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Title: Long Live the King!
Author: Rinehart, Mary Roberts
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LONG LIVE THE KING

By Mary Roberts Rinehart



CONTENTS

I. The Crown Prince runs away

II. And sees the World

III. Disgraced

IV. The Terror

V. At the Riding-School

VI. The Chancellor pays a Visit

VII. Tea in the Schoolroom

VIII. The Letter

IX. A Fine Night

X. The Right to live and love

XI. Rather a Wild Night

XII. Two Prisoners

XIII. In the Park

XIV. Nikky does a Reckless Thin

XV. Father and Daughter

XVI. On the Mountain Road

XVII. The Fortress

XVIII. Old Adelbert

XIX. The Committee of Ten

XX. The Delegation

XXI. As a Man may love a Woman

XXII. At Etzel

XXIII. Nikky Makes a Promise

XXIV. The Birthday

XXV. The Gate of the Moon

XXVI. At the Inn

XXVII. The Little Door

XXVIII. The Crown Prince’s Pilgrimage

XXIX. Old Adelbert the Traitor

XXX. King Karl

XXXI. Let Mettich guard his Treasure

XXXII. Nikky and Hedwig

XXXIII. The Day of the Carnival

XXXIV. The Pirate’s Den

XXXV. The Paper Crown

XXXVI. The King is dead

XXXVII. Long live the King

XXXVIII. In the Road of the Good Children

XXXIX. The Lincoln Penny



LONG LIVE THE KING!



CHAPTER I. THE CROWN PRINCE RUNS AWAY


The Crown Prince sat in the royal box and swung his legs. This was
hardly princely, but the royal legs did not quite reach the floor from
the high crimson-velvet seat of his chair.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto was bored. His royal robes, consisting of
a pair of blue serge trousers, a short Eton jacket, and a stiff, rolling
collar of white linen, irked him.

He had been brought to the Opera House under a misapprehension. His
aunt, the Archduchess Annunciata, had strongly advocated “The Flying
Dutchman,” and his English governess, Miss Braithwaite, had read him
some inspiring literature about it. So here he was, and the Flying
Dutchman was not ghostly at all, nor did it fly. It was, from the
royal box, only too plainly a ship which had length and height, without
thickness. And instead of flying, after dreary aeons of singing, it was
moved off on creaky rollers by men whose shadows were thrown grotesquely
on the sea backing.

The orchestra, assisted by a bass solo and intermittent thunder in the
wings, was making a deafening din. One of the shadows on the sea backing
took out its handkerchief and wiped its nose.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto looked across at the other royal box, and
caught his Cousin Hedwig’s eye. She also had seen the handkerchief;
she took out her own scrap of linen, and mimicked the shadow. Then, Her
Royal Highness the Archduchess Annunciata being occupied with the storm,
she winked across at Prince Ferdinand William Otto.

In the opposite box were his two cousins, the Princesses Hedwig and
Hilda, attended by Hedwig’s lady in waiting. When a princess of the
Court becomes seventeen, she drops governesses and takes to ladies in
waiting. Hedwig was eighteen. The Crown Prince liked Hedwig better than
Hilda. Although she had been introduced formally to the Court at the
Christmas-Eve ball, and had been duly presented by her grandfather,
the King, with the usual string of pearls and her own carriage with the
spokes of the wheels gilded halfway, only the King and Prince Ferdinand
William Otto had all-gold wheels,--she still ran off now and then to
have tea with the Crown Prince and Miss Braithwaite in the schoolroom at
the Palace; and she could eat a great deal of bread-and-butter.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto winked back at the Princess Hedwig. And
just then--“Listen, Otto,” said the Archduchess, leaning forward. “The
‘Spinning Song’--is it not exquisite?”

“They are only pretending to spin,” remarked Prince Ferdinand William
Otto.

Nevertheless he listened obediently. He rather liked it. They had not
fooled him at all. They were not really spinning,--any one could see
that, but they were sticking very closely to their business of each
outsinging the other, and collectively of drowning out the orchestra.

The spinning chorus was followed by long and tiresome solos. The Crown
Prince yawned again, although it was but the middle of the afternoon.
Catching Hedwig’s eye, he ran his fingers up through his thick yellow
hair and grinned. Hedwig blushed. She had confided to him once, while
they were walking in the garden at the summer palace, that, she was
thinking of being in love with a young lieutenant who was attached to
the King’s suite. The Prince who was called Otto, for short, by the
family, because he actually had eleven names--the Prince had been much
interested. For some time afterward he had bothered Miss Braithwaite to
define being in love, but he had had no really satisfactory answer.

In pursuance of his quest for information, he had grown quite friendly
with the young officer, whose name was Larisch, and had finally asked to
have him ride with him at the royal riding-school. The grim old King had
granted the request, but it had been quite fruitless so far after all.
Lieutenant Larisch only grew quite red as to the ears, when love was
mentioned, although he appeared not unwilling to hear Hedwig’s name.

The Crown Prince had developed a strong liking for the young officer.
He assured Hedwig one time when she came to tea that when he was king
he would see that she married the lieutenant. But Hedwig was much
distressed.

“I don’t want him that way,” she said. “Anyhow, I shall probably have to
marry some wretch with ears that stick out and a bad temper. I dare say
he’s selected already. As to Lieutenant Larisch, I’m sure he’s in love
with Hilda. You should see the way he stares at her.”

“Pish!” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto over his cup. “Hilda is not
as pretty as you are. And Nikky and I talk about you frequently.”

“Nikky” was the officer. The Crown Prince was very informal with the
people he liked.

“Good gracious!” exclaimed the Princess Hedwig, coloring. “And what do
you say?”

Miss Braithwaite having left the room, Prince Ferdinand William Otto
took another lump of sugar. “Say? Oh, not much, you know. He asks how
you are, and I tell him you are well, and that you ate thirteen pieces
of bread at tea, or whatever it may have been. The day Miss Braithwaite
had the toothache, and you and I ate the fruit-cake her sister had sent
from England, he was very anxious. He said we both deserved to be ill.”

The Princess Hedwig had been blushing uncomfortably, but now she paled.
“He dared to say that?” she stormed. “He dared!” And she had picked up
her muff and gone out in a fine temper.

Only--and this was curious--by the next day she had forgiven the
lieutenant, and was angry at Ferdinand William Otto. Women are very
strange.

So now Ferdinand William Otto ran his fingers through his fair hair;
which was a favorite gesture of the lieutenant’s, and Hedwig blushed.
After that she refused to look across at him, but sat staring fixedly
at the stage, where Frau Hugli, in a short skirt, a black velvet bodice,
and a white apron, with two yellow braids over her shoulders, was
listening with all the coyness of forty years and six children at home
to the love-making of a man in a false black beard.

The Archduchess, sitting well back, was nodding. Just outside the royal
box, on the red-velvet sofa, General Mettlich, who was the Chancellor,
and had come because he had been invited and stayed outside because he
said he liked to hear music, not see it, was sound asleep. His martial
bosom, with its gold braid, was rising and falling peacefully. Beside
him lay the Prince’s crown, a small black derby hat.

The Princess Hilda looked across, and smiled and nodded at Ferdinand
William Otto. Then she went back to the music; she held the score in
her hand and followed it note by note. She was studying music, and her
mother, who was the Archduchess, was watching her. But now and then,
when her mother’s eyes were glued to the stage, Hilda stole a glance
at the upper balconies where impecunious young officers leaned over the
rail and gazed at her respectfully.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto considered it all very wearisome. If one
could only wander around the corridor or buy a sandwich from the stand
at the foot of the great staircase--or, better still, if one could only
get to the street, alone, and purchase one of the fig women that Miss
Braithwaite so despised! The Crown Prince felt in his pocket, where his
week’s allowance of pocket-money lay comfortably untouched.

The Archduchess, shielded by the velvet hangings with the royal arms on
them, was now quite comfortably asleep. From the corridor came sounds
indicating that the Chancellor preferred making noises to listening
to them. There were signs on the stage that Frau Hugli, braids, six
children, and all, was about to go into the arms of the man with the
false beard.

The Crown Prince meditated. He could go out quickly, and be back before
they knew it. Even if he only wandered about the corridor, it would
stretch his short legs. And outside it was a fine day. It looked already
like spring.

With the trepidation of a canary who finds his cage door open, and,
hopping to the threshold, surveys the world before venturing to explore
it, Prince Ferdinand William Otto rose to his feet, tiptoed past the
Archduchess Annunciata, who did not move, and looked around him from the
doorway.

The Chancellor slept. In the royal dressing-room behind the box a lady
in waiting was sitting and crocheting. She did not care for opera.
A maid was spreading the royal ladies’ wraps before the fire. The
princesses had shed their furred carriage boots just inside the door.
They were in a row, very small and dainty.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto picked up his hat and concealed it by his
side. Then nonchalantly, as if to stretch his legs by walking ten feet
up the corridor and back, he passed the dressing-room door. Another
moment, and he was out of sight around a bend of the passageway, and
before him lay liberty.

Not quite! At the top of the private staircase reserved for the royal
family a guard commonly stood. He had moved a few feet from his post,
however, and was watching the stage through the half-open door of a
private loge. His rifle, with its fixed bayonet, leaned against the
stair-rail.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto passed behind him with outward calmness.
At the top of the public staircase, however, he hesitated. Here,
everywhere, were brass-buttoned officials of the Opera House. A
garderobe woman stared at him curiously. There was a noise from the
house, too,--a sound of clapping hands and “bravos.” The little Prince
looked at the woman with appeal in his eyes. Then, with his heart
thumping, he ran past her, down the white marble staircase, to where the
great doors promised liberty.

Olga, the wardrobe woman, came out from behind her counter, and stood
looking down the marble staircase after the small flying figure.

“Blessed Saints!” she said, wondering. “How much that child resembled
His Royal Highness!”

The old soldier who rented opera glasses at the second landing, and who
had left a leg in Bosnia, leaned over the railing. “Look at that!”
 he exclaimed. “He will break a leg, the young rascal! Once I could
have--but there, he is safe! The good God watches over fools and
children.”

“It looked like the little Prince,” said the wardrobe woman. “I have
seen him often--he has the same bright hair.”

But the opera-glass man was not listening. He had drawn a long sausage
from one pocket and a roll from the other, and now, retiring to a far
window, he stood placidly eating--a bite of sausage, a bite of bread.
His mind was in Bosnia, with his leg. And because old Adelbert’s mind
was in Bosnia, and because one hears with the mind, and not with the
ear, he did not hear the sharp question of the sentry who ran down the
stairs and paused for a second at the cloak-room. Well for Olga, too,
that old Adelbert did not hear her reply.

“He has not passed here,” she said, with wide and honest eyes; but with
an ear toward old Adelbert. “An old gentleman came a moment ago and got
a sandwich, which he had left in his overcoat. Perhaps this is whom you
are seeking?”

The sentry cursed, and ran down the staircase, the nails in his shoes
striking sharply on the marble.

At the window, old Adelbert cut off another slice of sausage with his
pocket-knife and sauntered back to his table of opera glasses at the
angle of the balustrade. The hurrying figure of the sentry below caught
his eye. “Another fool!” he grumbled, looking down. “One would think new
legs grew in place of old ones, like the claws of the sea-creatures!”

But Olga of the cloak-room leaned over her checks, with her lips curved
up in a smile. “The little one!” she thought. “And such courage! He
will make a great king! Let him have his prank like the other children,
and--God bless him and keep him!”



CHAPTER II. AND SEES THE WORLD


The Crown Prince was just a trifle dazzled by the brilliance of his
success. He paused for one breathless moment under the porte-cochere of
the opera house; then he took a long breath and turned to the left.
For he knew that at the right, just around the corner; were the royal
carriages, with his own drawn up before the door, and Beppo and Hans
erect on the box, their haughty noses red in the wind, for the early
spring air was biting.

So he turned to the left, and was at once swallowed up in the street
crowd. It seemed very strange to him. Not that he was unaccustomed to
crowds. Had he not, that very Christmas, gone shopping in the city,
accompanied only by one of his tutors and Miss Braithwaite, and bought
for his grandfather, the King, a burnt-wood box, which might hold either
neckties or gloves, and for his cousins silver photograph frames?

But this was different, and for a rather peculiar reason. Prince
Ferdinand William Otto had never seen the back of a crowd! The public
was always lined up, facing him, smiling and bowing and God-blessing
him. Small wonder he thought of most of his future subjects as being
much like the ship in the opera, meant only to be viewed from the front.
Also, it was surprising to see how stiff and straight their backs were.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto had never known that backs could be so
rigid. Those with which he was familiar had a way of drooping forward
from the middle of the spine up. It was most interesting.

The next hour was full of remarkable things. For one, he dodged behind
a street-car and was almost run over by a taxicab. The policeman on the
corner came out, and taking Ferdinand William Otto by the shoulder, gave
him a talking-to and a shaking. Ferdinand William Otto was furious, but
policy kept him silent; which proves conclusively that the Crown Prince
had not only initiative--witness his flight--but self-control and
diplomacy. Lucky country, to have in prospect such a king!

But even royalty has its weaknesses. At the next corner Ferdinand
William Otto stopped and invested part of his allowance in the forbidden
fig lady, with arms and legs of dates, and eyes of cloves. He had wanted
one of these ever since he could remember, but Miss Braithwaite had
sternly refused to authorize the purchase. In fact, she had had one of
the dates placed under a microscope, and had shown His Royal Highness a
number of interesting and highly active creatures who made their homes
therein.

His Royal Highness recalled all this with great distinctness, and,
immediately dismissing it from his mind, ate the legs and arms of the
fig woman with enjoyment. Which--not the eating of the legs and arms, of
course, but to be able to dismiss what is unpleasant--is another highly
desirable royal trait.

So far his movements had been swift and entirely objective. But success
rather went to his head. He had never been out alone before. Even at
the summer palace there were always tutors, or Miss Braithwaite, or
an aide-de-camp, or something. He hesitated, took out his small
handkerchief, dusted his shoes with it, and then wiped his face. Behind
was the Opera, looming and gray. Ahead was--the park.

Note the long allee between rows of trees trimmed to resemble walls of
green in summer, and curiously distorted skeletons in winter; note the
coffee-houses, where young officers in uniforms sat under the trees,
reading the papers, and rising to bow with great clanking and much
ceremony as a gold-wheeled carriage or a pretty girl went by.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto had the fulfillment of a great desire
in his small, active mind. This was nothing less than a ride on the
American scenic railroad, which had secured a concession in a far corner
of the park. Hedwig’s lieutenant had described it to him--how one was
taken in a small car to a dizzy height, and then turned loose on a
track which dropped giddily and rose again, which hurled one through
sheet-iron tunnels of incredible blackness, thrust one out over a gorge,
whirled one in mad curves around corners of precipitous heights, and
finally landed one, panting, breathless, shocked, and reeling; but
safe, at the very platform where one had purchased one’s ticket three
eternities, which were only minutes, before.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto had put this proposition, like the fig
woman, to Miss Braithwaite. Miss Braithwaite replied with the sad
history of an English child who had clutched at his cap during a crucial
moment on a similar track at the Crystal Palace in London.

“When they picked him up,” she finished, “every bone in his body was
broken.”

“Every bone?”

“Every bone,” said Miss Braithwaite solemnly.

“The little ones in his ears, and all?”

“Every one,” said Miss Braithwaite, refusing to weaken.

The Crown Prince had pondered. “He must have felt like jelly,” he
remarked, and Miss Braithwaite had dropped the subject.

So now, with freedom and his week’s allowance, except the outlay for the
fig woman, in his pocket, Prince Ferdinand William Otto started for the
Land of Desire. The allee was almost deserted. It was the sacred hour
of coffee. The terraces were empty, but from the coffee-houses along the
drive there came a cheerful rattle of cups, a hum of conversation.

As the early spring twilight fell, the gas-lamps along the allee, always
burning, made a twin row of pale stars ahead. At the end, even as the
wanderer gazed, he saw myriads of tiny red, white, and blue lights,
rising high in the air, outlining the crags and peaks of the sheet-iron
mountain which was his destination. The Land of Desire was very near!

There came to his ears, too, the occasional rumble that told of some
palpitating soul being at that moment hurled and twisted and joyously
thrilled, as per the lieutenant’s description.

Now it is a strange thing, but true, that one does not reach the Land
of Desire alone; because the half of pleasure is the sharing of it with
someone else, and the Land of Desire, alone, is not the Land of Desire
at all. Quite suddenly, Prince Ferdinand William Otto discovered that he
was lonely. He sat down on the curb under the gas-lamp and ate the fig
woman’s head, taking out the cloves, because he did not like cloves.
At that moment there was a soft whirring off to one side of him, and
a yellow bird, rising and failing erratically on the breeze, careened
suddenly and fell at his feet.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto bent down and picked it up. It was a small
toy aeroplane, with yellow silk planes, guy-ropes of waxed thread, and a
wooden rudder, its motive power vested in a tightly twisted rubber.
One of the wings was bent. Ferdinand William Otto straightened it, and
looked around for the owner.

A small boy was standing under the next gas-lamp. “Gee!” he said in
English. “Did you see it go that time?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto eyed the stranger. He was about his own
age, and was dressed in a short pair of corduroy trousers, much bloomed
at the knee, a pair of yellow Russia-leather shoes that reached well to
his calves, and, over all, a shaggy white sweater, rolling almost to his
chin. On the very back of his head he had the smallest cap that Prince
Ferdinand William Otto had ever seen.

Now, this was exactly the way in which the Crown Prince had always
wished to dress. He was suddenly conscious of the long trousers on his
own small legs, of the ignominy of his tailless Eton jacket and stiff,
rolling collar, of the crowning disgrace of his derby hat. But the
lonely feeling had gone from him.

“This is the best time for flying,” he said, in his perfect English.
“All the exhibition flights are at sundown.”

The boy walked slowly over and stood looking down at him. “You ought
to see it fly from the top of Pike’s Peak!” he remarked. He had caught
sight of the despised derby, and his eyes widened, but with instinctive
good-breeding he ignored it. “That’s Pike’s Peak up there.”

He indicated the very top of the Land of Desire. The Prince stared up.

“How does one get up?” he queried.

“Ladders. My father’s the manager. He lets me up sometimes.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto stared with new awe at the boy. He found
the fact much more remarkable than if the stranger had stated that his
father was the King of England. Kings were, as you may say, directly in
Prince Ferdinand William Otto’s line, but scenic railroads--

“I had thought of taking a journey on it,” he said, after a second’s
reflection. “Do you think your father will sell me a ticket?”

“Billy Grimm will. I’ll go with you.”

The Prince rose with alacrity. Then he stopped. He must, of course, ask
the strange boy to be his guest. But two tickets! Perhaps his allowance
was not sufficient.

“I must see first how much it costs,” he said with dignity.

The other boy laughed. “Oh, gee! You come with me. It won’t cost
anything,” he said, and led the way toward the towering lights.

For Bobby Thorpe to bring a small boy to ride with him was an everyday
affair. Billy Grimm, at the ticket-window, hardly glanced at the boy who
stood, trembling with anticipation, in the shadow of the booth.

The car came, and they climbed in. Perhaps, as they moved off, Prince
Ferdinand William Otto had a qualm, occasioned by the remembrance of the
English child who had met an untimely end; but if he did, he pluckily
hid it.

“Put your lid on the floor of the car,” said Bobby Thorpe’ depositing
his own atom there. “Father says, if you do that; you’re perfectly
safe.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto divined that this referred to his hat, and
drew a small breath of relief. And then they were off, up an endless,
clicking roadway, where at the top the car hung for a breathless second
over the gulf below; then, fairly launched, out on a trestle, with the
city far beneath them, and only the red, white, and blue lights for
company; and into a tunnel, filled with roaring noises and swift
moving shadows. Then came the end of all things a flying leap down, a
heart-breaking, delirious thrill, an upward sweep just as the strain was
too great for endurance.

“Isn’t it bully?” shouted the American boy against the onrush of the
wind.

“Fine!” shrieked His Royal Highness, and braced himself for another dip
into the gulf.

Above the roaring of the wind in their ears, neither child had heard
the flying feet of a dozen horses coming down the allee. They never knew
that a hatless young lieutenant, white-lipped with fear, had checked his
horse to its haunches at the ticket-booth, and demanded to know who was
in the Land of Desire.

“Only the son of the manager, and a boy friend of his,” replied Billy
Grimm, in what he called the lingo of the country. “What’s wrong? Lost
anybody?”

But Hedwig’s lieutenant had wheeled his horse without a word, and,
jumping him aver the hedge of the allee, was off in a despairing search
of the outskirts of the park, followed by his cavalrymen.

As the last horse leaped the hedge and disappeared, the car came to a
stop at the platform. Quivering, Prince Ferdinand William Otto reached
down for the despised hat.

“Would you like to go around again?” asked Bobby, quite casually.

His Highness gasped with joy. “If--if you would be so kind!” he said.

And at the lordly wave of Bobby’s hand, the car moved on.



CHAPTER III. DISGRACED


At eight o’clock that evening the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto
approached the Palace through the public square. He approached it
slowly, for two reasons. First, he did not want to go back. Second, he
was rather frightened. He had an idea that they would be disagreeable.

There seemed to be a great deal going on at the palace. Carriages
were rolling in under the stone archway and, having discharged their
contents, mostly gentlemen in uniform, were moving off with a thundering
of hoofs that reechoed from the vaulted roof of the entrance. All the
lights were on in the wing where his grandfather, the King, lived alone.
As his grandfather hated lights, and went to bed early, Prince Ferdinand
William Otto was slightly puzzled.

He stood in the square and waited for a chance to slip in unobserved.

He was very dirty. His august face was streaked with soot, and his
august hands likewise. His small derby hat was carefully placed on the
very back of his head at the angle of the American boy’s cap. As his
collar had scratched his neck, he had, at Bobby’s suggestion, taken it
off and rolled it up. He decided, as he waited in the square, to put it
on again. Miss Braithwaite was very peculiar about collars.

Came a lull in the line of carriages. Prince Ferdinand William Otto took
a long breath and started forward. As he advanced he stuck his hands in
his pockets and swaggered a trifle. It was, as nearly as possible, an
exact imitation of Bobby Thorpe’s walk. And to keep up his courage, he
quoted that young gentleman’s farewell speech to himself: “What d’ you
care? They won’t eat you, will they?”

At the entrance to the archway stood two sentries. They stood as if they
were carved out of wood. Only their eyes moved. And within, in the court
around which the Palace was built, were the King’s bodyguards. Mostly
they sat on a long bench and exchanged conversation, while one of them
paced back and forth, his gun over his shoulder, in front of them.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto knew them all. More than once he had
secured cigarettes from Lieutenant Larisch and dropped them from one of
his windows, which were just overhead. They would look straight ahead
and not see them, until the officer’s back was turned. Then one would be
lighted and passed along the line. Each man would take one puff and pass
it on behind his back. It was great fun.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto stood in the shadows and glanced across.
The sentries stood like wooden men, but something was wrong in the
courtyard inside. The guards were all standing, and there seemed to be
a great many of them. And just as he had made up his mind to take the
plunge, so to speak, a part of his own regiment of cavalry came out from
the courtyard with a thundering of hoofs, wheeled at the street, and
clattered off.

Very unusual, all of it.

The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto felt in his pocket for his
handkerchief, and, moistening a corner with his tongue, wiped his face.
Then he wiped his shoes. Then, with his hands in his trousers pockets,
he sauntered into the light.

Now sentries are trained to be impassive. The model of a sentry is a
wooden soldier. A really good sentry does not sneeze or cough on duty.
Did any one ever see a sentry, for instance, wipe his nose? Or twirl his
thumbs? Or buy a newspaper? Certainly not.

Therefore the two sentries made no sign when they saw Ferdinand William
Otto approaching. But one of them forgot to bring his musket to salute.
He crossed himself instead. And something strained around the other
sentry’s lower jaw suddenly relaxed into a smile as His Royal Highness
drew a hand from its refuge and saluted. He glanced first at one, then
at the other, rather sheepishly, hesitated between them, clapped his hat
on more securely, and marched in.

“The young rascal!” said the second sentry to himself. And by turning
his head slightly--for a sentry learns to see all around like a horse,
without twisting his neck--he watched the runaway into the palace.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto went up the stone staircase. Here and
there he passed guards who stared and saluted. Had he not been obsessed
with the vision of Miss Braithwaite, he would have known that relief
followed in his wake. Messengers clattered down the staircase to the
courtyard. Other messengers, breathless and eager, flew to that lighted
wing where the Council sat, and where the old King, propped up in bed,
waited and fought terror.

The Archduchess Annunciata was with her father. Across the corridor the
Council debated in low tones.

“Tell me again,” said the King. “How in God’s name could it have
happened? In daylight, and with all of you there!”

“I have told you all I know,” said the Archduchess impatiently. “One
moment he was there. Hedwig and he were making gestures, and I reproved
him. The next he was gone. Hedwig saw him get up and go out. She
thought--”

“Send for Hedwig.”

“She has retired. She was devoted to him, and--”

“Send for her,” said the King shortly.

The Archduchess Annunciata went out. The old King lay back, and
his eyes, weary with many years of ruling, of disappointments and
bitterness, roved the room. They came to rest at last on the photograph
of a young man, which stood on his bedside, table.

He was a very young man, in a uniform. He was boyish, and smiling. There
was a dog beside him, and its head was on his knee. Wherever one stood
in the room, the eyes of the photograph gazed at one. The King knew
this, and because he was quite old, and because there were few people to
whom a king dares to speak his inmost thoughts, he frequently spoke to
the photograph.

The older he grew, the more he felt, sometimes, as though it knew what
he said. He had begun to think that death, after all, is not the end,
but only the beginning of things. This rather worried him, too, at
times. What he wanted was to lay things down, not to take them up.

“If they’ve got him,” he said to the picture, “it is out of my hands,
and into yours, my boy.”

Much of his life had been spent in waiting, in waiting for a son, in
waiting for that son to grow to be a man, in waiting while that son in
his turn loved and married and begot a man-child, in waiting, when that
son had died a violent death, for the time when his tired hands could
relinquish the scepter to his grandchild.

He folded his old hands and waited. From across the corridor came the
low tones of the Council. A silent group of his gentlemen stood in the
vestibule outside the door. The King lay on his bed and waited.

Quite suddenly the door opened. The old man turned his head. Just inside
stood a very dirty small boy.

The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto was most terribly frightened.
Everything was at sixes and sevens. Miss Braithwaite had been crying her
head off, and on seeing him had fallen in a faint. Not that he thought
it was a real faint. He had unmistakably seen her eyelids quiver. And
when she came to she had ordered him no supper, and four pages of German
translation, and to go to bed at seven o’clock instead of seven-thirty
for a week. All the time crying, too. And then she had sent him to his
grandfather, and taken aromatic ammonia.

His grandfather said nothing, but looked at him.

“Here--here I am, sir,” said the Crown Prince from the door.

The King drew a long breath. But the silence persisted. Prince Ferdinand
William Otto furtively rubbed a dusty shoe against the back of a
trousers leg.

“I’m afraid I’m not very neat, sir,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto,
and took a step forward. Until his grandfather commanded him, he could
not advance into the room.

“Come here,” said the King.

He went to the side of the bed.

“Where have you been?”

“I’m afraid--I ran away, sir.”

“Why?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto considered. It was rather an awful moment.
“I don’t exactly know. I just thought I would.”

You see, it was really extremely difficult. To say that he was tired
of things as they were would sound ungrateful. Would, indeed, be most
impolite. And then, exactly why had he run away?

“Suppose,” said the King, “you draw up a chair and tell me about it.
We’d better talk it over, I think.”

His Royal Highness drew up a chair, and sat on it. His feet not reaching
the floor, he hooked them around the chair-rung. This was permissible
because, first, the King could not see them from his bed. Second, it
kept his knees from shaking.

“Probably you are aware,” said the King, “that you have alarmed a great
many people.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t think--”

“A prince’s duty is to think.”

“Although,” observed His Royal Highness, “I don’t really believe Miss
Braithwaite fainted. She may have thought she fainted, but her eyelids
moved.”

“Where did you go?”

“To the park, sir. I--I thought I’d like to see the park by myself.”

“Go on.”

“It’s very hard to enjoy things with Miss Braithwaite, sir. She does not
really enjoy the things I like. Nikky and I--”

“By ‘Nikky’ you mean Lieutenant Larisch?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go on.”

“We like the same things, sir--the Pike’s-Peak-or-Bust, and all that.”

The King raised himself on his elbow. “What was that?” he demanded.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto blushed, and explained. It was Bobby’s
name for the peak at the top of the Scenic Railway. He had been on
the railway. He had been--his enthusiasm carried him away. His cheeks
flushed. He sat forward on the edge of his chair, and gesticulated. He
had never had such a good time in his life.

“I was awfully happy, sir,” he ended. “It feels like flying, only safer.
And the lights are pretty. It’s like fairyland. There were two or three
times when it seemed as if we’d turn over, or leap the track. But we
didn’t.”

The King lay back and thought. More than anything in the world he loved
this boy. But the occasion demanded a strong hand. “You were happy,”
 he said. “You were disobedient, you were causing grave anxiety and
distress--and you were happy! The first duty of a prince is to his
country. His first lesson is to obey laws. He must always obey certain
laws. A king is but the servant of his people.”

“Yes, sir,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto.

The old King’s voice was stern. “Some day you will be the King. You
are being trained for that high office now. And yet you would set the
example of insubordination, disobedience, and reckless disregard of the
feelings of others.”

“Yes, sir,” said prince Ferdinand William Otto, feeling very small and
ashamed.

“Not only that. You slipped away. You did not go openly. You sneaked
off, like a thief. Are you proud of it?”

“No, sir.”

“I shall,” said the King, “require no promise from you. Promises are
poor things to hold to. I leave this matter in your own hands, Otto. You
will be punished by Miss Braithwaite, and for the next ten days you will
not visit me. You may go now.”

Otto got off his chair. He was feeling exceedingly crushed. “Good-night,
sir,” he said. And waited for his grandfather to extend his hand. But
the old King lay looking straight ahead, with his mouth set in grim
lines, and his hands folded over his breast.

At the door the Crown Prince turned and bowed. His grandfather’s eyes
were fixed on the two gold eagles over the door, but the photograph on
the table appeared to be smiling at him.



CHAPTER IV. THE TERROR


Until late that night General Mettlich and the King talked together.
The King had been lifted from his bed and sat propped in a great chair.
Above his shabby dressing-gown his face showed gaunt and old. In a
straight chair facing him sat his old friend and Chancellor.

“What it has shown is not entirely bad,” said the King, after a pause.
“The boy has initiative. And he made no attempt at evasion. He is
essentially truthful.”

“What it has also shown, sire, is that no protection is enough. When I,
who love the lad, and would--when I could sleep, and let him get away,
as I did--”

“The truth is,” said the King, “we are both of us getting old.” He
tapped with his gnarled fingers on the blanket that lay over his knees.
“The truth is also,” he observed a moment later, “that the boy has very
few pleasures. He is alone a great deal.”

General Mettlich raised his shaggy head. Many years of wearing a
soldier’s cap had not injured his heavy gray hair. He had bristling
eyebrows, white new, and a short, fighting mustache. When he was
irritated, or disagreed with any one, his eyebrows came down and the
mustache went up.

Many years of association with his king had given him the right to talk
to him as man to man. They even quarreled now and then. It was a brave
man who would quarrel with old Ferdinand II.

So now his eyebrows came down and his mustache went up. “How--alone,
sire?”

“You do not regard that bigoted Englishwoman as a companion, do you?”

“He is attached to her.”

“I’m damned if I know why,” observed the old King. “She doesn’t appear
to have a single human quality.”

Human quality! General Mettlich eyed his king with concern. Since when
had the reigning family demanded human qualities in their governesses?
“She is a thoughtful and conscientious woman, sire,” he said stiffly. It
happened that he had selected her. “She does her duty. And as to the boy
being lonely, he has no time to be lonely. His tutors--”

“How old is he?”

“Ten next month.”

The King said nothing for a time. Then--“It is hard,” he said at
last, “for seventy-four to see with the eyes of ten. As for this
afternoon--why in the name of a thousand devils did they take him to see
the ‘Flying Dutchman’? I detest it.”

“Her Royal Highness--”

“Annunciata is a fool,” said His Majesty. Then dismissing his daughter
with a gesture, “We don’t know how to raise our children here,” he said
impatiently. “The English do better. And even the Germans--”

It is not etiquette to lower one’s eyebrows at a king, and glare. But
General Mettlich did it. He was rather a poor subject. “The Germans have
not our problem, sire,” he said, and stuck up his mustache.

“I’m not going to raise the boy a prisoner,” insisted the King
stubbornly. Kings have to be very stubborn about things. So many people
disapprove of the things they want to do.

Suddenly General Mettlich bent forward and placed a hand on the old
man’s knee. “We shall do well, sire,” he said gravely, “to raise the boy
at all.”

There was a short silence, which the King broke. “What is new?”

“We have broken up the University meetings, but I fancy they go on,
in small groups. I was gratified, however, to observe that a group
of students cheered His Royal Highness yesterday as he rode past the
University buildings.”

“Socialism at twenty,” said the King, “is only a symptom of the unrest
of early adolescence. Even Hubert”--he glanced at the picture--“was
touched with it. He accused me, I recall, of being merely an accident, a
sort of stumbling-block in the way of advanced thought!”

He smiled faintly. Then he sighed. “And the others?” he asked.

“The outlying districts are quiet. So, too, is the city. Too quiet,
sire.”

“They are waiting, of course, for my death,” said the King quietly. “If
only, you were twenty years younger than I am, it would be better.” He
fixed the General with shrewd eyes. “What do those asses of doctors say
about me?”

“With care, sire--”

“Come, now. This is no time for evasion.”

“Even at the best, sire--” He looked very ferocious, and cleared his
throat. He was terribly ashamed that his voice was breaking.. “Even at
the best, but of course they can only give an opinion--”

“Six months?”

“A year, sire.”

“And at the worst!” said the King, with a grim smile. Then; following
his own line of, thought: “But the people love the boy, I think.”

“They do. It is for that reason, sire, that I advise particular
caution.” He hesitated. Then, “Sire,” he said earnestly, “there is
something of which I must speak. The Committee of Ten has organized
again.”

Involuntarily the King glanced at the photograph on the table.

“Forgive me, sire, if I waken bitter memories. But I fear--”

“You fear!” said the King. “Since when have you taken to fearing?”

“Nevertheless,” maintained General Mettlich doggedly, “I fear. This quiet
of the last few months alarms me. Dangerous dogs do not bark. I trust no
one. The very air is full of sedition.”

The King twisted his blue-veined old hands together, but his voice was
quiet. “But why?” he demanded, almost fretfully. “If the people are fond
of the boy, and I think they are, to--to carry him off, or injure him,
would hurt the cause. Even the Terrorists, in the name of a republic,
can do nothing without the people.”

“The mob is a curious thing, sire. You have ruled with a strong hand.
Our people know nothing but to obey the dominant voice. The boy out
of the way, the prospect of the Princess Hedwig on the throne, a few
demagogues in the public squares--it would be the end.”

The King leaned back and closed his eyes. His thin, arched nose looked
pinched. His face was gray.

“All this,” he said, “means what? To make the boy a prisoner, to cut off
his few pleasures, and even then, at any time--”

“Yes, sire,” said Mettlich doggedly. “At any time.”

Outside in the anteroom Lieutenant Nikky Larisch roused himself, yawned,
and looked at his watch. It was after twelve, and he had had a hard day.
He put a velvet cushion behind his head, and resolutely composed himself
to slumber, a slumber in which were various rosy dreams, all centered
about the Princess Hedwig. Dreams are beyond our control.

Therefore a young lieutenant running into debt on his pay may without
presumption dream of a princess.

All through the Palace people were sleeping. Prince Ferdinand William
Otto was asleep, and riding again the little car in the Land of Delight.
So that, turning a corner sharply, he almost fell out of bed.

On the other side of the city the little American boy was asleep also.
At that exact time he was being tucked up by an entirely efficient and
placid-eyed American mother, who felt under his head to see that his ear
was not turned forward. She liked close-fitting ears.

Nobody, naturally, was tucking up Prince Ferdinand William Otto. Or
attending to his ears. But, of course, there were sentries outside his
door, and a valet de chambre to be rung for, and a number of embroidered
eagles scattered about on the curtains and things, and a country
surrounding him which would one day be his, unless--

“At any time,” said General Mettlich, and was grimly silent.

It was really no time for such a speech. But there is never a good time
for bad news.

“Well?” inquired the King, after a time. “You have something to suggest,
I take it.”

The old soldier cleared his throat. “Sire,” he began, “it is said that
a chancellor should have but one passion--his King. I have two: my King
and my country.”

The King nodded gravely. He knew both passions, relied on both. And
found them both a bit troublesome at times!

“Once, some years ago, sire, I came to you with a plan. The Princess
Hedwig was a child then, and his late Royal Highness was--still with
us. For that, and for other reasons, Your Majesty refused to listen.
But things have changed. Between us and revolution there stand only the
frail life of a boy and an army none too large, and already, perhaps,
affected. There is much discontent, and the offspring of discontent is
anarchy.”

The King snarled. But Mettlich had taken his courage in his hands, and
went on. Their neighbor and hereditary foe was Karnia. Could they any
longer afford the enmity of Karnia? One cause of discontent was the
expense of the army, and of the fortifications along the Karnian border.
If Karnia were allied with them, there would be no need of so great
an army. They had the mineral wealth, and Karnia the seaports. The old
dream of the Empire, of a railway to the sea, would be realized.

He pleaded well. The idea was not new. To place the little King Otto IX
on the throne and keep him there in the face of opposition would require
support from outside. Karnia would furnish this support. For a price.

The price was the Princess Hedwig.

Outside, Nikky Larisch rose, stretched, and fell to pacing the floor.
It was one o’clock, and the palace slept. He lighted a cigarette, and
stepping out into a small balcony which overlooked the Square, faced the
quiet night.

“That is my plea, sire,” Mettlich finished. “Karl of Karnia is
anxious to marry, and looks this way. To allay discontent and growing
insurrection, to insure the boy’s safety and his throne, to beat
our swords into ploughshares”--here he caught the King’s scowl; and
added--“to a certain extent, and to make us a commercial as well as
a military nation, surely, sire, it gains much for us, and loses us
nothing.”

“But our independence!” said the King sourly.

However, he did not dismiss the idea. The fright of the afternoon
had weakened him, and if Mettlich were right--he had what the King
considered a perfectly damnable habit of being right--the Royalist party
would need outside help to maintain the throne.

“Karnia!” he said. “The lion and the lamb, with the lamb inside the
lion! And in, the mean time the boy--”

“He should be watched always.”

“The old she-dragon, the governess--I suppose she is trustworthy?”

“Perfectly. But she is a woman.”

“He has Lussin.” Count Lussin was the Crown Prince’s aide-de-camp.

“He needs a man, sire,” observed the Chancellor rather tartly.

The King cleared his throat. “This youngster he is so fond of, young
Larisch, would he please you better?” he asked, with ironic deference.

“A good boy, sire. You may recall that his mother--” He stopped.

Perhaps the old King’s memory was good. Perhaps there was a change in
Mettlich’s voice.

“A good boy?”

“None better, sire. He is devoted to His Royal Highness. He is still
much of a lad himself. I have listened to them talking. It is a question
which is the older! He is outside now.”

“Bring him in. I’ll have a look at him.”

Nikky, summoned by a chamberlain, stopped inside the doorway and bowed
deeply.

“Come here,” said the King.

He advanced.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three, sire.”

“In the Grenadiers, I believe.”

Nikky bowed.

“Like horses?” said the King suddenly.

“Very much, sire.”

“And boys?”

“I--some boys, sire.”

“Humph! Quite right, too. Little devils, most of them.” He drew himself
tap in his chair. “Lieutenant Larisch,” he said, “His Royal Highness the
Crown Prince has taken a liking to you. I believe it is to you that our
fright to-day is due.”

Nikky’s heart thumped. He went rather pale.

“It is my intention, Lieutenant Larisch, to place the Crown Prince in
your personal charge. For reasons I need not go into, it is imperative
that he take no more excursions alone. These are strange times, when
sedition struts in Court garments, and kings may trust neither their
armies nor their subjects. I want,” he said, his tone losing its
bitterness, “a real friend for the little Crown Prince. One who is both
brave and loyal.”

Afterward, in his small room, Nikky composed a neat, well-rounded
speech, in which he expressed his loyalty, gratitude, and undying
devotion to the Crown Prince. It was an elegant little speech.
Unluckily, the occasion for it had gone by two hours.

“I--I am grateful, sire,” was what he said. “I--” And there he stopped
and choked up. It was rather dreadful.

“I depend on you, Captain Larisch,” said the King gravely, and nodded
his head in a gesture of dismissal. Nikky backed toward the door, struck
a hassock, all but went down, bowed again at the door, and fled.

“A fine lad,” said General Mettlich, “but no talker.”

“All the better,” replied His Majesty. “I am tired of men who talk well.
And”--he smiled faintly--“I am tired of you. You talk too well. You make
me think. I don’t want to think. I’ve been thinking all my life. It is
time to rest, my friend.”



CHAPTER V. AT THE RIDING-SCHOOL


His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto was in
disgrace.

He had risen at six, bathed, dressed, and gone to Mass, in disgrace.
He had breakfasted at seven-thirty on fruit, cereal, and one egg, in
disgrace. He had gone to his study at eight o’clock for lessons, in
disgrace. A long line of tutors came and went all morning, and he worked
diligently, but he was still in disgrace. All morning long and in the
intervals between tutors he had tried to catch Miss Braithwaite’s eye.

Except for the most ordinary civilities, she had refused to look in his
direction. She was correcting an essay in English on Mr. Gladstone,
with a blue pencil, and putting in blue commas every here and there. The
Crown Prince was amazingly weak in commas. When she was all through, she
piled the sheets together and wrote a word on the first page. It might
have been “good.” On the other hand, it could easily have been “poor.”
 The motions of the hand are similar.

At last; in desperation, the Crown Prince deliberately broke off the
point of his pencil, and went to the desk where Miss Braithwaite sat,
monarch of the American pencil-sharpener which was the beloved of his
heart.

“Again!” said Miss Braithwaite shortly. And raised her eyebrows.

“It’s a very soft pencil,” explained the Crown Prince. “When I press
down on it, it--it busts.”

“It what?”

“It busts--breaks.” Evidently the English people were not familiar with
this new and fascinating American word.

He cast a casual glance toward Mr. Gladstone. The word was certainly
“poor.” Suddenly a sense of injustice began to rise in him. He had
worked rather hard over Mr. Gladstone. He had done so because he knew
that Miss Braithwaite considered him the greatest man since Jesus
Christ, and even the Christ had not written “The Influence of Authority
in Matters of Opinion.”

The injustice went to his eyes and made him blink. He had apologized for
yesterday, and explained fully. It was not fair. As to commas, anybody
could put in enough commas.

The French tutor was standing near a photograph of Hedwig, and
pretending not to look at it. Prince Ferdinand William Otto had a
suspicion that the tutor was in love with Hedwig. On one occasion, when
she had entered unexpectedly, he had certainly given out the sentence,
“Ce dragon etait le vieux serpent, la princesse,” instead of “Ce dragon
etait le vieux serpent, le roi.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto did not like the French tutor. His being
silly about Hedwig was not the reason. Even Nikky had that trouble,
and once, when they were all riding together, had said, “Canter on the
snaffle, trot on the curb,” when he meant exactly the opposite. It was
not that. Part of it was because of his legs, which were inclined to
knock at the knees. Mostly it was his eyes, which protruded. “When he
reads my French exercises,” he complained once to Hedwig, “he waves them
around like an ant’s.”

He and Hedwig usually spoke English together. Like most royalties, they
had been raised on languages. It was as much as one’s brains were worth,
sometimes, to try to follow them as they leaped from grammar to grammar.

“Like an aunt’s?” inquired Hedwig, mystified.

“An ant’s. They have eyes on the ends of their feelers, you know.”

But Miss Braithwaite, overhearing, had said that ants have no eyes at
all. She had no imagination.

His taste of liberty had spoiled the Crown Prince for work. Instead of
conjugating a French verb, he made a sketch of the Scenic Railway. He
drew the little car, and two heads looking over the edge, with a sort of
porcupine effect of hairs standing straight up.

“Otto!” said Miss Braithwaite sternly.

Miss Braithwaite did not say “sir” to him or “Your Royal Highness,” like
the tutors. She had taken him from the arms of his mother when he was a
baby, and had taught a succession of nurses how to fix his bottles,
and made them raise the windows when he slept--which was heresy in that
country, and was brought up for discussion in the Parliament. When it
came time for his first tooth, and he was wickedly fretful, and the
doctors had a consultation over him, it was Miss Braithwaite who had
ignored everything they said, and rubbed the tooth through with her
silver thimble. Boiled first, of course.

And when one has cut a Royal Highness’s first tooth, and broken him of
sucking his thumb, and held a cold buttered knife against his bruises
to prevent their discoloring, one does get out of the way of being very
formal with him.

“Otto!” said Miss Braithwaite sternly.

So he went to work in earnest. He worked at a big desk, which had been
his father’s. As a matter of fact, everything in the room was too big
for him. It had not occurred to any one to make any concessions to his
size. He went through life, one may say, with his legs dangling, or
standing on tiptoe to see things.

The suite had been his father’s before him. Even the heavy old rug had
been worn shabby by the scuffing of his father’s feet. On the wall there
hung a picture his father had drawn. It was of a yacht in full sail.
Prince Hubert had been fifteen when he drew it, and was contemplating
abandoning his princely career and running away to be a pirate. As a
matter of fact, the yacht boasted the black flag, as Otto knew quite
well. Nikky had discover it. But none of the grown-ups had recognized
the damning fact. Nikky was not, strictly speaking a grown-up.

The sun came through the deep embrasures of the window and set Prince
Ferdinand William Otto’s feet to wriggling. It penetrated the gloomy
fastnesses of the old room and showed its dingy furniture, its great
desk, its dark velvet portieres, and the old cabinet in which the
Crown Prince kept his toys on the top shelf. He had arranged them there
himself, the ones he was fondest of in the front row, so he could look
up and see them; a drum which he still dearly loved, but which made
Miss Braithwaite’s headache; a locomotive with a broken spring; a
steam-engine which Hedwig had given him, but which the King considered
dangerous, and which had never, therefore, had its baptism of fire; and
a dilapidated and lop-eared cloth dog.

He was exceedingly fond of the dog. For quite a long time he had taken
it to bed with him at night, and put its head on his pillow. It was the
most comforting thing, when the lights were all out. Until he was seven
he had been allowed a bit of glimmer, a tiny wick floating in a silver
dish of lard-oil, for a night-light. But after his eighth birthday that
had been done away with, Miss Braithwaite considering it babyish.

The sun shone in on the substantial but cheerless room; on the picture
of the Duchess Hedwig, untouched by tragedy or grief; on the heavy,
paneled old doors through which, once on a time, Prince Hubert had made
his joyous exits into a world that had so early cast him out; on his
swords, crossed over the fireplace; his light rapier, his heavy cavalry
saber; on the bright head of his little son, around whom already so many
plots and counterplots were centering.

The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto found the sun unsettling.
Besides, he hated verbs. Nouns were different. One could do something
with nouns, although even they had a way of having genders. Into
his head popped a recollection of a delightful pastime of the day
before--nothing more nor less than flipping paper wads at the guard on
the Scenic Railway as the car went past him.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto tore off the corner of a piece of paper,
chewed it deliberately, rounded and hardened it with his royal fingers,
and aimed it at M. Puaux. It struck him in the eye.

Instantly things happened. M. Puaux yelled, and clapped a hand to his
eye. Miss Braithwaite rose. His Royal Highness wrote a rather shaky
French verb, with the wrong termination. And on to this scene came Nikky
for the riding-lesson. Nikky, smiling and tidy, and very shiny as to
riding-boots and things, and wearing white kid gloves. Every one about
a palace wears white kid gloves, except the royalties themselves. It is
extremely expensive.

Nikky surveyed the scene. He had, of course, bowed inside the door, and
all that sort of thing. But Nikky was an informal person, and was quite
apt to bow deeply before his future sovereign, and then poke him in the
chest.

“Well!” said Nikky.

“Good-morning,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, in a small and
nervous voice.

“Nothing wrong, is there?” demanded Nikky.

M. Puaux got out his handkerchief and said nothing violently.

“Otto!” said Miss Braithwaite. “What did you do?”

“Nothing.” He looked about. He was quite convinced that M. Puaux was
what Bobby would have termed a poor sport, and had not played the game
fairly. The guard at the railway, he felt, would not have yelled and
wept. “Oh, well, I threw a piece of paper. That’s all. I didn’t think it
would hurt.”

Miss Braithwaite rose and glanced at the carpet. But Nikky was quick.
Quick and understanding. He put his shiny foot over the paper wad.

“Paper!” said Miss Braithwaite. “Why did you throw paper? And at M.
Puaux?”

“I--just felt like throwing something,” explained His Royal Highness. “I
guess it’s the sun, or something.”

Nikky dropped his glove, and miraculously, when he had picked it up the
little wad was gone.

“For throwing paper, five marks,” said Miss Braithwaite, and put it down
in the book she carried in her pocket. It was rather an awful book.
On Saturdays the King looked it over, and demanded explanations. “For
untidy nails, five marks! A gentleman never has untidy nails, Otto. For
objecting to winter flannels, two marks. Humph! For pocketing sugar from
the tea-tray, ten marks! Humph! For lack of attention during religious
instruction, five marks. Ten off for the sugar, and only five for
inattention to religious instruction! What have you to say, sir?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto looked at Nikky and Nikky looked back.
Then Ferdinand William Otto’s left eyelid drooped. Nikky was astounded.
How was he to know the treasury of strange things that the Crown Prince
had tapped the previous afternoon? But, after a glance around the room,
Nikky’s eyelid drooped also. He slid the paper wad into his pocket.

“I am afraid His Royal Highness has hurt your eye, M. Puaux,” said Miss
Braithwaite. Not with sympathy. She hated tutors.

“Not at all,” said the unhappy young man, testing the eye to discover if
he could see through it. “I am sure His Royal Highness meant no harm.”
 M. Puaux went out, with his handkerchief to his eye. He turned at the
door and bowed, but as no one was paying any attention to him, he made
two bows. One was to Hedwig’s picture.

While Oskar, his valet, put the Crown Prince into riding-clothes, Nikky
and Miss Braithwaite had a talk. Nikky was the only person to whom Miss
Braithwaite really unbent. Once he had written to a friend of his in
China, and secured for her a large box of the best China tea. Miss
Braithwaite only brewed it when the Archduchess made one of her rare
visits to the Crown Prince’s apartment.

But just now their talk was very serious. It began by Nikky’s stating
that she was likely to see him a great deal now, and he hoped she would
not find him in the way. He had been made aide-de-camp to the Crown
Prince, vice Count Lussin, who had resigned on account of illness,
having been roused at daybreak out of a healthy sleep to do it.

Not that Nikky said just that. What he really observed was: “The King
sent for me last night, Miss Braithwaite, and--and asked me to hang
around.”

Thus Nikky, of his sacred trust! None the less sacred to him, either,
that he spoke lightly. He glanced up at the crossed swords, and his eyes
were hard.

And Miss Braithwaite knew. She reached over and put a hand on his arm.
“You and I,” she said. “Out of all the people in this palace, only you
and I! The Archduchess hates him. I see it in her eyes. She can never
forgive him for keeping the throne from Hedwig. The Court? Do they
ever think of the boy, except to dread his minority, with Mettlich in
control? A long period of mourning, a regency, no balls, no gayety that
is all they think of. And whom can we trust? The very guards down below,
the sentries at our doors, how do we know they are loyal?”

“The people love him,” said Nikky doggedly.

“The people! Sheep. I do not trust the people. I do not trust any one. I
watch, but what can I do? The very food we eat--”

“He is coming,” said Nikky softly. And fell to whistling under his
breath.

Together Nikky and Prince Ferdinand William Otto went out and down the
great marble staircase. Sentries saluted. Two flunkies in scarlet
and gold threw open the doors. A stray dog that had wandered into the
courtyard watched them gravely.

“I wish,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, “that I might have a dog.”

“A dog! Why?”

“Well, it would be company. Dogs are very friendly. Yesterday I met a
boy who has a dog. It sleeps on his bed at night.”

“You have a good many things, you know,” Nikky argued. “You’ve got a
dozen horses, for one thing.”

“But a dog’s different.” He felt the difference, but he could not put
it into words. “And I’d rather have only one horse. I’d get better
acquainted with it.”

Nikky looked back. Although it had been the boast of the royal family
for a century that it could go about unattended, that its only danger
was from the overzeal of the people in showing their loyalty, not since
the death of Prince Hubert had this been true in fact. No guards or
soldiers accompanied them, but the secret police were always near at
hand. So Nikky looked, made sure that a man in civilian clothing
was close at their heels, and led the way across the Square to the
riding-school.

A small crowd lined up and watched the passing of the little Prince. As
he passed, men lifted their hats and women bowed. He smiled right and
left, and, took two short steps to one of Nikky’s long ones.

“I have a great many friends,” he said with a sigh of content, as they
neared the riding-school. “I suppose I don’t really need a dog.”

“Look here,” said Nikky, after a pause. He was not very quick in
thinking things out. He placed, as a fact, more reliance on his right
arm than on his brain. But once he had thought a thing out, it
stuck. “Look here, Highness, you didn’t treat your friends very well
yesterday.”

“I know;” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto meekly. But Prince
Ferdinand William Otto had thought out a defense. “I got back all right,
didn’t I?” He considered. “It was worth it. A policeman shook me!”

“Which policeman?” demanded Nikky in a terrible tone, and in his fury
quite forgot the ragging he had prepared for Otto.

“I think I’ll not tell you, if you don’t mind. And I bought a fig lady.
I’ve saved the legs for you.”

Fortune smiled on Nikky that day. Had, indeed, been smiling daily for
some three weeks. Singularly enough, the Princess Hedwig, who had been
placed on a pony at the early age of two, and who had been wont to boast
that she could ride any horse in her grandfather’s stables, was taking
riding-lessons. From twelve to one--which was, also singularly, the time
Prince Ferdinand William Otto and Nikky rode in the ring--the Princess
Hedwig rode also. Rode divinely. Rode saucily. Rode, when Nikky was
ahead, tenderly.

To tell the truth, Prince Ferdinand William Otto rather hoped, this
morning, that Hedwig would not be there. There was a difference in Nikky
when Hedwig was around. When she was not there he would do all sorts
of things, like jumping on his horse while it was going, and riding
backward in the saddle, and so on. He had once even tried jumping on his
horse as it galloped past him, and missed, and had been awfully ashamed
about it. But when Hedwig was there, there was no skylarking. They
rode around, and the riding-master put up jumps and they took them. And
finally Hedwig would get tired, and ask Nikky please to be amusing while
she rested. And he would not be amusing at all. The Crown Prince felt
that she never really saw Nikky at his best.

Hedwig was there. She had on a new habit, and a gardenia in her
buttonhole, and she gave Nikky her hand to kiss, but only nodded to the
Crown Prince.

“Hello, Otto!” she said. “I thought you’d have a ball and chain on your
leg to-day.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my legs,” said Prince Ferdinand William
Otto, staring at the nets habit. “But yours look rather queer.”

Hedwig flushed. The truth was that she was wearing, for the first time,
a cross-saddle habit of coat and trousers. And coat and trousers were
forbidden to the royal women. She eyed Otto with defiance, and turned an
appealing glance to Nikky. But her voice was very dignified.

“I bought them myself,” she said. “I consider it a perfectly modest
costume, and much safer than the other.”

“It is quite lovely--on you, Highness,” said Nikky.

In a stiff chair at the edge of the ring Hedwig’s lady in waiting sat
resignedly. She was an elderly woman, and did not ride. Just now she
was absorbed in wondering what would happen to her when the Archduchess
discovered this new freak of Hedwig’s. Perhaps she would better ask
permission to go into retreat for a time. The Archduchess, who had no
religion herself, approved of it in others. She took a soft rubber from
her pocket, and tried to erase a spot from her white kid gloves.

The discovery that Hedwig had two perfectly good legs rather astounded
Prince Ferdinand William Otto. He felt something like consternation.

“I’ve never seen any one else dressed like that,” he observed, as the
horses were brought up.

Hedwig colored again. She looked like an absurdly pretty boy. “Don’t be
a silly,” she replied, rather sharply. “Every one does it, except here,
where old fossils refuse to think that anything new can be proper.
If you’re going to be that sort of a king when you grow up, I’ll go
somewhere else to live.”

Nikky looked gloomy. The prospect, although remote, was dreary. But,
as the horses were led out, and he helped Hedwig to her saddle, he
brightened. After all, the future was the future, and now was now.

“Catch me!” said Hedwig, and dug her royal heels into her horse’s
flanks. The Crown Prince climbed into his saddle and followed. They were
off.

The riding-school had been built for officers of the army, but was now
used by the Court only. Here the King had ridden as a lad with young
Mettlich, his close friend even then. The favorite mare of his later
years, now old and almost blind, still had a stall in the adjacent royal
stables. One of the King’s last excursions abroad had been to visit her.

Overhead, up a great runway, were the state chariots, gilt coaches of
inconceivable weight, traveling carriages of the post-chaise periods,
sleighs in which four horses drove abreast, their panels painted by the
great artists of the time; and one plain little vehicle, very shabby, in
which the royal children of long ago had fled from a Karnian invasion.

In one corner, black and gold and forbidding, was the imposing hearse in
which the dead sovereigns of the country were taken to their long sleep
in the vaults under the cathedral. Good, bad, and indifferent, one after
the other, as their hour came, they had taken this last journey in the
old catafalque, and had joined their forbears. Many they had been: men
of iron, men of blood, men of flesh, men of water. And now they lay in
stone crypts, and of all the line only two remained.

One and all, the royal vehicles were shrouded in sheets, except on one
day of each month when the sheets were removed and the public admitted.
But on that morning the great hearse was uncovered, and two men were
working, one at the upholstery, which he was brushing. The other was
carefully oiling the wood of the body. Save for them, the wide and dusky
loft was empty.

One was a boy, newly come from the country. The other was an elderly
man. It was he who oiled.

“Many a king has this carried,” said the man. “My father, who was here
before me, oiled it for the last one.”

“May it be long before it carries another!” commented the boy fervently.

“It will not be long. The old King fails hourly. And this happening of
yesterday--”

“What happened yesterday?” queried the boy.

“It was a matter of the Crown Prince.”

“Was he ill?”

“He ran away,” said the man shortly.

“Ran away?” The boy stopped his dusting, and stared, open-mouthed.

“Aye, ran away. Grew weary of back-bending, perhaps. I do not know. I do
not believe in kings.”

“Not believe in kings?” The boy stopped his brushing.

“You do, of course,” sneered the man. “Because a thing is, it is right.
But I think. I use my brains. I reason. And I do not believe in kings.”

Up the runway came sounds from the ring, the thudding of hoofs, followed
by a child’s shrill, joyous laughter. The man scowled.

“Listen!” he said. “We labor and they play.”

“It has always been so. I do not begrudge happiness.”

But the man was not listening.

“I do not believe in kings,” he said sullenly.



CHAPTER VI. THE CHANCELLOR PAYS A VISIT


The Archduchess was having tea. Her boudoir was a crowded little room.
Nikky had once observed confidentially to Miss Braithwaite that it
was exactly like her, all hung and furnished with things that were not
needed. The Archduchess liked it because it was warm. The palace rooms
were mostly large and chilly. She lad a fire there on the warmest days
in spring, and liked to put the coals on, herself. She wrapped them in
pieces of paper so she would not soil her hands.

This afternoon she was not alone. Lounging at a window was the lady
who was in waiting at the time, the Countess Loschek. Just now she was
getting rather a wigging, but she was remarkably calm.

“The last three times,” the Archduchess said, stirring her tea, “you
have had a sore throat.”

“It is such a dull book,” explained the Countess.

“Not at all. It is an improving book. If you would put your mind on
it when you are reading, Olga, you would enjoy it. And you would learn
something, besides. In my opinion,” went on the Archduchess, tasting her
tea, “you smoke too many cigarettes.”

The Countess yawned, but silently, at her window.

Then she consulted a thermometer. “Eighty!” she said briefly, and,
coming over, sat down by the tea-table.

The Countess Loschek was thirty, and very handsome, in an insolent way.
She was supposed to be the best-dressed woman at the Court, and to rule
Annunciata with an iron hand, although it was known that they quarreled
a great deal over small things, especially over the coal fire.

Some said that the real thing that held them together was resentment
that the little Crown Prince stood between the Princess Hedwig and the
throne. Annunciata was not young, but she was younger than her dead
brother, Hubert. And others said it was because the Countess gathered
up and brought in the news of the Court--the small intrigues and the
scandals that constitute life in the restricted walls of a palace.
There is a great deal of gossip in a palace where the king is old and
everything rather stupid and dull.

The Countess yawned again.

“Where is Hedwig?” demanded the Archduchess.

“Her Royal Highness is in the nursery, probably.”

“Why probably?”

“She goes there a great deal.”

The Archduchess eyed her. “Well, out with it,” she said. “There is
something seething in that wicked brain of yours.”

The Countess shrugged her shoulders. Not that she resented having a
wicked brain. She rather fancied the idea. “She and young Lieutenant
Larisch have tea quite frequently with His Royal Highness.”

“How frequently?”

“Three times this last week, madame.”

“Little fool!” said Annunciata. But she frowned, and sat tapping her
teacup with her spoon. She was just a trifle afraid of Hedwig, and she
was more anxious than she would have cared to acknowledge. “It is being
talked about, of course?”

The Countess shrugged her shoulders.

“Don’t do that!” commanded the Archduchess sharply. “How far do you
think the thing has gone?”

“He is quite mad about her.”

“And Hedwig--but she is silly enough for anything. Do they meet anywhere
else?”

“At the riding-school, I believe. At least, I--”

Here a maid entered and stood waiting at the end of the screen. The
Archduchess Annunciata would have none of the palace flunkies about her
when she could help it. She had had enough of men, she maintained, in
the person of her late husband, whom she had detested. So except at
dinner she was attended by tidy little maids, in gray Quaker costumes,
who could carry tea-trays into her crowded boudoir without breaking
things.

“His Excellency, General Mettlich,” said the maid.

The Archduchess nodded her august head, and the maid retired. “Go away,
Olga,” said the Archduchess. “And you might,” she suggested grimly,
“gargle your throat.”

The Chancellor had passed a troubled night. Being old, like the King, he
required little sleep. And for most of the time between one o’clock and
his rising hour of five he had lain in his narrow camp-bed and thought.
He had not confided all his worries to the King.

Evidences of renewed activity on the part of the Terrorists were many.
In the past month two of his best secret agents had disappeared. One had
been found the day before, stabbed in the back. The Chancellor had
seen the body--an unpleasant sight. But it was not of the dead man that
General Mettlich thought. It was of the other. The dead tell nothing.
But the living, under torture, tell many things. And this man Haeckel,
young as he was, knew much that was vital. Knew the working of the
Secret Service, the names of the outer circle of twelve, knew the codes
and passwords, knew, too the ways of the palace, the hidden room
always ready for emergency, even the passage that led by devious ways,
underground, to a distant part of the great park.

At five General Mettlich had risen, exercised before an open window with
an old pair of iron dumbbells, had followed this with a cold bath and
hot coffee, and had gone to early Mass at the Cathedral.

And there, on his knees, he had prayed for a little help. He was, he
said, getting old and infirm, and he had been too apt all his life to
rely on his own right arm. But things were getting rather difficult. He
prayed to Our Lady for intercession for the little Prince. He felt, in
his old heart, that the Mother would understand the situation, and
how he felt about it. And he asked in a general supplication, and very
humbly, for a few years more of life. Not that life meant anything to
him personally. He had outlived most of those he loved. But that he
might serve the King, and after him the boy who would be Otto IX. He
added, for fear they might not understand, having a great deal to
look after, that he had earned all this by many years of loyalty, and
besides, that he knew the situation better than any one else.

He felt much better after that. Especially as, at the moment he rose
from his knees, the cathedral clock had chimed and then struck seven.
He had found seven a very lucky number, So now he entered the boudoir of
the Archduchess Annunciata, and the Countess went out another door, and
closed it behind her, immediately opening it about an inch.

The Chancellor strode around the screen, scratching two tables with his
sword as he advanced, and kissed the hand of the Princess Annunciata.
They were old enemies and therefore always very polite to each other.
The Archduchess offered him a cup of tea, which he took, although she
always made very bad tea. And for a few moments they discussed things.
Thus: the King’s condition; the replanting of the Place with trees;
and the date of bringing out the Princess Hilda, who was still in the
schoolroom.

But the Archduchess suddenly came to business. She was an abrupt person.
“And now, General,” she said, “what is it?”

“I am in trouble, Highness,” replied the Chancellor simply.

“We are most of us in that condition at all times. I suppose you mean
this absurd affair of yesterday. Why such a turmoil about it? The boy
ran away. When he was ready he returned. It was absurd, and I dare say
you and I both are being held for our sins. But he is here now, and
safe.”

“I am afraid he is not as safe as you think, madame.”

“Why?”

He sat forward on the edge of his chair, and told her of the students
at the University, who were being fired by some powerful voice; of the
disappearance of the two spies; of the evidence that the Committee of
Ten was meeting again, and the failure to discover their meeting-place;
of disaffection among the people, according to the reports of his
agents. And then to the real purpose of his visit. Karl of Karnia had,
unofficially, proposed for the Princess Hedwig. He had himself broached
the matter to the King, who had at least taken it under advisement. The
Archduchess listened, rather pale. There was no mistaking the urgency in
the Chancellor’s voice.

“Madame after centuries of independence we now face a crisis which we
cannot meet alone. Believe me, I know of what I speak. United, we
could stand against the world. But a divided kingdom, a disloyal and
discontented people, spells the end.”

And at last he convinced her. But, because she was built of a contrary
mould, she voiced an objection, not to the scheme, but to Karl himself.
“I dislike him. He is arrogant and stupid.”

“But powerful, madame. And--what else is there to do?”

There was nothing else, and she knew it. But she refused to broach the
matter to Hedwig.

She stated, and perhaps not without reason, that such a move was to damn
the whole thing at once. She did not use exactly these words, but
their royal equivalent. And it ended with the Chancellor, looking most
ferocious but inwardly uneasy, undertaking to put, as one may say, a
flea into the Princess Hedwig’s small ear.

As he strode out, the door into the next room closed quietly.



CHAPTER VII. TEA IN THE SCHOOLROOM


Tea at the Palace, until the old King had taken to his bed, had been the
one cheerful hour of the day. The entire suite gathered in one of the
salons, and remained standing until the King’s entrance. After that,
formality ceased. Groups formed, footmen in plush with white wigs passed
trays of cakes and sandwiches and tiny gilt cups of exquisite tea.
The Court, so to speak, removed its white gloves, and was noisy and
informal. True, at dinner again ceremony and etiquette would reign.
The march into the dining-hall between rows of bowing servants, the set
conversation, led by the King, the long and tedious courses, the careful
watch for precedence that was dinner at the Palace.

But now all that was changed. The King did not leave his apartment.
Annunciata occasionally took tea with the suite, but glad for an excuse,
left the Court to dine without her. Sometimes for a half-hour she
lent her royal if somewhat indifferently attired presence to the salon
afterward, where for thirty minutes or so she moved from group to group,
exchanging a few more or less gracious words. But such times were rare.
The Archduchess, according to Court gossip, had “slumped.”

To Hedwig the change had been a relief. The entourage, with its gossip,
its small talk, its liaisons, excited in her only indifference and
occasional loathing. Not that her short life had been without its
affairs. She was too lovely for that. But they had touched her only
faintly.

On the day of the Chancellor’s visit to her mother she went to tea in
the schoolroom. She came in glowing from a walk, with the jacket of her
dark velvet suit thrown open, and a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley tucked
in her belt.

Tea had already come, and Captain Larisch, holding his cup, was standing
by the table. The Crown Prince, who was allowed only one cup, was having
a second of hot water and milk, equal parts, and sweetened.

Hedwig slipped out of her jacket and drew off her gloves. She had hardly
glanced at Nikky, although she knew quite well every motion he had made
since she entered. “I am famished!” she said, and proceeded to eat very
little and barely touch the tea. “Please don’t go, Miss Braithwaite. And
now, how is everything?”

Followed a long half-hour, in which the Crown Prince talked mostly of
the Land of Desire and the American boy. Miss Braithwaite, much indulged
by long years of service, crocheted, and Nikky Larisch, from the
embrasure of a window, watched the little group. In reality he watched
Hedwig, all his humble, boyish heart in his eyes.

After a time Hedwig slipped the lilies out of her belt and placed them
in a glass of water.

“They are thirsty, poor things,” she said to Otto. Only--and here was a
strange thing, if she were really sorry for them--one of the stalks fell
to the floor, and she did not trouble to pick it up. Nikky retrieved it,
and pretended to place it with the others. But in reality he had palmed
it quite neatly, and a little later he pocketed it. Still later, he
placed it in his prayer-book.

The tea-table became rather noisy. The room echoed with laughter. Even
Miss Braithwaite was compelled to wipe her eyes over some of Nikky’s
sallies, and the Crown Prince was left quite gasping. Nikky was really
in his best form, being most unreasonably happy, and Hedwig, looking
much taller than in her boyish riding-clothes--Hedwig was fairly
palpitating with excitement.

Nikky was a born mimic. First he took off the King’s Council, one by
one. Then in an instant he was Napoleon, which was easy, of course; and
the next second, with one of the fur tails which had come unfastened
from Hedwig’s muff, he had become a pirate, with the tail for a great
mustache. One of the very best things he did, however, was to make a
widow’s cap out of a tea-napkin, and surmount it with a tiny coronet,
which was really Hedwig’s bracelet. He put it on, drew down his upper
lip, and puffed his cheeks, and there was Queen Victoria of England to
the life.

Hedwig was so delighted with this, that she made him sit down, and
draped one of Miss Braithwaite’s shawls about his shoulders. It was
difficult to look like Queen Victoria under the circumstances, with her
small hands deftly draping and smoothing. But Nikky did very well.

It was just as Hedwig was tucking the shawl about his neck to hide the
collar of his tunic, and Miss Braithwaite was looking a trifle offended,
because she considered the memory of Queen Victoria not to be trifled
with, and just as Nikky took a fresh breath and puffed out leis cheeks
again, that the Archduchess came in.

She entered unannounced, save by a jingle of chains, and surveyed the
room with a single furious glance. Queen Victoria’s cheeks collapsed and
the coronet slid slightly to one side. Then Nikky rose and jerked off
the shawl and bowed. Every one looked rather frightened, except the
Crown Prince. In a sort of horrible silence he advanced and kissed
Annunciata’s hand.

“So--this is what you are doing,” observed Her Royal Highness to Hedwig.
“In this--this undignified manner you spend your time!”

“It is very innocent fun, mother.”

For that matter, there was nothing very dignified in the scene that
followed. The Archduchess dismissed the governess and the Crown Prince,
quite as if he had been an ordinary child, and naughty at that. Miss
Braithwaite looked truculent. After all, the heir to the throne is the
heir to the throne and should have the privilege of his own study. But
Hedwig gave her an appealing glance, and she went out, closing the door
with what came dangerously near being a slam.

The Archduchess surveyed the two remaining culprits with a terrible
gaze. “Now,” she said, “how long have these ridiculous performances been
going on?”

“Mother!” said Hedwig.

“Answer me.”

“The question is absurd. There was no harm in what we were doing. It
amused Otto. He has few enough pleasures. Thanks to all of us, he is
very lonely.”

“And since when have you assumed the responsibility for his upbringing?”

“I remember my own dreary childhood,” said Hedwig stiffly.

The Archduchess turned on her furiously. “More and more,” she said, “as
you grow up, Hedwig, you remind me of your unfortunate father. You have
the same lack of dignity, the same”--she glanced at Nikky--“the same
common tastes, the same habit of choosing strange society, of forgetting
your rank.”

Hedwig was scarlet, but Nikky had gone pale. As for the Archduchesss,
her cameos were rising and falling stormily. With hands that shook;
Hedwig picked up her jacket and hat. Then she moved toward the door.

“Perhaps you are right, mother,” she said, “but I hope I shall never
have the bad taste to speak ill of the dead.” Then she went out.

The scene between the Archduchess and Nikky began in a storm and ended
in a sort of hopeless quiet. Miss Braithwaite had withdrawn to her
sitting-room, but even there she could hear the voice of Annunciata,
rasping and angry.

It was very clear to Nikky from the beginning that the Archduchess’s
wrath was not for that afternoon alone. And in his guilty young mind
rose various memories, all infinitely dear, all infinitely, incredibly
reckless--other frolics around the tea-table, rides in the park, lessons
in the riding-school. Very soon he was confessing them all, in reply to
sharp questions. When the tablet of his sins was finally uncovered, the
Archduchess was less angry and a great deal more anxious. Hedwig free
was a problem. Hedwig in love with this dashing boy was a greater one.

“Of one thing I must assure Your Highness,” said Nikky. “These--these
meetings have been of my seeking.”

“The Princess requires no defense, Captain Larisch.”

That put him back where he belonged, and Annunciata did a little
thinking, while Nikky went on, in his troubled way, running his fingers
through his hair until he looked rather like an uneasy but ardent-eyed
porcupine. He acknowledged that these meetings had meant much to him,
everything to him, he would confess, but he had never dared to hope.
He had always thought of Her Royal Highness as the granddaughter of
his King. He had never spoken a word that he need regret. Annunciata
listened, and took his measure shrewdly. He was the sort of young fool,
she told herself, who would sacrifice himself and crucify his happiness
for his country. It was on just such shoulders as his that the throne
was upheld. His loyalty was more to be counted on than his heart.

She changed her tactics adroitly, sat down, even softened her voice. “I
have been emphatic, Captain Larisch,” she said, “because, as I think
you know, things are not going too well with us. To help the situation,
certain plans are being made. I will be more explicit. A marriage is
planned for the Princess Hedwig, which will assist us all. It is”--she
hesitated imperceptibly--“the King’s dearest wish.”

Horror froze on Nikky’s face. But he bowed.

“After what you have told me, I shall ask your cooperation,” said
Annunciata smoothly. “While there are some of us who deplore the
necessity, still--it exists. And an alliance with Karnia--”

“Karnia!” cried Nikky, violating all ceremonial, of course. “But
surely--!”

The Archduchess rose and drew herself to her full height. “I have given
you confidence for confidence, Captain Larisch,” she said coldly.
“The Princess Hedwig has not yet been, told. We shall be glad of your
assistance when that time comes. It is possible, that it will not come.
In case it does, we shall count on you.”

Nikky bowed deeply as she went out; bowed, with death in his eyes.

And thus it happened that Captain Nicholas Larisch aide-de-camp to his
Royal Highness the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto, and of no other
particular importance, was informed of the Princess Hedwig’s projected
marriage before she was. And not only informed of it, but committed to
forward it, if he could!



CHAPTER VIII. THE LETTER


The Countess Loschek was alone. Alone and storming. She had sent her
maid away with a sharp word, and now she was pacing the floor.

Hedwig, of all people!

She hated her. She had always hated her. For her youth, first; later,
when she saw how things were going, for the accident that had made her a
granddaughter to the King.

And Karl.

Even this last June, when Karl had made his looked-for visit to the
summer palace where the Court had been in, residence, he had already had
the thing in mind. Even when his arms had been about her, Olga Loschek,
he had been looking over her shoulder, as it were, at Hedwig. He had had
it all in his wicked head, even then. For Karl was wicked. None would
know it better than she, who was risking everything, life itself, for
him. Wicked; ungrateful, and unscrupulous. She loathed him while she
loved him.

The thing would happen. This was the way things were done in Courts.
An intimation from one side that a certain thing would be agreeable
and profitable. A discussion behind closed doors. A reply that the
intimation had been well received. Then the formal proposal, and its
acceptance.

Hedwig would marry Karl. She might be troublesome, would indeed almost
certainly be troublesome. Strangely enough, the Countess hated her the
more for that. To value so lightly the thing for which Olga Loschek
would have given her soul, this in itself was hateful. But there was
more. The Countess saw much with her curiously wide, almost childishly
bland eyes; it was only now that it occurred to her to turn what she
knew of Hedwig and Nikky to account.

She stopped pacing the floor, and sat down. Suppose Hedwig and Nikky
Larisch went away together? Hedwig, she felt, would have the courage
even for that. That would stop things. But Hedwig did not trust her. And
there was about Nikky a dog-like quality of devotion, which warned her
that, the deeper his love for Hedwig, the more unlikely he would be to
bring her to disgrace. Nikky might be difficult.

“The fool!” said the Countess, between her clenched teeth. To both the
Archduchess Annunciata and her henchwoman, people were chiefly divided
into three classes, fools, knaves, and themselves.

She must try for Hedwig’s confidence, then. But Karl! How to reach him?
Not with reproaches, not with anger. She knew her man well. To hold him
off was the first thing. To postpone the formal proposal, and gain
time. If the Chancellor had been right, and things were as bad as they
appeared, the King’s death would precipitate a crisis. Might, indeed,
overturn the throne.

And Karl had changed. The old days when he loved trouble were gone. His
thoughts, like all thoughts these days, she reflected contemptuously,
were turned to peace, not to war. He was for beating his swords into
ploughshares, with a vengeance.

To hold him off, then. To gain time.

The King was very feeble. This affair of yesterday had told on him. The
gossip of the Court was that the day had seen a change for the worse.
His heart was centered on the Crown Prince.

Ah, here was another viewpoint. Suppose the Crown Prince had not come
back? What would happen, with the King dead, and no king? Chaos, of
course. A free hand to revolution. Hedwig fighting for her throne, and
inevitably losing it. Then what about Karl and his dreams of peace?

But that was further than she cared to go just then. She would finish
certain work that she had set out to do, and then she was through. No
longer would dread and terror grip her in the night hours.

But she would finish. Karl should never say she had failed him. In her
new rage against him she was for cleaning the slate at once. She had
in her possession papers for which he waited or pretended to wait;
data secured by means she did not care to remember; plans and figures
carefully compiled--a thousand deaths in one, if, they were found on
her. She would get them out of her hands at once.

It was still but little after five. She brought her papers together on
her small mahogany desk, from such hiding places as women know--the
linings of perfumed sachets, the toes of small slippers, the secret
pocket in a muff; and having locked her doors, put them in order. Her
hands were trembling, but she worked skillfully. She was free until the
dinner hour, but she had a great deal to do. The papers in order, she
went to a panel in the wall of her dressing-room; and, sliding it aside,
revealed the safe in which her jewels were kept. Not that her jewels
were very valuable, but the safe was there, and she used it.

The palace, for that matter, was full of cunningly contrived
hiding-places. Some, in times of stress, had held jewels. Others--rooms
these, built in the stone walls and carefully mapped--had held even
royal refugees themselves. The map was in the King’s possession, and
descended from father to son, a curious old paper, with two of the
hidden rooms marked off in colored inks as closed. Closed, with strange
secrets beyond, quite certainly.

The Countess took out a jewel-case, emptied it, lifted its chamois
cushions, and took out a small book. It was an indifferent hiding-place,
but long immunity had made her careless. Referring to the book, she
wrote a letter in code. It was, to all appearances a friendly letter
referring to a family in her native town, and asking that the recipient
see that assistance be sent them before Thursday of the following week.
The assistance was specified with much detail--at her expense to send
so many blankets, so many loaves of bread, a long list. Having finished,
she destroyed, by burning, a number of papers watching until the
last ash had turned from dull red to smoking gray. The code-book she
hesitated over, but at last, with a shrug of her shoulders, she returned
it to its hiding-place in the jewel case.

Coupled with her bitterness was a sense of relief. Only when the papers
were destroyed had she realized the weight they had been. She summoned
Minna, her maid, and dressed for the street. Then, Minna accompanying
her, she summoned her carriage and went shopping.

She reached the palace again in time to dress for dinner. Somewhere on
that excursion she had left the letter, to be sent to its destination
over the border by special messenger that night.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto, at the moment of her return, was
preparing for bed. At a quarter to seven he had risen, bowed to Miss
Braithwaite, said good-night, and disappeared toward his bedroom and his
waiting valet. But a moment later he reappeared.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but I think your watch is fast.”

Miss Braithwaite consulted it. Then, rising she went to the window and
compared at with the moonlike face of the cathedral clock.

“There is a difference of five minutes,” she conceded. “But I have no
confidence in the cathedral clock. It needs oiling, probably. Besides,
there are always pigeons sitting on the hands.”

“May I wait for five minutes?”

“What could you do in five minutes?”

“Well,” he suggested, rather pleadingly, “we might have a little
conversation, if you axe not too tired.”

Miss Braithwaite sighed. It had been a long day and not a calm one, and
conversation with His Highness meant questions, mostly.

“Very well,” she said.

“I’m not at all sleepy,” Prince Ferdinand William Otto observed,
climbing on a chair. “I thought you might tell me about America. I’m
awfully curious about America.”

“I suppose you mean the United States.”

“I’m not sure. It has New York, in it, anyhow. They don’t have kings, do
they?”

“No,” said Miss Braithwaite, shortly. She hated republics.

“What I wondered was,” said Ferdinand William Otto, swinging his
legs, “how they managed without a king. Who tells them what to do? I’m
interested, because I met a boy yesterday who came from there, and he
talked quite a lot about it. He was a very interesting boy.”

Miss Braithwaite waived the matter of yesterday. “In a republic,” she
said, “the people think they can govern themselves. But they do it
very badly. The average intelligence among people in the mass is always
rather low.”

“He said,” went on His Royal Highness, pursuing a line of thought, “that
the greatest man in the world was a man named Lincoln. But that he
is dead. And he said that kings were nuisances, and didn’t earn their
bread-and-butter. Of course,” Otto hastened to explain, “he didn’t know
that my grandfather is a king. After that, I didn’t exactly like to tell
him. It would have made him very uncomfortable.” Here he yawned, but
covered it with a polite hand, and Oskar, his valet, came to the doorway
and stood waiting. He was a dignified person in a plum-colored livery,
because the King considered black gloomy for a child.

The Crown Prince slipped to the floor, and stood with his feet rather
wide apart, looking steadfastly at Miss Braithwaite. “I would like very
much to see that boy again,” he observed. “He was a nice boy, and very
kind-hearted. If we could go to the Scenic Railway when we are out in
the carriage, I--I’d enjoy it.” He saw refusal in her face, for he added
hurriedly, “Not to ride. I just want to look at it.”

Miss Braithwaite was touched, but firm. She explained that it would be
better if the Crown Prince did not see the boy again; and to soften
the refusal, she reminded him that the American child did not like
royalties, and that even to wave from his carriage with the gold wheels
would therefore be a tactical error.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto listened, and Oskar waited. And something
that had been joyous and singing in a small boy’s heart was suddenly
still.

“I had forgotten about that,” he said.

Then Miss Braithwaite rose, and the Prince put his heels together with a
click, and bowed, as he had been taught to do.

“Good-night,” he said.

“Good-night, Your Highness,” replied Miss Braithwaite.

At the door Prince Ferdinand William Otto turned and bowed again. Then
he went out, and the door closed behind him.

He washed himself, with Oskar standing by, holding a great soft towel.
Even the towels were too large. And he brushed his teeth, and had two
drinks of water, because a stiffish feeling in his throat persisted.
And at last he crawled up into the high bed that was so much too big for
him, and had to crawl out again, because he had forgotten his prayers.

When everything was done, and the hour of putting out the light could
no longer be delayed, he said goodnight to Oskar, who bowed. There was
a great deal of, bowing in Otto’s world. Then, whisk! it was dark, with
only the moon face of the cathedral clock for company. And as it was now
twenty minutes past seven, the two hands drooped until it looked like a
face with a cruel mouth and was really very poor company.

Oskar, having bowed himself into the corridor and past the two sentries,
reported to a very great dignitary across the hall that His Royal
Highness the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto was in bed. And the
dignitary had a chance to go away and get his dinner.

But alone in his great bed, the Crown Prince was shedding a few
shamefaced tears. He was extremely ashamed of them. He felt that under
no circumstances would his soldier father have behaved so. He reached
out and secured one of the two clean folded handkerchiefs that were
always placed on the bedside stand at night, and blew his nose very
loudly. But he could not sleep.

He gave Miss Braithwaite time to go to her sitting-room, and for eight
o’clock to pass, because once every hour, all night, a young gentleman
of the Court, appointed for this purpose and dubbed a “wet-nurse” by
jealous comrades, cautiously opened his door and made a stealthy circuit
of the room, to see that all was well.

The Crown Prince got up. He neglected to put on his bedroom slippers,
of course, and in his bare feet be padded across the room to the study
door. It was not entirely dark. A night-light burned there. It stood on
a table directly under the two crossed swords. Beneath the swords, in a
burnt-wood frame, were the pictures of his father and mother. Hedwig had
given him a wood-burning outfit at Christmas, and he had done the work
himself. It consisted of the royal arms, somewhat out of drawing and
not exactly in the center of the frame, and a floral border of daisies,
extremely geometrical, because he had drawn them in first with a
compass.

The boy, however, gave the pictures only a hasty glance and proceeded,
in a business-like manner, to carry a straight chair to the cabinet. On
the top shelf sat the old cloth dog. Its shoe-button eyes looked glazed
with sleep, but its ears were quite alert. Very cautiously the Crown
Prince unlocked the door, stepped precariously to the lower shelf of the
cabinet, hung there by one royal hand, and lifted the dog down.

At nine o’clock the wet-nurse took off his sword in another room and
leaned it against a chair. Then he examined his revolver, in accordance
with a formula prescribed by the old King. Then he went in and
examined the room with a flashlight, and listened to the Crown Prince’s
breathing. He had been a croupy baby. And, at last, he turned the
flashlight on to the bed. A pair of shoe-button eyes stared at him from
the pillow.

“Well, I’m damned,” said the wet-nurse And went out, looking thoughtful.



CHAPTER IX. A FINE NIGHT


In a shop where, that afternoon, the Countess had purchased some Lyons
silks, one of the clerks, Peter Niburg, was free at last. At seven
o’clock, having put away the last rolls of silk on the shelves behind
him, and covered them with calico to keep off the dust; having given
a final glance of disdain at the clerk in the linens, across; having
reached under the counter for his stiff black hat of good quality and
his silver-topped cane; having donned the hat and hung the stick to his
arm with two swaggering gestures; having prepared his offensive, so to
speak, he advanced.

Between Peter Niburg and Herman Spier of the linens, was a feud. Its
source, in the person of a pretty cashier, had gone, but the feud
remained. It was of the sort that smiles with the lips and scowls with
the eyes, that speaks pleasantly quite awful things, although it was
Peter Niburg who did most of the talking. Herman Spier was a moody
individual, given to brooding. A man who stood behind his linens, and
hated with his head down.

And he hated Peter. God, how he hated him! The cashier was gone, having
married a restaurant keeper, and already she waxed fat. But Herman’s
hatred grew with the days. And business being bad, much of the time he
stood behind his linens and thought about a certain matter, which was
this:

How did Peter Niburg do it?

They were paid the same scant wage. Each Monday they stood together,
Peter smiling and he frowning, and received into open palms exactly
enough to live on, without extras. And each Monday Peter pocketed his
cheerfully, and went back to his post, twirling his mustache as though
all the money of the realm jingled in his trousers.

To accept the inevitable, to smile over one’s poverty, that is one
thing. But there was more to it. Peter made his money go amazingly far.
It was Peter, for instance, who on name-days had been able to present
the little cashier with a nosegay. Which had, by the way, availed him
nothing against the delicatessen offerings of the outside rival. When,
the summer before, the American Scenic Railway had opened to the public,
with much crossing of flags, the national emblem and the Stars and
Stripes, it was Peter who had invited the lady to an evening of thrills
on that same railway at a definite sum per thrill. Nay, more, as Herman
had seen with his own eyes, taken her afterward to a coffee-house, and
shared with her a litre of white wine. A litre, no less.

Herman himself had been to the Scenic Railway, but only because he
occupied a small room in the house where the American manager lived. The
manager had given tickets to Black Humbert, the concierge, but
Humbert was busy with other thing, and was, besides, chary of foreign
deviltries. So he had passed the tickets on.

It was Peter, then, who made the impossible possible, who wore good
clothes and did not have his boots patched, who went, rumor said, to the
Opera now and then, and followed the score on his own battered copy.

How?

Herman Spier had suspected him of many things; had secretly audited his
cash slips; had watched him for surreptitious parcels of silk. Once he
had thought he had him. But the package of Lyons silk, opened by the
proprietor at Herman’s suggestion, proved to be material for a fancy
waistcoat, and paid for by Peter Niburg’s own hand.

With what? Herman stood confused, even confounded, but still suspicious.
And now, this very day, he had stumbled on something. A great lady from
the Court had made a purchase, and had left, under a roll of silk, a
letter. There was no mistake. And Peter Niburg had put away the silk,
and pocketed the letter, after a swift glance over the little shop.

An intrigue, then, with Peter Niburg as the go-between, or--something
else. Something vastly more important, the discovery of which would
bring Herman prominence beyond his fellows in a certain secret order to
which he belonged.

In a way, he was a stupid man, this pale-eyed clerk who sold the quaint
red and yellow cottons of the common people side by side with the heavy
linens that furnished forth the tables of the rich. But hatred gave him
wits. Gave him speed, too. He was only thirty feet behind Peter Niburg
when that foppish gentleman reached the corner.

Herman was skilled in certain matters. He knew, for instance, that
a glance into a shop window, a halt to tie a shoe, may be a ruse for
passing a paper to other hands. But Peter did not stop. He went, not
more swiftly than usual, to his customary restaurant, one which faced
over the Square and commanded a view of the Palace. And there he settled
himself in a window and ordered his dinner.

From the outside Herman stared in. He did not dine there. It was, for
one thing, a matter of bitterness to see sitting at the cashier’s high
desk, the little Marie, grown somewhat with flesh, it is true, but still
lovely in his eyes. It made Herman wince, even now, to see through the
window that her husband patted her hand as he brought her money to be
changed.

He lurked in the shadows outside, and watched. Peter sat alone. He had
bowed very stiffly to Marie, and had passed the desk with his chest out.
She had told him once that he had a fine figure.

Peter sat alone, and stared out. Herman took shelter, and watched. But
Peter Niburg did not see him. His eyes were fixed on the gloomy mass
across, shot with small lights from deep windows, which was the Palace.

Peter was calm. He had carried many such letters as the one now hidden
in his breast pocket. No conscience stirred in him. If he did not do
this work, others would. He shrugged his shoulders. He drank his brandy,
and glanced at Marie. He found her eyes on him. Pretty eyes they still
were, and just now speculative. He smiled at her, but she averted her
head, and colored. Many things filled Peter Niburg’s mind. If now she
was not happy, what then? Her husband adored her. It was fatal. A woman
should not be too sure of a husband. And probably he bored her. Another
six months, and perhaps she would not turn away her head.

He had until midnight. At that hour a messenger would receive the letter
from him in the colonnade of the cathedral. On this night, each week,
the messenger waited. Sometimes there was a letter, sometimes none. That
was all. It was amazingly simple, and for it one received the difference
between penury and comfort.

Seeing Peter settled, a steaming platter before him, Herman turned
and hurried through the night. This which he had happened on was a big
thing, too big for him alone. Two heads were better than one. He would
take advice.

Off the main avenue he fell into a smart trot. The color came to his
pale cheeks. A cold sweat broke out over him. He was short of wind from
many cigarettes. But at last he reached the house. It was near the park.
Although the season was early spring and there was more than a hint of
winter in the air, the Scenic Railway, he perceived, was already open
for business. Certainly the Americans were enterprising.

The double doors of the tall, gloomy house on the Road of Good Children
were already closed for the evening. As he stood panting, after he
had rung the bell, Herman Spier could look across to that remote and
unfashionable end of the great park where the people played on pleasant
evenings, and where even now, on the heels of winter, the Scenic Railway
made a pretense at summer.

The sight recalled that other vision of Marie and Peter Niburg, snugly
settled in a car, Marie a trifle pale and apprehensive. Herman swore
softly; and opened the doors.

Black Humbert was not in his bureau, behind the grating. With easy
familiarity Herman turned to a door beyond and entered. A dirty little
room, it was littered now with the preparations for a meal. On the
bare table were a loaf, a jug of beer, and a dish of fried veal. The
concierge was at the stove making gravy in a frying-pan--a huge man,
bearded and heavy of girth, yet stepping lightly, like a cat. A dark man
and called “the Black,” he yet revealed, on full glance, eyes curiously
pale and flat.

No greeting passed between them. Humbert gave his visitor a quick
glance. Herman closed the door, and wiped out the band of his hat. The
concierge poured the gravy over the meat.

“I have discovered something, something,” Herman said. “As to its value,
I know nothing, or its use to us.”

“Let me judge that.” But the concierge was unmoved, by Herman’s
excitement. He dealt in sensations. His daily tools were men less clever
than himself, men who constantly made worthless discoveries. And it was
the dinner hour. His huge body was crying for food.

“It is a matter of a letter.”

“Sit down, man, and tell it. Or do you wish me to draw the information,
like bad teeth?”

“A letter from the Palace,” said Herman. And explained.

Black Humbert listened. He was skeptical, but not entirely incredulous.
He knew the Court--none better. The women of the Court wrote many
letters. He saw a number of them, through one of his men in the post
office. There were many intrigues. After all, who could blame them?
The Court was dreary enough these days, and if they chose to amuse
themselves as best they could--one must make allowances.

“A liaison!” he said at last, with his mouth full. “The Countess is
handsome, and bored. Annunciata is driving her to wickedness, as she
drove her husband. But it is worth consideration. Even the knowledge of
an intrigue is often helpful. Of what size was the letter?”

“A small envelope. I saw no more.”

The concierge reflected. “The Countess uses a gray paper with a
coronet.”

“This was white.”

Black Humbert reflected. “There is, of course, a chance that he has
already passed this on. But even if so, there will be others. The
Countess comes often to the shop?”

“Once in a week, perhaps.”

“So.” The big man rose, and untied his soiled apron. “Go back,” he
said, “and enter the restaurant. Order a small meal, that you may have
finished when he does. Leave with him and suggest the Hungaria.”

“Hungaria! I have no money.”

“You will need no money. Now, mark this. At a certain corner you will be
attacked and robbed. A mere form,” he added, as he saw Herman’s pallid
face go whiter. “For the real envelope will be substituted another. In
his breast-pocket, you said. Well, then suggest going to his room. He
may,” added the concierge grimly, “require your assistance. Leave him
at his lodging, but watch the house. It is important to know to whom he
delivers these letters.”

As the man stood, he seemed to the cowering Herman to swell until he
dominated the room. He took on authority. To Herman came suddenly the
memory of a hidden room, and many men, and one, huge and towering, who
held the others in the hollow of his hand. Herman turned to go, but at
the door the concierge stopped him.

“A moment,” he said. “We will select first the shape and fashion of this
envelope you saw. These matters require finesse.”

He disappeared, returning shortly with a wooden box, filled to the
top with old envelopes. Each had been neatly opened and its contents
extracted. And on each was neatly penned in a corner the name of the
sender. Herman watched while the concierge dug through it.

“Here it is,” he said at last. “The Countess, to her aunt in a nunnery
and relating to wool knitting. See, is this the sort of envelope?”

“That is gray,” Herman Spier said sullenly.

“But in size?”

“It is similar.”

“Good.” He held the envelope to the light and inspected it. “It would be
interesting to know,” he said, “whether the Countess has an aunt in this
nunnery, or whether--but go, man. And hurry.”

Left alone, he got together pens, ink, and carbon paper. He worked
awkwardly, his hands too large for the pen, his elbows spread wide over
the table. But the result was fair. He surveyed it with satisfaction.

Meanwhile, back went Herman over his earlier route. But now he did not
run. His craven knees shook beneath him. Fresh sweat, not of haste but
of fear, broke out over him. He who was brave enough of tongue in the
meetings, who was capable of rising to heights of cruelty that amounted
to ferocity when one of a mob, was a coward alone.

However, the sight of the restaurant, and of his fellow clerk eating
calmly, quieted him. Peter Niburg was still alone. Herman took a table
near him, and ordered a bowl of soup. His hands shook, but the hot food
revived him. After all, it was simple enough. But, of course, it hinged
entirely on his fellow-clerk’s agreeing to accompany him.

He glanced across. Peter Niburg was eating, but his eyes were fixed
on Madame Marie, at her high desk. There was speculation in them, and
something else. Triumph, perhaps.

Suddenly Herman became calm. Calm with hate.

And, after all, it was very easy. Peter Niburg was lonely. The burden
of the letter oppressed him. He wanted the comfort of human conversation
and the reassurance of a familiar face. When the two met at--the rack by
the door which contained their hats, his expression was almost friendly.
They went out together.

“A fine night,” said Herman, and cast an eye at the sky.

“Fine enough.”

“Too good to waste in sleep. I was thinking,” observed Herman, “of an
hour or two at the Hungaria.”

The Hungaria! Something in Peter’s pleasure-hungry heart leaped, but he
mocked his fellow-clerk.

“Since when,” he inquired, “have you frequented the Hungaria?

“I feel in the mood,” was the somewhat sullen reply. “I work hard
enough, God knows, to have a little pleasure now and then.” Danger was
making him shrewd. He turned away from Peter Niburg, then faced
him again. “If you care to come,” he suggested. “Not a supper, you
understand; but a glass of wine, Italian champagne,” he added.

Peter Niburg was fond of sweet champagne.

Peter Niburg pushed his hat to the back of his head, and hung his stick
over his forearm. After all, why not? Marie was gone. Let the past die.
If Herman could make the first move, let him, Peter, make the second. He
linked arms with his old enemy.

“A fine night,” he said.



CHAPTER X. THE RIGHT TO LIVE AND LOVE


Dinner was over in the dull old dining-room. The Archduchess Annunciata
lighted a cigarette, and glanced across the table at Hedwig.

Hedwig had been very silent during the meal. She had replied civilly
when spoken to, but that was all. Her mother, who had caught the
Countess’s trick of narrowing her eyes, inspected her from under lowered
lids.

“Well?” she said. “Are you still sulky?”

“I? Not at all, mother.” Her head went up, and she confronted her mother
squarely.

“I should like to inquire, if I may,” observed the Archduchess, “just
how you have spent the day until the little divertissement on which I
stumbled. This morning, for instance?”

Hedwig shrugged her shoulders, but her color rose. It came in a soft
wave over her neck and mounted higher and higher. “Very quietly,
mother,” she said.

“Naturally. It is always quiet here. But how?”

“I rode.”

“Where?”

“At the riding-school, with Otto.”

“Only with Otto?”

“Captain Larisch was there.”

“Of course! Then you have practically spent the day with him!”

“I have spent most of the day with Otto.”

“This devotion to Otto--it is new, I think. You were eager to get out of
the nursery. Now, it appears, you must fly back to schoolroom teas and
other absurdities. I should like to know why.”

“I think Otto is lonely, mother.”

Hilda took advantage of her mother’s preoccupation to select another
peach. She was permitted only one, being of the age when fruit caused
her, colloquially speaking, to “break out.” She was only faintly
interested in the conversation. She dreaded these family meals, with her
mother’s sharp voice and the Countess Loschek’s almost too soft one. But
now a restrained irritability in the tones of the Archduchess made her
glance up. The Archduchess was in one of her sudden moods of irritation.
Hedwig’s remark about Otto’s loneliness, the second that day, struck
home. In her anger she forgot her refusal to the Chancellor.

“I have something to say that will put an end to this sentimental
nonsense of yours, Hedwig. I should forbid your seeing this boy, this
young Larisch, if I felt it necessary. I do not. You would probably see
him anyhow, for that matter. Which, as I observed this afternoon, also
reminds me unpleasantly of your father.” She rose, and threw her bolt
out of a clear sky. She had had, as a matter of fact, no previous
intention of launching any bolt. It was wholly a result of irritation.
“It is unnecessary to remind you not to make a fool of yourself. But it
may not be out of place to say that your grandfather has certain plans
for you that will take your mind away from this--this silly boy, soon
enough.”

Hedwig had risen, and was standing, very white, with her hands on the
table. “What plans, mother?”

“He will tell you.”

“Not--I am not to be married?”

The Archduchess Annunciata was not all hard. She could never forgive
her children their father. They reminded her daily of a part of her
life that she would have put behind her. But they were her children, and
Hedwig was all that she was not, gentle and round and young. Suddenly
something almost like regret stirred in her.

“Don’t look like that, child,” she said. “It is not settled. And, after
all, one marriage or another what difference does it make! Men are men.
If one does not care, it makes the things they do unimportant.”

“But surely,” Hedwig gasped, “surely I shall be consulted?”

Annunciata shook her head. They had all risen and Hilda was standing,
the peach forgotten, her mouth a little open. As for Olga Loschek, she
was very still, but her eyes burned. The Archduchess remembered her
presence no more than that of the flowers on the table.

“Mother, you cannot look back, and--and remember your own life, and
allow me to be wretched. You cannot!”

Hilda picked up her peach. It was all very exciting, but Hedwig was
being rather silly. Besides, why was she so distracted when she did not
know who the man was? It might be some quite handsome person. For Hilda
was also at the age when men were handsome or not handsome, and nothing
else.

Unexpectedly Hedwig began to cry. This Hilda considered going much too
far, and bad taste into the bargain. She slipped the peach into the
waist of her frock.

The Archduchess hated tears, and her softer moments were only moments.
“Dry your eyes, and don’t be silly,” she said coldly. “You have always
known that something of the sort was inevitable.”

She moved toward the door. The two princesses and her lady in waiting
remained still until she had left the table. Then they fell in behind
her, and the little procession moved to the stuffy, boudoir, for coffee.
But Hilda slipped her arm around her sister’s waist, and the touch
comforted Hedwig.

“He may be very nice,” Hilda volunteered cautiously. “Perhaps it is
Karl. I am quite mad about Karl, myself.”

Hedwig, however, was beyond listening. She went slowly to a window, and
stood gazing out. Looming against the sky-line, in the very center of
the Place, was the heroic figure of her dead grandmother. She fell to
wondering about these royal women who had preceded her. Her mother,
frankly unhappy in her marriage, permanently embittered; her
grandmother. Hedwig had never seen the King young. She could not picture
him as a lover. To her he was a fine and lonely figure. But romantic?
Had he ever been romantic?

He had made her mother’s marriage, and had lived to regret it. He would
make hers. But what about the time when he himself had taken a wife?
Hedwig gazed at the statue. Had she too come with unwilling arms? And if
she had, was it true that after all, in a year or a lifetime, it made no
difference.

She slipped out on to the balcony and closed the curtains behind her. As
her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness she saw that there was some
one below, under the trees. Her heart beat rapidly. In a moment she was
certain. It was Nikky down there, Nikky, gazing up at her as a child
may look at a star. With a quick gesture Hedwig drew the curtain back.
A thin ray of light fell on her, on her slim bare arms, on her light
draperies, on her young face. He had wanted to see her, and he should
see her. Then she dropped the curtain, and twisted her hands together
lest, in spite of her, they reach out toward him.

Did she fancy it, or did the figure salute her? Then came the quick ring
of heels on the old stone pavement. She knew his footsteps, even as she
knew every vibrant, eager inflection of his voice. He went away, across
the Square, like one who, having bent his knee to a saint, turns back to
the business of the world.

In the boudoir the Archduchess had picked up some knitting to soothe her
jangled nerves. “You may play now, Hilda,” she said.

Into Hilda’s care-free young life came two bad hours each day. One was
the dinner hour, when she ate under her mother’s pitiless eyes. The
other was the hour after dinner, when, alone in the white drawing-room
beyond the boudoir, with the sliding doors open, she sat at the grand
piano, which was white and gold, like the room, and as cold, and played
to her mother’s pitiless ears.

She went slowly into the drawing-room. Empty, it was a dreary place. The
heavy chandeliers of gold and cut glass were unlighted. The crimson and
gilt chairs were covered with white linen. Only the piano, a gleaming
oasis in a desert of polished floor, was lighted, and that by two tall
candles in gilt candlesticks that reached from the floor. Hilda, going
reluctantly to her post, was the only bit of life and color in the room.

At last Annunciata dozed, and Hilda played softly. Played now, not for
her mother, but for herself. And as she played she dreamed: of Hedwig’s
wedding, of her own debut, of Karl, who had fed her romantic heart by
treating her like a woman grown.

The Countess’s opportunity had come. She put down the dreary embroidery
with which she filled the drearier evenings, and moved to the window.
She walked quietly, like a cat.

Her first words to Hedwig were those of Peter Niburg as he linked arms
with his enemy and started down the street. “A fine night, Highness,”
 she said.

Hedwig raised her eyes to the stars. “It is very lovely.”

“A night to spend out-of-doors, instead of being shut up--” She finished
her, sentence with a shrug of the shoulders.

Hedwig was not fond of the Countess. She did not know why. The
truth being, of course, that between them lay the barrier of her own
innocence. Hedwig could not have put this into words, would not, indeed,
if she could. But when the Countess’s arm touched hers, she drew aside.

“To-night,” said the lady in waiting dreamily, “I should like to be in
a motor, speeding over mountain roads. I come from the mountains, you
know. And I miss them.”

Hedwig said nothing; she wished to be alone with her trouble.

“In my home, at this time of the year,” the Countess went on, still
softly, “they are driving the cattle up into the mountains for
the summer. At night one hears them going--a bell far off, up the
mountainside, and sometimes one sees the light of a lantern.”

Hedwig moved, a little impatiently, but as the Countess went on, she
listened. After all, Nikky, too, came from the mountains. She saw it
all--the great herds moving with deliberate eagerness already sniffing
the green slopes above, and the star of the distant lantern. She could
even hear the thin note of the bell. And because she was sorry for the
Countess, who was homesick, and perhaps because just then she had to
speak to some one, she turned to her at last with the thing that filled
her mind.

“This marriage,” she said bitterly. “Is it talked about? Am I the only
one in the palace who has not known about it?”

“No, Highness, I had heard nothing.”

“But you knew about it?”

“Only what I heard to-night. Of course, there are always rumors.”

“As to the other, the matter my mother referred to,” Hedwig held her
head very high, “I--she was unjust. Am I never to have any friends?”

The Countess turned and, separating the curtains, surveyed the room
within. Annunciata was asleep, and beyond, Hilda was playing dreamily,
and very softly, as behooves one whose bedtime is long past. When the
Countess dropped the curtain, she turned abruptly to Hedwig.

“Friends, Highness? One may have friends, of course. It is not
friendship they fear.”

“What then?”

“A lover,” said the Countess softly. “It is impossible to see Captain
Larisch in your presence, and not realize--”

“Go on.”

“And not realize, Highness, that he is in love with you.”

“How silly!” said the Princess Hedwig, with glowing eyes.

“But Highness!” implored the Countess. “If only you would use a little
caution. Open defiance is its own defeat.”

“I am not ashamed of what I do,” said Hedwig hotly.

“Ashamed! Of course not. But things that are harmless in others, in your
position--you are young. You should have friends, gayety. I am,”
 she smiled grimly in the darkness, “not so old myself but that I can
understand.”

“Who told my mother that I was having tea with--with Prince Otto?”

“These things get about. Where there is no gossip, there are plenty to
invent it. And--pardon, Highness--frankness, openness, are not always
understood.”

Hedwig stood still. The old city was preparing for sleep. In the Place
a few lovers loitered, standing close, and the faint tinkling of a bell
told of the Blessed Sacrament being carried through the streets to some
bedside of the dying. Soon the priest came into view, walking rapidly,
with his skirts flapping around his legs. Before him marched a boy,
ringing a bell and carrying a lighted lamp. The priest bent his steps
through the Place, and the lovers kneeled as he passed by. The Princess
Hedwig bowed her head.

It seemed to her, all at once, that the world was full of wretchedness
and death, and of separation, which might be worse than death. The lamp,
passing behind trees, shone out fitfully. The bell tinkled--a thin,
silvery sound that made her heart ache.

“I wish I could help you, Highness,” said the Countess. “I should like
to see you happy. But happiness does not come of itself. We must fight
for it.”

“Fight? What chance have I to fight?” Hedwig asked scornfully.

“One thing, of course, I could do,” pursued the Countess. “On those days
when you wish to have tea with--His Royal Highness, I could arrange,
perhaps, to let you know if any member of the family intended going to
his apartments.”

It was a moment before Hedwig comprehended. Then she turned to her
haughtily. “When I wish to have tea with my cousin,” she said coldly, “I
shall do it openly, Countess.”

She left the balcony abruptly, abandoning the Countess to solitary fury,
the greater because triumph had seemed so near. Alone, she went red
and white, bit her lips, behaved according to all the time-honored
traditions. And even swore--in a polite, lady-in-waiting fashion, to be
sure--to get even.

Royalties, as she knew well, were difficult to manage. They would go
along perfectly well, and act like human beings, and rage and fuss and
grieve, and even weep. And then, quite unexpectedly, the royal streak
would show. But royalties in love were rather rare in her experience.
Love was, generally speaking, not a royal attribute. Apparently it
required a new set of rules.

Altogether, the Countess Loschek worked herself to quite as great a fury
as if her motives had been purely altruistic, and not both selfish and
wicked.

That night, while the Prince Ferdinand William Otto hugged the
woolen dog in his sleep; while the Duchess Hilda, in front of her
dressing-table, was having her hair brushed; while Nikky roamed the
streets and saw nothing but the vision of a girl on a balcony, a girl
who was lost to him, although she had never been anything else, Hedwig
on her knees at the prie-dieu in her dressing-room followed the example
of the Chancellor, who, too, had felt himself in a tight corner, as
one may say, and was growing tired of putting his trust in princes. So
Hedwig prayed for many things: for the softening of hard hearts;
for Nikky’s love; and, perhaps a trifle tardily, for the welfare
and recovery of her grandfather, the King. But mostly she prayed for
happiness, for a bit of light and warmth in her gray days--to be allowed
to live and love.



CHAPTER. XI. RATHER A WILD NIGHT


Things were going very wrong for Nikky Larisch.

Not handsome, in any exact sense, was Nikky, but tall and straight,
with a thatch of bright hair not unlike that of the Crown Prince, and
as unruly. Tall and straight, and occasionally truculent, with a narrow
rapier scar on his left cheek to tell the story of wild student days,
and with two clear young eyes that had looked out humorously at the
world until lately. But Nikky was not smiling at the world these days.

Perhaps, at the very first, he had been in love with the princess, not
the woman. It had been rather like him to fix on the unattainable and
worship it from afar. Because, for all the friendliness of their growing
intimacy, Hedwig was still a star, whose light touched him, but whose
warmth was not for him. He would have died fighting for her with a smile
on his lips. There had been times when he almost wished he might. He
used to figure out pleasant little dramas, in which, fallen on the
battlefield, his last word, uttered in all reverence, was her name. But
he had no hope of living for her, unless, of course, she should happen
to need him, which was most unlikely. He had no vanity whatever,
although in parade dress, with white gloves, he hoped he cut a decent
figure.

So she had been his star, and as cold and remote. And then, that very
morning, whether it was the new cross-saddle suit or whatever it was,
Hedwig had been thrown. Not badly--she was too expert for that. As a
matter of fact, feeling herself going, she had flung two strong young
arms around her horse’s neck, and had almost succeeded in lighting on
her feet. It was not at all dramatic.

But Nikky’s heart had stopped beating. He had lifted her up from where
she sat, half vexed and wholly ashamed, and carried her to a chair. That
was all. But when it was all over, and Hedwig was only a trifle wobbly
and horribly humiliated, Nikky Larisch knew the truth about himself,
knew that he was in love with the granddaughter of his King, and that
under no conceivable circumstances would he ever be able to tell her so.
Knew, then, that happiness and he had said a long farewell, and would
thereafter travel different roads.

It had stunned him. He had stood quite still and thought about it. And
Prince Ferdinand William Otto had caught him in the act of thinking; and
had stood before him and surveyed him anxiously.

“You needn’t look so worried, you know,” he protested. “She’s not really
hurt.”

Nikky came back, but slowly. He had in a few seconds already traveled a
long way along the lonely road. But he smiled down at the little Prince.

“But she might have been, you know. It--it rather alarmed me.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto was for continuing the subject. He blamed
the accident on the new riding-suit, and was royally outspoken about it.
“And anyhow,” he finished, “I don’t like her in boy’s clothes. Half of
her looks like a girl, and the rest doesn’t.”

Nikky, letting his eyes rest on her, realized that all of her to him was
wonderful, and forever beyond reach.

So that night he started out to think things over. Probably never before
in his life had he deliberately done such a thing. He had never, as a
fact, thought much at all. It had been his comfortable habit to let the
day take care of itself. Beyond minor problems of finance--minor because
his income was trifling--he had considered little. In the last border
war he had distinguished himself only when it was a matter of doing, not
of thinking.

He was very humble about himself. His young swagger was a sort
of defiance. And he was not subtle. Taken suddenly, through the
Chancellor’s favor, into the circles of the Court, its intrigues and
poisoned whispers passed him by. He did not know they existed. And he
had one creed, and only one: to love God, honor the King, and live like
a gentleman.

On this boy, then, with the capacity for suffering of his single-minded
type, had fallen the mantle of trouble. It puzzled him. He did not
exactly know what to do about it. And it hurt. It hurt horribly.

That night, following the Archduchess’s confidence, he had stood under
the Palace windows, in the Place, and looked up. Not that he expected to
see Hedwig. He did it instinctively, turning toward her hidden presence
with a sort of bewildered yearning. Across his path, as he turned away,
had passed the little procession of the priest and the Sacrament. He
knelt, as did the lovers and the passers-by, and when he got up he
followed the small flame of the lamp with his eyes as far as he could
see it.

This was life, then. One lived and suffered and yearned, and then came
death. Were there barriers of rank over there? Or were all equal, so
that those who had loved on earth without hope might meet face to face?
The tinkle of the bell grew fainter. This weight that he carried, it
would be his all his life. And then, one day, he too would hear the bell
coming nearer and nearer, and he would die, without having lived.

But he was young, and the night was crisp and beautiful. He took a long
breath, and looked up at the stars. After all, things might not be so
bad. Hedwig might refuse this marriage. They were afraid that she
would, or why have asked his help? When he thought of King Karl, he drew
himself up; and his heels rang hard on the pavement. Karl! A hard man
and a good king--that was Karl. And old. From the full manhood of his
twenty-three years Nikky surveyed Karl’s almost forty, and considered it
age.

But soon he was bitter again, bitter and jealous. Back there in the
palace they were plotting their own safety, and making a young girl pay
for it. He swore softly.

It was typical of Nikky to decide that he needed a hard walk. He
translated most of his emotions into motion. So he set off briskly,
turning into the crowded part of the city. Here were narrow, winding
streets; old houses that overhung above and almost touched, shutting
out all but a thin line of sky; mediaeval doorways of heavy oak and iron
that opened into courtyards, where once armed men had lounged, but where
now broken wagons and other riffraff were stored.

And here it was that Nikky happened on the thing that was to take him
far that night, and bring about many curious things. Not far ahead of
him two men were talking. They went slowly, arm in arm. One was talking
loquaciously, using his free arm, on which hung a cane, to gesticulate.
The other walked with bent head.

Nikky, pausing to light a cigarette, fell behind. But the wind was
tricky, and with his third match he stepped into a stone archway,
lighted his cigarette, buttoned his tunic high against the chill, and
emerged to a silent but violent struggle just ahead. The two men had
been attacked by three others, and as he stared, the loquacious one went
down. Instantly a huge figure of a man outlined against the light from a
street-lamp, crouched over the prostrate form of the fallen man. Even
in the imperceptible second before he started to run toward the group,
Nikky saw that the silent one, unmolested, was looking on.

A moment later he was in the thick of things and fighting gloriously.
His soldierly cap fell off. His fair hair bristled with excitement. He
flung out arms that were both furious and strong, and with each blow the
group assumed a new formation. Unluckily, a great deal of the fighting
was done over the prostrate form of Peter Niburg.

Suddenly one of the group broke away, and ran down the street. He ran
rather like a kangaroo, gathering his feet under him and proceeding by
a series of leaps, almost as if he were being shamefully pricked from
behind. At a corner he turned pale, terror-stricken eyes back on that
sinister group, and went on into the labyrinth of small streets.

But disaster, inglorious disaster, waited for Nikky. Peter Niburg, face
down on the pavement, was groaning, and Nikky had felled one man and was
starting on a second with the fighting appetite of twenty-three, when
something happened. One moment Nikky was smiling, with a cut lip, and
hair in his eyes, and the next he was dropped like an ox, by a blow from
behind. Landing between his shoulder-blades, it jerked his head back
with a snap, and sent him reeling. A second followed, delivered by a
huge fist.

Down went Nikky, and lay still.

The town slept on. Street brawls were not uncommon, especially in
the neighborhood of the Hungaria. Those who roused grumbled about
quarrelsome students, and slept again.

Perhaps two minutes later, Nikky got up. He was another minute in
locating himself. His cap lay in the gutter. Beside him, on his back,
lay a sprawling and stertorous figure, with, so quick the downfall, a
cane still hooked to his arm.

Nikky bent over Peter Niburg. Bending over made his head ache
abominably.

“Here, man!” he said. “Get up! Rouse yourself!”

Peter Niburg made an inarticulate reference to a piece of silk of
certain quality, and lay still. But his eyes opened slowly, and he
stared up at the stars. “A fine night,” he said thickly. “A very
fine--” Suddenly he raised himself to a sitting posture. Terror gave him
strength. “I’ve been robbed,” he said. “Robbed. I am ruined. I am dead.”

“Tut,” said Nikky, mopping his cut lip. “If you are dead, your spirit
speaks with an uncommonly lusty voice! Come, get up. We present together
a shameful picture of defeat.”

But he raised Peter Niburg gently from the ground and, finding his knees
unstable, from fright or weakness, stood him against a house wall.
Peter Niburg, with rolling eyes, felt for his letter, and, the saints be
praised, found it.

“Ah!” he said, and straightened up. “After all it is not so bad as I
feared. They got nothing.”

He made a manful effort to walk, but tottered reeled. Nikky caught him.

“Careful!” he said. “The colossus was doubtless the one who got us boxy,
and we are likely to feel his weight for some time. Where do you live?”

Peter Niburg was not for saying. He would have preferred to pursue his
solitary if uncertain way. But Nikky was no half Samaritan. Toward Peter
Niburg’s lodging, then, they made a slow progress.

“These recent gentlemen,” said Nikky, as they rent along, “they are,
perhaps, personal enemies?”

“I do not know. I saw nothing.”

“One was very large, a giant of a man. Do you now such a man?”

Peter Niburg reflected. He thought not. “But I know why they came,” he
said unguardedly. “Some early morning, my friend, you will hear of man
lying dead in the street, That man will be I.”

“The thought has a moral,” observed Nikky. “Do not trust yourself
out-of-doors at night.”

But he saw that Peter Niburg kept his hand over breast-pocket.

Never having dealt in mysteries, Nikky was slow recognizing one. But, he
reflected, many things were going on in the old city in these troubled
days.

Came to Nikky, all at once; that this man on his arm might be one of the
hidden eyes of Government.

“These are difficult times,” he ventured, “for those who are loyal.”

Peter Niburg gave him a sidelong glance. “Difficult indeed,” he said
briefly.

“But,” said Nikky, “perhaps we fear too much. The people love the boy
Prince. And without the people revolution can accomplish nothing.”

“Nothing at all,” assented Peter Niburg.

“I think,” Nikky observed, finding his companion unresponsive, “that,
after I see you safely home, I shall report this small matter to the
police. Surely there cannot be in the city many such gorillas as our
friend with the beard and the huge body.”

But here Peter Niburg turned even paler. “Not--not the police!” he
stammered.

“But why? You and I, my friend, will carry their insignia for some days.
I have a mind to pay our debts.”

Peter Niburg considered. He stopped and faced Nikky. “I do not wish the
police,” he said. “Perhaps I have said too little. This is a private
matter. An affair of jealousy.”

“I see!”

“Naturally, not a matter for publicity.”

“Very well,” Nikky assented. But in his mind was rising, dark suspicion.
He had stumbled on something. He cursed his stupidity that it meant, so
far, nothing more than a mystery to him. He did not pride himself on his
intelligence.

“You were not alone, I think?”

Peter Niburg suddenly remembered Herman, and stopped.

“Your friend must have escaped.”

“He would escape,” said Peter Niburg scornfully. “He is of the type that
runs.”

He lapsed into sullen silence. Soon he paused before a quiet house, one
of the many which housed in cavernous depths uncounted clerks and other
small fry of the city. “Good-night to you,” said Peter Niburg. Then,
rather tardily. “And my thanks. But for you I should now--” he shrugged
his shoulders.

“Good-night, friend,” said Nikky. “And better keep your bed to-morrow.”

He had turned away, and Peter Niburg entered the house.

Nikky inspected himself in the glow of a street lamp. Save for
some dust, and a swollen lip, which he could not see, he was not
unpresentable. Well enough, anyhow, for the empty streets. But before
he started he looked the house and the neighborhood over carefully. He
might wish to return to that house.

For two hours he walked, and resumed his interrupted train of
thought--past the gloomy University buildings, past the quay, where
sailed the vessels that during peaceful times went along the Ar through
the low lands of Karnia to the sea. At last, having almost circled the
city, he came to the Cathedral. It was nearly midnight by the clock in
the high tower. He stopped and consulted his watch. The fancy took him
to go up the high steps, and look out over the city from the colonnade.

Once there, he stood leaning against a column, looking out. The sleeping
town appealed to him. Just so had it lain in old feudal times, clustered
about the church and the Palace, and looking to both for protection. It
had grown since then, had extended beyond the walls which sheltered
it, had now destroyed those walls and, filling in the moat, had built
thereon its circling parks. And other things had changed. No longer, he
reflected gloomily, did it look to the palace, save with tolerance and
occasional disloyalty. The old order was changing. And, with all his hot
young heart, Nikky was for the old order.

There was some one coming along the quiet streets, with a stealthy,
shuffling gait that caught his attention. So, for instance, might a
weary or a wounded man drag along. Exactly so, indeed, had Peter Niburg
shambled into his house but two hours gone.

The footsteps paused, hesitated, commenced a painful struggle up the
ascent. Nikky moved behind his column, and waited. Up and up, weary step
after weary step. The shadowy figure, coming close, took a form, became
a man--became Peter Niburg.

Now, indeed, Nikky roused. Beaten and sorely bruised, Peter Niburg
should have been in bed. What stealthy business of the night brought him
out?

Fortunately for Nikky’s hiding-place, the last step or two proved too
much for the spy. He groaned, and sat down painfully, near the top. His
head lolled forward, and he supported it on two shaking hands. Thus he
sat, huddled and miserable, for five minutes or thereabouts. The chime
rang out overhead the old hymn which the little Crown Prince so often
sang to it:

               “Draw me also, Mary mild,
                To adore Thee and thy Child!
                        Mary mild,
                Star in desert drear and wild.”

Time had gone since the old church stood in a desert drear and wild, but
still its chimes rang the old petition, hour after hour.

At ten minutes past the hour, Nikky heard the engine of an automobile.
No machine came in sight, but the throbbing kept on, from which he
judged that a car had been stopped around the corner. Peter Niburg
heard it, and rose. A moment later a man, with the springiness of youth,
mounted the steps and confronted the messenger.

Nikky saw a great light. When Peter Niburg put his hand to his
breast-pocket, there was no longer room for doubt, nor, for that matter,
time for thinking. As a matter of fact, never afterward could Nikky
recall thinking at all. He moved away quietly, hidden by the shadows of
the colonnade. Behind him, on the steps, the two men were talking. Peter
Niburg’s nasal voice had taken on a whining note. Short, gruff syllables
replied. Absorbed in themselves and their business, they neither heard
nor saw the figure that slipped through the colonnade, and dropped, a
bloodcurdling drop, from the high end of it to the street below.

Nikky’s first impulse, beside the car, was to cut a tire. By getting his
opponent into a stooping position; over the damaged wheel, it would be
easier to overcome him. But a hasty search revealed that he had lost
his knife in the melee. And second thought gave him a better plan. After
all, to get the letter was not everything. To know its destination would
be important. He had no time to think further. The messenger was coming
down the steps, not stealthily, but clattering, with the ring of nails
in the heels of heavy boots.

Nikky flung his long length into the tonneau, and there crouched. It
was dark enough to conceal him, but Nikky’s was a large body in a small
place. However, the chauffeur only glanced at the car, kicked a tire
with a practiced foot, and got in.

He headed for the open country. Very soon his passenger knew that he
was in for a long ride possibly, a cold ride certainly. Within the city
limits the car moved decorously, but when the suburbs were reached, the
driver put on all his power. He drove carefully, too, as one who must
make haste but cannot afford accident.

Nikky grew very uncomfortable. His long legs ached. The place between
the shoulders where the concierge had landed his powerful blows throbbed
and beat. Also he was puzzled, and he hated being puzzled. He was
unarmed, too. He disliked that most of all. Generally speaking, he felt
his position humiliating. He was a soldier, not a spy. His training had
been to fight, not to hide and watch.

After a time he raised his head. He made out that they were going east,
toward the mountains, and he cursed the luck that had left his revolver
at home. Still he had no plan but to watch. Two hours’ ride, at their
present rate, would take them over the border and into Karnia.

Nikky, although no thinker, was not a fool, and he knew rather better
than most what dangers threatened the country from outside as well.
Also, in the back of his impulsive head was a sort of dogged quality
that was near to obstinacy. He had started this thing and he would see
it through. And as the car approached the border, he began to realize
that this was not of the Terrorists at home, but something sinister,
abroad.

With a squealing of brakes the machine drew up at the frontier. Here was
a chain across the highway, with two sets of guards. Long before they
reached it, a sentry stepped into the road and waved his lantern.

Nikky burrowed lower into the car, and attempted to look like a rug. In
the silence, while the sentry evidently examined a passport and flashed
a lantern over the chauffeur, Nikky cursed the ticking of his watch, the
beating of his own heart.

Then came a clanking as the chain dropped in the road. The car bumped
over it, and halted again. The same formalities, this time by Karnian
sentries. A bit more danger, too, for the captain in charge of the guard
asked for matches, and dangled a careless hand over the side, within a
few inches of Nikky’s head. Then the jerk following a hasty letting-in
of the clutch, and they were off again.

For some time they climbed steadily. But Nikky, who knew the road, bided
his time. Then at last, at two o’clock, came the steep ascent to the
very crest of the mountain, and a falling-back, gear by gear, until they
climbed slowly in the lowest.

Nikky unfolded his length quietly. The gears were grinding, the driver
bent low over his wheel. Very deliberately, now that he knew what he
was going to do, Nikky unbuttoned his tunic and slipped it off. It was a
rash thing, this plan he had in mind, rash under any circumstances, in
a moving car particularly rash here, where between the cliff and a
precipice that fell far away below, was only a winding ribbon of uneven
road.

Here, at the crucial moment, undoubtedly he should have given a last
thought to Hedwig. But alas for romance! As a matter of honesty, he
had completely forgotten Hedwig. This was his work, and with even the
hottest of lovers, work and love are things apart.

So he waited his moment, loveless, as one may say, and then, with one
singularly efficient gesture, he flung his tunic over the chauffeur’s
head. He drove a car himself, did Nikky--not his own, of course; he was
far too poor--and he counted on one thing: an automobile driver acts
from the spinal cord, and not from the brain. Therefore his brain may
be seething with a thousand frenzies, but he will shove out clutch and
brake feet in an emergency, and hold them out.

So it happened. The man’s hands left the wheel, but he stopped his
car. Not too soon. Not before it had struck the cliff, and then taken a
sickening curve out toward the edge of the precipice. But stop it did,
on the very edge of eternity, and the chauffeur held it there.

“Set the hand brake!” Nikky said. The lamps were near enough the edge to
make him dizzy.

The chauffeur ceased struggling, and set the hand brake. His head
was still covered. But having done that, he commenced a struggle more
furious than forceful, for both of them were handicapped. But Nikky had
steel-like young arms from which escape was impossible.

And now Nikky was forced to an unsoldier-like thing that he afterward
tried to forget. For the driver developed unexpected strength, refused
to submit, got the tunic off his head, and, seeing himself attacked by
one man only, took courage and fell to. He picked up a wrench from the
seat beside him, and made a furious pass at Nikky’s head. Nikky ducked
and, after a struggle, secured the weapon. All this in the car, over the
seat back.

It was then that Nikky raised the wrench and stunned his man with it. It
was hateful. The very dull thud of it was sickening. And there was a bad
minute or two when he thought he had killed his opponent. The man had
sunk down in his seat, a sodden lump of inanimate human flesh. And
Nikky, whose business, in a way, was killing; was horrified.

He tried to find the pulse, but failed--which was not surprising, since
he had the wrong side of the wrist. Then the unconscious man groaned.
For a moment, as he stood over him, Nikky reflected that he was having
rather a murderous night of it.

The chauffeur wakened, ten minutes later, to find himself securely
tied with his own towing rope, and lying extremely close to the edge of
death. Beside him on the ground sat a steady-eyed young man with a cut
lip. The young man had lighted a cigarette, and was placing it carefully
in the uninjured side of his mouth.

“Just as soon as you are up to it,” said Nikky, “we shall have a little
talk.”

The chauffeur muttered something in the peasant patois of Karnia.

“Come, come!” Nikky observed. “Speak up. No hiding behind strange
tongues. But first, I have the letter. That saves your worrying about
it. You can clear your mind for action.” Suddenly Nikky dropped his
mocking tone. To be quite frank, now that the man was not dead, and
Nikky had the letter, he rather fancied himself. But make no mistake--he
was in earnest, grim and deadly earnest.

“I have a fancy, my friend,” he said, “to take that letter of yours on
to its destination. But what that destination is, you are to tell me.”

The man on the ground grinned sardonically. “You know better than to ask
that,” he said. “I will never tell you.”

Nikky had thought things out fairly well, for him, in that ten minutes.
In a business-like fashion he turned the prostrate prisoner on his side,
so that he faced toward the chasm. A late moon showed its depth, and the
valley in which the Ar flowed swiftly. And having thus faced him toward
the next world, Nikky, throwing away his cigarette because it hurt
his lip, put a stone or two from the roadway behind his prisoner, and
anchored him there. Then he sat down and waited. Except that his ears
were burning, he was very calm.

“Any news?” he asked, at the end of ten minutes’ unbroken silence.

His--prisoner said nothing. He was thinking, doubtless. Weighing things,
too,--perhaps life against betrayal, a family against separation.

Nikky examined the letter again. It was addressed to a border town in
Livonia. But the town lay far behind them. The address, then, was a
false one. He whistled softly. He was not, as a fact, as calm as he
looked. He had never thrown a man over a precipice before, and he
disliked the idea. Fortunately, his prisoner did not know this. Besides,
suppose he did push him over? Dead men are extremely useless about
telling things. It would, as a fact, leave matters no better than
before. Rather worse.

Half an hour.

“Come, come,” said Nikky fiercely. “We are losing time.” He looked
fierce, too. His swollen lip did that. And he was nervous. It occurred
to him that his prisoner, in desperation, might roll over the edge
himself, which would be most uncomfortable.

But the precipice, and Nikky’s fierce lip, and other things, had got in
their work. The man on the ground stopped muttering in his patois, and
turned on Nikky eyes full of hate.

“I will tell you,” he said. “And you will free me. And after that--”

“Certainly,” Nikky replied equably. “You will follow me to the ends of
the earth--although that will not be necessary, because I don’t intend
to go there--and finish me off.” Then, sternly: “Now, where does the
letter go? I have a fancy for delivering it myself.”

“If I tell you, what then?”

“This: If you tell me properly, and all goes well, I will return and
release you. If I do not return, naturally you will not be released.
And, for fear you meditate a treachery, I shall gag you and leave you,
not here, but back a short distance, in the wood we just passed. And,
because you are a brave man, and this thing may be less serious than
I think it is, I give you my word of honor that, if you advise me
correctly, I shall return and liberate you.”

He was very proud of his plan. He had thought it out carefully. He had
everything to gain and nothing to lose by it--except, perhaps, his
life. The point was, that he knew he could not take a citizen of Karnia
prisoner, because too many things would follow, possibly a war.

“It’s a reasonable proposition,” he observed. “If I come back, you are
all right. If I do not, there are a number of disagreeable possibilities
for you.”

“I have only your word.”

“And I yours,” said Nikky.

The chauffeur took a final glance around; as far as he could see, and a
final shuddering look at the valley of the Ar, far below. “I will tell
you,” he said sullenly.



CHAPTER XII. TWO PRISONERS


Herman Spier had made his escape with the letter. He ran through
tortuous byways of the old city, under arches into courtyards, out again
by doorway set in walls, twisted, doubled like a rabbit. And all this
with no pursuit, save the pricking one of terror.

But at last he halted, looked about, perceived that only his own guilty
conscience accused him, and took breath. He made his way to the house in
the Road of the Good Children, the letter now buttoned inside his coat,
and, finding the doors closed, lurked in the shadow of the park until,
an hour later, Black Humbert himself appeared.

He eyed his creature with cold anger. “It is a marvel,” he sneered,
“that such flight as yours has not brought the police in a pack at your
heels.”

“I had the letter,” Herman replied sulkily. “It was necessary to save
it.”

“You were to see where Niburg took the substitute.”

But here Herman was the one to sneer. “Niburg!” he said. “You know
well enough that he will take no substitute to-night, or any night, You
strike hard, my friend.”

The concierge growled, and together they entered the house across the
street.

In the absence of Humbert, his niece, daughter of a milk-seller near,
kept the bureau, answered the bell, and after nine o’clock, when the
doors were bolted, admitted the various occupants of the house and gave
them the tiny tapers with which to light themselves upstairs. She was
sewing and singing softly when they entered. Herman Spier’s pale face
colored. He suspected the girl of a softness for him, not entirely borne
out by the facts. So he straightened his ready-made tie, which hooked to
his collar button, and ogled her.

“All right, girl. You may go,” said Humbert. His huge bulk seemed to
fill the little room.

“Good-night to you both,” the girl said, and gave Herman Spier a nod.
When she was gone, the concierge locked the door behind her.

“And now,” he said, “for a look at the treasure.”

He rubbed his hands together as Herman produced the letter. Heads close,
they examined it under the lamp. Then they glanced at each other.

“A cipher,” said the concierge shortly. “It tells nothing.”

It was a moment of intense disappointment. In Humbert’s mind had been
forming, for the past hour or two, a plan--nothing less than to go
himself before the Council and, with the letter in hand, to point out
certain things which would be valuable. In this way he would serve both
the party and him-self. Preferment would follow. He could demand, under
the corning republic, some high office. Already, of course, he was known
to the Committee, and known well, but rather for brawn than brain. They
used him. Now-- “Code!” he said. And struck the paper with a hairy fist.
“Everything goes wrong. That blond devil interferes, and now this letter
speaks but of blankets and loaves!”

The bell rang, and, taking care to thrust the letter out of sight,
the concierge disappeared. Then ensued, in the hall, a short colloquy,
followed by a thumping on the staircase. The concierge returned.

“Old Adelbert, from the Opera,” he said. “He has lost his position, and
would have spent the night airing his grievance. But I sent him off!”

Herman turned his pale eyes toward the giant. “So!” he said. And after a
pause, “He has some influence among the veterans.”

“And is Royalist to his marrow,” sneered the concierge. He took the
letter out again and, bringing a lamp, went over it carefully. It was
signed merely “Olga.” “Blankets and loaves!” he fumed.

Now, as between the two, Black Humbert furnished evil and strength, but
it was the pallid clerk who furnished the cunning. And now he made a
suggestion.

“It is possible,” he said, “that he--upstairs--could help.”

“Adelbert? Are you mad?”

“The other. He knows codes. It was by means of one we caught him. I have
heard that all these things have one basis, and a simple one.”

The concierge considered. Then he rose. “It is worth trying,” he
observed.

He thrust the letter into his pocket, and the two conspirators went out
into the gloomy hall. There, on a ledge, lay the white tapers, and one
he lighted, shielding it from the draft in the hollow of his great hand.
Then he led the way to the top of the house.

Here were three rooms. One, the best, was Herman Spier’s, a poor thing
at that. Next to it was old Adelbert’s. As they passed the door they
could hear him within, muttering to himself. At the extreme end of
the narrow corridor, in a passage almost blocked by old furniture, was
another room, a sort of attic, with a slanting roof.

Making sure that old Adelbert did not hear them, they went back to this
door, which the concierge unlocked. Inside the room was dark. The taper
showed little. As their eyes became accustomed to the darkness, the
outlines of the attic stood revealed, a junk-room, piled high with old
trunks, and in one corner a bed.

Black Humbert, taper in hand, approached the bed. Herman remained near
the door. Now, with the candle near, the bed revealed a man lying on it,
and tied with knotted ropes; a young man, with sunken cheeks and weary,
desperate eyes. Beside him, on a chair, were the fragments of a meal, a
bit of broken bread, some cold soup, on which grease had formed a firm
coating.

Lying there, sleeping and waking and sleeping again, young Haeckel, one
time of His Majesty’s secret service and student in the University, had
lost track of the days. He knew not how long he had been a prisoner,
except that it had been eternities. Twice a day, morning and evening,
came his jailer and loosened his bonds, brought food, of a sort, and
allowed him, not out of mercy, but because it was the Committee’s
pleasure that for a time he should live, to move about the room and
bring the blood again to his numbed limbs.

He was to live because he knew many things which the Committee would
know. But, as the concierge daily reminded him, there was a limit to
mercy and to patience.

In the mean time they held him, a hostage against certain contingencies.
Held him and kept him barely alive. Already he tottered about the
room when his bonds were removed; but his eyes did not falter, or his
courage. Those whom he had served so well, he felt, would not forget
him. And meanwhile, knowing what he knew, he would die before he became
the tool of these workers in the dark.

So he lay and thought, and slept when thinking became unbearable, and
thus went his days and the long nights.

The concierge untied him, and stood back. “Now,” he said.

But the boy--he was no more--lay still. He made one effort to rise, and
fell back.

“Up with you!” said the concierge, and jerked him to his feet. He caught
the rail of the bed, or he would have fallen. “Now--stand like a man.”

He stood then, facing his captors without defiance. He had worn all that
out in the first days of his imprisonment. He was in shirt and trousers
only, his feet bare, his face unshaven--the thin first beard of early
manhood.

“Well?” he said at last. “I thought--you’ve been here once to-night.”

“Right, my cuckoo. But to-night I do you double honor.”

But seeing that Haeckel was swaying, he turned to Herman Spier. “Go
down,” he said, “and bring up some brandy. He can do nothing for us in
this state.”

He drank the brandy eagerly when it came, and the concierge poured him a
second quantity. What with weakness and slow starvation, it did what no
threat of personal danger would have done. It broke down his resistance.
Not immediately. He fought hard, when the matter was first broached
to him. But in the end he took the letter and, holding it close to the
candle, he examined it closely. His hands shook, his eyes burned. The
two Terrorists watched him narrowly.

Brandy or no brandy, however, he had not lost his wits. He glanced up
suddenly. “Tell me something about this,” he said. “And what will you do
for me if I decode it?”

The concierge would promise anything, and did. Haeckel listened, and
knew the offer of liberty was a lie. But there was something about the
story of the letter itself that bore the hall-marks of truth.

“You see,” finished Black Humbert cunningly, “she--this--lady of the
Court--is plotting with some one, or so we suspect. If it is only a
liaison--!” He spread his hands. “If, as is possible, she betrays us to
Karnia, that we should find out. It is not,” he added, “among our plans
that Karnia should know too much of us.”

“Who is it?”

“I cannot betray a lady,” said Black Humbert, and leered.

The brandy was still working, but the spy’s mind was clear. He asked for
a pencil, and set to work. After all, if there was a spy of Karl’s in
the Palace, it were well to know it. He tried complicated methods first,
to find that the body of the letter, after all, was simple enough. By
reading every tenth word, he got a consistent message, save that certain
supplies, over which the concierge had railed, were special code words
for certain regiments. These he could not decipher.

“Whoever was to receive this,” he said at last, “would have been in
possession of complete data of the army, equipment and all, and the
location of various regiments. Probably you and your band of murderers
have that already.”

The concierge nodded, no whit ruffled. “And for whom was it intended?”

“I cannot say. The address is fictitious, of course.”

Black Humbert scowled. “So!” he said. “You tell us only a part!”

“There is nothing else to tell. Save, as I have written here, the writer
ends: ‘I must see you at once. Let me know where.’”

The brandy was getting in its work well by that time. He was feeling
strong, his own man again, and reckless. But he was cunning, too. He
yawned. “And in return for all this, what?” he demanded. “I have done
you a service, friend cut-throat.”

The concierge stuffed letter and translation into his pocket. “What
would you have, short of liberty?”

“Air, for one thing.” He stood up and stretched again. God, how strong
he felt! “If you would open that accursed window for an hour--the place
reeks.”

Humbert was in high good humor in spite of his protests. In his pocket
he held the key to favor, aye, to a plan which he meant to lay before
the Committee of Ten, a plan breath-taking in its audacity and yet
potential of success. He went to the window and put his great shoulder
against it.

Instantly Haeckel overturned the candle and, picking up the chair,
hurled it at Herman Spier. He heard the clerk go down as he leaped for
the door. Herman had not locked it. He was in the passage before the
concierge had stumbled past the bed.

On the stairs his lightness counted. His bare feet made no sound. He
could hear behind him the great mass of Humbert, hurling itself down.
Haeckel ran as he had never run before. The last flight now, with the
concierge well behind, and liberty two seconds away.

He flung himself against the doors to the street. But they were fastened
by a chain, and the key was not in the lock.

He crumpled up in a heap as the concierge fell on him with fists like
flails.

Some time later, old Adelbert heard a sound in the corridor, and peered
out. Humbert, assisted by the lodger, Spier, was carrying to the attic
what appeared to be an old mattress, rolled up and covered with rags. In
the morning, outside the door, there was a darkish stain, however, which
might have been blood.



CHAPTER XIII. IN THE PARK


At nine o’clock the next morning the Chancellor visited the Crown
Prince. He came without ceremony. Lately he had been coming often. He
liked to come in quietly, and sit for an hour in the schoolroom, saying
nothing. Prince Ferdinand William Otto found these occasions rather
trying.

“I should think,” he protested once to his governess, “that he would
have something else to do. He’s the Chancellor, he?”

But on this occasion the Chancellor had an errand, the product of
careful thought. Early as it was, already he had read his morning mail
in his study, had dictated his replies, had eaten a frugal breakfast of
fruit and sausage, and in the small inner room which had heard so many
secrets, had listened to the reports of his agents, and of the King’s
physicians. Neither had been reassuring.

The King had passed a bad night, and Haeckel was still missing. The
Chancellor’s heart was heavy.

The Chancellor watched the Crown Prince, as he sat at the high desk,
laboriously writing. It was the hour of English composition, and Prince
Ferdinand William Otto was writing a theme.

“About dogs,” he explained. “I’ve seen a great many, you know. I could
do it better with a pencil. My pen sticks in the paper.”

He wrote on, and Mettlich sat and watched. From the boy his gaze
wandered over the room. He knew it well. Not so many years ago he had
visited in this very room another bright-haired lad, whose pen had also
stuck in the paper. The Chancellor looked up at the crossed swords, and
something like a mist came into his keen old eyes.

He caught Miss Braithwaite’s glance, and he knew what was in her mind.
For nine years now had come, once a year, the painful anniversary, of
the death of the late Crown Prince and his young wife. For nine years
had the city mourned, with flags at half-mast and the bronze statue of
the old queen draped in black. And for nine years had the day of grief
passed unnoticed by the lad on whom hung the destinies of the kingdom.

Now they confronted a new situation. The next day but one was the
anniversary again. The boy was older, and observant. It would not be
possible to conceal from him the significance of the procession marching
through the streets with muffled drums. Even the previous year he had
demanded the reason for crape on his grandmother’s statue, and had been
put off, at the cost of Miss Braithwaite’s strong feeling for the truth.
Also he had not been allowed to see the morning paper, which was, on
these anniversaries, bordered with black. This had annoyed him. The
Crown Prince always read the morning paper--especially the weather
forecast.

They could not continue to lie to the boy. Truthfulness had been one
of the rules of his rigorous upbringing. And he was now of an age to
remember. So the Chancellor sat and waited, and, fingered, his heavy
watch-chain.

Suddenly the Crown Prince looked up. “Have you ever been on a scenic
railway?”, he inquired politely.

The Chancellor regretted that he had not.

“It’s very remarkable,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. “But unless
you like excitement, perhaps you would not care for it.”

The Chancellor observed that he had had his share of excitement, in his,
time, and was now for the ways of quiet.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto had a great many things to say, but
thought better of it. Miss Braithwaite disliked Americans, for instance,
and it was quite possible that the Chancellor did also. It seemed
strange about Americans. Either one liked them a great deal, or not at
all. He put his attention to the theme, and finished it. Then, flushed
with authorship, he looked up. “May I read you the last line of it?” he
demanded of the Chancellor.

“I shall be honored, Highness.” not often did the Chancellor say
“Highness.” Generally he said “Otto” or “my child.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto read aloud, with dancing eyes, his last
line: “‘I should like to own a dog.’ I thought,” he said wistfully,
“that I might ask my grandfather for one.”

“I see no reason why you should not have a dog,” the Chancellor
observed.

“Not one to be kept at the stables,” Otto explained. “One to stay with
me all the time. One to sleep on the foot of the bed.”

But here the Chancellor threw up his hands. Instantly he visualized
all the objections to dogs, from fleas to rabies. And he put the
difficulties into words. No mean speaker was the Chancellor when
so minded. He was a master of style, of arrangement, of logic and
reasoning. He spoke at length, even, at the end, rising and pacing a few
steps up and down the room. But when he had concluded, when the dog,
so to speak, had fled yelping to the country of dead hopes, Prince
Ferdinand William Otto merely gulped, and said:

“Well, I wish I could have a dog!”

The Chancellor changed his tactics by changing the subject. “I was
wondering this morning, as I crossed the park, if you would enjoy an
excursion soon. Could it be managed, Miss Braithwaite?”

“I dare say,” said Miss Braithwaite dryly. “Although I must say, if
there is no improvement in punctuation and capital letters--”

“What sort of excursion?” asked His Royal Highness, guardedly. He did
not care for picture galleries.

“Out-of-doors, to see something interesting.”

But Prince Ferdinand William Otto was cautious with the caution of one
who, by hoping little, may be agreeably disappointed. “A corner-stone, I
suppose,” he said.

“Not a corner-stone,” said the Chancellor, with eyes that began to
twinkle under ferocious brows. “No, Otto. A real excursion, up the
river.”

“To the fort? I do want to see the new fort.”

As a matter of truth, the Chancellor had not thought of the fort. But
like many another before him, he accepted the suggestion and made it his
own. “To the fort, of course,” said he.

“And take luncheon along, and eat it there, and have Hedwig and Nikky?
And see the guns?”

But this was going too fast. Nikky, of course, would go, and if the
Princess cared to, she too. But luncheon! It was necessary to remind the
Crown Prince that the officers at the fort would expect to have him
join their mess. There was a short parley over this, and it was finally
settled that the officers should serve luncheon, but that there should
be no speeches. The Crown Prince had already learned that his presence
was a sort of rod of Aaron, to unloose floods of speeches. Through what
outpourings of oratory he had sat or stood, in his almost ten years!

“Then that’s settled,” he said at last. “I’m very happy. This morning I
shall apologize to M. Puaux.”

During the remainder of the morning the Crown Prince made various
excursions to the window to see if the weather was holding good. Also
he asked, during his half-hour’s intermission, for the great box of lead
soldiers that was locked away in the cabinet. “I shall pretend that
the desk is a fort, Miss Braithwaite,” he said. “Do you mind being the
enemy, and pretending to be shot now and then?”

But Miss Braithwaite was correcting papers. She was willing to be a
passive enemy and be potted at, but she drew the line at falling over.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto did not persist. He was far too polite.
But he wished in all his soul that Nikky would come. Nikky, he felt,
would die often and hard.

But Nikky did not come.

Came German and French, mathematics and music and no Nikky. Came at last
the riding-hour--and still no Nikky.

At twelve o’clock, Prince Ferdinand William Otto, clad in his
riding-garments of tweed knickers, puttees, and a belted jacket, stood
by the schoolroom window and looked out. The inner windows of his suite
faced the courtyard, but the schoolroom opened over the Place--a bad
arrangement surely, seeing what distractions to lessons may take place
in a public square, what pigeons feeding in the sun, what bands with
drums and drum-majors, what children flying kites.

“I don’t understand it,” the Crown Prince said plaintively. “He is
generally very punctual. Perhaps--”

But he loyally refused to finish the sentence. The “perhaps” was a
grievous thought, nothing less than that Nikky and Hedwig were at that
moment riding in the ring together, and had both forgotten him. He was
rather used to being forgotten. With the exception of Miss Braithwaite,
he was nobody’s business, really. His aunt forgot him frequently. On
Wednesdays it was his privilege--or not; as you think of it--to take
luncheon with the Archduchess; and once in so often she would forget and
go out. Or be in, and not expecting him, which was as bad.

“Bless us, I forgot the child,” she would say on these occasions.

But until now, Nikky had never forgotten. He had been the soul of
remembering, indeed, and rather more than punctual. Prince Ferdinand
William Otto consulted his watch. It was of gold, and on the inside was
engraved:

“To Ferdinand William Otto from his grandfather, on the occasion of his
taking his first communion.”

“It’s getting rather late,” he observed.

Miss Braithwaite looked troubled. “No doubt something has detained him,”
 she said, with unusual gentleness. “You might work at the frame for your
Cousin Hedwig. Then, if Captain Larisch comes, you can still have a part
of your lesson.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto brightened. The burntwood photograph
frame for Hedwig was his delight. And yesterday, as a punishment for the
escapade of the day before, it had been put away with an alarming air of
finality. He had traced the design himself, from a Christmas card, and
it had originally consisted of a ring and small Cupids, alternating with
hearts. He liked it very much. The Cupids were engagingly fat. However,
Miss Braithwaite had not approved of their state of nature, and it had
been necessary to drape them with sashes tied in neat bows.

The pyrography outfit was produced, and for fifteen minutes Prince
Ferdinand William Otto labored, his head on one side, his royal tongue
slightly protruded. But, above the thin blue smoke of burning, his
face remained wistful. He was afraid, terribly afraid, that he had been
forgotten again.

“I hope Nikky is not ill,” he said once. “He smokes a great many
cigarettes. He says he knows they are bad for him.”

“Certainly they are bad for him,” said Miss Braithwaite. “They contain
nicotine, which is a violent poison. A drop of nicotine on the tongue of
a dog will kill it.”

The reference was unfortunate.

“I wish I might have a dog,” observed Prince Ferdinand William Otto.

Fortunately, at that moment, Hedwig came in. She came in a trifle
defiantly, although that passed unnoticed, and she also came
unannounced, as was her cousinly privilege. And she stood inside the
door and stared at the Prince. “Well!” she said.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto was equal to the occasion. He hastily drew
out his pocket-handkerchief and spread it over the frame. But his face
was rather red. A palace is a most difficult place to have a secret in.

“Well?” she repeated; with a rising inflection. It was clear that
she had not noticed the handkerchief incident. “Is there to be no
riding-lesson to-day?”

“I don’t know. Nikky has not come.”

“Where is he?”

Here the drop of nicotine got in its deadly work. “I’m afraid he is
ill,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. “He said he smoked too many
cigarettes, and--”

“Is Captain Larisch ill?” Hedwig looked at the governess, and lost some
of her bright color.

Miss Braithwaite did not know, and said so. “At the very least,” she
went on, “he should have sent some word. I do not know what things
are coming to. Since His Majesty’s illness, no one seems to have any
responsibility, or to take any.”

“But of course he would have sent word,” said Hedwig, frowning: “I don’t
understand it. He has never been so late before, has he?”

“He has never been late at all,” Prince Ferdinand William Otto spoke up
quickly.

After a time Hedwig went away, and the Crown Prince took off his
riding-clothes. He ate a very small luncheon, swallowing mostly a glass
of milk and a lump in his throat. And afterward he worked at the frame,
for an hour, shading the hearts carefully. At three o’clock he went for
his drive.

There were two variations to the daily drive: One day they went up the
river--almost as far as the monastery; the next day they went through
the park. There was always an excitement about the park drive, because
the people who spied the gold-wheeled carriage always came as close
as possible, to see if it was really the Crown Prince. And when, as
sometimes happened, it was only Hedwig, or Hilda, and Ferdinand William
Otto had been kept at home by a cold, they always looked disappointed.

This was the park day. The horses moved sedately. Beppo looked severe
and haughty. A strange man, in the place of Hans, beside Beppo, watched
the crowd with keen and vigilant eyes. On the box between them, under
his hand, the new footman had placed a revolver. Beppo sat as far away
from it as he dared. The crowd lined up, and smiled and cheered. And
Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat very straight; and bowed right and
left, smiling.

Old Adelbert, limping across the park to, the Opera, paused and looked.
Then he shook his head. The country was indeed come to a strange pass,
with only that boy and the feeble old King to stand between it and the
things of which men whispered behind their hands. He went on, with
his head down. A strange pass indeed, with revolution abroad in quiet
places, and a cabal among the governors of the Opera to sell the
opera-glass privilege to the highest bidder.

He went on, full of trouble.

Olga, the wardrobe woman, was also on her way to the Opera, which faced
the park. She also saw the carriage, and at first her eyes twinkled. It
was he, of course. The daring of him! But, as the carriage drew nearer,
she bent forward. He looked pale, and there was a wistful droop to his
mouth. “They have punished him for the little prank,” she muttered.
“That tight-faced Englishwoman, of course. The English are a hard race.”
 She, too, went on.

As they drew near the end of the park, where the Land of Desire towered,
Prince Ferdinand William Otto searched it with eager eyes. How wonderful
it was! How steep and high, and alluring! He glanced sideways at Miss
Braithwaite, but it was clear that to her it was only a monstrous
heap of sheet-iron and steel, adorned with dejected greenery that had
manifestly been out too soon in the chill air of very early spring.

A wonderful possibility presented itself. “If I see Bobby,” he asked,
“may I stop the carriage and speak to him?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, may I call to him?”

“Think it over,” suggested Miss Braithwaite. “Would your grandfather
like to know that you had done anything so undignified?”

He turned to her a rather desperate pair of eyes. “But I could explain
to him,” he said. “I was in such a hurry when I left, that I’m afraid I
forgot to thank him. I ought to thank him, really. He was very polite to
me.”

Miss Braithwaite sat still in her seat and said nothing. The novelty of
riding in a royal carriage had long since passed away, but she was aware
that her position was most unusual. Not often did a governess, even of
good family, as she was, ride daily in the park with a crown prince. In
a way, on these occasions, she was more royal than royalty. She had, now
and then, an inclination to bow right and left herself. And she guarded
the dignity of these occasions with a watchful eye. So she said nothing
just then. But later on something occurred to her. “You must remember,
Otto,” she said, “that this American child dislikes kings, and our sort
of government.” Shades of Mr. Gladstone--our sort of government! “It
is possible, isn’t it, that he would resent your being of the ruling
family? Why not let things be as they are?”

“We were very friendly,” said Ferdinand William Otto in a small voice.
“I don’t think it would make any difference.”

But the seed was sown in the fertile ground of his young mind, to bear
quick fruit.

It was the Crown Prince who saw Bobby first.

He was standing on a bench, peering over the shoulders of the crowd.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto saw him, and bent forward. “There he is!”
 he said, in a tense tone. “There on the--”

“Sit up straight,” commanded Miss Braithwaite.

“May I just wave once? I--”

“Otto!” said Miss Braithwaite, in a terrible voice.

But a dreadful thing was happening. Bobby was looking directly at him,
and making no sign. His mouth was a trifle open, but that was all. Otto
had a momentary glimpse of him, of the small cap set far back, of the
white sweater, of two coolly critical eyes. Then the crowd closed up,
and the carriage moved on.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat back in his seat, very pale. Clearly
Bobby was through with him. First Nikky had forgotten him, and now the
American boy had learned his unfortunate position as one of the detested
order, and would have none of him.

“You see,” said Miss Braithwaite, with an air of relief, “he did not
know you.”

Up on the box the man beside Beppo kept his hand on the revolver. The
carriage turned back toward the Palace.

Late that afternoon the Chancellor had a visitor. Old Mathilde, his
servant and housekeeper, showed some curiosity but little excitement
over it. ‘She was, in fact, faintly resentful. The Chancellor had eaten
little all day, and now, when she had an omelet ready to turn smoking
out of the pan, must come the Princess Hedwig on foot like the common
people, and demand to see him.

Mathilde admitted her, and surveyed her uncompromisingly. Royalties were
quite as much in her line as they were in the Crown Prince’s.

“He is about to have supper, Highness.”

“Please, Mathilde,” begged Hedwig. “It is very important.”

Mathilde sighed. “As Your Highness wishes,” she agreed, and went
grumblingly back to the study overlooking the walled garden.

“You may bring his supper when it is ready,” Hedwig called to her.

Mathilde was mollified, but she knew what was fitting, if the Princess
did not. The omelet spoiled in the pan.

The Chancellor was in his old smoking-coat and slippers. He made an
effort to don his tunic, but Hedwig, on Mathilde’s heels, caught him
in the act. And, after a glance at her face, he relinquished the idea,
bowed over her hand, and drew up a chair for her.

And that was how the Chancellor of the kingdom learned that Captain
Larisch, aide-de-camp to His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, had
disappeared.

“I am afraid it is serious,” she said, watching him with wide, terrified
eyes. “I know more than you think I do. I--we hear things, even in the
Palace.”

Irony here, but unconscious. “I know that there is trouble. And it is
not like Captain Larisch to desert his post.”

“A boyish escapade, Highness,” said the Chancellor. But, in the
twilight, he gripped hard at the arms of his chair. “He will turn up,
very much ashamed of himself, to-night or to-morrow.”

“That is what you want to believe. You know better.”

He leaned back in his chair and considered her from under his heavy
brows. So this was how things were; another, and an unlooked-for
complication. Outside he could hear Mathilde’s heavy footstep as she
waited impatiently for the Princess to go. The odor of a fresh omelet
filled the little house. Nikky gone, perhaps to join the others who, one
by one, had felt the steel of the Terrorists. And this girl, on whom so
much hung, sitting there, a figure of young tragedy.

“Highness,” he said at last, “if the worst has happened,--and that I
do not believe,--it will be because there is trouble, as you have said.
Sooner or later, we who love our country must make sacrifices for it.
Most of all, those in high places will be called upon. And among them
you may be asked to help.”

“I? What can I do?” But she knew, and the Chancellor saw that she knew.

“It is Karl, then?”

“It may be King Karl, Hedwig.”

Hedwig rose, and the Chancellor got heavily to his feet. She was
fighting for calmness, and she succeeded very well. After all, if Nikky
were gone, what did it matter? Only-- “There are so many of you,” she
said, rather pitifully. “And you are all so powerful. And against you
there is only--me.”

“Why against us, Highness?”

“Because,” said Hedwig, “because I care for some one else, and I shall
care for him all the rest of my life, even if he never comes back. You
may marry me to whom you please, but I shall go on caring. I shall never
forget. And I shall make Karl the worst wife in the world, because I
hate him.”

She opened the door and went out without ceremony, because she was
hard-driven and on the edge of tears. In the corridor she almost ran
over the irritated Mathilde, and she wept all the way back to the
Palace, much to the dismay of her lady in waiting, who had disapproved
of the excursion anyhow.

That night, the city was searched for Nikky Larisch, but without result.



CHAPTER XIV. NIKKY DOES A RECKLESS THING


Nikky Larisch had been having an exciting time. First of all, he
exchanged garments with the chauffeur, and cursed his own long legs,
which proved difficult to cover adequately. But the chauffeur’s long fur
ulster helped considerably. The exchange was rather a ticklish matter,
and would have been more so had he not found a revolver in the fur coat
pocket. It is always hard to remove a coat from a man whose arms are
tied, and trousers are even more difficult. To remove trousers from a
refractory prisoner offers problems. They must be dragged off, and a
good thrust from a heavy boot, or two boots, has been known to change
the fate of nations.

However, Nikky’s luck stood. His prisoner kicked, but owing to Nikky’s
wise precaution of having straddled him, nothing untoward happened.

Behold, then, Nikky of the brave heart standing over his prostrate
prisoner, and rolling him, mummy fashion, in his own tunic and a rug
from the machine.

“It is cold, my friend,” he said briefly; “but I am a kindly soul, and
if you have told me the truth, you will not have so much as a snuffle to
remind you of this to-morrow.”

“I have told the truth.”

“As a soldier, of course,” Nikky went on, “I think you have made
a mistake. You should have chosen the precipice. But as a private
gentleman, I thank you.”

Having examined the knots in the rope, which were very well done,
indeed, and having gagged the chauffeur securely, Nikky prepared to go.
In his goggles, with the low-visored cap and fur coat, he looked not
unlike his late companion. But he had a jaunty step as he walked toward
the car, a bit of swagger that covered, perhaps, just a trifle of
uneasiness.

For Nikky now knew his destination, knew that he was bound on perilous
work, and that the chances of his returning were about fifty-fifty, or
rather less.

Nevertheless, he was apparently quite calm as he examined the car.
He would have chosen, perhaps, a less perilous place to attempt its
mysteries, but needs must. He climbed in, and released the brakes. Then,
with great caution, and considerable noise, he worked it away from the
brink of the chasm, and started off.

He did not know his way. Over the mountains it was plain enough, for
there was but one road. After he descended into the plain of Karnia,
however, it became difficult. Sign-posts were few and not explicit. But
at last he found the railroad, which he knew well--that railroad without
objective, save as it would serve to move troops toward the border.
After that Nikky found it easier.

But, with his course assured, other difficulties presented themselves.
To take the letter to those who would receive it was one thing. But
to deliver it, with all that it might contain, was another. He was not
brilliant, was Nikky. Only brave and simple of heart, and unversed in
the ways of darkness.

If, now, he could open the letter and remove it, substituting--well,
what could he substitute? There were cigarette papers in his pocket.
Trust Nikky for that. But how to make the exchange?

Nikky pondered. To cut the side of the envelope presented itself. But
it was not good enough. The best is none too good when one’s life is at
stake.

The engine was boiling hard, a dull roaring under the hood that
threatened trouble. He drew up beside the road and took off the
water-cap. Then he whistled. Why, of course! Had it not been done from
time immemorial, this steaming of letters? He examined it. It bore no
incriminating seal.

He held the envelope over the water-cap, and was boyishly pleased to
feel the flap loosen. After all, things were easy enough if one used
one’s brains. He rather regretted using almost all of his cigarette
papers, of course. He had, perhaps, never heard of the drop of nicotine
on the tongue of a dog.

As for the letter itself, he put it, without even glancing at it, into
his cap, under the lining. Then he sealed the envelope again and dried
it against one of the lamps. It looked, he reflected, as good as new.

He was extremely pleased with himself.

Before he returned to the machine he consulted his watch. It was three
o’clock. True, the long early spring night gave him four more hours of
darkness. But the messenger was due at three, at the hunting-lodge in,
the mountains which was his destination. He would be, at the best, late
by an hour.

He pushed the car to its limit. The fine hard road, with its border
of trees, stretched ahead. Nikky surveyed it with a soldier’s eye. A
military road, or he knew nothing--one along which motor-lorries could
make express time. A marvelous road, in that sparsely settled place.
Then he entered the forest, that kingly reserve in which Karl ran deer
for pastime.

He was nearing his destination.

On what the messenger had told him Nikky hung his hope of success. This
was, briefly, that he should go to the royal shooting-box at Wedeling,
and should go, not to the house itself, but to the gate-keeper’s lodge.
Here he was to leave his machine, and tap at the door. On its being
opened, he was to say nothing, but to give the letter to him who opened
the door. After that he was to take the machine away to the capital,
some sixty miles farther on.

The message, then, was to the King himself. For Nikky, as all the world,
knew that Karl, with some kindred spirits, was at Wedeling, shooting.
That is, if the messenger told the truth. Nikky intended to find out. He
was nothing if not thorough.

Nikky had lost much of his jaunty air by that time. On the surface
he was his usual debonair self; but his mouth was grim and rather
contemptuous. This was Karl’s way: to propose marriage with a Princess
of Livonia, and yet line the country with his spies! Let him but
return, God willing, with his report, and after that, let them continue
negotiations with Karl if they dared.

When at last the lights of the lodge at the gate of Wedeling gleamed
out through the trees, it was half-pass three, and a wet spring snow was
falling softly. In an open place Nikky looked up. The stars were gone.

The lodge now, and the gate-keeper’s house. Nikky’s heart hammered as he
left the car--hammered with nervousness, not terror. But he went boldly
to the door, and knocked.

So far all was well. There were footsteps within, and a man stepped out
into the darkness, closing the door behind him. Nikky, who had come so
far to see this very agent, and to take back a description of him,
felt thwarted. Things were not being done, he felt, according to
specification. And the man spoke, which was also unexpected.

“You have the letter?” he asked.

“It is here.” Luckily he did not speak the patois.

“I will take it.”

Nikky held it out. The man fumbled for it, took it.

“Orders have come,” said the voice, “that you remain here for the night.
In the morning you are to carry dispatches to the city.”

Poor Nikky! With his car facing toward the lodge, and under necessity,
in order to escape, to back it out into the highway! He thought quickly.
There was no chance of overpowering his man quickly and silently. And
the house was not empty. From beyond the door came the sounds of men’s
voices, and the thud of drinking-mugs on a bare table.

“You will take me up to the house, and then put the car away until
morning.”

Nikky breathed again. It was going to be easy, after all. If only the
road went straight to the shooting-box itself, the rest was simple. But
he prayed that he make no false turning, to betray his ignorance.

“Very well,”--he said.

His companion opened the door behind him. “Ready, now,” he called. “The
car is here.”

Two men rose from a table where they had been sitting, and put on
greatcoats of fur. The lamplight within quivered in the wind from
the open door. Nikky was quite calm now. His heart beat its regular
seventy-two, and he even reflected, with a sort of grim humor, that the
Chancellor would find the recital of this escapade much to his taste. In
a modest way Nikky felt that he was making history.

The man who had received the letter got into the machine beside him. The
other two climbed into the tonneau. And, as if to make the denouement
doubly ridiculous, the road led straight. Nikky, growing extremely
cheerful behind his goggles, wondered how much petrol remained in the
car.

The men behind talked in low tones. Of the shooting, mostly, and the
effect of the snow on it. They had been after pheasants that day, it
appeared.

“They are late to-night,” grumbled one of them, as the house appeared,
full lighted. “A tardy start to-morrow again!”

“The King must have his sleep,” commented the other, rather mockingly.

With a masterly sweep, Nikky drew up his machine before the entrance.
Let them once alight, let him but start his car down the road again, and
all the devils of the night might follow. He feared nothing.

But here again Nikky planned too fast. The servant who came out to open
the doors of the motor had brought a message. “His Majesty desires that
the messenger come in,” was the bomb-shell which exploded in Nikky’s
ears.

Nikky hesitated. And then some imp of recklessness in him prompted him
not to run away, but to see the thing through. It was, after all, a
chance either way. These men beside the car were doubtless armed--one at
least, nearest him, was certainly one of Karl’s own secret agents. And,
as Nikky paused, he was not certain, but it seemed to him that the man
took, a step toward him.

“Very well,” said Nikky, grumbling. “But I have had a long ride, and a
cold one. I need sleep.”

Even then he had a faint hope that the others would precede him, and
that it would be possible to leap back to the car, and escape. But,
whether by accident or design, the group closed about him. Flight was
out of the question.

A little high was Nikky’s head as he went in. He had done a stupid thing
now, and he knew it. He should have taken his letter and gone back with
it. But, fool or not, he was a soldier. Danger made him calm.

So he kept his eyes open. The shooting-box was a simple one, built,
after the fashion of the mountains, of logs, and wood-lined. The walls
of the hall were hung with skins and the mounted heads of animals, boar
and deer, and even an American mountain sheep, testifying to the range
of its royal owner’s activities as a hunter. Great pelts lay on the
floor, and the candelabra were horns cunningly arranged to hold candles.
The hall extended to the roof, and a gallery half-way up showed the
doors of the sleeping-apartments.

The lodge was noisy. Loud talking, the coming and going of servants with
trays, the crackle of wood fires in which whole logs were burning, and,
as Nikky and his escort entered, the roaring chorus of a hunting-song
filled the ears.

Two of the men flung off their heavy coats, and proceeded without
ceremony into the room whence the sounds issued. The third, however,
still holding the letter, ushered Nikky into a small side room, a
sort of study, since it contained a desk. For kings must pursue their
clerical occupations even on holiday. A plain little room it was,
containing an American typewriter, and beside the desk only a chair or
two upholstered in red morocco.

Nikky had reluctantly removed his cap. His goggles, however, he ventured
to retain. He was conscious that his guide was studying him intently.
But not with suspicion, he thought: Rather as one who would gauge the
caliber of the man before him. He seemed satisfied, too, for his voice,
which had been curt, grew more friendly.

“You had no trouble?” he asked.

“None, sir.”

“Did Niburg say anything?”

Niburg, then, was the spy of the cathedral. Nikky reflected. Suddenly he
saw a way out. It was, he afterward proclaimed, not his own thought.
It came to him like a message. He burned a candle to his patron saint,
sometime later, for it.

“The man Niburg had had an unfortunate experience, sir. He reported
that, during an evening stroll, before he met me, he was attacked by
three men, with the evident intention of securing the letter. He was
badly beaten up.”

His companion started. “Niburg,” he said. “Then--” He glanced at the
letter he held. “We must find some one else,” he muttered. “I never
trusted the fellow. A clerk, nothing else. For this work it takes wit.”

Nikky, sweating with strain; felt that it did, indeed. “He was badly
used up, sir,” he offered. “Could hardly walk, and was still trembling
with excitement when I met him.”

The man reflected. A serious matter, he felt. Not so serious as it might
have been, since he held the letter. But it showed many things, and
threatened others. He touched a bell. “Tell his, Majesty,” he said to
the servant who appeared, “that his messenger is here.”

The servant bowed and withdrew.

Nikky found the wait that followed trying. He thought of Hedwig, and of
the little Crown Prince. Suddenly he knew that he had had, no right
to attempt this thing. He had given his word, almost, his oath, to the
King, to protect and watch over the boy. And here he was, knowing now
that mischief was afoot, and powerless. He cursed himself for his folly.

Then Karl came in. He came alone, closing the door behind him. Nikky
and his companion bowed, and Nikky surveyed him through his goggles. The
same mocking face he remembered, from Karl’s visit to the summer palace,
the same easy, graceful carriage, the same small mustache. He was in
evening dress, and the bosom of his shirt was slightly rumpled. He had
been drinking, but he was not intoxicated. He was slightly flushed, his
eyes were abnormally bright. He looked, for the moment; rather amiable.
Nikky was to learn, later on, how easily his smile hardened to a
terrifying grin. The long, rather delicate nose of his family, fine hair
growing a trifle thin, and a thin, straight body this was Karl, King of
Karnia, and long-time enemy to Nikky’s own land.

He ignored Nikky’s companion. “You brought a letter?”

Nikky bowed, and the other man held it out. Karl took it.

“The trip was uneventful?”

“Yes, sire.”

“A bad night for it,” Karl observed, and glanced at the letter in his
hand. “Was there any difficulty at the frontier?”

“None, sire.”

Karl tore the end off the envelope. “You will remain here to-night,” he
said. “To-morrow morning I shall send dispatches to the city. I hope you
have petrol. These fellows here--” He did not complete the sentence.
He inserted two royal fingers into the envelope and drew out--Nikky’s
cigarette papers!

For a moment there was complete silence in the room. Karl turned the
papers over.

It was then that his face hardened into a horrible grin. He looked up,
raising his head slowly.

“What is this?” he demanded, very quietly.

“The letter, sire,” said Nikky.

“The letter! Do you call these a letter?”

Nikky drew himself up. “I have brought the envelope which was given me.”

Without a word Karl held out papers and envelope to the other man, who
took them. Then he turned to Nikky, and now he raised his voice. “Where
did you get this--hoax?” he demanded.

“At the cathedral, from the man Niburg.”

“You lie!” said Karl. Then, for a moment, he left Nikky and turned on
his companion in a fury. He let his royal rage beat on that unlucky
individual while the agent stood, white and still. Not until it was
over, and Karl, spent with passion, was pacing the floor, did Nikky
venture a word.

“If this is not what Your Majesty expected,” he said, “there is perhaps
an explanation.”

Karl wheeled on him. “Explanation!”

“The man Niburg was attacked, early last evening, by three men. They
beat him badly, and attempted to rob him. His story to me, sire. He
believed that they were after the letter, but that he had preserved
it. It is, of course, a possibility that, while he lay stunned, they
substituted another envelope for the one he carried.”

Karl tore the envelope from the agent’s hands and inspected it
carefully. Evidently, as with the agent, the story started a new train
of thought. Nikky drew a long breath. After all, there was still hope
that the early morning shooting would have another target than himself.

Karl sat down, and his face relaxed. It was stern, but no longer
horrible. “Tell me this Niburg’s story,” he commanded.

“He was walking through the old city,” Nikky commenced, “when three
men fell on him. One, a large one, knocked him insensible and then went
through his pockets. The others--”

“Strange!” said Karl. “If he was insensible, how does he know all this?”

“It was his story, sire,” Nikky explained. But he colored. “A companion,
who was with him, ran away.”

“This companion,” Karl queried. “A dark, heavy fellow, was it?”

“No. Rather a pale man, blond. A--” Nikky checked himself.

But Karl was all suavity. “So,” he said, “while Niburg was unconscious
the large man took the letter, which was sealed, magically opened it,
extracted its contents, replaced them with--this, and then sealed it
again!”

The King turned without haste to a drawer in his desk, and opened it.
He was smiling. When he faced about again, Nikky saw that he held a
revolver in =his hand. Save that the agent had taken a step forward,
nothing in the room had changed. And yet; for Nikky everything had
changed.

Nikky had been a reckless fool, but he was brave enough. He smiled, a
better smile than Karl’s twisted one.

“I have a fancy,” said King Karl, “to manage this matter for myself.
Keep back, Kaiser. Now, my friend, you will give me the packet of
cigarette papers you carry.”

Resistance would do no good. Nikky brought them out, and Karl’s twisted
smile grew broader as he compared them with the ones the envelope had
contained.

“You see,” he said, “you show the hand of the novice. You should have
thrown these away. But, of course, all your methods are wrong. Why, for
instance, have you come here at all? You have my man--but that I shall
take up later. We will first have the letter.”

But here Nikky stood firm. Let them find the letter. He would not
help them. But again he cursed himself. There had been a thousand
hiding-places along the road--but he must bring the incriminating thing
with him, and thus condemn himself!

Now commenced a curious scene, curious because one of the actors
was Karl of Karnia himself. He seemed curiously loath to bring in
assistance, did Karl. Or perhaps the novelty of the affair appealed to
him. And Nikky’s resistance to search, with that revolver so close, was
short-lived.

Even while he was struggling, Nikky was thinking. Let them get the
letter, if they must. Things would at least be no worse than before.
But he resolved that no violence would tear from him the place where the
messenger was hidden. Until they had got that, he had a chance for life.

They searched his cap last. Nikky, panting after that strange struggle,
saw Kaiser take it from the lining of his cap, and pass it to the King.

Karl took it. The smile was gone now, and something ugly and terrible
had taken its place. But that, too, faded as he looked at the letter.

It was a blank piece of note-paper.



CHAPTER XV. FATHER AND DAUGHTER


With the approach of the anniversary of his son’s death, the King grew
increasingly restless. Each year he determined to put away this old
grief, and each year, as his bodily weakness increased, he found it
harder to do so. In vain he filled his weary days with the routine of
his kingdom. In vain he told himself that there were worse things than
to be cut off in one’s prime, that the tragedy of old age is a long
tragedy, with but one end. To have out-lived all that one loves, he
felt, was worse by far. To have driven, in one gloomy procession after
another, to the old Capuchin church and there to have left, prayerfully,
some dearly beloved body--that had been his life. His son had escaped
that. But it was poor comfort to him.

On other years he had had the Crown Prince with him as much as possible
on this dreary day of days. But the Crown Prince was exiled, in
disgrace. Not even for the comfort of his small presence could stern
discipline be relaxed.

Annunciata was not much comfort to him. They had always differed, more
or less, the truth being, perhaps, that she was too much like the King
ever to sympathize fully with him. Both were arrogant, determined,
obstinate. And those qualities, which age was beginning to soften in the
King, were now, in Annunciata, in full strength and blooming.

But there was more than fundamental similarity at fault. Against her
father the Archduchess held her unhappy marriage.

“You did this,” she had said once, when an unusually flagrant escapade
had come to the ears of the Palace. “You did it. I told you I hated him.
I told you what he was, too. But you had some plan in mind. The plan
never materialized, but the marriage did. And here I am.” She had
turned on him then, not angrily, but with cold hostility. “I shall never
forgive you for it,” she said.

She never had. She made her daily visit to her father, and, as he grew
more feeble, she was moved now and then to pity for him. But it was
pity, nothing more. The very hands with which she sometimes changed his
pillows were coldly efficient. She had not kissed him in years.

And now, secretly willing that Hedwig should marry Karl, she was ready
to annoy him by objecting to it.

On the day after her conversation with General Mettlich, she visited
the King. It was afternoon. The King had spent the morning in his
study, propped with pillows as was always the case now, working with a
secretary. The secretary was gone when she entered, and he sat alone.
Over his knees was spread one of the brilliant rugs that the peasants
wove in winter evenings, when the snow beat about their small houses and
the cattle were snug in barns. Above it his thin old face looked pinched
and pale.

He had passed a trying day. Once having broken down the Chancellor’s
barrier of silence, the King had insisted on full knowledge; with
the result that he had sat, aghast, amid the ruins of his former
complacency. The country and the smaller cities were comparatively
quiet, so far as demonstrations against the Government were concerned.
But unquestionably they plotted. As for the capital, it was a seething
riot of sedition, from the reports. A copy of a newspaper, secretly
printed and more secretly circulated, had brought fire to the King’s
eyes. It lay on his knees as his daughter entered.

Annunciata touched her lips to his hand. Absorbed as he was in other
matters, it struck him, as she bent, that Annunciata was no longer
young, and that Time w as touching her with an unloving finger. He
viewed her graying hair, her ugly clothes, with the detached eye of age.
And he sighed.

“Well, father,” she said, looking down at him, “how do you feel?”

“Sit down,” he said. The question as to his health was too perfunctory
to require reply. Besides, he anticipated trouble, and it was an
age-long habit of his to meet it halfway.

Annunciata sat, with a jingling of chains. She chose a straight chair,
and faced him, very erect.

“How old is Hedwig?” demanded the King

“Nineteen.”

“And Hilda?”

“Sixteen.”

He knew their ages quite well. It was merely the bugle before the
attack.

“Hedwig is old enough to marry. Her grandmother was not nineteen when I
married her.”

“It would be better,” said Annunciata, “to marry her while she is young,
before she knows any better.”

“Any better than what?” inquired the King testily.

“Any better than to marry at all.”

The King eyed her. She was not, then, even attempting to hide her claws.
But he was an old bird, and not to be caught in an argumentative cage.

“There are several possibilities for Hedwig,” he said. “I have gone into
the matter pretty thoroughly. As you know, I have had this on my mind
for some time. It is necessary to arrange things before I--go.”

The King, of course, was neither asking nor expecting sympathy from her,
but mentally, and somewhat grimly, he compared her unmoved face with
that of his old friend and Chancellor, only a few nights before.

“It is a regrettable fact,” he went on, “that I must leave, as I shall,
a sadly troubled country. But for that--” he paused. But for that, he
meant, he would go gladly. He needed rest. His spirit, still so alive,
chafed daily more and more against its worn body. He believed in another
life, did the old King. He wanted the hearty handclasp of his boy again.
Even the wife who had married him against her will had grown close to
him in later years. He needed her too. A little rest, then, and after
that a new life, with those who had gone ahead.

“A sadly troubled country,” he repeated.

“All countries are troubled. We are no worse than others.”

“Perhaps not. But things are changing. The old order is changing. The
spirit of unrest--I shall not live to see it. You may, Annunciata. But
the day is coming when all thrones will totter. Like this one.”

Now at last he had pierced her armor. “Like this one!”

“That is what I said. Rouse yourself, Annunciata. Leave that little
boudoir of yours, with its accursed clocks and its heat and its
flub-dubbery, and see what is about you! Discontent! Revolution! We are
hardly safe from day to day. Do you think that what happened nine years
ago was a flash that died as it came? Nonsense. Read this!”

He held out the paper and she put on her pince-nez and read its
headings, a trifle disdainfully. But the next moment she rose, and stood
in front of him, almost as pale as he was. “You allow this sort of thing
to be published?”

“No. But it is published.”

“And they dare to say things like this? Why, it--it is--”

“Exactly. It is, undoubtedly.” He was very calm. “I would not have
troubled you with it. But the situation is bad. We are rather helpless.”

“Not--the army too?”

“What can we tell? These things spread like fires. Nothing may happen
for years. On the other hand, tomorrow--!”

The Archduchess was terrified. She had known that there was disaffection
about. She knew that in the last few years precautions at the Palace had
been increased. Sentries were doubled. Men in the uniforms of lackeys,
but doing no labor, were everywhere. But with time and safety she had
felt secure.

“Of course,” the King resumed, “things are not as bad as that paper
indicates. It is the voice of the few, rather than the many. Still, it
is a voice.”

Annunciata looked more than her age now. She glanced around the room as
though, already, she heard the mob at the doors.

“It is not safe to stay here, is it?” she asked. “We could go to the
summer palace. That, at least, is isolated.”

“Too isolated,” said the King dryly. “And flight! The very spark,
perhaps, to start a blaze. Besides,” he remind her, “I could not make
the journey. If you would like to go, however, probably it can be
arranged.”

But Annunciata was not minded to go without the Court. And she
reflected, not unwisely, that if things were really as bad as they
appeared, to isolate herself, helpless in the mountains, would be but to
play into the enemy’s hand.

“To return to the matter of Hedwig’s marriage,” said the King. “I--”

“Marriage! When our very lives are threatened!”

“I would be greatly honored,” said the King, “if I might be permitted to
finish what I was saying.”

She had the grace to flush.

“Under the circumstances,” the King resumed, “Hedwig’s marriage takes on
great significance--great political significance.”

For a half-hour then, he talked to her. More than for years, he
unbosomed himself. He had tried. His ministers had tried. Taxes had
been lightened; the representation of the people increased, until; as he
said, he was only nominally a ruler. But discontent remained. Some who
had gone to America and returned with savings enough to set themselves
up in business, had brought back with them the American idea.

He spoke without bitterness. They refused to allow for the difference
between a new country and an old land, tilled for many generations. They
forgot their struggles across the sea and brought back only stories of
prosperity. Emigration had increased, and those who remained whispered
of a new order, where each man was the government, and no man a king.

Annunciata listened to the end. She felt no pity for those who would
better themselves by discontent and its product, revolt. She felt only
resentment that her peace was being threatened, her position assailed.
And in her resentment she included the King himself. He should have done
better. These things, taken early enough, could have been arranged.

And something of this she did not hesitate to say. “Karnia is quiet
enough,” she finished, a final thrust.

“Karnia is better off. A lowland, most of it, and fertile.” But a spot
of color showed in his old cheeks. “I am glad you spoke of Karnia.
Whatever plans we make, Karnia must be considered.”

“Why? Karnia does not consider us.”

He raised his hand. “You are wrong. Just now, Karnia is doing us the
honor of asking an alliance with us. A matrimonial alliance.”

The Archduchess was hardly surprised, as one may believe. But she was
not minded to yield too easily. The old resentment against her father
flamed. Indifferent mother though she was, she made capital of a fear
for Hedwig’s happiness. In a cold and quiet voice she reminded him of
her own wretchedness, and of Karl’s reputation.

At last she succeeded in irritating the King--a more difficult thing
now than in earlier times, but not so hard a matter at that. He listened
quietly until she had finished, and then sent her away. When she had
got part way to the door, however, he called her back. And since a king
is a king, even if he is one’s father and very old, she came.

“Just one word more,” he said, in his thin, old, highbred voice. “Much
of your unhappiness was of your own making. You, and you only, know
how much. But nothing that you have said can change the situation. I am
merely compelled to make the decision alone, and soon. I have not much
time.”

So, after all, was the matter of the Duchess Hedwig’s marriage arranged,
a composite outgrowth of expediency and obstinacy, of defiance and
anger. And so was it hastened.

Irritation gave the King strength. That afternoon were summoned in haste
the members of his Council: fat old Friese, young Marschall with the rat
face, austere Bayerl with the white skin and burning eyes, and others.
And to them all the King disclosed his royal will. There was some demur.
Friese, who sweated with displeasure, ranted about old enemies and
broken pledges. But, after all, the King’s will was dominant. Friese
could but voice his protest and relapse into greasy silence.

The Chancellor sat silent during the conclave, silent, but intent.
On each speaker he turned his eyes, and waited until at last Karl’s
proposal, with its promises, was laid before them in full. Then, and
only then, the Chancellor rose. His speech was short. He told them of
what they all knew, their own insecurity. He spoke but a word of the
Crown Prince, but that softly. And he drew for them a pictures of the
future that set their hearts to glowing--a throne secure, a greater
kingdom, freedom from the cost of war, a harbor by the sea.

And if, as he spoke, he saw not the rat eyes of Marschall, the greedy
ones of some of the others, but instead a girl’s wide and pleading ones,
he resolutely went on. Life was a sacrifice. Youth would pass, and love
with it, but the country must survive.

The battle, which was no battle at all, was won. He had won. The country
had won. The Crown Prince had won. Only Hedwig had lost. And only
Mettlich knew just how she had lost.

When the Council, bowing deep, had gone away, the Chancellor remained
standing by a window. He was feeling old and very tired. All that day,
until the Council met with the King, he had sat in the little office
on a back street, which was the headquarters of the secret service. All
that day men had come and gone, bringing false clues which led nowhere.
The earth had swallowed up Nikky Larisch.

“I hope you are satisfied,” said the King grimly, from behind him. “It
was your arrangement.”

“It was my hope, sire,” replied the Chancellor dryly.

The necessity for work brought the King the strength to do it. Mettlich
remained with him. Boxes were brought from vaults, unlocked and
examined. Secretaries came and went. At eight o’clock a frugal dinner
was spread in the study, and they ate it almost literally over state
documents.

On and on, until midnight or thereabouts. Then they stopped. The thing
was arranged. Nothing was left now but to carry the word to Karl.

Two things were necessary: Haste. The King, having determined it, would
lose no time. And dignity. The granddaughter of the King must be offered
with ceremony. No ordinary King’s messenger, then, but some dignitary of
the Court.

To this emergency Mettlich rose like the doughty old warrior and
statesman that he was. “If you are willing, sire,” he said, as he rose,
“I will go myself.”

“When?”

“Since it must be done, the sooner the better. To-night, sire.”

The King smiled. “You were always impatient!” he commented. But he
looked almost wistfully at the sturdy and competent old figure before
him. Thus was he, not so long ago. Cold nights and spring storms had
had no terrors for him. And something else he felt, although he said
nothing--the stress of a situation which would send his Chancellor out
at midnight, into a driving storm, to secure Karl’s support. Things must
be bad indeed!

“To the capital?” he asked.

“Not so far. Karl is hunting. He is at Wedeling.” He went almost
immediately, and the King summoned his valets, and was got to bed. But
long after the automobile containing Mettlich and two secret agents was
on the road toward the mountains, he tossed on his narrow bed. To what
straits had they come indeed! He closed his eyes wearily. Something had
gone out of his life. He did not realize at first what it was. When he
did, he smiled his old grim smile in the darkness.

He had lost a foe. More than anything perhaps, he had dearly loved a
foe.



CHAPTER XVI. ON THE MOUNTAIN ROAD


The low gray car which carried the Chancellor was on its way through the
mountains. It moved deliberately, for two reasons. First, the Chancellor
was afraid of motors. He had a horseman’s hatred and fear of machines.
Second, he was not of a mind to rouse King Karl from a night’s sleep,
even to bring the hand of the Princess Hedwig. His intention was to put
up at some inn in a village not far from the lodge and to reach Karl by
messenger early in the morning, before the hunters left for the day.

Then, all being prepared duly and in order, Mettlich himself would
arrive, and things would go forward with dignity and dispatch.

In the mean time he sat back among his furs and thought of many things.
He had won a victory which was, after all, but a compromise. He had
chosen the safe way, but it led over the body of a young girl, and he
loathed it. Also, he thought of Nikky, and what might be. But the car
was closed and comfortable. The motion soothed him. After a time he
dropped asleep.

The valley of the Ar deepened. The cliff rose above them, a wall broken
here and there by the offtake of narrow ravines, filled with forest
trees. There was a pause while the chains on the rear wheels were
supplemented by others in front, for there must be no danger of a skid.
And another pause, where the road slanted perilously toward the brink of
the chasm, and caution dictated that the Chancellor alight, and make a
hundred feet or so of dangerous curve afoot.

It required diplomacy to get him out. But it was finally done, and his
heavy figure, draped in its military cape, went on ahead, outlined
by the lamps of the car behind him. The snow was hardly more than a
coating, but wet and slippery. Mettlich stalked on, as one who would
defy the elements, or anything else, to hinder him that night.

He was well around the curve, and the cliff was broken by a wedge of
timber, when a curiously shaped object projected itself over the edge of
the bank, and rolling down, lay almost at his feet. The lamps brought it
into sharp relief--a man, gagged and tied, and rolled, cigar shaped, in
an automobile robe.

The Chancellor turned, and called to his men. Then he bent over the
bundle. The others ran up, and cut the bonds. What with cold and long
inaction, and his recent drop over the bank, the man could not speak.
One of the secret-service men had a flask, and held it to his lips. An
amazing situation, indeed, increased by the discovery that under the
robe he wore only his undergarments, with a soldier’s tunic wrapped
around his shoulders. They carried him into the car, where he lay with
head lolling back, and his swollen tongue protruding. Half dead he was,
with cold and long anxiety. The brandy cleared his mind long before he
could speak, and he saw by the uniforms that he was in the hands of the
enemy. He turned sulkily silent then, convinced that he had escaped one
death but to meet another. Twenty-four hours now he had faced eternity,
and he was ready.

He preferred, however, to die fully clothed, and when, in response to
his pointing up the bank and to his inarticulate mouthings, one of the
secret police examined the bit of woodland with his pocket flash, he
found a pair of trousers where Nikky had left them, neatly folded and
hung over the branch of a tree. The brandy being supplemented by hot
coffee from a patent bottle, the man revived further, made an effort,
and sat up. His tongue was still swollen, but they made out what he
said. He had been there since the night before. People had passed, a
few peasants, a man with a cart, but he could not cry out, and he had
hesitated to risk the plunge to the road. But at last he had made it. He
was of Karnia, and a King’s messenger.

“I was coming back from the barrier,” he said thickly, “where I had
carried dispatches to the officer in charge. On my return a man hailed
me from the side of, the road, near where you found me. I thought that
he desired to be taken on, and stopped my car. But he attacked me. He
was armed and I was not. He knocked me senseless, and when I awakened
I was above the road, among trees. I gave myself up when the snow
commenced. Few pass this way. But I heard your car coming and made a
desperate effort.”

“Then,” asked one of the agents, “these are not your clothes?”

“They are his; sir.”

The agent produced a flash-light and inspected the garments. Before the
Chancellor’s eyes, button by button, strap on the sleeve, star on the
cuff, came into view the uniform of a captain of his own regiment, the
Grenadiers. Then one of his own men had done this infamous thing, one of
his own officers, indeed.

“Go through the pockets,” he continued sternly.

Came, into view under the flash a pair of gloves, a box of matches, a
silk handkerchief, a card-case. The agent said nothing, but passed a
card to the Chancellor, who read it without comment.

There was silence in the car.

At last the Chancellor stirred. “This man--he took your car on?”

“Yes. And he has not returned. No other machine has passed.”

The secret-service men exchanged glances. There was more to this than
appeared. Somewhere ahead, then, was Nikky Larisch, with a motor that
did got belong to him, and wearing clothing which his victim described
as a chauffeur’s coat of leather, breeches and puttees, and a fur
greatcoat over all.

“Had the snow commenced when this happened?”

“Not then; sir. Shortly after.”

“Go out with the driver,” the Chancellor ordered one of his men, “and
watch the road for the tracks of another car. Go slowly.”

So it was that, after an hour or so, they picked up Nikky’s trail, now
twenty-four hours old but still clear, and followed it. The Chancellor
was awake enough by this time, and bending forward. The man they had
rescued slept heavily. As the road descended into the foothills, there
were other tracks in the thin snow, and more than once they roused
Nikky’s victim to pick out his own tire marks. He obeyed dully. When
at last the trail turned from the highway toward the shooting-box at
Wedeling, Mettlich fell back with something between a curse and a groan.

“The fool!” he muttered. “The young fool! It was madness.”

At last they drew up at an inn in the village on the royal preserve, and
the Chancellor, looking rather gray, alighted. He directed that the man
they had rescued be brought in. The Chancellor was not for losing him
just yet. He took a room for him at the inn, and rather cavalierly
locked him in it.

The dull-eyed landlord, yawning as he lighted the party upstairs with
candles, apparently neither noticed nor cared that the three of them
surrounded a fourth, and that the fourth looked both sullen and ill.

The car, with one of the secret-service men, Mettlich sent on to follow
Nikky’s trail, and to report it to him. The other man was assigned to
custody of the chauffeur. The Chancellor, more relieved than he would
have acknowledged, reflected before a fire and over a glass of hot milk
that he was rather unpropitiously bringing Karl a bride!

It was almost four in the morning when the police agent returned. The
track he had followed apparently led into the grounds of Wedeling, but
was there lost in many others. It did not, so far as he could discover,
lead beyond the lodge gates.

The Chancellor sipped his hot milk and considered. Nikky Larisch a
prisoner in Karl’s hands caused him less anxiety than it would have a
month before. But what was behind it all?

The inn, grumbling at its broken rest, settled down to sleep again. The
two secret-service agents took turns on chairs outside their prisoner’s
door, glancing in occasionally to see that he still slept in his
built-in bed.

At a little before five the man outside the prisoner’s door heard
something inside the room. He glanced in. All was quiet. The prisoner
slept heavily, genuine sleep. There was no mistaking it, the sleep of a
man warm after long cold and exhaustion, weary after violent effort. The
agent went out again, and locked the door behind him.

And as the door closed, a trap-door from the kitchen below opened softly
under the sleeping man’s bed. With great caution came the landlord,
head first, then shoulders. The space was cramped. He crawled up, like a
snake out of a hole, and ducked behind the curtains of the bed. All
was still quiet, save that the man outside struck a match and lighted a
pipe.

Half an hour later, the Chancellor’s prisoner, still stiff and weak, was
making his way toward the hunting-lodge.

Kaiser saw him first, and found the story unenlightening. Nor could
Karl, roused by a terrified valet, make much more of it. When the man
had gone, Karl lay back among his pillows and eyed his agent.

“So Mettlich is here!” he said. “A hasty journey. They must be eager.”

“They must be in trouble,” Kaiser observed dryly. And on that
uncomplimentary comment King Karl slept, his face drawn into a wry
smile.

But he received the Chancellor of Livonia cordially the next morning,
going himself to the lodge doorstep to meet his visitor, and there
shaking hands with him.

“I am greatly honored, Excellency,” he said, with his twisted smile.

“And I, sire.”

But the Chancellor watched him from under his shaggy brows. The
messenger had escaped. By now Karl knew the story, knew of his midnight
ride over the mountains; and the haste it indicated. He sheathed
himself in dignity; did the Chancellor, held his head high and moved
ponderously, as became one who came to talk of important matters, but
not to ask a boon.

Karl himself led the way to his study, ignoring the chamberlain, and
stood aside to let Mettlich enter. Then he followed and closed the door.

“It is a long time since you have honored Karnia with a visit,” Karl
observed. “Will you sit down?”

Karl himself did not sit. He stood negligently beside the mantel, an arm
stretched along it.

“Not since the battle of the Ar, sire,” replied the Chancellor dryly. He
had headed an army of invasion then.

Karl smiled. “I hope that now your errand is more peaceful.”

For answer the Chancellor opened a portfolio he carried, and fumbled
among its papers. But, having found the right one, he held it without
opening it. “Before we come to that, sire, you have here, I believe,
detained for some strange reason, a Captain Larisch, aide-de-camp”--he
paused for effect--“to His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Livonia.”

Karl glanced up quickly. “Perhaps, if you will describe
this--gentleman--”

“Nonsense,” said the Chancellor testily, “you have him. We have traced
him here. Although by what authority you hold him I fail to understand.
I am here to find out what you have done with him.” The paper trembled
in the old man’s hand. He knew very well Karl’s quick anger, and he
feared for Nikky feared horribly.

“Done with him?” echoed Karl. “If as Captain Larisch you refer to a
madman who the night before last--”

“I do, sire. Madman is the word.”

Of course, it is not etiquette to interrupt a king. But kings were no
novelty to the Chancellor. And quite often, for reasons of state, he had
found interruptions necessary.

“He is a prisoner,” Karl said, in a new tone, stern enough now. “He
assaulted and robbed one of my men. He stole certain documents. That he
has not suffered for it already was because--well, because I believed
that the unfortunate distrust between your country and mine, Excellency,
was about to end.”

A threat that, undoubtedly. Let the arrangement between Karnia and
Livonia be made, with Hedwig to seal the bargain, and Nikky was safe
enough. But let Livonia demand too much, or not agree at all, and Nikky
was lost. Thus did Nikky Larisch play his small part in the game of
nations.

“Suppose,” said Karl unctuously, “that we discuss first another more
important matter. I confess to a certain impatience.” He bowed slightly.

The Chancellor hesitated. Then he glanced thoughtfully at the paper in
his hand.

Through a long luncheon, the two alone and even the servants dismissed,
through a longer afternoon, negotiations went on. Mettlich fought
hard on some points, only to meet defeat. Karl stood firm. The great
fortresses on the border must hereafter contain only nominal garrisons.
For the seaport strip he had almost doubled his price. The railroad must
be completed within two years.

“Since I made my tentative proposal,” Karl said, “certain things have
come to my ears which must be considered. A certain amount of unrest we
all have. It is a part of the times we live in. But strange stories
have reached us here, that your revolutionary party is again active, and
threatening. This proposal was made to avoid wars, not to marry them.
And civil war--” He shrugged his shoulders.

“You have said yourself, sire, that we all have a certain discontent.”

“The Princess Hedwig,” Karl said suddenly. “She has been told, of
course?”

“Not officially. She knows, however.”

“How does she regard it?”

The Chancellor hesitated. “Like most young women, she would prefer
making her own choice. But that,” he added hastily, “is but a whim. She
is a lovable and amiable girl. When the time comes she will be willing
enough.”

Karl stared out through one of the heavily curtained windows. He was not
so sure. And the time had gone by when he would have enjoyed the taming
of a girl. Now he wanted peace--was he not paying a price for it?--and
children to inherit his well-managed kingdom. And perhaps--who knows?--a
little love. His passionate young days were behind him, but he craved
something that his unruly life had not brought him. Before him rose a
vision of Hedwig her frank eyes, her color that rose and fell, her soft,
round body.

“You have no reason to believe that she has looked elsewhere?”

“None, sire,” said the Chancellor stoutly.

By late afternoon all was arranged, papers signed and witnessed, and the
two signatures affixed, the one small and cramped--a soldier’s hand;
the other bold and flowing--the scrawl of a king. And Hedwig, save for
the ceremony, was the bride of Karl of Karnia.

It was then that the Chancellor rose and stretched his legs. “And now,
sire,” he said, “since we are friends and no longer enemies, you will, I
know, release that mad boy of mine.”

“When do you start back?”

“Within an hour.”

“Before that time,” said Karl, “you shall have him, Chancellor.”

And with that Mettlich was forced to be content. He trusted Karl no more
now than he ever had. But he made his adieus with no hint of trouble in
his face.

Karl waited until the machine drove away. He had gone to the doorstep
with the Chancellor, desiring to do him all possible honor. But Mettlich
unaccustomed to democratic ways, disapproved of the proceeding, and was
indeed extremely uncomfortable, and drew a sigh of relief when it was
all over. He was of the old order which would keep its royalties on
gilded thrones and, having isolated there in grandeur, have gone about
the business of the kingdom without them.

Karl stood for a moment in the open air. It was done, then, and well
done. It was hard to realize. He turned to the west, where for so long
behind the mountains had lurked an enemy. A new era was opening; peace,
disarmament, a quiet and prosperous land. He had spent his years of war
and women. That was over.

From far away in the forest he heard the baying of the hounds. The
crisp air filled his lungs. And even as he watched, a young doe, with
rolling eyes, leaped across the drive. Karl watched it with coolly
speculative eyes.

When he returned to the study the agent Kaiser was already there. In the
democracy of the lodge men came and went almost at will. But Karl, big
with plans for the future, would have been alone, and eyed the agent
with disfavor.

“Well?” he demanded.

“We have been able to search the Chancellor’s rooms, sire,” the agent
said, “for the articles mentioned last night--a card-case, gloves, and a
silk handkerchief, belonging to the prisoner upstairs. He is Captain
Larisch, aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince of Livonia.”

He had, expected Karl to be, impressed. But Karl only looked at him. “I
know that,” he said coldly. “You are always just a little late with your
information, Kaiser.”

Something like malice showed in the agent’s face. “Then you also know,
sire, that it is this Captain Larisch with whom rumor couples the name
of the Princess Hedwig.” He stepped back a pace or two at sight of
Karl’s face. “You requested such information, sire.”

For answer, Karl pointed to the door.

For some time after he had dismissed the agent, Karl paced his library
alone. Kaiser brought no unverified information. Therefore the thing was
true. Therefore he had had his enemy in his hand, and now was pledged
to let him go. For a time, then, Karl paid the penalty of many misdeeds.
His triumph was ashes in his mouth.

What if this boy, infatuated with Hedwig, had hidden somewhere on the
road Olga Loschek’s letter? What, then, if he recovered it and took it
to Hedwig? What if-- But at last he sent for the prisoner upstairs, and
waited for him with both jealousy and fear in his eyes.

Five minutes later Nikky Larisch was ushered into the red study, and
having bowed, an insolent young bow at that, stood and eyed the King.

“I have sent for you to release you,” said Karl. Nikky drew a long
breath. “I am grateful, sire.”

“You have been interceded for by the Chancellor of Livonia, General
Mettlich, who has just gone.”

Nikky bowed.

“Naturally, since you said nothing, of your identity, we could not know
that you belonged to His Majesty’s household. Under the circumstances,
it is a pleasure to give you your freedom.”

Nikky, bowed again.

Karl fixed him with cold eyes. “But before you take leave of us,” he
said ironically, “I should like the true story of the night before last.
Somehow, somewhere, a letter intended for me was exchanged for a blank
paper. I want that letter.”

“I know no more than you, sire. It is not reasonable that I would have
taken the risk I took for an envelope containing nothing.”

“For that matter,” said His Majesty, “there was nothing reasonable about
anything you did!”

And now Karl played his trump card, played it with watchful eyes on
Nikky’s face. He would see if report spoke the truth, if this blue-eyed
boy was in love with Hedwig. He was a jealous man, this Karl of the cold
eyes, jealous and passionate. Not as a king, then, watching a humble
soldier of Livonia, but as man to man, he gazed at Nikky.

“For fear that loyalty keeps you silent, I may say to you that the old
troubles between Karnia and Livonia are over.”

“I do not understand, sire.”

Karl hesitated. Then, with his twisted smile, he cast the rigid
etiquette of such matters to the winds. “It is very simple,” he said.
“There will be no more trouble between these two neighboring countries,
because a marriage has to-day been arranged--a marriage between the
Princess Hedwig, His Majesty’s granddaughter, and myself.”

For a moment Nikky Larisch closed his eyes.



CHAPTER XVII. THE FORTRESS


The anniversary of the death of Prince Hubert dawned bright and sunny.
The Place showed a thin covering of snow, which clung, wet and sticky,
to the trees; but by nine o’clock most of it had disappeared, and Prince
Ferdinand William Otto was informed that the excursion would take place.

Two motors took the party, by back streets, to the landing-stage. In the
first were Annunciata, Hedwig, and the Countess, and at the last moment
Otto had salvaged Miss Braithwaite from the second car, and begged a
place for her with him. A police agent sat beside the chauffeur. Also
another car, just ahead, contained other agents, by Mettlich’s order
before his departure--a plain black motor, without the royal arms.

In the second machine followed a part of the suite, Hedwig’s lady
in waiting, two gentlemen of the Court, in parade dress, and Father
Gregory, come from his monastery at Etzel to visit his old friend, the
King.

At the landing-stage a small crowd had gathered on seeing the red carpet
laid and the gilt ropes put up, which indicated a royal visit. A small
girl, with a hastily secured bouquet in her hot hands, stood nervously
waiting. In deference to the anniversary, the flowers were tied with a
black ribbon!

Annunciata grumbled when she saw the crowd, and the occupants of the
first car looked them over carefully. It remained for Hedwig to spy the
black ribbon. In the confusion, she slipped over to the little girl, who
went quite white with excitement. “They are lovely,” Hedwig whispered,
“but please take off the black ribbon.” The child eyed her anxiously.
“It will come to pieces, Highness.”

“Take the ribbon from your hair. It will be beautiful.”

Which was done! But, as was not unnatural, the child forgot her speech,
and merely thrust the bouquet, tied with a large pink bow, into the
hands of Prince Ferdinand William Otto.

“Here,” she said. It was, perhaps, the briefest, and therefore the most
agreeable presentation speech the Crown Prince had ever heard.

Red carpet and gold ropes and white gloves these last on the waiting
officers--made the scene rather gay. The spring sun shone on the
gleaming river, on the white launch with its red velvet cushions, on
the deck chairs, its striped awnings and glittering brass, on the Crown
Prince, in uniform, on the bouquet and the ribbon. But somewhere, back
of the quay, a band struck up a funeral march, and a beggar, sitting in
the sun, put his hand to his ear.

“Of course,” he said, to no one in particular. “It is the day. I had
forgotten.”

The quay receded, red carpet and all. Only the blare of the band
followed them, and with the persistence of sound over water, followed
them for some time. The Crown Prince put down the bouquet, and proceeded
to stand near the steersman.

“When I am grown up,” he observed to that embarrassed sailor, “I hope I
shall be able to steer a boat.”

The steersman looked about cautiously. The royal guests were settling
themselves in chairs; with rugs over their knees. “It is very easy, Your
Royal Highness,” he said. “See, a turn like this, and what happens? And
the other way the same.”

Followed a five minutes during which the white launch went on a strange
and devious course, and the Crown Prince grew quite hot and at least two
inches taller. It was, of course, the Archduchess who discovered what
was happening. She was very disagreeable about it.

The Archduchess was very disagreeable about everything that day. She was
afraid to stay in the Palace, and afraid to leave it. And just when she
had begun to feel calm, and the sun and fresh air were getting in their
work, that wretched funeral band had brought back everything she was
trying to forget.

The Countess was very gay. She said brilliant, rather heartless things
that set the group to laughing, and in the intervals she eyed Hedwig
with narrowed eyes and hate in her heart. Hedwig herself was very quiet.
The bouquet had contained lilies-of-the-valley, for one thing.

Miss Braithwaite knitted, and watched that the Crown Prince kept his
white gloves clean.

Just before they left the Palace the Archduchesss had had a moment of
weakening, but the Countess had laughed away her fears.

“I really think I shall not go, after all,” Annunciata had said
nervously. “There are reasons.”

The Countess had smiled mockingly. “Reasons!” she said. “I know that
many things are being said. But I also know that General Mettlich is an
alarmist;” purred the Countess. “And that the King is old and ill, and
sees through gray glasses.”

So the Archduchess had submitted to having a plumed and inappropriate
hat set high on her head, regardless of the fashion, and had pinned on
two watches and gone.

It was Hedwig who showed the most depression on the trip, after all.
Early that morning she had attended mass in the royal chapel. All the
household had been there, and the King had been wheeled in, and had sat
in his box, high in the wall, the door of which opened from his private
suite.

Looking up, Hedwig had seen his gray old face set and rigid. The Court
had worn black, and the chapel was draped in crepe. She had fallen on
her knees and had tried dutifully to pray for the dead Hubert. But her
whole soul was crying out for help for herself.

So now she sat very quiet, and wondered about things.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat by the rail and watched the green
banks flying by. In one place a group of children were sailing a tiny
boat from the bank. It was only a plank, with a crazy cotton sail. They
shoved it off and watched while the current seized it and carried it
along. Then they cheered, and called good-bye to it.

The Crown Prince leaned over the rail, and when the current caught it,
he cheered too, and waved his cap. He was reproved, of course, and some
officious person insisted on tucking the rug around his royal legs. But
when no one was looking, he broke a flower from the bouquet and flung
it overboard. He pretended that it was a boat, and was going down to
Karnia, filled with soldiers ready to fight.

But the thought of soldiers brought Nikky to his mind. His face clouded.
“It’s very strange about Nikky,” he said. “He is away somewhere. I wish
he had sent word he was going.”

Hedwig looked out over the river.

The Archduchess glanced at Miss Braithwaite. “There is no news?” she
asked, in an undertone.

“None,” said Miss Braithwaite.

A sudden suspicion rose in Hedwig’s mind, and made her turn pale. What
if they had sent him away? Perhaps they feared him enough for that! If
that were true, she would never know. She knew the ways of the Palace
well enough for that. In a sort of terror she glanced around the group,
so comfortably disposed. Her mother was looking out, with her cool,
impassive gaze. Miss Braithwaite knitted. The Countess, however, met
her eyes, and there was something strange in them: triumph and a bit of
terror, too, had she but read them. For the Countess had put in her plea
for a holiday and had been refused.

The launch drew up near the fort, and the Crown Prince’s salute of a
certain number of guns was fired. The garrison was drawn up in line, and
looked newly shaved and very, very neat. And the officers came out
and stood on the usual red carpet, and bowed deeply, after which they
saluted the Crown Prince and he saluted them. Then the Colonel in charge
shook hands all round, and the band played. It was all very ceremonious
and took a lot of tine.

The new fortress faced the highroad some five miles from the Karnian
border. It stood on a bluff over the river, and was, as the Crown Prince
decided, not so unlike the desk, after all, except that it had a moat
around it.

Hedwig and the Countess went with the party around the fortifications.
The Archduchess and Miss Braithwaite had sought a fire. Only the
Countess, however, seemed really interested. Hedwig seemed more intent
on the distant line of the border than on anything else. She stood on a
rampart and stared out at it, looking very sad. Even the drill--when at
a word all the great guns rose and peeped over the edge at the valley
below, and then dropped back again as if they had seen enough--even this
failed to rouse her.

“I wish you would listen, Hedwig,” said the Crown Prince, almost
fretfully. “It’s so interesting. The enemy’s soldiers would come up the
river in boats, and along that road on foot. And then we would raise the
guns and shoot at them. And the guns would drop back again, before the
enemy had time to aim at them.”

But Hedwig’s interest was so evidently assumed that he turned to the
Countess. The Countess professed smiling terror, and stood a little way
back from the guns, looking on. But Prince Ferdinand William Otto at
last coaxed her to the top of the emplacement.

“There’s a fine view up there,” he urged. “And the guns won’t hurt you.
There’s nothing in them.”

To get up it was necessary to climb an iron ladder. Hedwig was already
there. About a dozen young officers had helped her up, and ruined as
many pairs of white gloves, although Hedwig could climb like a cat, and
really needed no help at all.

“You go up,” said the Crown Prince eagerly. “I’ll hold your bag, so you
can climb.”

He caught her handbag from her, and instantly something snapped in
it. The Countess was climbing up the ladder. Rather dismayed, Prince
Ferdinand William Otto surveyed the bag. Something had broken, he
feared. And in another moment he saw what it was. The little watch which
was set in one side of it had slipped away, leaving a round black hole.
His heart beat a trifle faster.

“I’m awfully worried,” he called up to her, as he climbed. “I’m afraid
I’ve broken your bag. Something clicked, and the watch is gone. It is
not on the ground.”

It was well for the Countess that the Colonel was talking to Hedwig.
Well for her, too, that the other officers were standing behind with
their eyes worshipfully on the Princess. The Countess turned gray-white.

“Don’t worry, Highness,” she said, with stiff lips, “The watch falls
back sometimes. I must have it repaired.”

But long after the tour of the ramparts was over, after ammunition-rooms
had been visited, with their long lines of waiting shells, after the
switchboard which controlled the river mines had been inspected and
explained, she was still trembling.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto, looking at the bag later on, saw the
watch in place and drew a long breath of relief.



CHAPTER XVIII. OLD ADELBERT


Old Adelbert of the Opera had lost his position. No longer, a sausage in
his pocket for refreshment, did he leave his little room daily for the
Opera. A young man, who made ogling eyes at Olga, of the garde-robe, and
who was not careful to keep the lenses clean, had taken his place.

He was hurt in his soldier’s soul. There was no longer a place in the
kingdom for those who had fought for it. The cry was for the young. And
even in the first twenty-four hours a subtle change went on in him. His
loyalty, on which he had built his creed of life, turned to bitterness.

The first day of his idleness he wandered into the back room of the
cobbler’s shop near by, where the butter-seller from the corner, the
maker of artificial flowers for graves, and the cobbler himself were
gathered, and listened without protest to such talk as would have roused
him once to white anger.

But the iron had not yet gone very deep, and one thing he would not
permit. It was when, in the conversation, one of them attacked the King.
Then indeed he was roused to fury.

“A soldier and a gentleman,” he said. “For him I lost this leg of mine,
and lost it without grieving. When I lay in the hospital he himself
came, and--”

A burst of jeering laughter greeted this, for he had told it many times.
Told it, because it was all he had instead of a leg, and although he
could not walk on it, certainly it had supported him through many years.

“As for the little Crown Prince,” he went on firmly, “I have seen him
often. He came frequently to the Opera. He has a fine head and a bright
smile. He will be a good king.”

But this was met with silence.

Once upon a time a student named Haeckel had occasionally backed him up
in his defense of the royal family. But for some reason or other Haeckel
came no more, and old Adelbert missed him. He had inquired for him
frequently.

“Where is the boy Haeckle?” he had asked one day. “I have not seen him
lately.”

No one had replied. But a sort of grim silence settled over the little
room. Old Adelbert, however, was not discerning.

“Perhaps, as a student, he worked too hard” he had answered his own
question. “They must both work and play hard, these students. A fine lot
of young men. I have watched them at the Opera. Most of them preferred
Italian to German music.”

But, that first day of idleness, when he had left the cobbler’s, he
resolved not to return. They had not been unfriendly, but he had seen at
once there was a difference. He was no longer old Adelbert of the Opera.
He was an old man only, and out of work.

He spent hours that first free afternoon repairing his frayed linen and
his shabby uniform, with his wooden leg stretched out before him and his
pipe clutched firmly in his teeth. Then, freshly shaved and brushed, he
started on a painful search after work. With no result. And, indeed, he
was hopeless before he began. He was old and infirm. There was little
that he had even the courage to apply for.

True, he had his small pension, but it came only twice a year, and was
sent, intact, to take care of an invalid daughter in the country. That
was not his. He never used a penny of it. And he had saved a trifle,
by living on air; as the concierge declared. But misfortunes come in
threes, like fires and other calamities. The afternoon of that very day
brought a letter, saying that the daughter was worse and must have
an operation. Old Adelbert went to church and burned a candle for her
recovery, and from there to the bank, to send by registered mail the
surgeon’s fee.

He was bankrupt in twenty-four hours.

That evening in his extremity he did a reckless thing. He wrote a letter
to the King. He spent hours over it, first composing it in pencil and
then copying it with ink borrowed from the concierge. It began “Sire,”
 as he had learned was the form, and went on to remind His Majesty,
first, of the hospital incident, which, having been forty years ago,
might have slipped the royal memory. Then came the facts--his lost
position, his daughter, the handicap of his wooden leg. It ended with a
plea for reinstatement or, failing that, for any sort of work.

He sent it, unfolded, in a large flat envelope, which also he had
learned was the correct thing with kings, who for some reason or other
do not like folded communications. Then he waited. He considered that a
few hours should bring a return.

No answer came. No answer ever came. For the King was ill, and
secretaries carefully sifted the royal mail.

He waited all of the next day, and out of the mixed emotions of his soul
confided the incident of the letter to Humbert, in his bureau below.

The concierge smiled in his beard. “What does the King care?” he
demanded. “He will never see that letter. And if he did--you have lived
long, my friend. Have you ever known the King to give, or to do anything
but take? Name me but one instance.”

And that night, in the concierge’s bureau, he was treated to many
incidents, all alike. The Government took, but gave nothing. As well
expect blood out of a stone. Instances were given, heartlessness piled
on heartlessness, one sordid story on another.

And as he listened there died in old Adelbert’s soul his flaming love
for his sovereign and his belief in him. His eyes took on a hard and
haunted look. That night he walked past the Palace and shook his fist at
it. He was greatly ashamed of that, however, and never repeated it. But
his soul was now an open sore, ready for infection.

And Black Humbert bided his time.

On the day of the excursion to the fortress old Adelbert decided to
appeal to his fellow lodger, Herman Spier. Now and then, when he was
affluent, he had paid small tribute to Herman by means of the camp
cookery on which he prided himself.

“A soldier’s mess!” he would say, and bring in a bowl of soup, or a
slice of deer meat, broiled over hot coals in his tiny stove. “Eat it,
man. These restaurants know nothing of food.”

To Herman now he turned for advice and help. It was difficult to find
the clerk. He left early, and often came home after midnight in a
curious frame of mind, a drunkenness of excitement that was worse than
that of liquor.

Herman could not help him. But he eyed the old soldier appraisingly. He
guessed shrewdly the growing uneasiness behind Adelbert’s brave front.
If now one could enlist such a man for the Cause, that would be worth
doing. He had talked it over with the concierge. Among the veterans the
old man was influential, and by this new policy of substituting fresh
blood for stale, the Government had made many enemies among them.

“In a shop!” he said coldly. “With that leg? No, my friend. Two legs are
hardly enough for what we have to do.”

“Then, for any sort of work. I could sweep and clean.”

“I shall inquire,” said Herman Spier. But he did not intend to. He had
other plans.

The old man’s bitterness had been increased by two things. First,
although he had been dismissed without notice, in the middle of the
week, he had been paid only up to the hour of leaving. That was a
grievance. Second, being slow on his feet, one of the royal motorcars
had almost run him down, and the police had cursed him roundly for being
in the way.

“Why be angry?” observed the concierge, on this being reported to him.
“The streets are the King’s. Who are the dogs of pedestrians but those
that pay the taxes to build them?”

At last he determined to find Haeckel, the student. He did not know his
Christian name, nor where he lodged. But he knew the corps he belonged
to, by his small gray cap with a red band.

He was very nervous when he made this final effort. Corps houses were
curious places, he had heard, and full of secrets. Even the great
professors from the University might not enter without invitation. And
his experience had been that students paid small respect to uniforms or
to age. In truth, he passed the building twice before he could summon
courage to touch the great brass knocker. And the arrogance of its
clamor, when at last he rapped, startled him again. But here at least he
need not have feared.

The student who was also doorkeeper eyed him kindly. “Well, comrade?” he
said.

“I am seeking a student named Haeckel, of this corps,” said old Adelbert
stoutly.

And had violated all etiquette, too, had he but known it!

“Haeckle?” repeated the doorkeeper. “I think--come in, comrade. I will
inquire.”

For the name of Haeckel was, just then, one curiously significant.

He disappeared, and old Adelbert waited. When the doorkeeper returned,
it was to tell him to follow him, and to lead the way downstairs.

There dawned on the old man’s eyes a curious sight. In a long basement
room were perhaps thirty students, each armed with a foil, and wearing a
wire mask. A half dozen lay figures on springs stood in the center in a
low row, and before these perspiring youths thrust and parried. Some of
them, already much scarred, stood and watched. This, then, was where
the students prepared themselves for duels. Here they fought the mimic
battles that were later on to lead to the much-prized scars.

Old Adelbert stared with curious, rather scornful eyes. The rapier he
detested. Give him a saber, and a free field, and he would show them.
Even yet, he felt, he had not lost his cunning. And the saber requires
cunning as well as strength.

Two or three students came toward him at once. “You are seeking
Haeckle?” one of them asked.

“I am. I knew him, but not well. Lately, however, I have thought--is he
here?”

The students exchanged glances. “He is not here,” one said. “Where did
you know him?”

“He came frequently to a shop I know of--a cobbler’s shop, a
neighborhood meeting-place. A fine lad. I liked him. But recently he has
not come, and knowing his corps, I came here to find him.”

They had hoped to learn something from him, and he knew nothing. “He has
disappeared,” they told him. “He is not at his lodging, and he has left
his classes. He went away suddenly, leaving everything. That is all we
know.”

It sounded sinister. Old Adelbert, heavy-hearted, turned away and
climbed again to the street. That gateway was closed, too. And he felt a
pang of uneasiness. What could have happened to the boy? Was the world,
after all, only a place of trouble?

But now came good fortune, and, like evil, it came not singly. The
operation was over, and his daughter on the mend. The fee was paid also.
And the second followed on the heels of the first.

He did not like Americans. Too often, in better days, had he heard the
merits of the American republic compared with the shortcomings of his
own government. When, as happened now and then, he met the American
family on the staircase, he drew sharply aside that no touch of
republicanism might contaminate his uniform.

On that day, however, things changed.

First of all, he met the American lad in the hallway, and was pleased to
see him doff his bit of a cap. Not many, nowadays, uncovered a head to
him. The American lad was going down; Adelbert was climbing, one step at
a time, and carrying a small basket of provisions.

The American boy, having passed, turned, hesitated, went back. “I’d like
to carry that for you, if you don’t mind.”

“Carry it?”

“I am very strong,” said the American boy stoutly.

So Adelbert gave up his basket, and the two went up. Four long flights
of stone stairs led to Adelbert’s room. The ascent took time and
patience.

At the door Adelbert paused. Then, loneliness overcoming prejudice,
“Come in,” he said.

The bare little room appealed to the boy. “It’s very nice, it?” he said.
“There’s nothing to fall over.”

“And but little to sit on,” old Adelbert added dryly. “However, two
people require but two chairs. Here is one.”

But the boy would not sit down. He ranged the room, frankly curious,
exclaimed at the pair of ring doves who lived in a box tied to the
window-sill, and asked for crumbs for them. Adelbert brought bread from
his small store.

The boy cheered him. His interest in the old saber, the intentness with
which he listened to its history, the politeness with which he ignored
his host’s infirmity, all won the old man’s heart.

These Americans downstairs were not all bad, then. They were too rich,
of course. No one should have meat three times a day, as the meat-seller
reported they did. And they were paying double rent for the apartment
below. But that, of course, they could not avoid, not knowing the real
charge.

The boy was frankly delighted. And when old Adelbert brought forth from
his basket a sausage and, boiling it lightly, served him a slice between
two pieces of bread, an odd friendship was begun that was to have
unforeseen consequences. They had broken bread together.

Between the very old and the very young come sometimes these strong
affections. Perhaps it is that age harkens back to the days of its
youth, and by being very old, becomes young again. Or is it that
children are born old, with the withered, small faces of all the past,
and must, year by year, until their maturity, shed this mantle of age?

Gradually, over the meal, and the pigeons, and what not, old Adelbert
unburdened his heart. He told of his years at the Opera, where he had
kept his glasses clean and listened to the music until he knew by heart
even the most difficult passages. He told of the Crown Prince, who
always wished opera-glasses, not because he needed them, but because he
liked to turn them wrong end before, and thus make the audience appear
at a great distance. And then he told of the loss of his position.

The American lad listened politely, but his mind was on the Crown
Prince. “Does he wear a crown?” he demanded. “I saw him once in a
carriage, but I think he had a hat.”

“At the coronation he will wear a crown.”

“Do people do exactly what he tells them?”

Old Adelbert was not certain. He hedged, rather. “Probably, whenever it
is good for him.”

“Huh! What’s the use of being a prince?” observed the boy, who had heard
of privileges being given that way before. “When will he be a king?”

“When the old King dies. He is very old now. I was in a hospital once,
after a battle. And he came in. He put his hand on my shoulder,
like this” he illustrated it on the child’s small one--and said--
Considering that old Adelbert no longer loved his King, it is strange to
record that his voice broke.

“Will he die soon?” Bobby put in. He found kings as much of a novelty as
to Prince Ferdinand William Otto they were the usual thing. Bobby’s idea
of kings, however, was of the “off with his head” order.

“Who knows? But when he does, the city will learn at once. The great
bell of the Cathedral, which never rings save at such times, will toll.
They say it is a sound never to be forgotten. I, of course, have never
heard it. When it tolls, all in the city will fall on their knees and
pray. It is the custom.” Bobby, reared to strict Presbyterianism and
accustomed to kneeling but once a day, and that at night beside his
bed, in the strict privacy of his own apartment, looked rather startled.
“What will they pray for?” he said.

And old Adelbert, with a new bitterness, replied that the sons of kings
needed much prayer. Sometimes they were hard and did cruel things.

“And then the Crown Prince will be a king,” Bobby reflected. “If I were
a king, I’d make people stand around. And I’d have an automobile and run
it myself. But has the Crown Prince only a grandfather, and no father?”

“He died--the boy’s father. He was murdered, and the Princess his mother
also.”

Bobby’s eyes opened wide. “Who did it?”

“Terrorists,” said old Adelbert. And would not be persuaded to say more.

That night at dinner Bobby Thorpe delivered himself of quite a speech.
He sat at the table, and now and then, when the sour-faced governess
looked at her plate, he slipped a bit of food to his dog, which waited
beside him.

“There’s a very nice old man upstairs,” he said. “He has a fine sword,
and ring-doves, and a wooden leg. And he used to rent opera-glasses to
the Crown Prince, only he turned them around. I’m going to try that with
yours, mother. We had sausage together, and he has lost his position,
and he’s never been on the Scenic Railway, father. I’d like some tickets
for him. He would like riding, I’m sure, because walking must be pretty
hard. And what I want to know is this: Why can’t you give him a job,
father?”

Bobby being usually taciturn at the table, and entirely occupied with
food, the family stared at him.

“What sort of a job, son? A man with one leg!”

“He doesn’t need legs to chop tickets with.”

The governess listened. She did not like Americans. Barbarians they
were, and these were of the middle class, being in trade. For a scenic
railway is trade, naturally. Except that they paid a fat salary, with
an extra month at Christmas, she would not be there. She and Pepy, the
maid, had many disputes about this. But Pepy was a Dalmatian, and did
not matter.

“He means the old soldier upstairs,” said Bobby’s mother softly. She was
a gentle person. Her eyes were wide and childlike, and it was a sort of
religion of the family to keep them full of happiness.

This also the governess could not understand.

“So the old soldier is out of work,” mused the head of the family. Head,
thought the governess! When they wound him about their fingers! She
liked men of sterner stuff. In her mountain country the men did as
they wished, and sometimes beat their wives by way of showing their
authority. Under no circumstances, she felt, would this young man ever
beat his wife. He was a weakling.

The weakling smiled across the table at the wife with the soft eyes.
“How about it, mother?” he asked. “Shall the firm of ‘Bobby and I’ offer
him a job?”

“I would like it very much,” said the weakling’s wife, dropping her eyes
to hide the pride in them.

“Suppose,” said the weakling, “that you run up after dinner, Bob, and
bring him down. Now sit still, young man, and finish. There’s no such
hurry as that.”

And in this fashion did old Adelbert become ticket-chopper of the
American Scenic Railway.

And in this fashion, too, commenced that odd friendship between him and
the American lad that was to have so vital an effect on the very life
itself of the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto of Livonia.

Late that evening, old Adelbert’s problem having been solved, Pepy the
maid and Bobby had a long talk. It concerned itself mainly with kings.
Pepy sat in a low chair by the tiled stove in the kitchen, and knitted a
stocking with a very large foot.

“What I want to know is this,” said Bobby, swinging his legs on the
table: “What are the Terrorists?”

Pepy dropping her knitting, and stared with open mouth. “What know you
of such things?” she demanded.

“Well, Terrorists killed the Crown Prince’s father, and--”

Quite suddenly Pepy leaped from her chair, and covered Bobby’s mouth
with her hand. “Hush!” she said, and stared about her with frightened
eyes. The door into the dining-room was open, and the governess sat
there with a book. Then, in a whisper: “They are everywhere. No one
knows who they are, nor where they meet.” The superstition of her
mountains crept into her voice. “It is said that they have the
assistance of the evil one, and that the reason the police cannot find
them is because they take the form of cats. I myself,” she went on
impressively, “crossing the Place one night late, after spending the
evening with a friend, saw a line of cats moving in the shadows. One
of them stopped and looked at me.” Pepy crossed herself. “It had a face
like the Fraulein in there.”

Bobby stared with interest through the doorway. The governess did look
like a cat. She had staring eyes, and a short, wide face. “Maybe’s she’s
one of them,” he reflected aloud.

“Oh, for God’s sake, hush!” cried Pepy, and fell to knitting rapidly.
Nor could Bobby elicit anything further from her. But that night, in
his sleep, he saw a Crown Prince, dressed in velvet and ermine, being
surrounded and attacked by an army of cats, and went, shivering, to
crawl into his mother’s bed.



CHAPTER XIX. THE COMMITTEE OF TEN


On the evening of the annual day of mourning, the party returned from
the fortress. The Archduchess slept. The Crown Prince talked, mostly to
Hedwig, and even she said little. After a time the silence affected
the boy’s high spirits. He leaned back in his chair on the deck of
the launch, and watched the flying landscape. He counted the riverside
shrines to himself. There were, he discovered, just thirteen between the
fortress and the city limits.

Old Father Gregory sat beside him. He had taken off his flat black hat,
and it lay on his knee. The ends of his black woolen sash fluttered in
the wind, and he sat, benevolent hands folded, looking out.

From guns to shrines is rather a jump, and the Crown Prince found it
difficult.

“Do you consider fighting the duty of a Christian?” inquired the Crown
Prince suddenly.

Father Gregory, whose mind had been far away, with his boys’ school at
Etzel, started.

“Fighting? That depends. To defend his home is the Christian duty of
every man.”

“But during the last war,” persisted Otto, “we went across the mountains
and killed a lot of people. Was that a Christian duty?”

Father Gregory coughed. He had himself tucked up his soutane and walked
forty miles to join the army of invasion, where he had held services,
cared for the wounded, and fired a rifle, all with equal spirit. He
changed the subject to the big guns at the fortress.

“I think,” observed the Crown Prince, forgetting his scruples, “that if
you have a pencil and an old envelope to draw on, I’ll invent a big gun
myself.”

Which he proceeded to do, putting in a great many wheels and levers,
and adding, a folding-table at the side on which the gunners might have
afternoon tea--this last prompted by the arrival just then of cups and
saucers and a tea service.

It was almost dark when the launch arrived at the quay. The red carpet
was still there, and another crowd. Had Prince Ferdinand William Otto
been less taken up with finding one of his kid gloves, which he had
lost, he would have noticed that there was a scuffle going on at the
very edge of the red carpet, and that the beggar of the morning was
being led away, between two policemen, while a third, running up the
river bank, gingerly deposited a small round object in the water, and
stood back. It was merely one of the small incidents of a royal outing,
and was never published in the papers. But Father Gregory, whose old
eyes were far-sighted, had seen it all. His hand--the hand of the
Church--was on the shoulder of the Crown Prince as they landed.

The boy looked around for the little girl of the bouquet. He took an
immense interest in little girls, partly because he seldom saw any. But
she was gone.

When the motor which had taken them from the quay reached the Palace,
Hedwig roused the Archduchess, whose head had dropped forward on her
chest. “Here we are, mother,” she said. “You have had a nice sleep.”

But Annunciata muttered something about being glad the wretched day was
over, and every one save Prince Ferdinand William Otto seemed glad to
get back. The boy was depressed. He felt, somehow, that they should
have enjoyed it, and that, having merely endured it, they had failed him
again.

He kissed his aunt’s hand dutifully when he left her, and went with a
lagging step to his own apartments. His request to have Hedwig share his
supper had met with a curt negative.

The Countess, having left her royal mistress in the hands of her maids,
went also to her own apartment. She was not surprised, on looking into
her mirror, to find herself haggard and worn. It had been a terrible
day. Only a second had separated that gaping lens in her bag from the
eyes of the officers about. Never, in an adventurous life, had she felt
so near to death. Even now its cold breath chilled her.

However, that was over, well over. She had done well, too. A dozen
pictures of the fortress, of its guns, of even its mine chart as it hung
on a wall, were in the bag. Its secrets, so securely held, were hers,
and would be Karl’s.

It was a cunningly devised scheme. Two bags, exactly alike as to
appearance, had been made. One, which she carried daily, was what it
appeared to be. The other contained a camera, tiny but accurate, with
a fine lens. When a knob of the fastening was pressed, the watch slid
aside and the shutter snapped. The pictures when enlarged had proved
themselves perfect.

Pleading fatigue, she dismissed her maid and locked the doors. Then she
opened the sliding panel, and unfastened the safe. The roll of film
was in her hand, ready to be deposited under the false bottom of her
jewel-case.

Within the security of her room, the Countess felt at ease. The chill of
the day left her, to be followed by a glow of achievement. She even sang
a little, a bit of a ballad from her native mountains:

He has gone to the mountains, The far green mountains. (Hear the cattle
lowing as they drive them up the hill!) When he comes down he’ll love
me; When he comes down he’ll marry me. (But what is this that touches me
with fingers dead and chill?)


Still singing, she carried the jewel-case to her table, and sat down
before it. Then she put a hand to her throat.

The lock had been forced.

A glance about showed her that her code-book was gone. In the tray
above, her jewels remained untouched; her pearl collar, the diamond
knickknacks the Archduchess had given her on successive Christmases,
even a handful of gold coins, all were safe enough. But the code-book
was gone.

Then indeed did the Countess look death in the face and found it
terrible. For a moment she could not so much as stand without support.
It was then that she saw a paper folded under her jewels and took it out
with shaking fingers. In fine, copperplate script she read:

   MADAME,--To-night at one o’clock a closed fiacre will await
  you in the Street of the Wise Virgins, near the church.  You
  will go in it, without fail, to wherever it takes you.
                                 (Signed)THE COMMITTEE OF TEN

The Committee of Ten! This thing had happened to her. Then it was true
that the half-mythical Committee of Ten existed, that this terror of
Livonia was a real terror, which had her by the throat. For there was no
escape. None. Now indeed she knew that rumor spoke the truth, and that
the Terrorists were everywhere. In daylight they had entered her room.
They had known of the safe, known of the code. Known how much else?

Wild ideas of flight crossed her mind, to be as instantly abandoned for
their futility. Where could she go that they would not follow her? When
she had reacted from her first shock she fell to pondering the matter,
pro and con. What could they want of her? If she was an enemy to the
country, so were they. But even that led nowhere, for after all, the
Terrorists were not enemies to Livonia. They claimed indeed to be its
friends, to hold in their hands its future and its betterment. Enemies
of the royal house they were, of course.

She was nearly distracted by that time. She was a brave woman,
physically and mentally of hard fiber, but the very name signed to the
paper set her nerves to twitching. It was the Committee of Ten which had
murdered Prince Hubert and his young wife; the Committee of Ten which
had exploded a bomb in the very Palace itself, and killed old Breidau,
of the King’s Council; the Committee of Ten which had burned the
Government House, and had led the mob in the student riots a year or so
before.

Led them, themselves hidden. For none knew their identity. It was said
that they did not even know each other, wearing masks and long cloaks at
their meetings, and being designated by numbers only.

In this dread presence, then, she would find herself that night! For she
would go. There was no way out.

She sent a request to be excused from dinner on the ground of illness,
and was, as a result, visited by her royal mistress at nine o’clock. The
honor was unexpected. Not often did the Archduchess Annunciata so
favor any one. The Countess, lying across her bed in a perfect agony
of apprehension, staggered into her sitting-room and knelt to kiss her
lady’s hand.

But the Archduchess, who had come to scoff, believing not at all in the
illness, took one shrewd glance at her, and put her hands behind her.

“It may be, as you say, contagious, Olga,” she said. “You would better
go to bed and stay there. I shall send Doctor Wiederman to you.”

When she had gone the Countess rang for her maid. She was cool enough
now, and white, with a cruel line about her mouth that Minna knew well.
She went to the door into the corridor, and locked it.

Then she turned on the maid. “I am ready for you, now.”

“Madame will retire?”

“You little fool! You know what I am ready for!”

The maid stood still. Her wide, bovine eyes, filled with alarm, watched
the Countess as she moved swiftly across the room to her wardrobe. When
she turned about again, she held in her hand a thin black riding-crop.
Minna’s ruddy color faded. She knew the Loscheks, knew their furies.
Strange stories of unbridled passion had oozed from the old ruined
castle where for so long they had held feudal sway over the countryside.

“Madame!” she cried, and fell on her knees. “What have I done? Oh, what
have I done?”

“That is what you will tell me,” said the Countess, and brought down the
crop. A livid stripe across the girl’s face turned slowly to red.

“I have done nothing, I swear it. Mother of Pity, help me! I have done
nothing.”

The crop descended again, this time on one of the great sleeves of her
peasant costume. So thin it was, so brutal the blow, that it cut into
the muslin. Groaning, the girl fell forward on her face. The Countess
continued to strike pitiless blows into which she put all her fury, her
terror, her frayed and ragged nerves.

The girl on the floor, from whimpering, fell to crying hard, with great
noiseless sobs of pain and bewilderment. When at last the blows ceased,
she lay still.

The Countess prodded her with her foot. “Get up,” she commanded.

But she was startled when she saw the girl’s face. It was she who was
the fool. The welt would tell its own story, and the other servants
would talk. It was already a deep purple, and swollen. Both women were
trembling. The Countess, still holding the crop, sat down.

“Now!” she said. “You will tell me to whom you gave a certain small book
of which you know.”

“I, madame?”

“You.”

“But what book? I have given nothing, madame. I swear it.”

“Then you admitted some one to this room?”

“No one, madame, except--” She hesitated.

“Well?”

“There came this afternoon the men who clean madame’s windows. No one
else, madame.”

She put her hand to her cheek, and looked furtively to see if her
fingers were stained with blood. The Countess, muttering, fell to
furious pacing of the room. So that was it, of course. The girl was
telling the truth. She was too stupid to lie. Then the Committee of Ten
indeed knew everything--had known that she would be away, had known of
the window cleaners, had known of the safe, and her possession of the
code.

Cold and calculating rage filled her. Niburg had played her false, of
course. But Niburg was only a go-between. He had known nothing of the
codebook. He had given the Committee the letter, and by now they knew
all that it told. What did it not know?

She dismissed the girl and put away the riding-crop, then she smoothed
the disorder of her hair and dress. The court physician, calling a half
hour later, found her reading on a chaise longue in her boudoir, looking
pale and handsome; and spent what he considered a pleasant half-hour
with her. He loved gossip, and there was plenty just now. Indications
were that they would have a wedding soon. An unwilling bride, perhaps,
eh? But a lovely one. For him, he was glad that Karnia was to be an
ally, and not an enemy. He had seen enough of wars. And so on and on,
while the Countess smiled and nodded, and shivered in her very heart.

At eleven o’clock he went away, kissing her hand rather more fervently
than professionally, although his instinct to place his fingers over the
pulse rather spoiled the effect. One thing, however, the Countess had
gained by his visit. He was to urge on the Archduchess the necessity for
an immediate vacation for her favorite.

“Our loss, Countess,” he said, with heavy gallantry.. “But we cannot
allow beauty to languish for need of mountain air.”

Then at last he was gone, and she went about her heavy-hearted
preparations for the night. From a corner of her wardrobe she drew a
long peasant’s cape, such a cape as Minna might wear. Over her head,
instead of a hat, she threw a gray veil. A careless disguise, but all
that was necessary. The sentries through and about the Palace were not
unaccustomed to such shrouded figures slipping out from its gloom to
light, and perhaps to love.

Before she left, she looked about the room. What assurance had she that
this very excursion was not a trap, and that in her absence the vault
would not he looted again? It contained now something infinitely
valuable--valuable and incriminating--the roll of film. She glanced
about, and seeing a silver vase of roses, hurriedly emptied the water
out, wrapped the film in oiled paper, and dropped it down among the
stems.

The Street of the Wise Virgins was not near the Palace. Even by walking
briskly she was in danger of being late. The wind kept her back, too.
The cloak twisted about her, the veil whipped. She turned once or twice
to see if she were being followed, but the quiet streets were empty.
Then, at last, the Street of the Wise Virgins and the fiacre, standing
at the curb, with a driver wrapped in rugs against the cold of the
February night, and his hat pulled down over his eyes. The Countess
stopped beside him.

“You are expecting a passenger?”

“Yes, madame.”

With her hand on the door, the Countess realized that the fiacre was
already occupied. As she peered into its darkened interior, the shadow
resolved itself into a cloaked and masked figure. She shrank back.

“Enter, madame,” said a voice.

The figure appalled her. It was not sufficient to know that behind the
horrifying mask which covered the entire face and head, there was a
human figure, human pulses that beat, human eyes that appraised her. She
hesitated.

“Quickly,” said the voice.

She got in, shrinking into a corner of the carriage.

Her lips were dry, the roaring of terror was in her ears. The door
closed.

Then commenced a drive of which afterward the Countess dared not think.
The figure neither moved nor spoke. Inside the carriage reigned the most
complete silence. The horse’s feet clattered over rough stones, they
turned through narrow, unfamiliar streets, so that she knew not even the
direction they took. After a time the noise grew less. The horse padded
along dirt roads, in darkness. Then the carriage stopped, and at last
the shrouded figure moved and spoke.

“I regret, Countess, that my orders are to blindfold you.”

She drew herself up haughtily.

“That is not necessary, I think.”

“Very necessary, madame.”

She submitted ungracefully, while he bound a black cloth over her eyes.
He drew it very close and knotted it behind. In the act his--fingers
touched her face, and she felt them cold and clammy. The contact
sickened her.

“Your hand, madame.”

She was led out of the carriage, and across soft earth, a devious course
again, as though they avoided small obstacles. Once her foot touched
something low and hard, like marble. Again, in the darkness, they
stumbled over a mound. She knew where she was, then--in a graveyard. But
which? There were many about the city.

An open space, the opening of a gate or door that squealed softly, a
flight of steps that led downward, and a breath of musty, cold air, damp
and cellar-like.

She was calmer now. Had they meant to kill her, there had been already a
hundred chances. It was not death, then, that awaited her--at least, not
immediate death. These precautions, too, could only mean that she was to
be freed again, and must not know where she had been.

At last, still in unbroken silence, she knew that they had entered a
large space. Their footsteps no longer echoed and re-echoed. Her guide
walked more slowly, and at last paused, releasing her hand. She felt
again the touch of his clammy fingers as he untied the knots of her
bandage. He took it off.

At first she could see little. The silence remained unbroken, and only
the center of the room was lighted. When her eyes grew accustomed, she
made out the scene slowly.

A great stone vault, its walls broken into crypts which had contained
caskets of the dead. But the caskets had been removed; and were piled in
a corner, and in the niches were rifles. In the center was a pine table,
curiously incongruous, and on it writing materials, a cheap clock, and a
pile of documents. There were two candles only, and these were stuck in
skulls--old brown skulls so infinitely removed from all semblance to the
human that they were not even horrible. It was as if they had been used,
not to inspire terror, but because they were at hand and convenient for
the purpose. In the shadow, ranged in a semicircle, were nine figures,
all motionless, all masked, and cloaked in black. They sat, another
incongruity, on plain wooden chairs. But in spite of that they were
figures of dread. The one who had brought her made the tenth.

Still the silence, broken only by the drip of water from the ceiling
into a tin pail.

Had she not known the past record of the men before her, the rather
opera bouffe setting with which they chose to surround themselves might
have aroused her scorn. But Olga Loschek knew too much. She guessed
shrewdly that, with the class of men with whom they dealt, it was not
enough that their name spelled terror. They must visualize it. They had
taken their cue from that very church, indeed, beneath which they hid.
The church, with its shrines and images, appealed to the eye. They, too,
appealed to the eye. Their masks, the carefully constructed and upheld
mystery of their identity, the trappings of death about them--it was
skillfully done.

Not that she was thinking consecutively just then. It was a mental
flash, even as her eyes, growing accustomed to the darkness made out the
white numeral, from one to ten, on the front of each shroud-like cloak.

Still no one spoke. The Countess faced them.

Only her eyes showed her nervousness; she stood haughtily, her head held
high. But like most women, she could not endure silence for long, at
least the silence of shrouded figures and intent eyes.

“Now that I am here,” she demanded, “may I ask why I have been
summoned?”

It was Number Seven who replied. It was Number Seven who, during the
hour that followed, spoke for the others. None moved, or but slightly.
There was no putting together of heads, no consulting. Evidently all had
been carefully prearranged.

“Look on the table, Countess. You will find there some papers you will
perhaps recognize.”

She took a step toward the table and glanced down. The code-book lay
there. Also the letter she had sent by Peter Niburg. She made no effort
to disclaim them.

“I recognize them,” she said clearly.

“You acknowledge, then, that they are yours?”

“I acknowledge nothing.”

“They bear certain indications, madame.”

“Possibly.”

“Do you realize what will happen, madame, if these papers are turned
over to the authorities?”

She shrugged her shoulders. And now Number Seven rose, a tall figure of
mystery, and spoke at length in a cultivated, softly intoned voice.
The Countess, listening, felt the voice vaguely familiar, as were the
burning eyes behind the mask.

“It is our hope, madame,” he said, “that you will make it unnecessary
for the Committee of Ten to use those papers. We have no quarrel with
women. We wish rather a friend than an enemy. There be those, many of
them, who call us poor patriots, who would tear down without building
up. They are wrong. The Committee of Ten, to those who know its motives,
has the highest and most loyal of ideals--to the country.”

His voice took on a new, almost a fanatic note. He spoke as well to
the other shrouded figures as to his comrades. No mean orator this.
He seldom raised his voice, he made no gestures. Almost, while she
listened, the Countess understood.

They had watched the gradual decay of the country, he said. Its burden
of taxation grew greater each year. The masses sweated and toiled, to
carry on their backs the dead weight of the aristocracy and the throne.
The iron hand of the Chancellor held everything; an old King who would
die, was dying now, and after that a boy, nominal ruler only, while the
Chancellor continued his hard rule. And now, as if that were not enough,
there was talk of an alliance with Karnia, an alliance which, carried
through, would destroy the hope of a republic.

The Countess stared.

“No wall is too thick for our ears,” he continued. “Our eyes see
everywhere. And as we grow in strength, they fear us. Well they may.”

He grew scornful then. To gain support for the tottering throne the
Chancellor would unite the two countries, that Karl’s army, since
he could not trust his own, might be called on for help. And here he
touched the Countess’s raw nerves with a brutal finger.

“The price of the alliance, madame, is the Princess Hedwig in marriage.
The Committee, which knows all things, believes that you have reason to
dislike this marriage.”

Save that she clutched her cloak more closely, the Countess made no
move. But there was a soft stir among the figures. Perhaps, after all,
the Committee as a whole did not know all things.

“To prevent this alliance, madame, is our first aim. There are others to
follow. But”--he bent forward--“the King will not live many days. It is
our hope that that marriage will not occur before his death.”

By this time Olga Loschek knew very well where she stood. The Committee
was propitiatory. She was not in danger, save as it might develop. They
were, in a measure, putting their case.

She had followed the speaker closely. When he paused, she was ready for
him. “But, even without a marriage, at any time now a treaty based on
the marriage may be signed. A treaty for a mutually defensive alliance.
Austria encroaches daily, and has Germany behind her. We are small fry,
here and in Karnia, and we stand in the way.”

“King Karl has broken faith before. He will not support Livonia until he
has received his price. He is determined on the marriage.”

“A marriage of expediency,” said the Countess, impatiently.

The speaker for the Committee shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps,” he
replied. “Although there are those of us who think that in this matter
of expediency, Karl gives more than he receives. He is to-day better
prepared than we are for war. He is more prosperous. As to the treaty,
it is probably already signed, or about to be. And here, madame, is the
reason for our invitation to you to come here.

“I have no access to state papers,” the Countess said impatiently.

“You are too modest,” said Number Seven suavely, and glanced at the
letter on the table.

“The matter lies thus, madame. The Chancellor is now in Karnia.
Doubtless he will return with the agreement signed. We shall learn that
in a day or so. We do not approve of this alliance for various reasons,
and we intend to take steps to prevent it. The paper itself is nothing.
But plainly, Countess, the need a friend in the Palace, one who is in
the confidence of the royal family.”

“And for such friendship, I am to secure safety?”

“Yes, madame. But that is not all. Let me tell you briefly how things
stand with us. We have, supporting us, certain bodies, workingmen’s
guilds, a part of the student body, not so much of the army as we
would wish. Dissatisfied folk, madame, who would exchange the emblem of
tyranny for freedom. On the announcement of the King’s death, in every
part of the kingdom will go up the cry of liberty. But the movement
must start here. The city must rise against the throne. And against that
there are two obstacles.” He paused. The clock ticked, and water dripped
into the tin pail with metallic splashes. “The first is this marriage.
The second--is the Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto.”

The Countess recoiled. “No!”

“A moment, madame. You think badly of us.” Under his mask the Countess
divined a cold smile. “It is not necessary to contemplate violence.
There are other methods. The boy could be taken over the border, and
hidden until the Republic is firmly established. After that, he is
unimportant.”

The Countess, still pale, looked at him scornfully. “You do my
intelligence small honor.”

“Where peaceful methods will avail, our methods are peaceful, madame.”

“It was, then, in peace that you murdered Prince Hubert?”

“The errors of the past are past.” Then, with a new sternness: “Make
no mistake. Whether through your agency or another, Countess, when the
Cathedral bell rouses the city to the King’s death, and the people wait
in the Place for their new King to come out on the balcony, he will not
come.”

The Countess was not entirely bad. Standing swaying and white-faced
before the tribunal, she saw suddenly the golden head of the little
Crown Prince, saw him smiling as he had smiled that day in the sunlight,
saw him troubled and forlorn as he had been when, that very evening, he
had left them to go to his lonely rooms. Perhaps she reached the biggest
moment of her life then, when she folded her arms and stared proudly at
the shrouded figures before her.

“I will not do it,” she said.

Then indeed the tribunal stirred, and sat forward. Perhaps never before
had it been defied.

“I will not,” repeated the Countess.

But Number Seven remained impassive. “A new idea, Countess!” he said
suavely. “I can understand that your heart recoils. But this thing is
inevitable, as I have said. Whether you or another but perhaps with time
to think you may come to another conclusion. We make no threats. Our
position is, however, one of responsibility. We are compelled to place
the future of the Republic before every other consideration.”

“That is a threat.”

“We remember both our friends and our enemies, madame. And we have only
friends and enemies. There is no middle course. If you would like time
to think it over--”

“How much time?” She clutched at the words.

With time all things were possible. The King might die soon, that night,
the next day. Better than any one, save his daughter Annunciata and the
physicians, she knew his condition. The Revolutionists might boast, but
they were not all the people. Once let the boy be crowned, and it would
take more than these posing plotters in their theatrical setting to
overthrow him.

“How much time may I have?”

“Women vary,” said Number Seven mockingly. “Some determine quickly.
Others--”

“May I have a month?”

“During which the King may die! Alas, madame, it is now you who do us
too little honor!”

“A week?” begged the Countess desperately.

The leader glanced along the line. One head after another nodded slowly.

“A week it is, madame. Comrade Five!”

The one who had brought her came forward with the bandage.

“At the end of one week, madame, a fiacre will, as to-night, be waiting
in the Street of the Wise Virgins.”

“And these papers?”

“On the day the Republic of Livonia is established, madame, they will be
returned to you.”

He bowed, and returned to his chair. Save for the movements of the man
who placed the bandage over her eyes; there was absolute silence in the
room.



CHAPTER XX. THE DELEGATION


Prince Ferdinand William Otto was supremely happy. Three quite
delightful things had happened. First, Nikky had returned. He said he
felt perfectly well, but the Crown Prince thought he looked as though
he had been ill, and glanced frequently at Nikky’s cigarette during the
riding-hour. Second, Hedwig did not come to the riding-lesson, and he
had Nikky to himself. Third, he, Prince Ferdinand William Otto, was on
the eve of a birthday.

This last, however, was not unmixed happiness. For the one day the
sentence of exile was to be removed so that he might lunch with the
King, and he was to have strawberry jam with his tea, some that Miss
Braithwaite’s sister had sent from England. But to offset all this, he
was to receive a delegation of citizens.

He had been well drilled for it. As a matter of fact, on the morning of
Nikky’s return, they took a few minutes to go over the ceremony, Nikky
being the delegation. The way they did it was simple.

Nikky went out into the corridor, and became the Chamberlain. He stepped
inside, bowed, and announced: “The delegation from the city, Highness,”
 standing very stiff, and a trifle bowlegged, as the Chamberlain was.
Then he bowed again, and waddled out--the Chamberlain was fat--and
became the delegation.

This time he tried to look like a number of people, and was not so
successful. But he looked nervous, as delegations always do when they
visit a Royal Highness. He bowed inside the door, and then came forward
and bowed again.

“I am, of course, standing in a row,” said Nikky, sotto voce. “Now, what
comes next?”

“I am to shake hands with every one.”

So they shook hands nine times, because there were to be nine members
of the delegation. And Nikky picked up a brass inkwell from the desk and
held it out before him.

“Your Highness,” he said, after clearing his throat, for all the
world as Prince Ferdinand William Otto had heard it done frequently
at cornerstones and openings of hospitals, “Your Highness--we are here
to-day to felicitate Your Highness on reaching the mature age of ten.
In testimonial of our--our affection and--er loyalty, we bring to you a
casket of gold, containing the congratulations of the city, which we beg
that Your Highness may see fit to accept. It will be of no earthly use
to you, and will have to be stuck away in a vault and locked up. But it
is the custom on these occasions, and far be it from us to give you a
decent present that you can use or enjoy!”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto had to cover his mouth with his hand
to preserve the necessary dignity. He stepped forward and took the
ink-well. “I thank you very much. Please give my thanks to all the
people. I am very grateful. It is beautiful. Thank you.”

Whereupon he placed the ink-well on the desk, and he and Nikky again
shook hands nine times, counting, to be sure it was right. Then Nikky
backed to the door, getting all tangled up in his sword, bowed again and
retired.

When he reentered, the boy’s face was glowing.

“Gee!” he said, remembering this favorite word of the American boy’s.
“It’s splendid to have you back again, Nikky. You’re going to stay now,
aren’t you?”

“I am.” Nikky’s voice was fervent.

“Where did you go when you went away?”

“I took a short and foolish excursion, Highness. You see, while I look
grown-up I dare say I am really not. Not quite, anyhow. And now and
then, like other small boys I have heard of, I--well, I run away. And am
sorry afterward, of course.”

Miss Braithwaite was not in the study. The Prince looked about, and drew
close--to Nikky. “Did you, really?”

“I did. Some day, when you are older, I’ll tell you about it. I--has the
Princess Hedwig been having tea with you, as usual?”

Carelessly spoken as it was, there was a change in Nikky’s voice. And
the Crown Prince was sensitive to voices. Something similar happened to
Monsieur Puaux, the French tutor, when he mentioned Hedwig.

“Not yesterday. We went to the fortress. Nikky, what is it to be in
love?”

Nikky looked startled, “Well,” he said reflectively, “it’s to like some
one, a lady in your case or mine, of course; to--to like them very much,
and want to see them often.”

“Is that all?”

“It’s enough, sometimes. But it’s more than that. It’s being dreadfully
unhappy if the other person isn’t around, for one thing. It isn’t really
a rational condition. People in love do mad things quite often.”

“I know some one who is in love with Hedwig.”

Nikky looked extremely conscious. There was, too, something the Crown
Prince was too small to see, something bitter and hard in his eyes.
“Probably a great many are,” he said. “But I’m not sure she would care
to have us discuss it.”

“It is my French tutor.”

Nikky laughed suddenly, and flung the boy to his shoulder. “Of course
he is!” he cried gayly. “And you are, and the Chancellor. And I am, of
course.” He stood the boy on the desk.

“Do you think she is in love, with you?” demanded the Crown Prince, very
seriously.

“Not a bit of it, young man!”

“But I think she is,” he persisted. “She’s always around when you are.”

“Not this morning.”

“But she is, when she can be. She never used to take riding-lessons. She
doesn’t need them.” This was a grievance, but he passed it over. “And
she always asks where you are. And yesterday, when you were away, she
looked very sad.”

Nikky stood with his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and stared out
through the window. If it were so, if this child, with his uncanny
sensitiveness, had hit on the truth! If Hedwig felt even a fraction of
what he felt, what a tragedy it all was!

He forced himself to smile, however. “If she only likes me just a
little,” he said lightly, “it is more than I dare to hope, or deserve.
Come, now, we have spent too much time over love and delegations.
Suppose we go and ride.”

But on the way across the Place Prince Ferdinand William Otto resumed
the subject for a moment. “If you would marry Hedwig,” he suggested,
an anxious thrill in his voice, “you would live at the Palace always,
wouldn’t you? And never have to go back to your regiment?” For the
bugaboo of losing Nikky to his regiment was always in the back of his
small head.

“Now, listen, Otto, and remember,” said Nikky, almost sternly. “It
may be difficult for you to understand now, but some day you will. The
granddaughter of the King must marry some one of her own rank. No matter
how hard you and I may wish things to be different, we cannot change
that. And it would be much better never to mention this conversation to
your cousin. Girls,” said Nikky, “are peculiar.”

“Very well,” said the Crown Prince humbly. But he made careful note of
one thing. He was not to talk of this plan to Hedwig, but there was
no other restriction. He could, for instance, take it up with
the Chancellor, or even with the King to-morrow, if he was in an
approachable humor.

Hedwig was not at the riding-school. This relieved Prince Ferdinand
William Otto, whose views as to Nikky were entirely selfish, but Nikky
himself had unaccountably lost his high spirits of the morning. He
played, of course, as he always did. And even taught the Crown Prince
how to hang over the edge of his saddle, while his horse was cantering,
so that bullets would not strike him.

They rode and frolicked, yelled a bit, got two ponies and whacked a polo
ball over the tan-bark, until the Crown Prince was sweating royally and
was gloriously flushed.

“I don’t know when I have been so happy,” he said, dragging out his
handkerchief and mopping his face. “It’s a great deal pleasanter without
Hedwig, isn’t it?”

While they played, overhead the great hearse was ready at last. Its
woodwork shone. Its gold crosses gleamed. No fleck of dust disturbed its
austere magnificence.

The man and the boy who had been working on it stood back and surveyed
it.

“All ready,” said the man, leaning on the handle of his long brush. “Now
it may happen any time.”

“It is very handsome. But I am glad I am not the old King.” The boy
picked up pails and brushes. “Nothing to look forward to but--that.”

“But much to look back on,” the man observed grimly, “and little that is
good.”

The boy glanced through a window, below which the riding-ring stretched
its brown surface, scarred by nervous hoofs. “I would change places with
the Crown Prince,” he said enviously. “Listen to him! Always laughing.
Never to labor, nor worry, nor think of the next day’s food--”

“Young fool!” The man came to his shoulder and glanced down also. “Would
like to be a princeling, then! No worry. No trouble. Always play, play!”
 He gripped the boy’s shoulder. “Look, lad, at the windows about. That
is what it is to be a prince. Wherever you look, what do you see?
Stablemen? Grooms? Bah, secret agents, watching that no assassin, such
perhaps as you and I, lurk about.”

The boy opened wide, incredulous eyes. “But who would attack a child?”
 he asked.

“There be those, nevertheless,” said the man mockingly. “Even a child
may stand in the way of great changes.”

He stopped and stared, wiping the glass clear that he might see better.
Nikky without his cap, disheveled and flushed with exertion, was making
a frantic shot at the white ball, rolling past him. Where had he seen
such a head, such a flying mop of hair? Ah! He remembered. It was the
flying young devil who had attacked him and the others that night in the
by-street, when Peter Niburg lay stunned!

Miss Braithwaite had a bad headache that afternoon, and the Crown Prince
drove out with his aunt. The Archduchess Annunciata went shopping. Soon
enough she would have Hedwig’s trousseau on her mind, so that day she
bought for Hilda--Hilda whose long legs had a way of growing out of
skirts, and who was developing a taste of her own in clothes.

So Hilda and her mother shopped endlessly, and the Crown Prince sat in
the carriage and watched the people. The man beside the coachman sat
with alert eyes, and there were others who scanned the crowd intently.
But it was a quiet, almost an adoring crowd, and there was even a dog,
to Prince Ferdinand William Otto’s huge delight.

The man who owned the dog, seeing the child’s eyes on him, put him
through his tricks. Truly a wonderful dog, that would catch things on
its nose and lie dead, rousing only to a whistle which its owner called
Gabriel’s trumpet.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto, growing excited, leaned quite out of the
window. “What is your dog’s name?” he inquired, in his clear treble.

The man took off his hat and bowed. “Toto, Highness. He is of French
origin.”

“He is a very nice dog. I have always wanted a dog like that. He must be
a great friend.”

“A great friend, Highness.” He would have expatiated on the dog, but he
was uncertain of the etiquette of the procedure. His face beamed with
pleasure, however. Then a splendid impulse came to him. This dog, his
boon companion, he would present to the Crown Prince. It was all he had,
and he would give it, freely, even though it left him friendless.

But here again he was at a loss. Was it the proper thing? Did one do
such things in this fashion, or was there a procedure? He cocked an eye
at the box of the carriage, but the two men sat impressive, immobile.

Finally he made up his mind. Hat in hand, he stepped forward.
“Highness,” he said nervously, “since the dog pleases you, I--I would
present him to you.”

“To me?” The Crown Prince’s voice was full of incredulous joy.

“Yes, Highness. If such a thing be permissible.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“He is the best I have, Highness. I wish to offer my best.”

Prince, Ferdinand William Otto almost choked with excitement. “I have
always wanted one,” he cried. “If you are certain you can spare him,
I’ll be very good to him. No one,” he said, “ever gave me a dog before.
I’d like to have him now, if I may.”

The crowd was growing. It pressed closer, pleased at the boy’s delight.
Truly they were participating in great things. A small cheer and many
smiles followed the lifting of the dog through the open window of the
carriage. And the dog was surely a dog to be proud of. Already it shook
hands with the Crown Prince.

Perhaps, in that motley gathering, there were some who viewed the scene
with hostile eyes, some who saw, not a child glowing with delight over a
gift, but one of the hated ruling family, a barrier, an obstacle in the
way of freedom. But if such there were, they were few. It was, indeed,
as the Terrorists feared. The city loved the boy.

Annunciata, followed by an irritated Hilda, came out of the shop.
Hilda’s wardrobe had been purchased, and was not to her taste.

The crowd opened, hats were doffed, backs bent. The Archduchess moved
haughtily, looking neither to the right nor left. Her coming brought
no enthusiasm. Perhaps the curious imagination of the mob found her
disappointing. She did not look like an Archduchess. She looked, indeed,
like an unnamiable spinster of the middle class. Hilda, too, was shy
and shrinking, and wore an unbecoming hat. Of the three, only the Crown
Prince looked royal and as he should have looked.

“Good Heavens,” cried the Archduchess, and stared into the carriage.
“Otto!”

“He is mine,” said the Crown Prince fondly. “He is the cleverest dog. He
can do all sorts of things.”

“Put him out.”

“But he is mine,” protested Ferdinand William Otto. “He is a gift. That
gentleman there, in the corduroy jacket--”

“Put him out,” said the Archduchess Annunciata.

There was nothing else to do. The Crown Prince did not cry. He was much
too proud. He thanked the donor again carefully, and regretted that he
could not accept the dog. He said it was a wonderful dog, and just the
sort he liked. And the carriage drove away.

He went back to the Palace, and finding that the governess still had a
headache, settled down to the burnt-wood frame. Once he glanced up at
the woolen dog on its shelf at the top of the cabinet. “Well, anyhow,”
 he said sturdily, “I still have you.”



CHAPTER XXI. AS A MAN MAY LOVE A WOMAN


Hedwig came to tea that afternoon. She came in softly, and defiantly,
for she was doing a forbidden thing, but Prince Ferdinand William Otto
had put away the frame against such a contingency. He had, as a matter
of fact, been putting cold cloths on Miss Braithwaite’s forehead.

“I always do it,” he informed Hedwig. “I like doing it. It gives me
something to do. She likes them rather dry, so the water doesn’t run
down her neck.”

Hedwig made a short call on the governess, prostrate on the couch in her
sitting-room. The informality of the family relationship had, during her
long service, been extended to include the Englishwoman, who in her turn
found nothing incongruous in the small and kindly services of the little
Prince. So Hedwig sat beside her for a moment, and turned the cold
bandage over to freshen it.

Had Miss Braithwaite not been ill, Hedwig would have talked things over
with her then. There was no one else to whom she could go. Hilda refused
to consider the prospect of marriage as anything but pleasurable,
and between her mother and Hedwig there had never been any close
relationship.

But Miss Braithwaite lay motionless, her face set in lines of suffering,
and after a time Hedwig rose and tiptoed out of the room.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto was excited. Tea had already come, and on
the rare occasions when the governess was ill, it was his privilege to
pour the tea.

“Nikky is coming,” he said rapidly, “and the three of us will have a
party. Please don’t tell me how you like your tea, and see if I can
remember.”

“Very well, dear,” Hedwig said gently, and went to the window.

Behind her Prince Ferdinand William Otto was in a bustle of preparation.
Tea in the study was an informal function, served in the English manner,
without servants to bother. The Crown Prince drew up a chair before the
tea service, and put a cushion on it. He made a final excursion to Miss
Braithwaite and, returning, climbed on to his chair.

“Now, when Nikky comes, we are all ready,” he observed.

Nikky entered almost immediately.

As a matter of fact, although he showed no trace of it, Nikky had been
having an extremely bad time since his return; the Chancellor, who may
or may not have known that his heart was breaking, had given him a very
severe scolding on the way back from Wedeling. It did Nikky good, too,
for it roused him to his own defense, and made him forget, for a few
minutes anyhow, that life was over for him, and that the Chancellor
carried his death sentence in his old leather dispatch case.

After that, arriving in the capital, they had driven to the little
office in a back street, and there Nikky had roused himself again enough
to give a description of Peter Niburg, and to give the location of the
house where he lived. But he slumped again after that, ate no dinner,
and spent a longish time in the Place, staring up at Annunciata’s
windows, where he had once seen Hedwig on the balcony.

But of course Hedwig had not learned of his return, and was sitting
inside, exactly as despairing as he was, but obliged to converse with
her mother in the absence of the Countess. The Archduchess insisted on
talking French, for practice, and they got into quite a wrangle over
a verb. And as if to add to the general depression, Hilda had been
reminded of what anniversary it was, and was told to play hymns only.
True, now and then, hearing her mother occupied, she played them in
dotted time, which was a bit more cheerful.

Then, late in the evening, Nikky was summoned to the King’s bedroom, and
came out pale, with his shoulders very square. He had received a real
wigging this time, and even contemplated throwing himself in the river.
Only he could swim so damnably well!

But he had the natural elasticity of youth, and a sort of persistent
belief in his own luck, rather like the Chancellor’s confidence in seven
as a number--a confidence, by the way, which the Countess could easily
have shaken. So he had wakened the next morning rather cheerful than
otherwise, and over a breakfast of broiled ham had refused to look ahead
farther than the day.

That afternoon, in the study, Nikky hesitated when he saw Hedwig. Then
he came and bent low over her hand. And Hedwig, because every instinct
yearned to touch his shining, bent head, spoke to him very calmly, was
rather distant, a little cold.

“You have been away, I think?” she said.

“For a day or two, Highness.”

The Crown Prince put a small napkin around the handle of the silver
teapot. He knew from experience that it was very hot. His face was quite
screwed up with exertion.

“And to-day,” said Nikky reproachfully, “to-day you did not ride.”

“I did not feel like riding,” Hedwig responded listlessly. “I am tired.
I think I am always tired.”

“Lemon and two lumps,” muttered the Crown Prince. “That’s Nikky’s,
Hedwig. Give it to him, please.”

Nikky went a trifle pale as their fingers touched. But he tasted his
tea, and pronounced it excellent.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto chattered excitedly. He told of the dog,
dilating on its cleverness, but passing politely over the manner of its
return. Now and then Hedwig glanced at Nikky, when he was not looking,
and always, when they dared, the young soldier’s eyes were on her.

“She will take some tea without sugar,” announced the Crown Prince.

While he poured it, Hedwig was thinking. Was it possible that Nikky,
of every one, should have been chosen to carry to Karl the marriage
arrangements? What an irony! What a jest! It was true there was a change
in him. He looked subdued, almost sad.

“To Karnia?” she asked, when Prince Ferdinand William Otto had again
left the room. “Officially?”

“Not--exactly.”

“Where, in Karnia?”

“I ended,” Nikky confessed, “at Wedeling.”

Hedwig gazed at him, her elbows propped on the tea-table. “Then,” she
said, “I think you know.”

“I know, Highness.”

“And you have nothing to say?”

Nikky looked at her with desperate eyes. “What can I say, Highness? Only
that--it is very terrible to me--that I--” He rose abruptly and stood
looking down at her.

“That you--” said Hedwig softly.

“Highness,” Nikky began huskily, “you know what I would say. And that I
cannot. To take advantage of Otto’s fancy for me, a child’s liking, to
violate the confidence of those who placed me here--I am doing that,
every moment.”

“What about me?” Hedwig asked. “Do I count for nothing? Does it not
matter at all how I feel, whether I am happy or wretched? Isn’t that as
important as honor?”

Nikky flung out his hands. “You know,” he said rapidly. “What can I tell
you that you do not know a thousand times? I love you. Not as a subject
may adore his princess, but as a man loves a woman.”

“I too!” said Hedwig. And held out her hands.

But he did not take them. Almost it was as though he would protect her
from herself. But he closed his eyes for a moment, that he might not see
that appealing gesture. “I, who love you more than life, who would, God
help me, forfeit eternity for you--I dare not take you in my arms.”

Hedwig’s arms fell. She drew herself up. “Love!” she said. “I do not
call that love.”

“It is greater love than you know,” said poor Nikky. But all his courage
died a moment later, and his resolution with it, for without warning
Hedwig dropped her head on her hands and, crouching forlornly, fell to
sobbing.

“I counted on you,” she said wildly. “And you are like the others. No
one cares how wretched I am. I wish I might die.”

Then indeed Nikky was lost. In an instant he was on his knees beside
her, his arms close about her, his head bowed against her breast. And
Hedwig relaxed to his embrace. When at last he turned and looked up at
her, it was Hedwig who bent and kissed him.

“At least,” she whispered, “we have had this, We can always remember,
whatever comes, that we have had this.”

But Nikky was of very human stuff, and not the sort that may live by
memories. He was very haggard when he rose to his feet--haggard, and his
mouth was doggedly set. “I will never give you up, now,” he said.

Brave words, of course. But as he said them he realized their futility.
The eyes he turned on her were, as he claimed her, without hope. For
there was no escape. He had given his word to stay near the Crown
Prince, always to watch him, to guard him with his life, if necessary.
And he had promised, at least, not to block the plans for the new
alliance.

Hedwig, with shining eyes, was already planning.

“We will go away, Nikky,” she said. “And it, must be soon, because
otherwise--”

Nikky dared not touch her again, knowing what he had to say. “Dearest,”
 he said, bending toward her, “that is what we cannot do.”

“No?” She looked up, puzzled, but still confident dent. “And why,
cowardly one?”

“Because I have given my word to remain with the Crown Prince.” Then,
seeing that she still did not comprehend, he explained, swiftly. After
all, she had a right to know, and he was desperately anxious that she
should understand. He stood, as many a man has stood before, between
love and loyalty to his king, and he was a soldier. He had no choice.

It was terrible to him to see the light die out of her eyes. But even as
he told her of the dangers that compassed the child and possibly others
of the family, he saw that they touched her remotely, if at all. What
she saw, and what he saw, through her eyes, was not riot and anarchy, a
threatened throne, death itself. She saw only a vista of dreadful years,
herself their victim. She saw her mother’s bitter past. She saw
the austere face of her grandmother, hiding behind that mask her
disappointments.

But all she said, when Nikky finished, was: “I might have known it. Of
course they would get me, as they did the others.” But a moment later
she rose and threw out her arms. “How skillful they are! They knew about
it. It is all a part of the plot. I do not believe there is danger. All
my life I have heard them talk. That is all they do--talk and plan and
plot, and do things in secret. They made you promise never to desert
Otto, so that their arrangements need not be interfered with. Oh, I know
them, better than you do. They are all cruel. It is the blood.”

What Nikky would have said to this was lost by the return of Prince
Ferdinand William Otto. He came in, carrying the empty cup carefully.
“She took it all,” he said, “and she feels much better. I hope you
didn’t eat all the bread and butter.”

Reassured as to this by a glance, he climbed to his chair. “We’re all
very happy, aren’t we?” he observed. “It’s quite a party. When I grow up
I shall ask you both to tea every day.”

That evening the Princess Hedwig went unannounced to her grandfather’s
apartment, and demanded to be allowed to enter.

A gentleman-in-waiting bowed deeply, but stood before the door. “Your
Highness must pardon my reminding Your Highness,” he said firmly, “that
no one may enter His Majesty’s presence without permission.”

“Then go in,” said Hedwig, in a white rage, “and get the permission.”

The gentleman-in-waiting went in, very deliberately, because his dignity
was outraged. The moment he had gone, however, Hedwig flung the door
open, and followed, standing, a figure of tragic defiance, inside the
heavy curtains of the King’s bedroom.

“There is no use saying you won’t see me, grandfather. For here I am.”

They eyed each other, the one, it must be told, a trifle uneasily, the
other desperately. Then into the King’s eyes came a flash of admiration,
and just a gleam of amusement.

“So I perceive,” he said. “Come here, Hedwig.”

The gentleman-in-waiting bowed himself out. His hands, in their tidy
white gloves, would have liked to box Hedwig’s ears. He was very upset.
If this sort of thing went on, why not a republic at once and be done
with it?

A Sister of Charity was standing by the King’s bed. She had cared for
him through many illnesses. In the intervals she retired to her cloister
and read holy books and sewed for the poor. Even now, in her little
chamber off the bedroom, where bottles sat in neat rows, covered with
fresh towels, there lay a small gray flannel petticoat to warm the legs
of one of the poor.

The sister went out, her black habit dragging, but she did not sew. She
was reading a book on the miracles accomplished by pilgrimages to the
shrine of Our Lady of the Angels, in the mountains. Could the old King
but go there, she felt, he would be cured. Or failing that, if there
should go for him some emissary, pure in heart and of high purpose, it
might avail. Over this little book she prayed for courage to make the
suggestion. Had she thought of it sooner, she would have spoken to
Father Gregory. But the old priest had gone back to his people, to his
boys’ school, to his thousand duties in the hills.

Sometime later she heard bitter crying in the royal bedchamber, and the
King’s tones, soothing now and very sad.

“There is a higher duty than happiness,” he said. “There are greater
things than love. And one day you will know this.”

When she went in Hedwig had gone, and the old King, lying in his bed,
was looking at the portrait a his dead son.



CHAPTER XXII. AT ETZEL


The following morning the Countess Loschek left for a holiday. Minna,
silent and wretched, had packed her things for her, moving about the
room like a broken thing. And the Countess had sat in a chair by a
window, and said nothing. She sent away food untasted, took no notice of
the packing, and stared, hour after hour, ahead of her.

Certain things were clear enough. Karl could not now be reached by the
old methods. She had, casting caution to the winds, visited the
shop where Peter Niburg was employed. But he was not there, and the
proprietor, bowing deeply, disclaimed all knowledge of his whereabouts.
She would have to go to Karl herself, a difficult matter now. She would
surely be watched. And the thousand desperate plans that she thought
of for escaping from the country and hiding herself,--in America,
perhaps,--those were impossible for the same reason. She was helpless.

She had the choice of but two alternatives, to do as she had been
commanded, for it amounted to that, or to die. The Committee would not
kill her, in case she failed them. It would be unnecessary. Enough that
they place the letter and the code in the hands of the authorities, by
some anonymous means. Well enough she knew the Chancellor’s inflexible
anger, and the Archduchess Annunciata’s cold rage. They would sweep her
away with a gesture, and she would die the death of all traitors.

A week! Time had been when a week of the dragging days at the Palace
had seemed eternity. Now the hours flew. The gold clock on her
dressing-table, a gift from the Archduchess, marked them with flying
hands.

She was, for the first time, cut off from the gossip of the Palace.
The Archduchess let her severely alone. She disliked having anything
interfere with her own comfort, disliked having her routine disturbed.
But the Countess surmised a great deal. She guessed that Hedwig would
defy them, and that they would break her spirit with high words. She
surmised preparations for a hasty marriage--how hasty she dared not
think. And she guessed, too, the hopeless predicament of Nikky Larisch.

She sat and stared ahead.

During the afternoon came a package, rather unskillfully tied with a
gilt cord. Opening it, the Countess disclosed a glove-box of wood, with
a design of rather shaky violets burnt into the cover. Inside was a
note:

  I am very sorry you are sick.  This is to put your gloves in
  when you travel.  Please excuse the work.  I have done it in
 a hurry.
                                    FERDINAND WILLIAM OTTO.

Suddenly the Countess laughed, choking hysterical laughter that alarmed
Minna; horrible laughter, which left her paler than ever, and gasping.

The old castle of the Loscheks looked grim and inhospitable when she
reached it that, night. Built during the years when the unbeliever
overran southern Europe, it stood in a commanding position over a
valley, and a steep, walled road led up to it. The narrow windows of its
turrets were built, in defiance of the Moslem hordes, in the shape
of the cross. Its walls had been hospitable enough, however, when the
crusaders had thronged by to redeem the Holy Sepulcher from the grasp
of the infidel. Here, in its stone hall, they had slept in weary rows on
the floor. From its battlements they had stared south and east along the
road their feet must follow.

But now, its ancient glory and good repute departed, its garrison
gone, its drawbridge and moat things of the past, its very hangings and
furnishings mouldering from long neglect, it hung over the valley, a
past menace, an empty threat.

To this dreary refuge the Countess had fled. She wanted the silence of
its still rooms in which to think. Wretched herself, its wretchedness
called her. As the carriage which had brought her from, the railway
turned into its woods; and she breathed the pungent odor of pine and
balsam, she relaxed for the first time.

Why was she so hopeless? She could escape.

She knew the woods well. None who followed her could know them so well.
She would get away, and somewhere, in a new world, make a fresh start.
Surely, after all, peace was the greatest thing in the world.

Peace! The word attracted her. There were religious houses where one
would be safe enough, refuges high-walled and secure, into which no
alien foot ever penetrated. And, as if to answer the thought, she saw
at that moment across the valley the lights of Etzel, the tower of the
church, with its thirteen bells, the monastery buildings behind it,
and set at its feet, like pilgrims come to pray, the low houses of the
peasants. For the church at Etzel contained a celebrated shrine, none
other than that of Our Lady of the Angels, and here came, from all over
the kingdom, long lines of footsore and weary pilgrims, seeking peace
and sanctity, and some a miracle.

The carriage drove on; Minna, on the box, crossed herself at sight of
the church, and chatted with the driver, a great figure who crowded her
to the very edge of the seat.

“I am glad to be here,” she said. “I am sick of grandeur. My home is
in Etzel.” She turned and inspected the man beside her. “You are a
newcomer, I think?”

“I have but just come to Etzel.”

“Then you cannot tell me about my people.” She was disappointed.

“And you,” inquired the driver,--“you will stay for a visit?”

“A week only. But better than nothing.”

“After that, you return to the city?”

“Yes. Madame the Countess--you would know, if you were
Etzel-born--Madame the Countess is lady-in-waiting to Her Royal
Highness, the Archduchess Annunciata.”

“So!” said the driver. But he was not curious, and the broken road
demanded his attention. He was but newly come, so very newly that he did
not know his way, and once made a wrong turning.

The Countess relaxed. She had not been followed. None but themselves had
left the train. She was sure of that. And looking back, she satisfied
herself that no stealthy foot-traveler dogged their slow progress. She
breathed quietly, for the first time.

She slept that night. She had wired ahead of her coming, and the
old caretaker and his wife had opened a few rooms, her boudoir and
dressing-room, and a breakfast-room on the first floor. They had swept
the hall too, and built a fire there, but it had been built for a great
household, and its emptiness chilled her.

At four o’clock in the morning she roused at the ringing of a bell,
telling that masses had already begun at the church. For with the
approach of Lent pilgrimages had greatly increased in numbers. But she
slept again, to waken to full sunlight, greatly refreshed.

When she had breakfasted and dressed, she went out on a balcony, and
looked down at the valley. It was late. Already the peasants of Etzel
had gone out to their fields. Children played along its single streets.
A few women on the steps of the church made rosaries of beads which they
strung with deft fingers. A band of pilgrims struggled up the valley,
the men carrying their coats, for the sun was warm, and the women
holding their skirts from the dust.

As they neared the church, however, coats were donned. The procession
took on order and dignity. The sight was a familiar one to the Countess.
Her eyes dropped to the old wall below, where in the sunshine the
caretaker was beating a rug. Close to him, in intimate and cautious
conversation, was the driver of the night before. Glancing up, they saw
her and at once separated.

Gone was peace, then. The Countess knew knew certainly. “Our eyes see
everywhere.” Eyes, indeed, eyes that even now the caretaker raised
furtively from his rug.

Nevertheless, the Countess was minded to experiment, to be certain. For
none is so suspicious, she knew, as one who fears suspicion. None so
guilty as the guilty. During the forenoon she walked through the
woods, going briskly, with vigorous, mountainbred feet. No crackle of
underbrush disturbed her. Swift turnings revealed no lurking figures
skulking behind the trunks of trees. But where an ancient stone bridge
crossed a mountain stream, she came on the huge driver of the night
before reflectively fishing.

He saluted her gravely, and the Countess paused and looked at him. “You
have caught no fish, my friend?” she said.

“No, madame. But one plays about my hook.”

She turned back. Eyes everywhere, and arms, great hairy arms. And feet
that, for all their size, must step lightly!

Restlessness followed her. She was a virtual Prisoner, free only in
name. And the vigilance of the Terrorists obsessed her. She found a
day gone, and no plan made. She had come here to think, and consecutive
thought was impossible. She went to vespers at the church, and sat
huddled in a corner. She suspected every eye that turned on her in frank
curiosity. When, during the “Salve Regina,” the fathers, followed by
their pupils, went slowly down the aisle, in reverent procession between
rows of Pilgrims, she saw in their habits only a grim reminder of the
black disguises of the Terrorists.

On the second day she made a desperate resolve, and characteristically
put it into execution at once. She sent for the caretaker. When he came,
uneasy, for the Loscheks were justly feared in the country side, and
even the thing of which he knew gave him small courage, she lost no time
in evasion.

“Go,” she said; “and bring here your accomplice--”

“My accomplice, madame! I do not--”

“You heard me,” she said.

He turned, half sullen, half terrified, and paused. “Which do you refer
to, madame?”

She had seen only the one. Then there were others. Who could tell how
many others?

“The one who drove here.”

So he went, leaving her to desperate reflection. When he returned, it
was to usher in the heavy figure of the spy.

“Which of you is in authority?” she demanded.

“I, madame.” It was the spy who spoke.

She dismissed the caretaker with a gesture.

“Have you any discretion over me? Or must you refer matters to those who
sent you?”

“I must refer to them.”

“How long will it take to send a message and receive a reply?”

He considered. “Until to-morrow night, madame.”

Another day gone, then, and nothing determined!

“Now, listen,” she said, “and listen carefully. I have come here to
decide a certain question. Whether you know what that question is or
not, does not matter. But before I decide it I must take a certain
journey. I wish to make that journey. It is into Karnia.”

She watched him. “It is impossible. My instructions--”

“I am not asking your permission. I wish to send a letter to the
Committee. They, and they alone, will determine this thing. Will you
send the letter?”

When he hesitated, perplexed, she got up and moved to her writing-table.

“I shall write the letter,” she said haughtily. “See that it is sent.
When I report at the end of the time that I have sent such a letter, you
can judge better than I the result if it has not been received.”

He was still dubious, but she wrote the letter and gave it to him, her
face proud and scornful. But she was not easy, for all that, and she
watched from her balcony to see if any messenger left the castle and
descended the mountain road. She was rewarded, an hour later, by seeing
a figure leave the old gateway and start afoot toward the village, a
pale-faced man with colorless hair. A part of the hidden guard that
surrounded her, she knew, and somehow familiar. But, although she racked
her brains, she could not remember where she had seen him.

For the next twenty-four hours she waited. Life became one long
endurance. She hated the forest, since she might not visit it alone. She
hated the castle, because it was her prison. She stood for hours that
first day on her balcony, surveying with scornful eyes the procession
of the devout, weary women, perspiring men, lines of children going to
something they did not comprehend, and carrying clenched in small, warm
hands drooping bunches of early mountain flowers.

And always, calling her to something she scorned, rang the bells for
mass or for vespers. The very tower below beckoned her to peace--her,
for whom there would never again be peace. She cursed the bell savagely,
put her fingers in her ears, to be wakened at dawn the next morning to
its insistent call.

There was no more sleep for her. She lay there in her bare room and gave
herself to bitter reflection. Here, in this very castle, she had met
Karl. That was eleven years before. Prince Hubert was living. During
a period of peace between the two countries a truce had been arranged,
treaties signed, with every prospect of permanence. During that time
Karl and Hubert, glad of peace, had come here for the hunting. She
remembered the stir about their coming, her father’s hurried efforts to
get things in order, the cleaning and refurbishing, the peasants called
in to serve the royal guests, and stripped of their quaint costumes to
be put into ill-fitting livery.

They had bought her a new frock for evening wear, the father who was
now dead, and the old aunt who had raised her--an ugly black satin, too
mature for her. She had put it on in that very room, and wept in very
despair.

Then came the arrival, her father on the doorstep, she and her aunt
behind him, and in the hall, lines of uneasy and shuffling peasants. How
awkward and ill at ease they must have seemed! Then came the carriage,
Hubert alighting first, then Karl. Karl had seen her instantly, over her
father’s bent back.

Lying there, seeing things with the clear vision of the dawn, she
wondered whether, had she met Karl later, in her sophisticated maturity,
she would have fallen in love with him. There was no way to know. He had
dawned on her then, almost the first man of rank she had ever seen. She
saw him, not only with fresh eyes, but through the halo of his position.
He was the Crown Prince of Karnia then, more dashing than Hubert, who
was already married and had always been a serious youth, handsomer, a
blond in a country of few blond men. His joyous smile had not taken on
the mocking twist it acquired later. His blue eyes were gay and joyous.

When she had bowed and would have kissed his hand, it had been Karl who
kissed hers, and straightened to smile down at her.

“This is a very happy day, Countess,” he had said.

Then the old aunt had hustled forward, and the peasants had bowed
nervously, and bustle and noise had filled the old place.

For four days the royal hunters had stayed. On the third day Karl had
pleaded fatigue, and they had walked through the pine woods. On that
very devil’s bridge he had kissed her. They had had serious talks, too.
Karl was ambitious, even then. The two countries were at peace, but for
how long? Contrary to opinion, he said, it was not rulers who led their
people into war. It was the people who forced those wars. He spoke of
long antagonisms, old jealousies, trade relations.

She had listened, flattered, had been an intelligent audience. Even now,
she felt that it was her intelligence as much as her beauty that had
ensnared Karl. For ensnared he had been. She had dreamed wild dreams
that night after he kissed her, dreams of being his wife. She was not
too young to know passion in a man’s eyes, and Karl’s had burned with
it.

Then, the next day, while the hunters were away, her aunt had come to
her, ugly, dowdy, and alarmed. “Little fool!” she had said. “They play,
these princes. But they are evil with women, and dangerous. I have seen
your eyes on him, sick with love. And Karl will amuse himself--it is the
blood--and go away, laughing.”

She had been working with the satin dress, trying to make it lovely
for him. Over it her eyes had met her aunt’s, small and twitching with
anxiety. “But suppose he cares for me?” she had asked. “Sometimes I
think--Why should you say he is evil?”

“Bah!”

She had grown angry then and, flinging the dress on the floor, had risen
haughtily. “I think he will marry me,” she had announced, to be met with
blank surprise, followed by cackling old laughter.

Karl had gone away, kissing her passionately, before he left her, in the
dark hall. And many things had followed. A cousin, married into Karnia
became lady-in-waiting to the old Queen. Olga Loschek had visited her.
No accident all this, but a carefully thought-out plan of Karl’s. She
had met Karl again. She was no longer the ill-dressed, awkward girl of
the mountains, and his passion grew, rather than died.

He had made further love to her then, urged her to go away with him on
a journey to the eastern end of the kingdom, would, indeed, have
compromised her hopelessly. But, young as she was, she had had courage
and strength; perhaps shrewdness too. Few women could have resisted him.
He was gentleness itself with her, kindly, considerate, passionate. But
she had kept her head.

And because she had kept her head, she had kept him. Through his many
lapses, his occasional mad adventures, he had always come back to her.
Having never possessed her, he had always wanted her. But not enough,
she said drearily to herself, to pay the price of marriage.

She was fair enough to him. Nothing but a morganatic marriage would be
possible, and this would deprive his children of the throne. But less
than marriage she would not have.

The old Queen died. Her cousin retired to the country, and raised
pheasants for gayety. Olga Loschek’s visits to Karnia ceased. In time a
place was made for her at the Court of Livonia and a brilliant marriage
for her was predicted. But she did not marry. Now and then she retired
to the castle near the border, and Karl visited her there. And, at last,
after years, the inevitable happened.

She was deeply in love, and the years were passing. The burden of
resistance had always been on her, and marriage was out of the question.
She was alone now. Her father had died, and the old aunt was in
seclusion in a nunnery, where she pottered around a garden and knitted
endless garments for the poor.

For a time Olga had been very happy. Karl’s motor crossed the mountains,
and he came on foot through the woods. No breath of scandal touched her.
And, outwardly, Karl did not change. He was still her ardent lover. But
the times when they could meet were few.

And the Court of Livonia heard rumors--a gamekeeper’s daughter, an
actress in his own capital, these were but two of the many. Olga Loschek
was clever. She never reproached him or brought him to task. She had
felt that, whatever his lapses, the years had made her necessary to him.

The war that followed the truce had seen her Karl’s spy in Livonia. She
had undertaken it that the burden of gratitude should be on him--a false
step, for men chafe under the necessity for gratitude.

Then had come another peace, and his visit to the summer palace. There
he had seen Hedwig, grown since his last visit to lovely girlhood, and
having what Olga Loschek could never again possess, youth.

And now he would marry her, and Olga Loschek, his tool and spy, was in
danger of her life.

That day, toward evening, the huge man presented himself. He brought no
letter, but an oral message. “Permission is given, madame,” he said. “I
myself shall accompany you.”



CHAPTER XXIII. NIKKY MAKES A PROMISE


The Chancellor lived alone, in his little house near the Palace, a
house that looked strangely like him, overhanging eyebrows and all, with
windows that were like his eyes, clear and concealing many secrets. A
grim, gray little old house, which concealed behind it a walled garden
full of unexpected charm. And that, too, was like the Chancellor.

In his study on the ground floor, overlooking the garden, the Chancellor
spent his leisure hours. Here, on the broad, desk-like arm of his chair,
where so many state documents had lain for signature, most of his meals
were served. Here, free from the ghosts that haunted the upper rooms, he
dreamed his dream of a greater kingdom.

Mathilde kept his house for him, mended and pressed his uniforms, washed
and starched his linen, quarreled with the orderly who attended him, and
drove him to bed at night.

“It is midnight,” she would say firmly--or one o’clock, or even later,
for the Chancellor was old, and needed little sleep. “Give me the book.”
 Because, if she did not take it, he would carry it off to bed, and
reading in bed is bad for the eyes.

“Just a moment, Mathilde,” he would say, and finish a paragraph.
Sometimes he went on reading, and forgot about her, to look up, a
half-hour later, perhaps, and find her still standing there, immobile,
firm.

Then he would sigh, and close the book.

At his elbow every evening Mathilde placed a glass of milk. If he had
forgotten it, now he sipped it slowly, and the two talked--of homely
things, mostly, the garden, or moths in the closed rooms which had lost,
one by one, their beloved occupants, or of a loose tile on the roof. But
now and then their conversation was more serious.

Mathilde, haunting the market with its gayly striped booths, its rabbits
hung in pairs by the ears, its strings of dried vegetables, its lace
bazaars Mathilde was in touch with the people. It was Mathilde, and not
one of his agents, who had brought word of the approaching revolt of the
coppersmiths’ guild, and enabled him to check it almost before it began.
A stoic, this Mathilde, with her tall, spare figure and glowing eyes,
stoic and patriot. Once every month she burned four candles before the
shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in the cathedral, because of four sons she
had given to her country.

On the evening of the day Hedwig had made her futile appeal to the King,
the Chancellor sat alone. His dinner, almost untasted, lay at his elbow.
It was nine o’clock. At something after seven he had paid his evening
visit to the King, and had found him uneasy and restless.

“Sit down;” the King had said. “I need steadying, old friend.”

“Steadying, sire?”

“I have had a visit from Hedwig. Rather a stormy one, poor child.” He
turned and fixed on his Chancellor his faded eyes. “In this course that
you have laid out, and that I am following, as I always have,” irony
this, but some truth, too,--“have you no misgivings? You still think it
is the best thing?”

“It is the only thing.”

“But all this haste,” put in the King querulously.

“Is that so necessary? Hedwig begs for time. She hardly knows the man.”

“Time! But I thought--” He hesitated. How say to a dying man that time
was the one thing he did not have?

“Another thing. She was incoherent, but I gathered that there was some
one else. The whole interview was cyclonic. It seems, however, that this
young protege of yours, Larisch, has been making love to her over Otto’s
head.”

Mettlich’s face hardened, a gradual process, as the news penetrated in
all its significance.

“I should judge,” the King went on relentlessly, “that this vaunted
affection of his for the boy is largely assumed, a cover for other
matters. But,” he added, with a flicker of humor, “my granddaughter
assures me that it is she who has made the advances. I believe she asked
him to elope with her, and he refused!”

“A boy-and-girl affair, sire. He is loyal. And in all of this, you and I
are reckoning without Karl. The Princess hardly knows him, and naturally
she is terrified. But his approaching visit will make many changes. He
is a fine figure of a man, and women--”

“Exactly;” said the King dryly. What the Chancellor meant was that women
always had loved Karl, and the King understood.

“His wild days are over,” bluntly observed the Chancellor. “He is forty,
sire.”

“Aye,” said the King. “And at forty, a bad man changes his nature, and
purifies himself in marriage! Nonsense, Karl will be as he has always
been. But we have gone into this before. Only, I am sorry for Hedwig.
Hilda would have stood it better. She is like her father. However”--his
voice hardened “the thing is arranged, and we must carry out our
contract. Get rid of this young Larisch.”

The Chancellor sat reflecting, his chin dropped forward on his breast.
“Otto will miss him.”

“Well, out with it. I may not dismiss him. What, then?”

“It is always easy to send men away. But it is sometimes better to
retain them, and force them to your will. We have here an arrangement
that is satisfactory. Larisch is keen, young, and loyal. Hedwig has
thrown herself at him. For that, sire, she is responsible, not he.”

“Then get rid of her,” growled the King.

The Chancellor rose. “If the situation is left to me, sire,” he said,
“I will promise two things. That Otto will keep his friend, and that the
Princess Hedwig will bow to your wishes without further argument.”

“Do it, and God help you!” said the King, again with the flicker of
amusement.

The Chancellor had gone home, walking heavily along the darkening
streets. Once again he had conquered. The reins remained in his gnarled
old hands. And he was about to put the honor of the country into the
keeping of the son of Maria Menrad, whom he had once loved.

So now he sat in his study, and waited. A great meerschaum pipe, a
stag’s head with branching antlers and colored dark with years of use,
lay on his tray; and on his knee, but no longer distinguishable in the
dusk, lay an old daguerreotype of Maria Menrad.

When he heard Nikky’s quick step as he came along the tiled passage, he
slipped the case into the pocket of his shabby house-coat, and picked up
the pipe.

Nikky saluted, and made his way across the room in the twilight, with
the ease of familiarity. “I am late, sir,” he apologized. “We found our
man and he is safely jailed. He made no resistance.”

“Sit down,” said the Chancellor. And, touching a bell, he asked Mathilde
for coffee. “So we have him,” he reflected. “The next thing is to
discover if he knows who his assailants were. That, and the person for
whom he acted--However, I sent for you for another reason. What is this
about the Princess Hedwig?”

“The Princess Hedwig!”

“What folly, boy! A young girl who cannot know her own mind! And for
such a bit of romantic trifling you would ruin yourself. It is ruin. You
know that.”

“I am sorry,” Nikky said simply. “As far as my career goes, it does not
matter. But I am thinking of her.”

“A trifle late.”

“But,” Nikky spoke up valiantly, “it is not romantic folly, in the way
you mean, sir. As long as I live, I shall--It is hopeless, of course,
sir.”

“Madness,” commented the Chancellor. “Sheer spring madness. You would
carry her off, I dare say, and hide yourselves at the end of a rainbow!
Folly!”

Nikky remained silent, a little sullen.

“The Princess went to the King with her story this evening.” The boy
started. “A cruel proceeding, but the young are always cruel. The
expected result has followed: the King wishes you sent away.”

“I am at his command, sir.”

The Chancellor filled his pipe from a bowl near by, working
deliberately. Nikky sat still, rather rigid.

“May I ask,” he said at last, “that you say to the King that the
responsibility is mine? No possible blame can attach to the Princess
Hedwig. I love her, and--I am not clever. I show what I feel.”

He was showing it then, both hurt and terror, not for himself, but for
her. His voice shook in spite of his efforts to be every inch a soldier.

“The immediate result,” said the Chancellor cruelly, “will doubtless be
a putting forward of the date for her marriage.” Nikky’s hands clenched.
“A further result would be your dismissal from the army. One does not do
such things as you have done, lightly.”

“Lightly!” said Nikky Larisch. “God!”

“But,” continued the Chancellor, “I have a better way. I have faith, for
one thing, in your blood. The son of Maria Menrad must be--his mother’s
son. And the Crown Prince is attached to you. Not for your sake, but for
his, I am inclined to be lenient. What I shall demand for that leniency
is that no word of love again pass between you and the Princess Hedwig.”

“It would be easier to go away.”

“Aye, of course. But ‘easier’ is not your word nor mine.” But Nikky’s
misery touched him. He rose and placed a heavy hand on the boy’s
shoulder. “It is not as simple as that. I know, boy. But you are young,
and these things grow less with time. You need not see her. She will be
forbidden to visit Otto or to go to the riding-school. You see, I know
about the riding-school! And, in a short time now, the marriage will
solve many difficulties.”

Nikky closed his eyes. It was getting to be a habit, just as some people
crack their knuckles.

“We need our friends about us,” the Chancellor continued. “The Carnival
is coming,--always a dangerous time for us. The King grows weaker day by
day. A crisis is impending for all of us, and we need you.”

Nikky rose, steady enough now, but white to the lips.

“I give my word, sir,” he said. “I shall say no word of--of how I feel
to Hedwig. Not again. She knows and I think,” he added proudly, “that
she knows I shall not change. That I shall always--”

“Exactly!” said the Chancellor. It was the very, pitch of the King’s dry
old voice. “Of course she knows, being a woman. And now, good-night.”

But long after Nikky had gone he sat in the darkness. He felt old and
tired and a hypocrite. The boy would not forget, as he himself had
not forgotten. His hand, thrust into his pocket, rested on the faded
daguerreotype there.

Peter Niburg was shot at dawn the next morning. He went, a coward, to
his death, held between two guards and crying piteously. But he died
a brave man. Not once in the long hours of his interrogation had he
betrayed the name of the Countess Loschek.



CHAPTER XXIV. THE BIRTHDAY


The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto of Livonia was having a
birthday. Now, a birthday for a Crown Prince of Livonia is not a matter
of a cake with candles on it; and having his ears pulled, once for each
year and an extra one to grow on. Nor of a holiday from lessons, and
a picnic in spring woods. Nor of a party, with children frolicking and
scratching the best furniture.

In the first place, he was wakened at dawn and taken to early service
in the chapel, a solemn function, with the Court assembled and slightly
sleepy. The Crown Prince, who was trying to look his additional dignity
of years, sat and stood as erect as possible, and yawned only once.

After breakfast he was visited by the chaplain who had his religious
instruction in hand, and interrogated. He did not make more than about
sixty per cent in this, however, and the chaplain departed looking
slightly discouraged.

Lessons followed, and in each case the tutor reminded him that, having
now reached his tenth birthday, he should be doing better than in
the past. Especially the French tutor, who had just heard a rumor of
Hedwig’s marriage.

At eleven o’clock came word that the King was too ill to have him to
luncheon, but that he would see him for a few moments that afternoon.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto, who was diagramming the sentence,
“Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in America,” and doing it wrong,
looked up in dismay.

“I’d like to know what’s the use of having a birthday,” he declared
rebelliously.

The substitution of luncheon with the Archduchess Annunciata hardly
thrilled him. Unluckily he made an observation to that effect, and got
five off in Miss Braithwaite’s little book.

The King did not approve of birthday gifts. The expensive toys which the
Court would have offered the child were out of key with the simplicity
of his rearing. As a matter of fact, the Crown Prince had never heard of
a birthday gift, and had, indeed, small experience of gifts of any kind,
except as he made them himself. For that he had a great fondness. His
small pocket allowance generally dissipated itself in this way.

So there were no gifts. None, that is, until the riding-hour came, and
Nikky, subverter of all discipline. He had brought a fig lady, wrapped
in paper.

“It’s quite fresh,” he said, as they walked together across the Place.
“I’ll give it to you when we get to the riding-school. I saw the woman
myself take it out of her basket. So it has no germs on it.”

But, although he spoke bravely, Nikky was the least bit nervous. First
of all he was teaching the boy deception. “But why don’t they treat
him like a human being?” he demanded of himself. Naturally there was no
answer. Maria Menrad’s son had a number of birthdays in his mind, real
birthdays with much indulgence connected with them.

Second, suppose it really had a germ or two on it? Anxiously, having
unwrapped it, he examined it in the sunlight of a window of the ring.
Certainly, thus closely inspected, it looked odd. There were small
granules over it.

The Crown Prince waited patiently. “Miss Braithwaite says that if you
look at them under a glass, there are bugs on them,” he observed, with
interest.

“Perhaps, after all, you’d better not have it.”

“They are very small bugs,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto
anxiously. “I don’t object to them at all.”

So, after all, Nikky uneasily presented his gift; and nothing untoward
happened. He was rewarded, however, by such a glow of pleasure and
gratitude from the boy that his scruples faded.

No Hedwig again, to distract Nikky’s mind. The lesson went on; trot,
canter, low jumps. And then what Nikky called “stunts,” an American word
which delighted the Crown Prince.

But, Nikky, like the big child he was himself, had kept his real news to
the last.

Already, he was offering himself on the altar of the child’s safety.
Behind his smiles lay something of the glow of the martyr. His eyes were
sunken, his lips drawn. He had not slept at all, nor eaten. But to the
boy he meant to show no failing, to be the prince of playmates, the
brother of joy. Perhaps in this way, he felt, lay his justification.

So now, with the Crown Prince facing toward the Palace again, toward
luncheon with his aunt and a meeting with the delegation, Nikky, like an
epicure of sensations, said: “By the way, Otto, I found that dog you saw
yesterday. What was his name? Toto?”

“Where did you find him? Yes, Toto!”

“I looked him up,” said Nikky modestly. “You see, it’s like this: He’s
a pretty nice dog. There aren’t many dogs like him. And I thought--well,
nobody can say I can’t have a dog.”

“You’ve got him? You, yourself?”

“I, myself. I dare say he has fleas, and they will get in the carpet,
but--I tell you what I thought: He will be really your dog, do you see?
I’ll take care of him, and keep him for you, and bring him out to walk
where you can see him. Then, when they say you may have a dog, you’ve
got one, already. All I have to do is to bring him to you.”

Wise Nikky, of the understanding boy’s heart. He had brought into the
little Prince’s life its first real interest, something vital, living.
And something of the soreness and hurt of the last few hours died in
Nikky before Prince Ferdinand William Otto’s smile.

“Oh, Nikky!” was all the child said at first, and grew silent for very
happiness. Then: “We can talk about him. You can tell me all the things
he does, and I can send him bones, can’t I? Unless you don’t care to
carry them.”

This, in passing, explains the reason why, to the eyes of astonished
servants, from that day forth the Crown Prince of Livonia apparently
devoured his chop, bone and all. And why Nikky resembled, at times, a
well-setup, trig, and soldierly appearing charnel-house. “If I am
ever arrested,” he once demurred, “and searched, Highness, I shall be
consigned to a madhouse.”

Luncheon was extremely unsuccessful. His Cousin Hedwig looked as though
she had been crying, and Hilda, eating her soup too fast, was sent from
the table. The Crown Prince, trying to make conversation, chose Nikky
as his best subject, and met an icy silence. Also, attempting to put the
bone from a chicken leg in his pocket, he was discovered.

“What in the world!” exclaimed the Archduchess. “What do you want of a
chicken bone?”

“I just wanted it, Tante.”

“It is greasy. Look at your fingers!”

“Mother,” Hedwig said quietly, “it is his birthday.”

“I do not need you to remind me of that. Have I not been up since the
middle of the night, for that reason?”

But she said no more, and was a trifle more agreeable during the
remainder of the meal. She was just a bit uneasy before Hedwig those
days. She did not like the look in her eyes.

That afternoon, attired in his uniform of the Guards, the Crown Prince
received the delegation of citizens in the great audience, chamber of
the Palace, a solitary little figure, standing on the red carpet before
the dais at the end. Behind him, stately with velvet hangings, was the
tall gilt chair which some day would be his. Afternoon sunlight, coming
through the long windows along the side, shone on the prisms of the
heavy chandeliers, lighted up the paintings of dead and gone kings of
his line, gleamed in great mirrors and on the polished floor.

On each side of his small figure the Council grouped itself, fat Friese,
rat-faced Marschall, Bayerl, with his soft voice and white cheeks
lighted by hot eyes, and the others. They stood very stiff, in their
white gloves. Behind them were grouped the gentlemen of the Court,
in full dress and decorated with orders. At the door stood the Lord
Chamberlain, very gorgeous in scarlet and gold.

The Chancellor stood near the boy, resplendent in his dress uniform, a
blue ribbon across his shirt front, over which Mathilde had taken hours.
He was the Mettlich of the public eye now, hard of features, impassive,
inflexible.

In ordinary times less state would have been observed, a smaller room,
Mettlich only, or but one or two others, an informal ceremony. But the
Chancellor shrewdly intended to do the delegation all honor, the Palace
to give its best, that the city, in need, might do likewise.

And he had staged the affair well. The Crown Prince, standing alone, so
small, so appealing, against his magnificent background, was a picture
to touch the hardest. Not for nothing had Mettlich studied the people,
read their essential simplicity, their answer to any appeal to the
heart. These men were men of family. Surely no father of a son could see
that lonely child and not offer him loyalty.

With the same wisdom, he had given the boy small instruction, and no
speech of thanks. “Let him say what comes into his head,” Mettlich had
reasoned. “It will at least be spontaneous and boyish.”

The Crown Prince was somewhat nervous. He blinked rapidly as the
delegation entered and proceeded up the room. However, happening at that
moment to remember Nikky with the brass inkwell, he forgot himself in
amusement. He took a good look at the gold casket, as it approached,
reverently borne, and rather liked its appearance. It would have been,
he reflected, extremely convenient to keep things in, pencils and
erasers, on his desk. But, of course, he would not have it to keep.
Quite a number of things passed into his possession and out again with
the same lightning-like rapidity.

The first formalities over, and the Crown Prince having shaken hands
nine times, the spokesman stepped forward. He had brought a long,
written speech, which had already been given to the newspapers. But
after a moment’s hesitation he folded it up.

“Your Royal Highness,” he said, looking down, “I have here a long
speech, but all that it contains I can say briefly. It is your birthday,
Highness. We come, representing many others, to present to you our
congratulations, and--the love of your people. It is our hope”--He
paused. Emotion and excitement were getting the better of him--“our
hope, Highness, that you will have many happy years. To further that
hope, we are here to-day to say that we, representing all classes, are
your most loyal subjects. We have fought for His Majesty the King, and
if necessary we will fight for you.” He glanced beyond the child at the
Council, and his tone was strong and impassioned: “But to-day we are
here, not to speak of war, but to present to you our congratulations,
our devotion, and our loyalty.”

Also a casket. He had forgotten that. He stepped back, was nudged, and
recollected.

“Also a gift,” he said, and ruined a fine speech among smiles. But the
presentation took place in due order, and Otto cleared his throat.

“Thank you all very much,” he said. “It is a very beautiful gift. I
admire it very much. I should like to keep it on my desk, but I suppose
it is too valuable. Thank you very much.”

The spokesman hoped that it might be arranged that he keep it on his
desk, an ever-present reminder of the love of his city. To this the
Chancellor observed that it would be arranged, and the affair was over.
To obviate the difficulty of having the delegation back down the long
room, it was the Crown Prince who departed first, with the Chancellor.

Altogether, it was comfortably over, and the Chancellor reflected grimly
that the boy had done well. He had made friends of the delegation at a
time when he needed friends. As they walked along the long corridors of
the Palace together, the Chancellor was visualizing another scene, which
must come soon, pray God with as good result: the time when, the old
King dead and the solemn bell of the cathedral tolling, this boy would
step out on to the balcony overlooking the Place, and show himself to
the great throng below the windows.

To offset violence and anarchy itself, only that one small figure on the
balcony!

Late in the afternoon the King sent for Prince Ferdinand William Otto.
He had not left his bed since the day he had placed the matter of
Hedwig’s marriage before the Council, and now he knew he would never
leave it. There were times between sleeping and waking when he fancied
he had already gone, and that only his weary body on the bed remained.
At such times he saw Hubert, only, strangely enough, not as a man grown,
but as a small boy again; and his Queen, but as she had looked many
years before, when he married her, and when at last, after months of
married wooing, she had crept willing into his arms.

So, awakening from a doze, he saw the boy there, and called him Hubert.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto, feeling rather worried, did the only
thing he could think of. He thrust his warm hand into his grandfather’s
groping one, and the touch of his soft flesh roused the King.

The Sister left them together, and in her small room dropped on her
knees before the holy image. There, until he left, she prayed for the
King’s soul, for the safety and heavenly guidance of the boy. The wind
stirred her black habit and touched gently her white coif. She prayed,
her pale lips moving silently.

In the King’s bedchamber Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat on a high
chair, and talked. He was extremely relieved that his exile was over,
but he viewed his grandfather, with alarm. His aunt had certainly
intimated that his running away had made the King worse. And he looked
very ill.

“I’m awfully sorry, grandfather,” he said.

“For what?”

“That I went away the other day, sir.”

“It was, after all, a natural thing to do.”

The Crown Prince could hardly believe his ears.

“If it could only be arranged safely--a little freedom--” The King lay
still with closed eyes.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto felt uneasy. “But I am very comfortable,
and--and happy,” he hastened to say. “You are, please, not to worry
about me, sir. And about the paper I threw at Monsieur Puaux the other
day, I am sorry about that too. I don’t know exactly why I did it.”

The King still held his hand, but he said nothing. There were many
things he wanted to say. He had gone crooked where this boy must go
straight. He had erred, and the boy must avoid his errors. He had
cherished enmities, and in his age they cherished him. And now-- “May I
ask you a question, sir?”

“What is it?”

“Will you tell me about Abraham Lincoln?”

“Why?” The King was awake enough now. He fixed the Crown Prince with
keen eyes.

“Well, Miss Braithwaite does not care for him. She says he was not a
great man, not as great as Mr. Gladstone, anyhow. But Bobby--that’s the
boy I met; I told you about him--he says he was the greatest man who
ever lived.”

“And who,” asked the King, “do you regard as the greatest man?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto fidgeted, but he answered bravely, “You,
sir.”

“Humph!” The King lay still, smiling slightly. “Well,” he observed,
“there are, of course, other opinions as to that. However--Abraham
Lincoln was a very great man. A dreamer, a visionary, but a great man.
You might ask Miss Braithwaite to teach you his ‘Gettysburg Address.’
It is rather a model as to speech-making, although it contains doctrines
that--well, you’d better learn it.”

He smiled again, to himself. It touched his ironic sense of humor that
he, who had devoted his life to maintaining that all men are not free
and equal, when on that very day that same doctrine of liberty was
undermining his throne--that he should be discussing it with the small
heir to that throne.

“Yes, sir,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. He hoped it was not very
long.

“Otto,” said the King suddenly, “do you ever look at your father’s
picture?”

“Not always.”

“You might--look at it now and then. I’d like you to do it.”

“Yes, sir.”



CHAPTER XXV. THE GATE OF THE MOON


A curious friendship had sprung up between old Adelbert and
Bobby Thorpe. In off hours, after school, the boy hung about the
ticket-taker’s booth, swept now to a wonderful cleanliness and adorned
within with pictures cut from the illustrated papers. The small charcoal
fire was Bobby’s particular care. He fed and watched it, and having
heard of the baleful effects of charcoal fumes, insisted on more fresh
air than old Adelbert had ever breathed before.

“You see,” Bobby would say earnestly, as he brushed away at the floor
beneath the burner, “you don’t know that you are being asphyxiated. You
just feel drowsy, and then, poof!--you’re dead.”

Adelbert, dozing between tickets, was liable to be roused by a vigorous
shaking, to a pair of anxious eyes gazing at him, and to a draft of
chill spring air from the open door.

“I but dozed,” he would explain, without anger. “All my life have I
breathed the fumes and nothing untoward has happened.”

Outwardly he was peaceful. The daughter now received his pension in
full, and wrote comforting letters. But his resentment and bitterness at
the loss of his position at the Opera continued, even grew.

For while he had now even a greater wage, and could eat three meals,
besides second breakfast and afternoon coffee, down deep in his heart
old Adelbert felt that he had lost caste. The Opera--that was a setting!
Great staircases of marble, velvet hangings, the hush before the
overture, and over all the magic and dignity of music. And before his
stall had passed and repassed the world--royalties, the aristocracy,
the army. Hoi polloi had used another entrance by which to climb to the
upper galleries. He had been, then, of the elect. Aristocrats who had
forgotten their own opera-glasses had requested him to give them of his
best, had through long years learned to know him there, and had nodded
to him as they swept by. The flash of jewels on beautiful necks, the
glittering of decorations on uniformed chests, had been his life.

And now, to what had he fallen! To selling tickets for an American
catch-penny scheme, patronized by butchers, by housemaids, by the common
people a noisy, uproarious crowd, that nevertheless counted their change
with suspicious eyes, and brought lunches in paper boxes, which they
scattered about.

“Riff-raff!” he said to himself scornfully.

There was, however, a consolation. He had ordered a new uniform. Not for
twenty years had he ventured the extravagance, and even now his cautious
soul quailed at the price. For the last half-dozen years he had stumped
through the streets, painfully aware of shabbiness, of a shiny back, of
patches, when, on the anniversary of the great battle to which he had
sacrificed a leg, the veterans marched between lines of cheering people.

Now, on this approaching anniversary, he could go peacefully, nay, even
proudly. The uniform was of the best cloth, and on its second fitting
showed already its marvel of tailoring. The news of it had gone around
the neighborhood. The tailor reported visits from those who would feel
of the cloth, and figure its expensiveness. In the evening--for he
worked only until seven--he had his other preparations: polishing his
sword, cleaning his accouterments.

On an evening a week before the parade would occur, he got out his
boots. He bought always large boots with straight soles, the right not
much different from the left in shape. Thus he managed thriftily to
wear, on his one leg, first one of the pair, then the other. But they
were both worn now, and because of the cost of the new uniform, he could
not buy others.

Armed with the better of the two he visited the cobbler’s shop, and
there met with bitter news.

“A patch here, and a new heel, comrade,” he said. “With that and a
polishing, it will do well enough for marching.”

The usual group was in the shop, mostly young men, a scattering of gray
heads. The advocates of strange doctrines, most of them. Old Adelbert
disapproved of them, regarded them with a sort of contempt.

Now he felt that they smiled behind his back. It was his clothing, he
felt. He shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. He no longer felt ashamed
before them. Already, although the tailor still pressed its seams
and marked upon it with chalk, he was clad in the dignity of the new
uniform.

He turned and nodded to them. “A fine evening,” he said. “If this
weather holds, we will have--a good day for the marching.” He squinted a
faded eye at the sky outside.

“What marching?”

Old Adelbert turned on the speaker sharply. “Probably you have
forgotten,” he said scornfully, “but in a week comes an anniversary
there are many who will remember. The day of a great battle. Perhaps,”
 he added, “if you do not know of what I speak, there are some here who
will tell you.”

Unexpectedly the crowd laughed.

Old Adelbert flushed a dusky red and drew himself up. “Since when,” he
demanded, “does such a speech bring laughter? It was no laughing matter
then.”

“It is the way of the old to live in the past,” a student said. Then,
imitating old Adelbert’s majestic tone: “We, we live in the future.
Eh, comrades?” He turned to the old soldier: “You have not seen the
bulletins?”

“Bulletins?”

“There will be no marching, my friend. The uniform now--that is a pity.
Perhaps the tailor--” His eyes mocked.

“No marching?”

“An order of the Council. It seems that the city is bored by these
ancient-reminders. It is for peace, and would forget wars. And
processions are costly. We grow thrifty. Bands and fireworks cost money,
and money, my hero, is scarce--very scarce.”

Again the group laughed.

After a time he grasped the truth. There was such an order. The cause
was given as the King’s illness.

“Since when,” demanded old Adelbert angrily, “has the sound of his
soldiers’ marching disturbed the King?”

“The sound of wooden legs annoys him,” observed the mocking student,
lighting a cigarette. “He would hear only pleasant sounds, such as
the noise of tax-money pouring into his vaults. Me--I can think of a
pleasanter: the tolling of the cathedral bell, at a certain time, will
be music to my ears!”

Old Adelbert stood, staring blindly ahead. At last he went out into the
street, muttering. “They shame us before the people,” he said thickly.

The order of the Council had indeed been issued, a painful business over
which Mettlich and the Council had pondered long. For, in the state of
things, it was deemed unwise to permit any gathering of the populace en
masse. Mobs lead to riots, and riots again to mobs. Five thousand armed
men, veterans, but many of them in their prime, were in themselves a
danger. And on these days of anniversary it had been the custom of the
University to march also, a guard of honor. Sedition was rife among the
students.

The order was finally issued...

Old Adelbert was not keen, but he did not lack understanding. And one
thing he knew, and knew well. The concierge, downstairs was no patriot.
Time had been when, over coffee and bread, he had tried to instill in
the old soldier his own discontent, his new theories of a land where
all were equal and no man king. He had hinted of many who believed as
he did. Only hints, because old Adelbert had raised a trembling hand and
proclaimed treason.

But now?

Late in the evening he made his resolve, and visited the bureau of the
concierge. He was away, however, and his niece spoke through the barred
window.

“Two days, or perhaps three,” she said. “He is inspecting a farm in the
country, with a view to purchase.”

The old soldier had walked by the Palace that night, and had again
shaken his fist at its looming shadow. “You will see,” he said, “there
be other sounds more painful than the thump of a wooden leg.”

He was ill that night. He tossed about in a fever. His body ached,
even the leg which so long ago had mouldered in its shallow grave on a
battle-field. For these things happen. By morning he was better, but
he was a different man. His eyes glowed. His body twitched. He was
stronger, too, for now he broke his sword across his knee, and flung the
pieces out of the window. And with them went the last fragment of his
old loyalty to his King.

Old Adelbert was now, potentially, a traitor.

The spring came early that year. The last of February saw the parks
green. Snowdrops appeared in the borders of paths. The swans left their
wooden houses and drifted about in water much colder than the air. Bobby
abandoned the aeroplane for a kite and threw it aloft from Pike’s Peak.
At night, when he undressed, marbles spilled out of his pockets and
rolled under the most difficult furniture. Although it was still cold
at nights and in the early mornings, he abandoned the white sweater and
took to looking for birds and nests in the trees of the park. It was,
of course, much too early for nests, but nevertheless he searched,
convinced that even if grown-ups talked wisely of more cold weather, he
and the birds knew it was spring. And, of course, the snow-drops.

On the morning after old Adelbert had turned his back on his King, Bobby
Thorpe rose early, so early, indeed, that even Pepy still slept in her
narrow bed, and the milk-sellers had not started on their rounds. The
early rising was a mistake, owing to a watch which had strangely gained
an hour.

Somewhat disconsolately, he wandered about. Heavy quiet reigned. From a
window he watched the meat-seller hang out a freshly killed deer, just
brought from the mountains He went downstairs and out on the street,
past the niece of the concierge, who was scrubbing the stairs.

“I’m going for a walk,” he told her. “If they send Pepy down you might
tell her I’ll be back for breakfast.”

He stood for a time surveying the deer. Then he decided to go
hunting himself. The meat-seller obligingly gave him the handle of a
floor-brush, and with this improvised gun Bobby went deer-stalking. He
turned into the Park, going stealthily, and searching the landscape with
keen hunter’s eyes. Once or twice he leveled his weapon, killed a deer,
cut off the head, and went on. His dog trotted, at his heels. When a
particularly good shot presented itself, Bobby said, “Down, Tucker,” and
Tucker, who played extremely well, would lie down, ears cocked, until
the quarry was secured.

Around the old city gate, still standing although the wall of which it
had been a part was gone, there was excellent hunting. Here they killed
and skinned a bear, took fine ivory tusks from a dead elephant, and
searched for the trail of a tiger.

The gate was an excellent place for a tiger. Around it was planted
an almost impenetrable screen of evergreens, so thick that the ground
beneath was quite bare of grass. Here the two hunters crawled on
stomachs that began to feel a trifle empty, and here they happened on
the trail.

Tucker found it first. His stumpy tail grew rigid. Nose to the ground,
he crawled and wriggled through the undergrowth, Bobby at his heels.
And now Bobby saw the trail, footprints. It is true that they resembled
those of heavy boots with nails. But on the other hand, no one could say
surely that the nail-marks were not those of claws.

Tucker circled about. The trail grew more exciting. Bobby had to crawl
on hands and feet under and through thickets. Branches had been broken
as by the passage of some large body. The sportsman clutched his weapon
and went on.

An hour later the two hunters returned for breakfast. Washing did
something to restore the leader to a normal appearance, but a wondering
family discovered him covered with wounds and strangely silent.

“Why, Bob, where have you been?” his mother demanded. “Why, I never saw
so many scratches!”

“I’ve been hunting,” he replied briefly. “They don’t hurt anyhow.”

Then he relapsed into absorbed silence. His mother, putting cream on his
cereal, placed an experienced hand on his forehead. “Are you sure you
feel well, dear?” she asked. “I think your head is a little hot.”

“I’m all right, mother.”

She was wisely silent, but she ran over in her mind the spring treatment
for children at home. The blood, she felt, should be thinned after a
winter of sausages and rich cocoa. She mentally searched her medicine
case.

A strange thing happened that day. A broken plate disappeared from the
upper shelf of a closet, where Pepy had hidden it; also a cup with a
nick in it, similarly concealed; also the heel of a loaf of bread.
Nor was that the end. For three days a sort of magic reigned in Pepy’s
kitchen. Ten potatoes, laid out to peel, became eight. Matches and two
ends of candle walked out, as it were, on their own feet. A tin pan with
a hole in it left the kitchen-table and was discovered hiding in Bobby’s
bureau, when the Fraulein put away the washing.

On the third day Mrs. Thorpe took her husband into their room and closed
the door.

“Bob,” she said, “I don’t want to alarm you. But there is something
wrong with Bobby.”

“Sick, you mean?”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was worried. “He’s not a bit like himself. He
is always away, for one thing. And he hardly eats at all.”

“He looks well enough nourished!”

“And he comes home covered with mud. I have never seen his clothes in
such condition. And last night, when he was bathing, I went into the
bathroom. He is covered with scratches.”

“Now see here, mother,” the hunter’s father protested, “you’re the
parent of a son, a perfectly hardy, healthy, and normal youngster, with
an imagination. Probably he’s hunting Indians. I saw him in the Park
yesterday with his air-rifle. Any how, just stop worrying and let him
alone. A scratch or two won’t hurt him. And as to his not eating,--well,
if he’s not eating at home he’s getting food somewhere, I’ll bet you a
hat.”

So Bobby was undisturbed, save that the governess protested that he
heard nothing she told him, and was absent-minded at his lessons. But
as she was always protesting about something, no one paid any attention.
Bobby drew ahead on his pocket allowance without question, and as his
birthday was not far off, asked for “the dollar to grow on” in advance.
He always received a dollar for each year, which went into the bank, and
a dollar to grow on, which was his own to spend.

With the dollar he made a number of purchases candles and candlestick, a
toy pistol and caps, one of the masks for the Carnival, now displayed in
all the windows, a kitchen-knife, wooden plates, and a piece of bacon.

Now and then he appeared at the Scenic Railway, abstracted and viewing
with a calculating eye the furnishings of the engine-room and workshop.
From there disappeared a broken chair, a piece of old carpet, discarded
from a car, and a large padlock, but the latter he asked for and
obtained.

His occasional visits to the Railway, however, found him in old
Adelbert’s shack. He filled his pockets with charcoal from the pail
beside the stove, and made cautious inquiries as to methods of cooking
potatoes. But the pall of old Adelbert’s gloom penetrated at last even
through the boy’s abstraction.

“I hope your daughter is not worse,” he said politely, during one of his
visits to the ticket-booth.

“She is well. She recovers strength rapidly.”

“And the new uniform--does it fit, you?”

“I do not know,” said old Adelbert grimly. “I have not seen it
recently.”

“On the day of the procession we are all going to watch for you. I’ll
tell you where we twill be, so you can look for us.”

“There will be no procession.”

Then to the boy old Adelbert poured out the bitterness of his soul. He
showed where he had torn down the King’s picture, and replaced it with
one of a dying stag. He reviewed his days in the hospital, and the
hardships through which he had passed, to come to this. The King had
forgotten his brave men.

Bobby listened. “Pretty soon there won’t be any kings,” he observed. “My
father says so. They’re out of date.”

“Aye,” said old Adelbert.

“It would be kind of nice if you had a president. Then, if he acted up,
you could put him out.”

“Aye,” said old Adelbert again.

During the rest of the day Bobby considered. No less a matter than the
sharing of a certain secret occupied his mind. Now; half the pleasure
of a secret is sharing it, naturally, but it should be with the right
person. And his old playfellow was changed. Bobby, reflecting, wondered
whether old Adelbert would really care to join his pirate crew,
consisting of Tucker and himself. On the next day, however, he put the
matter to the test, having resolved that old Adelbert needed distraction
and cheering.

“You know,” he said, talking through the window of the booth, “I think
when I grow up I’ll be a pirate.”

“There be worse trades,” said old Adelbert, whose hand was now against
every man.

“And hide treasure,” Bobby went on. “In a--in a cave, you know. Did you
ever read ‘Treasure Island’?”

“I may have forgotten it. I have read many things.”

“You’d hardly forget it. You know--

          ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest
           Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.’”

Old Adelbert rather doubted the possibility of fifteen men on one dead
man’s chest, but he nodded gravely. “A spirited song,” he observed.

Bobby edged closer to the window. “I’ve got the cave already.”

“So!”

“Here, in the Park. It is a great secret. I’d like to show it to you.
Only it’s rather hard to get to. I don’t know whether you’d care to
crawl through the bushes to it.”

“A cave--here in the Park?”

“I’ll take you, if you’d like to see it.”

Old Adelbert was puzzled. The Park offered, so far as he knew, no place
for a cave. It was a plain, the site of the old wall; and now planted in
grass and flowers. He himself had seen it graded and sown. A cave!

“Where?”

“That’s a secret. But I’ll show it to you, if you won’t tell.”

Old Adelbert agreed to silence. In fact, he repeated after the boy, in
English he did not understand, a most blood-curdling oath of secrecy,
and made the pirate sign--which, as every one knows, is a skull and
crossbones--in the air with his forefinger.

“This cave,” he said, half smiling, “must be a most momentous matter!”

Until midday, when the Railway opened for business, the old soldier was
free. So the next morning, due precautions having been taken, the two
conspirators set off. Three, rather, for Tucker, too, was now of the
band of the black flag, having been taken in with due formality a day or
two before, and behaving well and bravely during the rather trying rites
of initiation.

Outside the thicket Bobby hesitated. “I ought to blindfold you,” he
said. “But I guess you’ll need your eyes. It’s a hard place to get to.”

Perhaps, had he known the difficulties ahead, old Adelbert would not
have gone on. And; had he turned back then, the history of a certain
kingdom of Europe would have been changed. Maps, too, and schoolbooks,
and the life-story of a small Prince. But he went on. Stronger than his
young guide, he did not crawl, but bent aside the stiff and ungainly
branches of the firs. He battled with the thicket, and came out
victorious.. He was not so old, then, or so feeble. His arm would have
been strong for the King, had not-- “There it is!” cried Bobby.

Not a cave, it appeared at first. A low doorway, barred with an iron
grating, and padlocked. A doorway in the base of a side wall of the
gate, and so heaped with leaves that its lower half was covered.

Bobby produced a key. “I broke the padlock that was on it,” he
explained. “I smashed it with a stone. But I got another. I always lock
it.”

Prolonged search produced the key. Old Adelbert’s face was set hard.
On what dungeon had this boy stumbled? He himself had lived there many
years, and of no such aperture had he heard mention. It was strange.

Bobby was removing the leaf-mould with his hands. “It was almost all
covered when I found it,” he said, industriously scraping. “I generally
close it up like this when I leave. It’s a good place for pirates, don’t
you think?”

“Excellent!”

“I’ve brought some things already. The lock’s rusty. There it goes.
There are rats. I hope you don’t mind rats.”

The door swung in, silently, as though the hinges had been recently
oiled; as indeed they had, but not by the boy.

“It’s rather dirty,” he explained. “You go down steps first. Be very
careful.”

He extended an earthy hand and led the old man down. “It’s dark here,
but there’s a room below; quite a good room. And I have candles.”

Truly a room. Built of old brick, and damp, but with a free circulation
of air. Old Adelbert stared about him. It was not entirely dark. A bit
of light entered from the aperture at the head of the steps. By it, even
before Bobby had lighted his candle, he saw the broken chair, the piece
of old carpet, and the odds and ends the child had brought.

“I cook down here sometimes,” said Bobby, struggling with matches that
had felt the damp. “But it is very smoky. I should like to have a stove.
You don’t know where I can get a secondhand stove, do you? with a long
pipe?”

Old Adelbert felt curiously shaken. “None have visited this place since
you have been here?” he asked.

“I don’t suppose any one knows about it. Do you?”

“Those who built it, perhaps. But it is old, very old. It is possible--”

He stopped, lost in speculation. There had been a story once of a
passageway under the wall, but he recollected nothing clearly. A
passageway leading out beyond the wall, through which, in a great siege,
a messenger had been sent for help. But that was of a passage; while
this was a dungeon.

The candle was at last lighted. It burned fitfully, illuminating only a
tiny zone in the darkness.

“I need a lantern,” Bobby observed. “There’s a draft here. It comes from
the other grating. Sometime, when you have time, I’d like to see what’s
beyond it. I was kind of nervous about going alone.”

It was the old passage, then, of course. Old Adelbert stared as Bobby
took the candle and held it toward a second grated door, like the first,
but taller.

“There are rats there,” he said. “I can hear them; about a million, I
guess. They ate all the bread and bacon I left. Tucker can get through.
He must have killed a lot of them.”

“Lend me your candle.”

A close examination revealed to old Adelbert two things: First, that a
brick-lined passage, apparently in good repair, led beyond the grating.
Second, that it had been recently put in order. A spade and wheelbarrow,
both unmistakably of recent make, stood just beyond, the barrow full of
bricks, as though fallen ones had been gathered up. Further, the padlock
had been freshly oiled, and the hinges of the grating. No unused passage
this, but one kept in order and repair. For what?

Bobby had adjusted the mask and thrust the knife through the belt of his
Norfolk jacket. Now, folding his arms, he recited fiercely,

        “‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest.
          Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!’”

“A spirited song,” observed old Adelbert, as before. But his eyes were
on the grating.

That evening Adelbert called to see his friend, the locksmith in the
University Place. He possessed, he said, a padlock of which he had lost
the key, and which, being fastened to a chest, he was unable to bring
with him. A large and heavy padlock, perhaps the size of his palm.

When he left, he carried with him a bundle of keys, tied in a brown
paper.

But he did not go back to his chest. He went instead to the thicket
around the old gate, which was still termed the “Gate of the Moon,” and
there, armed with a lantern, pursued his investigations during a portion
of the night.

When he had finished, old Adelbert, veteran of many wars, one-time
patriot and newly turned traitor, held in his shaking hands the fate of
the kingdom.



CHAPTER XXVI. AT THE INN


The Countess Loschek was on her way across the border. The arrangements
were not of her making. Her plan, which had been to go afoot across the
mountain to the town of Ar-on-ar, and there to hire a motor, had been
altered by the arrival at the castle, shortly after the permission was
given, of a machine. So short an interval, indeed, had elapsed that she
concluded, with reason, that this car now placed at her disposal was the
one which had brought that permission.

“The matter of passports for the border is arranged, madame,” Black
Humbert told her.

“I have my own passports,” she said proudly.

“They will not be necessary.”

“I will have this interview at my destination alone; or not at all.”

He drew himself to his great height and regarded her with cold eyes. “As
you wish,” he said. “But it is probably not necessary to remind madame
that, whatever is discussed at this meeting, no word must be mentioned
of the Committee, or its plans.”

Although he made no threat, she had shivered. No, there must be no word
of the Committee, or of the terror that drove her to Karl. For, if the
worst happened, if he failed her, and she must do the thing they had set
her to do, Karl must never know. That card she must play alone.

So she was not even to use her own passports! Making her hasty
preparations, again the Countess marveled. Was there no limit to the
powers of the Committee of Ten? Apparently the whole machinery of the
Government was theirs to command. Who were they, these men who had sat
there immobile behind their masks? Did she meet any of them daily in the
Palace? Were the eyes that had regarded her with unfriendly steadiness
that night in the catacombs, eyes that smiled at her day by day, in the
very halls of the King? Had any of those shrouded and menacing figures
bent over her hand with mocking suavity? She wondered.

A hasty preparation at the last it was, indeed, but a careful toilet had
preceded it. Now that she was about to see Karl again, after months of
separation, he must find no flaw in her. She searched her mirror for the
ravages of the past few days, and found them. Yet, appraising herself
with cold eyes, she felt she was still beautiful. The shadows about her
eyes did not dim them.

Everything hung on the result of her visit. If Karl persisted, if he
would marry Hedwig in spite of the trouble it would precipitate, then
indeed she was lost. If, on the other hand, he was inclined to peace,
if her story of a tottering throne held his hand, she would defy the
Committee of Ten. Karl himself would help her to escape, might indeed
hide her. It would not be for long. Without Karl’s support the King’s
death would bring the Terrorists into control. They would have other
things to do than to hunt her out. Their end would be gained without
her. Let them steal the Crown Prince, then. Let Hedwig fight for her
throne and lose it. Let the streets run, deep with blood and all the
pandemonium of hell break loose.

But if Karl failed her?

Even here was the possibility of further mischance. Suppose the boy
gone, and the people yet did not rise? Suppose then that Hedwig, by her
very agency, gained the throne and held it. Hedwig, Queen of Livonia in
her own right, and Karl’s wife!

She clenched her teeth.

Over country roads the machine jolted and bumped. At daybreak they
had not yet reached the border. In a narrow lane they encountered a
pilgrimage of mountain folk, bent for the shrine at Etzel.

The peasants drew aside to let the Machine pass, and stared at it. They
had been traveling afoot all night, and yet another day and a night
would elapse before they could kneel in the church.

“A great lady,” said one, a man who carried a sleeping child in his
arms.

“Perhaps,” said a young girl, “she too has made a pilgrimage. All go to
Etzel, the poor and the rich. And all receive grace.”

The Countess did not sleep. She was, with every fiber of her keen
brain, summoning her arguments. She would need them, for she knew--none
better--how great a handicap was hers. She loved Karl, and he knew it.
What had been her strength had become her weakness.

Yet she was composed enough when, before the sun was well up, the
machine drew up in the village before the inn where Mettlich had spent
his uneasy hours.

Her heavy veils aroused the curiosity of the landlord. When, shortly
after, his daughter brought down a letter to be sent at once to the
royal hunting-lodge, he shrugged his shoulders. It was not the first
time a veiled woman had come to his inn under similar circumstances.
After all, great people are but human. One cannot always be a king.

The Countess breakfasted in her room. The landlord served her himself,
and narrowly inspected her. She was not so young as he had hoped,
but she was beautiful. And haughty. A very great person, he decided,
incognito.

The King was hunting, he volunteered. There were great doings at the
lodge. Perhaps Her Excellency would be proceeding there.

She eyed him stonily, and then sent him off about his business.

So all the day she ate her heart out in her bare room. Now and then the
clear sound of bugles reached her, but she saw no hunters. Karl followed
the chase late that day. It was evening before she saw the tired horses
straggling through the village streets. Her courage was oozing by that
time. What more could she say than what he already knew? Many agencies
other than hers kept him informed of the state of affairs in Livonia. A
bitter thought, this, for it showed Karl actuated by love of Hedwig, and
not by greed of power. She feared that more than she feared death.

She had expected to go to the lodge, but at nine o’clock that night
Karl came to her, knocking at the door of her room and entering without
waiting for permission.

The room was small and cozy with firelight. Her scarlet cloak, flung
over a chair, made a dash of brilliant color. Two lighted candles on a
high carved chest, and between them a plaster figure of the Mother and
Child, a built-in bed with white curtains--that was the room.

Before the open fire Olga Loschek sat in her low chair. She wore still
her dark traveling dress; and a veil, ready to be donned at the summons
of a message from Karl, trailed across her knee. In the firelight she
looked very young--young and weary. Karl, who had come hardened to a
scene, found her appealing, almost pathetic.

She rose at his entrance and, after a moment of surprise, smiled
faintly. But she said nothing, nor did Karl, until he had lifted one of
her cold hands and brushed it with his lips.

“Well!” he said. “And again, Olga!”

“Once again.” She looked up at him. Yes, he was changed. The old Karl
would have taken her in his arms. This new Karl was urbane, smiling,
uneasy.

He said nothing. He was apparently waiting for her to make the first
move. But she did not help him. She sat down and he drew a small chair
to the fire.

“There is nothing wrong, is there?” he said. “Your note alarmed me. Not
the note, but your coming here.”

“Nothing--and everything.” She felt suddenly very tired. Her very voice
was weary. “I sent you a letter asking you to come to the castle. There
were things to discuss, and I did not care to take this risk of coming
here.”

“I received no letter.”

“No!” She knew it, of course, but she pretended surprise, a carefully
suppressed alarm.

“I have what I am afraid is bad news, Olga. The letter was taken. I
received only a sheet of blank paper.”

“Karl!” She leaped to her feet.

She was no mean actress. And behind it all was her real terror, greater,
much greater, than he could know. Whatever design she had on Karl’s
pity, she was only acting at the beginning. Deadly peril was clutching
her, a double peril, of the body and of the soul.

“Taken! By whom?”

“By some one you know--young Larisch.”

“Larisch!” No acting there. In sheer amazement she dropped back from
him, staring with wide eyes. Nikky Larisch! Then how had the Terrorists
got it? Was all the world in their employ?

“But--it is impossible!”

“I’m sorry, Olga. But even then there is something to be explained. We
imprisoned him--we got him in a trap, rather by accident. He maintained
that he had not made away with the papers. A mystery, all of it. Only
your man, Niburg, could explain, and he--”

“Yes?”

“I am afraid he will never explain, Olga.”

Then indeed horror had its way with her. Niburg executed as a spy, after
making who knew what confession! What then awaited her at the old castle
above the church at Etzel? Karl, seeing her whitening lips, felt a
stirring of pity. His passion for her was dead, but for a long time he
had loved her, and now, in sheer regret, he drew her to him.

“Poor girl,” he said softly. “Poor girl!” And drew his hand gently over
her hair.

She shivered at his touch. “I can never go back,” she said brokenly.

But at that he freed her. “That would be to confess before you are
accused,” he reminded her. “We do not know that Niburg told. He was
doomed anyhow. To tell would help nothing. The letter, of course, was in
code?”

“Yes.”

She sat down again, fighting for composure.

“I am not very brave,” she said. “It was unexpected. In a moment I shall
be calmer. You must not think that I regret the risk. I have always been
proud to do my best for you.”

That touched him. In the firelight, smiling wanly at him, she was very
like the girl who had attracted him years before. Her usual smiling
assurance was gone. She looked sad, appealing. And she was right. She
had always done her best for him. But he was cautious, too.

“I owe you more than I can tell you,” he said. “It is the sort of debt
that can never be paid. Your coming here was a terrible risk. Something
urgent must have brought you.”

She pushed back her heavy hair restlessly.

“I was anxious. And there were things I felt you should know.”

“What things?”

“The truth about the King’s condition, for one. He is dying. The
bulletins lie. He is no better.”

“Why should the bulletins lie?”

“Because there is a crisis. You know it. But you cannot know what we
know--the living in fear, the precautions, everything.”

“So!” said Karl uneasily. “But the Chancellor assured me--” He stopped.
It was not yet time to speak of the Chancellor’s visit.

“The Chancellor! He lies, of course. How bad things are you may judge
when I tell you that a hidden passage from the Palace has been opened
and cleared, ready for instant flight.”

It was Karl’s turn to be startled. He rose, and stood staring down at
her. “Are you certain of that?”

“Certain!” She laughed bitterly. “The Terrorists Revolutionists, they
call themselves--are everywhere. They know everything, see everything.
Mettlich’s agents are disappearing one by one. No one knows where, but
all suspect. Student meetings are prohibited. The yearly procession of
veterans is forbidden, for they trust none, even their old soldiers. The
Council meets day after day in secret session.”

“But the army--”

“They do not trust the army.”

Karl’s face was grave. Something of the trouble in Livonia he had known.
But this argued an immediate crisis.

“On the King’s death,” the Countess said, “a republic will be declared.
The Republic of Livonia! The Crown Prince will never reign.”

She shivered, but Karl was absorbed in the situation.

“Incredible!” he commented. “These fears are sometimes hysterias, but
what you say of the preparations for flight--I thought the boy was very
popular.”

“With some. But when has a child stood between the mob and the thing it
wants? And the thing they cry for is liberty. Down with the royal house!
Down with the aristocracy!”

She was calm enough now. Karl was listening, was considering, looked
uneasy. She had been right. He was not for acquiring trouble, even by
marriage.

But, if she had read Karl, he also knew her. In all the years he
had known her she had never been reckless. Daring enough, but with a
calculating daring that took no chances. And yet she had done a reckless
thing by coming to him. From under lowered eyelids he considered her.
Why had she done it? The situation was serious enough, but even then--
“So you came to-day to tell me this?”

She glanced up, and catching his eyes, colored faintly. “These are
things you should know.”

He knew her very well. A jealous woman would go far. He knew now that
she was jealous. When he spoke it was with calculating brutality. “You
mean, in view of my impending marriage?”

So it was arranged! Finally arranged. Well, she had done her best. He
knew the truth. She had told it fairly. If, knowing it, he persisted, it
would be because her power over him was dead at last.

“Yes. I do not know how far your arrangements have gone. You have at
least been warned.”

But she saw, by the very way he drew himself up and smiled, that he
understood. More than that, he doubted her. He questioned what she had
said.

The very fact that she had told him only the truth added to her
resentment.

“You will see,” she said sullenly.

Because he thought he already saw, and because she had given him a bad
moment, Karl chose to be deliberately cruel. “Perhaps!” he said. “But
even then if this marriage were purely one of expediency, Olga, I might
hesitate. Frankly, I want peace. I am tired of war, tired of bickering,
tired of watching and being watched. But it is not one of expediency.
Not, at least, only that. You leave out of this discussion the one
element that I consider important, Hedwig herself. If the Princess
Hedwig were to-morrow to be without a country, I should still hope to
marry her.”

She had done well up to now, had kept her courage and her temper, had
taken her cue from him and been quiet and poised. But more than his
words, his cruel voice, silky with friendship, drove her to the breaking
point. Karl, who hated a scene, found himself the victim of one, and was
none the happier that she who had so long held him off was now herself
at arm’s length, and struggling.

Bitterly, and with reckless passion, she flung at him Hedwig’s
infatuation for young Larisch, and prophesied his dishonor as a result
of it. That leaving him cold and rather sneering, she reviewed their
old intimacy, to be reminded that in that there had been no question of
marriage, or hope of it.

“I am only human, Olga,” he said, in an interval when she had fallen
to quiet weeping. “I loved you very sincerely, and for a long time.
Marriage between us was impossible. You always knew that.”

In the end she grew quiet and sat looking into the fire with eyes full
of stony despair. She had tried and failed. There was one way left, only
one, and even that would not bring him back to her. Let Hedwig escape
and marry Nikky Larisch--still where was she? Let the Terrorists strike
their blow and steal the Crown Prince. Again--where was she?

Her emotions were deadened, all save one, and that was her hatred of
Hedwig. The humiliation of that moment was due to her. Somehow, some
day, she would be even with Hedwig. Karl left her there at last, huddled
in her chair, left full of resentment, the ashes of his old love cold
and gray. There was little reminder of the girl of the mountains in the
stony-eyed woman he had left sagged low by the fire.

Once out in the open air, the King of Karnia drew a long breath. The
affair was over. It had been unpleasant. It was always unpleasant to
break with a woman. But it was time. He neither loved her nor needed
her. Friendly relations between the two countries were established; and
soon, very soon, would be ratified by his marriage.

It was not of Olga Loschek, but of Hedwig that he thought, as his car
climbed swiftly to the lodge.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE LITTLE DOOR


Hedwig had given up. She went through her days with a set face, white
and drawn, but she knew now that the thing she was to do must be done.
The King, in that stormy scene when the Sister prayed in the next room,
had been sufficiently explicit. They had come on bad times, and could no
longer trust to their own strength. Proud Livonia must ask for help, and
that from beyond her border.

“We are rotten at the core,” he said bitterly. “An old rot that has
eaten deep. God knows, we have tried to cut it away, but it has gone too
far. Times are, indeed, changed when we must ask a woman to save us!”

She had thrown her arms over the bed and buried her face in them. “And I
am to be sacrificed,” she had said, in a flat voice. “I am to go through
my life like mother, soured and unhappy. Without any love at all.”

The King was stirred. His thin, old body had sunk in the bed until it
seemed no body at all. “Why without love?” he asked, almost gently.
“Karl knows our condition--not all of it, but he is well aware that
things are unstable here. Yet he is eager for the marriage. I am
inclined to believe that he follows his inclinations, rather than a
political policy.”

The thought that Karl might love her had not entered her mind. That made
things worse, if anything--a situation unfair to him and horrible to
herself. In the silence of her own room, afterward, she pondered
over that. If it were true, then a certain hope she had must be
relinquished--none other than to throw herself on his mercy, and beg for
a nominal marriage, one that would satisfy the political alliance, but
leave both of them free. Horror filled her. She sat for long periods,
dry-eyed and rigid.

The bronze statue of the late Queen, in the Place, fascinated her in
those days. She, too, had been only a pawn in the game of empires; but
her face, as Hedwig remembered it, had been calm and without bitterness.
The King had mourned her sincerely. What lay behind that placid, rather
austere old face? Dead dreams? Or were the others right, that after a
time it made no difference, that one marriage was the same as another?

She had not seen Nikky save once or twice, and that in the presence of
others. On these occasions he had bowed low, and passed on. But once she
had caught his eyes on her, and had glowed for hours at what she saw in
them. It braced her somewhat for the impending ordeal of a visit from
Karl.

The days went on. Dressmakers came and went. In the mountains
lace-makers were already working on the veil, and the brocade of white
and gold for her wedding-gown was on the loom. She was the pale center
of a riot of finery. Dressmakers stood back and raised delighted hands
as, one by one; their models were adjusted to her listless figure.

In the general excitement the Crown Prince was almost forgotten. Only
Nikky remained faithful; but his playing those days was mechanical,
and one day he was even severe. This was when he found Prince Ferdinand
William Otto hanging a cigarette out of a window overlooking the
courtyard, and the line of soldiers underneath in most surprising
confusion. The officer of the day was not in sight.

Nikky, entering the stone-paved court, and feeling extremely glum, had
been amazed to see the line of guards, who usually sat on a bench, with
a sentry or picket, or whatever they called him, parading up and down
before them--Nikky was amazed to see them one by one leaping into the
air, in the most undignified manner. Nikky watched the performance. Then
he stalked over. They subsided sheepishly. In the air was the cause of
the excitement, a cigarette dangling at the end of a silk thread, and
bobbing up and down. No one was to be seen at the window above.

Nikky was very tall. He caught the offending atom on its next leap, and
jerked it off. As he had suspected, it was one of his own, bearing an
“N” and his coat of arms.

The Crown Prince received that day, with the cigarette as an excuse,
a considerable amount of Nikky’s general unhappiness and rage at the
world.

“Well,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, when it was over, “I have to
do something, don’t I?”

It was Miss Braithwaite’s conviction that this prank, and several other
things, such as sauntering about with his hands in his pockets, and
referring to his hat as a “lid,” were all the result of his meeting that
American boy.

“He is really not the same child,” she finished. “Oskar found him the
other day with a rolled-up piece of paper lighted at the end, pretending
he was smoking.”

The Chancellor came now and then, but not often. And his visits were not
cheering. The Niburg affair had left its mark on him. The incident of
the beggar on the quay was another scar. The most extreme precautions
were being taken, but a bad time was coming, and must be got over
somehow.

That bad time was Karl’s visit.

No public announcement of the marriage had yet been made. It was bound
to be unpopular. Certainly the revolutionary party would make capital of
it. To put it through by force, if necessary, and, that accomplished,
to hold the scourge of Karnia’s anger over a refractory people, was his
plan. To soothe them with the news of the cession of the seaport strip
was his hope.

Sometimes, in the early morning, when the King lay awake, and was
clearer mentally than later in the day, he wondered. He would not live
to see the result of all this planning. But one contingency presented
itself constantly. Suppose the Crown Prince did not live? He was sturdy
enough, but it was possible. Then Hedwig, Queen of Karnia, would be
Queen of Livonia. A dual kingdom then, with Karl as Hedwig’s consort, in
control, undoubtedly. It would be the end of many dreams.

It seemed to him in those early hours, that they were, indeed, paying a
price. Preparations were making for Karl’s visit. Prince Hubert’s rooms
were opened at last, and redecorated as well as possible in the short
time at command, under the supervision of the Archduchess. The result
was a crowding that was neither dignified nor cheerful. Much as she
trimmed her own lean body, she decorated. But she was busy, at least,
and she let Hedwig alone.

It was not unusual, those days, to find Annunciata, flushed with
exertion, in the great suite on an upper floor, in the center of a chaos
of furniture, shoving chairs about with her own royal arms, or standing,
head on one side, to judge what she termed the composition of a corner.
Indignant footmen pushed and carried, and got their wigs crooked and
their dignified noses dirty, and held rancorous meetings in secluded
places.

But Annunciata kept on. It gave her something to think of in place of
the fear, that filled her, made her weary enough to sleep at night.

And there was something else that comforted her.

Beyond the windows of the suite was a flat roof, beneath which was the
ballroom of the Palace. When the apartment was in use, the roof was made
into a garden, the ugly old walls hidden with plants in tubs and boxes,
the parapet edged with flowers. It was still early, so spring tulips
were planted now on the parapet, early primroses and hyacinths. In the
center an empty fountain was cleared, its upper basins filled with water
vines, its borders a riot of color. When the water was turned on, it
would be quite lovely.

But it was not the garden on the roof which cheered Annunciata. It had,
indeed, rather sad memories. Here had Hubert’s young wife kept her cages
of birds, fed with her own hands, and here, before Otto was born, she
had taken the air in a long chintz-covered chair.

Annunciata, overseeing the roof as she had overseen the apartment,
watched the gardeners bringing in their great loads of plants from the
summer palace, and saw that a small door, in a turret, was kept free of
access. To that door, everything else failing, the Archduchess pinned
her faith. She carried everywhere with her a key that would open it.

Long ago had the door been built, long ago, when attacking forces,
battering in the doors below, might swarm through the lower floors, held
back on staircases by fighting men who retreated, step by step, until,
driven at last to the very top, they were apparently lost. More than
once; in bygone times the royal family had escaped by that upper door,
and the guard after them. It was known to few.

The staircase in the wall had passed into legend, and the underground
passage with it. But they still existed, and had recently been put in
order. The Chancellor had given the command; and because there were few
to be trusted, two monks from the monastery attached to the cathedral
had done the work.

So the gardeners set out their potted evergreens, and covered the
primroses on the balustrade against frost, and went away. And the roof
had become by magic a garden, the walls were miniature forests, but the
door remained--a door.

On a desperate morning Hedwig threw caution to the winds and went to the
riding-school. She wore her old habit, and was in the ring, but riding
listlessly, when Nikky and Otto appeared.

“And eat.” Nikky was saying. “He always eats. And when I take him for
a walk in the park, he digs up bones that other dogs have buried, and
carries them home with him. We look very disreputable.” The Crown Prince
laughed with delight, but just then Nikky saw Hedwig, and his own smile
died.

“There’s Hedwig!” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. “I’m rather glad
to see her. Aren’t you?”

“Very glad, indeed.”

“You don’t look glad.”

“I’m feeling very glad inside.”

They rode together, around and around the long oval, with its
whitewashed railing, its attendant grooms, its watchful eyes overhead.
Between Nikky and Hedwig Prince Ferdinand William Otto laughed and
chattered, and Hedwig talked a great deal about nothing, with bright
spots of red burning in her face.

Nikky was very silent. He rode with his eyes set ahead; and had to be
spoken to twice before he heard.

“You are not having a very good time, are you?” Prince Ferdinand William
Otto inquired anxiously. To tell the truth, he had been worried about
Nikky for some days. Nikky had been his one gleam of cheerfulness in a
Palace where all was bustle and excitement and every one seemed uneasy.
But Nikky’s cheerfulness had been forced lately. His smile never reached
his eyes. “I haven’t done anything, have I?” he persisted.

“Bless you, no!” said Nikky heartily. “I--well, I didn’t sleep well last
night. That’s all.”

He met Hedwig’s glance squarely over the head of the Crown Prince.

“Nor did I,” Hedwig said.

Later, when the boy was jumping, they had a moment together. The Crown
Prince was very absorbed. He was just a little nervous about jumping.
First he examined his stirrups and thrust his feet well into them. Then
he jammed his cap down on his head and settled himself, in the saddle,
his small knees gripping hard.

“It’s higher than usual, isn’t it?” he inquired, squinting at the
hurdle.

The riding-master examined it. “It is an inch lower than yesterday, Your
Royal Highness.”

“Perhaps we’d better have it the same as yesterday,” said the boy, who
was terribly afraid of being afraid.

Then, all being adjusted, and his mouth set very tight, indeed,
Prince Ferdinand William Otto took the first jump, and sailed over it
comfortably.

“I don’t mind at all, after the first,” he confided to the
riding-master.

“Are you angry that I came?” asked Hedwig.

“Angry? You know better.”

“You don’t say anything.”

“Hedwig,” said Nikky desperately, “do you remember what I said to you
the other day? That is in my heart now. I shall never change. That, and
much more. But I cannot say it to you. I have given my word.”

“Of course they would make you promise. They tried with me, but I
refused.” She held her chin very high. “Why did you promise? They could
not have forced you. They can do many things, but they cannot control
what you may say.”

“There are reasons. Even those I cannot tell you. It would be easier,
Hedwig, for me to die than to live on and see what I must see. But
I cannot even die.” He smiled faintly. “You see, I am not keeping my
promise.”

“I think you will not die,” said Hedwig cruelly. “You are too cautious.”

“Yes, I am too cautious,” he agreed heavily.

“You do not know the meaning of love.”

“Then God grant I may never know, if it is worse than this:”

“If I were a man, and loved a woman, I would think less of myself and
more of her. When I saw her unhappy and being forced to a terrible
thing, I would move heaven and earth to save her.”

“How would you do it?” said Nikky in a low tone.

Hedwig shrugged her shoulders. “I would find a way. The world is large.
Surely, if one really cared, it could be managed. I should consider my
first duty to her.”

“I am a soldier, Highness. My first duty is to my country.”

“You?” said Hedwig, now very white. “I was not speaking of you. I was
speaking of a man who truly loved a woman.”

She rode away, and left him there. And because she was hurt and
reckless, and not quite sane, she gave him a very bad half-hour.
She jumped again, higher each time, silencing the protests of the
riding-master with an imperious gesture. Her horse tired. His sides
heaved, his delicate nostrils dilated. She beat him with her crop, and
flung him again at the hurdle.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto was delighted, a trifle envious. “She
jumps better than I do,” he observed to Nikky, “but she is in a very bad
humor.”

At last, his patience exhausted and fear in his heart, Nikky went to
her. “Hedwig,” he said sternly. “I want you to stop this childishness.
You will kill yourself.”

“I am trying very hard to.”

“You will kill your horse. Look at him.”

For answer she raised her crop, but Nikky bent forward and caught the
reins.

“How dare you!” she said furiously.

For answer Nikky turned and, riding beside her, led her weary horse out
of the ring. And long training asserted itself. Hedwig dared not make a
scene before the waiting grooms. She rode in speechless rage, as white
as Nikky, and trembling with fury. She gave him no time to assist her to
dismount, but slipped off herself and left him, her slim, black-habited
figure held very straight.

“I’m afraid she’s very angry with you,” said the Crown Prince, as they
walked back to the Palace. “She looked more furious than she did about
the fruitcake.”

That afternoon Nikky went for a walk. He took Toto with him, and they
made the circuit of the Park, which formed an irregular circle about
the narrow streets of the old citadel where the wall had once stood. He
walked, as he had done before, because he was in trouble, but with
this difference, that then, he had walked in order to think, and now he
walked to forget.

In that remote part where the Gate of the Moon stood, and where,
outside, in mediaeval times had been the jousting-ground, the Park
widened. Here was now the city playground, the lake where in winter the
people held ice carnivals, and where, now that spring was on the way,
they rode in the little cars of the Scenic Railway.

An old soldier with a wooden leg, and a child, were walking together
by the lake, and conversing seriously. A dog was burying a bone under
a near-by tree. Toto, true to his instincts, waited until the bone was
covered, and then, with calm proprietorship, dug it up and carried
it off. Having learned that Nikky now and then carried bones in his
pockets, he sat up and presented it to him. Nikky paying no attention at
first, Toto flung it up in the air, caught it on his nose, balanced it a
second, and dropped it. Then followed a sudden explosion of dog-rage and
a mix-up of two dogs, an old soldier, a young one, a boy, and a wooden
leg. In the end the wooden leg emerged triumphant, Toto clinging to it
under the impression that he had something quite different. The bone was
flung into the lake, and a snarling truce established.

But there had been a casualty. Bobby had suffered a severe nip on the
forearm, and was surveying it with rather dazed eyes.

“Gee, it’s bleeding!” he said.

Nikky looked worried, but old Adelbert, who had seen many wounds,
recommended tying it up with garlic, and then forgetting it. “It is the
first quarter of the moon,” he said. “No dog’s bite is injurious at that
time.”

Nikky, who had had a sniff of the bone of contention, was not so easy in
his mind. First quarter of the moon it might be, but the bone was not in
its first quarter. “I could walk home with the boy,” he suggested, “and
get something at a chemist’s on the way.”

“Will it hurt?” demanded Bobby.

“We will ask for something that will not hurt.”

So it happened that Bobby and Tucker, the two pirates, returned that day
to their home under the escort of a tall young man who carried a bottle
wrapped in pink paper in his hand, and looked serious. Old Pepy was
at home. She ran about getting basins, and because Nikky had had his
first-aid training, in a very short time everything was shipshape, and
no one the worse.

“Do you suppose it will leave a scar?” Bobby demanded.

“Well, a little one, probably.”

“I’ve got two pretty good ones already,” Bobby boasted, “not counting my
vaccination. Gee! I bet mother’ll be surprised.”

“The Americans,” said Pepy, with admiring eyes fixed on their visitor,
“are very peculiar about injuries. They speak always of small animals
that crawl about in wounds and bring poison.”

“Germs!” Bobby explained. “But they know about germs here, too. I,
played with a boy one, afternoon at the Scenic Railway--my father is the
manager, you know. If you like, I can give you some tickets. And the boy
said a fig lady he had was covered with germs. We ate it anyhow.”

Nikky looked down smilingly. So this was the American lad! Of course. He
could understand Otto’s warm feeling now. They were not unlike, the two
children. This boy was more sturdy, not so fine, perhaps, but eminently
likable. He was courageous, too. The iodine had not been pleasant, but
he had only whistled.

“And nothing happened to the other boy, because of the germs?”

“I don’t know. He never came back. He was a funny boy. He had a hat like
father’s. Gee!”

Nikky took his departure, followed by Pepy’s eyes. As long as he was in
sight she watched him from the window. “He is some great person,” she
said to Bobby. “Of the aristocracy. I know the manner.”

“A prince, maybe?”

“Perhaps. You in America, you have no such men, I think, such fine
soldiers, aristocrats, and yet gentle. The uniform is considered the
handsomest in Europe.”

“Humph!” said Bobby aggressively. “You ought to see my uncle dressed for
a Knight Templar parade. You’d see something.”

Nikky went down the stairs, with Toto at his heels, a valiant and
triumphant Toto, as becomes a dog who has recently vanquished a wooden
leg.

At the foot of the staircase a man was working replacing a loosened tile
in the passage; a huge man, clad in a smock and with a bushy black beard
tucked in his neck out of the way. Nikky nodded to him, and went out.
Like a cat Black Humbert was on his feet, and peering after him from the
street door. It was he, then, the blond devil who, had fallen on them
that night, and had fought as one who fights for the love of it! The
concierge went back to the door of his room.

Herman Spier sat inside. He had fortified his position by that trip to
the mountains, and now spent his days in Black Humbert’s dirty kitchen,
or in errand-running. He was broiling a sausage on the end of a fork.

“Quick!” cried Black Humbert. “Along the street, with a black dog at his
heels, goes one you will recognize. Follow him, and find out what you
can.”

Herman Spier put the sausage in his pocket--he had paid for it himself,
and meant to have it--and started out. It was late when he returned.

He gave Nikky’s name and position, where his lodgings were, or had
been until now. He was about to remove to the Palace, having been made
aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince.

“So!” said Black Humbert.

“It is also,” observed Herman Spier, eating his sausage, “this same one
who led the police to Niburg’s room. I have the word of the woman who
keeps the house.”

The concierge rose, and struck the table with his fist. “And now he
comes here!” he said. “The boy upstairs was a blind. He has followed
us.” He struck the sausage furiously out of Herman’s hand. “Tonight the
police will come. And what then?”

“If you had taken my advice,” said the clerk, “you would have got rid of
that fellow upstairs long ago.” He picked up the sausage and dusted it
with his hand. “But I do not believe the police will come. The child was
bitten. I saw them enter.”

Nevertheless, that night, while Herman Spier kept watch at the street
door, the concierge labored in the little yard behind the house. He
moved a rabbit hutch and, wedging his huge body behind it, loosened a
board or two in the high wooden fence.

More than the Palace prepared for flight.

Still later, old Adelbert roused from sleep. There were footsteps in the
passage outside, the opening of a door. He reflected that the concierge
was an owl and, the sounds persisting, called out an irritable order for
quiet.

Then he slept again, and while he slept the sounds recommenced. Had he
glanced out into the passage, then, he would have seen two men, half
supporting a third, who tottered between them. Thus was the student
Haeckel, patriot and Royalist, led forth to die.

And he did not die.



CHAPTER XXVIII. TEE CROWN PRINCE’S PILGRIMAGE


The day when Olga Loschek should have returned to the city found her too
ill to travel. No feigned sickness this, but real enough, a matter of
fever and burning eyes, and of mutterings in troubled sleep.

Minna was alarmed. She was fond of her mistress, in spite of her
occasional cruelties, and lately the Countess had been strangely gentle.
She required little attention, wished to be alone, and lay in her great
bed, looking out steadily at the bleak mountain-tops, to which spring
never climbed.

“She eats nothing,” Minna said despairingly to the caretaker. “And her
eyes frighten me. They are always open, even in the night, but they seem
to see nothing.”

On the day when she should have returned, the Countess roused herself
enough to send for Black Humbert, fretting in the kitchen below. He had
believed that she was malingering until he saw her, but her flushed and
hollow cheeks showed her condition.

“You must return and explain,” she said. “I shall need more time, after
all.” When he hesitated, she added: “There are plenty to watch that I do
not escape. I could not, if I would. I have not the strength.”

“Time is passing,” he said gruffly, “and we get nowhere.”

“As soon as I can travel, I will come.”

“If madame wishes, I can take a letter.”

She pondered over that, interlacing her fingers nervously as she
reflected.

“I will send no letter,” she decided, “but I will give you a message,
which you can deliver.”

“Yes, madame.”

“Say to the Committee,” she began, and paused. She had thought and
thought until her brain burned with thinking, but she had found no way
out. And yet she could not at once bring herself to speech. But at last
she said it: “Say to the Committee that I have reflected and that I
will do what they ask. As far,” she added, “as lies in my power. I can
only--”

“That is all the Committee expects,” he said civilly, and with a relief
that was not lost on her. “With madame’s intelligence, to try is to
succeed.”

Nevertheless, he left her well guarded. Even Minna, slipping off for an
evening hour with a village sweetheart, was stealthily shadowed. Before
this, fine ladies had changed garments with their maids and escaped from
divers unpleasantnesses.

Olga Loschek lay in her bed, and always there were bells. The cattle
were being driven up into the mountains for the summer grazing,
great, soft-eyed herds, their bells tinkling slowly as they made their
deliberate, soft-footed progress along the valley; the silvery bells for
mass; the clock striking the hour with its heavy, vibrating clamor of
bronze.

When she sank into the light sleep of fever, they roused her, or
she slept on; hearing in their tones the great bell of St. Stefan’s
announcing the King’s death. Bells, always bells.

At the end of two days she was able to be up again. She moved languidly
about her room, still too weak to plan. There were times when she
contemplated suicide, but she knew herself to be too cowardly to do more
than dream of it.

And on the fourth day came the Crown Prince of Livonia on a pilgrimage.

The manner of his coming was this:

There are more ways than one of reaching the hearts of an uneasy people.
Remission of taxes is a bad one. It argues a mistake in the past,
in exacting such tithes. Governments may make errors, but must not
acknowledge them. There is the freeing of political prisoners, but that,
too, is dangerous, when such prisoners breathe sedition to the very
prison walls.

And there is the appeal to sentiment. The Government, pinning all its
hopes to one small boy, would further endear him to the people. Wily
statesman that he was, the Chancellor had hit on this to offset the
rumors of Hedwig’s marriage.

But the idea was not his, although he adopted it. It had had its
birth in the little room with the Prie-dieu and the stand covered with
bottles, had been born of the Sister’s belief in the miracles of Etzel.

However, he appropriated it, and took it to the King.

“A pilgrimage!” said the King, when the mater was broached to him. “For
what? My recovery? Cannot you let your servant depart in peace?”

“Pilgrimages,” observed the Chancellor, “have had marvelous results,
sire. I do not insist that they perform miracles, as some believe,”--he
smiled faintly,--“but as a matter of public feeling and a remedy for
discord, they are sometimes efficacious.”

“I see,” said the King. And lay still, looking at the ceiling.

“Can it be done safely?” he asked at last.

“The maddest traitor would not threaten the Crown Prince on a
pilgrimage. The people would tear him limb from limb.”

“Nevertheless, I should take all precautions,” he said dryly. “A madman
might not recognize the--er--religious nature of the affair.”

The same day the Chancellor visited Prince Ferdinand William Otto, and
found him returned from his drive and busy over Hedwig’s photograph
frame.

“It is almost done,” he said. “I slipped over in one or two places, but
it is not very noticeable, is it?”

The Chancellor observed it judicially, and decided that the slipping
over was not noticeable at all. Except during school hours Miss
Braithwaite always retired during the Chancellor’s visits, and so now
the two were alone.

“Otto,” said the Chancellor gravely, “I want to talk to you very
seriously.”

“Have I done anything?”

“No.” He smiled. “It is about something I would like you to do. For your
grandfather.”

“I’ll do anything for him, sir.”

“We know that. This is the point. He has been ill for along time. Very
ill.”

The boy watched him with a troubled face. “He looks very thin,” he said.
“I get quite worried when I see him.”

“Exactly. You have heard of Etzel?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto’s religious instruction was of the best.
He had, indeed, heard of Etzel. He knew the famous pilgrimages in order,
and could say them rapidly, beginning, the year of Our Lord 915--the
Emperor Otto and Adelheid, his spouse; the year of Our Lord 1100,
Ulrich, Count of Ruburg; and so on.

“When people are ill,” he said sagely, “they go to Etzel to be cured.”

“Precisely. But when they cannot go, they send some one else, to pray
for them. And sometimes, if they have faith enough, the holy miracle
happens, and they are cured.”

The Chancellor was deeply religious, and although he had planned the
pilgrimage for political reasons, for the moment he lost sight of them.
What if, after all, this clear-eyed, clean-hearted child could bring
this miracle of the King’s recovery? It was a famous shrine, and
stranger things had been brought about by less worthy agencies.

“I thought,” he said, “that if you would go to Etzel, Otto, and there
pray for your grandfather’s recovery, it--it would be a good thing.”

The meaning of such a pilgrimage dawned suddenly on the boy. His eyes
filled, and because he considered it unmanly to weep, he slid from his
chair and went to the window. There he got out his pocket-handkerchief
and blew his nose.

“I’m afraid he’s going to die,” he said, in a smothered voice.

The Chancellor followed him to the window, and put an arm around his
shoulders. “Even that would not be so terrible, Otto,” he said. “Death,
to the old, is not terrible. It is an open door, through which they
go gladly, because--because those who have gone ahead are waiting just
beyond it.”

“Are my mother and father waiting?”

“Yes, Otto.”

He considered. “And my grandmother?”

“Yes.”

“He’ll be very glad to see them all again.”

“Very happy, indeed. But we need him here, too, for a while. You need
him and--I. So we will go and pray to have him wait a little longer
before he goes away. Hour about it?”

“I’ll try. I’m not very good. I do a good many things, you know.”

Here, strangely enough, it was the Chancellor who fumbled for his
handkerchief. A vision had come to him of the two of them kneeling side
by side at Etzel, the little lad who was “not very good,” and he himself
with his long years behind him of such things as fill a man’s life. And
because the open door was not so far ahead for him either, and because
he believed implicitly in the great Record within the Gate, he shook his
shaggy head.

So the pilgrimage was arranged. With due publicity, of course, and due
precaution for safety. By train to the foot of the mountains, and then
on foot for the ten miles to Etzel.

On the next day the Crown Prince fasted, taking nothing but bread and
a cup of milk. On the day of the pilgrimage, however, having been duly
prepared, and mass having been said at daybreak in the chapel, with all
the Court present, he was given a substantial breakfast. His small legs
had a toilsome journey before them.

He went through his preparation in a sort of rapt solemnity. So must the
boy crusaders have looked as, starting on their long journey, they faced
south and east, toward the far-distant Sepulcher of Our Lord.

The King’s Council went, the Chancellor, the Mayor of the city, wearing
the great gold chain of his office around his neck, and a handful of
soldiers,--a simple pilgrimage and the more affecting. There were no
streaming banners, no magnificent vestments. The Archbishop accompanied
them; and a flag-bearer.

They went on foot to the railway station through lines of kneeling
people, the boy still rapt; and looking straight ahead, the Chancellor
seemingly also absorbed, but keenly alive to the crowds. As he went on,
his face relaxed. It was as if the miracle had already happened. Not the
miracle for which the boy would pray, but a greater one. Surely these
kneeling people, gazing with moist and kindly eyes at the Crown Prince,
could not, at the hot words of demagogues, turn into the mob he feared.
But it had happened before. The people who had, one moment, adored the
Dauphin of France on his balcony at Versailles, had lived to scream for
his life.

On and on, through the silent, crowded streets. No drums; no heralds, no
bugles. First the standard-bearer; then the Archbishop, walking with his
head bent; then the boy, alone and bareheaded, holding his small hat in
moist; excited fingers; then the others, the Chancellor and the Mayor
together, the Council, the guard. So they moved along, without speech,
grave, reverent, earnest.

At the railway station a man stepped out of the crowd and proffered
a paper to the Crown Prince. But he was too absorbed to see it, and a
moment later the Chancellor had it, and was staring with hard eyes at
the individual who had presented it. A moment later, without sound,
or breach of decorum, the man was between two agents, a prisoner. The
paper, which the Chancellor read on the train and carefully preserved,
was a highly seditious document attacking the Government and ending with
threats.

The Chancellor, who had started in an exalted frame of mind, sat
scowling and thoughtful during the journey. How many of those who had
knelt on the street had had similar seditious papers in their pockets? A
people who could kneel, and, kneeling, plot!

The Countess, standing on her balcony and staring down into the valley,
beheld the pilgrimage and had thus her first knowledge of it. She was
incredulous at first, and stood gazing, gripping the stone railing with
tense hands. She watched, horror-stricken. The Crown Prince, himself,
come to Etzel to pray! For his grandfather, of course. Then, indeed,
must things be bad with the King, as bad as they could be.

The Crown Prince was very warm. She could see the gleam of his
handkerchief as he wiped his damp face. She could see the effort of his
tired legs to keep step with the standard-bearer.

The bells again. How she hated them! They rang out now to welcome the
pilgrims, and a procession issued from the church door, a lay brother
first, carrying a banner, then the fathers, two by two; the boys from
the church school in long procession. The royal party halted at the foot
of the street. The fathers advanced. She could make out Father Gregory’s
portly figure among them. The bell tolled. The villagers stood in
excited but quiet groups, and watched.

Then the two banners touched, the schoolboys turned, followed by the
priests. Thus led, went the Crown Prince of Livonia to pray for his
grandfather’s life.

The church doors closed behind them.

Olga Loschek fell on her knees. She was shaking from head to foot. And
because the religious training of her early life near the shrine had
given her faith in miracles, she prayed for one. Rather, she made a
bargain with God:-- If any word came to her from Karl, any, no matter,
to what it pertained, she would take it for a sign, and attempt flight.
If she was captured, she would kill herself.

But, if no word came from Karl by the hour of her departure the next
morning, then she would do the thing she had set out to do, and let him
beware! The King dead, there would be no King. Only over the dead bodies
of the Livonians would they let him marry Hedwig and the throne. It
would be war.

Curiously, while she was still on her knees, her bargain made, the plan
came to her by which, when the time came, the Terrorists were to rouse
the people to even greater fury. Still kneeling, she turned it over in
her mind. It was possible. More, it could be made plausible, with her
assistance. And at the vision it evoked,--Mettlich’s horror and rage,
Hedwig’s puling tears, her own triumph,--she took a deep breath. Revenge
with a vengeance, retaliation for old hurts and fresh injuries, these
were what she found on her knees, while the bell in the valley commenced
the mass, and a small boy; very rapt and very earnest, prayed for his
grandfather’s life.

Yet the bargain came very close to being made the other way that day,
and by Karl himself.

Preparations were being made for his visit to Livonia. Ostensibly this
visit was made because of the King’s illness. Much political capital
was being made of Karl’s going to see, for the last time, the long-time
enemy of his house. While rumor was busy, Karnia was more than
satisfied. Even the Socialist Party approved, and their papers, being
more frank than the others, spoke openly of the chances of a dual
kingdom, the only bar being a small boy.

On the day of the pilgrimage Karl found himself strangely restless and
uneasy. He had returned to his capital the day before, and had busied
himself until late that night with matters of state. He had slept well,
and wakened to a sense of well-being. But, during the afternoon, he
became uneasy. Olga Loschek haunted him, her face when he had told her
about the letter, her sagging figure when he had left her.

Something like remorse stirred in him. She had taken great risks for
him. Of all the women he had known, she had most truly and unselfishly
loved him. And for her years of service he had given her contempt. He
reflected, too, that he had, perhaps, made an enemy where he needed a
friend. How easy, by innuendo and suggestion, to turn Hedwig against
him, Hedwig who already fancied herself interested elsewhere.

Very nearly did he swing the scale in which Olga Loschek had hung
her bargain with God--so nearly that in the intervals of affixing his
sprawling signature to various documents, he drew a sheet of note-paper
toward him. Then, with a shrug, he pushed it away. So Olga Loschek lost
her bargain.

At dawn the next morning the Countess, still pale with illness and
burning with fever, went back to the city.



CHAPTER XXIX. OLD ADELBERT THE TRAITOR


“Thus,” said the concierge, frying onions over his stove; “thus have
they always done. But you have been blind. Rather, you would not see.”

Old Adelbert stirred uneasily. “So long as I accept my pension--”

“Why should you not accept your pension. A trifle in exchange for what
you gave. For them, who now ill-use you, you have gone through life but
half a man. Women smile behind their hands when you hobble by.”

“I do not hold with women,” said old Adelbert, flushing. “They take all
and give nothing.” The onions were done, and the concierge put them,
frying-pan and all, on the table. “Come, eat while the food is hot. And
give nothing,” he repeated, returning to the attack. “You and I ride
in no carriages with gilt wheels. We work, or, failing work, we starve.
Their feet are on our necks. But one use they have for us, you and me,
my friend--to tax us.”

“The taxes are not heavy,” quoth old Adelbert.

“There are some who find them so.” The concierge heaped his guest’s
plate with onions. And old Adelbert, who detested onions, and was
besides in no mood for food, must perforce sample them.

“I can cook,” boasted his host. “The daughter of my sister cannot cook.
She uses milk, always milk. Feeble dishes, I call them. Strong meat for
strong men, comrade.”

Old Adelbert played with his steel fork. “I was a good patriot,” he
observed nervously, “until they made me otherwise.”

“I will make you a better. A patriot is one who is zealous for his
country and its welfare. That means much. It means that when the
established order is bad for a country, it must be changed. Not that
you and I may benefit. God knows, we may not live to benefit. But that
Livonia may free her neck from the foot of the oppressor, and raise her
head among nations.”

From which it may be seen that old Adelbert had at last joined the
revolutionary party, an uneasy and unhappy recruit, it is true, but--a
recruit. “If only some half-measure would suffice,” he said, giving up
all pretense of eating. “This talk of rousing the mob, of rioting and
violence, I do not like them.”

“Then has age turned the blood in your veins to water!” said the
concierge contemptuously. “Half-measures! Since when has a half-measure
been useful? Did half-measures win in your boasted battles? And what
half-measures would you propose?”

Old Adelbert sat silent. Now and then, because his mouth was dry, he
took a sip of beer from his tankard. The concierge ate, taking huge
mouthfuls of onions and bread, and surveying his feeble-hearted recruit
with appraising eyes. To win him would mean honor, for old Adelbert,
decorated for many braveries, was a power among the veterans. Where he
led, others would follow.

“Make no mistake,” said Black Humbert cunningly. “We aim at no
bloodshed. A peaceful revolution, if possible. The King, being dead,
will suffer not even humiliation. Let the royal family scatter where it
will. We have no designs on women. The Chancellor, however, must die.”

“I make no plea for him,” said old Adelbert bitterly. “I wrote to him
also, when I lost my position, and received no reply. We passed through
the same campaigns, as I reminded him, but he did nothing.”

“As for the Crown Prince,” observed the concierge, eyeing the old man
over the edge of his tankard, “you know our plan for him. He will be
cared for as my own child, until we get him beyond the boundaries. Then
he will be safely delivered to those who know nothing of his birth. A
private fund of the Republic will support and educate him.”

Old Adelbert’s hands twitched. “He is but a child,” he said, “but
already he knows his rank.”

“It will be wise for him to forget it.” His tone was ominous. Adelbert
glanced up quickly, but the Terrorist had seen his error, and masked
it with a grin. “Children forget easily,” he said, “and by this secret
knowledge of yours, old comrade, all can be peacefully done. Until
you brought it to me, we were, I confess, fearful that force would be
necessary. To admit the rabble to the Palace would be dangerous. Mobs
go mad at such moments. But now it may be effected with all decency and
order.”

“And the plan?”

“I may tell you this.” The concierge shoved his plate away and bent over
the table. “We have set the day as that of the Carnival. On that day all
the people are on the streets. Processions are forbidden, but the usual
costuming with their corps colors as pompons is allowed. Here and
there will be one of us clad in red, a devil, wearing the colors of His
Satanic Majesty. Those will be of our forces, leaders and speech-makers.
When we secure the Crown Prince, he will be put into costume until he
can be concealed. They will seek, if there be time, the Prince Ferdinand
William Otto. Who will suspect a child, wearing some fantastic garb of
the Carnival?”

“But the King?” inquired old Adelbert in a shaking voice. “How can you
set a day, when the King may rally? I thought all hung on the King’s
death.”

The concierge bent closer over the table. “Doctor Wiederman, the King’s
physician, is one of us,” he whispered. “The King lives now only
because of stimulants to the heart. His body is already dead. When the
stimulants cease, he will die.”

Old Adelbert covered his eyes. He had gone too far to retreat now.
Driven by brooding and trouble, he had allied himself with the powers of
darkness.

The stain, he felt, was already on his forehead. But before him, like
a picture on a screen, came the scene by which he had lived for so many
years, the war hospital, the King by his bed, young then and a very king
in looks, pinning on the breast of his muslin shirt the decoration for
bravery.

He sat silent while the concierge cleared the table, and put the dishes
in a pan for his niece to wash. And throughout the evening he said
little. At something before midnight he and his host were to set out
on a grave matter, nothing less than to visit the Committee of Ten, and
impart the old soldier’s discovery. In the interval he sat waiting, and
nursing his grievances to keep them warm.

Men came and went. From beneath the floor came, at intervals, a regular
thudding which he had never heard before, and which he now learned was a
press.

“These are days of publicity,” explained the concierge. “Men are
influenced much by the printed word. Already our bulletins flood the
country. On the day of the Carnival the city will flame with them,
printed in red. They will appear, as if by magic power, everywhere.”

“A call to arms?”

“A call to liberty,” evaded the concierge.

Not in months had he taken such pleasure in a recruit. He swaggered
about the room, recounting in boastful tones his influence with the
Committee of Ten.

“And with reason,” he boasted, pausing before the old soldier. “I have
served them well; here in this house is sufficient ammunition to fight a
great battle. You, now, you know something of ammunition. You have lived
here for a long time. Yet no portion of this house has been closed to
you. Where, at a guess, is it concealed?”

“It is in this house?”

“So I tell you. Now, where?”

“In the cellar, perhaps.”

“Come, I will show you.” He led old Adelbert by the elbow to a window
overlooking the yard. Just such an enclosure as each of the neighboring
houses possessed, and surrounded by a high fence. Here was a rabbit
hutch, built of old boards, and familiar enough to the veteran’s eyes;
and a dovecote, which loomed now but a deeper shadow among shadows.

“Carrier-pigeons,” explained the concierge. “You have seen them often,
but you suspected nothing, eh? They are my telegraph. Now, look again,
comrade. What else?”

“Barrels,” said old Adelbert, squinting. “The winter’s refuse from the
building. A--a most untidy spot.”

His soldierly soul had revolted for months at the litter under his
window. And somewhere, in the disorder, lay his broken sword. His sword
broken, and he-- “Truly untidy,” observed the concierge complacently. “A
studied untidiness, and even then better than a room I shall show you
in the cellar, filled to overflowing with boxes containing the winter’s
ashes. Know you,” he went on, dropping his voice, “that these barrels
and boxes are but--a third full of rubbish. Below that in cases is--what
we speak of.”

“But I thought--a peaceful revolution, a--”

“We prepare for contingencies. Peace if possible. If not, war. I am
telling you much because, by your oath, you are now one of us, and bound
to secrecy. But, beside that, I trust you. You are a man of your word.”

“Yes,” said old Adelbert, drawing himself up. “I am a man of my word.
But you cannot fight with cartridges alone.”

“We have rifles, also, in other places. Even I do not know where all of
them are concealed.” The concierge chuckled in his beard. “The Committee
knows men well. It trusts none too much. There are other depots
throughout the city, each containing supplies of one sort and another.
On the day of the uprising each patriot will be told where to go for
equipment. Not before.”

Old Adelbert was undoubtedly impressed. He regarded the concierge with
furtive eyes. He, Adelbert, had lived in the house with this man of
parts for years, and had regarded him as but one of many.

Black Humbert, waiting for the hour to start and filling his tankard
repeatedly, grew loquacious. He hinted of past matters in which he had
proved his value to the cause. Old Adelbert gathered that, if he had
not actually murdered the late Crown Prince and his wife, he had been
closely concerned in it. His thin, old flesh crept with anxiety. It was
a bad business, and he could not withdraw.

“We should have had the child, too,” boasted the concierge, “and saved
much bother. But he had been, unknown to us, sent to the country. A
matter of milk, I believe.”

“But you say you do not war on children!”

“Bah! A babe of a few months. Furthermore,” said the concierge, “I have
a nose for the police. I scent a spy, as a dog scents a bone. Who, think
you, discovered Haeckel?”

“Haeckel!” Old Adelbert sat upright in his chair.

“Aye, Haeckel, Haeckel the jovial, the archconspirator, who himself
assisted to erect the press you hear beneath your feet. Who but I?
I suspected him. He was too fierce. He had no caution. He was what a
peaceful citizen may fancy a revolutionist to be. I watched him. He was
not brave. He was reckless because he had nothing to fear. And at last I
caught him.”

Old Adelbert was sitting forward on the edge of his chair; his jaw
dropped. “And what then?” he gasped. “He was but a boy. Perhaps you
misjudged him. Boys are reckless.”

“I caught him,” said the concierge. “I have said it. He knew much. He
had names, places, even dates. For that matter; he confessed.”

“Then he is dead?” quavered old Adelbert.

The concierge shrugged his shoulders. “Of course,” he said briefly. “For
a time he was kept here, in an upper room. He could have saved himself,
if he would. We could have used him. But he turned sulky, refused
speech, did not eat. When he was taken away,” he added with unction,
“he was so weak that he could not walk.” He rose and consulted a
great silver watch. “We can go now,” he said. “The Committee likes
promptness.”

They left together, the one striding out with long steps that were
surprisingly light for his size, the other, hanging back a trifle, as
one who walks because he must. Old Adelbert, who had loved his King
better than his country, was a lagging “patriot” that night. His breath
came short and labored. His throat was dry. As they passed the Opera,
however, he threw his head up. The performance was over, but the great
house was still lighted, and in the foyer, strutting about, was his
successor. Old Adelbert quickened his steps.

At the edge of the Place, near the statue of the Queen, they took a car,
and so reached the borders of the city. After that they walked far. The
scent of the earth, fresh-turned by the plough, was in their nostrils.
Cattle, turned out after the long winter, grazed or lay in the fields.
Through the ooze of the road the two plodded; old Adelbert struggling
through with difficulty, the concierge exhorting him impatiently to
haste.

At last the leader paused, and surveyed his surroundings: “Here I must
cover your eyes, comrade,” he said. “It is a formality all must comply
with.”

Old Adelbert drew back. “I do not like your rule. I am not as other men.
I must see where I go.”

“I shall lead you carefully. And, if you fear, I can carry you.” He
chuckled at the thought. But old Adelbert knew well that he could do it,
knew that he was as a child to those mighty arms. He submitted to the
bandage, however, with an ill grace that caused the concierge to smile.

“It hurts your dignity, eh, old rooster!” he said jovially. “Others, of
greater dignity, have felt the same. But all submit in the end.”

He piloted the veteran among the graves with the ease of familiarity.
Only once he spoke. “Know you where you are?”

“In a field,” said Adelbert, “recently ploughed.”

“Aye, in a field, right enough. But one which sows corruption, and
raises nothing, until perhaps great St. Gabriel calls in his crop.”

Then, realizing the meaning of the mounds over which he trod, old
Adelbert crossed himself.

“Only a handful know of this meeting-place,” boasted the concierge. “I,
and a few others. Only we may meet with the Committee face to face.”

“You must have great influence,” observed old Adelbert timidly.

“I control the guilds. He who to-day can sway labor to his will is
powerful, very powerful comrade. Labor is the great beast which tires of
carrying burdens, and is but now learning its strength.”

“Aye,” said old Adelbert. “Had I been wise, I would have joined a guild.
Then I might have kept my place at the Opera. As it is, I stood alone,
and they put me out.”

“You do not stand alone now. Stand by us, and we will support you. The
Republic will not forget its friends.”

Thus heartened, old Adelbert brightened up somewhat. Why should he,
an old soldier, sweat at the thought of blood? Great changes required
heroic measures. It was because he was old that he feared change. He
stumped through the passageway without urging, and stood erect and with
shoulders squared while the bandage was removed.

He was rather longer than Olga Loschek had been in comprehending his
surroundings. His old eyes at first saw little but the table and its
candles in their gruesome holders. But when he saw the Committee his
heart failed. Here, embodied before him, was everything he had loathed
during all his upright and loyal years anarchy, murder, treason. His
face worked. The cords in his neck stood out like strings drawn to the
breaking-point.

The concierge was speaking. For all his boasting, he was ill at ease.
His voice had lost its bravado, and had taken on a fawning note.

“This is the man of whom word was sent to the Committee,” he said.
“I ventured to ask that he be allowed to come here, because he brings
information of value.”

“Step forward, comrade,” said the leader. “What is your name and
occupation?”

“Adelbert, Excellency. As to occupation, for years I was connected with
the Opera. Twenty years, Excellency. Then I grew old, and another--”
 His voice broke. What with excitement and terror, he was close to tears.
“Now I am reduced to selling tickets for an American contrivance, a
foolish thing, but I earn my bread by it.”

He paused, but the silence continued unbroken. The battery of eyes
behind the masks was turned squarely on him.

Old Adelbert fidgeted. “Before that, in years gone by, I was in the
army,” he said, feeling that more was expected of him, and being at a
loss. “I fought hard, and once, when I suffered the loss you perceive,
the King himself came to my bed, and decorated me. Until lately, I have
been loyal. Now, I am--here.” His face worked.

“What is the information that brings you here?”

Suddenly old Adelbert wept, terrible tears that forced their way from
his faded eyes, and ran down his cheeks. “I cannot, Excellencies!” he
cried. “I find I cannot.”

He collapsed into the chair, and throwing his arms across the table
bowed his head on them. His shoulders heaved under his old uniform. The
Committee stirred, and the concierge caught him brutally by the wrist.

“Up with you!” he said, from clenched teeth. “What stupidity is this?
Would you play with death?”

But old Adelbert was beyond fear. He shook his head. “I cannot,” he
muttered, his face hidden.

Then the concierge stood erect and folded his arms across his chest.
“He is terrified, that is all,” he said. “If the Committee wishes, I can
tell them of this matter. Later, he can be interrogated.”

The leader nodded.

“By chance,” said the concierge, “this--this brave veteran”--he glanced
contemptuously at the huddled figure in the chair, “has come across an old
passage, the one which rumor has said lay under the city wall, and for
which we have at different times instituted search.”

He paused, to give his words weight. That they were of supreme interest
could be told by the craning forward of the Committee.

“The entrance is concealed at the base of the old Gate of the Moon. Our
friend here followed it, and reports it in good condition. For a mile or
thereabouts it follows the line of the destroyed wall. Then it turns and
goes to the Palace itself.”

“Into the Palace?”

“By a flight of stairs, inside the wall, to a door in the roof. This
door, which was locked, he opened, having carried keys with him. The
door he describes as in the tower. As it was night, he could not see
clearly, but the roof at that point is flat.”

“Stand up, Adelbert,” said the leader sharply. “This that our comrade
tells is true?”

“It is true, Excellency.”

“Shown a diagram of the Palace, could you locate this door?”

Old Adelbert stared around him hopelessly. It was done now. Nothing that
he could say or refuse to say would change that. He nodded.

When, soon after, a chart of the Palace was placed on a table, he
indicated the location of the door with a trembling forefinger. “It is
there,” he said thickly. “And may God forgive me for the thing I have
done!”



CHAPTER XXX. KING KARL


“They love us dearly!” said King Karl.

The Chancellor, who sat beside him in the royal carriage, shrugged his
shoulders. “They have had little reason to love, in the past, Majesty,”
 he said briefly.

Karl laughed, and watched the crowd. He and the Chancellor rode alone,
Karl’s entourage, a very modest one, following in another carriage.
There was no military escort, no pomp. It had been felt unwise. Karl,
paying ostensibly a visit of sympathy, had come unofficially.

“But surely,” he observed, as they passed between sullen lines of
people, mostly silent, but now and then giving way to a muttering that
sounded ominously like a snarl,--“surely I may make a visit of sympathy
without exciting their wrath!”

“They are children,” said Mettlich contemptuously. “Let one growl, and
all growl. Let some one start a cheer, and they will cheer themselves
hoarse.”

“Then let some one cheer, for God’s sake!” said Karl, and turned his
mocking smile to the packed streets.

The Chancellor was not so calm as he appeared. He had lined the route
from the station to the Palace with his men; had prepared for every
contingency so far as he could without calling out the guard. As the
carriage, drawn by its four chestnut horses, moved slowly along the
streets, his eyes under their overhanging thatch were watching ahead,
searching the crowd for symptoms of unrest.

Anger he saw in plenty, and suspicion. Scowling faces and frowning
brows. But as yet there was no disorder. He sat with folded arms,
magnificent in his uniform beside Karl, who wore civilian dress and
looked less royal than perhaps he felt.

And Karl, too, watched the crowd, feeling its temper and feigning an
indifference he did not feel. Olga Loschek had been right. He did not
want trouble. More than that, he was of an age now to crave popularity.
Many of the measures which had made him beloved in his own land had no
higher purpose than this, the smiles of the crowd. So he watched and
talked of indifferent things.

“It is ten years since I have been here,” he observed, “but there are
few changes.”

“We have built no great buildings,” said Mettlich bluntly. “Wars have
left us no money, Majesty, for building!”

That being a closed road, so to speak, Karl tried another. “The Crown
Prince must be quite a lad,” he experimented. “He was a babe in arms,
then, but frail, I thought.”

“He is sturdy now.” The Chancellor relapsed into watchfulness.

“Before I see the Princess Hedwig,” Karl made another attempt, “it might
be well to tell me how she feels about things. I would like to feel that
the prospect is at least not disagreeable to her.”

The Chancellor was not listening. There was trouble ahead. It had come,
then, after all. He muttered something behind his gray mustache. The
horses stopped, as the crowd suddenly closed in front of them.

“Drive on!” he said angrily, and the coachman touched his whip to the
horses. But they only reared, to be grasped at the bridles by hostile
hands ahead.

Karl half rose from his seat.

“Sit still, Majesty,” said the Chancellor. “It is the students. They
will talk, that is all.”

But it came perilously near to being a riot. Led by some students,
pushed by others, the crowd surrounded the two carriages, first
muttering, then yelling. A stone was hurled, and struck one of the
horses. Another dented the body of the carriage itself. A man with a
handkerchief tied over the lower half of his face mounted the shoulders
of two companions, and harangued the crowd. They wanted no friendship
with Karnia. There were those who would sell them out to their neighbor
and enemy. Were they to lose their national existence? He exhorted them
madly through the handkerchief. Others, further back, also raised above
the mob, shrieked treason, and called the citizens to arm against this
thing. A Babel of noise, of swinging back and forth, of mounted police
pushing through to surround the carriage, of cries and the dominating
voices of the student-demagogues. Then at last a semblance of order, low
muttering, an escort of police with drawn revolvers around the carriage,
and it moved ahead.

Through it all the Chancellor had sat with folded arms. Only his livid
face told of his fury. Karl, too, had sat impassive, picking at his
small mustache. But, as the carriage moved on, he said: “A few moments
ago I observed that there had been few changes. But there has been, I
perceive, after all, a great change.”

“One cannot judge the many by the few, Majesty.”

But Karl only raised his eyebrows.

In his rooms, removing the dust of his journey, broken by the automobile
trip across the mountains where the two railroads would some day meet,
Karl reflected on the situation. His amour-propre was hurt. Things
should have been better managed, for one thing. It was inexcusable
that he had been subjected to such a demonstration. But, aside from the
injury to his pride, was a deeper question. If this was the temper
of the people now, what would it be when they found their suspicions
justified? Had Ogla Loschek been right after all, and not merely
jealous? And if she were, was the game worth the candle?

Pacing the drawing-room of his suite with a cigarette, and cursing the
tables and bric-a-brac with which it was cluttered, Karl was of a mind
to turn back, after all, Even the prospect which his Ministers had not
failed to recognize, of the Crown Prince never reaching his maturity,
was a less pleasing one than it had been. A dual monarchy, one portion
of it restless and revolutionary, was less desirable than the present
peace and prosperity of Karnia. And unrest was contagious. He might find
himself in a difficult position.

He was, indeed, even now in a difficult position.

He glanced about his rooms. In one of them Prince Hubert had met his
death. It was well enough for Mettlich to say the few could not speak
for the many. It took but one man to do a murder, Karl reflected grimly.

But when he arrived for tea in the Archduchess’s white drawing-room he
was urbane and smiling. Hedwig, standing with cold hands and terrified
eyes by the tea-table, disliked both his urbanity and his smile. He
kissed the hand of the Archduchess and bent over Hedwig’s with a flash
of white teeth.

Then he saw Olga Loschek, and his smile stiffened. The Countess came
forward, curtsied, and as he extended his hand to her, touched it
lightly with her lips. They were quite cold. For just an instant their
eyes met.

It was, on the surface, an amiable and quiet teaparty. Hilda, in a new
frock, flirted openly with the King, and read his fortune in tea-leaves.
Hedwig had taken up her position by a window, and was conspicuously
silent. Behind her were the soft ring of silver against china; the
Countess’s gay tones; Karl’s suave ones, assuming gravity, as he
inquired for His Majesty; the Archduchess Annunciata pretending a
solicitude she did not feel. And all forced, all artificial, Olga
Loschek’s heart burning in her, and Karl watching Hedwig with open
admiration and some anxiety.

“Grandmother,” Hedwig whispered from her window to the austere old
bronze figure in the Place, “was it like this with you, at first? Did
you shiver when he touched your hand? And doesn’t it matter, after a
year?”

“Very feeble,” said the Archduchess’s voice; behind her, “but so
brave--a lesson to us all.”

“He has had a long and conspicuous career,” Karl observed. “It is sad,
but we must all come to it. I hope he will be able to see me.”

“Hedwig!” said her mother, sharply, “your tea is getting cold.”

Hedwig turned toward the room. Listlessness gave her an added dignity, a
new charm. Karl’s eyes flamed as he watched her. He was a connoisseur in
women; he had known many who were perhaps more regularly beautiful, but
none, he felt, so lovely. Her freshness and youth made Olga, beautifully
dressed, superbly easy, look sophisticated and a trifle hard. Even her
coldness appealed to him. He had a feeling that the coldness was only
a young girl’s armor, that under it was a deeply passionate woman. The
thought of seeing her come to deep, vibrant life in his arms thrilled
him.

When he carried her tea to her, he bent over her. “Please!” he said.
“Try to like me. I--”

“I’m sorry,” Hedwig said quickly. “Mother has forgotten the lemon.”

Karl smiled and, shrugging his shoulders, fetched the lemon. “Right,
now?” he inquired. “And aren’t we going to have a talk together?”

“If you wish it, I dare say we shall.”

“Majesty,” said Hilda, frowning into her teacup. “I see a marriage for
you.” She ignored her mother’s scowl, and tilted her cup to examine it.

“A marriage!” Karl joined her, and peered with mock anxiety at the
tea-grounds. “Strange that my fate should be confined in so small a
compass! A happy marriage? Which am I?”

“The long yellow leaf. Yes, it looks happy. But you may be rather
shocked when I tell you.”

“Shocked?”

“I think,” said Hilda, grinning, “that you are going to marry me.”

“Delightful!”

“And we are going to have--”

“Hilda!” cried the Archduchess fretfully. “Do stop that nonsense and let
us talk. I was trying to recall, this morning,” she said to Karl, “when
you last visited us.” She knew it quite well, but she preferred having
Karl think she had forgotten. “It was, I believe, just before Hubert--”

“Yes,” said Karl gravely, “just before.”

“Otto was a baby then.”

“A very small child. I remember that I was afraid to handle him.”

“He is a curious boy, old beyond his years. Rather a little prig, I
think. He has an English governess, and she has made him quite a little
woman.”

Karl laughed, but Hedwig flushed.

“He is not that sort at all,” she declared stoutly. “He is lonely
and--and rather pathetic. The truth is that no one really cares for him,
except--”

“Except Captain Larisch!” said the Archduchess smoothly. “You and he,
Hedwig, have done your best by him, surely.”

The bit of byplay was not lost on Karl--the sudden stiffening of
Hedwig’s back, Olga’s narrowed eyes. Olga had been right, then. Trust
her for knowing facts when they were disagreeable. His eyes became set
and watchful, hard, too, had any noticed. There were ways to deal with
such a situation, of course. They were giving him this girl to secure
their own safety, and she knew it. Had he not been so mad about her he
might have pitied her, but he felt no pity, only a deep and resentful
determination to get rid of Nikky, and then to warm her by his own fire.
He might have to break her first. After that manner had many Queens of
Karnia come to the throne. He smiled behind his small mustache.

When tea was almost over, the Crown Prince was announced. He came in,
rather nervously, with hie hands thrust in his trousers pockets. He was
very shiny with soap and water and his hair was still damp from parting.
In his tailless black jacket, his long gray trousers, and his round Eton
collar, he looked like a very anxious little schoolboy, and not royal at
all.

Greetings over, and having requested that his tea be half milk, with
four lumps of sugar, he carried his cup over beside Hedwig, and sat down
on a chair. Followed a short silence, with the Archduchess busy with the
tea-things, Olga Loschek watching Karl, and Karl intently surveying the
Crown Prince. Ferdinand William Otto, who disliked a silence, broke it
first.

“I’ve just taken off my winter flannels,” he observed. “I feel very
smooth and nice underneath.”

Hilda giggled, but Hedwig reached over and stroked his arm. “Of course
you do,” she said gently.

“Nikky,” continued Prince Ferdinand William Otto, stirring his tea,
“does not wear any flannels. Miss Braithwaite thinks he is very
careless.”

King Karl’s eyes gleamed with amusement. He saw the infuriated face of
the Archduchess, and bent toward the Crown Prince with earnestness.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “since you have mentioned the subject,
I do not wear any either. Your ‘Nikky’ and I seem most surprisingly to
have the same tastes--about various things.”

Annunciata was in the last stages of irritation. There was no mistaking
the sneer in Karl’s voice. His smile was forced. She guessed that he had
heard of Nikky Larisch before, that, indeed, he knew probably more than
she did. Just what, she wondered, was there to know? A great deal, if
one could judge by Hedwig’s face.

“I hope you are working hard at your lesson, Otto,” she said, in the
severe tone which Otto had learned that most people use when they refer
to lessons.

“I’m afraid I’m not doing very well, Tante. But I’ve learned the
‘Gettysburg Address.’ Shall I say it?”

“Heavens, no!” she protested. She had not the faintest idea what the
“Gettysburg Address” was. She suspected Mr. Gladstone.

The Countess had relapsed into silence. A little back from the family
circle, she had watched the whole scene stonily, and knowing Karl as
only a woman who loves sincerely and long can know a man, she knew the
inner workings of his mind. She saw anger in the very turn of his head
and set of his jaw. But she saw more, jealousy, and was herself half mad
with it.

She knew him well. She had herself, for years, held him by holding
herself dear, by the very difficulty of attaining her. And now this
indifferent, white-faced girl, who might be his, indeed, for the taking,
but who would offer or promise no love, was rousing him to the instinct
of possession by her very indifference. He had told her the truth, that
night in the mountain inn. It was Hedwig he wanted, Hedwig herself, her
heart, all of her. And, if she knew Karl, he would move heaven and earth
to get the thing he wanted.

She surveyed the group. How little they knew what was in store for them!
She, Olga Loschek, by the lifting of a finger, could turn their smug
superiority into tears and despair, could ruin them and send them flying
for shelter to the very ends of the earth.

But when she looked at the little Crown Prince, legs dangling, eating
his thin bread and butter as only a hungry small boy can eat, she
shivered. By what means must she do all this! By what unspeakable means!

Karl saw the King that evening, a short visit marked by extreme
formality, and, on the King’s part, by the keen and frank scrutiny of
one who is near the end and fears nothing but the final moment. Karl
found the meeting depressing and the King’s eyes disconcerting.

“It will not be easy going for Otto,” said the King, at the end of
the short interview. “I should like to feel that his interests will be
looked after, not only here, but by you and yours. We have a certain
element here that is troublesome.”

And Karl, with Hedwig in his mind, had promised.

“His interests shall be mine, sir,” he had said.

He had bent over the bed then, and raised the thin hand to his lips. The
interview was over. In the anteroom the King’s Master of the Horse, the
Chamberlain, and a few other gentlemen stood waiting, talking together
in low tones. But the Chancellor, who had gone in with Karl and then
retired, stood by a window, with his arms folded over his chest, and
waited. He put resolutely out of his mind the face of the dying man
on his pillows, and thought only of this thing which he--Mettlich had
brought about. There was no yielding in his face or in his heart, no
doubt of his course. He saw, instead of the lovers loitering in the
Place, a new and greater kingdom, anarchy held down by an ironshod heel,
peace and the fruits thereof, until out of very prosperity the people
grew fat and content.

He saw a boy king, carefully taught, growing into his responsibilities
until, big with the vision of the country’s welfare, he should finally
ascend the throne. He saw the river filled with ships, carrying
merchandise over the world and returning with the wealth of the world.
Great buildings, too, lifted their heads on his horizon, a dream city,
with order for disorder, and citizens instead of inhabitants.

When at last he stirred and sighed, it was because his old friend, in
his bed in the next room, would see nothing of all this, and that he
himself could not hope for more than the beginning, before his time came
also.

The first large dinner for months was given that night at the Palace,
to do King Karl all possible honor. The gold service which had been
presented to the King by the Czar of Russia was used. The anticipatory
gloom of the Court was laid aside, and jewels brought from vaults were
worn for the first time in months. Uniforms of various sorts, but all
gorgeous, touched fine shoulders, and came away, bearing white, powdery
traces of the meeting. The greenhouses at the summer palace had been
sacked for flowers and plants. The corridor from the great salon to the
dining-hall; always a dreary passage, had suddenly become a fairy path
of early-spring bloom. Even Annunciata, hung now with ropes of pearls,
her hair dressed high for a tiara of diamonds, her cameos exchanged for
pearls, looked royal. Proving conclusively that clutter, as to dress, is
entirely a matter of value.

Miss Braithwaite, who had begun recently to think a palace the dreariest
place in the world, and the most commonplace, found the preparations
rather exciting. Being British she dearly loved the aristocracy, and
shrugged her shoulders at any family which took up less than a page
in the peerage. She resented deeply the intrusion of the commoner
into British politics, and considered Lloyd George an upstart and an
interloper.

That evening she took the Crown Prince to see the preparations for the
festivities. The flowers appealed to him, and he asked for and secured
a rose, which he held carefully. But the magnificence of the table
only faintly impressed him, and when he heard that Nikky would not be
present, he lost interest entirely. “Will they wheel my grandfather in a
chair?” he inquired.

“He is too ill,” Miss Braithwaite said.

“He’ll be rather lonely, when they’re all at the party. You don’t
suppose I could go and sit with him, do you?”

“It will be long after your bedtime.”

Bedtime being the one rule which was never under any circumstances
broken, he did not persist. To have insisted might have meant five off
in Miss Braithwaite’s book, and his record was very good that week.
Together the elderly Englishwoman and the boy went back to the
schoolroom.

The Countess Loschek, who had dressed with a heavy heart, was easily
the most beautiful of the women that night. Her color was high with
excitement and anger, her eyes flashed, her splendid shoulders gleamed
over the blue and orchid shades of her gown. A little court paid tribute
to her beauty, and bowed the deeper and flattered the more as she openly
scorned and flouted them. She caught once a flicker of admiration in
Karl’s face, and although her head went high, her heart beat stormily
under it.

Hedwig was like a flower that required the sun. Only her sun was
happiness. She was in soft white chiffons, her hair and frock alike
girlish and unpretentious. Her mother, coming into her dressing room,
had eyed her with disfavor.

“You look like a school-girl,” she said, and had sent for rouge, and
with her own royal hands applied it. Hedwig stood silent, and allowed
her to have her way without protest. Had submitted, too, to a diamond
pin in her hair, and a string of her mother’s pearls.

“There,” said Annunciata, standing off and surveying her, “you look less
like a baby.”

She did, indeed? It took Hedwig quite five minutes to wash the rouge off
her face, and there was, one might as well confess, a moment when a part
of the crown jewels of the kingdom lay in a corner of the room, whence a
trembling maid salvaged them, and examined them for damage.

The Princess Hedwig appeared that evening without rouge, and was the
only woman in the room thus unadorned. Also she wore her coming-out
string of modest pearls and a slightly defiant, somewhat frightened,
expression.

The dinner was endless, which was necessary, since nothing was to follow
but conversation. There could, under the circumstances, be no dancing.
And the talk at the table, through course after course, was somewhat
hectic, even under the constraining presence of King Karl. There
were two reasons for this: Karl’s presence and his purpose--as yet
unannounced, but surmised, and even known--and the situation in the
city.

That was bad. The papers had been ordered to make no mention of the
occurrence of the afternoon, but it was well known. There were many at
the table who felt the whole attempt foolhardy, the setting of a match
to inflammable material. There were others who resented Karl’s presence
in Livonia, and all that it implied. And perhaps there were, too, among
the guests, one or more who had but recently sat in less august and more
awful company.

Beneath all the brilliance and chatter, the sparkle and gayety, there
was, then, uneasiness, wretchedness, and even treachery. And outside the
Palace, held back by the guards, there still stood a part of the sullen
crowd which had watched the arrival of the carriages and automobiles,
had craned forward to catch a glimpse of uniform or brilliantly shrouded
figure entering the Palace, and muttered as it looked.

Dinner was over at last. The party moved back to the salon, a vast and
empty place, hung with tapestries and gayly lighted. Here the semblance
of gayety persisted, and Karl, affability itself, spoke a few words to
each of the guests. Then it was over. The guests left, the members of
the Council, each with a wife on his arm, frowsy, overdressed women most
of them. The Council was chosen for ability and not for birth. At last
only the suite remained, and constraint vanished.

The family withdrew shortly after--to a small salon off the large one.
And there, at last, Karl cornered Hedwig and demanded speech.

“Where?” she asked, glancing around the crowded room.

“I shall have to leave that to you,” he said. “Unless there is a
balcony.”

“But do you think it is necessary?”

“Why not?”

“Because what I have to say does not matter.”

“It matters very much to me,” he replied gravely.

Hedwig went first, slipping away quietly and unnoticed. Karl asked the
Archduchess’s permission to follow her, and found her waiting there
alone, rather desperately calm now, and with a tinge of excited color in
her cheeks. Because he cared a great deal, and because, as kings go,
he was neither hopelessly bad nor hard, his first words were kind and
genuine, and almost brought her to tears.

“Poor little girl!” he said.

He had dropped the curtain behind him, and they stood alone.

“Don’t,” said Hedwig. “I want to be very calm, and I am sorry for myself
already.”

“Then you think it is all very terrible?”

She did not reply, and he drew a chair for her to the rail. When she was
seated, he took up his position beside her, one arm against a pillar.

“I wonder, Hedwig,” he said, “if it is not terrible because it is new to
you, and because you do not know me very well. Not,” he added hastily,
“that I think your knowing me well would be an advantage! I am not so
idiotic. But you do not know me at all, and for a good many years I must
have stood in the light of an enemy. It is not easy to readjust such
things--witness the reception I had to-day!”

“I do not think of you in that way, as--as an enemy.”

“Then what is it?”

“Why must we talk about it?” Hedwig demanded, looking up at him suddenly
with a flash of her old spirit. “It will not change anything.”

“Perhaps not. Perhaps--yes. You see, I am not quite satisfied. I do not
want you, unless you are willing. It would be a poor bargain for me, and
not quite fair.”

A new turn, this, with a vengeance! Hedwig stared up with startled eyes.
It was not enough to be sacrificed. And as she realized all that hung on
the situation, the very life of the kingdom, perhaps the safety of her
family, everything, she closed her eyes for fear he might see the fright
in them.

Karl bent over and took one of her cold hands between his two warm ones.
“Little Hedwig,” he said, “I want you to come willingly because--I care
a great deal. I would like you to care, too. Don’t you think you would,
after a time?”

“After a time!” said Hedwig drearily. “That’s what they all say. After a
time it doesn’t matter. Marriage is always the same--after a time.”

Karl rather winced at that, and released her hands, but put them down
gently. “Why should marriage be always the same, after a time?” he
inquired.

“This sort of marriage, without love.”

“It is hardly that, is it? I love you.”

“I wonder how much you love me.”

Karl smiled. He was on his own ground here. The girlish question put him
at ease. “Enough for us both, at first,” he said. “After that--”

“But,” said Hedwig desperately, “suppose I know I shall never care for
you, the way you will want me to. You talk of being fair. I want to be
fair to you. You have a right--” She checked herself abruptly. After
all, he might have a right to know about Nikky Larisch. But there were
others who had rights, too--Otto to his throne, her mother and Hilda
and all the others, to safety, her grandfather to die in peace, the only
gift she could give him.

“What I think you want to tell me, is something I already know,” Karl
said gravely. “Suppose I am willing to take that chance? Suppose I am
vain enough, or fool enough, to think that I can make you forget certain
things, certain people. What then?”

“I do not forget easily.”

“But you would try?”

“I would try,” said Hedwig, almost in a whisper.

Karl bent over and taking her hands, raised her to her feet.

“Darling,” he said, and suddenly drew her to him. He covered her with
hot kisses, her neck, her face, the soft angle below her ear. Then
he held her away from him triumphantly. “Now,” he said, “have you
forgotten?”

But Hedwig, scarlet with shame, faced him steadily. “No,” she said.

Later in the evening the old King received a present, a rather wilted
rose, to which was pinned a card with “Best wishes from Ferdinand
William Otto” printed on it in careful letters.

It was the only flower the King had received during his illness.

When, that night, he fell asleep, it was still clasped in his old hand,
and there was a look of grim tenderness on the face on the pillow,
turned toward his dead son’s picture.



CHAPTER XXXI. LET METTLICH GUARD HIS TREASURE


Troubled times now, with the Carnival only a day or two off, and the
shop windows gay with banners; with the press under the house of the
concierge running day and night, and turning out vast quantities of
flaming bulletins printed in red; with the Committee of Ten in almost
constant session, and Olga Loschek summoned before it, to be told of the
passage, and the thing she was to do; with the old King very close
to the open door, and Hedwig being fitted for her bridal robe and for
somber black at one fitting.

Troubled times, indeed. The city was smouldering, and from some strange
source had come a new rumor. Nothing less than that the Royalists,
headed by the Chancellor, despairing of crowning the boy Prince, would,
on the King’s death, make away with him, thus putting Hedwig on the
throne Hedwig, Queen of Karnia perhaps already by secret marriage.

The city, which adored the boy, was seething. The rumor had originated
with Olga Loschek, who had given it to the Committee as a useful weapon.
Thus would she have her revenge on those of the Palace, and at the same
time secure her own safety. Revenge, indeed, for she knew the way of
such rumors, how they fly from house to house, street to street. How the
innocent, proclaiming their innocence, look even the more guilty.

When she had placed the scheme before the Committee of Ten, had seen the
eagerness with which they grasped it--“In this way,” she had said, in
her scornful, incisive tones, “the onus of the boy is not on you, but
on them. Even those who have no sympathy with your movement will burn
at such a rumor. The better the citizen, the more a lover of home and
order, the more outraged he will be. Every man in the city with a child
of his own will rise against the Palace.”

“Madame,” the leader had said, “you should be of the Committee.”

But she had ignored the speech contemptuously, and gone on to other
things.

Now everything was arranged. Black Humbert had put his niece to work on
a Carnival dress for a small boy, and had stayed her curiosity by a hint
that it was for the American lad.

“They are comfortable tenants,” he had said. “Not lavish, perhaps, as
rich Americans should be, but orderly, and pleasant. The boy has good
manners. It would be well to please him.”

So the niece, sewing in the back room, watched Bobby in and out, with
pleasant mysteries in her eyes, and sewing sang the song the cathedral
chimed:

            “Draw me also, Mary mild,
             To adore Thee and thy Child!
                    Mary mild,
             Star in desert drear and wild.”

So she sang, and sewed, and measured Bobby’s height as he passed by the
wainscoting in the passage, and cunningly cut a pattern.

“So high,” she reflected, humming, “is his shoulder. And so, to this
panel, should go the little trousers. ‘Star in desert drear and wild.’”

Now and then, in the evenings, when the Americans were away, and Bobby
was snug in bed, with Tucker on the tiny feather comfort at his feet,
the Fraulein would come downstairs and sit in Black Humbert’s room. At
such times the niece would be sent on an errand, and the two would talk.
The niece, who, although she had no lover, was on the lookout for love,
suspected a romance of the middle-aged, and smiled in the half-darkness
of the street; smiled with a touch of malice, as one who has pierced the
armor of the fortress, and knows its weakness.

But it was not of love that Humbert and the Fraulein talked.

Herman Spier was busy in those days and making plans. Thus, day by day,
he dined in the restaurant where the little Marie, now weary of her
husband, sat in idle intervals behind the cashier’s desk, and watched
the grass in the Place emerge from its winter hiding place. When she
turned her eyes to the room, frequently she encountered those of Herman
Spier, pale yet burning, fixed on her. And at last, one day when her
husband lay lame with sciatica, she left the desk and paused by Herman’s
table.

“You come frequently now,” she observed. “It is that you like us here,
or that you have risen in the shop?”

“I have left the shop,” said Herman, staring at her. Flesh, in a
moderate amount, suited her well. He liked plump women. They were, if
you please, an armful. “And I come to see you.”

“Left the shop!” Marie exclaimed. “And Peter Niburg--he has left also? I
never see him.”

“No,” said Herman non-committally.

“He is ill, perhaps?”

“He is dead,” said Herman, devouring her with his eyes.

“Dead!” She put a hand to her plump side.

“Aye. Shot as a spy.” He took another piece of the excellent pigeon pie.
Marie, meantime, lost all her looks, grew pasty white.

“Of the--the Terrorists?” she demanded, in a whisper.

“Terrorists! No. Of Karnia. He was no patriot.”

So the little Marie went back to her desk, and to her staring out over
the Place in intervals of business. And what she thought of no one can
know. But that night, and thereafter, she was very tender to her spouse,
and put cloths soaked in hot turpentine water on his aching thigh.

On the surface things went on as usual at the Palace. Karl’s visit had
been but for a day or two. He had met the Council in session, and had
had, because of their growing alarm, rather his own way with them.

But although he had pointed to the King’s condition and theirs--as an
argument for immediate marriage--he failed. The thing would be done,
but properly and in good time. They had a signed agreement to fall back
upon, and were in no hurry to pay his price. Karl left them in a bad
temper, well concealed, and had the pleasure of being hissed through the
streets.

But he comforted himself with the thought of Hedwig. He had taken her in
his arms before he left, and she had made no resistance. She had even,
in view of all that was at stake, made a desperate effort to return his
kiss, and found herself trembling afterward.

In two weeks he was to return to her, and he whispered that to her.

On the day after the dinner-party Otto went to a hospital with Miss
Braithwaite. It was the custom of the Palace to send the flowers
from its spectacular functions to the hospitals, and the Crown Prince
delighted in these errands.

So they went, escorted by the functionaries of the hospital, past the
military wards, where soldiers in shabby uniforms sat on benches in
the spring sunshine, to the general wards beyond. The Crown Prince was
almost hidden behind the armful he carried. Miss Braithwaite had all she
could hold. A convalescent patient, in slippers many sizes too large for
him, wheeled the remainder in a barrow, and almost upset the barrow in
his excitement.

Through long corridors into wards fresh-scrubbed against his arrival,
with white counterpanes exactly square, and patients forbidden to move
and disturb the geometrical exactness of the beds, went Prince Ferdinand
William Otto. At each bed he stopped, selected a flower, and held it
out. Some there were who reached out, and took it with a smile. Others
lay still, and saw neither boy nor blossom.

“They sleep, Highness,” the nurse would say.

“But their eyes are open.”

“They are very weary, and resting.”

In such cases he placed the flower on the pillow, and went on.

One such; however, lying with vacant eyes fixed on the ceiling,
turned and glanced at the boy, and into his empty gaze crept a faint
intelligence. It was not much. He seemed to question with his eyes. That
was all. As the little procession moved on, however, he raised himself
on his elbow.

“Lie down!” said the man in the next bed sharply.

“Who was that?”

The ward, which might have been interested, was busy keeping its covers
straight and in following the progress of the party. For the man had not
spoken before.

“The Crown Prince.”

The sick man lay back and dosed his eyes. Soon he slept. His comrade in
the next bed beckoned to a Sister.

“He has spoken,” he said. “Either he recovers, or--he dies.”

But again Haeckel did not die. He lived to do his part in the coming
crisis, to prove that even the great hands of Black Humbert on his
throat were not so strong as his own young spirit; lived, indeed, to
confront the Terrorist as one risen from the dead. But that day he lay
and slept, by curious irony the flower from Karl’s banquet in a cup of
water beside him.

On the day before the Carnival, Hedwig had a visitor, none other than
the Countess Loschek. Hedwig, all her color gone now, her high spirit
crushed, her heart torn into fragments and neatly distributed between
Nikky, who had most of it, the Crown Prince, and the old King. Hedwig,
having given her permission to come, greeted her politely but without
enthusiasm.

“Highness!” said the Countess, surveying her. And then, “You poor
child!” using Karl’s words, but without the same inflection, using,
indeed, the words a good many were using to Hedwig in those days.

“I am very tired,” Hedwig explained. “All this fitting,
and--everything.”

“I know, perhaps better than you think, Highness.” Also something like
Karl’s words. Hedwig reflected with bitterness that everybody knew, but
nobody helped her. And, as if in answer to the thought, Olga Loschek
came out plainly.

“Highness,” she said, “may I speak to you frankly?”

“Please do,” Hedwig replied. “Everybody does, anyhow. Especially when it
is something disagreeable.”

Olga Loschek watched her warily. She knew the family as only the
outsider could know it; knew that Hedwig, who would have disclaimed the
fact, was like her mother in some things, notably in a disposition to
be mild until a certain moment, submissive, even acquiescent, and then
suddenly to become, as it were, a royalty and grow cold, haughty. But
if Hedwig was driven in those days, so was the Countess, desperate and
driven to desperate methods.

“I am presuming, Highness, on your mother’s kindness to me, and your
own, to speak frankly.”

“Well, go on,” said Hedwig resignedly. But the next words brought her up
in her chair.

“Are you going to allow your life to be ruined?” was what the Countess
said.

Careful! Hedwig had thrown up her head and looked at her with hostile
eyes. But the next moment she had forgotten she was a princess, and the
granddaughter to the King, and remembered only that she was a woman,
and terror-stricken. She flung out her arms, and then buried her face in
them.

“How can I help it?” she said.

“How can you do it?” Olga Loschek countered. “After all, it is you who
must do this thing. No one else. It is you they are offering on the
altar of their ambition.”

“Ambition?”

“Ambition. What else is it? Surely you do not believe these tales they
tell--old wives’ tales of plot and counterplot!”

“But the Chancellor--”

“Certainly the Chancellor!” mocked Olga Loschek. “Highness, for years
he has had a dream. A great dream. It is not for you and me to say it is
not noble. But, to fulfill his dream to bring prosperity and greatness
to the country, and naturally, to him who plans it, there is a price to
pay. He would have you pay it.”

Hedwig raised her face and searched the other woman’s eyes.

“That is all, then?” she said. “All this other, this fright, this talk
of treason and danger, that is not true?”

“Not so true as he would have you believe,” replied Olga Loschek
steadily. “There are malcontents everywhere, in every land. A few madmen
who dream dreams, like Mettlich himself, only not the same dream. It is
all ambition, one dream or another.”

“But my grandfather--”

“An old man, in the hands of his Ministers!”

Hedwig rose and paced the floor, her fingers twisting nervously. “But
it is too late,” she cried at last. “Everything is arranged. I cannot
refuse now. They would--I don’t know what they would do to me!”

“Do! To the granddaughter of the King. What can they do?”

That aspect of things; to do her credit, had never occurred to Hedwig.
She had seen herself, hopeless and alone, surrounded by the powerful,
herself friendless. But, if there was no danger to save her family from?
If her very birth, which had counted so far for so little, would bring
her immunity and even safety?

She paused in front of the Countess. “What can I do?” she asked
pitifully.

“That I dare not presume to say. I came because I felt--I can only say
what, in your place, I should do.”

“I am afraid. You would not be afraid.” Hedwig shivered. “What would you
do?”

“If I knew, Highness, that some one, for whom I cared, himself cared
deeply enough to make any sacrifice, I should demand happiness. I rather
think I should lose the world, and gain something like happiness.”

“Demand!” Hedwig said hopelessly. “Yes, you would demand it. I cannot
demand things. I am always too frightened.”

The Countess rose. “I am afraid I have done an unwise thing,” she said,
“If your mother knew--” She shrugged her shoulders.

“You have only been kind. I have so few who really care.”

The Countess curtsied, and made for the door. “I must go,” she said,
“before I go further, Highness. My apology is that I saw you unhappy,
and that I resented it, because--”

“Yes?”

“Because I considered it unnecessary.”

She was a very wise woman. She left then, and let the next step come
from Hedwig. It followed, as a matter of record, within the hour,
at least four hours sooner than she had anticipated. She was in her
boudoir, not reading, not even thinking, but sitting staring ahead, as
Minna had seen her do repeatedly in the past weeks. She dared not think,
for that matter.

Although she was still in waiting, the Archduchess was making few
demands on her. A very fever of preparation was on Annunciata. She spent
hours over laces and lingerie, was having jewels reset for Hedwig, after
ornate designs of her own contribution, was the center of a cyclone
of boxes, tissue paper, material, furs, and fashion books, while maids
scurried about and dealers and dressmakers awaited her pleasure. She
was, perhaps, happier than she had been for years, visited her father,
absently and with pins stuck in her bosom, and looked dowdier and busier
than the lowliest of the seamstresses who, by her thrifty order, were
making countless undergarments in a room on an upper floor.

Hedwig’s notification that she would visit her, therefore, found the
Countess at leisure and alone. She followed the announcement almost
immediately, and if she had shown cowardice before, she showed none now.
She disregarded the chair Olga Loschek offered, and came to the point
with a directness that was like the King’s.

“I have come,” she said simply, “to find out what to do.”

The Countess was as direct.

“I cannot tell you what to do, Highness. I can only tell you what I
would do.”

“Very well.” Hedwig showed a touch of impatience. This was quibbling,
and it annoyed her.

“I should go away, now, with the person I cared about.”

“Where would you go?”

“The world is wide, Highness.”

“Not wide enough to hide in, I am afraid.”

“For myself,” said the Countess, “the problem would not be difficult.
I should go to my place in the mountains. An old priest, who knows me
well, would perform the marriage. After that they might find me if they
liked. It would be too late.”

Emergency had given Hedwig insight. She saw that the woman before
her, voicing dangerous doctrine, would protect herself by letting the
initiative come from her.

“This priest--he might be difficult.”

“Not to a young couple, come to him, perhaps, in peasant costume. They
are glad to marry, these fathers. There is much irregularity. I fancy,”
 she added, still with her carefully detached manner, “that a marriage
could be easily arranged.”

But, before long, she had dropped her pretense of aloofness, and was
taking the lead. Hedwig, weary with the struggle, and now trembling
with nervousness, put herself in her hands, listening while she planned,
agreed eagerly to everything. Something of grim amusement came into
Olga Loschek’s face after a time. By doing this thing she would lose
everything. It would be impossible to conceal her connivance. No one,
knowing Hedwig, would for a moment imagine the plan hers. Or Nikky’s,
either, for that matter.

She, then, would lose everything, even Karl, who was already lost to
her. But--and her face grew set and her eyes hard--she would let those
plotters in their grisly catacombs do their own filthy work. Her hands
would be clean of that. Hence her amusement that at this late day she,
Olga Loschek, should be saving her own soul.

So it was arranged, to the last detail. For it must be done at once.
Hedwig, a trifle terrified, would have postponed it a day or so, but the
Countess was insistent. Only she knew how the very hours counted, had
them numbered, indeed, and watched them flying by with a sinking heart.

She made a few plans herself, in those moments when Hedwig relapsed
into rapturous if somewhat frightened dreams. She had some money and
her jewels. She would go to England, and there live quietly until things
settled down. Then, perhaps, she would go some day to Karl, and with
this madness for Hedwig dead, of her marriage, perhaps--! She planned no
further.

If she gave a fleeting thought to the Palace, to the Crown Prince and
his impending fate, she dismissed it quickly. She had no affection for
Annunciata, and as to the boy, let them look out for him. Let Mettlich
guard his treasure, or lose it to his peril. The passage under the gate
was not of her discovery or informing.



CHAPTER XXXII. NIKKY AND HEDWIG


Nikky had gone back to his lodging, where his servant was packing his
things. For Nikky was now of His Majesty’s household, and must exchange
his shabby old rooms for the cold magnificence of the Palace.

Toto had climbed to the chair beside him, and was inspecting his
pockets, one by one. Toto was rather a problem, in the morning. But
then everything was a problem now. He decided to leave the dog with the
landlady, and to hope for a chance to talk the authorities over. Nikky
himself considered that a small boy without a dog was as incomplete as,
for instance, a buttonhole without a button.

He was very downhearted. To the Crown Prince, each day, he gave the best
that was in him, played and rode, invented delightful nonsense to bring
the boy’s quick laughter, carried pocketfuls of bones, to the secret
revolt of his soldierly soul, was boyish and tender, frivolous or
thoughtful, as the occasion seemed to warrant.

And always he was watchful, his revolver always ready and in touch, his
eyes keen, his body, even when it seemed most relaxed, always tense to
spring. For Nikky knew the temper of the people, knew it as did Mathilde
gossiping in the market, and even better; knew that a crisis was
approaching, and that on this small boy in his charge hung that crisis.

The guard at the Palace had been trebled, but even in that lay weakness.

“Too many strange faces,” the Chancellor had said to him, shaking his
head. “Too many servants in livery, and flunkies whom no one knows. How
can we prevent men, in such livery, from impersonating our own agents?
One, two, a half-dozen, they could gain access to the Palace, could
commit a mischief under our very eyes.”

So Nikky trusted in his own right arm and in nothing else. At night the
Palace guard was smaller, and could be watched. There were no servants
about to complicate the situation. But in the daytime, and especially
now with the procession of milliners and dressmakers, messengers and
dealers, it was more difficult. Nikky watched these people, as he
happened on them, with suspicion and hatred. Hatred not only of what
they might be, but hatred of what they were, of the thing they typified,
Hedwig’s approaching marriage.

The very size of the Palace, its unused rooms, its long and rambling
corridors, its rambling wings and ancient turrets, was against its
safety.

Since the demonstration against Karl, the riding-school hour had been
given up. There were no drives in the park. The illness of the King
furnished sufficient excuse, but the truth was that the royal family was
practically besieged; by it knew not what. Two police agents had been
found dead the morning after Karl’s departure, on the outskirts of the
city, lying together in a freshly ploughed field. They bore marks of
struggle, and each had been stabbed through the veins of the neck, as
though they had been first subdued and then scientifically destroyed.

Nikky, summoned to the Chancellor’s house that morning, had been
told the facts, and had stood, rather still and tense, while Mettlich
recounted them.

“Our very precautions are our danger,” said the Chancellor. “And the
King--” He stopped and sat, tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair.

“And the King, sir?”

“Almost at the end. A day or two.”

On that day came fresh news, alarming enough. More copies of the
seditious paper were in circulation in the city and the surrounding
country, passing from hand to hand. The town was searched for the
press which had printed them, but it was not located. Which was not
surprising, since it had been lowered through a trap into a sub-cellar
of the house on the Road of the Good Children, and the trapdoor covered
with rubbish.

Karl, with Hedwig in his thoughts, had returned to mobilize his army not
far from the border for the spring maneuvers, and at a meeting of the
King’s Council the matter of a mobilization in Livonia was seriously
considered.

Fat Friese favored it, and made an impassioned speech, with sweat thick
on his heavy face.

“I am not cowardly,” he finished. “I fear nothing for myself or for
those belonging to me. But the duty of this Council is to preserve the
throne for the Crown Prince, at any cost. And, if we cannot trust the
army, in what can we trust?”

“In God,” said the Chancellor grimly.

In the end nothing was done. Mobilization might precipitate the crisis,
and there was always the fear that the army, in parts, was itself
disloyal.

It was Marschall, always nervous and now pallid with terror, who
suggested abandoning the marriage between Hedwig and Karl.

“Until this matter came up,” he said, avoiding Mettlich’s eyes, “there
was danger, but of a small party only, the revolutionary one. One which,
by increased effort on the part of the secret police, might have been
suppressed. It is this new measure which is fatal. The people detest it.
They cannot forget, if we can, the many scores of hatred we still owe to
Karnia. We have, by our own act, alienated the better class of citizens.
Why not abandon this marriage, which, gentlemen, I believe will be
fatal. It has not yet been announced. We may still withdraw with honor.”

He looked around the table with anxious, haunted eyes, opened wide
so that the pupils appeared small and staring in their setting of
blood-shot white. The Chancellor glanced around, also.

“It is not always easy to let the people of a country know what is good
for them and for it. To retreat now is to show our weakness, to make an
enemy again of King Karl, and to gain us nothing, not even safety. As
well abdicate, and turn the country over to the Terrorists! And, in this
crisis, let me remind you of something you persistently forget. Whatever
the views of the solid citizens may be as to this marriage,--and once it
is effected, they will accept it without doubt,--the Crown Prince is now
and will remain the idol of the country. It is on his popularity we
must depend. We must capitalize it. Mobs are sentimental. Whatever the
Terrorists may think, this I know: that when the bell announces His
Majesty’s death, when Ferdinand William Otto steps out on the balcony,
a small and lonely child, they will rally to him. That figure, on the
balcony, will be more potent than a thousand demagogues, haranguing in
the public streets.”

The Council broke up in confusion. Nothing had been done, or would be
done. Mettlich of the Iron Hand had held them, would continue to hold
them. The King, meanwhile, lay dying, Doctor Wiederman in constant
attendance, other physicians coming and going. His apartments were
silent. Rugs covered the corridors, that no footfall disturb his quiet
hours. The nursing Sisters attended him, one by his bedside, one always
on her knees at the Prie-dieu in the small room beyond. He wanted
little--now and then a sip of water, the cooled juice of fruit.

Injections of stimulants, given by Doctor Wiederman himself, had scarred
his old arms with purplish marks, and were absorbed more and more slowly
as the hours went on.

He rarely slept, but lay inert and not unhappy. Now and then one of his
gentlemen, given permission, tiptoed into the room, and stood looking
down at his royal master. Annunciata came, and was at last stricken by
conscience to a prayer at his bedside. On one of her last visits that
was. She got up to find his eyes fixed on her.

“Father,” she began.

He made no motion.

“Father, can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“I--I have been a bad daughter to you. I am sorry. It is late now to
tell you, but I am sorry. Can I do anything?”

“Otto,” he said, with difficulty.

“You want to see him?

“No.”

She knew what he meant by that. He would have the boy remember him as he
had seen him last.

“You are anxious about him?”

“Very--anxious.”

“Listen, father,” she said, stooping over him. “I have been hard and
cold. Perhaps you will grant that I have had two reasons for it. But I
am going to do better. I will take care of him and I will do all I can
to make him happy. I promise.”

Perhaps it was relief. Perhaps even then the thought of Annunciata’s
tardy and certain-to-be bungling efforts to make Ferdinand William Otto
happy amused him. He smiled faintly.

Nikky, watching his rooms being dismantled, rescuing an old pipe now and
then, or a pair of shabby but beloved boots,--Nikky, whistling to keep
up his courage, received a note from Hedwig late that afternoon. It was
very brief:

  To-night at nine o’clock I shall go to the roof beyond
  Hubert’s old rooms, for air.
                                                HEDWIG.

Nikky, who in all his incurious young life had never thought of the roof
of the Palace, save as a necessary shelter from the weather, a thing of
tiles and gutters, vastly large, looked rather astounded.

“The roof!” he said, surveying the note. And fell to thinking, such a
mixture of rapture and despair as only twenty-three, and hopeless, can
know.

Somehow or other he got through the intervening hours, and before nine
he was on his way. He had the run of the Palace, of course. No one
noticed him as he made his way toward the empty suite which so recently
had housed its royal visitor. Annunciata’s anxiety had kept the doors of
the suite unlocked. Knowing nothing, but fearing everything, she slept
with the key to the turret door under her pillow, and an ear opened for
untoward sounds.

In the faint moonlight poor Hubert’s rooms, with their refurbished
furnishings covered with white linen, looked cold and almost terrifying.
A long window was open, and the velvet curtain swayed as though it
shielded some dismal figure. But, when he had crossed the room and drawn
the curtain aside, it was to see a bit of fairyland, the roof moonlit
and transformed by growing things into a garden. There was, too, the
fairy.

Hedwig, in a soft white wrap over her dinner dress, was at the
balustrade. The moon, which had robbed the flowers of their colors and
made them ghosts of blossoms, had turned Hedwig into a pale, white fairy
with extremely frightened eyes. A very dignified fairy, too, although
her heart thumped disgracefully. Having taken a most brazen step
forward, she was now for taking two panicky ones back.

Therefore she pretended not to hear Nikky behind her, and was completely
engrossed in the city lights.

So Hedwig intended to be remote, and Nikky meant to be firm and very,
very loyal. Which shows how young and inexperienced they were. Because
any one who knows even the beginnings of love knows that its victims
suffer from an atrophy of both reason and conscience, and a hypertrophy
of the heart.

Whatever Nikky had intended--of obeying his promise to the letter, of
putting his country before love, and love out of his life--failed him
instantly. The Nikky, ardent-eyed and tender-armed, who crossed the
roof and took her almost fiercely in his arms, was all lover--and
twenty-three.

“Sweetheart!” he said. “Sweetest heart!”

When, having kissed her, he drew back a trifle for the sheer joy of
again catching her to him, it was Hedwig who held out her arms to him.

“I couldn’t bear it,” she said simply. “I love you. I had to see you
again. Just once.”

If he had not entirely lost his head before, he lost it then. He stopped
thinking, was content for a time that her arms were about his neck, and
his arms about her, holding her close. They were tense, those arms of
his, as though he would defy the world to take her away.

But, although he had stopped thinking, Hedwig had not. It is, at such
times, always the woman who thinks. Hedwig, plotting against his honor
and for his happiness and hers, was already, with her head on his
breast, planning the attack. And, having a strategic position, she fired
her first gun from there.

“Never let me go, Nikky,” she whispered. “Hold me, always.”

“Always!” said Nikky, valiantly and absurdly.

“Like this?”

“Like this,” said Nikky, who was, like most lovers, not particularly
original. He tightened his strong arms about her.

“They are planning such terrible things.” Shell number two, and high
explosive. “You won’t let them take me from you, will you?”

“God!” said poor Nikky, and kissed her hair. “If we could only be like
this always! Your arms, Hedwig,--your sweet arms!” He kissed her arms.

Gun number three now: “Tell me how much you love me.”

“I--there are no words, darling. And I couldn’t live long enough to tell
you, if there were.” Not bad that, for inarticulate Nikky.

“More than anybody else?”

He shook her a trifle, in his arms. “How can you?” he demanded huskily.
“More than anything in the world. More than life, or anything life can
bring. More, God help me, than my country.”

But his own words brought him up short. He released her, very gently,
and drew back a step.

“You heard that?” he demanded. “And I mean it. It’s incredible, Hedwig,
but it is true.”

“I want you to mean it,” Hedwig replied, moving close to him, so that
her soft draperies brushed him; the very scent of the faint perfume she
used was in the air he breathed. “I want you to, because Nikky, you are
going to take me away, aren’t you?”

Then, because she dared not give him time to think, she made her
plea,--rapid, girlish, rather incoherent, but understandable enough.
They would go away together and be married. She had it all planned
and some of it arranged. And then they would hide somewhere, and--“And
always be together,” she finished, tremulous with anxiety.

And Nikky? His pulses still beating at her nearness, his eyes on her
upturned, despairing young face, turned to him for hope and comfort,
what could he do? He took her in his arms again and soothed her, while
she cried her heart out against his tunic. He said he would do anything
to keep her from unhappiness, and that he would die before he let her go
to Karl’s arms. But if he had stopped thinking before, he was thinking
hard enough then.

“To-night?” said Hedwig, raising a tear-stained face. “It is early. If
we wait something will happen. I know it. They are so powerful, they can
do anything.”

After all, Nikky is poor stuff to try to make a hero of. He was so
human, and so loving. And he was very, very young, which may perhaps
be his excuse. As well confess his weakness and his temptation. He was
tempted. Almost he felt he could not let her go, could not loosen his
hold of her. Almost--not quite.

He put her away from him at last, after he had kissed her eyelids and
her forehead, which was by way of renunciation. And then he folded
his arms, which were treacherous and might betray him. After that, not
daring to look at her, but with his eyes fixed on the irregular sky-line
of the city roofs, he told her many things, of his promise to the King,
of the danger, imminent now and very real, of his word of honor not to
make love to her, which he had broken.

Hedwig listened, growing cold and still, and drawing away a little. She
was suffering too much to be just. All she could see was that, for a
matter of honor, and that debatable, she was to be sacrificed. This
danger that all talked of--she had heard that for a dozen years, and
nothing had come of it. Nothing, that is, but her own sacrifice.

She listened, even assented, as he pleaded against his own heart,
treacherous arms still folded. And if she saw his arms and not his eyes,
it was because she did not look up.

Halfway through his eager speech, however, she drew her light wrap about
her and turned away. Nikky could not believe that she was going like
that, without a word. But when she had disappeared through the window,
he knew, and followed her. He caught her in Hubert’s room, and drew her
savagely into his arms.

But it was a passive, quiescent, and trembling Hedwig who submitted, and
then, freeing herself, went out through the door into the lights of the
corridor. Nikky flung himself, face down, on a shrouded couch and lay
there, his face buried in his arms.

Olga Loschek’s last hope was gone.



CHAPTER XXXIII. THE DAY OF THE CARNIVAL


On the day of the Carnival, which was the last day before the beginning
of Lent, Prince Ferdinand William Otto wakened early. The Palace still
slept, and only the street-sweepers were about the streets. Prince
Ferdinand William Otto sat up in bed and yawned. This was a special day,
he knew, but at first he was too drowsy to remember.

Then he knew--the Carnival! A delightful day, with the Place full of
people in strange costumes--peasants, imps, jesters, who cut capers on
the grass in the Park, little girls in procession, wearing costumes of
fairies with gauze wings, students who paraded and blew noisy horns,
even horses decorated, and now and then a dog dressed as a dancer or a
soldier.

He would have enjoyed dressing Toto in something or other. He decided to
mention it to Nikky, and with a child’s faith he felt that Nikky would,
so to speak, come up to the scratch.

He yawned again, and began to feel hungry. He decided to get up and take
his own bath. There was nothing like getting a good start for a gala
day. And, since with the Crown Prince to decide was to do, which is not
always a royal trait, he took his own bath, being very particular about
his ears, and not at all particular about the rest of him. Then, no
Oskar having yet appeared with fresh garments he ducked back into bed
again, quite bare as to his small body, and snuggled down in the sheets.

Lying there, he planned the day. There were to be no lessons except
fencing, which could hardly be called a lesson at all, and as he now
knew the “Gettysburg Address,” he meant to ask permission to recite it
to his grandfather. To be quite sure of it, he repeated it to himself as
he lay there:--

  “‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on
   this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and
   dedicated to the proposition that all men are created
   equal.’

“Free and equal,” he said to himself. That rather puzzled him. Of course
people were free, but they did not seem to be equal. In the summer, at
the summer palace, he was only allowed to see a few children, because
the others were what his Aunt Annunciata called “bourgeois.” And there
was in his mind also something Miss Braithwaite had said, after his
escapade with the American boy.

“If you must have some child to play with,” she had said severely, “you
could at least choose some one approximately your equal.”

“But he is my equal,” he had protested from the outraged depths of his
small democratic heart.

“In birth,” explained Miss Braithwaite.

“His father has a fine business,” he had said, still rather indignant.
“It makes a great deal of money. Not everybody can build a scenic
railway and get it going right. Bobby said so.”

Miss Braithwaite had been silent and obviously unconvinced. Yet this
Mr. Lincoln, the American, had certainly said that all men were free and
equal. It was very puzzling.

But, as the morning advanced, as, clothed and fed, the Crown Prince
faced the new day, he began to feel a restraint in the air. People
came and went, his grandfather’s Equerry, the Chancellor, the Lord
Chamberlain, other gentlemen, connected with the vast and intricate
machinery of the Court, and even Hedwig, in a black frock, all these
people came, and talked together, and eyed him when he was not looking.
When they left they all bowed rather more than usual, except Hedwig, who
kissed him, much to his secret annoyance.

Every one looked grave, and spoke in a low tone. Also there was
something wrong with Nikky, who appeared not only grave, but rather
stern and white. Considering that it was the last day before Lent, and
Carnival time, Prince Ferdinand William Otto felt vaguely defrauded,
rather like the time he had seen “The Flying Dutchman,” which had turned
out to be only a make-believe ship and did not fly at all. To add to the
complications, Miss Braithwaite had a headache.

Nikky Larisch had arrived just as Hedwig departed, and even the Crown
Prince had recognized something wrong. Nikky had stopped just inside the
doorway, with his eyes rather desperately and hungrily on Hedwig, and
Hedwig, who should have been scolded, according to Prince Otto, had
passed him with the haughtiest sort of nod.

The Crown Prince witnessed the nod with wonder and alarm.

“We are all rather worried,” he explained afterward to Nikky, to soothe
his wounded pride. “My grandfather is not so well to-day. Hedwig is very
unhappy.”

“Yes,” said Nikky miserably, “she does look unhappy.”

“Now, when are we going out?” briskly demanded Prince Ferdinand William
Otto. “I can hardly wait. I’ve seen the funniest people already--and
dogs. Nikky, I wonder if you could dress Toto, and let me see him
somewhere.”

“Out! You do not want to go out in that crowd, do you?”

“Why--am I not to go?”

His voice was suddenly quite shaky. He was, in a way, so inured to
disappointments that he recognized the very tones in which they were
usually announced. So he eyed Nikky with a searching glance, and saw
there the thing he feared.

“Well,” he said resignedly, “I suppose I can see something from the
windows. Only--I should like to have a really good time occasionally.”
 He was determined not to cry. “But there are usually a lot of people in
the Place.”

Then, remembering that his grandfather was very ill, he tried to forget
his disappointment in a gift for him. Not burnt wood this time, but the
drawing of a gun, which he explained as he worked, that he had invented.
He drew behind the gun a sort of trestle, with little cars, not unlike
the Scenic Railway, on which ammunition was delivered into the breech by
something strongly resembling a coal-chute.

There was, after all, little to see from the windows. That part of the
Place near the Palace remained empty and quiet, by order of the King’s
physicians. And although it was Carnival, and the streets were thronged
with people, there was little of Carnival in the air. The city waited.

Some loyal subjects waited and grieved that the King lay dying. For,
although the Palace had carefully repressed his condition, such things
leak out, and there was the empty and silent Place to bear witness.

Others waited, too, but not in sorrow. And a certain percentage, the
young and light-hearted, strutted the streets in fantastic costume, blew
horns and threw confetti and fresh flowers, still dewy from the mountain
slopes. The Scenic Railway was crowded with merry-makers, and long lines
of people stood waiting their turn at the ticket-booth, where a surly
old veteran, pinched with sleepless nights, sold them tickets and
ignored their badinage. Family parties, carrying baskets and wheeling
babies in perambulators, took possession of the Park and littered it
with paper bags. And among them, committing horrible crimes, dispatching
whole families with a wooden gun from behind near-by trees and taking
innumerable prisoners, went a small pirate in a black mask and a sash
of scarlet ribbon, from which hung various deadly weapons, including a
bread-knife, a meat-cleaver, and a hatchet.

Attempts to make Tucker wear a mask having proved abortive, he was
attired in a pirate flag of black, worn as a blanket, and having on it,
in white muslin, what purported to be a skull and cross-bones but which
looked like the word “ox” with the “O” superimposed over the “X.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto stood at his window and looked out.
Something of resentment showed itself in the lines of his figure. There
was, indeed, rebellion in his heart. This was a real day, a day of
days, and no one seemed to care that he was missing it. Miss Braithwaite
looked drawn about the eyes, and considered carnivals rather common,
and certainly silly. And Nikky looked drawn about the mouth, and did not
care to play.

Rebellion was dawning in the soul of the Crown Prince, not the impassive
revolt of the “Flying Dutchman” and things which only pretended to be,
like the imitation ship and the women who were not really spinning. The
same rebellion, indeed, which had set old Adelbert against the King
and turned him traitor, a rebellion against needless disappointment, a
protest for happiness.

Old Adelbert, forbidden to march in his new uniform, the Crown Prince,
forbidden his liberty and shut in a gloomy palace, were blood-brothers
in revolt.

Not that Prince Ferdinand William Otto knew he was in revolt. At first
it consisted only of a consideration of his promise to the Chancellor.
But while there had been an understanding, there had been no actual
promise, had there?

Late in the morning Nikky took him to the roof. “We can’t go out, old
man,” Nikky said to him, rather startled to discover the unhappiness in
the boy’s face, “but I’ve found a place where we can see more than we
can here. Suppose we try it.”

“Why can’t we go out? I’ve always gone before.”

“Well,” Nikky temporized, “they’ve made a rule. They make a good many
rules, you know. But they said nothing about the roof.”

“The roof!”

“The roof. The thing that covers us and keeps out the weather. The roof,
Highness.” Nikky alternated between formality and the other extreme with
the boy.

“It slants, doesn’t it?” observed his Highness doubtfully.

“Part of it is quite flat. We can take a ball up there, and get some
exercise while we’re about it.”

As a matter of fact, Nikky was not altogether unselfish. He would visit
the roof again, where for terrible, wonderful moments he had held Hedwig
in his arms. On a pilgrimage, indeed, like that of the Crown Prince to
Etzel, Nikky would visit his shrine.

So they went to the roof. They went through silent corridors, past quiet
rooms where the suite waited and spoke in whispers, past the very door
of the chamber where the Council sat in session, and where reports were
coming in, hour by hour, as to the condition of things outside. Past
the apartment of the Archduchess Annunciata, where Hilda, released from
lessons, was trying the effect of jet earrings against her white skin,
and the Archduchess herself was sitting by her fire, and contemplating
the necessity for flight. In her closet was a small bag, already
packed in case of necessity. Indeed, more persons than the Archduchess
Annunciata had so prepared. Miss Braithwaite, for instance, had spent a
part of the night over a traveling-case containing a small boy’s outfit,
and had wept as she worked, which was the reason for her headache.

The roof proved quite wonderful. One could see the streets crowded with
people, could hear the soft blare of distant horns.

“The Scenic Railway is in that direction,” observed the Crown Prince,
leaning on the balustrade. “If there were no buildings we could see it.”

“Right here,” Nikky was saying to himself. “At this very spot. She held
out her arms, and I--”

“It looks very interesting,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. “Of
course we can’t see the costumes, but it is better than nothing.”

“I kissed her,” Nikky was thinking, his heart swelling under his very
best tunic. “Her head was on my breast, and I kissed her. Last of all,
I kissed her eyes--her lovely eyes.”

“If I fell off here,” observed the Crown Prince in a meditative voice,
“I would be smashed to a jelly, like the child at the Crystal Palace.”

“But now she hates me,” said Nikky’s heart, and dropped about the
distance of three buttons. “She hates me. I saw it in her eyes this
morning. God!”

“We might as well play ball now.”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto turned away from the parapet with a sigh.
This strange quiet that filled the Palace seemed to have attacked Nikky
too. Otto hated quiet.

They played ball, and the Crown Prince took a lesson in curves. But on
his third attempt, he described such a compound--curve that the ball
disappeared over an adjacent part of the roof, and although Nikky did
some blood-curdling climbing along gutters, it could not be found.

It was then that the Majordomo, always a marvelous figure in crimson
and gold, and never seen without white gloves--the Majordomo bowed in
a window, and observed that if His Royal Highness pleased, His Royal
Highness’s luncheon was served.

In the shrouded room inside the windows, however, His Royal Highness
paused and looked around.

“I’ve been here before,” he observed. “These were my father’s rooms.
My mother lived here, too. When I am older, perhaps I can have them. It
would be convenient on account of my practicing curves on the roof. But
I should need a number of balls.”

He was rather silent on his way back to the schoolroom. But once he
looked up rather wistfully at Nikky.

“If they were living,” he said, “I am pretty sure they would take me out
to-day.”

Olga Loschek had found the day one of terror. Annunciata had demanded
her attendance all morning, had weakened strangely and demanded
fretfully to be comforted.

“I have been a bad daughter,” she would say. “It was my nature. I was
warped and soured by wretchedness.”

“But you have not been a bad daughter,” the Countess would protest,
for the thousandth time. “You have done your duty faithfully. You have
stayed here when many another would have been traveling on the Riviera,
or--”

“It was no sacrifice,” said Annunciata, in her peevish voice. “I loathe
traveling. And now I am being made to suffer for all I have done. He
will die, and the rest of us--what will happen to us?” She shivered.

The Countess would take the cue, would enlarge on the precautions for
safety, on the uselessness of fear, on the popularity of the Crown
Prince. And Annunciata, for a time at least, would relax. In her new
remorse she made frequent visits to the sickroom, passing, a long, thin
figure, clad in black, through lines of bowing gentlemen, to stand by
the bed and wring her hands. But the old King did not even know she was
there.

The failure of her plan as to Nikky and Hedwig was known to the Countess
the night before. Hedwig had sent for her and faced her in her boudoir,
very white and calm.

“He refuses,” she said. “There is nothing more to do.”

“Refuses!”

“He has promised not to leave Otto.”

Olga Loschek had been incredulous, at first. It was not possible. Men in
love did not do these things. It was not possible, that, after all, she
had failed. When she realized it, she would have broken out in bitter
protest, but Hedwig’s face warned her. “He is right, of course,” Hedwig
had said. “You and I were wrong, Countess. There is nothing to do--or
say.”

And the Countess had taken her defeat quietly, with burning eyes and a
throat dry with excitement. “I am sorry, Highness,” she said from the
doorway. “I had only hoped to save you from unhappiness. That is all.
And, as you say, there is nothing to be done.” So she had gone away and
faced the night, and the day which was to follow.

The plot was arranged, to the smallest detail. The King, living now
only so long as it was decreed he should live; would, in mid-afternoon,
commence to sink. The entire Court would be gathered in anterooms and
salons near his apartments. In his rooms the Crown Prince would be kept,
awaiting the summons to the throne-room, where, on the King’s death, the
regency would be declared, and the Court would swear fealty to the new
King, Otto the Ninth. By arrangement with the captain of the Palace
guard, who was one of the Committee of Ten, the sentries before the
Crown Prince’s door were to be of the revolutionary party. Mettlich
would undoubtedly be with the King. Remained then to be reckoned
with only the Prince’s personal servants, Miss Braithwaite, and Nikky
Larisch.

The servants offered little difficulty. At that hour, four o’clock,
probably only the valet Oskar would be on duty, and his station was at
the end of a corridor, separated by two doors from the schoolroom. It
was planned that the two men who were to secure the Crown Prince were to
wear the Palace livery, and to come with a message that the Crown Prince
was to accompany them. Then, instead of going to the wing where the
Court was gathered, they would go up to Hubert’s rooms, and from there
to the roof and the secret passage.

Two obstacles were left for the Countess to cope with, and this was her
part of the work. She had already a plan for Miss Braithwaite. But Nikky
Larisch?

Over that problem, during the long night hours, Olga Loschek worked. It
would be possible to overcome Nikky, of course. There would be four
men, with the sentries, against him. But that would mean struggle and an
alarm. It was the plan to achieve the abduction quietly, so quietly that
for perhaps an hour--they hoped for an hour--there would be no alarm.
Some time they must have, enough to make the long journey through the
underground passage. Otherwise the opening at the gate would be closed,
and the party caught like rats in a hole.

The necessity for planning served one purpose, at least. It kept her
from thinking. Possibly it saved her reason, for there were times during
that last night when Olga Loschek was not far from madness. At dawn,
long after Hedwig had forgotten her unhappiness in sleep, the Countess
went wearily to bed. She had dismissed Minna hours before, and as she
stood before her mirror, loosening her heavy hair, she saw that all that
was of youth and loveliness in her had died in the night. A determined,
scornful, and hard-eyed woman, she went drearily to bed.

During the early afternoon the Chancellor visited the Crown Prince.
Waiting and watching had made inroads on him, too, but he assumed a sort
of heavy jocularity for the boy’s benefit.

“No lessons, eh?” he said. “Then there have been no paper balls for the
tutors’ eyes, eh?”

“I never did that but once, sir,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto
gravely.

“So! Once only!”

“And I did that because he was always looking at Hedwig’s picture.”

The Chancellor eyed the picture. “I should be the last to condemn him
for that,” he said, and glanced at Nikky.

“We must get the lad out somewhere for some air,” he observed. “It is
not good to keep him shut up like this.” He turned to the Crown Prince.
“In a day or so,” he said, “we shall all go to the summer palace. You
would like that, eh?”

“Will my grandfather be able to go?”

The Chancellor sighed. “Yes,” he said, “I--he will go to the country
also. He has loved it very dearly.”

He went, shortly after three o’clock. And, because he was restless and
uneasy, he made a round of the Palace, and of the guards. Before he
returned to his vigil outside the King’s bedroom, he stood for a moment
by a window and looked out. Evidently rumors of the King’s condition had
crept out, in spite of their caution. The Place, kept free of murmurs by
the police, was filling slowly with people; people who took up positions
on benches, under the trees, and even sitting on the curb of the street.
An orderly and silent crowd it seemed, of the better class. Here and
there he saw police agents in plain clothes, impassive but watchful, on
the lookout for the first cry of treason.

An hour or two, or three--three at the most and the fate of the Palace
would lie in the hands of that crowd. He could but lead the boy to the
balcony, and await the result.



CHAPTER XXXIV. THE PIRATE’S DEN


Miss Braithwaite was asleep on the couch in her sitting-room, deeply
asleep, so that when Prince Ferdinand William Otto changed the cold
cloth on her head, she did not even move. The Countess Loschek had
brought her some medicine.

“It cured her very quickly,” said the Crown Prince, shuffling the cards
with clumsy fingers. He and Nikky were playing a game in which matches
represented money. The Crown Prince had won nearly all of them and was
quite pink with excitement. “It’s my deal, it? When she goes to sleep
like that, she nearly always wakens up much better. She’s very sound
asleep.”

Nikky played absently, and lost the game. The Crown Prince triumphantly
scooped up the rest of the matches. “We’ve had rather a nice day,” he
observed, “even if we didn’t go out. Shall we divide them again, and
start all over?”

Nikky, however, proclaimed himself hopelessly beaten and a bad loser. So
the Crown Prince put away the cards, which belonged to Miss Braithwaite,
and with which she played solitaire in the evenings. Then he lounged to
the window, his hands in his pockets. There was something on his mind
which the Chancellor’s reference to Hedwig’s picture had recalled.
Something he wished to say to Nikky, without looking at him.

So he clearer throat, and looked out the window, and said, very
casually:

“Hilda says that Hedwig is going to get married.”

“So I hear, Highness.”

“She doesn’t seem to be very happy about it. She’s crying, most of the
time.”

It was Nikky’s turn to clear his throat. “Marriage is a serious matter,”
 he said. “It is not to be gone into lightly.”

“Once, when I asked you about marriage, you said marriage was when two
people loved each other, and wanted to be together the rest of their
lives.”

“Well,” hedged Nikky, “that is the idea, rather.”

“I should think,” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, slightly red,
“that you would marry her yourself.”

Nikky, being beyond speech for an instant and looking, had His Royal
Highness but seen him, very tragic and somewhat rigid, the Crown Prince
went on:

“She’s a very nice girl,” he said; “I think she would make a good wife.”

There was something of reproach in his tone. He had confidently planned
that Nikky would marry Hedwig, and that they could all live on forever
in the Palace. But, the way things were going, Nikky might marry
anybody, and go away to live, and he would lose him.

“Yes,” said Nikky, in a strange voice, “she--I am sure she would make a
good wife.”

At which Prince Ferdinand William Otto turned and looked at him. “I
wish you would marry her yourself,” he said with his nearest approach to
impatience. “I think she’d be willing. I’ll ask her, if you want me to.”

Half-past three, then, and Nikky trying to explain, within the limits
of the boy’s understanding of life, his position. Members of royal
families, he said, looking far away, over the child’s head, had to do
many things for the good of the country. And marrying was one of them.
Something of old Mettlich’s creed of prosperity for the land he gave,
something of his own hopelessness, too, without knowing it. He sat, bent
forward, his hands swung between his knees, and tried to visualize,
for Otto’s understanding and his own heartache, the results of such a
marriage.

Some of it the boy grasped. A navy, ships, a railroad to the sea--those
he could understand. Treaties were beyond his comprehension. And, with a
child’s singleness of idea, he returned to the marriage.

“I’m sure she doesn’t care about it,” he said at last. “If I were King
I would not let her do it. And”--he sat very erect and swung his short
legs--“when I grow up, I shall fight for a navy, if I want one, and I
shall marry whoever I like.”

At a quarter to four Olga Loschek was announced. She made the curtsy
inside the door that Palace ceremonial demanded and inquired for the
governess. Prince Ferdinand William Otto, who had risen at her entrance,
offered to see if she still slept.

“I think you are a very good doctor,” he said, smiling, and went out to
Miss Braithwaite’s sitting room.

It was then that Olga Loschek played the last card, and won. She moved
quickly to Nikky’s side.

“I have a message for you,” she said.

A light leaped into Nikky’s eyes. “For me?”

“Do you know where my boudoir is?”

“I--yes, Countess.”

“If you will go there at once and wait, some one will see you there as
soon as possible.” She put her hand on his arm. “Don’t be foolish
and proud,” she said. “She is sorry about last night, and she is very
unhappy.”

The light faded out of Nikky’s eyes. She was unhappy and he could do
nothing. They had a way, in the Palace, of binding one’s hands and
leaving one helpless. He could not even go to her.

“I cannot go, Countess,” he said. “She must understand. To-day, of all
days--”

“You mean that you cannot leave the Crown Prince?” She shrugged her
shoulders. “You, too! Never have I seen so many faint hearts, such
rolling eyes, such shaking knees! And for what! Because a few timid
souls see a danger that does not exist.”

“I think it does exist,” said Nikky obstinately.

“I am to take the word to her, then, that you will not come?”

“That I cannot.”

“You are a very foolish boy,” said the Countess, watching him. “And
since you are so fearful, I myself will remain here. There are sentries
at the doors, and a double guard everywhere. What, in the name of all
that is absurd, can possibly happen?”

That was when she won. For Nikky, who has never been, in all this
history, anything of a hero, and all of the romantic and loving
boy,--Nikky wavered and fell.

When Prince Ferdinand William Otto returned, it was with the word that
Miss Braithwaite still slept, and that she looked very comfortable,
Nikky was gone, and the Countess stood by a window, holding to the sill
to support her shaking body.

It was done. The boy was in her hands. There was left only to deliver
him to those who, even now, were on the way. Nikky was safe. He would
wait in her boudoir, and Hedwig would not come. She had sent no message.
She was, indeed, at that moment a part of one of those melancholy family
groups which, the world over, in palace or peasant’s hut, await the
coming of death.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto chatted. He got out the picture-frame
for Hedwig, which was finished now, with the exception of burning his
initials in the lower left-hand corner. After inquiring politely if
the smell of burning would annoy her, the Crown Prince drew a rather
broken-backed “F,” a weak-kneed “W,” and an irregular “O” in the corner
and proceeded to burn them in. He sat bent over the desk, the very tip
of his tongue protruding, and worked conscientiously and carefully.
Between each letter he burned a dot.

Suddenly, Olga Loschek became panic-stricken. She could not stay, and
see this thing out. Let them follow her and punish her. She could not.
She had done her part. The governess lay in, a drugged sleep. A turn of
the key, and the door to the passage beyond which Oskar waited would be
closed off. Let follow what must, she would not see it.

The boy still bent over his work. She wandered about the room, casually,
as if examining the pictures on the wall. She stopped, for a bitter
moment, before Hedwig’s photograph, and, for a shaken one, before those
of Prince Hubert and his wife. Then she turned the key, and shut Oskar
safely away.

“Highness,” she said, “Lieutenant Larisch will be here in a moment. Will
you permit me to go?”

Otto was off his chair in an instant. “Certainly,” he said, his mind
still on the “O” which he was shading.

Old habit was strong in the Countess. Although the boy’s rank was
numbered by moments, although his life was possibly to be counted by
hours, she turned at the doorway and swept him a curtsy. Then she went
out, and closed the door behind her.

The two sentries stood outside. They were of the Terrorists. She knew,
and they knew she knew. But neither one made a sign. They stared ahead,
and Olga Loschek went out between them.

Now the psychology of the small boy is a curious thing. It is, for one
thing, retentive. Ideas become, given time, obsessions. And obsessions
are likely to lead to action.

The Crown Prince Ferdinand William Otto was only a small boy, for all
his title and dignity. And suddenly he felt lonely. Left alone, he
returned to his expectations for the day, and compared them with the
facts. He remembered other carnivals, with his carriage moving through
the streets, and people showering him with fresh flowers. He rather
glowed at the memory. Then he recalled that the Chancellor had said he
needed fresh air.

Something occurred to him, something which combined fresh air
with action, yet kept to the letter of his promise--or was there a
promise?--not to leave the Palace.

The idea pleased him. It set him to smiling, and his bright hair to
quivering with excitement. It was nothing less than to go up on the roof
and find the ball. Nikky would be surprised, having failed himself. He
would have to be very careful, having in mind the fate of that unlucky
child at the Crystal Palace. And he would have to hurry. Nikky would be
sure to return soon.

He opened the door on to the great corridor, and stepped out, saluting
the sentries, as he always did.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” he informed them. He was always on terms of
great friendliness with the guard, and he knew these men by sight. “Are
you going to be stationed here now?” he inquired pleasantly.

The two guards were at a loss. But one of them, who had a son of his
own, and hated the whole business, saluted and replied that he knew not.

“I hope you are,” said Ferdinand William Otto, and went on.

The sentries regarded one another. “Let him go!” said the one who was a
father.

The other one moved uneasily. “Our orders cover no such contingency,”
 he muttered. “And, besides, he will come back.” He bore a strong
resemblance to the boy, who, in the riding-school, had dusted the royal
hearse. “I hope to God he does not come back,” he said stonily.

Five minutes to four.

The Crown Prince hurried. The corridors were almost empty. Here and
there he met servants, who stood stiff against the wall until he had
passed. On the marble staircase, leading up, he met no one, nor on
the upper floor. He was quite warm with running and he paused in his
father’s suite to mop his face. Then he opened a window and went out
on the roof. It seemed very large and empty now, and the afternoon sun,
sinking low, threw shadows across it.

Also, from the balustrade, it looked extremely far to the ground.

Nevertheless, although his heart beat a trifle fast, he was still
determined. A climb which Nikky with his long legs had achieved in a
leap, took him up to a chimney. Below--it seemed a long way below was
the gutter. There was a very considerable slant. If one sat down, like
Nikky, and slid, and did not slide over the edge, one should fetch up in
the gutter.

He felt a trifle dizzy. But Nikky’s theory was, that if one is afraid to
do a thing, better to do it and get over being afraid.

“I was terribly afraid of a bayonet attack,” Nikky had observed, “until
I was in one. The next one I rather enjoyed!”

So the Crown Prince sat down on the sloping roof behind the chimney, and
gathered his legs under him for a slide.

Then he heard a door open, and footsteps. Very careful footsteps. He was
quite certain Nikky had followed him. But there were cautious voices,
too, and neither was Nikky’s. It occurred to Prince Ferdinand William
Otto that a good many people, certainly including Miss Braithwaite,
would not approve of either his situation or his position. Miss
Braithwaite was particularly particular about positions.

So he sat still beside the chimney, well shielded by the evergreens in
tubs, until the voices and the footsteps were gone. Then he took all his
courage in his hands, and slid. Well for him that the ancient builders
of the Palace had been reckless with lead, that the gutter was both
wide and deep. Well for Nikky, too, waiting in the boudoir below and
hard-driven between love and anxiety.

The Crown Prince, unaccustomed to tiles, turned over halfway down,
and rolled. He brought up with a jerk in the gutter, quite safe, but
extremely frightened. And the horrid memory of the Crystal Palace child
filled his mind, to the exclusion of everything else. He sat there for
quite a few minutes. There was no ball in sight, and the roof looked
even steeper from this point.

Being completely self-engrossed, therefore, he did not see that the roof
had another visitor. Had two visitors, as a matter of fact. One of them
wore a blanket with a white “O” over a white “X” on it, and the other
wore a mask, and considerable kitchen cutlery fastened to his belt. They
had come out of a small door in the turret and were very much at ease.
They leaned over the parapet and admired the view. They strutted about
the flat roof, and sang, at least one of them sang a very strange
refrain, which was something about

         “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest;
          Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”

And then they climbed on one of the garden chairs and looked over the
expanse of the roof, which was when they saw Prince Ferdinand William
Otto, and gazed at him.

“Gee whiz!” said the larger pirate, through his mask. “What are you
doing there?”

The Crown Prince started, and stared. “I am sitting here,” explained the
Crown Prince, trying to look as though he usually sat in lead gutters.
“I am looking for a ball.”

“You’re looking for a fall, I guess,” observed the pirate. “You don’t
remember me, kid, do you?”

“I can’t see your face, but I know your voice.” His voice trembled with
excitement.

“Lemme give you a hand,” said the pirate, whipping off his mask. “You
make me nervous, sitting there. You’ve got a nerve, you have.”

The Crown Prince looked gratified. “I don’t need any assistance, thank
you,” he said. “Perhaps, now I’m here, I’d better look for the ball.”

“I wouldn’t bother about the old ball,” said the pirate, rather
nervously for an old sea-dog. “You better get back to a safe place. Say,
what made you pretend that our Railway made you nervous?”

Prince Ferdinand William Otto climbed up the tiles, trying to look as
though tiles were his native habitat. The pirates both regarded him with
admiration, as he dropped beside them.

“How did you happen to come here?” asked the Crown Prince. “Did you lose
your aeroplane up here?”

“We came on business,” said the pirate importantly. “Two of the enemy
entered our cave. We were guarding it from the underbrush, and saw them
go in. We trailed them. They must die!”

“Really--die?”

“Of course. Death to those who defy us.”

“Death to those who defy us!” repeated the Crown Prince, enjoying
himself hugely, and quite ready for bloodshed.

“Look here, Dick Deadeye,” said the larger pirate to the smaller, who
stood gravely at attention, “I think he belongs to our crew. What say,
old pal?”

Dick Deadeye wagged his tail.

Some two minutes later, the Crown Prince of Livonia, having sworn the
pirate oath of no quarter, except to women and children, was on his way
to the pirate cave.

He was not running away. He was not disobedient. He was breaking no
promises. Because, from the moment he saw the two confederates, and
particularly from the moment he swore the delightful oath, his past was
wiped away. There was, in his consciousness, no Palace, no grandfather,
no Miss Braithwaite, even no Nikky. There was only a boy and a dog, and
a pirate den awaiting him.



CHAPTER XXXV. THE PAPER CROWN


Strange that the old Palace roof should, in close succession; have seen
Nikky forgetting his promise to the Chancellor, and Otto forgetting that
he was not to run away. Strange places, roofs, abiding places, since
long ago, of witches.

“How’d you happen to be in that gutter?” Bobby demanded, as they started
down the staircase in the wall. “Watch out, son, it’s pretty steep.”

“I was getting a ball.”

“Is this your house?”

“Well, I live here,” temporized Prince Ferdinand William Otto. A
terrible thought came to him. Suppose this American boy, who detested
kings and princes, should learn who he was!

“It looks like a big place. Is it a barracks?”

“No.” He hesitated. “But there are a good many soldiers here. I--I never
saw these steps before.”

“I should think not,” boasted Bobby. “I discovered them. I guess nobody
else in the world knows about them. I put up a flag at the bottom and
took possession. They’re mine.”

“Really!” said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, quite delighted. He would
never have thought of such a thing.

A door of iron bars at the foot of the long flight of steps--there were
four of them--stood open. Here daylight, which had been growing fainter,
entirely ceased. And here Bobby, having replaced his mask, placed an
air-rifle over his shoulder, and lighted a candle and held it out to the
Crown Prince.

“You can carry it,” he said. “Only don’t let it drip on you. You’ll
spoil your clothes.” There was a faintly scornful note in his voice, and
Ferdinand William Otto was quick to hear it.

“I don’t care at all about my clothes,” he protested. And to prove it
he deliberately tilted the candle and let a thin stream of paraffin run
down his short jacket.

“You’re a pretty good sport,” Bobby observed. And from that time on he
addressed His Royal Highness as “old sport.”

“Walk faster, old sport,” he would say. “That candle’s pretty short, and
we’ve got a long way to go.” Or--“Say, old sport, I’ll make you a mask
like this, if you like. I made this one.”

When they reached the old dungeon the candle was about done. There was
only time to fashion another black mask out of a piece of cloth that
bore a strange resemblance to a black waistcoat. The Crown Prince donned
this with a wildly beating heart. Never in all his life had he been so
excited. Even Dick Deadeye was interested, and gave up his scenting of
the strange footsteps that he had followed through the passage, to watch
the proceedings.

“We can get another candle, and come back and cook something,” said the
senior pirate, tying the mask on with Pieces of brown string. “It gets
pretty smoky, but I can cook, you’d better believe.”

So this wonderful boy could cook, also! The Crown Prince had never met
any one with so many varied attainments. He gazed through the eyeholes,
which were rather too far apart, in rapt admiration.

“As you haven’t got a belt,” Bobby said generously, “I’ll give you the
rifle. Ever hold a gun?”

“Oh, yes,” said the Crown Prince. He did not explain that he had been
taught to shoot on the rifle-range of his own regiment, and had won
quite a number of medals. He possessed, indeed, quite a number of small
but very perfect guns.

With the last gasp of the candle, the children prepared to depart. The
senior pirate had already forgotten the two men he had trailed through
the passage, and was eager to get outdoors.

“Ready!” he said. “Now, remember, old sport, we are pirates. No quarter,
except to women and children. Shoot every man.”

“Even if he is unarmed?” inquired the Crown Prince, who had also studied
strategy and tactics, and felt that an unarmed man should be taken
prisoner.

“Sure. We don’t really shoot them, silly. Now. Get in step.

              “‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest
                Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.’”

They marched up the steps and out through the opening at the top. If
there were any who watched, outside the encircling growth of evergreens,
they were not on the lookout for two small boys and a dog. And, as
became pirates, the children made a stealthy exit.

Then began, for the Crown Prince, such a day of joy as he had never
known before. Even the Land of Delight faded before this new bliss of
stalking from tree to tree, of killing unsuspecting citizens who sat on
rugs on the ground and ate sausages and little cakes. Here and there,
where a party had moved on, they salvaged a bit of food--the heel of a
loaf, one of the small country apples. Shades of the Court Physicians,
under whose direction the Crown Prince was daily fed a carefully
balanced ration!

When they were weary, they stretched out on the ground, and the Crown
Prince, whose bed was nightly dried with a warming-pan for fear of
dampness, wallowed blissfully on earth still soft with the melting
frosts of the winter. He grew muddy and dirty. He had had no hat, of
course, and his bright hair hung over his forehead in moist strands. Now
and then he drew a long breath of sheer happiness.

Around them circled the gayety of the Carnival, bands of students in
white, with the tall peaked caps of Pierrots. Here and there was a
scarlet figure, a devil with horns, who watched the crowd warily. A dog,
with the tulle petticoats of a dancer tied around it and a great bow on
its neck, made friends with Dick Deadeye, alias Tucker, and joined the
group.

But, as dusk descended, the crowd gradually dispersed, some to supper,
but some to gather in the Place and in the streets around the Palace.
For the rumor that the King was dying would not down.

At last the senior pirate consulted a large nickel watch.

“Gee! it’s almost supper time,” he said.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto consulted his own watch, the one with the
inscription: “To Ferdinand William Otto, from his grandfather, on the
occasion of his taking his first communion.”

“Why can’t you come home to supper with me?” asked the senior pirate.
“Would your folks kick up a row?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Would your family object?”

“There is only one person who would mind,” reflected the Crown Prince,
aloud, “and she will be angry anyhow. I--do you think your mother will
be willing?”

“Willing? Sure she will! My governess--but I’ll fix her. She’s a German,
and they’re always cranky. Anyhow, it’s my birthday. I’m always allowed
a guest on birthdays.”

So home together, gayly chatting, went the two children, along the
cobble-paved streets of the ancient town, past old churches that had
been sacked and pillaged by the very ancestors of one of them, taking
short cuts through narrow passages that twisted and wormed their way
between, and sometimes beneath, century-old stone houses; across
the flower-market, where faint odors of dying violets and crushed
lilies-of-the-valley still clung to the bare wooden booths; and so,
finally, to the door of a tall building where, from the concierge’s room
beside the entrance, came a reek of stewing garlic.

Neither of the children had noticed the unwonted silence of the streets,
which had, almost suddenly, succeeded the noise of the Carnival. What
few passers-by they had seen had been hurrying in the direction of the
Palace. Twice they had passed soldiers, with lanterns, and once one had
stopped and flashed a light on them.

“Well, old sport!” said Bobby in English, “anything you can do for me?”

The soldier had passed on, muttering at the insolence of American
children. The two youngsters laughed consumedly at the witticism. They
were very happy, the lonely little American boy and the lonely little
Prince--happy from sheer gregariousness, from the satisfaction of that
strongest of human inclinations, next to love--the social instinct.

The concierge was out. His niece admitted them, and went back to
her interrupted cooking. The children hurried up the winding stone
staircase, with its iron rail and its gas lantern, to the second floor.

In the sitting-room, the sour-faced governess was darning a hole in a
small stocking. She was as close as possible to the green-tile stove,
and she was looking very unpleasant; for the egg-shaped darner only
slipped through the hole, which was a large one. With an irritable
gesture she took off her slipper, and, putting one coarse-stockinged
foot on the fender, proceeded to darn by putting the slipper into the
stocking and working over it.

Things looked unpropitious. The Crown Prince ducked behind Bobby.

The Fraulein looked at the clock.

“You are fifteen minutes late,” she snapped, and bit the darning
thread--not with rage, but because she had forgotten her scissors.

“I’m sorry, but you see--”

“Whom have you there?”

The Prince cowered. She looked quite like his grandfather when his
tutor’s reports had been unfavorable.

“A friend of mine,” said Bobby, not a whit daunted.

The governess put down the stocking and rose. In so doing, she caught
her first real glimpse of Ferdinand William Otto, and she staggered
back.

“Holy Saints!” she said, and went white. Then she stared at the boy, and
her color came back. “For a moment,” she muttered “--but no. He is not
so tall, nor has he the manner. Yes, he is much smaller!”

Which proves that, whether it wears it or not, royalty is always
measured to the top of a crown.

In the next room Bobby’s mother was arranging candles on a birthday
cake in the center of the table. Pepy had iced the cake herself, and
had forgotten one of the “b’s” in “Bobby” so that the cake really read:
“Boby--XII.”

However, it looked delicious, and inside had been baked a tiny black
china doll and a new American penny, with Abraham Lincoln’s head on it.
The penny was for good fortune, but the doll was a joke of Pepy’s, Bobby
being aggressively masculine.

Bobby, having passed the outpost, carried the rest of the situation by
assault. He rushed into the dining-room and kissed his mother, with one
eye on the cake.

“Mother, here’s company to supper! Oh, look at the cake! B-O-B-Y’!
Mother! That’s awful!”

Mrs. Thorpe looked at the cake. “Poor Pepy,” she said. “Suppose she had
made it ‘Booby’?” Then she saw Ferdinand William Otto, and went over,
somewhat puzzled, with her hand out. “I am very glad Bobby brought you,”
 she said. “He has so few little friends--”

Then she stopped, for the Prince had brought his heels together sharply,
and, bending over her hand, had kissed it, exactly as he kissed his Aunt
Annunciata’s when he went to have tea with her. Mrs. Thorpe was fairly
startled, not at the kiss, but at the grace with which the tribute was
rendered.

Then she looked down, and it restored her composure to find that
Ferdinand William Otto, too, had turned eyes toward the cake. He was,
after all, only a hungry small boy. With quick tenderness she stooped
and kissed him gravely on the forehead. Caresses were strange to
Ferdinand William Otto. His warm little heart leaped and pounded. At
that moment, he would have died for her!

Mr. Thorpe came home a little late. He kissed Bobby twelve times, and
one to grow on. He shook hands absently with the visitor, and gave
the Fraulein the evening paper--an extravagance on which he insisted,
although one could read the news for nothing by going to the cafe on the
corner. Then he drew his wife aside.

“Look here!” he said. “Don’t tell Bobby--no use exciting him, and of
course it’s not our funeral anyhow but there’s a report that the Crown
Prince has been kidnapped. And that’s not all. The old King is dying!”

“How terrible!”

“Worse than that. The old King gone and no Crown Prince! It may mean
almost any sort of trouble! I’ve closed up at the Park for the night.”
 His arm around his wife, he looked through the doorway to where Bobby
and Ferdinand were counting the candles. “It’s made me think pretty
hard,” he said. “Bobby mustn’t go around alone the way he’s been doing.
All Americans here are considered millionaires. If the Crown Prince
could go, think how easy--”

His arm tightened around his wife, and together they went in to
the birthday feast. Ferdinand William Otto was hungry. He ate
eagerly--chicken, fruit compote, potato salad--again shades of the Court
physicians, who fed him at night a balanced ration of milk, egg, and
zwieback! Bobby also ate busily, and conversation languished.

Then the moment came when, the first cravings appeased, they sat back in
their chairs while Pepy cleared the table and brought in a knife to cut
the cake. Mr. Thorpe had excused himself for a moment. Now he came back,
with a bottle wrapped in a newspaper, and sat down again.

“I thought,” he said, “as this is a real occasion, not exactly Robert’s
coming of age, but marking his arrival at years of discretion, the
period when he ceases to be a small boy and becomes a big one, we might
drink a toast to it.”

“Robert!” objected the big boy’s mother.

“A teaspoonful each, honey,” he begged. “It changes it from a mere
supper to a festivity.”

He poured a few drops of wine into the children’s glasses, and filled
them up with water. Then he filled the others, and sat smiling, this big
young man, who had brought his loved ones across the sea, and was trying
to make them happy up a flight of stone stairs, above a concierge’s
bureau that smelled of garlic.

“First,” he said, “I believe it is customary to toast the King. Friends,
I give you the good King and brave soldier, Ferdinand of Livonia.”

They stood up to drink it, and even Pepy had a glass.

Ferdinand William Otto was on his feet first. He held his glass up in
his right hand, and his eyes shone. He knew what to do. He had seen the
King’s health drunk any number of times.

“To His Majesty, Ferdinand of Livonia,” he said solemnly. “God keep the
King!”

Over their glasses Mrs. Thorpe’s eyes met her husband’s. How they
trained their children here!

But Ferdinand William Otto had not finished. “I give you,” he said, in
his clear young treble, holding his glass, “the President of the United
States--The President!”

“The President!” said Mr. Thorpe.

They drank again, except the Fraulein, who disapproved of children being
made much of, and only pretended to sip her wine.

“Bobby,” said his mother, with a catch in her voice, “haven’t you
something to suggest--as a toast?”

Bobby’s eyes were on the cake; he came back with difficulty.

“Well,” he meditated, “I guess--would ‘Home’ be all right?”

“Home!” they all said, a little shakily, and drank to it.

Home! To the Thorpes, a little house on a shady street in America; to
the Fraulein, a thatched cottage in the mountains of Germany and an
old mother; to Pepy, the room in a tenement where she went at night;
to Ferdinand William Otto, a formal suite of apartments in the Palace,
surrounded by pomp, ordered by rule and precedent, hardened by military
discipline, and unsoftened by family love, save for the grim affection
of the old King.

Home!

After all, Pepy’s plan went astray, for the Fraulein got the china baby,
and Ferdinand William Otto the Lincoln penny.

“That,” said Bobby’s father, “is a Lincoln penny, young man. It bears
the portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Have you ever heard of him?”

The Prince looked up. Did he not know the “Gettysburg Address” by heart?

“Yes, sir,” he said. “The--my grandfather thinks that President Lincoln
was a very great man.”

“One of the world’s greatest. I hardly thought, over here--” Mr. Thorpe
paused and looked speculatively at the boy. “You’d better keep that
penny where you won’t lose it,” he said soberly. “It doesn’t hurt us to
try to be good. If you’re in trouble, think of the difficulties Abraham
Lincoln surmounted. If you want to be great, think how great he was.”
 He was a trifle ashamed of his own earnestness. “All that for a penny,
young man!”

The festivities were taking a serious turn. There was a little packet at
each plate, and now Bobby’s mother reached over and opened hers.

“Oh!” she said, and exhibited a gaudy tissue paper bonnet. Everybody had
one. Mr. Thorpe’s was a dunce’s cap, and Fraulein’s a giddy Pierrette of
black and white. Bobby had a military cap. With eager fingers Ferdinand
William Otto opened his; he had never tasted this delicious paper-cap
joy before.

It was a crown, a sturdy bit of gold paper, cut into points and set with
red paste jewels--a gem of a crown. He was charmed. He put it on his
head, with the unconsciousness of childhood, and posed delightedly.

The Fraulein looked at Prince Ferdinand William Otto, and slowly the
color left her lean face. She stared. It was he, then, and none other.
Stupid, not to have known at the beginning! He, the Crown Prince, here
in the home of these barbarous Americans, when, by every plan that had
been made, he should now be in the hands of those who would dispose of
him.

“I give you,” said Mr. Thorpe, raising his glass toward his wife, “the
giver of the feast. Boys, up with you!”

It was then that the Fraulein, making an excuse, slipped out of the
room.



CHAPTER XXXVI. THE KING IS DEAD


Now at last the old King’s hour had come. Mostly he slept, as though
his body, eager for its long rest, had already given up the struggle.
Stimulants, given by his devoted physician, had no effect. Other
physicians there were, a group of them, but it was Doctor Wiederman who
stood by the bed and waited.

Father Gregory, his friend of many years, had come again from Etzel, and
it was he who had administered the sacrament. The King had roused for
it, and had smiled at the father.

“So!” he said, almost in a whisper, “you would send me clean! It is hard
to scour an old kettle.”

Doctor Wiederman bent over the bed. “Majesty,” he implored, “if there is
anything we can do to make you comfortable--”

“Give me Hubert’s picture,” said the King. When his fingers refused to
hold it, Annunciata came forward swiftly and held it before him. But his
heavy eyes closed. With more intuition than might have been expected
of her, the Archduchess laid it on the white coverlet, and placed her
father’s hand on it.

The physicians consulted in an alcove. Annunciata went back to her
restless, noiseless pacing of the room. Father Gregory went to a window,
and stared out. He saw, not the silent crowd in the Place, but many
other things; the King, as a boy, chafing under the restraint of Court
ceremonial; the King, as a young man, taking a wife who did not love
him. He saw the King madly in love with his wife, and turning to
excesses to forget her. Then, and for this the old priest thanked the
God who was so real to him, he saw the Queen bear children, and turning
to her husband because he was their father. They had lived to love
deeply and’ truly.

Then had come the inevitable griefs. The Queen had died, and had been
saved a tragedy, for Hubert had been violently done to death. And now
again a tragedy had come, but one the King would never know.

The two Sisters of Mercy stood beside the bed, and looked down at the
quiet figure.

“I should wish to die so,” whispered the elder. “A long life, filled
with many deeds, and then to sleep away!”

“A long life, full of many sorrows!” observed the younger one, her eyes
full of tears. “He has outlived all that he loved.”

“Except the little Otto.”

Their glances met, for even here there was a question.

As if their thought had penetrated the haze which is, perhaps, the mist
that hides from us the gates of heaven, the old King opened his eyes.

“Otto!” he said. “I--wish--”

Annunciata bent over him. “He is coming, father,” she told him, with
white lips.

She slipped to her knees beside the bed, and looked up to Doctor
Wiederman with appealing eyes.

“I am afraid,” she whispered. “Can you not--?”

He shook his head. She had asked a question in her glance, and he
had answered. The Crown Prince was gone. Perhaps the search would be
successful. Could he not be held, then, until the boy was found? And
Doctor Wiederman had answered “No.”

In the antechamber the Council waited, standing and without speech. But
in an armchair beside the door to the King’s room the Chancellor sat,
his face buried in his hands. In spite of precautions, in spite of
everything, the blow had fallen. The Crown Prince, to him at once son
and sovereign, the little Crown Prince, was gone. And his old friend,
his comrade of many years, lay at his last hour.

Another regiment left the Palace, to break ranks beyond the crowd,
and add to the searchers. They marched to a muffled drum. As the sound
reached him, the old warrior stirred. He had come to this, he who
had planned, not for himself, but for his country. And because he was
thinking clearly, in spite of his grief, he saw that his very ambition
for the boy had been his undoing. In the alliance with Karnia he had
given the Terrorists a scourge to flay the people to revolt.

Now he waited for the King’s death. Waited numbly. For, with the tolling
of St. Stefan’s bell would rise the cry for the new King.

And there was no King.

In the little room where the Sisters kept their medicines, so useless
now, Hedwig knelt at the Prie-dieu and prayed.

She tried to pray for her grandfather’s soul, but she could not. Her one
cry was for Otto, that he be saved and brought back. In the study she
had found the burntwood frame, and she held it hugged close to her with
its broken-backed “F,” its tottering “W,” and wavering “O”, with its fat
Cupids in sashes, and the places where an over-earnest small hand had
slipped.

Hilda stood by the stand, and fingered the bottles. Her nose was swollen
with crying, but she was stealthily removing corks and sniffing at the
contents of the bottles with the automatic curiosity of the young.

The King roused again. “Mettlich?” he asked.

The elder Sister tiptoed to the door and opened it. The Council turned,
dread on their faces. She placed a hand on the Chancellor’s shoulder.

“His Majesty has asked for you.”

When he looked up, dazed, she bent down and took his hand.

“Courage!” she said quietly.

The Chancellor stood a second inside the door. Then he went to the
side of the bed, and knelt, his lips to the cold, white hand on the
counterpane.

“Sire!” he choked. “It is I--Mettlich.”

The King looked at him, and placed his hand on the bowed gray head. Then
his eyes turned to Annunciata and rested there. It was as if he saw her,
not as the embittered woman of late years, but as the child of the woman
he had loved.

“A good friend, and a good daughter,” he said clearly. “Few men die so
fortunate, and fewer sovereigns.” His hand moved from Mettlich’s head,
and rested on the photograph.

The elder Sister leaned forward and touched his wrist. “Doctor!” she
said sharply.

Doctor Wiederman came first, the others following. They grouped around
the bed. Then the oldest of them, who had brought Annunciata into the
world, touched her on the shoulder.

“Madame!” he said. “Madame, I--His Majesty has passed away.”

Mettlich staggered to his feet, and took a long look at the face of his
old sovereign and king.

In the mean time, things had been happening in the room where the
Council waited. The Council, free of the restraint of the Chancellor’s
presence, had fallen into low-voiced consultation. What was to be done?
They knew already the rumors of the streets, and were helpless before
them. They had done what they could. But the boy was gone, and the city
rising. Already the garrison of the fortress had been ordered to the
Palace, but it could not arrive before midnight. Friese had questioned
the wisdom of it, at that, and was for flight as soon as the King died.
Bayerl, on the other hand, urged a stand, in the hope that the Crown
Prince would be found.

Their voices, lowered at first, rose acrimoniously; almost they
penetrated to the silent room beyond. On to the discussion came Nikky
Larisch, covered with dust and spotted with froth from his horse. He
entered without ceremony, his boyish face drawn and white, his cap gone,
his eyes staring.

“The Chancellor?” he said.

Some one pointed to the room beyond.

Nikky hesitated. Then, being young and dramatic, even in tragedy, he
unbuckled his sword-belt and took it off, placing it on a table.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I have come to surrender myself.”

The Council stared.

“For what reason?” demanded Marschall coldly.

“I believe it is called high treason.” He closed his eyes for a moment.
“It is because of my negligence that this thing has happened. He was in
my charge, and I left him.”

No one said anything. The Council looked at a loss, rather like a flock
of sheep confronting some strange animal.

“I would have shot myself,” said Nikky Larisch, “but it was too easy.”

Then, rather at a loss as to the exact etiquette of arresting one’s
self, he bowed slightly and waited.

The door into the King’s bedchamber opened.

The Chancellor came through, his face working. It closed behind him.

“Gentlemen of the Council,” he said. “It is my duty my duty--to
announce--” His voice broke; his grizzled chin quivered; tears rolled
down his cheeks. “Friends,” he said pitifully, “our good King--my old
comrade--is dead!”

The birthday supper was over. It had ended with an American ice-cream,
brought in carefully by Pepy, because of its expensiveness. They had cut
the cake with Boby on the top, and the Crown Prince had eaten far more
than was good for him.

He sat, fingering the Lincoln penny and feeling extremely full and very
contented.

Then, suddenly, from a far-off church a deep-toned bell began to toll
slowly.

Prince Ferdinand William Otto caught it. St. Stefan’s bell! He sat up
and listened. The sound was faint; one felt it rather than heard it, but
the slow booming was unmistakable. He got up and pushed his chair back.

Other bells had taken it up, and now the whole city seemed alive with
bells--bells that swung sadly from side to side, as if they said over
and over: “Alas, alas!”

Something like panic seized Ferdinand William Otto. Some calamity had
happened. Some one was perhaps his grandfather.

He turned an appealing face to Mrs. Thorpe. “I must go,” he said: “I do
not wish to appear rude, but something is wrong. The bells--”

Pepy had beet listening, too. Her broad face worked. “They mean but
one thing,” she said slowly. “I have heard it said many times. When St.
Stefan’s tolls life that, the King is dead!”

“No! No!” cried Ferdinand William Otto and ran madly out of the door.



CHAPTER XXXVII. LONG LIVE THE KING!


While the birthday supper was at its height, in the bureau of the
concierge sat old Adelbert, heavy and despairing. That very day had he
learned to what use the Committee would put the information he had given
them, and his old heart was dead within him. One may not be loyal for
seventy years, and then easily become a traitor.

He had surveyed stonily the costume in which the little Prince was to be
taken away. He had watched while the boxes of ammunition were uncovered
in their barrels, he had seen the cobbler’s shop become a seething hive
of activity, where all day men had come and gone. He had heard the press
beneath his feet fall silent because its work was done, and at dusk he
had with his own eyes beheld men who carried forth, under their arms,
blazing placards for the walls of the town.

Then, at seven o’clock, something had happened.

The concierge’s niece had gone, leaving the supper ready cooked on the
back of the stove. Old Adelbert sat alone, and watched the red bars of
the stove fade to black. By that time it was done, and he was of the
damned. The Crown Prince, who was of an age with the American lad
upstairs, the Crown Prince was in the hands of his enemies. He, old
Adelbert, had done it.

And now it was forever too late. Terrible thoughts filled his mind. He
could not live thus, yet he could not die. The daughter must have the
pension. He must live, a traitor, he on whose breast the King himself
had pinned a decoration.

He wore his new uniform, in honor of the day. Suddenly he felt that he
could not wear it any longer. He had no right to any uniform. He who had
sold his country was of no country.

He went slowly out and up the staircase, dragging his wooden leg
painfully from step to step. He heard the concierge come in below, his
heavy footsteps reechoed through the building. Inside the door he called
furiously to his niece. Old Adelbert heard him strike a match to light
the gas.

On the staircase he met the Fraulein hurrying down. Her face was
strained and her eyes glittering. She hesitated, as though she would
speak, then she went on past him. He could hear her running. It
reminded the old man of that day in the Opera, when a child ran down
the staircase, and, as is the way of the old, he repeated himself:
“One would think new legs grew in place of old ones, like the claws of
sea-creatures,” he said fretfully. And went on up the staircase.

In his room he sat down on a straight chair inside the door, and stared
ahead. Then, slowly and mechanically, he took off his new uniform
and donned the old one. He would have put on civilian clothes, had he
possessed any. For by the deeds of that day he had forfeited the right
to the King’s garb.

It was there that Black Humbert, hurrying up, found him. The concierge
was livid, his massive frame shook with excitement.

“Quick!” he said, and swore a great oath. “To the shop of the cobbler
Heinz, and tell him this word. Here in the building is the boy.”

“What boy?”

The concierge closed a great hand on the veteran’s shoulder. “Who but
the Crown Prince himself!” he said.

“But I thought--how can he be here?”

“Here is he, in our very hands. It is no time to ask questions.”

“If he is here--”

“He is with the Americans,” hissed the concierge, the veins on his
forehead swollen with excitement. “Now, go, and quickly. I shall watch.
Say that when I have secured the lad, I shall take him there. Let all
be ready. An hour ago,” he said, raising his great fists on high, “and
everything lost. Now hurry, old wooden leg. It is a great night.”

“But--I cannot. Already I have done too much. I am damned. I have lost
my soul. I who am soon to die.”

“YOU WILL GO.”

And, at last, he went, hobbling down the staircase recklessly, because
the looming figure at the stair head was listening. He reached the
street. There, only a block away, was the cobbler’s shop, lighted, but
with the dirty curtains drawn across the window.

Old Adelbert gazed at it. Then he commended his soul to God, and turned
toward the Palace.

He passed the Opera. On Carnival night it should have been open and
in gala array, with lines of carriages and machines before it. It was
closed, and dreary. But old Adelbert saw it not at all. He stumped
along, panting with haste and exhaustion, to do the thing he had set
himself to do.

Here was the Palace. Before it were packed dense throngs of silent
people. Now and then a man put down a box, and rising on it, addressed
the crowd, attempting to rouse them. Each time angry hands pulled him
down, and hisses greeted him as he slunk away.

Had old Adelbert been alive to anything but his mission, he would have
seen that this was no mob of revolutionists, but a throng of grieving
people, awaiting the great bell of St. Stefan’s with its dire news.

Then, above their heads, it rang out, slow, ominous, terrible. A sob ran
through the crowd. In groups, and at last as a whole, the throng knelt.
Men uncovered and women wept.

The bell rang on. At its first notes old Adelbert stopped, staggered,
almost fell. Then he uncovered his head.

“Gone!” he said. “The old King! My old King!”

His face twitched. But the horror behind him drove him on through the
kneeling crowd. Where it refused to yield, he drove the iron point of
his wooden leg into yielding flesh, and so made his way.

Here, in the throng, Olga of the garderobe met him, and laid a trembling
hand on his arm. He shook her off, but she clung to him.

“Know you what they are saying?” she whispered. “That the Crown Prince
is stolen. And it is true. Soldiers scour the city everywhere.”

“Let me go,” said old Adelbert, fiercely.

“They say,” she persisted, “that the Chancellor has made away with him,
to sell us to Karnia.”

“Fools!” cried old Adelbert, and pushed her off. When she refused to
release him, he planted his iron toe on her shapely one and worked his
way forward. The crowd had risen, and now stood expectantly facing the
Palace. Some one raised a cry and others took it up.

“The King!” they cried. “Show us the little King!”

But the balcony outside the dead King’s apartments remained empty. The
curtains at the long windows were drawn, save at one, opened for air.
The breeze shook its curtains to and fro, but no small, childish figure
emerged. The cries kept up, but there was a snarl in the note now.

“The King! Long live the King! Where is he?”

A man in a red costume, near old Adelbert, leaped on a box and lighted a
flaming torch. “Aye!” he yelled, “call for the little King. Where is he?
What have they done with him?”

Old Adelbert pushed on. The voice of the revolutionist died behind him,
in a chorus of fury. From nowhere, apparently, came lighted box-banners
proclaiming the Chancellor’s treason, and demanding a Republic. Some of
them instructed the people to gather around the Parliament, where, it
was stated, leading citizens were already forming a Republic. Some, more
violent, suggested an advance on the Palace.

The crowd at first ignored them, but as time went on, it grew ugly. By
all precedent, the new King should be now before them. What, then, if
this rumor was true? Where was the little King?

Revolution, now, in the making. A flame ready to blaze. Hastily, on the
outskirts of the throng, a delegation formed to visit the Palace, and
learn the truth. Orderly citizens these, braving the terror of that
forbidding and guarded pile in the interests of the land they loved.

Drums were now beating steadily, filling the air with their throbbing,
almost drowning out the solemn tolling of the bell. Around them were
rallying angry groups. As the groups grew large, each drum led its
followers toward the Government House, where, on the steps; the
revolutionary party harangued the crowd. Bonfires sprang up, built of
no one knew what, in the public squares. Red fire burned. The drums
throbbed.

The city had not yet risen. It was large and slow to move. Slow, too,
to believe in treason, or that it had no king. But it was a matter of
moments now, not of hours.

The noise penetrated into the very wards of the hospital. Red fires
bathed pale faces on their pillows in a feverish glow. Nurses gathered
at the windows, their uniforms and faces alike scarlet in the glare, and
whispered together.

One such group gathered near the bedside of the student Haeckel, still
in his lethargy. His body had gained strength, so that he was clothed
at times, to wander aimlessly about the ward. But he had remained dazed.
Now and then the curtain of the past lifted, but for a moment only. He
had forgotten his name. He spent long hours struggling to pierce the
mist.

But mostly he lay, or sat, as now, beside his bed, a bandage still
on his head, clad in shirt and trousers, bare feet thrust into worn
hospital slippers. The red glare had not roused him, nor yet the beat of
the drums. But a word or two that one of the nurses spoke caught his ear
and held him. He looked up, and slowly rose to his feet. Unsteadily he
made his way to a window, holding to the sill to steady himself.

Old Adelbert had been working his way impatiently. The temper of the mob
was growing ugly. It was suspicious, frightened, potentially dangerous.

The cry of “To the Palace!” greeted his ears he finally emerged
breathless from the throng.

He stepped boldly to the old stone archway, and faced a line of soldiers
there. “I would see the Chancellor!” he gasped, and saluted.

The captain of the guard stepped out. “What is it you want?” he
demanded.

“The Chancellor,” he lowered his voice. “I have news of the Crown
Prince.”

Magic words, indeed. Doors opened swiftly before them. But time was
flying, too. In his confusion the old man had only one thought, to reach
the Chancellor. It would have been better to have told his news at once.
The climbing of stairs takes time when one is old and fatigued, and has
but one leg.

However, at last it way done. Past a room where sat Nikky Larisch,
swordless and self-convicted of treason, past a great salon where a
terrified Court waited, and waiting, listened to the cries outside, the
beating of many drums, the sound of multitudinous feet, old Adelbert
stumped to the door of the room where the Council sat debating and the
Chancellor paced the floor.

Small ceremony tow. Led by soldiers, who retired and left him to enter
alone, old Adelbert stumbled into the room. He was out of breath and
dizzy; his heart beat to suffocation. There was not air enough in all
the world to breathe. He clutched at the velvet hangings of the door,
and swayed, but he saw the Chancellor.

“The Crown Prince,” he said thickly, “is at the home of the Americans.”
 He stared about him. Strange that the room should suddenly be filled
with a mist. “But there be those--who wait--there--to capture him.”

He caught desperately at the curtains, with their royal arms embroidered
in blue and gold. Shameful, in such company, to stagger so!

“Make--haste,” he said, and slid stiffly to the ground. He lay without
moving.

The Council roused then. Mettlich was the first to get to him. But it
was too late.

Old Adelbert had followed the mist to the gates it concealed. More than
that, sham traitor that he was, he had followed his King.



CHAPTER XXXVIII. IN THE ROAD OF THE GOOD CHILDREN


Haeckel crept to a window and looked out. Bonfires were springing up
in the open square in front of the Government House. Mixed with the red
glare came leaping yellow flames. The wooden benches were piled together
and fired, and by each such pyre stood a gesticulating, shouting red
demon.

Guns were appearing now. Wagons loaded with them drove into the Square,
to be surrounded by a howling mob. The percentage of sober citizens
was growing--sober citizens no longer. For the little King had not been
shown to them. Obviously he could not be shown to them. Therefore rumor
was right, and the boy was gone.

Against the Palace, therefore, their rage was turned. The shouts for
the little King turned to threats. The Archbishop had come out on the
balcony accompanied by Father Gregory. The Archbishop had raised his
hands, but had not obtained silence. Instead, to his horror and dismay,
a few stones had been thrown.

He retired, breathing hard. But Father Gregory had remained, facing the
crowd fearlessly, his arms not raised in benediction, but folded across
his chest. Stones rattled about him, but he did not flinch, and at last
he gained the ears of the crowd. His great voice, stern and fearless;
held them.

“My friends,” he said, “there is work to be done, and you lose time. We
cannot show you the King, because he is not here. While you stand there
shrieking, his enemies have their will of him. The little King has been
stolen from the Palace.”

He might have swayed them, even then. He tried to move them to a search
of the city. But a pallid man, sweating with excitement, climbed on the
shoulders of two companions, and faced the crowd.

“Aye, he is stolen,” he cried. “But who stole him? Not the city. We are
loyal. Ask the Palace where he is. Ask those who have allied themselves
with Karnia. Ask Mettlich.”

There was more, of course. The cries of “To the Palace!” increased.
Those behind pushed forward, shoving the ones ahead toward the archway,
where a line of soldiers with fixed bayonets stood waiting.

The Archduchess and Hilda with a handful of women, had fled to the roof,
and from there saw the advance of the mob. Hedwig had haughtily refused
to go.

It had seemed to Hedwig that life itself was over. She did not care very
much. When the Archbishop had been driven back from the balcony, she
foresaw the end. She knew of Nikky’s treason now, knew it in all its
bitterness, but not all its truth. And, because she had loved him,
although she told herself her love was dead, she sought him out in the
room where he sat and waited.

She was there when old Adelbert had brought his news and had fallen,
before he could finish, Nikky had risen; and looked at her, rather
stonily. Then had followed such a scene as leaves scars, Hedwig blaming
him and forgiving him, and then breaking down and begging him to flight.
And Nikky, with the din of the Place in his ears, and forbidden to
confront the mob, listening patiently and shaking his head. How little
she knew him; after all, to think that he would even try to save
himself. He had earned death. Let it come.

He was not very clear himself as to how it happened. He had been
tricked. But that was no excuse. And in the midst of her appeal to him
to save himself, he broke in to ask where Olga Loschek was.

Hedwig drew herself up. “I do not know,” she said, rather coldly.

“But after all,” Nikky muttered, thinking of the lady-in-waiting,
“escape is cut off. The Palace is surrounded.”

For a moment Hedwig thought she had won. “It is not cut off,” she said.
And spoke of the turret door, and whither it led. All at once he saw it
all. He looked at her with eyes that dilated with excitement, and then
to her anger, shot by her and to the room where the Council waited. He
was just in time to hear old Adelbert’s broken speech, and to see him
reel and fall.

At the hospital, Haeckel, the student, stood by his window, and little
by little the veil lifted. His slow blood stirred first. The beating
of drums, the shrieks of the crowd, the fires, all played their part.
Another patient joined him, and together they looked out.

“Bad work!” said the other man.

“Aye!” said Haeckel. Then, speaking very slowly, and with difficulty, “I
do not understand.”

“The King is dead.” The man watched him. He had been of interest to the
ward.

“Aye,” observed, Haeckel, still uncomprehending. And then, “Dead--the
King?”

“Dead. Hear the bell.”

“Then--” But he could not at once formulate the thought in his mind.
Speech came hard. He was still in a cloud.

“They say,” said the other man, “that the Crown Prince is missing, that
he has been stolen. The people are frenzied.”

He went on, dilating on the rumors. Still Haeckel labored. The King! The
Crown Prince! There was something that he was to do. It was just beyond
him, but he could not remember. Then, by accident, the other man touched
the hidden spring of his memory.

“There are some who think that Mettlich--”

“Mettlich!” That was the word. With it the curtain split, as it were,
the cloud was gone. Haeckel put a hand to his head.

A few minutes later, a strange figure dashed out of the hospital. The
night watchman had joined the mob, and was at that moment selecting
a rifle from a cart. Around the cart were students, still in their
Carnival finery, wearing the colors of his own corps. Haeckel, desperate
of eye, pallid and gaunt, clad still in his hospital shirt and trousers;
Haeckel climbed on to the wagon, and mounted to the seat, a strange,
swaying figure, with a bandage on his head. In spite of that, there were
some who knew him.

“Haeckel!” they cried. The word spread. The crowd of students pressed
close.

“What would you do?” he cried to them. “You know me. You see me now.
I have been done almost to death by those you would aid. Aye, arm
yourselves, but not against your King. We have sworn to stand together.
I call on you, men of my corps, to follow me. There are those who
to-night will murder the little King and put King Mob on the throne. And
they be those who have tortured roe. Look at me! This they have done to
me.” He tore the bandage off and showed his scarred head. “‘Quick!” he
cried. “I know where they hide, these spawn of hell. Who will follow me?
To the King!”

“To the King!”

They took up the cry, a few at first, then all of them. More than his
words, the gaunt and wounded figure of Haeckel in the cart fought for
him. He reeled before them. Two leaped up and steadied him, finally,
indeed, took him on their shoulders, and led the way. They made a wedge
of men, and pushed through the mob.

“To the little King!” was the cry they raised, and ran, a flying wedge
of white, fantastic figures. Those who were unarmed seized weapons
from the crowd as they passed. Urged by Haeckel, they ran through the
streets.

Haeckel knew. It was because he had known that they had done away with
him. His mind, working now with almost unnatural activity, flew ahead
to the house in the Road of the Good Children, and to what might be
enacting there. His eyes burned. Now at last he would thwart them,
unless-- Just before they turned into the street, a horseman had dashed
out of it and flung himself out of the saddle. The door was bolted,
but it opened to his ring, and Nikky faced the concierge, Nikky, with a
drawn revolver in his hand, and a face deathly white.

He had had no time to fire, no time even to speak. The revolver flew
out of his hand at one blow from the flail-like arms of the concierge.
Behind him somewhere was coming, Nikky knew, a detachment of cavalry.
But he had outdistanced them, riding frenziedly, had leaped hedges and
ditches across the Park. He must hold this man until they came.

Struggling in the grasp of the concierge, he yet listened for them. From
the first he knew it was a losing battle. He had lost before. But he
fought fiercely, with the strength of a dozen. His frenzy was equaled by
that of the other man, and his weight was less by a half. He went down
finally and lay still, a battered, twisted figure.

The cavalry, in the mean time, had lost the way, was riding its
foam-flecked horses along another street, and losing, time when every
second counted.

But Black Humbert, breathing hard, had heard sounds in the street, and
put up the chain. He stood at bay, a huge, shaken figure at the foot of
the stone staircase. He was for flight now. But surely--outside at the
door some one gave the secret knock of the tribunal, and followed it
by the pass-word. He breathed again. Friends, of course, come for the
ammunition. But, to be certain, he went to the window of his bureau, and
looked out through the bars. Students!

“Coming!” he called. And kicked at Nikky’s quiet figure as he passed it.
Then he unbolted the door, dropped the chain, and opened the door.

Standing before him, backed by a great crowd of fantastic figures, was
Haeckel.

They did not kill him at once. At the points of a dozen bayonets,
intended for vastly different work, they forced him up the staircase,
flight after flight. At first he cried pitifully that he knew nothing of
the royal child, then he tried to barter what he knew for his life. They
jeered at him, pricked him shamefully from behind with daggers.

At the top of the last flight he turnery and faced them. “Gentlemen,
friends!” he implored. “I have done him no harm. It was never in my mind
to do him an injury. I--”

“He is in the room where you kept me?” asked Haeckel, in a low voice.

“He is there, and safe.”

Then Haeckel killed him. He struck him with a dagger, and his great body
fell on the stairs. He was still moving and groaning, as they swarmed
over him.

Haeckel faced the crowd. “There are others,” he said. “I know them all.
When we have finished here, we will go on.”

They were fearful of frightening the little King, and only two went
back, with the key that Haeckel had taken from the body of Black
Humbert. They unlocked the door of the back room, to find His Majesty
sitting on a chair, with a rather moist handkerchief in his hand. He was
not at all frightened, however, and was weeping for his grandfather.

“Has the carriage come?” he demanded. “I am waiting for a carriage.”

They assured him that a carriage was on the way, and were very much at a
loss.

“I would like to go quickly,” he said. “I am afraid my
grandfather--Nikky!”

For there stood Nikky in the doorway, a staggering, white-lipped Nikky.
He was not too weak to pick the child up, however, and carry him to the
head of the stairs. They had moved the body of the concierge, by his
order. So he stood there, the boy in his arms, and the students, only an
hour before in revolt against him, cheered mightily.

They met the detachment of cavalry at the door, and thus, in state, rode
back to the Palace where he was to rule, King Otto the Ninth. A very sad
little King, for Nikky had answered his question honestly. A King who
mopped his eyes with a very dirty handkerchief. A weary little King,
too, with already a touch of indigestion!

Behind them, in the house on the Road of the Good Children, Haeckel,
in an access of fury, ordered the body of the concierge flung from a
window. It lay below, a twisted and shapeless thing, beside the pieces
of old Adelbert’s broken sword.



CHAPTER XXXIX. THE LINCOLN PENNY


And so, at last, King Otto the Ninth reached his Palace, and was hurried
up the stairs to the room where the Council waited. Not at all a royal
figure, but a tired little boy in gray trousers, a short black Eton
coat, and a rolling collar which had once been white.

He gave one glance around the room. “My grandfather!” he said. And fell
to crying into his dirty pocket-handkerchief.

The Chancellor eyed grimly from under his shaggy brows the disreputable
figure of his sovereign. Then he went toward him, and put his hand on
his head.

“He was very eager for this rest, Otto,”, he said.

Then he knelt, and very solemnly and with infinite tenderness, he kissed
the small, not overclean, hand.

One by one the Council did the same thing.

King Otto straightened his shoulders and put away the handkerchief. It
had occurred to him that he was a man now and must act a man’s part in
the world.

“May I see him?” he asked. “I--didn’t see him before.”

“Your people are waiting, sire,” the Chancellor said gravely. “To a
ruler, his people must come first.”

And so, in the clear light from the room behind him, Otto the Ninth
first stood before his people. They looked up, and hard eyes grew soft,
tense muscles relaxed. They saw the erectness of the small figure,
the steadiness of the blue eyes that had fought back their tears, the
honesty and fire and courage of this small boy who was their King.

Let such of the revolutionists as remained scream before the Parliament
House. Let the flames burn and the drums beat. The solid citizens, the
great mass of the people, looked up at the King and cheered mightily.
Revolution had that night received its death-blow, at the hands of a
child. The mob prepared to go home to bed.

While King Otto stood on the balcony, down below in the crowd an
American woman looked up, and suddenly caught her husband by the arm.

“Robert,” she said, “Robert, it is Bobby’s little friend!”

“Nonsense!” he retorted. “It’s rather dramatic, isn’t it? Nothing like
this at home! See, they’ve crowned him already.”

But Bobby’s mother looked with the clear eyes of most women, and all
mothers.

“They have not crowned him,” she said, smiling, with tears in her eyes.
“The absurd little King! They have forgotten to take off his paper
crown!”

The dead King lay in state in the royal chapel. Tall candles burned at
his head and feet, set in long black standards. His uniform lay at his
feet, his cap, his sword. The flag of his country was draped across him.
He looked very rested.

In a small private chapel near by lay old Adelbert. They could not do
him too much honor. He, too, looked rested, and he, too, was covered by
the flag, and no one would have guessed that a part of him had died long
before, and lay buried on a battlefield. It was, unfortunately, his old
uniform that he wore. They had added his regimental flag to the national
one, and on it they had set his shabby cap. He, too, might have been a
king. There were candles at his head and feet, also; but, also, he had
now no sword.

Thus it happened that old Adelbert the traitor lay in state in the
Palace, and that monks, in long brown robes, knelt and prayed by him.
Perhaps he needed their prayers. But perhaps, in the great accounting,
things are balanced up, the good against the bad. In that ease, who
knows?

The Palace mourned and the Palace rejoiced. Haeckel had told what he
knew and the leaders of the Terrorists were in prison. Some, in high
places, would be hanged with a silken cord, as was their due. And others
would be aesthetically disposed of. The way was not yet clear ahead, but
the crisis was passed and safely.

Early in the evening, soon after he had appeared on the balcony, the
Court had sworn fealty to Otto the Ninth. He had stood on the dais in
the throne room, very much washed and brushed by that time, and the
ceremony had taken place. Such a shout from relieved throats as went up,
such a clatter as swords were drawn from scabbards and held upright in
the air.

“Otto!” they cried. And again, “Otto.”

The little King had turned quite pale with excitement.

Late in the evening Nikky Larisch went to the Council room. The Council
had dispersed, and Mettlich sat alone. There were papers all about him,
and a glass of milk that had once been hot stood at his elbow. Now and
then, as he worked, he took a sip of it, for more than ever now he must
keep up his strength.

When Nikky was announced he frowned. Then, very faintly, he smiled. But
he was stern enough when the young soldier entered. Nikky came to the
point at once, having saluted. Not, when you think of it, that he should
have saluted. Had he not resigned from the service? Was not his sword,
in token of that surrender, still on the table and partly covered with
documents. Still he did. Habit, probably.

“I have come,” he said, “to know what I am to do, sir.”

“Do?” asked the Chancellor, coldly.

“Whether the Crown--whether the King is safe or not,” said Nikky,
looking dogged and not at all now like the picture of his mother. “I am
guilty of--of all that happened.”

The Chancellor had meant to be very hard. But he had come through a
great deal, and besides, he saw something Nikky did not mean him to
see. He was used to reading men. He saw that the boy had come to the
breaking-point.

“Sit down,” he said, “and tell me about it.”

But Nikky would not sit. He stood, looking straight ahead, and told the
story. He left nothing out, the scene on the roof, his broken promise.

“Although,” he added, his only word of extenuation, “God knows I tried
to keep it.”

Then the message from the Countess Loschek, and his long wait in
her boudoir, to return to the thing he had found. As he went on, the
Chancellor’s hand touched a button.

“Bring here at once the Countess Loschek,” he said, to the servant who
came. “Take two of the guard, and bring hey.”

Then, remembering the work he had to do, he took another sip of milk.
“These things you have done,” he said to Nikky. “And weak and wicked
enough they are. But, on the other hand, you found the King.”

“Others found him also. Besides, that does not affect my guilt, sir,”
 said Nikky steadily.

Suddenly the Chancellor got up and, going to Nikky, put both hands on
his shoulders.

Quite to the end now, with the Countess not in her rooms or anywhere
in the Palace. With the bonfires burned to cold ashes, and the streets
deserted. With the police making careful search for certain men whose
names Haeckel had given, and tearing frenzied placards from the walls.
With Hilda sitting before her dressing-table, holding a silk stocking to
her cheek, to see if she would look well in black. With Miss Braithwaite
still lying in her drugged sleep, watched over by the Sisters who had
cared for the dead King, and with Karl, across the mountains, dreaming
of a bride who would never be his.

Quite to the end. Only a word or two now, and we may leave the little
King to fulfil his splendid destiny. Not a quiet life, we may be
certain. Perhaps not a very peaceful or untroubled one. But a brave and
steadfast and honorable one, be sure of that.

What should we gain by following Olga Loschek, eating her heart out
in England, or the Committee of Ten, cowering in its cells? They had
failed, as the wicked, sooner or later, must fail. Or Karl, growing fat
in a prosperous land, alike greedy for conquest and too indolent for
battle?

To finish the day, then, and close with midnight.

Nikky first, a subdued and rather battered Nikky. He was possessed by a
desire, not indeed unknown to lovers, to revisit the place where he and
Hedwig had met before. The roof--no less. Not even then that he hoped
for himself any more than he had hoped before. But at least it could not
be Karl.

He felt that he could relinquish her more easily since it was not Karl.
As if, poor Nikky, it would ever make any difference who it was, so it
were not he!

Strangely enough, Hedwig also had had a fancy to visit the roof. She
could not sleep. And, as she had not read the Chancellor’s mind,
her dressing-room, filled to overflowing with her trousseau, set her
frantic.

So she had dismissed her maid and gone through Hubert’s rooms to the
roof. Nikky found her there. He stood quite still for a moment, because
it was much too good to be true. Also, because he began to tremble
again. He had really turned quite shaky that evening, had Nikky.

Hedwig did not turn her head. She knew his steps, had really known he
must come, since she was calling him. Actually calling, with all her
determined young will. Oh, she was shameless!

But now that he had come, it was Nikky who implored, and Hedwig who held
off.

“My only thought in all the world,” he said. “Can you ever forgive me?”
 This was tactless. No lover should ever remind his lady that he has
withstood her.

“For what?” said Hedwig coolly.

“For loving you so.” This was much better, quite strategic, indeed. A
trench gained!

“Do you really love me? I wonder.”

But Nikky was tired of words, and rather afraid of them. They were not
his weapons. He trusted more, as has been said somewhere else, in his
two strong arms.

“Too much ever to let you go,” he said. Which means nothing unless we
take it for granted that she was in his arms. And she was, indeed.

The King having been examined and given some digestive tablets by the
Court physicians--a group which, strangely enough, did not include
Doctor Wiederman--had been given a warm bath and put to bed.

There was much formality as to the process now, several gentlemen
clinging to their hereditary right to hang around and be nuisances
during the ceremony. But at last he was left alone with Oskar.

Alone, of course, as much as a king is ever alone, which, what with
extra sentries and so on, is not exactly solitary confinement.

“Oskar!” said the King from his pillow.

“Majesty!”

Oskar was gathering the royal garments, which the physicians had ordered
burned, in case of germs.

“Did you ever eat American ice-cream?”

“No, Majesty. Not that I recall.”

“It is very delicious,” observed the King, and settled down in his
sheets. He yawned, then sat up suddenly “Oskar!”

“Yes, Majesty.”

“There is something in my trousers pocket. I almost forgot it. Please
bring them here.”

Sitting up in bed, and under Oskar’s disapproving eye, because he, too,
was infected with the germ idea, King Otto the Ninth felt around in his
small pockets, until at last he had found what he wanted.

“Have I a small box anywhere, a very small box?” he inquired.

“The one in which Your Majesty’s seal ring came is here. Also there is
one in the study which contained crayons.”--“I’ll have the ring box,”
 said His Majesty.

And soon the Lincoln penny rested on a cushion of white velvet, on which
were the royal arms.

King Otto looked carefully at the penny and then closed the lid.

“Whenever I am disagreeable, Oskar,” he said, “or don’t care to study,
or--or do things that you think my grandfather would not have done, I
wish you’d bring me this box. You’d better keep it near you.”

He lay back and yawned again.

“Did you ever hear of Abraham Lincoln, Oskar?” he asked:

“I--I have heard the name, Majesty,”, Oskar ventured cautiously.

“My grandfather thought he was a--great man.” His voice trailed off.
“I--should--like--”

The excitements and sorrows of the day left him gently. He stretched his
small limbs luxuriously, and half turned upon his face. Oskar, who hated
disorder, drew the covering in stiff and geometrical exactness across
his small figure, and tiptoed out of the room.

Sometime after midnight the Chancellor passed the guard and came into
the room. There, standing by the bed, he prayed a soldier’s prayer,
and into it went all his hopes for his country, his grief for his dead
comrade and sovereign, his loyalty to his new King.

King Otto, who was, for all the digestive tablets, not sleeping well,
roused and saw him there, and sat upright at once.

“Is it morning?” he asked, blinking.

“No, Majesty. Lie down and sleep again.”

“Would you mind sitting down for a little while? That is, if you are not
sleepy.”

“I am not sleepy,” said the Chancellor, and drew up a great chair. “If I
stay, will you try to sleep?”

“Do you mind if I talk a little? It may make me drowsy.”

“Talk if you like, Majesty,” said the old man. King Otto eyed him
gravely.

“Would you mind if I got on your knee?” he asked; almost timidly. In all
his life no one had so held him, and yet Bobby, that very evening, had
climbed on his father’s knee as though it was very generally done. “I
would like to try how it feels.”

“Come, then,” said the Chancellor.

The King climbed out of bed and up on his lap. His Chancellor reached
over and dragged a blanket from the bed.

“For fear of a cold!” he said, and draped it about the little figure.
“Now, how is that?”

“It is very comfortable. May I put my head back?”

Long, long years since the Chancellor had sat thus, with a child in his
arms. His sturdy old arms encircled the boy closely.

“I want to tell about running away,” said the King, wide-eyed in the
dusk. “I am sorry. This time I am going to promise not to do it again.”

“Make the promise to yourself, Majesty. It is the best way.”

“I will. I intend to be a very good King.”

“God grant it, Majesty.”

“Like Abraham Lincoln?”

“Like Abraham Lincoln,” said the Chancellor gravely.

The King, for all his boasted wakefulness, yawned again, and squirmed
closer to the old man’s breast.

“And like my grandfather,” he added.

“God grant that, also.”

This time it was the Chancellor who yawned, a yawn that was half a sigh.
He was very weary, and very sad.

Suddenly, after a silence, the King spoke: “May a King do anything he
wants?”

“Not at all,” said the Chancellor hastily.

“But, if it will not hurt the people? I want to do two things, or have
two things. They are both quite easy.” His tone was anxious.

“What are they?”

“You wouldn’t like to promise first, would you?”

The Chancellor smiled in the darkness.

“Good strategy, but I am an old soldier, Majesty. What are they?”

“First, I would like to have a dog; one to keep with me.”

“I--probably that can be arranged.”

“Thank you. I do want a dog. And--” he hesitated.

“Yes, Majesty?”

“I am very fond of Nikky,” said the King. “And he is not very happy. He
looks sad, sometimes. I would like him to marry Hedwig, so we can all be
together the rest of our lives.”

The Chancellor hesitated. But, after all, why not? He had followed
ambition all his life, and where had it brought him? An old man, whose
only happiness lay in this child in his arms.

“Perhaps,” he said gently, “that can be arranged also.”

The night air blew softly through the open windows. The little King
smiled, contentedly, and closed his eyes.

“I’m getting rather sleepy,” he said. “But if I’m not too heavy, I’d
like you to hold me a little longer.”

“You are not too heavy, Majesty.”

Soon the Chancellor, worn not with one day, but with many, was nodding.
His eyes closed under his fierce eyebrows. Finally they both slept. The
room was silent.

Something slipped out of the little King’s hand and rolled to the floor.

It was the box containing the Lincoln penny.





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