again, and the game, promising to become a monotony and a deadlock, I
rose and, waving a leg of the chicken to impose silence, proclaimed that
the games had ended and that dancing would now begin.

Raoul inserted a fox-trot of sorts; and the next instant everybody was
footing it.

"Raoul," I said in a guarded voice, "did you souse those Bolsheviki in
sheep-dip?"

"I did, sir."

"What did they do?"

"They made an agonizing noise, Monsieur.  I fear it was, perhaps, their
first bath."

"Go up and dip ’em again."

"All Bolshevikdom will shriek," he said, grinning.

"Let it for a change.  It’s set all the world scratching.  Let Bolshevik
Russia do a little shrieking, now that she feels the boche biting her
worse than her native cooties!  Get some more sheep-dip and de-louse
that pair of things upstairs."

He went away, laughing.



                                *XXIII*

                                *THUSIS*


For a while the dancing was lively and good-humored hilarity reigned.

The Tzar of all the Bulgars had imbibed enough wine to dull, if not to
obliterate that continual desire of his to slink into corners and peep
out at a hostile world bent on his assassination. Only when somebody
spoke to him too abruptly behind his back did the customary symptoms
blanch his face and set his wild eyes roving and his big nose wrinkling
like a boar which winds an enemy.

He was having as good a time as such a person can ever have; and toward
supper time his exhilaration incited him to attempt a waddling sort of
Bulgarian dance with the Countess Manntrapp—an amazing exhibition of
mammoth movements on his part; and a sort of infernal and fascinating
grace on the part of the lithe Countess.

Dancing with Thusis, I hastily led her out of their way, and everybody
else stood in the circle, the center of which was pervaded by Ferdinand
and his lively vis-à-vis.

Which performance presently stirred Admiral Lauterlaus from a somewhat
beer-sodden lethargy, and he emitted raucous sounds of protest.  But
Baron Bummelzug began to snap his fingers and stamp and caper in
imitation of the _schuplattl_ of the Bavarian peasantry; and all the
boche except the Queen, imitated him and seized partners.

Eddin Bey came to ask Thusis, and he was so faultlessly polite and so
gay and graceful that she cast a saucy glance of dismissal at me and
accepted him.

It was quite all right, of course, but it depressed me a little,
particularly because Clelia had inexorably refused everybody except
Smith.

Now there is a very beautiful Grecian dance supposed to be the
triumphant dance executed by the Ten Thousand when they caught sight of
the sea; and it is called "The Sea-dance."

Tino, rather drunk, climbed on a chair, shouted for attention, and
informed the company that he was about to perform this celebrated dance.

But when we all gave him room he jigged around a while like an
intoxicated soldier’s drab, and, remarking jauntily that he had
forgotten it, offered ten thousand drachma to anybody present who could
dance the Sea-dance of the Ten Thousand.

He was rather vulgar about it, too, digging into his pockets and pulling
out fistfuls of hun gold, and loudly demanding that somebody should
attempt to win it.

I glanced instinctively toward Thusis who, her dance with Eddin
interrupted, stood in the circle opposite me.

Her gray eyes were brilliant, her cheeks delicately flushed, and the
shock of thick ruddy hair fairly glittered, every silky thread afire
with the gleam of molten gold.

She looked at me with the sweet, reckless audacity of a spoiled child;
then she laughed and said something to Clelia.  I saw the latter go to
the music box, select a record, start it; and the haunting air called
The Sea-dance floated out.

Then Thusis seemed suddenly to melt into motion; her slim feet scarcely
touched the floor; head, arms, slender body, were all part of a single
and exquisite motion flowing from one soft curve to another.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room; and I did hear one—a big
jeweled affair, that clattered to my feet.

As I stooped to recover it the queen said hoarsely in my ear:

"Who is that girl?"

I turned; she snatched the jewel and dug it into her hair.

"That girl, madame, is Thusis, my housekeeper."

"Fiddle," retorted the queen.  "She’s something else, too,—or once was.
The first time I noticed her it occurred to me that I’d seen her
somewhere. What was she—a celebrated dancer?—before she became your
_housekeeper_?"

The queen’s nasty insolence froze me.

"I am not," said I, "as familiar with celebrated dancers as your husband
is—and the various men of your immediate family."

That I had penetrated her incognito did not appear to disturb her as
much as my inferences concerning Tino and the Kaiser and that degenerate
nest of reptiles, her nephews.

A white, pinched expression came into her frosty face and her eyes
flamed.

"I thought you were a Yankee," she said.

"A Yankee from Chile," said I, bowing.

She looked clean through me at Thusis.

"I’ve seen that woman somewhere," she said without emotion.  "I’ll
recollect where, presently."

But my eyes and attention were now focussed on the lovely Thusis and I
paid no further heed to this bad-tempered Hohenzollern.

Never have I seen such an exquisite dance, such grace, such loveliness.
As for the boches, when Thusis ended her _Dance of the Sea_, they were
like a herd of cattle galloping around her and bellowing their
satisfaction.

Tino, drunk and prodigal, began to throw handfuls of gold at Thusis,
and, enraged, I caught him by the collar and jerked him onto a chair.

"Where the devil do you think you are—in the Coulisse of the Opera?" I
cried in his partly deafened ear.

But he only grinned and wagged his head and attempted to fish more gold
out of his pockets.  But now his thrifty wife interfered and she ordered
Secretary Gizzler to pick up every coin.  Then she hissed something into
Tino’s car which seemed to galvanize that partly soused monarch so that
he found his feet with alacrity and suffered himself to be led aside by
his tight-lipped spouse.

From time to time during the festivities I had heard distant significant
noises indicating that upstairs the Bolsheviki were not enduring
sheep-dip and imprisonment with resignation.

Once I had slipped away to the corridor outside their quarters, but,
when I made my presence known, Raoul from within calmly assured me that
the delousing was progressing successfully and that he did not require
my assistance.

Russia, forcibly scrubbed, had put forth agonized howls; and now, Russia
imprisoned, was battering at its door and yelling murder.

Now and then, a hun noticed the noise and inquired concerning its
origin, but I always turned on more music and they soon forgot in the
din of the dance.

Thusis had resumed her dance with Eddin Bey; Smith and Clelia were
dancing.  I said to Raoul, who was starting to crank the music-machine:
"I’ll just step up and quiet those Bolsheviki."

They were raining blows upon their door when I arrived.  I rapped
sharply.

"What do you want?" said I.

They gibbered at me in Russian.

"Speak English!" I insisted.

Perhaps Puppsky was so excited or so demoralized by his first bath that
he forgot he could speak English.

I tried them in Italian: "Whata da mat’?" I inquired pleasantly.  They
chattered back at me like lunatic squirrels.

"What the devilovitch is the matsky?" I shouted, incensed at their
stupidity.  "You listen to me! Your clothes are being boiled and you’ve
got to stay where you are!  Stop your noise, Puppsky!"

And off I went to inspect the big wash boiler in the kitchen where,
lifting the lid which had been the queen’s shield, I was gratified to
observe the garments of the Bolsheviki simmering nicely.

"It is not the only vermin that Germania’s shield covers," said I.  And
much pleased with my _jeu d’esprit_, I poured in another bottle of
sheep-dip and returned to the dance salon where supper was now being
served at little tables.

As soon as I entered the room I felt trouble brewing. The inevitable
hunnish reaction had set in.  A tired boche is an ugly one; an
intoxicated hun may become either offensively sentimental or surly and
ingeniously bestial.  And now they were about to become surfeited huns,
heavy with wine, heavier with food.  I did not fancy the looks of things
very much.

The queen alone appeared to be perfectly sober; the others were engaged
in that sort of half insolent raillery always provocative of a row,
shouting German pleasantries at one another from table to table, lifting
slopping glasses, cheering, singing and leering at the ladies.

Bummelzug demanded that the music-box play "Deutschland über Alles," but
the disk was non-existent.

Von Dungheim, who exhibited an inclination to weep at any mention of
Germany, asked in a hoarsely saturated voice for a folk-song.  And Raoul
turned on two; and the huns sang first "_Du bist wie eine Blume_," which
shattered them sentimentally so that loud sobs punctuated the
"_Lorelei_" which, of course, followed.

Then Ferdinand, one arm around the Princess Pudelstoff, and a chicken
wing in the other hand, lifted a voice choked with food and attempted a
Bulgarian folk-song—something about the "Kara Dagh" and "Slivnitza"—but
presently lost all recollection of what he was doing and challenged
everybody to extemporaneous rhymes in praise of his native land.

Nobody obliged.

"Too stupid!" he remarked thickly.  "Nobody clever enough to rhyme
’_Bulgarian_’—eh, mine host?" looking around at me where I sat shielding
Thusis from the playful attentions of King Constantine who was
attempting to pinch her.

"Of course," said I, "’_Bulgarian_’ rhymes with ’vulgarian’; but that’s
obvious."  And I smiled at the Tzar of all the Bulgars and offered
Thusis a bon-bon.

She looked at Ferdinand, at Tino, at the queen: suddenly she threw back
her head, and that lovely, childlike, silvery laughter rippled through
the Teutonic din.

There was no scorn in her laughter, only the delicious, irresistible
gaiety of a young girl face to face with the excruciating.  And there is
nothing on earth more innocently insolent.

Every Teuton head was turned toward her in stupefied displeasure; fishy,
fixed, pig-like eyes stared at this young girl who dared condone an
insult to Bulgaria with her fresh, impulsive laughter.

Suddenly behind me there was a brusque movement; I heard Tino protest
that his foot had been trodden on; and, turning, I saw the queen
excitedly rising from her place.

"I know who that woman is now!" she said in a voice as sharp as a blade.
She pointed at Thusis like a vixen from the markets:

"That’s The Laughing Girl!" she cried.  "Look at her!  Anybody can
recognize her now from her photographs!"

Thusis colored crimson and shrank from the brutal publicity against my
shoulder, staring wide-eyed at the hatefully sneering visage of the
queen.

"The celebrated Laughing Girl!" repeated the queen mockingly; "Mr.
O’Ryan’s _housekeeper_, gentlemen—and our guest at dinner!  And what
does our German chivalry and nobility think of that insult launched at
us by a Yankee inn-keeper?"

"Be silent, madame!" I said sharply.  "If you don’t know how to conduct
yourself I shall request your husband to remove you!"

Then it came, the boche deluge!—a herd of huddling swine on their feet,
all grunting at me, enraged, clamoring, waving their arms.  And in the
midst of the guttural uproar a thin, high voice pierced all sound and
dominated it—the sniffling whine of Secretary Gizzler.

Possessed by a sort of cringing exaltation, he rose to his thin, splay
feet, and pointed a meager finger almost in the shocked face of Thusis.

"That is the Duchess of Naxos!" he squealed.

At that Thusis was on her feet, white as a slim sword-blade, and her
gray eye charged with lightning.

I rose, too, incredulous, astounded.

"Thusis, Duchess of Naxos!" piped the excited voice of Secretary
Gizzler.  "She and The Laughing Girl are one!  I know!  I was in the
Intelligence! I procured that photograph so that if this woman ever gave
our fatherland any trouble she could be easily recognized wherever she
might be!"  He beat his temples and glared at Thusis: "Stupid! Stupid!"
he squealed; "why did I not recognize her at once!  Why did not a single
German present recognize the chief mischief-maker in Greece!—the
instigator of revolt!—the pupil of Venizelos!—the enemy of their
majesties King Constantine and Queen Sophia!—the plotter who aided in
their downfall!—Thusis, Duchess of Naxos!"

The huns seemed thunderstruck; Thusis, very pale, swept them with
insolent cool eyes.

All at once King Ferdinand got to his feet and loomed up like a bad
dream.

"Naxos!  Where is Naxos?" he demanded.

And when Secretary Gizzler would have answered him: "The man’s mad," he
said heavily; "there’s no such place."

At that I saw Thusis’s face flame; but the boche all around her burst
into a roar of ironic laughter.

"Let the fatherland tremble!" bellowed General Count von Dungheim.
"Naxos declares war!"

"Look sharp!" shouted Admiral Lauterlaus, "or we’ll have Andorra
invading us."

"And Monaco, too!" growled Bummelzug.  "_Gott in Himmel_!  If Naxos
defies us through her Duchess we’re as good as lost!"

"I tell you!" shrieked Secretary Gizzler, "that it’s no laughing matter!
That girl is the Duchess of Naxos!  And the other—her sister—look well
at her, gentlemen!—she is Duchess of Tenedos!"

"That belongs to my country!" cried Eddin Bey, laughing, "the island of
Tenedos.  I sincerely hope the Cyclades are not in revolt!  But if they
are I’m very glad so charming a lady is to own one of them."

But his attempt at a good natured diversion made no impression on the
huns; and Gizzler, venomous and quivering, held the floor and kept his
weak, vicious eyes on Thusis.

"It was the Ægean League that exiled the King and Queen of Greece!" he
said.  "She made that league!—that woman standing there—Thusis, Duchess
of Naxos!"

"It isn’t a Duchy!" cried the queen, choking with fury; "it’s a Greek
Island!"

"It’s a Venetian Duchy and belongs to Italy, madame," I said
calmly—having read up on it in the Encyclopedia since I had fallen in
love with one of its inhabitants.

At that the queen turned on me like a fury.

"You lie!" she said.

I tried to control myself:

"Naxos is a Venetian Duchy, belonging to Italy," I repeated.  "I am
happy and proud of the privilege of acknowledging the restoration of
Naxos to Italy—and I salute its ruler—Thusis, Duchess of Naxos!"

And I lifted the white hand of Thusis and touched it with my lips.

"There’s conspiracy here!" shouted Tino, very drunk, and vainly
attempting to stand up.  "We’re all tangled up in treason here!  We’re
in the web of the Ægean League!  What are these people doing here,
anyway!—all these Yankees and Duchesses running about underfoot——"

A hiccough terminated his activities and he slid up against his spouse
who shoved him away, her eyes flashing.

"That lying Yankee," she began, almost beside herself, "has set a trap
for us here!"

At the word "trap," King Ferdinand, drunk as he was, got up hastily and
started toward the door.

"You’d better defend yourselves!" he shouted. "I’ve got pistols in my
room——"

His voice ceased: Raoul blocked his way:

"Stay where you are," he said, smiling and cool. And placing a powerful
hand on King Ferdinand’s chest he shoved him backward onto a chair.
Then, to my surprise, Raoul slipped a pair of automatic pistols from his
side pockets and cast a merry glance around him at the company.

"The first man that moves," he remarked, "is not likely to continue the
movement."

The dead silence which fell over everybody was startling.  Raoul,
resting gracefully on a table with one leg on the floor, looked about
him as though immensely amused.  Then, as we awaited further
developments, his countenance assumed a thoughtful expression—and he
absent-mindedly hummed aloud his favorite air:

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm
    You have done a heap of harm——"



                                 *XXIV*

                                *RAOUL*


Raoul looked up, thoughtfully, playing with his pistols, and said to
King Constantine in an unaccented and conversational tone:

"After all, who were you to rule Naxos?—you cheap, treacherous, yellow
dog!"

That partly cleared the king’s muddy mind and he lurched to an upright
position and began to take notice.

"You sold Greece to the boche," continued Raoul in his serene, even
voice, toying idly with his pistols.  "What else you did—what else you
are—is a trifle too vile to repeat aloud——"

He turned and looked at the Tzar of all the Bulgars whose ungainly bulk
as he sat on his chair was now agitated by visible tremors:

"Murderer and coward," mused Raoul aloud. "Every time you hire your
gun-men to kill an enemy you hurry away to establish an alibi, don’t
you? You cheap peddler of duped people—you made a rotten bargain this
time, didn’t you?  When your treacherous pal, Tino, betrayed Serbia, you
swindled your own people, didn’t you?"

He shrugged, dangled his pistols, glanced at Gizzler,—or rather
_through_ Gizzler as though, the wretched creature were not there,—and
his eyes encountered the interested jet black orbs of Eddin Bey.

Both smiled, Eddin in the face of death; Raoul with the generous grin of
a man who recognizes in his enemy a peer.

"Eddin Bey," he said, still smiling, "the Osmanli fight fairly.  Ask the
British Tommy....  And your fool of a Sultan is dead.  And what do you
think of affairs at present?"

"They are not any too gay," replied Eddin Bey, laughing, "especially in
the Alps."

The half smile on Raoul’s face flickered and faded:

"You’re about done for, you Turks," he said quietly.  "You bet on the
wrong horse, too.  And now Enver Pasha keeps running to Berlin to ask
why the all-highest doesn’t make him Khedive of Egypt as he promised.
And Taalat is scared, and the butcher Djavid is in the dumps.  Oh, I
know it was not you Osmanli that set the Kurds and Bashi-Bazouks on the
Armenians.  That butchery of a million souls, men, women, children,
babies, was conceived by the Berlin government and superintended from
the Yldiz Palace."

Raoul turned and looked contemptuously at the Germans:

"You square-heads," he said, "have achieved one thing, anyway.  Never
before in history has a nation been indicted, and it was supposed it
could not be done.  But it has been done in your case.  And for the
first time also in history an entire race is spoken of and known to
civilization only by a revolting nick-name—_boche_!

"Do you know what it means?  There have been disputes concerning the
origin of the term _boche_. The French say it means a stupid fellow—a
clown; the Belgians think that it is a vulgar term for ’blockhead.’  But
I shall tell you what it really does mean: it means, in South African
Dutch, an unclean and degraded species of wart-hog; and it has been in
use for fifty years!"

He lifted one pistol and sat idly twirling it around his fore-finger.

"I know why you came here to Schwindlewald," he said, "to put _that_
back on the throne of Greece!"—he nodded toward Tino.

"In Berne you live luxuriously and wastefully in the midst of famine.
You eat as usual; your bread is white; there are no restrictions for you
in the matter of food amid a hungry people.  You maintain a court there
with flunkies, stables, motor-cars—every necessity and luxury which is
now forbidden by Swiss law and by the law of decency you violate daily!"

He looked at the queen:

"Your effrontery, madame, is of course, in keeping with Hohenzollern
tradition.  But things are happening now—now, madame,—at this very
moment! And I’m wondering just how long the Swiss are likely to endure
your behavior in Berne."

He sat silent after that for a little while, twirling his pistols and
whistling softly to himself:

    "Crack-brain-cripple-arm——"


Suddenly Eddin made a quick motion and Raoul shot the leg off his chair
letting him down with a crash.

The startling crash of the pistol-shot brought them to their feet.

"Sit down!" said Raoul sharply, "or it will be a living leg next time;
and the time after that a wooden head!"  He sat watching Eddin getting
to his feet with a shame-faced laugh:

"No use," said Raoul in a friendly voice, "it can’t be done, Colonel."

"I notice it can’t," remarked Eddin, laughing. "Well sir, you have
entertained us very pleasantly with your historical inappropos.  Is
there to be a denouément perhaps?"

"Did you expect one?"

Eddin shrugged: "A firing-squad, possibly.  But of course I don’t
insist."

Raoul shook his curly head: "No, Colonel Eddin; no firing-squad.  No
Turkish atrocities, no Bulgarian murders, no boche bestialities."  He
turned contemptuously on Constantine:

"You laid plans in Berne to entrap the leaders of the Ægean League.  You
forged instructions sent to me by Monsieur Venizelos.  You attempted to
foment an uprising in Naxos because you foresaw the trouble it would
bring between two of the Allied powers—between Italy and Greece!

"Also you conceived and encouraged a plot to attempt the capture of
yourself and your wife because you believed that Greece, although now
rid of you, would resent such an attempt; and that chivalrous America
would be shocked at the kidnaping of a woman—even such a notorious one
as your Hohenzollern wife."

He eyed him for a moment: "You _are_ the cheapest back-stairs scullion
who ever grafted, Tino," he said.  "But remember this little couplet the
next time you go gaily grafting:

    "’Grecian gift and Spanish fig
    Help the fool his grave to dig!’"


"That’s the motto of the Ægean League!" burst out the queen in a white
hot fury.

"It is, madame," returned Raoul, pleasantly.

Then he placed the other foot on the floor and got up leisurely from his
seat on the table.

"You’re all free to go," he said carelessly.

A moment of suspense, then the boche herd scrambled to its feet and
rushed for the nearest exit.  And Raoul came over to where I stood
beside Thusis with Smith and Clelia beside me.

"All their weapons are locked up in the cellar," he said, laughing; "let
them look for them.  Also I have all their documents packed up.  We’re
through with them," he added, smiling at Thusis.

But there was a thunder cloud on her white brow:

"Are we not going to secure and crate the kings, Raoul?" she demanded.
"Do you and Josephine fail me, now?"

"Duchess," he said smilingly, "news came to-night—a real communication
from Monsieur Venizelos."

"_How_ could it come?" I asked.

"The Pass is open," he replied serenely.  "And," turning to Thusis, "so
is the road to France.  And we should travel it this night unless we
wish to see our papers taken from us and our persons subjected to arrest
by these somewhat singular Swiss gendarmes."

"What did Monsieur Venizelos say?" insisted Thusis, tears of
disappointment and vexation shining in her gray eyes.

"The letter is here,"—Raoul touched his breast pocket—"at the disposal
of her grace the Duchess of Naxos——"

"_Tell_ me!" cried Thusis, angrily, "and let my ’grace’ go to the
devil!"

"Monsieur Venizelos warns us of Tino’s forgery. We are _not_ to touch
these kings: we are _not_ to proclaim Naxos an Italian Duchy and you its
hereditary ruler."

There was a painful silence.

Very slowly Thusis turned and looked at me.  And I remembered then what
I had said to her about the purity and unselfishness of justifiable
revolutions.

And now I realized that part of this revolution in Naxos was the
restoration of an ancient Duchy and of a family as ancient, embodied in
this young girl before me.

At that moment Tino came lurching into the room followed by the queen,
and presently by the majority of the huns in the house-party.

"Somebody has been through my luggage!" he barked.  "Now I’m damned if I
put up with that——"

Raoul still held one of his pistols in his hand and Tino’s bloodshot
eyes fell on it.

"Oh, very well," he said, turning on his heel.

The queen, pallid and ghastly with fury, faced us a moment:

"You’ll all pay this reckoning!" she whispered,—"every one of you!"

"Madame," said Raoul gaily, "the Pass is open. And really very wonderful
news has come through. But I’m afraid you don’t like Yankees, and it
won’t interest you to hear that the Yankee General Pershing has wiped
out the St. Mihiel salient, and the guns of Metz are saluting the
event."

"Lies!" she retorted; "Yankee lies!"  She bit her lip, glared at us all,
turned her Hohenzollern back on us.  Behind her stood the huddled huns,
sullen, enraged, baffled in their headlong rush to find weapons for
avenging Prussian "honor."

They were quite helpless although outnumbering us; and they seemed to
realize it.

Raoul, watching them, passed his pistols to me and walking coolly in
among them and shoving the Admiral and Von Dungheim out of his way, went
to the kitchen.  Josephine had wrung out the disinfected garments of the
Bolsheviki.  But they were still steaming when Raoul unlocked their door
and flinging the clothing at them, bade them dress and depart.

"The Pass is open," he said.  "It’s a summer night and you won’t take
cold.  Get into those things and get out of this house!  And," he added,
"you ought to be obliged for what I’ve done to you."

When Raoul came back the huns had retired to their several apartments;
Smith and Clelia stood by the window whispering together; Thusis was
absently looking over the letter from Monsieur Venizelos; and I leaned
in the doorway gazing out at the high stars above the disfigured Bec de
l’Empereur.

"Nature pulled his nose and twisted it, too," murmured Raoul, passing
me.  Then he said aloud:

"It really is not healthy for us here any longer. The Swiss gendarmes
will arrive in the morning. I have held the wagon that penetrated the
Pass. It’s waiting for us.  So if you’ll be kind enough to pack your
luggage——"

"Are you going?" I asked, appalled.

"We must," said Raoul gaily.  "And I regret to say that I think you and
Mr. Smith had better come with us."

I shrugged my shoulders.

"It’s too bad to have done this to you," said Raoul, "but we couldn’t
very well avoid it.  You had better cross with us into France until this
blows over.  The boche are sure to raise a terrific row; and the Swiss
are mortally afraid of invasion.  So if you remain you’ll be
annoyed—held for examination—possibly imprisoned.  But they won’t
confiscate your estate: you know too much about the Swiss Government’s
cognizance of these hun conspirators, and their use of neutral soil."

I scarcely heard him; I was looking at Thusis who stood bending over the
music-box and studying the disks lying there.

"Could I help you to pack up?" insisted Raoul.

"Thanks; I shall remain here," said I quietly.

At that moment the door burst open and Puppsky, his clothing still
steaming in spots, rushed in upon us followed by Wildkatz in similar and
vaporous attire:

"I been robbed!" yelled Puppsky.  "All my papers und evertings it bass
been robbed me alretty!"

Raoul shot a contemptuous glance at the chattering pair of Reds: "I
haven’t bothered about _your_ papers," he said.

"Did I say you done it!  No, I did not say you done!" shouted Puppsky.
"I see this here Countess hanging around by the room of comrade
Wildkatz. What for iss she in this, I ask it?  She iss who, perhaps?  I
think she got my papers also comrade Wildkatz he also believes it——"

"Go and ask her!" said Raoul bluntly.

When they were gone Smith turned from the window where he had been
whispering with Clelia:

"It’s quite _en règle_," he said coolly.  "The Countess Manntrapp is in
the employment of the Siberian government.  She came here to get what
she wanted and report on these Reds.  She left for the Pass an hour ago,
on foot."

The unseen web in the center of which I had unwittingly stood for so
long suddenly became partly visible to me.

Raoul laughed.  "It’s really a pity," he remarked to me, "that we can’t
catch and box up these kings and take them along with us.  But Venizelos
says no; and he’s always right.  So we had all better pack up and be on
our way."

He went off whistling the "Crack-brain" song. Presently, without
noticing me, Thusis turned from the music-box and walked over to where
her sister was standing; and I heard her say something about dressing.

I turned away and went silently upstairs to my room, and, closing the
door, seated myself.

The baby-party indeed was ended.



                                 *XXV*

                         *THE DUCHESS OF NAXOS*


I was still sitting there when somebody knocked, and, supposing it to be
Smith, I said, "come in."

Thusis entered, and I rose.  We looked at each other in silence, then I
set a chair for her by my table and she dropped onto it as though tired.

She wore a dark hat and a dark gown which I had never seen.  Also she
was gloved, another phase hitherto unfamiliar to me.  And her beauty
almost hurt me.

"You are not going with us?" she asked in a low voice.

"No."

"Why not?"

"There is no reason why I should go."

"You are not afraid to remain?"

I forced a smile.

"You choose to stay here in this house all alone with these huns?" she
persisted.

"What else is there to do?  Besides, they’ll leave to-morrow."

"And then you’ll be utterly alone here."

I nodded, smiling.

"Won’t you come with us as far as France?"

I thanked her.

"Why won’t you?"

"I think I’d be rather lonelier in France," I said lightly, "than I
might be here."

"Will you be lonely?"

I did not answer.

"When I glanced across the table at her again she had unpinned her hat.
I waited; but she tossed it from her onto my bed.

"Why do you do that?" I asked.

"I shall not leave unless you do," she said serenely.

"That’s nonsense!  I am in no danger!"

"I should be, if I left you alone here."

"In what danger?"

"In danger—of falling a prey to—grief—Michael."

My heart almost stopped: she was looking down at the gloves which she
was slowly stripping from her wrists:

"Danger of grief," she repeated, "of lifelong sorrow—for leaving
you—here—alone....  Because, once, I gave my heart to you...."

"You were only Thusis, then," I said, steadying my voice and senses with
an effort.

"Am I less, now, in your eyes?"  She lifted her head and looked at me.

"You are the Duchess of Naxos."

She smiled faintly: "What was it you once said to me about
revolutions?—about the necessity for purity of motive and absolute
unselfishness for those who revolted against tyranny?"

I was silent.

"Michael?"

"Yes."

"How can I incite my people to revolt unless my motives are _entirely_
free from selfish interest?"

"Are they not?"

"Why do you ask me?  You know that I would be Duchess of Naxos if my
country regains its freedom under the Italian crown."

"Has that influenced you?"

Her candid, sweet gaze met mine: "I think it has."

And, as I said nothing, "I hadn’t quite considered it in that light,"
she said.  "I thought my motives were pure.  Besides, I really am
hereditary Duchess of Naxos—if ever there is to be such a Duchy again."
She laughed a little.  "A phantom ruler in a phantom realm.  It must
amuse you, Michael."

"It may all come to pass," said I.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Monsieur Venizelos does not wish it.  Nor does the King of Italy.  Also
I am afraid that Naxos is really quite contented under the Greek flag,
now that Constantino is exiled and because, moreover, that same flag
flies beside the flags of England, France, and Italy....  No, Michael,
there will be no revolution now in Naxos; no Duchy, no Duchess.... And,"
she rose and looked at me, and stretched out one fair hand, "come into
France with me, Michael.... I can’t leave my heart here with you unless
I stay here, too....  I can’t become disembodied and float off to France
leaving heart and mind and body and soul here—in your arms—in the arms
of the man I—love....  Can I, dear Michael?—_Can_ I my dear lover?—my
dearest—my beloved——"


Her fragrant, flushed face was close against mine when we heard Smith’s
trunk banging in his room and Raoul’s voice: "Easy, _mon vieux_!  _Mon
dieu_, but it’s heavy, your Norwegian-American luggage."

"Darling!" she exclaimed in consternation, "you’re not packed up!
Quick, Michael!  I’ll help you——"

"Thusis, I don’t want this junk!  Do you know what I am going to take
with me?"

"What, darling?"

"My poems to you; the portrait of the Admiral; and my photograph of The
Laughing Girl.... And nothing else whatever."

I picked up the photograph from my dresser as I spoke and slipped it
into my breast pocket.

"Are we to start housekeeping with the portrait of the Admiral and your
heavenly poems of which I never before heard?" she exclaimed, enchanted.

"Not housekeeping," I said smiling, and drawing her into my arms.

"Aren’t we going to keep house, Michael?" she asked, her surprised eyes
uplifted to mine.

"After the war," said I.

For a full minute she stood gazing at me.  Then:

"I understand."  And she offered her lips for the first time to any man.
And for the first time I kissed her.

"Yes," said I gaily, "I join Pershing.  Or the Legion, if the Yankees
won’t take a Chilean——"

Smith rapped loudly on my door:

"Is Thusis there?"

"She is," said I.

"Did she persuade you to come with us?"

"She did."

"Good business!" cried Smith.  "Is your luggage ready?"

"It is."

I handed Thusis my poems, unhooked the portrait of the Admiral, and
tucked it under one arm.

Thusis pinned on her distractingly smart little hat, turned, flung both
arms around my neck.

"There may be the deuce to pay for this in Italy," she whispered.  "Oh,
Michael!  Michael!  I adore you!"

Half way down the corridor a door opened and the queen’s head in curl
papers was thrust out. When her hard eyes fell on us she stiffened for
an instant, then the celebrated Hohenzollern sneer twitched her
features:

"Your _housekeeper_!" she hissed.

And Thusis threw back her beautiful head and the silvery laughter of The
Laughing Girl filled the house with its exquisite melody.

"Oh Michael, Michael!" she said, "they’ll be the death of the world
after all—the boche!—for we’ll all perish of laughter before we’re done
with them!"

And we went gaily on downstairs, my poems clasped to Thusis’ breast, the
Admiral’s portrait under my left arm, and the lovely little hand of
Thusis in mine—for ever, God willing—for ever and a day.



                                THE END





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