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Title: Under the Big Dipper
Author: Dery, Desiderius George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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UNDER THE BIG DIPPER


[Illustration: HELÈNE]


UNDER THE BIG DIPPER

by

D. GEORGE DERY



Brentano’s :: :: :: New York
MCMXVI

Copyright, 1916, by D. George Dery



  TO HER

  TO WHOSE GRACIOUS FORBEARANCE
  AND NEVER FALTERING FAITH THE
  EXISTENCE OF THIS BOOK IS DUE,
  I HEREWITH DEDICATE THIS, MY
  FIRST LITERARY EFFORT

  TO MY DEAR WIFE

  MARCH NINETEENTH, 1916



UNDER THE BIG DIPPER



UNDER THE BIG DIPPER



BOOK I



CHAPTER I


India the wonderful--India the home of Buddha and the land of mystery
and misery. The country of glorious traditions and unsatisfied desires!
What ambitions have not been dreamed, what visions not conjured in
your cause! Assyrian and Greek, Mongol and Parsee, Portuguese rover,
Dutch trader, Russian diplomat and English merchant prince--all have
sought thee and thy wealth, all have fought and striven, chicaned and
murdered, sneaked and schemed--for thy gold and dominion over thy
people.

And the result? A land teeming with beings abject and low; a land
where Paradise might have been nestling amongst the giant hills of the
North, now laid waste and desolated of its ancient splendors--a land of
dreams, but a land of unfulfilled desires. The country of caste and the
grave of unborn ambitions; the country of dirt and superstition; the
cradle of plagues and epidemics and famines; the land of the noblest
palaces and temples, as well as of the meanest hovels which serve as
dwellings for its sad-eyed patient inhabitants.

And over all rises and sets the sun of the tropics, over all shine the
moon of Gautama and the stars of Zoroaster. Over all there rest the
curses of disease, dirt and ignorance, the ready tools of greed and
lust of power, the outcome of lack of coherence and the terrible rule
of classes.

This cradle of humanity is still a couch of prodigious
productiveness--and to our eternal shame be it confessed--these
all-enduring, passive, gazelle-like creatures are really white--white
like we are, of the same color as are the gay crowds of Hyde Park, or
the Boulevards of Paris, Rome or Vienna, New York or Boston! And older
as race and nearer to Eden than any of these. They pray to Brahma
and many-armed Shiva, to Buddha and Mohammed, to the sun and fire of
Zoroaster--and even to the cobra of the jungle; but forlorn and without
hope as they seemingly are, they are still human beings.

Along the dusty highway leading from Madras to Pondisherry, well inland
and therefore removed from the life-giving breezes of the Coromandel
coast and the Bay of Bengal, under a straggling group of ficus, a
native dwelling on low stilts raises its squalid roof above the yellow
grime of its surroundings.

From the distant hills resounds the shrill blast of the locomotive;
every once in a while the contour of gently rolling land permits a
glimpse of a curious looking behatted smokestack, copied after the
model of early Pacific days, belching soot and smoke, and pulling
noisily amidst groans and creaks their little dingy cars. Along the
highway the ungainly telegraph poles with their odd crosspieces copied
after the favorite gallows-construction of remote rural England, bear
witness to the encroaching hand of western civilization on the land.
Even India is now but another source of supply for trade and commerce.

Near this native structure, in the shade of a clump of hybiscus and a
few doleful fig trees, some saddle-horses and donkeys are tethered;
sprawling in the deep weed-like grass and scrubby undergrowth a
number of natives with swathed limbs and streaky, greasy turbans are
contemplating with expressionless mien the cloudless sky in which float
and soar buzzards and vultures upon seeming motionless wings. At some
distance from this group and seated on a well-filled saddle-bag, a
European is smoking a cigarette, as if unaware of the proximity of his
humbler companions.

The stilted building itself, containing two compartments separated by a
narrow hallway, is made accessible from the tangle of weeds and caked
mud by a crude ladder-like few steps of filth-covered boards.

Even the bounty of the tropics and wealth of vegetation in this favored
clime have not succeeded in hiding the unattractive nakedness of the
mean dwelling. Straggling, unkempt brush and creepers but emphasize
the wild condition of its near surroundings. Rough weathered beams,
decaying boards, cracked dirty bamboo and sunbaked grayish clay afford
the only protection against burning sun, heating wind and drifting rain.

In the larger of the two compartments, which hardly justify the
appellation of rooms, two men are seated upon a low, rough-hewn bench.
In the middle of the space an irregular heap of straw, covered with a
torn and unclean sheet of unbleached muslin, serves as a couch upon
which a man is lying prostrate--pale and evidently very ill.

One of the two seated men, a dark-skinned, bright-eyed native, heavily
bearded and dressed in garments denoting a position of high standing,
rises from the bench to kneel before the prostrate form. He holds the
unresisting wrist in his capable brown hand and feels carefully with
long prehensile fingers the pulse of the invalid.

The eyes of the sick man are covered by silky lashes; the features are
calm and resigned; the nostrils expand and contract while the native
physician, machine-like, listens and counts. Then the hand he holds is
laid gently down on the coverlet and slowly rising he beckons to the
other figure in the room to follow as he moves towards the door.

This other figure, until now silent and rigid in its vigil on the
bench, sends a look of deep concern and pity upon the recumbent young
man, and follows his companion into the adjoining space, where both
retire to the wall farthest removed from the sick youth.

“There is no hope for your young friend, my lord. The ague has weakened
his frame, the drug and excess have sapped his strength. He will die
before the setting of the sun. I shall give him a draught that will
ease his pain and hold the spirit to the last. Help I cannot; he is
beyond the power of man.”

His companion, a tall, lean man of fine features, and even in his
begrimed linens and dusty pith helmet a man of importance, gave the
speaker a searching look and then bowed his head in evident grief.

“Doctor Saklava, I know you to be a physician of great judgment and
equal skill. The governor vouches for you and I am more than grateful
to have had your aid so promptly. If you say there is no hope, I must
cease to indulge in any. But oh--if only something could be done!” Then
in a calmer voice he continued: “The boy is young, his constitution
strong, and after all youth clings to life! Is there truly no hope? It
means so much to me!” The Parsee remained motionless and silent. The
other went on:

“When I asked the governor for help he dispatched his chief surgeon
at the same time he sent for you; Major Murdock might arrive at any
moment. Will you not await him, pray, while I go in to the boy? How
soon do you think will he awaken to consciousness?”

“In less than half an hour, my lord. And I think his mind will be
clearer; indeed he may be perfectly rational. But his heart is very
weak and his vitality low. The next attack of fever, which I beg
to assure you cannot be prevented, will be his last, I fear. His
temperature is now as high as any man can bear and live; his pulse is
galloping and his lungs are under the maximum tension. I shall join
your man in the grove and will await Major Murdock’s arrival. I presume
he will bring a nurse and a cot?”

“The governor had arranged with the hospital at Mahabalibar. Would we
could have found the boy a day sooner!”

“My lord, the seed of death is in man when the seed of life is planted.
Any time during the past week your friend’s chances would have been no
better. This district of ours is not the place for passionate youth
from foreign lands, nor is it the country where indulgence can be
committed with impunity. Our sun is cruel, our climate is deadly. He
who cares not for his life here--is lost. Grieve not, my lord; fate has
overtaken your young friend, but he will pass out free from pain and
unconscious of the end that is inevitable. Until later, my lord.”

While the deeply salaaming physician retired, his tall companion
returned with careful, noiseless step to the sick-room and seated
himself facing the sufferer.

His elbows on his knees and his face buried in his palms, he
contemplated the white and almost lifeless features of the dying youth.
The regular, finely moulded face was fair like a woman’s, the proud,
bold nose, high faultless brow and beautiful, wavy, chestnut hair,
arched lips and delicate chin betokened a distinguished and even noble
ancestry. Two spots of crimson showed on the cheeks, almost the only
signs of life, and imparted an appearance of extreme youthfulness and
innocence; the lips were red and bright, the closed eyelids clear and
smooth. Must the boy die?

This silent musing brought a flood of memories to the motionless
watcher. His eyes grew clouded, tears gathered in them. The boy slept
on insensible to the bitter grief he was causing, unconscious of
everything, peaceful and still.

A shadow fell across the doorway. Brushing his eyes the man rose
quickly and cautiously passed out to greet the new arrival. It was
Major Murdock, the surgeon, a severe-looking, stout man in undress
uniform. A few whispered words, a handshake and the two physicians
followed the tall man into the sick-room.

Dr. Murdock examined the sleeper’s face carefully, thoroughly
investigated chest, heart-beat, pulse and temperature. His examination
over he, in a low voice, requested the others to join him in the
primitive porch.

“Your Excellency, I can but confirm the diagnosis and prediction of Dr.
Saklava; your friend cannot be saved. He lives but under the influence
of the narcotic that the doctor gave him, the only drug we know which
will hold life until the next fit of this awful fever consumes it
finally. Dr. Saklava has more experience in enteric fevers than anyone
in this province; he is both competent and skillful in the knowledge
and treatment of all native diseases. You could not have had a better
physician. Your friend will pass away with the next attack. He will
regain consciousness and there can be no harm in speaking to him. But
after his fever returns he will be delirious--and in his weakened state
neither drug nor cold bath nor nurse can avail. Do you wish me to watch
with you beside your young friend, Count Rondell?”

“No, Major, I think I will remain alone with him and save him the
shock of seeing too many strange faces upon his awakening. He doesn’t
know of my presence, if you remember. Will you gentlemen kindly remain
within hearing?”

“Certainly, my lord; when you want us, pray call.”

The Parsee doctor deposited a cup and bottle upon the bench, and after
giving some whispered instructions to the man who had been addressed
as “Count,” he followed the surgeon out of the dwelling. The tall man
resumed his post of observation.

The oppressive quiet of the chamber was broken after a long interval by
a sigh followed by the sound of a slight cough. Count Rondell leaned
forward eagerly. The invalid had moved, an arm had been thrown up and
the hand was feeling for the throat. Gradually the eyes opened and the
sick man gazed stupidly upward at the dingy mud-plastered bamboo lace
work of the ceiling, and then slowly and almost devoid of intelligence
swept the foreground and rested curiously upon the watcher. Count
Rondell half rose as he intently observed the change, and wondered
vaguely whether he should speak or await the actions of the sufferer.

The void expression of the eyes, now free of fever, slowly yielded to
one of recognition and then of shame. A heightened color mantled the
brow of the sick youth and an elusive twitch upon the poor lips as they
spoke: “How are you, Count? So you have caught me at last?”

The old man flushed, sank to his knee and with both arms extended,
leaned over the invalid.

“God greet you, Your Highness! I am more than happy to have found you!”

His voice broke and he grasped the nerveless hands of the youth before
him with deep emotion, whispering huskily, “My Prince--my boy!”

Tears gathered into the now softened eyes of the sick youth. The deep
feeling shown by the man kneeling at his pallet touched him keenly.

“Do not grieve, dear Count! I am not worth it. Why should you weep for
me? Why should you still extend your love and care for one so useless
as I?”

“My Prince, I beseech you, do not speak thus of yourself! Let us forget
what has passed and look forward to what is to come. I am glad to have
found you, so glad to be with you. Now, all will be, must be, well!”

“No--no, my dearest friend and guardian. No--there is nothing to look
forward to. I feel that the end has come. I know I shall never again
see my loved ones, my land, my king. I knew it when they brought me
here. Ill as I was, I was not unconscious. How long have I been lying
here? Raise my head so that I may look at you well--and, pray, be
seated!”

The Count gently adjusted the head and sat down.

For some moments not a word was spoken, then the young man broke the
stillness:

“Dear General, I have given you and all the world a great deal of
trouble, have I not? It will be all over and done with soon--pray,
don’t grieve, don’t worry. What difference will it make to the world
or to our Roumelia if I go and another succeeds to the throne? It
could only be a worthier man whoever he may be! Why should you waste
a thought on one who has been foolish as I have been? Why waste time
on the dreamy fool who bartered a throne, the love and respect of a
people, your friendship, Count, for the smiles of a false woman, a
wanton? Have I not shown myself a coward? A man who after his first
failure turned tail and ran off like a sulking boy? A good riddance I
call it! Better to know the truth now than burden a hopeful land with
so worthless a ruler. Do not weep; truly, I am not worth it!”

Count Rondell, his cheeks wet with the tears that were freely coursing
down his now deathly pale face, extended his hands imploringly. With a
great effort he recovered his calmness, and vehemently exclaimed, “I
beg of you, my Prince, do not let us harp on actions which must have
been beyond your control. Let us rather speak of your welfare and your
health. May I ask you to look at it in this light, your Highness?”

“Very well, my good teacher; let it be as you will. What do you wish me
to say or tell?”

“Your Highness, I trust and confidently believe we shall get you well
and out of this deadly place very soon. But you may shortly relapse
into a fever and with it into unconsciousness. I beg of your Highness
to state now what you wish to have attended to. I ask for your
commands! But first take this draught the physician has left for you.”

Indifferently at first, but after a sip or two, with grateful
expression in his features, the invalid partook of the drink.

“Ah, that is good, General! I was very thirsty without realizing it.
Well, there is really not much to tell and surely nothing to command. I
am here alone, with no obligations towards anyone. As it possibly may
be my last chance, you may want to hear how I came to this place?”

“I beg of your Highness not to tell more than you wish. Of course
I shall be glad to know your reasons for choosing this dangerous
country”--then once more breaking down, he murmured: “Why did you, my
boy, why did you?”

The sick man lightly pressed the older man’s arm, letting his hand rest
upon the sleeve. Count Rondell mutely gazed upon the suffering youth,
and saw that the boy before him knew the price he was to pay for his
folly, knew it all--and it seemed as if he wanted to pay it. Through
his mind there flitted thoughts of the futility of man’s plans when God
willed otherwise. With this bitter reflection there came the grief of
the thought of the death of this young life that had had no chance for
fulfillment.

“Count, the woman who made me forget my duty, who caused me to quarrel
with you and his Majesty--the woman for whose sake I was willing to
give up honor, glory and a throne--she was nothing but a wanton. I
shall be brief. Returning one day to our villa in Mentone, rather
earlier than usual, I found her with Monsieur Goddard, her late
business manager as I thought, in very intimate seclusion. I asked for
explanations--she laughed! The man had the best, the only right in the
world to be intimate with her--he was her lawful husband--the only
man she ever really loved and always had loved. What cared she for a
romantic boy--a fool! He was the man who had introduced me to her, who
had aided my wooing--and who had conspired with her to gull me! During
the months I was whispering words of love and endearment to the woman
I was craving to make my wife, she and he were in a conspiracy to ruin
me. All they wanted was my money.

“Humiliated and desperate, I grew reckless. How well you knew it, my
friend! How you pleaded with me when first this great passion took hold
of me! Would I had listened to you and obeyed your wise counsel; but it
was too late. The poison of this ignoble passion, which I mistook for
the holy fire of love, had entered my heart, had clouded my brain!

“After this discovery--I felt I had broken with everything in life. As
I sinned--I became reckless.”

The sick boy sank back, breathing hard and gazed absently into space.
His friend rose to soothe his agitation, but was arrested by an
imperious motion of the feeble hand.

“Let me conclude, General. After this blow--I chose to show that
I cared not for one woman’s treachery--and tried to prove this by
publicly making love to other women. And when one morning my valet
reported your arrival in the town, I felt that I dared not see
you, that I must flee! That day I joined the troupe of ‘Le Ballet
Occidental,’ which was to leave for Naples. I joined the company as the
admirer of Mademoiselle Genée, and I followed this troupe to Alexandria
and Cairo, thence to Bombay and Calcutta--and finally to Madras.

“On the way to the French settlement at Pondisherry I became very ill
and they thought it best to take me off the train and put me in charge
of the hospital. And the first night I could bear it no longer--they
wouldn’t give me morphine to ease my pain--and I ran away--and--here I
am. During all these latter weeks I always felt and sometimes knew that
you, my dear Count, were near me--but fate was against you, my would-be
saviour--against you and with me--the lost one--and so here I am!”

The last words came almost in a whisper. The Count sat still, his
forehead damp with cold perspiration. The young man had spoken like a
judge pronouncing his own doom!

He could not move, he could not speak. His lips were parched, his mind
numb. He gazed at the ashen face of the boy, at the crimson lips of the
smiling, bonny face--God, what should he do?

“And now, General, the last stage has been reached,” said the youth
recovering his voice. “All there is left to do is for me to ask
your forgiveness, the pardon of his Majesty, my uncle, for all the
unhappiness caused by me. You have in the vaults of the Credit
Lyonnaise at Nice my formal renunciation of all claims to the
succession and all family rights. There never was a marriage between
Madelain and me--the proofs are with the Austrian Legation at Rome.
Madelain was paid and all my dancer and actor friends are settled with.
Come, General, be brave, be strong! Forget me--and if you can--forgive
me. You in your wisdom will find a way to alter the succession, perhaps
my little sister can secure the dynasty. Come, be cheerful, and do not
grieve. It is but a worthless life that is about to pass out--I have
lived my life--and lost. May God forgive me!”

The hand clutching the arm of the General fell back. The Count, in his
agitation, mumbled terms of love and endearment as he eased the sick
boy upon the mean couch--but the youth had swooned. Quivering and faint
he hastened to the porch and summoned the physicians.

They came quickly, the Parsee first, who bent over the prostrate form.
A light touch upon the sick youth’s chest and brow and Doctor Saklava
announced the fit of fever had returned. He begged the Count to retire
to the adjoining room or outdoors. Nothing could be done; he would
watch and render all the help needed.

With the sinking of that day’s sun, in the meager light of a battered
lantern, and attended by the doctors and servants, General Rondell
knelt by the couch of straw and closed forever the eyes of the boy
who was to have been his king--but who had willed it otherwise. The
falling darkness found a sad cavalcade slowly riding back to Madras,
carrying all that remained of one of the world’s chosen. And the tall,
sorrow-stricken man rode on alone behind and found no balm for his
broken heart in his thoughts.



CHAPTER II


A narrow strip of haze above the western horizon obscures the coastline
and dims the burning rays of the setting sun. The blood-red ball, just
visible above that indefinite line where ocean, sky and land might
meet, burnishes the lazy leaden waves of the sea, oily and sluggish as
if affected by the oppressive heat. Purples and blues, reds and greens
vie with each other in a seeming desire to extinguish the burnt orange
which fades but slowly and reluctantly. Everywhere reigns the deep
dusky yellow heat, with an utter absence of either sound or motion.

It is as if a thick sheet of glass had been interposed between the
observer and the rest of creation, with nothing tangible, nothing real
except the one all-prevailing sensation of oppressive heat.

The P. & O. liner gliding through the fiery molten bronze seems as
if it were “a painted ship on a painted sea”; its motion barely
perceptible, like that of a phantom ship, the wake in its path but a
feeble streak in the dull coloring, and the funnels reluctantly and
faintly releasing a timid cone of hazy smudge.

Dimly outlined against the Northeast the slowly receding line of
grayish ochre marks the mute sentinels of Arabia; to the West a heavy
bank of sienna-edged clouds veils the shore of Dana Kill and the
African hill desert.

On the aft deck are grouped in nondescript neglect a few men in the
uniforms of British East India troops. A stolid, swarthy Sikh and some
lean Bengals with their patient, gentle eyes, clad in filthy though
picturesque garments, huddle in the shade of dirty awnings. Forward,
the solitary figure of the watch drowsily moves with halting nerveless
steps in the narrow confines of his little realm. All is pervaded by
quiet and repose, a sort of fatalistic waiting for the cooler evening.

A man reclining in a steamer chair on the hurricane deck is the
one human being on the upper structure of the vessel. He is a
slender sunburnt man past middle age with commanding features and a
close-cropped beard flecked with gray. He is well groomed in immaculate
white flannels. The half-hidden gray fathomless eyes, created to
observe and to remain discreet, the fine mouth closely compressed, the
long slender hands idly crossed on his knees, he sits seemingly as if
in a dream.

He strikes a close observer as one who could not easily be overlooked
in any gathering. His face would remain in the memory--a face of one
born to direct the thought and work of others, to lead and command. It
shows the marks of the inroads of time and care, the severe pallor of
weariness beneath the tan of exposure. His posture betrays the soldier
beaten in life’s battle.

A nearby cabin door is opened and a pleasant-faced young man in the
uniform of a ship’s officer steps toward the dreamer.

“How do you feel on this hot afternoon, Your Excellency?”

The dreamer turns with a smile and replies, “Very well indeed, but a
little lazy. Won’t you sit down a minute, doctor?”

“Thank you, Excellency.” Dr. Brown, the ship’s surgeon, with a little
nervous motion and a quiet apology, draws a camp-stool near and seats
himself facing the older man.

“I have completed the examination and analysis which my limited
equipment permits, Count. I have read up the case and I should like
to make my report. You know that my practice of late years has been
restricted to the traveling public, but I feel I am competent to
diagnose fairly accurately.”

“My dear doctor, I have the fullest confidence in your judgment,” with
a deprecating gesture.

“I should say that owing to your sojourn in that confounded India your
case has been considerably aggravated and has become more severe; it
is not now acute or at all serious, but requires careful attention.
Avoid excitement and do not undertake anything which will strain your
physical powers. I regret that I must be strict with you with regard to
your diet and habits. But when you arrive at Brindisi, go to Karlsbad,
and in a few weeks you’ll be well enough to take up the affairs of your
country.”

“Thank you, doctor. But to me time means the trust and perhaps the fate
of others. It is, therefore, more than a question of self. Doctor, how
long do you give me?”

The doctor flushed and looked pained. “Count, you must believe what I
have said. I will not hide from you that you are in a serious condition
but--once you get on land and out of this floating inferno, you’ll be
as well as ever, I think. Don’t attempt to do too much now and don’t
worry.”

“Thank you most sincerely, doctor. Well, I suppose even a diplomat can
live plainly and give up wine and tobacco.”

He bade the doctor a pleasant “au revoir” and sauntered toward the
ship’s side. In deep thought he leaned against the railing, gazing into
the now fiery sienna of the horizon. The smile on his lips faded, his
assumed indifference had left him. Deep lines of care contracted his
brow and the eyes looked troubled and sad.

A quick step and a cheerful voice called out heartily, “Good evening,
Excellency! Dreaming or thinking--or both?”

Heavily set, smooth-faced and jovial, Captain Pollard of the ship
walked toward him.

“My dear Captain, I am only too glad to have you break in on my dreams.
They were not the rosiest just now, even though the evening looks
beautiful enough to charm an anchorite.”

The Captain nodded his head. “That red sky is rather a promise of
another hot day for to-morrow, Count. In a few hours we’ll be in the
Red Sea, the furnace of creation. I am afraid to-morrow will be a
broiler. Look, Count, there to our left is the Ras Séan with the cloud
wreath on top of him. In an hour we shall be in ‘Bab El Mandeb,’ the
Gate of Dirge of the Arab. Gloomy premonition, I call that. We are
going fine and are ahead of our schedule.”

“All right, Mr. Malone, what is it?” This to the officer of the deck
who was rapidly approaching.

“The pilot is signalling from Tadshurra Bay, sir. Shall I slow down,
Captain?”

“Very well, sir, glad to get him promptly. What is the boat’s number?”

“Seven, sir.”

“Good, that is old Abdullah, a good sailor and a fine fellow. Report
when he gets aboard, please.”

“Yes, sir.”

The officer hurried away and shortly after the siren gave two short
blasts and the boat lost headway.

“May I join you for a bit, Count?” Captain Pollard took the stool
vacated by the doctor following the gesture of polite assent of the
Count.

“The doctor’s report left a bad taste in your mouth, eh? If you don’t
mind, I’d like to say a few words more on this same subject, your
Excellency.”

The Captain stuck his hands deeply into his coat pockets, looking
straight at the Count. “You are an old soldier and a gentleman who
knows the world, Count. Dr. Brown came to me this afternoon somewhat
worried. He doesn’t want to scare you needlessly but neither does he
intend you should get off the boat a sick man. He is probably a little
over-cautious. Now, just to please us all, let him look after you until
we land. There is nothing more trying after a residence in India than
the passage we have ahead of us for the next five or six days. Do as
Dr. Brown advises and when you get home send him a nice letter telling
him he was right. Is it a bargain?”

“My dear Captain, it certainly is; and I appreciate your interest very
much and won’t fail you and the good doctor.”

He had regained his smiling manner: “Captain, why are we men such
restless wanderers? You could settle down in your nice little cottage
at Bournemouth, draw your pension, trim your apple trees, read your old
friend Marryat, chat with Mrs. Pollard and curse the Liberal Party; and
I--I could write my memoirs, raise tulips and roses and blooded sheep,
sneer at the Radicals and Progressives, and criticize the weak policy
of the Hapsburgs! What fun we could have, Hein?”

“Your Excellency, I guess we both do what we believe to be our duty.
Neither of us is good at idling, I think, and our work is our life.
Some day I might do as you say--but I hope that day is a long way off,”
with a merry chuckle.

A crunching sound against the ship’s side and the pilot’s dingy pulled
by two powerful negroes had come alongside. With the pilot two other
figures were visible in the dim light. The nimble, old, beturbaned
Arab pilot, with broad red sash around his ample waist, swung himself
aboard, the two men following him.

On the upper deck the conversation which had lagged during this busy
interval was further interrupted by the approach of a steward in search
of the Captain.

“Two passengers boarded with the pilot, sir. One of them requests
permission to speak to you for a minute, Captain.”

“Has the purser seen him?”

“Yes, sir; but he asked for you; he says you know him.”

“Very well, send him up.”

The steward left and shortly after a heavily bearded, well-set-up,
broad-shouldered man, in rather shabby linen blouse and baggy trousers,
a pith helmet in hand, walked towards the Captain. In the rapidly
failing light the deeply tanned features with calm eyes and pleasant
smile were just visible. With hand outstretched he stepped up to the
group and in a hearty voice exclaimed: “How do you do, Captain Pollard!
I was most anxious to meet an old friend again and couldn’t wait. Don’t
you remember me, Captain? The clothes and beard make it hard, I guess.
I am John Morton.”

“Why, bless my soul, I wouldn’t have known you! My dear Mr. Morton, I
am delighted to see you!” He shook the visitor’s hand heartily.

“My, but you do look like a globe trotter--and one that has done some
trotting! It is good to shake hands with you once more and to have you
on the ‘Hindoostan.’”

“I am, indeed, glad to have the chance to get your boat, Captain.
From my last camp the bay was easier to make than the upper Nile, and
when I found at Aa-nin that you were expected to-night, I made a run
for the shore and was just in time for the pilot’s sloop. I haven’t
been near civilization in eighteen months, Captain! I have with me my
man, Donald, whom you may remember. He looks, if anything, even worse
for wear than I. May I see you again after the cleaning-up process,
Captain?”

“Certainly, my dear Mr. Morton. I shall be delighted if you will honor
me. I am as curious as an old magpie to hear what brought you here of
all spots in the world! Are you nicely placed aboard?”

“Yes; thank you.”

He made a movement to withdraw but Captain Pollard took him by the arm
and led him towards the Count.

“Your Excellency, will you permit me? This is Mr. Morton, an old
friend of mine, an American gentleman who is quite a traveler and
explorer--his Excellency Count Rondell.”

“Happy to make your acquaintance, Your Excellency; I trust you will
pardon my appearance.”

“Very glad to meet you, Mr. Morton. Don’t apologize. You look fit and
ready for good sport.”

The men shook hands. Morton stepped back: “Gentlemen, permit me to
retire. I trust I shall have the honor later, Your Excellency.”

“There goes one of the finest young men,” said the Captain, looking
after the rapidly retiring form, “a man in a million, Count.”

“He looks keen and strong; a bold man and true,” gently said the Count
with almost a sigh. “Sportsman?”

“I don’t quite know, Count. I think he went out to explore the Soudan
and the Blue Nile country, if I remember correctly. He comes of a very
fine family--a man of rare good judgment and the very man to have
around when trouble is brewing. Some time I will tell you how I met
him. If you’ll permit me, Count, I’ll now look up that pilot. We are
getting under way. Good evening, Excellency!”

“Au revoir, Captain. I shall have to interview the chief steward and
see if Dr. Brown will allow me another meal to-day.”

Now that he was once again alone, the Count forgot the evening meal,
forgot the steward and the man he just had met--he had weightier
matters on his mind. This man of the world, trained to think while
chatting and seemingly enjoying small talk--this old diplomat realized
that he had arrived at a parting of the ways. The oppressive heat of
earlier day had yielded somewhat to the gentle breeze rising from the
ever-nearing mountainous shore. A brilliant crimson band silhouetted
sharply the deep purple of Ras Séan, the bluish haze half hid the
frowning abrupt cliffs of Perim Island; the first twinkle of the
lighthouse shone like a firefly, coming and going in rhythmic flashes.
To the north the broad dome of Disohebel Menghéli rose high, the
towering guardian of the strait, the dread of the unwary skipper. Over
the ultramarine hills rose the red moon of the silent East, mysterious
and alluring, the light of the romantic night. Count Rondell, obeying
the promptings of weary limbs, sank into his seat and gazed as if
fascinated into the glory of the tropical eve.

The world was so beautiful and life so promising! Moments of the years
gone by passed in rapid succession through his mind; the days of youth
and hope--the years of ambition and fulfillment. The shadows of beloved
faces rose to disappear; the joy of deeds performed, the regret of acts
omitted. As in a panorama he saw his life over again and lived it once
more.

A flock of buzzards flying across the hazy light of the moon that
looked for all the world like a flattened giant orange, by a curious
disconnection of the phenomenon so well known to him, awoke him to the
present; to the warning he had received, to the call of a life which
was to end. A slight tremor passed over the frame of the man, who
seemed to have aged considerably within the last hour.

The training of decades, the inbred desire to suppress thoughts and
control the mind, supervened. He lightly passed his hand over the
smoothening brow, caressing the thick hair upon his temple and the
old gentle smile appeared again in his eyes. “Well, I have run a
long race--and on the homestretch I am beaten. _Vivat sequens!_” he
whispered to himself.

He rose and walked freely to the rail, contemplating the wondrous
evening, admiring the marvelous light effects in the now rapidly
darkening sky. He gazed at the minute wavelets springing from the sides
of the boat and spreading their gory crests endlessly toward the east,
ever widening and disappearing in purplish black shadows. The first
stars as if by magic had leaped upon the zenith, new born, blinking
mockingly to him.

A smile gentler than before illuminated the fine features. “God is
great, nature is full of wonders, and I shall not cry quits and sulk.
There is work before you, my boy, work and duty. And when that is done,
my beloved, I shall be glad to join you.”

With a deep sigh and a proud smile he wearily turned toward the line of
cabins from whence a light step now proceeded.

His valet came forward, cap in hand. “Your Excellency, dinner will be
ready in twenty minutes. Will you not come to your room, sir?”

“Very good, Jean; but I believe I shall not dress to-night. I am
fatigued and I expect no one else will. Just a little touching up and
a dark coat and scarf. I shall follow you.”

Musing, he turned once more to the waters which had lost their
mirror-like smoothness upon entering the narrow channel. Before him
rose the escarpment of Perim’s forts, with their twinkling lights; the
breeze carried to his ears the bugle call from the barracks, the one
discordant sound in the serene stillness of the fairy landscape.

“Gate to an ocean--England will hold it,” he muttered. “Passage to
power and trade--Albion will rule it. Other nations may strive and
plan, dream and scheme, but Albion takes and holds. I wonder if, when
my last call comes, I shall find a Briton guarding the Pearly Gates?
Well, I have done the best I could for my king and my country. I must
not grudge the men who have done theirs for their queen and land--and
with more glorious and happier results. The race is to the swift,
the laurel to the victor, glory to the lucky! L’homme propose, Dieu
dispose!”

He gave one more look round, turning in all directions, and then slowly
left the deck.

The moon had risen above the haze and shone a lustrous brightness. The
sky, a deep unfathomable marine, was dotted with countless blinking
stars; the shimmering sea was scales of silver; the hum of giant
machinery throbbed on the balmy air. It was a night so glorious that
one doubted if there could be anything but beauty and happiness on
earth.

And yet--how much misery and sorrow, pain and tears are mingled with
joy in life! The lure of the East, the mystery of dreamed-of Eden and
with it strife and labor! The nobility of creation, the pettiness of
life; the loveliness of nature, the emptiness of man’s efforts.

Five bells--the Vesper on shipboard.

The muffled call of the Muezzin from the nearby minaret of Perim town
drifted across the silvery stream.

And the bells, re-echoing from fore and aft, seemed to call out:
“All’s well, good night!”



CHAPTER III


After a long, weary night, made seemingly longer by the slow passage
through the tortuous channels, threatened by reefs and coral shallows,
the “Gate of Dirge” was passed. The pilot dropped, the P. & O. liner
entered through the picturesque Dacht il Mayum, the sluggish waves of
the Red Sea.

Through the wondrous waters the ship cut her way energetically. The
moon had set long since, the east was bathed in sulphur light and one
by one the stars dropped out of existence.

The lower decks, forsaken the evening before, are now lively with
passengers. The heat had made sleep impossible and now, one after
another, they came up to breathe the reviving morning air.

What wind blows is from the starboard, but the port side is the shadier
for the greater part of the day. It is this side which is quickly
taken possession of by the Mohammedan part of the passengers. The
gaunt Sikh, bewhiskered and beturbaned, the Persian venders with their
fierce mustachios and fiercer eyes, shrewd-looking Syrians and fleshy
Mamelukes, all congregate or segregate according to their individual
desires, and all are bent upon their morning worship.

More or less gaudily colored patches of carpets and prayer rugs are
spread upon the boards, devout heads bow down from prostrate bodies,
turned to the east, to the rising sun, to praise Allah and to pray to
Mohammed his prophet. They will turn to the east, even though Mecca is
due north of the boat!

On the promenade and hurricane decks a couple of early risers are
taking their constitutionals. On the bridge strides the fresh-looking
skipper, and a neat second officer in glaring white is adjusting his
sextant as he awaits the sun’s coming. A few deckhands and sailors are
holystoning the decks and adjusting the striped awnings.

Upon the free and lofty upper structure in the broad space between the
cabins and the captain’s quarters some privileged travelers, to judge
by the important bearing of the men and the well-groomed appearance of
the ladies, are languidly settling themselves down. They show scarce a
sign of sleepless tossing in heated berths. One of these, a tall, lean
man in Pongee, cap and scarf to match, bearing carefully trimmed little
chops below the grayish hair, is Sir Balingbroke-Smith, Under-Secretary
of the Colonies. He is holding forth to his daughter Muriel on the
history of the islands which are just sinking below the southern
horizon.

Miss Muriel endeavors to show some interest, appearing to listen with
careful attention; but her eyes are wandering around the deck. She is
waiting for the appearance of the stranger who had come on board the
evening before and whom the Captain had discussed at dinner. The new
passenger had declined coming to table as he needed “civilizing.” So
Captain Pollard had put it; but he was a gentleman, though an American,
who had spent the last eighteen months in the wilds of the Soudan and
the mountains of Somali, instead of lounging at Shepard’s Hotel at
Cairo or at the Casino at Nice. He was young, rich, independent and “as
fine a chap as ever came out of Eton or Oxford, my lord.”

“Muriel seems tired or sleepy, or both,” said her aunt and duenna, the
Hon. Mrs. Fitzhugh, the wife of an Indian officer. The good lady was
returning to winter in London to recuperate after a trying season with
her husband at Lahore, and incidentally was acting as chaperon to Miss
Muriel. The ladies of the group duly agreed. Who would dare to differ
from her? But all are casting side glances in the direction in which
Miss Muriel insists on keeping her pretty face.

The Rev. Mr. Akley, in sober gray, with solemn face and pained,
bloodshot eyes, is gazing intently at a group of prostrated orientals,
a martyr to faith and duty. The latter, however, do not seem to mind
the sad, pained expression in the eyes of the churchman. But even
the countenance of the reverend gentleman is somewhat askew from the
vertical--since he also is partaking in the general interest. Will this
much-talked-of young man ever make his appearance?

And now that the sun has risen above the slight mist to the east,
chairs are being pushed into shady and cool places. Chatting and
fussing and good-natured pushing, the one business of the day must he
attended to first--how to avoid the heat of the day.

“It is going to be beastly hot! If one could but get one’s _Times_
and know what the world is doing? Muriel, my dear, if you insist upon
taking such violent exercise before your breakfast you will not be
really comfortable for the rest of the day. May I remind you that the
next few days are the most trying of the voyage and that the best means
to make it bearable--would be--a-a-absolute rest--very little food and
liquid refreshments?”

Sir Balingbroke was very impressive. As breakfast had been mentioned
by so high an authority as the Under-Secretary of the Colonies, the
subject became now the general topic of conversation.

But the ladies managed to turn it into a more interesting channel, and
Sir Balingbroke was gradually drawn into speaking of the new passenger
whom he had met in the smoking room.

“A very estimable young man, I believe; Captain Pollard tells me that
he met him on transatlantic liners--he says he is a well-connected,
affluent American--a Mr. Morton, I think; quite refined and
unassuming. I understand he has been engaged on some exploring or
observation work in southern Egypt and the adjacent territory. It may
be--semi-officially of course--that he is under the wings of the Royal
Geographical Society. He mentioned that Lord Salisbury was kind enough
to recommend him to the authorities--expects to go to London to report
the results of his research. Very nice fellow, indeed.”

Eight bells, and shortly after the gong sounds for breakfast--the first
important function of the day. The little coterie gathered on the
forepart of the deck abandon chairs and troop down to the dining saloon.

In the saloon Mr. Morton was duly presented to the ladies at the
Captain’s table and to a few of the gentlemen to whom he had not been
introduced the evening before in the “smoker.”

The Hon. Mrs. Fitzhugh sarcastically remarked that there were still
some men who were old-fashioned enough to remain on deck with the
ladies after dinner--denying themselves their whiskey and soda. The men
thus referred to tried to look pleased, but those who had sinned did
not seem to mind the lady’s sarcasm.

Captain Pollard was evidently taking great pains to impress those
sitting around the table that Mr. Morton was a man of importance. He
singled him out in conversation and gave marked attention to what the
traveler said. On a liner everyone takes his cue from the captain, and
the American immediately became a full fledged member of the select
coterie.

Mr. Morton frankly and almost boyishly admitted his delight at being
once more in civilized surroundings. He smilingly pleaded guilty to
an enjoyment of the society of ladies and hoped that his manners had
not deteriorated. The ladies were charmed with him. He was good to look
at and his pleasant voice and delightfully sympathetic smile won them
over completely. His ignorance of the news of the day afforded them an
opportunity for further conversation, and he listened with an old-world
courtesy that only educated Americans show to their women. The ladies
lionized him.

To the many inquiries about his adventures in the desert, he answered
good-naturedly and in a rather off-hand way. Life in the desert had its
interesting side and the months he had spent there had enabled him to
gather valuable data which he expected to apply to work in the Great
Basin of his own country, where his father and the federal government
were interested in the question of irrigation. There had not been much
danger in his adventures, for the natives were human and rather helpful
than otherwise.

As he sat at table enjoying anew the amenities of civilized society,
Morton confessed to himself that really the most important thing to
him was the stimulating and pleasant expectation of being soon home
again among his own people, with his dear mother and fine-souled,
humor-loving father. How pleased and happy they would be to have
him with them again! How jolly to sit once more in the cozy den,
his friends and loved ones listening to his tales of adventure!
Unconsciously his mind wandered to scenes of his intimate family
circle. When the longing heart travels homeward, the half-way inns
are but little conveniences on the journey; we take advantage of them
because we must; always the heart’s eye looks longingly forward to its
goal--home. His little sister--by George, she would be a young woman
now, like the blue-eyed, clear-skinned English girl across the table,
and better looking, if the promise of earlier remembrance was to be
fulfilled. Two years do make a great change!

Yes--he must stop off at Paris for a couple of days and buy his sister
and mother something worth bringing home. His heart grew warm as he
pictured their happy eyes and heard their pleased exclamations. And
his father! Won’t the governor be proud of the reports he was bringing
back. Figures don’t lie, his father used to say. And what else should
he bring him? Yes--he would have to go to London, too.

He hoped the fine old Nubian sarcophagus which he had shipped by
stealth from Assab by the old rascal Ben Bandar (the old chap surely
dealt in slaves on the sly) on a Greek sailing vessel had reached New
York safely. What would his neighbor, Sir Balingbroke, have said if he
knew that the Egyptian custom-house servants were the same old grafters
they had been before Alexandria was bombarded and the Khedive all
powerful on the Nile?

Almost with a start he awoke to his surroundings, mumbling some words
of apology for his absent-mindedness. Mrs. Fitzhugh had addressed some
remarks to him--Miss Muriel’s eyes were dancing as she smiled wickedly
at him. Mrs. Fitzhugh haughtily forgave him.

This meeting at the table was the type of many others which took place
during the next days, varied with some small talk on deck, and broken
by some lengthier and more interesting conversations in the smoking
room.

Whether the ladies approved or not, the shady depths of the small
“smoker” on the upper deck proved a veritable Mecca for all the
men. Here one always was pretty sure to find some of the passengers
enjoying their cigars or cigarettes or even pipes, chatting of trade
and drinks, horses and games, politics and policies.

Here was to be found the man who could foretell the number of knots
the boat would cover that day; who knew the hour they would sight
the African shore again. Another would descant of the ever-inspiring
topic--the great Canal--the time it took to go through it, the money a
boat had to pay, the advantages of being on a British boat and so on.

Here also it was where Jones told of Smith’s affairs while the latter
was with the ladies, where Smith in turn was telling what Jones had
been doing in India when the last-named gentleman had to obey the call
of his better half and absent himself from the round table. It was not
long, therefore, before everyone knew all about everybody else; or, at
least, thought they did.

For Morton and some of the older men there was the evening gathering in
the Captain’s roomy cabin, the exchange of tales and adventures with
the jolly-faced seaman and the recital of some traveler’s tale of older
days by some visitor.

From the Captain, Morton obtained his information about Count Rondell,
who had once been the Captain’s superior officer some years back, when
the latter had been in the service of Roumelia as a nautical instructor.

He heard from Sir Balingbroke how, during the memorable days of the
Congress of Berlin, Count Rondell, then at the head of the diplomatic
corps of his little country, fought hard and unremittingly for
admission to the inner chambers of the historic conference, and how,
in spite of the weighty opposition of Giers and the fact that he could
not get official admission as a delegate, he had so won the esteem of
all the statesmen there present that he had secured full independence,
autonomy and great economic advantages for his country, and, then and
there, had laid the foundation of the kingdom of Roumelia.

From this austere and cautious member of the British cabinet he also
learned of the Count’s romantic quest in eastern lands for the young
prince who had disappeared from home, and how necessary this only heir
to the throne was for the continuance of existing conditions in the
little kingdom. But Sir Balingbroke could not say whether the Count’s
search had been crowned with success or not.

Captain Pollard pictured the Count as a man of unbending character,
thoroughly upright and just. A man who ruled at court with iron hand
but who had remained unsullied by its machinations--an aristocrat in
office, a student and loving husband in his home. Sir Balingbroke
nodded his head emphatically by way of confirmation of the Captain’s
statements.

Morton spent considerable time in his own cabin, tabulating his
collected material with the help of his assistant. During his absence
from the ship’s circle he was largely discussed. The ladies especially
were eager for information.

All the skipper knew, it seemed, was that Mr. Morton was the only son
of Daniel B. Morton, the Arizona Copper King, one of the wealthiest
and most influential of the many powerful men which America’s mineral
wealth had created during the last decades. Young Morton was said to be
a chip of the old block, well educated, manly and straight. After his
college days at home, he had pursued special post-graduate studies at
Oxford and Bonn, and had prepared himself to take up his father’s work.
The Captain couldn’t explain why the young man had gone seemingly on a
new tack. Rich as Croesus and living in a tent with no one but a man
servant for over a year! Sir Balingbroke was puzzled.

Count Rondell was the least regular attendant at the Captain’s board.
The latter explained that the Count’s health was not good. Dr. Brown
had so reported to him.

Thus the days of heat and monotony stretched their weary lengths. They
passed the harbor of Dshidda with its many picturesque boats, from
little catamarans to large clumsy steamers. On the southern horizon
disappeared also the rocks of Yanbu Bar, Sudan, Suakim and Loheia. On
the fifth day after Morton had boarded the liner, when the sea once
more showed the fiery red of sunset, they reached the head of the Gulf
of Suez and the ship slid carefully into the basin which marks the
southern terminal of the great Canal.

From Suez town the lights shot their sporadic blinking; the great
tangle of boats of all descriptions and sizes tied up in the basin and
adjoining docks began to show their mast lights and port lamps; the
lighthouse on the narrow tongue of land stretching into the shadowy bay
sent out its rhythmic signal flashes.

Morton, sitting opposite Count Rondell, gratefully leaned back in his
flattened steamer chair and remarked: “What a relief to be so far
north and at last on the eve of leaving this insufferable quarter of
the world! I am glad to see a town once more, glad to see lights and
real streets and hear real human noises even if they are as hideous as
these are. It is good to look up to the heavens of our own familiar
constellations and find our polar star promising the arrival home. See,
Count, there, for the first time, can be distinguished all the stars of
the Big Dipper! The Southern Cross is glorious, and I have admired it
during many soundless nights in the desert; but give me our own starry
sky, our own air, my own people!”

Count Rondell looked up with a smile. “To tell you the truth, my dear
sir, I have traveled along latitudes I never expected to see and I
barely noticed the Southern Cross. I certainly must be getting old and
unobservant. But I can appreciate how you feel when you think of the
loved ones who are waiting for you in your distant country, and to know
that your coming home means so much happiness to them. I also am glad
to see again the stars of the north--my stars--though I am returning
with a heavy heart.

“I cannot help thinking,” added the Count, “of the part this waterway
has played in the history of the world’s civilization. I see it as the
highway of the trend westward of our humanity’s progress. You will
recall, Mr. Morton, that in the dawn of civilization the traders of
Egypt brought their spices and gold and ivory from India. They resigned
their profitable trading to the shrewder Phoenician sailors who were
followed by those of Syracuse and Carthage. Then came in the Middle
Ages the merchant princes of the Venetian, Pisan and Genoese republics.

“It was a marine from this lost city who, with the aid of Spanish gold,
discovered your own country when the trade of the then known world
had already drifted into the hands of the enterprising people of the
Hisparian peninsula. We know what the aggrieved Portuguese and the
stolid Dutch contributed to this westward march; but then had to yield,
in their lives, to the superior gifts and stronger physique of the
English race.

“Always it has been the cry of the ‘Westward Ho!’ And it always will
be so. It would seem as if man could not resist following the path of
the sun. Your people, Mr. Morton, your country will now step into the
heritage of the world’s commerce. I am sure of it. It is the will of
destiny.”

Morton looked at the speaker with a feeling of awe. The thought so
clearly developed was entirely new to him, and he had no answer to make.

A bond of mutual sympathy had grown up between the two men, so
divergent in their aims and ambitions, so far apart in their ages. The
younger admired the poise, the gentle courtesy and faultless manner
of the elder. He admired his freedom from prejudice, his absolute
toleration of the failings and frailties of others, and his prompt,
unqualified condemnation of everything wrong, cowardly and selfish.

The older man on his part had become strangely attached to this virile,
modest young man with his quiet calm ways, his broad and sound judgment
of men and things and his democratic heartiness, which Morton possessed
with all his seeming indifference towards others. An affection truly
paternal had been awakened in him for this American who could not fail
to represent to him a national type. He had met but few of his kind and
had to confess to himself that in the past he had wronged them by his
opinion. An American had meant to him an overaggressive boor; but in
this young Morton he found as fine a gentleman as even he could wish
for, a man also without the flaws of artificial mannerisms.

He could not help comparing him to the youthful prince who, by failing
to suppress a morbid tendency to resist authority and restraint, had
brought such fatal consequences upon himself and his country. “Why
couldn’t this clean-cut young man have been of the line of the King’s
dynasty?” he asked himself despairingly.

The subject discussed by the two had been of a broad character and
general interest. Just before the interruption caused by the sight of
land, they had been talking about the great similarity in the desires
and aims of all people. Morton, who had intimated that his isolation
in the desert had been somewhat of an intentional retirement to study
himself and his own duty toward his country, had expressed himself in
ways highly interesting to his companion. Returning to the subject,
Morton said:

“It is remarkable that the seeming great differences between races and
tribes are but outward and rather in their customs and habits than
in their mental processes. I believe that the established use of the
dromedary as a beast of burden, the necessity of living in tents owing
to the absence of water courses and springs, the diet of fruits and
sweetmeats, are really the things that remove the Arabs of Africa from
the Europeans far more than their actual thoughts, their ambitions and
emotions. These outward signs are what, next to language, strike us
first as distinguishing marks. Once we get over these, to me at least,
minor characteristics, it is surprising how easy it would be to trace
the course of their thoughts, their actions, as running on lines almost
similar to those that actuate the Frenchman or Italian or even the man
from more northern countries. I have found love of truth, manliness and
honesty, pride of descent, loyalty to kindred, affection for one’s own
offspring, appreciation of learning, strong traits with these primitive
men; while gluttony, drunkenness or license in almost any form is
entirely absent from the nature of these children of the desert.”

Count Rondell had listened with close attention to Morton’s remarks.
“There is no doubt,” he said, “much truth in your observation, my
friend. To me it has ever been a matter for wonder how short the step
is from the highest to the lowest. I am a member of a proud aristocracy
and have been called the ‘Kingmaker,’ and yet I confess that beneath
the outer skin of manners and polished bearing there is often but
common clay--indeed, the common man frequently gains by being compared
to his more exalted brother. I remember,” he continued, thoughtfully,
“our party was very much entertained in Paris by the fine play of a
small band of Gypsies then performing at our favorite restaurant. One
evening, while giving the customary _douceur_ to the leader, I asked
him for his address as it was my intention to engage his orchestra
for some small affair. The man could not write, and he asked me to
put his address into my memorandum book. He owned but a single name.
His pockmarked face, his little beetle eyes and low forehead gave but
scant promise of intelligence. I asked him some questions about his
life and ambitions--the man grew quite loquacious. He liked France and
the French. He made a nice living, he had saved quite some money, had
a good and thrifty wife, a cozy apartment and many comforts. The one
thing which marred his happiness was the sad fact that his marriage
had proved childless. The ‘bon Dieu’ had not blessed them. But for
that he would not change with the manager of the hotel or any other
man in Paris! I was deeply impressed because my own king had said the
same words to me. But still, my dear Mr. Morton, blood will tell. And
a nobleman is the product of many generations of thought, virtue and
manliness.”

Morton nodded thoughtfully as he lighted a cigar. Both remained silent.
From the shore came the sounds of murmuring crowds, the splashing of
oars, the shrill tones of muleteers and the hoarse laughter of negroes.
Then followed the clanking of chains, the straining of ropes, a few
short commands from the bridge and the anchors had dropped.

Everyone was delighted to have reached another milestone in the long
journey home. Passengers were discussing as to whether they should
continue in the “Hindoostan” or take the night train to Ishmaila or
Alexandria. Perhaps there might be some excitement in Suez, or at Port
Said? Congestion of traffic in those days delayed the passage through
the Canal and even the P. & O. liner might lose two days.

Stewards passed back and forth, in and out of saloons, and announced,
in loud voices and in intonations ranging from Cockney to the resonant
drawl of Aberdeen, “Mail distributed in Purser’s office at 6.30.” One,
more respectful than the rest, approached the Count, “Your Excellency,
the chief has cables for you; shall I bring them to you?” The Count
rose and with a courteous leave went to the purser’s cabin.

Morton, to whom the sights were not novel, leaned over the starboard
side, looking toward the quiet dark waters of the bay. He thought over
the past few days of his life on shipboard, the acquaintances he had
made, and the new experiences that had come to him. How strange these
all were! What would they mean to him in after years? Then thoughts of
home surged over him, and a great longing seized him to be there again.
If he took the express boat from Alexandria he would be in Brindisi
in time to take the train for Paris--and then London, and then the
Cunarder for home--New York by the twentieth--and a whole month before
Christmas! Christmas--and the snow! He’d cable and advise his folks.
No, perhaps he’d better wait for his mail. His eyes wandered back to
the deck below and saw his man leaning against the bulwark. He gave a
low whistle and addressed the upturned face: “Don, I am going down to
get the mail. Shall I bring you yours?”

“Allright, Mr. John, thank you. There won’t be much to carry when you
get it, I guess. Haven’t many correspondents these days.”

“I’ll see you in the smoker, Don.”

The mail he received was more voluminous than he had expected. There
were several letters, some with dates months back, and a cable.

He retired into a quiet corner of the smoking room. Don was there and
handing him one lean looking letter, he excused himself and broke the
seal of the cable. It was but one day old. “Glad know you out of desert
well and homeward bound. Mother sister well. Send love. Am not very
well myself. Better hurry home, boy.”

Mechanically he looked for the signature which was lacking. It seemed
less personal without his father’s name, and he was puzzled that his
father had not used the code.

The letters contained nothing but good tidings. There was no reference
to his father’s health except in the one from his mother bearing the
latest date. She wrote: “Father seems quieter than usual and somewhat
restless. Nothing wrong but the doctor advises putting off his usual
trip to the Rockies for the present and would like to see him go South
before the cold weather sets in. We expect to leave Bar Harbor earlier
than usual and go to Cleveland before the middle of October as father
would be more happy if we joined him there. If you, my dear boy, could
get home in time, we might spend Christmas in California together and
for once escape the cold of the lakes.”

Morton grew pensive; he had never before given a thought to his
father’s health. His father had always seemed to him as young as ever
and a more rugged and sturdy man, a man of better habits could not
be found. He hoped the plaintive word meant nothing--nothing but the
longing of the old man for his son. Still--he guessed it was time for
him to step in and ease the governor’s burden. After all--what better
work could he do?

He lay back, smoking and dreaming, somewhat in revival of his solitary
habits of the past months, and abandoned himself once more to the charm
of being alone--alone with his thoughts and removed from undesired
companionship.

After an hour or so he rose and went to his cabin, where he threw
himself on his couch. Unable to rest, he busied himself with a survey
of his few belongings that might need packing. Then nervously drawing
up a table he began working on his report. But he could not collect his
thoughts. Evidently he was not in the humor. He was about to put his
things away preparatory to trying once more the darkened deck, when the
door opened and a steward entered with a note.

In the envelope he found a card bearing the inscription:

  “Count Arnim Barton-Rondell.”

and on the reverse side in a precise clear handwriting, “May I request
you to call at my cabin at your convenience?--Rondell.”

Morton hesitated but an instant. “Tell his Excellency I shall be with
him right away.”

Anything was better than this moping, and the Count was the very
companion to brush away the cobwebs from his mind. He stuffed his
papers into the nearest table drawer, gave a cursory examination to his
appearance before the mirror, locked his cabin door and sauntered over
to the Count’s quarters.

Why had Count Rondell sent for him? He wondered.



CHAPTER IV


When Morton entered Count Rondell’s stateroom he found him standing
behind a small flat desk in the middle of the room, his commanding,
almost gaunt figure erect and tense. As he looked at the man, he
experienced the same peculiar sensation he had felt upon receipt of the
message asking him to call--a sense of indefinable anxiety mingled with
curiosity.

In response to an expressive motion of the slender pale hands he
seated himself opposite the Count. His eyes slowly traveled around the
stateroom and noted its appearance in some detail.

Two swinging bracket lamps lit up the wall to his right, leaving the
lower part of the room in deep shadow. The stateroom itself, somewhat
roomier than the customary steamer cabin, had been transformed into
a rather pleasing den. Along the lighted walls a low couch in some
dark plush was enlivened by the brilliant coloring of a leopard skin
thrown carelessly over the back and by a saddle-bag in bright crimson
and gold. Above it were fastened a garniture of Persian helmet, shield
and battle-axe, the gold inlay upon the damascene scintillating in the
slightly moving light which fell upon it.

The floor, covered with a soft rug in deep maroon and with tan
arabesques in design, contrasted oddly with the green baize of the
traveling desk piled with books and portefeuilles. A curiously wrought
bronze lamp shed a bright circle of light over it; an unusual article
of furniture, it struck Morton, to take on a voyage. It was a handsome
thing and he made a mental note to obtain one like it. His glance now
rested upon the figure and face of the Count, who had sat himself in
his deep, low chair and was resting his hands upon his knees.

“You will forgive an old and ailing man, my dear Mr. Morton, for making
the most of his privileges as such. I trust my request to have you call
has not inconvenienced you?”

“Not at all, Excellency; I was glad to come.”

“Thank you. It may not be considerate of me to ask you here--but
I believe you won’t mind the limited space and closed portholes.
I imagine your camp life has accustomed you to a great extent to
discomfort and heat. What I want to say to you demands privacy.”

He paused and continued. “Mr. Morton, I beg you to permit me to
approach what I wish to say in my own way, even if it may seem odd and
unwarranted to you.”

“Go ahead, Your Excellency, I am listening.”

The older man leaned back and pushed a box of cigars toward his
visitor. “Won’t you take one? I think you will like the flavor.”

His voice, until now somewhat strained, had become calm, and with an
assumed nonchalance of manner, he added:

“I was told by the steward, Mr. Morton, that you had received
considerable mail and some cables upon our arrival here. Does the
receipt of these in any way alter your plans, which you were so good
as to intimate to me the other evening? Pardon the question, but it is
necessary that I should know in view of what I wish to say.”

“It does, Your Excellency. My letters from home are of little moment,
but a cable, sent some two days ago, I think, tells me that my father’s
health is not satisfactory and asks my quick return.”

“Ah, that makes it more difficult, then, for me to speak of what lies
close to my heart, my dear sir. But necessity knows no law and I am
in the position of a man who has no choice. Mr. Morton, I beg you to
let me say a few words to you, in the hope that you will grant me your
attention and--if possible, sympathy.”

Morton nodded and, reaching for the cigars, selected one at random and
carefully lit it. “Very fine aroma indeed, Count; I haven’t had as good
a smoke as this in many a day. Please begin; I am all attention.”

The Count nodded and began: “More than twenty-five years ago my
king, then a young and little known prince of the Coburg family, was
called to the throne of Roumelia by the vote of its people. Among
the younger men whom he asked to join him in this new country to
aid him in establishing a good government, I was one. I was a young
Army officer at the time, with little ambition and with scarcely any
diplomatic experience. I settled down in the new country. I was very
enthusiastic, a prerogative of youth the world over, and became very
much enamored with my work. Since then I have been very closely bound
up with the fortunes of Roumelia and those of my king. I was one of
the few of my Prince’s Court who succeeded in gaining the confidence
of the Roumelians. I acquired their language and customs thoroughly.
I succeeded in gaining the friendship of some of the leading men of
all parties. I won the respect and I think even the love and perhaps
the admiration of the Court by my loyalty to the cause of the country,
my devotion to my duties, my work and my fidelity to the interests of
the principality and later the kingdom, the creation and growth of
which, I may be permitted to say, may be due, in a small measure, to my
efforts.

“My king, God bless him, one of the noblest men who ever lived,
was kind to me and trusted me implicitly. The work to which I had
devoted my life was successfully done; the dynasty of my king firmly
established: a clean, fine constitution, safe-guarding the interests
of the people and assuring the welfare and development of my country,
strongly founded. The one cloud in the blue sky of destiny was the lack
of a son and heir.

“Many years ago, his majesty assenting, we secured an amendment to our
laws of succession, by which the King’s brother was to be his heir,
thus securing the succession to a younger brother and through him to
his son, then a youth of health and promise. Thus far our work in
perpetuating a dynasty had been wisely and well done. Do I weary you
with these particulars, Mr. Morton?”

“Not at all; I am more than interested; I am learning. Please
continue!” The Count smiled and went on:

“This structure, which, as I explained before, was of the utmost
importance to a still broader plan, was, in this manner, erected as we
felt on a firm foundation. Our land had developed wonderfully; from an
almost unknown Turkish province in 1866 we had created a principality
of several millions of frugal, thrifty and moral inhabitants, engaged
in fostering trade and agriculture. We built railroads and highways,
opening the country to foreign intercourse and markets; we laid
telegraph lines connecting all corners of the land; we also introduced
and firmly established an efficient school system. In brief, we
transformed into a community of order and civilization a previously
chaotic Turkish dependency. A dozen years after the beginning of our,
I might almost say, my work, we fought a glorious and victorious war
against our old oppressors and, although the jealousy and greed of the
great Powers robbed us of the full reward of our victory; although the
very nation whom we enabled to win what, without our aid and valor,
they would have lost, deprived us of some of our territory, yet we
grew in wealth, education and well being. When my prince was acclaimed
constitutional king of the realm he had created, I, his servant, was
rewarded by being chosen his faithful adviser and friend. Honored and
trusted for many years, I believe I helped to form and execute those
policies that I feel went far toward the establishment of peace and
happiness in our beloved kingdom.”

Count Rondell rose to his feet and strode the floor of his cabin
agitatedly. Resuming his seat after a while, he smiled pathetically at
the younger man, and said: “Pray pardon me, Mr. Morton; my feelings
get the better of me, I am afraid. My disease seems to have made sad
inroads on me. Shall I go on?”

“Pray do, Count Rondell. Don’t disturb yourself about me. I am all
ears.”

The Count crossed his legs and closing his eyes turned his face upward.
His cheeks, lately flushed and feverish, now looked drawn and gray.
Reaching for a portfolio he began automatically fingering its lock.
Then with eyes wide and in a voice husky with emotion, he said:

“I now come to a dark chapter, my young friend. Men work day and night,
plan and scheme, bribe and lie--all for fame and their country. The
plans seem perfect, their execution faultless, the road to certain
success assured--and then a little thing happens, a bolt becomes
loosened, some man or woman fails you or steps unexpectedly on the
scene--et voilâ!--the perfect structure is but a house of cards--and
tumbles.

“And this usually comes when the architect has passed his prime; when
the resisting power of the body has been sapped by the wearisome
labor. When this crisis comes, instead of a strong man, it finds the
statesman at a terrible disadvantage, perhaps with mind still active
and resourceful--but oh, feeble and powerless against fate.”

Count Rondell spoke the last words as if in a trance. He had evidently
forgotten the existence of his companion. He seemed to be lost in
visions and dreams.

Morton’s cigar had gone out; he stared as if fascinated at the noble
face before him, looking so sad and forlorn. He, too, had often
wandered into the spheres of empire building. He, too, had had
his dreams of being a leader of peoples, of opening up those vast
desert spaces of his own country to the influences of civilization.
Without knowing what tragedy was to be unfolded to him, he looked at
the worn old aristocrat across the desk and felt that failure and
disappointment, rather than success, were oftener the reward of great
ambitions. He essayed a mental guess at what might be further revealed
to him and awaited the rest of the tale with bated breath.

After a slight pause the Count relaxed his tightly compressed,
bloodless lips and went on:

“My king was getting old; his brother had never been capable or active;
he was just a gentleman of leisure--and the promising boy?--I wish it
were not necessary for me to go into this chapter of our history. The
boy, a lovable, fine young man, the pride of his parents and of his
uncle the king, the idol of the country and my hope--the boy fell in
love with a heartless and scheming adventuress. She broke his heart,
brought our finely wrought plans to naught, and the youth to his end.
Four weeks ago I closed the tired eyes of my Prince--closed them in
a squalid hut in Madras, where, after an unceasing hunt of months,
I found him. I was too late to save him for this world--I hope I
preserved his soul for the next--for heaven!”

Count Rondell raised his hand to his brow as if making the sign of the
cross. Absent-mindedly he stroked his hair, while a melancholy smile
came to his lips. “May God be merciful to him!” he breathed, a tear in
his eye.

With deeper feeling and a vibrant voice, he went on:

“Our house of cards had fallen. My labors were all in vain, my mission
a failure and, perhaps, my life also. You are still patient, my friend,
are you not?”

Morton leaned across the desk, lightly touching the other man’s arm
with an encouraging pressure. “You did the best your wisdom dictated,
Your Excellency. Regrets are useless now. It may be there is a silver
lining to your dark cloud. Please, go on with your tale.”

“Well--thus far I have been relating to you the history of Roumelia,
the rise and fall of my chosen fatherland. Now we reach the last
chapter--the day we are living now. Will you not light a fresh cigar,
my dear Mr. Morton? Permit me to retire for a moment.”

Going to his sleeping room, Count Rondell filled a goblet of water and
drank feverishly. Morton lit a cigar the while he watched the Count
sinking back into his seat.

The stateroom had become very close and oppressive. No sound but the
rhythmical beat of the auxiliary engine, rather felt than heard, fell
upon the ear. The steady yellowish light on the wall threw into relief
the ghastly features of the old diplomat; the smoke from Morton’s
cigar hung heavily against the ceiling, taking odd and fantastic
shapes. The younger man was strangely moved. What a terrible drama had
been laid bare! He could not take his eyes away from the pitiful figure
before him--the old nobleman looking the very picture of despair.

“I am coming now to the last chapter, Mr. Morton. A few hours ago I
received two cables informing me of events which have happened during
my absence. The earlier cable says, in substance, in code of course,
that within the last ten days a revolt had occurred in the capital.
Rumors of the heir’s disappearance had emboldened the disaffected
factions of the kingdom, who struck--and struck fearfully! The king
had always lived simply--and trusted his people and his army. The few
palace guards were easily overpowered; the king was taken prisoner and
with him his consort. The ministers of state were forced to resign, a
_de facto_ republican government was proclaimed, and Demeter Sturdza,
the leader of the Radicals, an old schemer and a villain masquerading
as a patriot, has been appointed acting President. Everything is in
chaos. The later cable is still more distressing. A trusty friend of
mine, the late minister of Finance, sends it to me from Constantinople,
to which place he has flown. He is one of the few of the old
administration who escaped.”

The Count opened the portfolio nervously, took some papers lying on
top, and with trembling hands adjusted his glasses. After a futile
attempt to read he resignedly put both papers and glasses down and with
a pitiful gesture resumed his narrative.

“My dear Mr. Morton--I cannot read it--I shall have to give you the
contents from memory. The fearful facts are engraven on my mind only
too deeply! The king has been assassinated--the queen is dead from
shock. Prince Fernand was shot down in cold blood by a drunken Colonel
of the Territorials, the ministers and counsellors are either dead,
imprisoned or fugitives. The army, at first indifferent, is now obeying
the newly formed government. The country has been isolated from the
rest of the world, as the wires were cut. Martial law prevails and a
reign of terror instituted. The property of the old régime has been
confiscated.”

The old diplomat had risen before he finished his recital, staggered
nervously and weakly to and fro, and, leaning on the back of his chair,
he spoke the last words in jerky sentences.

“There remains the only member of the Royal family--a lovely young
girl--a mere child--the sister of the unfortunate boy I had seen die.
This innocent princess is without friend or protector. She has found a
precarious refuge in the summer castle of the late prince in the hills
of the North. When this cable was sent she was alive and, although
deprived of her freedom, still unharmed.

“The poor girl has no knowledge of life, and is utterly helpless.
Reared in the seclusion of the court under the care of the late
queen--a most noble and saintly lady--she is still but a child in
experience. She was my beloved king’s favorite--a beautiful, pure girl,
a noble princess. She must not perish!”

Morton felt dizzy and sick. His cigar had gone out long since. He had
almost ceased to think or feel. With a great effort he pulled himself
together, and staring fixedly at his narrator, murmured thickly:
“Why--why do you tell me of all these fearful things? What do you want
from me?”

Count Rondell came to a stop at his desk and, laying his hands upon the
back of the chair, said quietly:

“Mr. Morton, I am a doomed man. The doctor tells me I have, at best,
but a very little while to live--and I feel he is right. I would not
hesitate an instant to do what is my duty--but I know I cannot. My weak
body will not obey my will. You are young, strong and resourceful. God
has led you to this boat, led you to me in my hour of great need. Mr.
Morton, I ask you, in the name of humanity, to rescue the girl from the
fury of an insane populace--from the nameless horror that might be her
fate--I ask you, my friend, to take my place and bring this girl safely
out of Roumelia!”

He waved aside Morton’s protesting gesture and continued with deep
emotion but with impressive dignity:

“Pray--my dear sir--do not answer me now. Take it under consideration.
In an hour, two hours if you wish, let me know your decision. Do not
act on the spur of the moment.”

Morton could hardly restrain himself. He felt he could not wait. Rising
nervously, he exclaimed, his voice filled with indignation:

“Count Rondell, this is not fair! Why do you come to me, a stranger,
with so impossible, so absurd a proposition? What right have you to
unload your burden upon a chance acquaintance and put the blame of a
possible fearful fate of a young girl at my door--my door of all men?
What do I know of kings and princes? What do I care? Why do you come
to me with this? Much as I esteem you--much as I feel for you in your
sorrow----”

The Count drew himself up proudly and placed his hand firmly upon
Morton’s shoulder.

“I have asked myself those same questions many times during the last
two hours, when I was seeking for a solution, looking for a ray of hope
in my despair. I came to you, sir, because I _must_ do all that I can
do--and there is not a soul to whom I can appeal or who can do what
I ask, but you! I can hold out no inducements to you. I know not if
glory or money means anything to you. Honors I cannot offer, for I have
fallen from my proud position by the very events that have brought me
pleading to you. Riches I have none--my property has been confiscated.
I am a ruined man. I have some forty thousand francs with me--the money
is at your disposal to cover your expenditures for the labors I am
praying you to undertake. Why do I come to you? Because you are the
last resource and the only hope left me; because I would do anything
and everything to save this girl and----”

Morton was about to interrupt, but the old man, trembling violently,
collapsed in his seat. Recovering himself slowly he reached for the
large portfolio and opening it, slowly and almost mechanically fingered
and folded the papers within it.

Morton watched him, stern and wide-eyed, resolved to remain calm and
patient.

In a low voice, made the more impressive by its gentleness, the Count
spoke:

“Forgive my vehemence--my insistence. I must employ every means at
hand. I have not told you all; I have not told you the full depth of
my despair. With the Princess Marie Louise is my little daughter--my
only child. The child of my love--my pride, my only reward in this
world--the child of my beloved wife! Here is a letter of hers, written
but a few weeks before the awful events. A letter full of love and
happiness--she did not then dream of the fearful days that were to
come! When I left Holstein to follow my prince to a new and promising
life, I had the plighted word of a beautiful girl to join me whenever
I called her. In time my beloved came to me. We lived in a strange
country, among strange people and stranger gods; but we lived in joy
and love, making a heaven for us in this new land! When, after some
years, our child came, our lovely little girl, my dear wife had heart
and love for us both. She brought up this child of our affection,
the only child God gave us, as only love can! Her own goodness is
reproduced in the child--her beauty of heart and mind, her loving
ways--all live again in her daughter! Five years ago she--died, leaving
our child to my care. And now, here I am, a man with one foot in the
grave--feeble and useless--thousands of miles away from my child--her
child. My God! what----”

The old diplomat’s head fell upon his arms, amongst his papers, his
shoulders heaving with his inarticulate sobbings. His hand had grasped
a photograph from among the scattered documents and he was convulsively
caressing it. Raising his head he looked at it with an agonized look
and murmured brokenly, “Mein Kindchen--Mein Kindchen.”

It was more than Morton could bear. His lethargy dropped from him; the
spell was broken, his energy returned. A second time he had been shown
the hideousness of life. He knew not what to say. Then through his
thoughts came the words of his own father’s cable: “Am not very well,
better hurry, boy!” It was impossible for him to engage in what, after
all, was but a romantic adventure.

What right had this old scion of a decayed aristocracy to appeal to
him--to him, who had duties of his own, just as urgent, to perform?
What right had anybody to tell him these hideous things, that grip the
mind and distress the heart? What was this young woman or this princess
to him that he should wait a moment before deciding? A refusal, prompt
and emphatic--surely that was the only proper answer to make! Was the
old man acting in good faith or was he, perhaps, staging this whole
business, in order to entangle him into a foolhardy enterprise! What
would his father say? What would mother think? What would his little
sister--ah! his little sister, a girl like this girl! His throat felt
dry and contracted, as if a cord had been tightened about his neck.

Good God! And if he declined--would he ever get rid of the awful
thought that these girls might have been helped--and he had failed
them? Could he ever look any woman in the face without thinking of the
fate of these two gently reared women? A cold perspiration beaded his
forehead and face. With an effort he rose from his seat and strode
toward the old man, who sat now staring before him with glassy eyes.

All this had taken but a few moments, a few heart beats of agony and
resentment.

The proposition was absurd--unheard of! He had better leave this
raving lunatic alone--tell him most emphatically that he refused. At
that moment his eye caught sight of the photograph on the desk. In the
benumbed state of his mind he unconsciously looked and made out some
writing across the lower part of the card----

“Meinem lieben Papa als Gruss. Seine Helène.”

Immediately before his agitated mind there rose the vision of Bonn, and
the old days of his “Burschenschaft.” The happy voices and songs of his
student years came back to him and with them the poetry of the German
sentimentalist--the lovely sunshine and the cheer of youth.

Mechanically taking up the photograph he looked at it for a moment
idly. The next moment he was riveted by what he saw. What a beautiful
face; what lovely eyes; what a sweet smile! It seemed to him as if
the young girl had spoken to him, had smiled at him--why--this
child--why--this beautiful girl must not die--she must be saved!

All at once it seemed as if he heard an inner voice calling on him to
bring her into safety, into life, to her dear father--and, above all,
to himself! What had he been thinking of a moment since? Why--nothing
could be simpler! He and Don could do the trick all right--the girl
must be saved----.

He replaced the photograph gently amongst the papers strewn over the
desk, and leaning forward, said with hearty determination: “Count, I
have thought it over. I will do what you propose. I will go gladly to
the assistance of the young ladies. Do you understand me, Count? We
must get down to work and plan. Do you hear what I am saying?”

But his host did not hear him. He had sunk deep in his chair, his chin
upon his breast, the eyes heavy and dull, barely showing reason. Morton
was shocked.

“Count--come, man, pull yourself together; say something. I have
agreed.”

A wan smile, like sunshine, stole over the drawn features of the
helpless man.

“I must apologize for my rudeness,” he whispered more than spoke. “I
shall be better in a moment.” He stretched out a trembling hand for the
goblet of water, but Morton had reached it before him, and the old man
drank the refreshing liquid thirstily.

The cool drink revived him. Some color returned into the blanched
cheeks and the eyes regained somewhat of their normal lustre. He sat up
more erect. “Did I--do I understand you to say, Mr. Morton--that you
will undertake the--task? Did I understand you correctly?”

“Your Excellency, that is exactly what I mean. I shall undertake
it--and by Jove--if it can be done, I’ll do it! And now, lie down for
an hour or so. You must rest so that we can go ahead with our plans. I
must learn all I can about the lay of the land--and I guess time counts
more than anything else, right now?”

Gently pushing his host, who had tried to rise, into the seat, he said,
“I’ll send your man to you.”

“My dear sir, my dear boy! Permit me to call you that for once--you
have made me very happy! I feel confident you will succeed if any man
can. I already have a plan--but you are right, I must pull myself
together first and be ready for the work. Please, ring for my man
and--in an hour I shall be at your disposal.”

“Good, let’s shake hands on it. Call me anything you please. I am
proud you have chosen me. Don’t you worry; we’ll beat the entire crazy
outfit--and I will have your girl out and in your arms in quick order.
So long, Count, rest well!” He was about to leave when he recalled the
older man’s stiff punctilious ways. Reddening slightly he turned and,
with courtly bend, added, “Au revoir, your Excellency!”

Pausing upon the threshold he looked back. “Have you a book on Roumelia
with a map of the country? I might as well get posted before I see you
again.” He laughed: “I am that way, Count; first slow and hard to move;
but once I see my way clear--why, I get enthusiastic and forget that I
am no longer a boy.”

The Count had the very book on the desk, map and all. Morton took it
and retired.



CHAPTER V


Morton reached the cooler air and took several turns around the deck.
The soft breeze playing on his face, the sight of the twinkling lights
and the bustle from the shore, awoke him to himself. He began to
realize the situation in which he had placed himself, and to regret the
enterprise to which he had, in a sense, committed himself. It was so
different from the plans he had already formed, so entirely at variance
with his thoughts and his aims. Was it really to be so? Or was it but
a dream from which he had just awakened? He felt like a boy caught in
a forbidden act. By Jove, the most sensible thing would be to go back
to the cabin and tell the Count that the whole scheme was impossible!
Surely the man was not quite right in his head! What had he to do with
so absurd an adventure? Don would be certain to think he had been
talking with a lunatic if he came to him with the story. Oh, yes, Don
was the very man to consult about this matter. He would see him at once.

Then, into the kaleidoscopic whirl of his thoughts rose again the
portrait of the beautiful girl he had seen. That was real, without a
doubt. How lovely she was! He recalled the fine outline of the oval
face, the thoughtful brow, the slightly parted lips with their faint
curve of a smile. He wondered what color her hair and eyes were. And
then he saw the slender throat, the simple, graceful pose of the
child-woman. She surely must have a mind as beautiful as her face. He
could almost see the little mouth pout, and the beautiful blue eyes
(yes, they were blue) fill with tears.

He swore silently under his breath and lit his pipe. He could think
better smoking. A few puffs and he had made up his mind. He was in for
it, right or wrong--he couldn’t and wouldn’t back out. He was wasting
time, even now. He must be up and doing. Don must be told at once. He
wouldn’t tell him more than a bare outline--simply announce the change
in his program and order him to prepare for a journey--the Count would
have some plan worked out.

As to his people--his father? Oh, well, he had already intimated that
he might go to Turkestan. The governor was all right and two or three
weeks more wouldn’t make an absence of two years seem much longer. He
would get ready.

On the main deck in a cozy spot he found Don, surrounded by youngsters
of all ages and both sexes, telling the little ones some fairy tale.
It was remarkable how fond Donald was of children and how quickly the
children took to him.

“I am sorry, Don, to disturb this little party. Would you mind coming
to my cabin--I have an important matter to talk over with you.”

If Don felt surprise he succeeded in hiding it. Smilingly depositing a
mite of a girl from his knee on to the deck, he disentangled himself
from the swarm about him, and said quickly: “All right, Mr. Morton,
I’ll be down in a minute.”

Promising the children to resume his tale next morning, and accompanied
by shrill calls of: “Don’t forget, Mr. McCormick,” and “Don’t tell
anything when I aren’t here,” he followed Morton.

Arrived in his cabin, Morton silently motioned his man to a seat and
sat down himself. He at once informed Don that important matters about
which for the present he could say nothing, obliged him to change
the original plan of travel. The journey to Italy would have to be
interrupted by a couple of weeks’ stay in Eastern Europe. An important
undertaking had to be accomplished that needed cool judgment and
careful preparation. Don must leave by the midnight train and embark
the next evening on the Lloyd boat for Brindisi. Further orders would
be ready for him when he arrived there. Donald simply nodded and made
ready to rise when Morton suddenly changed his mind.

“Don, we have serious work laid out for us--I am not ready to tell you
what--I don’t quite know myself what it is--but you will have to be
over there at once and start at the business. I’ll have our agent from
Rome meet you in Brindisi and he will act on your instructions. I’ll
cable him and have letters of introduction ready. Now let’s put down
what we need.”

Don was to secure a large amount of money in gold and bills current in
Balkan countries; especially gold--for Roumelia.

He was to obtain all the information available about Roumelia, collect
newspaper articles on Roumelian affairs beginning with October
fifteenth, tabulate them so that they could go over them quickly, and
get information about the best train connections with Bucharest. Morton
would need the help of an American Consul. Don must induce the Consul
at Rome or Naples to come to Brindisi to meet him, Morton. Morton
would explain things later. Passports good for all the Balkan states,
and especially Roumelia, would be needed. Also introductory letters
to American Consuls and to such men of standing as the consul or the
agents of the firm could influence.

Don’s face had, during this recital, been assuming a more and more
puzzled expression. “Is it all on the level, Mr. John?” he asked. “It
sounds kind o’ crazy.”

John grunted: “It’s all right enough; just wait until you know why.”

Don was further instructed to obtain a full equipment for three
men--four rifles, revolvers and ammunition--all of the best make. A
camp outfit for five or six people, rugs, furs, tools, canned meats and
provender for horses for ten days.

Don looked so astonished that Morton couldn’t suppress a grin. He
decided to take his man further into his confidence, and impressed him
with the need of discretion.

Once Don had the outline of the “job” clearly in his mind, he looked
relieved. Morton knew now that all his instructions would be obeyed
to the letter, and that he was certain of a faithful adherent. Don’s
interest took on an enthusiasm which showed that he was eager for the
adventure. The primitive man in him had begun to assert itself. He
would do and dare anything.

When everything had been agreed upon and settled to their satisfaction,
Morton dismissed his man and returned to the Count in his cabin. He
found the old man feeling much better--the eyes were brighter and the
tone of his voice stronger. He was glad that Morton had come because he
was anxious to lay out the plans of action.

He informed Morton that he had cabled to his friend in Constantinople
asking further information and expected a reply the next morning. When
he was told that Donald was going to Brindisi ahead of them, he was
pleased--that would gain time, he thought.

Mr. Morton was to go to Kronstadt in Transylvania, only a short
distance from the Roumelian border and equip there. A good priest of
that town, a faithful and well-informed man, would be of great help
to him. His good will was assured--he was under obligation to the
Count and could be relied on. With native guides and helpers obtained
there--men that knew the country and language--Mr. Morton could assume
the dress of an ordinary citizen and give out some purpose of travel
not likely to awaken suspicion. The guides would drive into Padina as
farmers bringing their produce to the town market.

At Padina--there was one man there, a Jewish merchant who was very
loyal to the Count and his family, a very shrewd and resourceful man
who, in all likelihood, would be standing well with the new powers. The
man was absolutely true and loyal and would be of great assistance.

These matters clearly understood the Count suggested that perhaps an
outline of the history of Roumelia during the past quarter century
would help Mr. Morton to understand the situation. Morton expressed
himself as eager to be enlightened.

No one could be with Count Rondell without succumbing to the charm
of his magnetic personality. He told his tale with the skill of an
accomplished _raconteur_ and with the knowledge of personal experience.
The man who was speaking had played a great part in the drama he
unfolded. It was a rare pleasure that Morton enjoyed.

“I know, my dear Mr. Morton,” said the Count when he had finished,
“that as a republican you may not be in sympathy with monarchy, but if
you will permit me to explain it may help to straighten out any false
ideas you may have--at least, so far as my own country is concerned.”

“By all means, Count,” replied Morton heartily.

“I shall not attempt to discuss which is or which is not the most
proper and most enlightened form of government--that would be futile
now--we certainly agree that some form of government is absolutely
needed to secure the peaceful development of any commonwealth. You
Americans, with a virile and highly gifted population descended from
peoples who have lived under liberal laws for many generations,
inhabiting a virtually virgin land of great resources, without a
history of oppression to live down--you are capable of existing and
prospering under a democracy. Believe me, my dear sir, Roumelia never
could and never will survive under a similar form of government. The
novelty may appeal to them, the delusion of a new kind of freedom may
delude them, but the people are not educated for it, they are not ready
for it. They need the pomp of a court, the strong personality of an
acknowledged ruler to temper demagogue ambitions and to curb the desire
of the common mind to become enriched at the expense of the country.
There must be some one who is above bribery, who will not be swayed by
selfish motives but who has the public welfare at heart--such a man can
only be the king. His position is God’s gift; and he is responsible to
his Maker alone! A republican form of government in the Balkans! My
dear sir, it would be a farce, were it not a tragedy!”

Morton made no reply, and Count Rondell crossed his legs and leaned
further back in his chair.

“My dear Mr. Morton,” he said, with a plaintive smile, “may I
speak my mind to you? I cannot explain it, but I was drawn to you
from the first. You are a man whose kind I have always loved and
admired--perhaps it is because we do not raise the like in my own
country. I wish I had a son like you!”

“Count, I am proud of your esteem and regard.”

“My dear boy!” and impulsively the Count pressed Morton’s hand. “I am
very, very happy and feel certain you will succeed. Save my beloved
daughter and the noble Princess--and, perhaps, save also Roumelia from
herself and her abominations.”

“At present, Count Rondell, it will be well if I think less of politics
or kings and more of the two ladies who will need all our help. If one
of them regains her right--well and good.” The old man puffed at his
cigar thoughtfully. “You are right,” he said at last.

The two men sat in converse until a late hour. Morton smoking
incessantly, was satisfied to sit and listen to this remarkable old
man, who in spite of his delicate frame possessed a will of iron, a
mind as keen and as brilliant as a diamond and a heart as noble and
tender as a woman’s. The Count had told him of his search for the
weakling of a prince and its tragic end. Morton marvelled at the
devotion and nerve of this faithful servant of the Crown. “What a man!”
he said to himself. “What a splendid example for any highly resolved
youth to emulate!” Surely he would do well to be moved by a like
spirit! “Nihil sine Deo,” was Roumelia’s motto, the Count had told him.
Henceforth his motto would be “Omnia cum Deo.” His heart expanded in
sympathy for the long-suffering statesman--he would be worthy of the
trust imposed in him and would succeed.

Again the likeness of the beautiful girl came before him. An
overwhelming desire to see the photograph once more seized him. With
the instinctive cunning of a lover, he remarked: “Bye-the-bye, Count,
you will, of course, furnish me with proper credentials.”

“Certainly. The letters I shall have ready for you are carefully listed
on the memorandum I have prepared for you. I shall also ask you to take
this ring. It will vouch for you with all my friends and followers.
When showing it say the words, ‘Arnim’s pledge.’ And I must also give
you the photographs of the young ladies.”

Count Rondell, to Morton’s delight, reached for the portfolio and
opened its quaint and curious lock.

“This I think is the best likeness of the three I have with me,” and he
handed over the very photograph Morton had first seen. “I shall have
a copy of it made early to-morrow and will include it with the other
papers.” Morton had seized the portrait and was devouring it with his
eyes. “She is a beautiful girl, Mr. Morton!”

John turned his face away so that the Count should not notice his
expression, and remarked politely but with an air of nonchalance: “Yes,
Count, she is very bright and attractive. It is a little difficult for
a stranger to see a likeness--does she favor you in any way?” In his
heart he felt it was the most adorable, the most beautiful face he had
ever seen.

“She may, a little; but to me she has always seemed like her sainted
mother. Although a child in appearance, she is past nineteen and quite
tall.”

Morton thought nineteen was young enough. He longed to keep the
photograph. He felt he could look at it for ever. Reluctantly he handed
it back.

The hour was late and Morton regretted he had kept the sick man from
his bed. Rising quickly he excused himself and, promising to look in
early the next morning, he retired to his own cabin. There he learned
that Donald had completed his packing, and was ready for the journey.

He at once sat down and wrote a letter to his father’s agents at
Brindisi introducing Don and giving him full power to act in his stead,
and requesting them to aid his representative in every way they could.
Don was to be given such funds as he needed and instructions to this
effect would come from headquarters by cable.

To his father he cabled: “Will leave England second week November. Will
advise steamer. Take care yourself, love all. Please approve by cable
heavy drafts on your agents Rome, Brindisi. Am well.”

To his mother: “Cable Hindoostan Port Said and later Brindisi father’s
health. Can I stay in Europe two weeks longer? Love.”

Having despatched the cables he settled down to write his letters--one
each to his father and mother. The cable he had received disturbed him.
He was anxious about his father’s health.

The letters, indicative of John’s character and his relations to his
parents are, perhaps, worthy of reproduction.

                                              SUEZ, October ----, 189--.

  DEAR FATHER:

  At last I am out of the desert and once more within civilization on
  my way home. I cabled you to-night:

  “Will leave England second week November. Will advise steamer. Take
  care yourself, love all. Please approve by cable heavy drafts on your
  agents, Rome, Brindisi. Am well.”

  I shall have to go to Paris for some days, see some friends in
  Germany and report in London to the Secretary of the Colonies about
  my work in Egypt; expect to take the Cunarder that leaves November
  14th from Liverpool.

  Have had your letters of August 10th and September 16th upon arriving
  here, and some letters from mother and sis. Also have your cable of
  the ---- in which you ask me to come home as you are not feeling well.

  I hope, dear father, this does not mean that you are ill. You work
  too hard and play too little. When I get back I’ll want you to make
  use of me, put me into harness and ease up on yourself. I have had
  any amount of time in the desert to think of my work and my duty, and
  I assure you, father, I will settle down and try to carry on your
  work and your plans. I have always admitted that you knew best and
  were ever right. I repeat that now and want to put myself at your
  service.

  I am hearty and strong. You will find me fit and willing, and the
  life abroad and the knowledge I have gained have done me good, I
  think. How I do look forward, dear Dad, to seeing you again; to sit
  by you and chat and plan! How proud I am that my work here has been
  so successful! Dad, you will be pleased. Your ideas are absolutely
  borne out, and with the data we have of Jackson’s Hole country I am
  positive the work can be done and finished in two and a half or three
  years. We can rely on at least 300 million gallons of storage reserve
  and a useful supply of not less than 18 million per day. Isn’t that
  glorious?

  Remember, father, you always hinted that my duty, as the last of the
  Mortons, was to settle down, marry and see to it that I shan’t remain
  the last of your doughty clan. Well, I am as “dour” as any Morton
  ever was--and willing. As I am writing in similar strain to mother I
  expect between you two you will try and pick the mother of my future
  offspring. I guess you will want her to be fair and mother dark--I
  will thus, at least, have a chance of choosing for myself!

  But, joking aside, Dad, I am ready to quit roving for good, ready to
  give up adventure, ready to settle down in the dear old home and go
  into business. And if I can’t duplicate you, father, I’ll make a good
  try anyway!

  Have you gotten the Mummy which I shipped in May; and did the
  Sarcophagus reach you that I sent by “underground” in July? The
  latter is certainly a very fine specimen and will just fit into your
  gallery.

  I feel fine. I am, if anything, heavier than two years ago, and
  didn’t have a sick minute while in Africa. I am browned as dark as
  the headwaiter at the Lake House and with a little practice could
  beat you on the links.

  Unless I have cable from you will stick to the above plan and be in
  New York on November 22d.

  Donald is well and glad to turn his nose west. He asks to be
  remembered to you. You will be satisfied with him when you look at me.

  Dearest love to you all, my loved ones.

  Give my regards to all our friends whom I shall be glad to see again
  this winter.

  I embrace you, my dear Dad.

                                                Your loving
                                                                   JOHN.

  P.S.--“Am going to draw rather heavily on your agents in Rome or
  Brindisi, as I won’t have time to see bankers before getting to
  London. Will settle by transfer from my account when I return.”

The other letter to his mother, he wrote more carefully.

                                               SUEZ, October----, 189--.

  MY DEAREST MOTHER:

  By this same mail I am writing to father and you will get all
  information about me from that letter. You are not supposed to show
  this, your own letter, to Dad; it is partly for you only, as you will
  see in the next few sentences.

  I have cabled to you inquiring if father’s health is in any way
  alarming and expect your reply promptly. If the answer is favorable I
  shall take a week or so in Europe for an enterprise which looks very
  important to me and of which you, I am certain, would approve.

  I haven’t even time to write a long letter, but as I shall be but a
  week or two later than these lines, my tale can well wait.

  This enterprise, dear mater, I cannot specify more exactly than to
  say that I know you would applaud the principle involved and would
  yourself urge me to undertake it.

  I can hardly wait until I am home with you, dearest mother, and
  with father and Ruth. I shall have an awful lot to tell, of strange
  countries, experiences and a study of life that has been granted to
  few men. You may lionize me, mother, and ask all the swell people of
  the ultra cultured crowd to come and listen to your son’s adventures.
  I shall let my hair grow, raise again the beautiful whiskers that
  were four days ago sacrificed on the altar of comfort and decency
  (tell Ruth I have preserved a photo with them on) and satisfy the
  craving of society for something novel.

  Mater, dear, you always claimed I was a good deal “Randolph” in my
  exterior; did the R’s ever run into red hair? My whiskers--save the
  mark--were of a hue which an enemy of your proud Virginia ancestry
  might designate as--red! Please don’t mention it to Ruth; the photo
  doesn’t show the color and she might be shocked.

  Now, Mother dear, be happy and be sure to be just as pretty as you
  always were. I think the natural bird will be ready to be substituted
  for the fatted calf by the time I get home, because--Thanksgiving
  will put me at your table and--Oh, won’t the turkey taste good!

  Love to Ruthie and thousands of kisses to you both, dearest mother.

                                       Ever Your Loving Admirer and Son.

  “Apropos! If Ruth really pesters you as she surely will and starts a
  guessing match--tell her the lady is five foot eleven, hair raven and
  eyes--a deep violet bordering on purplish black--she’s proud and has
  refused me three times. I am going to follow her into her retreat,
  play the guitar outside her little window for ten consecutive nights,
  moonlight or no light. If she melts under the influence of the sweet
  strains, my pleadings and the proofs of dad’s wealth--I shall bring
  her home dragging her along by a chain of Marshal Niel roses; if she
  remains cold and disdainful--she, I mean Ruth, can pick the girl
  for me in old America. But mind you--only one at a time, please,
  for safety’s sake. You must remember I have dwelt in the Orient for
  two years, and the Orient--you recall the hundred wives of Solomon?
  So don’t subject me to the charms of more than one divine lady at
  a time. Love to all--I mean you of course and not the prospective
  ladies!--JOHN.”

The writing and sending of the cables and letters quieted John’s mind;
he had acquitted himself of his filial duties for the time being at
least. With renewed zest he again entered into his plans for the
enterprise before him--and it was not until a very late hour that he
found his bed.

The steamer reached Ishmaila and Port Said in good time. Here he
received his one cable answer from his father informing him that the
delay would not matter in the least and wishing him good luck and an
early termination of the new work. Agents in Rome and Brindisi had been
notified to honor his drafts.

Early next morning the Mediterranean was entered and the last stretch
of the voyage begun.

Count Rondell had become feebler and appeared less frequently and for
shorter periods on deck or in the smoking room. His features had become
duller and John caught Dr. Brown more than once looking anxiously at
his new friend. The Count never complained, rarely referred to his
health at all and, when with John, would speak only of his country and
his early life. Each interview served but to knit him and John more
closely together.

One afternoon, when Morton, as usual, was visiting the count in
his stateroom, he found the old man strangely silent and seemingly
very depressed. John tried to draw him into conversation, asking
questions about his beloved Roumelia, but the Count replied only in
monosyllables. He seemed curiously embarrassed. Finally, however, the
old man roused himself.

“My dear Mr. Morton--I feel ashamed and humiliated--I am at a loss how
to apologize to you.”

John looked at him in astonishment.

“This morning,” continued the Count, “I was visited by some
kind-hearted gentlemen who were so courteous as to wish to entertain me
in my forced seclusion. I learned from them, for the first time, who
you really are. I am distressed to think that I had offered you money
as the price of your services. I knew, of course, of a Mr. Morton, one
of the financial bulwarks of the Western world, but I never thought of
connecting you with him. I humbly beg your forgiveness.”

“My dear Count, pray, don’t distress yourself on that account. We can
devote the money to the expenses of the undertaking itself if it is
needed. Let us not refer to it again, Your Excellency.” John spoke
heartily and with emphasis.

“You are very good. You absolve me, Mr. Morton?”

“Absolutely, Count.”

“I am greatly relieved. Thank you.”

By the time they had arrived at the Italian littoral Morton was well
posted on Roumelia and also completely in love with his tutor’s
daughter. It gave him a curious pleasure to hear the father talk about
his child. The Count never, for a moment, suspected that John was
skillfully guiding the conversation to that subject, for he himself
was an enthusiast on it. John, on the other hand, did not realize that
he was playing with fire but sat opposite the old man and kept saying
to himself, “You don’t know what I am thinking, old chap! I wonder
what you’d say, if you did know? I am ready to fall in love with your
daughter, head over heels! Just you wait-- I hope you’ll like it.”

The Count’s valet had made a very excellent print of the photograph
selected and this copy was now safely stowed away in Morton’s breast
pocket. It remained there until he reached the privacy of his
stateroom, and then he placed it in the palm of his hand and gave free
vent to his excited imagination.

She did have beautiful eyes, this “little Helène!”



CHAPTER VI


Past Santa Andrea, the Forte a Mare of the harbor of Brindisi, the
steamer crept slowly through the narrow channel connecting the outer
bay with the splendid and well-protected inner waterway, and drew up
alongside the fine stone Molo di San Giovanni across the heart of the
town.

Morton, standing on deck aloof from his fellow passengers, extended
his silent greetings to Europe. His heart beat with gladness and
expectation. The last days had seemed never-ending, so eager was he to
begin the adventure on which he had now set his heart. He had made his
adieus to the ship’s company and passengers. Friendships easily and
quickly formed on board a ship are, as a rule, built on the slender
foundation of the ennui of the moment; the boon companions of the
smoking room soon become merely pictures for the memory to paint in,
after days; even the charming lady whose deck chair adjoins yours fades
into the hazy past--“Out of sight, out of mind!”

Morton’s first care on landing, after meeting his agent from Rome who
had come to the ship, was to see that Count Rondell had been safely and
comfortably housed in a hotel. The old man was very feeble and it was
with difficulty that he was removed from the ship. The ship’s doctor
had seen to it that a good physician was in attendance to give him all
the necessary attention and care. This done to Morton’s satisfaction,
he promised the Count to return in a short time and went himself to a
nearby _osteria_ for any cables or letters which might have arrived for
him. He learned that all his orders and instructions had been properly
carried out and, what was more pleasing, that none of the cables or
letters awaiting him called for any alterations in the plans he had
made with Count Rondell.

Learning that a fast train left Brindisi for the North in a couple of
hours, he gave Donald his final instructions and the letters he had
prepared for him and saw him off for Kronstadt, promising to meet him
there the day after his arrival.

With his agent Morton then went to the hotel and met the American
Consul who had come from Naples to offer his services. The Consul
turned out to be a pleasant and bright young man who was fairly well
acquainted with the Balkan countries. He provided Morton with passports
and letters of introduction to American Consuls in the section which
he expected to visit. He suggested that Morton should travel under his
own name as an American capitalist interested in oil lands and as being
also interested in purchasing some of the highly bred horses for which
Roumelia was noted. The rest must be left to Morton’s own quick wit, he
said, and the length of his purse--especially the latter. The political
state of the country was not quiet; but he thought that Morton, as an
American trader, should meet with few or no difficulties. The people of
the Balkans were tradesmen and loved to meet anyone by whom they could
profit. With this parting advice he left.

Returning to the Count’s hotel, Morton found him in bed, weak but
cheerful, with his valet and a newly engaged nurse in attendance.
Dr. Brown, who was in the adjoining apartment, had telephoned for a
prominent specialist from Rome who was expected to arrive within a few
hours.

Morton took a chair, and begging the nurse to leave him alone with her
invalid, sat down by the Count’s bedside. He told him in detail of what
he had done since leaving the ship. The information cheered the sick
man and brought a brighter look into his tired eyes. He pressed the
young man’s hand gratefully. “I trust you implicitly, dear friend,” he
murmured.

Morton smiled and promised that he would wire and write whenever he
could do so without endangering the attainment of his ultimate object.
He begged him to be of good cheer and to be patient--all would end
well. His father’s agent had instructions to be at the Count’s service.
Mr. Kelly, Morton’s agent, would call on him from time to time, and he
begged Count Rondell to make liberal use of his time.

The old man could not speak, so overcome was he with emotion; but he
pressed Morton’s hands and looked the gratitude he felt.

The hour had now approached when Morton must leave. The doctor also
had come in and whispered that the patient was being overtaxed. Morton
therefore rose:

“Count Rondell, my dear friend, I know what is in your mind. Let me
assure you, that come what may, I shall do my best to look after your
daughter. If you should not be here to protect her--I will. If she does
not find a suitable home at the court,--I shall bring her to my mother,
who will be her friend. Have no anxiety, dear friend. Think only of
yourself--think only of getting well again. But, again, whatever
happens she will never want a friend so long as I live.” He reached
for the sick man’s hand and as a final word, said earnestly, “I will
succeed.”

Count Rondell’s eyes had been closed while Morton was speaking. He
now opened them wide, and a wan, happy smile irradiated his face. He
pressed with feverish clasp the hand held out to him and whispered
rather than spoke: “May God reward you, my son. If I get well--I shall
be your debtor for life; if I die before your return--I shall die
happy. May God bless you, my boy--Good-bye!”

“Au revoir, Count--be of good courage and get well!”

Morton withdrew hastily, afraid to trust himself any longer because of
the stress of his emotions, and glad to relieve his mind in discussing
the final arrangements for the Count’s care with Dr. Brown. To his
agent, who was also waiting in the hotel, he entrusted the moneys the
Count had given him with the request that they be deposited at the
local branch of the “Banca Nationale” in the name and to the order of
the Count. He was to draw on Morton’s funds for all that was needed for
the Count’s comfort and to stop at no expense, if necessary.

Leaving the hotel, he threaded his way through the narrow and crowded
streets and arrived at the railway station, very tired and hungry. A
nearby _osteria_ invited him with its cheerful aspect. In the sunny
back-room the brown-faced comely hostess served him a bountiful meal
of which he ate heartily. When he had finished, he looked at his watch
and found he had still plenty of time. He thought of the cables he had
received and took them from his pocket. “Father rather unwell but not
serious according Brooks. Delay permissible. All well and send love,
Mother.” His father had cabled more laconically: “Go ahead. Christmas
will do. Agency has orders.”

He rang the bell and asked for pen, ink and paper. The smiling landlady
bowed and returned with a green and orange striped penholder and a tiny
bottle partly filled with a pale bluish fluid. What should he write?
He leaned over the table and played with the penholder idly, sipping
occasionally the chianti from a many-colored glass goblet. The slanting
rays of the October sun lighted up the plainly furnished room with its
whitewashed walls on which hung a chromo of a rosy-cheeked Madonna
and child, and a dark crucifix. The wax flowers on the mantelpiece
attracted a bee which buzzed noisily against the bell-shaped glass
covering. Occasionally Morton would look up and glance through the
open window through which he dreamily noticed the little brick-paved
garden, deeply shaded by the high wall and the buildings enclosing
it. A few brilliantly colored dahlias, some clumps of chrysanthemums,
and a few tomato plants despoiled of their crimson glory waved gently
in the wind. A solitary starling skipped in and out from between the
beds furtively glancing about with bright eyes and seemingly quite
unenthusiastic over the place in which he found himself. Even in sunny
Italy, the autumnal season has its sad forebodings.

Morton felt he owed his mother some reason for the change he had made
in his original plans. She would certainly expect an explanation.
What should he say without betraying the confidence imposed in him
by Count Rondell? And yet he longed to tell her of what was really
impelling him. Should he send her the photograph? And if he did what
could he say? No--he must say nothing about the girl. He must write
generalities,--perhaps drop a hint or so, and let it go at that.

The monotonous regular ticking of the clock in the adjoining public
room reminded him forcibly that time was passing and that the train
would not wait. Dipping the pen into the bottle, he began and wrote
rapidly:

                                          BRINDISI, October ----, 189--.

  MY DEAREST MOTHER:

  Since leaving Port Said I have had time to reflect on my lengthened
  stay here, of which I advised you by cable from Suez.

  In Port Said I received your reply saying that father’s illness was
  not serious and my further stay in Europe permissible. Also that you
  and Sis were well. Here in Brindisi I received further confirmation
  by cable from you and father.

  Of course I am very happy that dear father’s ailment (I can’t imagine
  what it can be) is not serious and fervently hope that you will be
  getting him into fine shape soon. I hope by the time I get home, he
  will be his old self again. I am equally glad that you and Ruth are
  well and happy.

  As to myself--physically I am disgracefully fine, mentally I have
  nothing to worry me. I am more than anxious to get home, to embrace
  you and kiss you, and tell you of my work, my adventures, and what I
  have learned and done. I want to settle down, do anything you want
  me to do, mater dear, either in business, in society or even as a
  husband! Yes, dear mother, I am willing to do what you always hinted
  I should do--take unto myself a wife, emulate father’s example and be
  a good American business man and--a “paterfamilias.”

  I didn’t intend to write all this, but since the cat is out o’ the
  bag, I may as well confess it. I can imagine you now going over the
  list of eligible girls; for of course there isn’t a girl living who
  would not jump at the chance of marrying your boy, your handsome
  John--all we have to do is to pick the best!

  Seriously, mother, I feel it is time for me to cease wandering and
  to look for happiness and satisfaction in a home. It is time for me
  to be a true Morton (tempered, of course, with the blue blood of the
  Randolphs) and try my best to carry out father’s wishes and work with
  him.

  I have seen and learned a great deal, but all that I have learned
  only confirms me in my conviction that all work is ennobling, that
  all true labor is equally honorable to a man. And I will do all I can
  to make you proud of me. I am going to show you a trick or two! So
  you’d better sit up and take notice!

  To come back to the subject of girls--don’t smile, mater--I have
  gotten a glimpse of a girl I want to know better. If she is what I
  believe her to be, I shall try to win her. If all goes well, and _my_
  ideal is realized--I am sure, dearest mother, you will love her. I do
  not think I can lose my heart to one not worthy of your regard, and I
  am too much your son not to have my judgment swayed by feelings and
  sentiments like yours.

  My taste has never been impugned--I must take after father, who
  certainly had an eye for beauty if his choice of a wife is to be
  anything to go by. This, between you and me, dearest mother, is a
  confession.

  Just think of it, in a few hours I shall have shaken the dust of
  Italy (and with it the nasty little fleas that accompany it); in two
  weeks both Africa and Europe will have become a memory, and I shall
  be on the water sailing for my beloved home, eager to breathe the
  free air of America, greet the star spangled glory of our own land
  and be with you my dears--for better and for worse--for worse for
  you, eh?

  Tell Ruth to be good, not to eat too much turkey or pudding on
  Thanksgiving and keep up her French. I shall bring her some new books
  and, perhaps, a poodle to talk to. And give her my love--and for
  goodness sake don’t tell her about the nonsense I have written on the
  previous page.

  To father give my dearest love and best wishes. If his work and
  health permit we might, after New Year, run down to the Everglades
  while you and Sis stay in St. Augustine, and get some sport.

  You, dearest mother, I embrace many, many times.

  I kiss and greet you all, my dears,

                                            Your loving son,

                                                                   JOHN.

The letter sealed and addressed, John gathered up his belongings, paid
his modest reckoning to the buxom lady of the _osteria_ and walked
briskly to the station, whence now shone the first lights of the
evening against the yellowish sky.

Dr. Brown and Mr. Kelly were both there to see him off. Soon the song
of the wheels kept time to his thoughts as the train sped on its way to
the North--to the new land of his adventure.

It was a relief to be once again entirely alone, alone with his
thoughts and his romance. His hand stole to the inner pocket of his
coat. From among the papers he carefully selected the photograph and
held it at arm’s length, contemplating it with happy anticipation.

“It seems like a fool’s errand, but, by Jove, you are a beautiful
girl! May success attend me--and may I bring you back with me, to my
people--my sweetheart--my wife!”



CHAPTER VII


Sparkling sunshine and a clear blue sky reminding him poignantly of
the glory of the Indian Summer of his own land, greeted Morton upon
his arrival at the neat and attractive terminal of Kronstadt--his
present goal and the town that was to be his Rubicon. Kronstadt once
behind him, and he on his way south, his adventure would have begun. He
thought of Khartoum, recalling an earlier experience when this furthest
bulwark of civilization had been his last outfitting station before
going into the unknown regions of Africa, and experienced a similar
sensation now that he had felt then-- Was it a good omen?

The questions and doubts which had beset him so frequently during the
tedious and solitary railway journey across Italy, Austria and Hungary
again assailed him. He tried to put them out of his mind. There would
be no turning back for him. The prudent caution of the Mortons died
hard, but the Randolphs won out in the end. Of course, he was a fool,
but it was good to be a fool among so many wise ones of the earth--good
to be this kind of a fool.

Deeply occupied as he was with these and other thoughts--thoughts of
the instructions Count Rondell had given him--he was yet sufficiently
diverted by the glorious day, the novel and stimulating sights, to
enjoy the short ride from the station to the St. Aloysius Rectory.
He admired the well-paved beautiful avenue leading from the railway
station to the town nestling among the green and brown hills, which
stood out clearly against the ultramarine background of bold mountains.

Equally attractive was the town itself with its quaint and quiet
square, its clean gravel walks and the groups of religious statuary
guarded by massive chains hanging from moss-covered stone pillars.

The red-faced cabby, who looked like a character in a musical comedy,
stopped his vehicle before a narrow, red brick building somewhat
retired from the square, flanked by the gray walls of a nondescript
church. He pointed with his whip-handle to the small stone-faced door
above which was a tarnished cross and grunted something that John could
not for the life of him make out. Above the door, in a circular panel,
he made out the words, “St. Aloysius.” This was the place, no doubt.
Dismissing the cabby, he walked up to the door and gave a vigorous pull
at the bell-handle. After waiting a few minutes, he heard steps along
the corridor within and the grating in the door slowly opened revealing
the wizened features of an old woman who peered inquiringly out at him.
He spoke to her in German and inquired after Herr Reverend Moskar. The
little woman, after a prolonged and careful examination of Morton,
evidently found him satisfactory, for she opened the door and begged
him to enter.

He was ushered into a darkened sitting room and had scarcely time
to look around him, when a door communicating mysteriously with the
interior of the house was opened and there entered a heavily built,
stout man in cassock and mitred cap. The features were grave and
imposing; but when Morton gave his name, he was pleased to notice
the face relax and glad to grasp the fleshy palm extended to him in
welcome.

“You are most welcome, Herr Morton, as any friend of the noble Count
Arnim is. I have already seen your servant, Mr. McCormick, and received
the letter you sent by him.” Had the gracious gentleman, however,
brought any letters from his noble patron the Count, the priest humbly
asked.

John handed him a letter from Rondell and showed the ring. Immediately
the priest’s attitude took on an even more friendly and courteous
manner.

“If you are not too tired after your lengthy journey, perhaps you will
come upstairs where we can be more comfortable and private.”

Morton bowed. The priest led the way back to the foyer and whispered
a few words to the old woman who was standing near the door with her
withered hands complacently folded. She retired at once.

“Pardon me,” remarked the priest as they were ascending the creaking
stairs, “but our people are inquisitive and somewhat given to gossip.”
John smiled his understanding.

Morton was then ushered into a well-lighted room, the sombre walls of
which were lined with well-filled book-cases, above which hung a number
of paintings of religious subjects. When they were comfortably seated,
Father Moskar begged his visitor to speak as frankly as he wished of
all that he desired him to know.

From a little closet he brought out a couple of goblets, a bottle of
golden wine and filled the two glasses. On the table was a box of
cigars which he pushed over to his guest. The ice thus broken, Morton
entered on his subject while the old priest listened most attentively,
taking in every word said to him. When Morton had concluded, the old
man said quickly:

“Herr Morton--I will do everything in my power--but do not tell me your
plans. It will be better if I am not in your confidence. Count Arnim
has told you that you could rely on me. I am honored; but it will be
wiser if I act according to your instructions without being acquainted
with your reasons. As I understand, your man, Herr McCormick, is now
at the wagoner’s, who is one of my flock. He will be well served
there. I am expecting, at any moment, the arrival of another member
of my congregation--a certain Papiu Ilarian, who knows well both the
mountains of our land and those south of the divide. He speaks German,
Roumelian and Bulgarian well; he has been a soldier and knows how to
obey; he is also strong, hardy and reliable. After I have talked with
Ilarian, you will find him ready to do anything you ask from him. On
receipt of the letter your man brought me, I thought it well to attend
to a few of the preliminaries. At the wagoner’s you will find horses
bred in our own hills and inured to the mountains. The wagoner has
ready what you require and you will find he will deal honestly with
you. I shall pray for you and the success of your venture. Ach--I hear
the voice of Ilarian--pray permit me to see him alone first. Kindly
make yourself at home.”

Father Moskar left Morton puffing idly at his cigar. He returned,
however, in a few minutes followed by a man of medium height, with
broad shoulders, short neck, close-cropped, round head, small, brown
eyes deeply set under bushy brows, and a heavy mustache giving the
deeply lined and tanned face a rather fierce expression. His large
hands with prominent knuckles fingered nervously a well-worn plush cap.
His stocky limbs were encased in leather breeches and heavy cowhide
boots.

“This, honorable and gracious Herr Morton, is Papiu Ilarian,” remarked
the priest. Morton nodded smilingly and a broad grin spread over
Papiu’s face as he shyly shuffled and bowed. “I have been speaking to
him and he tells me he is ready to start at once. He expects to receive
two florins per diem, the customary fee of an Alpine guide, and his
term of hire begins now and may end whenever you choose. I have given
him information about the character of the work to be performed. You
may rely on him. He has a younger brother, Mihai, lately a resident
of Roumelia, who can also be hired, if you wish. He vouches for him.
Mihai, however, speaks very little German, but he is quick and bold.
I have sworn Papiu to obey and follow you. He wishes to shake hands
with you to bind the agreement. If you will shake hands with him, Herr
Morton--the oath to me will have been transferred to you. I will leave
you together now and will return when you call me.”

He bowed gravely and passed through the door silently.

Morton had been scrutinizing the face of the guide while Father Moskar
was speaking. Not a muscle of it moved, nor did he stir an inch from
his rigid upright posture. The small, intelligent eyes looked at Morton
steadily with calm assurance.

Morton rose and offered his hand with a hearty gesture. Papiu seized it
in a vice-like grip. Morton felt the man would be as true as steel.

“Papiu, when we get back, I shall pay you liberally, and if we are
successful, I shall make you rich!”

“Herr von Moorton--a bargain is a bargain. I am your man and you are my
master. Whatever your nobleness orders--Papiu will do.”

Looking boldly into Morton’s face, he continued: “And my brother,
he is good with horses, quick with the rifle, has eye like a hawk
and knows Roumelia and the people. If I hire him for you, he will
swear--and his oath is good. You pay him the same money and give his
sweetheart a present when we come back--Mihai will help good.”

“Very well, Papiu, tell him he is engaged. And now--let us go and look
up the wagoner, where my friend waits for us. Do you know him?”

“I have seen him judging the horses. He looks good and strong and is
kind to the beasts. He comes with us, he my friend.”

“Good, Papiu, let’s go then.”

Morton had a very busy time of it during the rest of the forenoon. He
found Donald waiting for him and with his and Papiu’s help, they made
the necessary purchases and loaded the wagon. The things he had shipped
from Italy had been delivered and were also included in the load.

During a frugal meal partaken of in the smithy, Morton arranged that
he would start early that very afternoon by the regular train for
Bucharest, in his assumed character of prospective investor and buyer
of blooded horses. Donald and the two brothers were to leave next
morning with the vehicle and the relay horses. They were to join him on
Saturday at Padina, where they would make arrangements for relay horses
and prepare a safe stopping place a night’s drive beyond Padina on
their way to the mountains.

Mihai now came on the scene and was duly introduced. Papiu held some
speech with him, looking very serious and impressive. He explained to
Morton that the holy father had instructed Mihai and that his brother
would like to shake hands with Herr von Morton. Morton accepted the
hearty grip of the mountaineer who smiled his gladness.

Mihai proved to be an elongated copy of his elder brother. On being
consulted, he suggested the “Bovu Aro” (Golden Calf) Inn as a good
rendezvous, a little beyond Padina. Morton congratulated himself on
having secured the services of two such fine fellows. He impressed
upon them, however, the necessity for avoiding giving cause for
suspicion to the natives of the country they were about to travel, and
especially to steer clear of any military guards. His own man, Don,
would keep out of sight as much as possible, so that a great deal would
be left to their discretion. If they were asked their business they
were to say that they were but going to market and returning; they
would enter Padina from the Northwest, on the road running in from the
Aluta Valley. On this road they were to make a careful record of all
telegraph stations, villages and houses between their last stop and
Padina. He gave them money sufficient to carry them on their way and
for any further expenses they might be compelled to incur. The two men
said they understood his instructions and would follow them carefully.

The horses were hitched into the shafts of the stout, canvas-covered
wagon now all loaded and ready. Don and the two men got in; the wagoner
mounted the seat and with a parting good-bye and a crack of the
driver’s whip, they lumbered away, leaving Morton alone in the yard. He
looked after the wagon and as he saw it disappearing in the distance,
he speculated as to what would be the outcome of this enterprise--an
enterprise so suddenly put to him and so suddenly entered on. Surely it
would end well! Nay, it must end well. Putting all doubts out of his
mind, he made his way to Father Moskar’s rectory. He thanked the old
priest heartily for his kindness and promised to come back and tell him
the result of his undertaking. The old man gave him his blessing in
return.

At the depot he found his train waiting. It was made up of a number
of baggage cars and but one car for passengers. Finding a comfortable
seat, he amused himself in watching the conductor, in resplendent
uniform, running alongside the train as he kept blowing energetically
through a little horn the signal to the engineer to start. Soon the
labored puffing of the locomotive told him that he was at last on
his way. It was a wearisome journey, all up-grade, through deep cuts
and over widely stretched viaducts; but he was too much occupied
with anxious thoughts of the coming days to notice the beauty of the
mountain scenery. He felt the pulling power of the engine and realized
hazily that they were climbing, climbing, climbing. Suddenly it seemed
to him as if the train had been lightened of a load, and looking out
he saw that the engine had slowed down and that they had arrived at a
little station on a small plateau. A prominent sign-post caught his
eye. It was printed red, white and green on one side, and a bright
yellow and crimson on the other. They had reached the boundary, the
divide, and all around him rose up the great peaks of the Carpathians.

The gorgeous conductor stepped up to the compartment and informed
Morton that he would have to change now. On the platform he found
a number of gendarmes busily engaged in examining the passengers’
baggage. One of these accosted Morton in foreign-sounding German, and
asked him for his valise and passport.

Everything was found to be in order. The gendarme, made happy by the
gift of a cigar, ushered Morton into another car on a side-track. A
shrill blast and the train moved slowly out. Soon the descent began
and the rapid motion roused Morton to his surroundings. It was a truly
magnificent sight to behold. White peak on white peak gleamed in the
brilliant golden light of the afternoon sun. Then came rounded hills
and after these the sharper contours of the Alpine range; and before
he had had time to take it all in, the train had entered the rolling
meadows and glades of the Great Danubian plain.

The splendid panorama had passed and Morton’s interest subsided. He
leaned back against the leather upholstery of the compartment once more
alone with his thoughts. Occasionally the conductor would look in at
the window from the stepping board on the outside of the car and nod
pleasantly to him. Morton would return the greeting automatically and
resume his meditations. Yes, he was learning, and learning fast. In the
desert from which he had but lately stepped out, so to speak, a man was
measured by his offensive or defensive value--whether he would protect
himself or be a danger to others. In the countries of civilization,
he was similarly appraised, although in terms of social standing or
money. In this isolated Transylvania, however, into which he had come,
he had found a difference. Here was a loyalty founded on faith in human
nature and religion. Father Moskar had gently but firmly declined even
his offer of a contribution for the poor; while the two rough men had
refused more than their just wages for their services. How different
were these from those he had known in his past life! Nay, how different
even from himself! Why had he undertaken this enterprise? He could not
help confessing to himself that his motives were really selfish ones.
What lay behind his readiness to rescue the Count’s daughter if not his
own desires? Was not even love itself a selfishness--the supremest of
all selfishness?

“I have been too long in the desert,” he muttered to himself; “it is
high time I came back to civilization. Man was not created to live
alone.”

The train crossed a bridge and the noise made by the sound roused him
to his whereabouts. He was nearing his destination. The approach to the
capital of Roumelia was not marked by the usual signs of a large city’s
outlying districts. He missed the factories and the tall chimneys
belching forth smoke; he saw no railroad crossings, or culverts, or
streets crowded with toilers. Instead, he made out, in the dark and
gloom of the fast oncoming evening, gaunt buildings against a leaden
sky and sparsely lit thoroughfares. Then, with snortings and puffings,
the train entered the ill-smelling and smoky shed of the depot. He was
in Bucharest.

Scarcely had he alighted when a villainous looking porter grabbed his
valise from him and said some words in a language which was Coptic to
Morton. He decided to allow the fellow to have his way and followed
him, through the press of outgoing people, to the entrance. Here he
found a uniformed individual with a magnificent beard black as coal.
Catching the porter by his sleeve, he held him while he asked of the
soldierly Swengali, in English, the name of a good hotel. He was
evidently understood, for the uniformed person spoke to the porter
and in wretched English asked Morton to follow him to the Grand
Hotel Metropole. John then noticed that the name of this hotel was
embroidered in gold on the man’s cap.

The porter was feed and relieved of his burden, and Morton found
himself installed in a hotel bus which was soon rattling noisily over
the stones. Arrived at the hotel, he registered as from Cleveland, U.
S. A., and was given fairly decent rooms.

His first business, after he had made himself presentable, was to
write a short note to Mr. Bronson, the American Consul, to whom he had
letters of introduction from Brindisi. He invited him to dine with him
that same evening. Morton knew that there was magic in his visiting
card and had no doubt that his invitation would be accepted.

This done, he leisurely descended the broad stairway that led to the
large and rather garishly decorated foyer there to await the return of
his messenger.

He had no sooner stepped into the hall than he was accosted by a tall
and lean individual in faultless lounging suit, who addressed him in
perfect French by name and presented his card. He was M. Puscariu,
Agent of the Department of the Interior--Would Monsieur Morton permit
him to ask him a few questions--excusable in the present state of the
country? He was sure that Monsieur would have no objection.

Monsieur Morton had none. He held the card before him and read the name
slowly and with perfect composure. Trouble was beginning already, he
thought. He begged Monsieur Puscariu to proceed.

The sergeant of gendarmes had reported that Monsieur Morton had an
American passport and had registered from Cleveland. The passport,
however, had been issued at Rome, and within five days it seems. Would
Monsieur Morton kindly explain.

John was nonplussed. He looked anxiously around for his messenger and,
luckily, spied the boy just entering and moving toward the clerk’s
desk. If there was one man on earth more than any other that he wanted
for a moment, it was the American Consul. Begging Monsieur Puscariu to
excuse him for a moment, he hurried towards the messenger boy and was
informed by him that Signor Bronson would be at the hotel without delay.

Greatly relieved, he rejoined Monsieur Puscariu and informed him that
the American Consul would arrive presently and explain for him. In
the meantime, would not Monsieur join him in a cigarette? Monsieur
Puscariu would be delighted. What a bond of fellowship there is in
a smoke! It is well called the pipe of peace. Morton and the agent
to the Secretary of the Interior, as they sat together on the broad
lounge would, to a stranger entering the hotel, have seemed to be
life-long friends, so quickly had the cigarette dissipated all feelings
of restraint. Surely it is the frailties rather than the virtues that
cement human relations! It would, indeed, seem as if it were the touch
of weakness which makes the whole world kin. Perhaps, this it was which
made Monsieur Puscariu look on the American stranger as a gentleman.
Had he, however, entertained any other thoughts there was no time to
dwell on them for Mr. Bronson just then entered hurriedly.

Morton rose to meet him and was greeted in return with considerable
effusion. When the Consul learned the object of the agent’s presence,
he drew the official aside--and told him very impressively who this Mr.
Morton was. The change that came over the face of Monsieur Puscariu was
amusing. From an official solemnity, it melted almost instantaneously
into smiling respect. Here was a man whose very breath was odorous of
ready cash. Ah, yes, this was quite a different matter. There was no
necessity for any explanations--none whatsoever.

But Morton insisted. He informed the two gentlemen that he was to be
in Bucharest but for a few days. He had come to make a preliminary
and merely cursory investigation of the status of certain oil
concessions. He was desirous to find out how the government would
take the investment of foreign capital for developing this natural
product of the country. At present, however, he would prefer to engage
an attorney of high standing to make these inquiries and report to
him. Incidentally, he might seize the occasion of his visit to secure
some good stallions and a few brood-mares of the celebrated strain of
Carpathian percherons for his farms in Ohio. These were his principal
reasons for asking the Consul to call on him.

Monsieur Puscariu and the Consul exchanged quick glances--here was a
fine opportunity for both. The Roumelian was now convinced that the
quiet young man must be made much of--there was no doubt about that. He
was the more firmly convinced after smoking one of Morton’s fine cigars
and drinking a glass of Tokay. He knew the very attorney for Monsieur
Morton’s business. He would send the gentleman to call if Monsieur
Morton desired it. As Monsieur Morton did desire it, Monsieur Puscariu
was still more firmly convinced of John’s importance. Assuring Monsieur
Morton of his most sincere esteem and promising that the honored
visitor to his beloved country would receive every consideration, the
agent bowed himself out, leaving John alone with the Consul.

Mr. Bronson, a bright young fellow from one of the South Atlantic
states, quickly took occasion by the ear and informed John of his
disappointment with the position he occupied in Bucharest. His salary
was far from adequate for his office. It was bad enough to be in
Bucharest before the political upheaval; but since the revolution,--the
place had become absolutely a hell’s hole. There was no money in his
job! His fees for the past few weeks wouldn’t buy a square meal.

If John had any scruples, they vanished at hearing Mr. Bronson’s words.
He felt himself justified in throwing out hints of the “governor always
taking care of his friends,” and spoke of fees and commissions for
parties handling the proposition rightly. He indulged in some “tall
talk” about petroleum, and asked the Consul’s opinion as to the fitness
of the attorney the agent had recommended. The Consul knew him and
advised his retention; he was in with the powers that be, and that,
just now, was important.

The attorney was sent for and arrived so quickly that Morton concluded
Puscariu had not wasted any time. The lawyer proved to be the very
man he wanted--shrewd, obsequious and greedy. A fat retainer to this
powerful gentleman and he was sure he would neither be disturbed nor
watched. From this same individual he obtained the name of a breeder
of horses whose stud was an hour’s drive from Padina, in a small town
at the foothills of the Arges. He obtained this information, as well
as a letter of introduction, on the plea that, as he would be going
north for a couple of days’ hunting, he would like to utilize the
time looking for horses. He thought he would be back in Bucharest the
following Saturday or Sunday, in which event he would advise the Consul
and Mr. Attorney.

When the two gentlemen left Morton, they were both richer by many
dollars than they had been prior to their visit. They parted from him
with still larger hopes of future reward, and anxious to do the rich
American every service in their power.

Morton, as he mounted the staircase, congratulated himself on having
done a good day’s work--he was convinced he had provided for the
removal of many unknown obstacles in his way.

In his room he sat down at the table and wrote the following letters:

The first in German, and written with a stub pen and in a disguised and
uneducated hand, on plain paper, was addressed to Sig. Jacobo Rosen,
Casa Cornu, Via Colomba, Padina. Rosen was the name of the Jewish
merchant recommended by Count Rondell.

  HON. SIG. ROSEN:--

  Your friend, the good Sig. Nimar, the merchant returning from India,
  Arabia and Egypt, was taken seriously ill in Italy and could not
  come in person. He has heard from Constantinople and so as to admit
  settlement of the business pending between yourselves has requested
  and empowered me to act for him.

  I shall be in your town to-morrow evening intending to purchase
  horses from the Olata ranch for export. I desire to buy the two
  famous mares about which Sig. Nimar spoke to me.

  Upon my arrival I shall call upon you and ask you to arrange the
  affairs of your friend so that I can conclude my business at an early
  date. I have moneys with me and papers.

  I shall stop at the “Bovu Oru.”

                                     Most Respectfully,

                                                         JOHN R. MORTON.

This letter he enclosed in a soiled envelope.

The second letter, written on the hotel’s paper and with a fine pen,
was addressed to his father at 210 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, Ohio, U. S.
A.:

                                         BUCHAREST, October ----, 189--.

  DEAR FATHER:--

  I arrived here to-night, and immediately got into touch with the
  Consul, Mr. J. S. Bronson, and through him with an attorney, Sig.
  Andra Jonescu, whose card I herewith enclose. He was recommended to
  me as the best lawyer on affairs of land titles, etc., and looks and
  acts like a capable business man. He understands English well and you
  can correspond with him directly. I have paid him his retainer and he
  will make a preliminary report shortly.

  I am going to try to get some good percherons from the “Olata”
  ranch--our own strain will stand some new blood. If I secure any good
  animals I will try and ship them while I am here.

  Everything appears to me to be quite normal; transfer of titles would
  be perfectly legal and all acts of the _de facto_ government will
  stand test, I am told. We should have no difficulty in dealing either
  with owners of land or the administration.

  Of course, I shall act with due caution and have some official of
  high rank confirm this before acting finally.

  The government, I am told, would welcome the investment of foreign
  capital in land and industries and will give both protection and
  guarantee.

  I am well and have enjoyed the trip. I will not remain longer than
  the business requires. I might get a chance at some good shooting
  (there is fine game to be had in the mountains and in the Delta), in
  which case I may prolong my stay a few days. If I don’t get to Paris
  by November 20th, will cable.

  With love to dear mother and Ruth, I am, dear father,

                                                   Your loving son,

                                                                   JOHN.

Putting on his coat and cap, John walked down to the foyer, and having
learned from the gloriously arrayed and imposing chief porter the
location of the nearest mail box, he leisurely sauntered toward it.

The street was totally deserted, not even a lighted shop window was
to be seen. This surprised him. He had been told that Bucharest was
known as the “Paris of the East.” It looked like anything but that
just now. He surmised the change was owing to the troubled times. As
he slipped the letters into the mail box, he had a feeling that he had
been followed. Without in the least betraying his suspicions, he paused
and lit a cigar and then slowly made his way back to the hotel, smiling
quietly. “You are welcome to read both letters--but one of them, I
guess, you won’t recognize as mine,” he muttered to himself.

The next morning was spent in making a few necessary purchases. He
visited the principal streets, and made it his business to look into
the largest stores. He observed that he was being followed wherever
he went; but he took no notice and went about his business as if
seeing nothing. The town was in that state of suspended animation that
betokens an unusually unsettled condition. Shopkeepers seemed surprised
to find a patron; the few women he saw were sober and barely let
their glances fall on him, though it could be easily seen that Morton
was a stranger--he had taken good care to get himself up like the
typical English tourist. Few conveyances of any description disturbed
the curious quiet that had come over the city, a quiet as if from
drowsiness.

Evidently, an ominous cloud was hovering over the place, and Morton
felt that he was walking on the thin crust of a lake of molten lava,
when any moment his feet might break through. Wherever he went he was
certain to meet either a “Guarda Civil” with his fierce mustachios, or
an officer with clanking sword and spurs, or a gendarme in his bizarre
hat and baggy pantaloons many inches too long for him. But no one said
a word to him, nor did he hear any words spoken.

He was not sorry to find that a train would take him to Padina and land
him there that evening. Quickly packing a valise and informing the
clerk that he would retain his room, he made his way to the railway
station and found the train on time.

At the Padina depot, he inquired from a sleepy looking guard after the
best hotel, and was glad to have the man point down the street to the
very house he had intended to stay at. It was but a short walk and the
foggy evening air hid the inhospitable appearance of the place. But it
could not hide the miserable condition of the roadway, a trench-like,
broad furrow, between low, dingy buildings of box-like structure. It
was full of holes and pitfalls, and a pedestrian sank ankle-deep in its
mud. John recognized the hotel by its swinging sign--an unnaturally
meaty bull painted with garish, coppery bronze--which glittered in
the feeble rays of an antiquated oil lamp fastened above it. He set
down his bag and with a resigned sigh gave a vigorous pull at the
bell-handle.

The door was opened by the landlord in person. He looked astounded
to see a man with a valise--evidently, guests were not an event
of everyday occurrence. But his countenance quickly assumed its
professional smile and, with a nod of his unkempt head, he invited
Morton in. To Morton’s inquiries, he responded in a curious jargon
of German and Roumelian, which Morton understood sufficiently to be
satisfied that he would find the accommodation he needed.

Bearing aloft an ill-smelling and smoky tallow candle in a tin
receptacle, the landlord led the way up a stairway, the walls of which
had been anciently plastered and whitewashed. Arrived at the upper
floor, he entered a room and placed the light on a small table and the
guest’s bag on a most uninviting looking bed. Then, turning, he gave
vent to some more guttural sounds and left Morton alone. The sounds
were intended to convey the information that the gentleman’s dinner
would be ready in half an hour in the tap-room.

It was with many misgivings that Morton looked about the cell that was
to serve as his residence for the next few days. The prospect was by no
means a pleasing one. The walls of a dirty white, roughly plastered,
showed many cracks and nail-holes, and numerous blotches of soot or
smoke where previous visitors had evidently sent up burnt offerings
on the altar of a night’s peace from vermin. The bed, piled high with
pillows and quilts, assured warmth, but not cleanliness; a rickety
washstand with rough bowl and pitcher, both chipped and cracked, two
rickety chairs, a small table, and a number of wooden pegs driven into
the wall, completed the furnishing. This was the first real shock to
John’s fortitude. He had realized that he might have to encounter
dangers, but he never thought that he might be nauseated. In his camp
in the desert, vermin and insects were a part of the natural order of
things, so to speak; but in this “hotel”--faugh!--Morton’s lips twisted
themselves into an expression of disgust.

Still, it was an ill wind that did not blow some good. The very
primitiveness of the place would protect him from an espionage which
might prove to be far more inconvenient than the discomfort. And
he was not just now interested in offering suggestions for running
model hotels. He was about to make up his mind to risk a descent to
the tap-room, for he was very hungry, when a gentle knock sounded on
the door. Taking the battered candlestick in one hand and cautiously
opening the door, he peered into the dark stair-landing. In the
flickering light, the shadow of a man stretching along the deal boards
of the hall seemed gigantic. But the feeling aroused by the size was
quickly dispelled by the voice which emanated from the person. In a
low, whining and apologizing tone, and in a language which was intended
for German, the man inquired for the most honorable and respected
Signor Moor-ton.

John made himself known. The little man bowed low, removed his hat, and
begged permission to introduce himself. He was the unworthy and humble
store-keeper Rosen, a purveyor to the wants of travelers whatever their
needs or desires might be. Would not his Honor permit him to be the
first merchant of the town to offer his services to provide whatever
the gentleman wished to purchase in Padina? His stock of goods was the
choicest to be had anywhere outside of Bucharest and the prices the
lowest.

John was very much taken aback. Was this grotesque and trembling
shadow, this ridiculous little figure the man in whom the Count had
placed such reliance? Was he to be the mainstay of his enterprise?
It surely could not be. And yet he must have come in response to the
letter Morton had sent him, the night before. Perhaps the fellow was
playing a part of set purpose! Still, it was an untimely hour for a
visit.

“Why do you come here? Why did you not wait and see me downstairs? You
Jews don’t waste any time, that’s certain. Well, now that you are here,
come in and state your business. Be quick about it for I haven’t much
time!”

He had spoken roughly, and with a quick turn he walked into the room.



CHAPTER VIII


With much bowing and scraping and apologetic mumblings, the Jew passed
through the doorway and into the room. Once within, he gave a quick
turn and, closing the door quietly, he carefully pushed home the bolt
on the inner panel. When he turned again, John was astonished at the
transformation in the man’s features and bearing.

The bent figure had assumed an erect attitude and carried a head
surmounted by a brow indicative of high intellectuality. In the light
of the candle which now shone fully on his face, the fine, dark eyes
were full of intelligence. He continued to speak in a whining voice,
as he held out a piece of paper to Morton, of matters of trade; but as
soon as Morton had taken the paper from him he whispered: “Read while I
talk. Answer questions without using names; we may be overheard or even
watched.”

The whisper, in perfect German, was spoken with the intonation of a
man of education. John needed no further explanation as to the real
personality of his uninviting caller. He examined the writing and read:

“Pay no attention to what I am saying now--read!”

“Where did you leave my patron?”

“Have you vouchers to prove who you are?”

“What do you want?”

Morton walked to the table, and on the reverse side of the paper wrote:

“In ill health at Brindisi.”

“Have letter from Nimar and the Count’s ring; countersign, ‘Arnim’s
pledge.’”

“Want to take two girls out for a long drive.”

He handed the paper back to the Jew, who never ceased from talking
and gesticulating while he glanced quickly at the replies Morton had
written. Morton took the Count’s ring from an inner pocket and held it
out in the light. Rosen bowed courteously.

“All is well!” he said in low, clear tones. “To-morrow morning at nine
walk along the street to your right, and under the third tree after
passing the corner you will see a small boy in a red cap, playing. When
he sees you, he will walk off. Follow him. He will enter a doorway.
Pass through after him. Twenty paces further you will see an open gate
in a high wall. Pass through that also and bolt the gate after you.
To your right in the garden, you will find a green door. It will be
unlocked; enter, and if anyone asks you your business say you want to
see Sig. Rosen about the rare old crucifix he offered you. My daughter
Rachel will be there. She will guide you. Is everything clear?”

Morton nodded.

The Jew then resumed his cringing manner and, backing softly to the
door, he slipped the bolt back and passed through, whining aloud in
his sing-song tones: “I thank your Honor for your indulgence. I hope
you will let me show you the articles I spoke of. I can also exchange
foreign money for our own. I have beautiful jewelry that would please
your ladies, and very fine Turkish arms and antiques to show you. The
best and rarest articles from Persia and Anatolia can be found in our
town. I am your obedient servant--Good night! and thank you, your
Honor.”

The last words came up to Morton from the bottom of the stairway and
were accompanied by the sound of the man’s feet shuffling along the
hallway.

Things were developing! Morton blew out his candle and felt his way
to the tap-room where he found the promised supper awaiting him. The
landlord looked unconcerned and served him rather surlily and with
ill-concealed indifference. Sitting at a small table in the corner, and
removed from the range of an oil lamp suspended from the ceiling in
the middle of the room, sat a man apparently engrossed in the contents
of a black bottle before him. Ah--this, then, was the explanation for
the Jew’s caution! The fellow did not even glance at Morton, foreigner
as he must have struck any native to be. He was evidently there for
a purpose. Morton took no notice of him, but busied himself in doing
justice to the savory dishes provided for him. He took his time about
eating and ordered a bottle of wine which he found excellent.

His hunger appeased, he invited the landlord to help him finish the
bottle. The landlord, nothing loth, drank heartily and answered readily
the questions Morton put to him, which related only to horses and
hunting, and took a second bottle to satisfy. And still the man in the
corner said not a word, but kept on sipping the liquid in his glass
and staring vacantly before him. When Morton had finished, he bade the
landlord good night and ascended the stairs to his room.

In spite of his first distaste for the bed, Morton found it more
inviting now that he had had a decent meal and was feeling the effects
of the wine he had drunk with the landlord. He slept very soundly,
though his sleep was filled with dreams of running fights with rough
men and hairy beasts, of scaling rocky heights and sliding into
deep pits, of detectives following him wherever he went and of a
greasy-looking Jew grinning at him.

When he awoke, the full daylight was slanting through the openings
of the blinds. He was soon dressed and in the tap-room eating his
breakfast. His meal finished, he lit a cigar and walked carelessly down
the street.

Keeping to the right, he found, as Rosen had told him, a boy, under
the third tree, deeply intent on playing with some glass balls. Before
he had approached to within some yards of the spot, the urchin had
collected his marbles and was throwing and catching his fez in the
air. When he had almost reached the lad, the little fellow ran off and
disappeared through a low door in a plastered wall. Morton noted the
spot and, walking nonchalantly, passed through it, with a carelessness
of manner that betokened utter indifference.

He now found himself in a narrow garden plot bordered by a red
brick walk. There was little enough in the garden to attract the
attention--only a bed or two of autumn flowers, and at the far end, a
grape vine roofing a small rustic kiosk. Beyond, the view was cut off
by a low rambling structure with heavy tile roofing, the weather-worn
eaves of which were covered with deep moss. There was no sign of life
anywhere, except the chattering of a few sparrows in the dense boxwood
hedge along the walk, and the cooing of some pigeons strutting on the
brick walk.

Remembering the Jew’s instructions, he threw away his cigar and turned
to his right. A green door in the plastered building confronted him.
When he had closed the door behind him a voice from the dark shadows
of the hallway called out: “Who is there?” He gave his name to the
invisible interlocutor and added that he had come to see the crucifix
Herr Rosen had for sale.

By this time his eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness and he
could make out the figure of a woman approaching. A door was thrown
open and he was asked to enter.

The room in which he found himself was invitingly cozy. It was
furnished with an old-fashioned hair-cloth couch and deep chairs.
A finely carved round table and an old desk, littered with papers,
occupied the rest of the space. The walls were covered in dark leather
and decorated with choice etchings. In a corner a choicely carved
cupboard stood out in its classic distinction. He had barely time to
note these things when he heard the creaking of a door to his left.
The hanging was thrust aside and a small but well-built young woman
approached smilingly and courtesied to him with quiet self-possession.

“I am Herr Rosen’s daughter, Rachel. Please be seated.”

John bowed, sank into the nearest chair, the bountiful proportions of
which he thoroughly enjoyed--it was very comforting after his restless
night. At once the young woman plunged into the subject, speaking in
fluent German.

“What do you wish me to tell you, Herr Morton? Have no hesitation; you
may trust me fully.”

“I am here to take two ladies out of the country, Miss Rosen. Perhaps
it will be better if I do not give their full names.” Miss Rosen nodded
knowingly. “Very well, then,” continued Morton, “my first object is to
be introduced to Miss Mary and Miss Helène. Then I want to find out how
they are being detained.”

Miss Rosen hesitated for a moment and then spoke rapidly as if she were
thoroughly conversant with the whole matter.

“Miss Marie is more or less a prisoner in the castle--exactly opposite
this house”--she pointed in the direction of the red tiled building he
had observed in the garden. “Miss Helène, however, is allowed more
freedom. She will be here in less than an hour. She would not forsake
Miss Marie and is with her as her companion. She comes here every day
after chapel for some of the things they are permitted to have. She is
supposed to be at her prayers, but she comes to us instead. I will see
that you meet her in this room. It would be no use for you to speak to
Miss Marie; the poor girl could not help you in any way. Miss Helène is
different. She will do whatever you ask her if it means their freedom.”

“How are they confined, Miss Rosen?”

“The Princess--pardon the slip, but no one can hear us here--Miss Marie
is in the south wing of the castle, adjoining the chapel, which is
built close to the enclosure of the grounds and at the South Gate--the
side entrance to the summer castle. If you go through our house that
way,” and she pointed to her right, “you will reach Calla Aurel; almost
directly opposite to our house is the entrance gate. Marie is never
allowed to go out, but Helène is permitted to walk in the town for an
hour. If she exceeds that time, she will not be allowed to go back.”

“Then Miss Helène could leave Padina if she wished?” inquired John in
surprised tones.

“No, the gates of the town and the railway are guarded day and night.
No one can leave unobserved; indeed, scarcely a soul has left town in
the last two weeks. But she could be gotten out of town, however, if
she could find anybody to undertake the task. Father has offered to
arrange it; but she declines to go. Miss Helène will not leave the
Princess.”

“Can you suggest a way by which Miss Marie could be smuggled out?”

“I know of only one way which I think would be feasible.”

The young woman looked earnestly at Morton as if trying to read his
mind. “May I tell it to you?”

“By all means. Your father has told me I can rely on you. Tell me what
you have in your mind.”

The girl smiled. “I will, but my plan requires quick action. Our
maid is the sister of Sergeant Valera, who is in command of the
guards at the south entrance to the palace. One of the guards is her
sweetheart--they are to be married as soon as he can afford it. The
girl tells me that her Marco will do anything for her. She can arrange
that he shall be the guard on any required night. The rest would be
simple--merely a liberal sum of money.”

John looked at the girl admiringly. “Splendid, Miss Rosen, splendid!
The money will be easy--I’ll attend to that. Arrange for Marco to be
the guard for to-morrow night and I’ll get them both out of this place.
Can you manage it?” John had risen in his excitement. “I’ll look over
the ground now, if I may.”

“Not so fast, Herr Morton,” came in quiet tones from Miss Rosen. “You
will only arouse suspicion. Wait here for the present. Miss Helène will
be here now any minute and you can talk it over with her first.”

“You know best, dear lady,” and John, somewhat calmed, reseated himself.

“Tell me, Herr Morton, what news from the capital?”

“Things are in a very unsettled state there, I am afraid, Miss
Rosen. The fate of the royal family and the imprisoned leaders of
the nobility is not known positively. The Parliament has adjourned
for the celebration of the feast of All Souls and will not re-open
until Saturday evening. It is expected that Flava will, on that day,
try to carry the assembly in favor of his extreme views and that the
Flavarists and the liberal Left will cast their vote with him if he
so chooses. Everybody takes it for granted that he will ask for a vote
condemning the royal family and nobility to expulsion or, perhaps,
worse. He will not spare any of them. In the cafés it is rumored that
he is seeking to duplicate the proceedings of the French Chamber after
the fall of the Gironde--and you know what that means! If we are to
act, we must act promptly, or it may be too late. The two ladies must
be out of this town by Sunday at the latest.”

Rachel’s face had grown pale. Her hands kept crossing and uncrossing
convulsively, and a look of deep fear came into her eyes.

“God of my people,” she whispered in an awed voice, “this is terrible!
You are right, Herr Morton, the ladies must be taken away. Oh,
Herr Morton--our peasants and our townspeople here are so good and
obedient if only they are left to their own good natures. So happy
and contented! They love their homes, they love peace and adore their
king! Unhappy land--the football of ambitious villains! Yes, yes, Herr
Morton, the ladies must be rescued. And we, too,--my father and I will
go also. God help us!”

Morton listened silently to this outburst, unable to say a word. What
crimes are not committed in the name of liberty! And what fearful
sufferings are not endured for those so-called rights of man!

“Father has told me that you are an American. You are the first from
that country I have met. You look as if you could accomplish what you
undertake. Oh, how I wish I could help!”

“You can, nay, you are helping, Miss Rosen. But you are too young to
have such a burden and sorrow thrust upon you.”

“The daughters of our race become women very early in life. We ripen
soon. Our people have had to bear a life of persecution for many
generations. We know what it is to suffer. That has ever been the lot
of the Jew. Believe me, Herr Morton, ours is but a brief childhood.”

Morton could say nothing; he could but look the sympathy he was
feeling. The color had mounted to the girl’s cheeks and she was
speaking from an overflowing heart:

“It will help you, perhaps, to know that my father has always been very
close to--to Miss Helène’s father. They were friends for many years.
Father is a very learned and wise man, Herr Morton, and very brave and
loyal. Once he is your friend, he is always your friend. You can rely
on my father. He will be here shortly. He is absent on purpose. He did
not want to be in when you called, so as to put off suspicion.”

Morton could not help admiring the fine poise and keen mind of this
remarkable young woman--seemingly a child in years, but a woman in
sense. “You and your father should come to my country, Miss Rosen. Your
father’s talents would be recognized there, and you also, with your
wit and beauty. In my country, your people are powerful and honored.
Persuade your father, won’t you? If he needs help I will help him.”

“Thank you, Herr Morton; but I hear some one coming. It is Miss Helène.”

Rachel bounded up and was through the door in a flash. In that moment,
however, he realized whom he was to meet. He stood up, his heart
beating, and waited. He had not to wait long, for the curtain was
pushed aside and the lovely face of the photograph was framed in the
doorway.

The clear, mellowed light which filtered through the lace curtains of
the windows fell full on the sweet countenance and revealed the slender
figure as it stood against the velvet background of the portières.
Miss Rosen had thought it best not to come in with her.

The door behind the curtains closed with a gentle click. She came
toward the center of the room and leaned one hand against the table
whilst the other timidly rested upon her bosom, which was rising and
falling in her agitation.

Morton’s gaze was riveted on her. He saw as in a vision the pale face
of soft contour, the delicate nose with quivering nostrils above
slightly parted tremulous lips--moist as with the dew of innocent
childhood, the eyes encircled by dark shadows--blue eyes, the blue
of the wood-violet. She was more beautiful than his dreams. She was
looking at him with a pitiful, questioning look, which went to his
heart and roused him from his state of trance. All his manhood rose up
in him in response to the appeal, and bowing deeply, he said:

“I am Mr. John Morton, Comtesse, a friend of your dear father. I am the
bearer of a letter from him to you.” He held the package towards her.
“I am here to be of service, if I can, to you and the Princess.”

With her hand still upon her bosom, she whispered rather than spoke:

“Miss Rosen has told me you have letters from my father--pray forgive
me--I have been walking fast and am a little out of breath----”

She took the letter in a delicate, white hand and saw that its envelope
was unaddressed. It was sealed, but in the corner she noted her
father’s mark.

“Thank you. Permit me.”

With trembling hands she broke the letter and, turning towards the
window, began to read.

During the reading, John stood drinking in the beauty of the agitated
girl. He was exultant and distressed by turns. Exultant in that fate
had led him to her--distressed at the sorrow that had come into her
life. Come what may, he would, at least, rescue her from her present
cruel position and bring her to where life would be worth living. His
whole soul welled up in him, and it was only after a great effort of
will that he calmed himself to the exigencies of the moment.

The letter read, the girl dropped her arms listlessly. She turned to
Morton, her eyes filled with tears:

“How was my father when you left him, Mr. Morton? Was he very ill?”

Her voice broke a little from the stress of her feelings. She spoke in
excellent English, though with a distinctly foreign accent, and both
tone and words went to the young man’s heart.

“Count Rondell was not well, but he was not suffering. He wished me
to hand you this ring as a further guarantee of myself. I was also to
repeat to you his message: ‘From Arnim to his Kindchen.’”

Helène broke down utterly at these words. She took the ring with
trembling hand and kissed it passionately the while tears coursed down
her pale cheeks.

John turned away and watched the sparrows flitting across the garden.
The scene in the stateroom with her father rose before his mind, and
again a deep yearning filled him.

“Forgive me, Mr. Morton. My father’s letter unnerved me. What am I to
do?”

John turned a face full of smiling sympathy:

“Comtesse, let me first assure you that I am entirely at your service.
Your father could only suggest some plans, but I hope I shall be able
to find a way out. But, pray, be seated.”

Comtesse Helène sank into the chair lately occupied by Miss Rosen. She
looked up at Morton with eager questioning in her eyes.

“Can you obtain for me an interview with the Princess, Comtesse?”
Morton asked.

Helène shook her head. “That would be impossible,” she whispered.

“Well, it may not be necessary. Miss Rachel has suggested a plan which
fits in excellently with the preparations I made before coming to
Roumelia. Could you and the Princess be ready to leave by Saturday
evening?”

Helène gasped with wide eyes. Morton, seeing her state of mind, smiled
reassuringly.

“Have no fear, dear lady, all will be well. But you will help me if I
know how to proceed. Are either of you permitted to leave the castle?”

“Why--I--I can go out every forenoon for an hour. The Princess is not
permitted to leave the castle. We live on the second floor of the wing
adjoining the chapel--the wife of Captain Gradsiano, of the guard,
shares the floor with us. On the floor below us are the guard rooms
and the Captain’s office. We are permitted to go to chapel for our
devotions every morning and evening and on Sundays for mass at eleven.
I am the only attendant on the Princess. Signora Gradsiano sends a
woman with our meals at the regular hours.”

“Who goes with you to chapel?”

“The guard.”

“Comtesse, to-morrow, on your way to vespers, walk as close to the gate
as you can. I understand the chapel adjoins the South Gate. I shall be
there with my men, ready to take you both away. A closed carriage will
be in waiting, with good horses. Bring nothing with you, for everything
will be provided for your comfort and needs. Put on your stoutest shoes
and your stoutest hearts. If you have any papers or jewels that you
value you may bring them, but nothing else. Will you do this?”

“But where are we going to?” the girl asked piteously.

“Your father instructed me to take you to Thuringia. Did he not tell
you that in his letter?”

“Yes. He says I am to follow her Highness there. But how are we to get
there?”

“I will see to that, Comtesse. Every preparation has been made, even to
the securing of fresh horses for the road. Believe me, you need have no
fear. I have trusty men to help me, and they will be ready.”

Morton spoke confidently and looked the confidence he felt.

“Time flies, Comtesse. Your hour is almost up. When you see the
Princess, pray tell her of the plan and see that she is ready. I will
be here to-morrow at this time and give you final instructions.”

The girl rose, her lips trembling and her eyes filled with doubt. She
walked slowly to the curtained door, her head bent. John drew aside
the drapery, and opening the door bowed deeply, saying: “Until ten
to-morrow, then, Comtesse. I beg of you to be of good cheer; and permit
me to say that we are deeply devoted to your cause.”

Helène bowed her head lower and left the room without a word.

Once more he was alone--but not lonely. He had seen her and spoken to
her--face to face. He felt as if he had been on that high mountain and
had come down again, his face shining. “God is good to me,” he breathed
to himself. He was grateful for the silence of the room, grateful also
that no one came in to disturb his thoughts. Mechanically he sat down
and lit a cigarette. Everything was going well--everything would go
well, if the Princess agreed. How easy it would be if the Comtesse
alone were concerned! And as he thought of Helène his whole being
dissolved into pity. How worn she looked and yet how beautiful! The
blue of her eyes was the color of heaven itself. Would they ever shine
on him with love?

The sound of voices in the hall woke him from his dreams. A moment
later the door was pushed open and the alert face of Rachel with its
dark and flashing eyes showed itself in the doorway. She was followed
into the room by her father.

The Rosen who appeared now was an entirely different Rosen from the
servile trader of the previous evening. He was neatly dressed in sober
black and faultless linen, and gave the impression of being a scholar
rather than a tradesman. As Morton shook hands with him, he could
not help noting the well-cared-for fingers which met his in a hearty
pressure. A smile lighted up his features. John was drawn to the man.

In obedience to a nod from her father, Rachel withdrew and left the men
to themselves.

John was full of his plans and eager to have Rosen’s opinion. The
latter listened attentively to all the details, nodding occasionally
in approval. Morton had taken from his pocket a map of the country,
laid it on the table and pointed out the routes he had arranged on.
Rosen agreed that the plan was a good one, but as John alone was to get
the girls out of the castle it would be necessary for him to have a
diagram of the town. Rosen supplied this by drawing one very carefully
on a sheet of paper. He advised John that bribes were dangerous in the
present juncture of affairs--there was too much risk in them. There
would, however, be nothing to fear from Marco. Once the girls were out
of the town the sparsely settled country would offer few obstacles to
his getting across the border. If John could cut the telegraph wires on
the way as he planned to do, it would help by delaying the police.

But he would meet his greatest difficulty in the actual crossing of
the border, thought Rosen. There was no road over the mountains for
hundreds of miles, except by means of the passes, and these were well
guarded by the military and the Lingari gendarmes. If he attempted to
cross without a passport, Herr Morton might have to fight for it. That
was the weak part of the plan. Did Herr Morton realize it?

John coolly said he did realize it; but he would take the risk. He was
of the firm opinion that he would manage to get through somehow.

Rosen suggested that Morton and his men should pass as smugglers.
Tobacco smuggling was quite common over the border, and the guards were
amenable to the persuasive power of gold. “It’s the yellow metal, Herr
Morton,” remarked Rosen with a smile, “and not paper, that will get you
across.”

Morton said that he would see to it that he had a sufficient supply of
this with him.

These matters having been settled to both their satisfactions, John
begged Rosen to instruct his daughter to purchase a proper outfit for
the young ladies--an outfit proper for the journey and at the same time
befit their station in life. Rosen promised to see to that, and the two
men parted for the day.

The late noon found John at his hostelry partaking of an excellently
cooked dinner served in the most primitive fashion. He then drove out
to the Olata ranch, where he purchased several fine horses and arranged
for their removal on the following Monday. His man, he told the
horsedealer, could call for them and pay the balance of the purchase
price.

John had now done everything that would bear out the statement he had
made as to the purpose of his visit to Roumelia. He was satisfied that
there would be no cause for suspicion. He would retire early, since it
was imperative he should be fully prepared for what had to be done the
next day. The morning would find Donald and the men in Padina, and he
must be up betimes to give them their instructions for the evening.

The man he had seen drinking in the tap-room the night before was
sitting in the same place busily engaged eating. As before, he took no
notice of the stranger in English clothes, and John was well satisfied
that it should be so. Evidently, the authorities were still deeply
interested in him.

The windows rattled from a strong wind which had risen. Gusts found
their way through cracks in the panes, chilling the room and almost
extinguishing the candle. But John’s thoughts were far away from the
wretched room in which he lay. He was in a palace in his dreams, gazing
at the beautiful maiden who walked in stately grace over its marble
floors.

A great gust almost blew the shutters off their hinges. John awoke and
shivered. The wind was roaring outside. “Good,” he thought, “a storm
will be my Providence.”



CHAPTER IX


Morton had set the alarm clock for a very early hour, so that it was
still almost dark when its insistent ringing roused him from his
slumbers. He was still drowsy and scarce knew where he was. Then he
remembered that the day was Saturday and the place Padina. In a moment
he was out of bed and dressing rapidly in the dawning daylight. He was
thinking quickly, too, wondering if Rachel Rosen had arranged with the
maid’s sweetheart, Marco. That was the key to the first gate which
barred the undertaking. If she had failed, then there was nothing
for it but to make a bold dash and, if the worst came to the worst,
fight for it. Well, he would be ready even for that, though he hoped
sincerely it would not come to that.

But another doubt assailed him. Would the Princess be willing to take
the step? Confound the Princess! He would compel her to go. He would
not permit himself to stand on ceremony, now that everything had been
arranged.

Morton hurried below and found a stupid-looking lout sweeping the
tap-room floor. The door of the inn stood open, and a cold damp wind
was blowing into the room. He stepped out and saw with satisfaction
that it was raining heavily, with a cold east wind blowing in
sharp gusts. Returning to the room he inquired of the servant if
his breakfast was ready; but the man looked at him blankly with
unintelligent bovine eyes. Evidently he was not understood. Resorting
to signs he finally got the fellow to catch his meaning, for he ceased
dusting and began to lay the table.

From the back part of the inn came now the sound of wheels rumbling on
cobblestones. John realized that this must mean the arrival of Papiu.
Stepping quickly through the hallway to the rear exit he saw the very
man alighting from a primitive and cumbersome conveyance, the wheels
of which would have supported a six-inch gun. Papiu took no notice
of John, but kept looking at the sky and examining the house. Morton
caught his cue from the man’s actions and returned to the tap-room,
where he found his breakfast waiting for him. A few minutes later Papiu
entered, dripping wet, and, seating himself by the table adjoining
the one at which John was eating, called loudly for the waiter. The
landlord, in shirt-sleeves and leather apron, appeared now on the
scene, and after exchanging a few words withdrew to attend to Papiu’s
requirements.

Immediately they were alone, the driver leaned over and deftly slipping
a piece of paper into John’s hands, quickly resumed his seat and yawned
lazily and loudly. Morton read the note, which was from Donald.

Everything had been done as ordered and all was ready. Mihai was
waiting with the reserve team at the crossroad, Kilometer 34 of the
map, and Papiu’s saddle horse was just beyond the town gate. He, Don,
would remain in the wagon until he received further orders from Mr.
Morton.

John was greatly relieved. Returning to his room, he put on a heavy
ulster. On his way through the tap-room he whispered to Papiu, who was
munching black bread and fat bacon, “Remain here till you hear from
me,” and passed out into the rain.

The street was utterly deserted. Disregarding the sweeping, cold
downpour, he made his way to Rosen’s house by the gateway he had
entered the day before. Rachel greeted him cordially and smilingly
put aside his apologies for his soaking condition. It was the very
weather father had been praying for, she told him. When he was snugly
seated in the room which had now become sacred to him, she told him
that everything had been arranged as they had planned. Marco would be
on guard at the South Gate between five and seven that evening. The
watchword was “Luna Dragu.” He would permit two ladies to pass out
unchallenged. It had been settled that after he had been relieved Marco
was to strike out for the big river, where his people would be waiting
for him, and cross over into Bulgaria. His sweetheart would meet him
there later. As to the clothes for the girls, she pointed to three
packages, each marked with a number. No. 1 was the Princess’s, No. 2
the Comtesse Helène’s and No. 3 the articles both ladies might use in
common. John was perfectly satisfied, and expressed his sincere thanks
for all the trouble she had taken.

“I am only too happy to serve them,” Miss Rosen replied. “I shall be
fully repaid when I know they are once again in a safe place.”

“You may rely on me, dear lady,” said John earnestly, “to do everything
in my power.”

“Father will be in soon,” remarked the girl, “he’s just gone out to the
café to hear the news. Won’t you sit in his office until he returns?
You may smoke there,” she added, laughing.

John thanked her as she led him into a small but well-furnished study
adjoining. “Here is where father does all his important business,” she
said. “You will be quite safe here.”

“Thank you. I will wait for Mr. Rosen’s arrival.”

The bright girl courtesied, and with a look of admiration at John left
the room precipitately. Left alone, John lit a cigar and began studying
the map he always carried with him. He calculated that he would make
Kilometer 34 in about four hours, despite the rain and bad roads.
This would mean that their first resting place would be some thirty
kilometers further in the mountains. That would be well, indeed. But,
again, doubts arose in his mind as to what the Princess herself would
do. She was the unknown quantity which he knew not how to allow for.
However, he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

The door was softly opened and Rosen entered, carefully closing it
behind him. The two men wasted no time in idle talk but set themselves
at once to the business in hand. Rosen was pleased to learn that the
team and the men had arrived. He himself would see to the delivery of
the packages at Herr Morton’s inn to Papiu. It would not be necessary
for John to return to the inn as he, Rosen, would discharge the bill
and see to his baggage. The landlord was all right, there was nothing
to fear from that quarter; but there were spies about. He knew that. He
was glad of the storm; it would be their best friend. Everything was
working for them and--Rosen would see to the rest.

John was greatly relieved. He had to confess to himself that the
enterprise had assumed, now that he was face to face with it, a rather
dangerous aspect. He could never have managed without the assistance of
this devoted man and his equally devoted daughter. He thanked Rosen,
and proceeded to count out the gold for Marco, which Rosen would
deliver.

John found the merchant quick and decisive in action, and a most
interesting companion. He was a great admirer and devoted adherent of
Count Rondell, whom he regarded as his benefactor. And as for the
Comtesse Helène--ah--he and his would gladly die for the dear young
lady. He mourned the sad turn of affairs, which for the time being,
at least, would leave the Count penniless. He, Rosen, would remain in
Roumelia for some time to look after Count Rondell’s affairs as best he
could.

A discreet knock and Rachel whispered: “The Comtesse is awaiting Mr.
Morton in the sitting room.” Morton rose at once and made his way to
the room.

Helène stood near the window, apparently in deep thought. She was
dressed in the identical garments she had worn the day before, but she
looked even paler than then. Evidently she had spent a restless night.
Her eyes were heavy, with dark rings around them; but the blue in them
was a glimpse of heaven to Morton. She returned his cheery greetings
with a wan smile and in words scarcely above a whisper.

John placed a chair and begged her to be seated. He told her of
the success their preparations had so far met with and assured her
smilingly that all would go well. What had the Princess said?

Helène sat and looked as if she were not listening to him. Her lips
quivered and she nervously fingered the lace handkerchief she was
holding in her hand.

“Mr. Morton, Her Highness is afraid to trust herself to a stranger. She
is unstrung and I have not succeeded in persuading her to act as you
propose.”

Helène leaned forward, resting her elbows upon her knees, and pressed
the lace against her tired eyes. Suppressing a sob with a quick intake
of her breath, she continued in a trembling voice, though with no trace
of resentment in it:

“Why did not papa send someone we know--one of our own people?
Please, do not misunderstand me. I have done all I could--I told her
everything you bade me say,”--the tears were not to be denied now; they
fell slowly unchecked.

John felt as if he would choke. It was as he had feared! He looked at
Helène confounded and utterly at a loss what to say.

“Do not blame Her Highness, Mr. Morton. She has had much to bear. She
has been waiting, hoping, expecting news from her brother, the Prince,
who was abroad when the dreadful upheaval came. She has not heard a
word, and she is almost distracted. She cannot believe that she is
alone now--that she has no friends any more. And I don’t know how to
convince her.”

Morton had recovered himself. He no longer felt any commiseration
for the Princess but instead an overpowering resentment filled him.
Was this girl to be sacrificed to satisfy an hysterical weakling of
a Princess? Once the Comtesse returned to the castle, she would be a
prisoner for the day, and the arrangements for the evening would have
been made for nothing. Why, it was absurd, ridiculous! Confound all
Princesses! He must take things in his own hands now.

His face flushing he rose and planted himself firmly before Helène.
“Comtesse, under the circumstances there is but one thing to do. I am
ready now, this very minute, as ready as I shall ever be. In half an
hour the team will be here. You will get into it just as you are and we
shall start north at once! The Princess has chosen, and we--we cannot
be expected to sit down and wait for Providence or a miracle! I shall
call Herr Rosen.”

He expected, nay, dreaded, a breakdown and a flood of tears. But in
place of hysterics, he met a woman as determined and as proud as
himself.

Helène rose, her eyes flashing, her face pink with indignation.

“How dare you, sir, speak of Her Highness in that manner! How dare
you take advantage of my helplessness! I am a Rondell, sir, and a
Rondell has never forsaken his king. My duty and my choice are with the
Princess. Permit me, sir, to retire.”

John was dumbfounded. This was worse than anything he had even dreamed
of. Good God, she must not be permitted to leave the house. What was he
to do? Where was Rosen or Rachel? He must plead with her until one or
the other came.

“I beseech you, Comtesse, not to do anything rash! I implore you to be
calm and to listen to me! I assure you, nothing was further from my
thoughts than disrespect towards the Princess or yourself. Will you not
oblige me by permitting me to reason with you?”

Helène, somewhat calmed, looked piteously at Morton. Her resentment had
vanished and in place of the proud royalist there stood the helpless
woman-child. Her lips quivered and the tears fell uncontrollably. She
collapsed rather than sat in the chair, her head sank upon her arm.

“Oh, papa--why did you abandon me?” she moaned. “Why didn’t you come
for us yourself--why did you leave me here without anyone to advise me?”

Anguish in face and heart, John stood gazing at her in pitiful
sympathy. He realized what a hard fight the child must have gone
through--pleading and persuading with the Princess. He began to think
quickly. He must abandon reasoning and plead--plead and beg for a
favor. He remembered some words his father had once said to him:
“Never argue with a woman, my boy; kneel down to her, confess you have
been wrong, throw yourself upon her mercy--beg forgiveness. She will
follow you then.”

“Comtesse, I beg you once more to forgive me! Pray listen to what I
have to say.” He broke off with a catch in his voice.

“I have traveled five thousand kilometers--to get here. I have
disobeyed the call of my loving parents, of a father who is ill, of a
mother who has not seen me--her only son--in years. I have come here
with other brave and loyal men, to bring you out of this dangerous
land. Be just to me, dear lady. I may not have the fervor of loyalty
for royalty, for I am an American--a republican. In my country kings
and queens are but as other men and women. It is their worth that
counts with us there. I wish I could have brought your dear father with
me. But that was impossible. He sent me to act for him. Your father is
most devoted to Her Royal Highness, and I--I am ready to do all that he
would have done. But first in his heart is his child. He enjoined me,
Comtesse, to think of the Princess first; but, if I could not prevail
there, I was to think of you. ‘For God’s sake,’ he said, ‘help my
child.’ That is why I am here, and that is why I spoke as I did. If I
have done wrong I beg you to pardon me.”

John had put his whole heart into his words. Helène lifted her head and
turned her eyes on him in questioning wonderment. But he left her no
time to interpolate.

“Can you blame me, dear lady, if your words unbalanced me? Faithful
to my promise to your noble father, I have made every preparation. My
men are ready and waiting. They will perish if the Princess fails us
at this the eleventh hour. And after to-day there will be no hope; for
to-morrow the tyrant of Bucharest will inaugurate a reign of terror and
God alone knows what will happen to us all, then.”

Helène’s eyes showed the remorse she was feeling. She gazed with awed
look at the man who had thus unselfishly taken upon himself a duty
which should have concerned her own kin. She was ashamed of her words
and knew not how to express her changed feelings.

“Comtesse, will you not speak with the Princess again? Tell her of
what I have said now. Convey to her your father’s earnest desires. She
should think of that, for your father was her father’s most devoted
friend. A new duty has devolved on her; in addition to the duty she
owes to herself, she owes a duty to Count Rondell, to you and, I will
say it, to me, who has her honor at heart. I am now, I must say it, the
one hope left. Assure her that she may trust me implicitly. Your noble
father, the Count, would not otherwise have sent me. Go back to the
Princess and use your most persuasive powers. If she consents, all will
be well, and I shall be very happy. But give me, first, your solemn
promise that, come what may, Princess or no Princess, you will be at
the chapel at six o’clock this evening, and that you will come to the
gate where I shall be waiting for you. Comtesse, I cannot let you go
without that promise.”

His eagerness had carried him away. He stepped up close to the
trembling girl and took her unresisting hand and held it firmly in his
own warm, strong one.

With parted lips and with wide eyes Helène had taken in every word
of his passionate pleading. This man would keep his word. She was
satisfied of that now. And her father had written to her: “Obey
implicitly and follow Mr. Morton’s instructions absolutely.” He must be
right.

Trembling she groped for the little cross hanging upon her breast. God
would not let the dear Princess perish--and she--? Well, she would try
again--she would convince her mistress!

“Yes, Mr. Morton, yes! I will do what I can. I promise everything. You
are right--we must act at once! But, oh, what will happen?”

She was trembling all over, fearful of the picture her fancy had
conjured up.

Morton, still holding her hand, gently led the girl to her seat.

“Please, Comtesse, be calm and take heart. Nothing at all will happen.
We shall get away and you will be safe and happy in a few hours. Do not
fear. I swear to you that we shall bring you safely across the border.”

Helène grew calmer. She felt her native energy coming back, and with a
blush she gently withdrew her hand from Morton’s grasp.

“Mr. Morton, I want to thank you for your goodness and your
forbearance. You have been more than kind. I promise to be at the gate
at six; with the Princess if I can, and as I pray I may be--alone, if I
cannot.”

John had won. Rising and bowing with reverence before the beautiful
young woman:

“Comtesse--I thank you. I shall always cherish your brave and
noble words. And now, if you will permit me, I must give you your
instructions. Take nothing with you, so that no suspicion may be
aroused. The corner window opening toward the street is, I understand,
that of your room. I shall watch that window. If the Princess consents
to go, leave the curtains closed as they are now. If she does not, draw
them apart, and I will understand. On your way to chapel, walk slowly
along the chapel front, which will be in deep shadow at that time, and
go to the South Gate. The sentinel will not stop you. The small door
nearest the wall will be open and I will be awaiting you there. If
the Princess is with you, lead her. And now, Comtesse, until six this
evening!”

The sound of Helène’s steps in the hall brought the alert Rachel in
apron and turned-up sleeves from the kitchen. She glanced questioningly
at Morton, who simply nodded and said: “The Comtesse knows what to do.”

The rest of the day passed quickly in the house of the Rosens. A very
excellent dinner was served him by his hostess. After dinner he smoked
his cigar and chatted with Herr Rosen in the study. Later he sat in the
little enclosure fitted as a counting room adjoining Rosen’s store, and
looked across the quiet street at the gray walls of the castle. The
storm had abated somewhat though the rain still came down and kept the
street deserted. Through the grayish veil of mist he could distinguish
the solitary figure of the sentry in hooded cloak, rifle reversed with
bayonet pointing downward, slowly walking back and forth. He could not
help speculating what the night would bring. Now and again he would
look up at the window, but no sign of parted curtains was to be seen.
Towards dark Rosen came to inquire if he had received any word. No, the
curtains still remained closed.

An early and silent supper was hastily partaken of, and sunset found
each man at his post. John saw the wagon drawing up at the gate in the
narrow street to the rear. Good, Donald and Papiu were on the job.

Don, who was introduced to Rachel, seemed to be the least nervous among
them all. He took things phlegmatically as if they were a part of his
regular duties. Outside the wind had shifted and blew as strongly as
ever. The men waited for the hour to strike. Rachel came in and told
John that the maid had reported to her that Marco was on duty. John
shook hands with her silently. Then, with a final word of warning to
Don, he hurried to his post.



CHAPTER X


Morton braced himself against the gusts of wind and squalls of icy
rain which drenched his face and body. It was with difficulty that he
was able to see his way. There was no need, he said to himself, to
keep a lookout on a night like this. All the better. The flickering
smoky flame of the oil-lamp over the main gate cast a faint yellow
light around and threw ghostlike, moving shadows about the entrance.
Stumbling frequently against the large pebbles in the roadway and
wading almost ankle-deep through pools of muddy water, he managed to
reach the denser blackness along the castle wall, and stopped under its
protection to take a breath.

Glancing toward the sentry-boxes he saw the outline of a human figure
as a dim motionless silhouette. His hand sought the butt end of his
ready revolver, and the touch gave him confidence. Cautiously he
groped for the door. It yielded easily to his pressure. With careful
glances he satisfied himself that no one was about--the street totally
deserted--the only sounds to be heard were the steady splash and
beating of the rain and the groaning roars of the wind.

Through the heavy bars of the gate he could see the dim murky rays
filtering through the befogged window panes of the guardroom under the
wing which harbored the girls. As he stood peering into the distance a
faint light shone through the transom over the entrance to the chapel,
and he knew they were lighting up the place. It was followed by red
and green rays of light streaming through the stained-glass windows of
the nave.

Some minutes, which to John seemed an age, passed, when the sound of
a plaintive bell was borne to him in muffled tones on the damp, foggy
air. It was the vesper bell. Immediately through the drifting veil of
slanting rain he perceived figures flitting across the vaulted opening
in the castle wing. He was conscious of some one moving in the shadow
on his right, and before he realized it, a heavily cloaked figure came
into view followed by a similarly clothed but smaller form, a bare rod
behind.

Morton at once pushed the gate open and waited breathlessly.

“It is I--Morton,” he whispered, as the first figure neared him.

“I am Helène and--” she seized her companion’s hand, too excited for
words.

“We must hurry--quick, quick,” he whispered sharply. He led them
along the shadowy border so as to avoid the range of light, and urge
them across the street to the scant protection of the trees along the
opposite pavement.

He could almost hear his heart beating above the panting of the girls
by his side. He dared not run and feared to walk too slowly. One minute
and the worst would be over.

Helène walked steadily, but her companion stumbled frequently and was
trembling in every limb as she held on to his arm. Ah--here at last was
Rosen’s house.

Donald was ready and passed the girls through without a moment’s delay.
They were met by Rosen, who stood, his hands up as if in the act of
blessing, in the dimly lit hall. The noise brought Rachel from the
sitting room. She guided them through the house to the exit on the
further side. With an affectionate pressure of Helène’s hand and a kiss
on the sleeve of the Princess’s cloak, she murmured her parting wishes.

Once more they were in the rain, but this time sheltered from view by
the walls of the garden. Donald walked ahead, lantern in hand, and
opened the gate for the girls to pass through. Behind them came Morton
alert and ready.

In a few minutes they arrived at the place where the wagon stood
waiting. Quickly lifting the Princess, he whispered to her to lie down
on the right. Then turning to Helène he gently passed her in bidding
her lie to the left. The next instant the blackness of the cart’s
interior had swallowed him also, and the vehicle rumbled and splashed
its way as if it were being driven to market. Don alone remained
without, walking rapidly by its side and searching intently to the
right and left.

The girls huddled close together, and lay with their arms about each
other. The rain beat down on the canvas covering, drowning all other
sounds; only occasionally could they hear the crunching of the wheels
rolling clumsily over the roughly paved road. It was with difficulty
that they kept themselves from falling on one side or the other. As
they were wondering what might happen, they heard the voice of Morton
raised above the din, assuring them, in German, that everything was
going well; they need have no anxiety. He would light the lantern after
they had put the town gate behind them. He had barely finished speaking
when the wagon gave a great lurch and bounded forward with a fearful
clatter. They had entered the main road leading out of the town, an
abominably paved causeway which seemed to have been made for preventing
anyone either leaving the place or coming into it. It was with the
utmost difficulty that John could now make himself heard but he managed
to convey to the girls the information as to where they were and that
they would soon arrive at the gate. It would be necessary for them to
keep perfectly quiet, until that danger was passed.

Helène held on to the hand of the Princess, whispering endearing and
encouraging words. She knew that Morton would protect them at all
hazards, even though she could not see him. He had shown her that he
was neither a man to be trifled with nor one to give in at the first
difficulty. Her thoughts of him were of confidence; she remembered the
appealing words he had spoken to her that morning. He was brave, or her
father would not have sent him, and he must be good or her father would
not have trusted him.

The wagon rumbled less now, and the driver could be heard speaking to
his horses. The wheels crunched the gravel more heavily as they turned
more slowly, and the next moment they had come to a halt. Soon voices
were heard, and a shaft of light streamed into the wagon through a
small opening in the canvas covering at the rear. Helène saw John
looking out from between the canvas flaps. He was crouching silently, a
pistol in each hand.

A loud laugh followed by a command and some exclamations, and then a
cheery: “Bene, avante.” The rain was now falling in a soft patter on
the cart’s covering, so that the clinking sound of the driver urging
the horses on could be easily heard. A creaking of the harness, and
they were off once more at a slow trot.

“We are safe,” came in a loud whisper from John. “A few minutes more
and we can have a light.”

For the first time since they had left the castle the Princess now
spoke. “Mr. Morton,” she said in English and in a voice betokening the
strain consequent on her condition, “I know not how to thank you. I----”

“Please, say no more,” begged Morton.

Helène could not speak. The tension had been almost more than she could
bear. She found relief, however, in laughter, an hysterical kind of
laughter it sounded to Morton’s ears. But he was glad to hear it; it
told him that he need have no further anxiety about the girls’ courage;
they would measure up to what was still before them.

The wagon came to a halt and John stepped out, carefully closing the
canvas flaps behind him. He returned soon, however, and informed the
girls that there was nothing the matter; he would leave them alone
now and take his seat alongside the driver, and a man would precede
the cart on horseback. In a few minutes a brass lantern was swinging
from the fore peak of the canvas hood, its grateful light spreading a
pleasant warmth into the interior of the vehicle.

The girls, curious as to their situation, looked about them. At first
they could make out nothing but vague shadows, but as their eyes became
accustomed to the flickering light they saw with surprise the excellent
arrangements that had been made for their comfort. Two strong but soft
and yielding couches ran lengthwise along the floor of the wagon, with
a space between them. In the corners were a number of downy pillows,
while from the canvas covering hung two robes of fur.

Helène was delighted. “See, Princess,” she exclaimed, “see what a cozy
place we are in.” The Princess lay huddled, sobbing softly. “Oh, dear
lady, do not give way. Come, rest yourself on this couch.” She lifted
the girl as best she could, laid her on one of the boxes and covered
her with one of the robes. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”

“I am not afraid, dear Helène,” said the Princess, “but the suddenness
of all that has happened has unnerved me. I’ll be quite well again
soon.”

The flash of a lighted match flared in and the odor of a cigar was
wafted to them on the breeze. How good it was to smell the fragrance.
It meant a man, and a man meant protection. The next moment Morton’s
cheery voice came through: “Make yourselves comfortable, ladies. You’ll
find everything you want. Take my advice and get a sleep.”

Helène thanked him and said they would. She went back to where the
Princess lay and saw with satisfaction that she was sleeping. Without,
the storm seemed to have renewed its fury. The rain beat on the canvas,
the wheels groaned and crunched, the wagon lurched from side to side
in its heavy progress, and the swish of water poured from overhanging
trees. Helène had now grown accustomed to these sounds. She looked at
her watch and noted with surprise that it was but just gone eight. They
had been only two hours on their journey--two hours that had seemed to
her like two days! She felt very tired; her head ached and her limbs
were cramped. She would take Mr. Morton’s advice and rest; perhaps she
would feel better after a sleep.

“Are you asleep?” It was Morton whispering loudly to her from the front
seat.

“No,” she whispered back, “what is it?”

“I just wanted to tell you that you must not be anxious if you hear
noises soon; we are about to cut the telegraph wires. In another hour
we shall make our first stop for a change of horses.”

Helène thanked him for the information and lay down. She tried her
best to sleep but failed. She heard the driver halt his horses and
distinguished Morton’s voice giving orders. Then she heard the clinking
of steel implements and the sound of branches snapping. They must be
cutting the wires, she thought. A few minutes later she heard Donald
call out: “All’s finished, Mr. Morton,” and the journey was resumed.

And now she knew that they were ascending, for she felt the straining
of the horses in the creaking harness, and counted deliberately the
squelching of their feet in the muddy track. It had grown quite cold,
and the fragrance of spruce and hemlock came to her. She lay on the
couch looking up at the swaying lantern, half dozing, half waking.

As in a dream she heard Morton speaking to Papiu and Donald: “It is
snowing. We certainly are in luck. It’ll cover up all our tracks. Say,
Don, isn’t it good to feel the snow again? We haven’t seen any in three
years, have we?” And Donald’s hearty laugh came back in response. “It
ain’t much of a snowfall,” he said, “but if things work anyway like
they do at home, I guess we’re in for a good blizzard.”

She cuddled herself closer in the fur robe and felt happy in its
comforting warmth. How long she lay there thus she did not know, but
she rose up suddenly and looked about her in wide-eyed surprise. The
wagon had come to a halt, and she heard the flaps at the rear of the
vehicle being drawn aside. The Princess, too, had been aroused, and
she, too, was staring with frightened eyes about her.

“Here we are, ladies,” came the cheery voice of Morton. He was standing
outside, a lantern swinging from his arm. “Our first stopping place.
You may come out now.” He assisted them in gallant style out of
the wagon and led them to a wood-built shack. “Welcome!” he cried,
laughing. They entered and found themselves in a low roughly built
room in the center of which stood a table made of boards and by its
side a crude bench.

Placing his lantern on the table he bade them be seated. He would
bring them some food. Helène and the Princess looked about the place
and shivered beneath their furs. It was cheerless and bare enough to
satisfy the most fanatic of hermits. The yellow light from the lantern
filled the distant parts of it with unearthly shadows. The two girls
instinctively moved closer to each other.

John returned almost immediately carrying a promising looking basket
from which he took out some snow-white napkins, a goodly supply of
sandwiches, oranges, cakes, tin cups, a flask of wine and a carafe of
water.

“There, ladies, is a feast for the gods, or, I should say, for the
goddesses. Eat heartily because you will need all your strength. I will
leave you now to yourselves. I shall be back in half an hour. Have no
anxiety.”

The girls were hungry, and the food and drink were very welcome. Their
appetite satisfied they felt both strengthened and cheered. Donald
came in and introduced himself by addressing the peaked roof. They
smiled and nodded kindly at him. He busied himself removing quickly the
remains of the dinner and disappeared.

The Princess was smiling happily now. “Dear Helène,” she said, “I was
very wrong. I ought to have known that you knew best. Please forgive
me!”

Helène pressed her friend’s hand with happy tears in her eyes.
“The Holy Virgin,” she said, “will protect us, and Mr. Morton is a
gentleman.”

Punctual to the minute John came in and found them ready to continue
their journey. Helping them into their place of refuge, he carefully
closed the rear flaps and resumed his seat by the side of Papiu. Once
more the cart took up its rumbling and the wheels their crunching.
The road was hilly, and the four horses strained and pulled, urged on
by the driver and a man who sat astride one of the leaders. The girls
lay comfortably covered and snugly embedded on their couches, but the
steep incline caused them to slip occasionally, and once Helène came to
the floor of the wagon with a thud. Morton called in that they should
put up the boards they would find near the end of their couches and
brace their feet against it. Helène carried out his instructions, and
could not help wondering at Morton’s forethought. He had thought of
everything. He might be in the business of rescuing girls in distress.

Their progress now was much slower than it had been so far--the climb
was becoming steeper and steeper. Soon the squeaking of the wheels
ceased and the wagon swayed no more--they had come to a smoother road.
The wind had almost gone down entirely; but the sound of swaying trees,
the crisp swish of evergreen branches against the sides of the cart,
the whisper of the woods, came to them in softened drones and murmurs
and soothed them drowsily. Soon both were asleep.

Morton, in front, puffed silently at his cigar, perfectly happy and
deeply thankful for the success which so far had followed him in this
undertaking. It had been a day of no little anxiety; for, in spite of
the cheerfulness he assumed before the girls, he had had, it must be
confessed, many qualms. The Princess was an unknown quantity to him,
and he did not know but that she might be difficult to manage. His hope
lay in the Comtesse--in Helène--he dwelt lovingly on its syllables as
he murmured the name softly. She was a great girl, he kept saying to
himself--a great girl. What lovely eyes she had! And her smile--Ah! her
smile--it was like golden sunshine after rain. He puffed at his cigar
and found it had gone out.

Then the rider on the leader gave a loud grunt, and Donald’s voice came
to him, calling out, “Whoa, boys, Whoa!”

Papiu had reigned in his horses, and the cart came to a full step with
a shock.

Helène awoke with a start. She heard the horses shaking their bits and
the men hurrying about as they undid their harness. Then Morton came in
and said: “Time to get up, ladies. We have arrived at our own house.”

She rose quickly and gently woke her companion. The Princess rubbed her
eyes and inquired what was the matter. Helène told her what Morton had
said. In a minute both were ready and Morton assisted them to alight.

They were before a low, roughly built hutlike building, under
snow-covered trees, the drooping branches of which swept the
roof-planks, which were glittering in a crystalline snow-mantle. A
couple of lanterns hung from the eaves over the entrance to the hut
and lit up the strange scene. Opposite this structure stood a loftier
building. The lantern on a bench showed a narrow porch with a low door
leading into a lighted room. Boards on the wet snow were placed as a
foot-walk, and over these the two girls were led by Morton into the
house.

“Welcome home!” he said gaily, his eyes laughing.



CHAPTER XI


Helène awoke the next morning wild-eyed and distraught. She had had
a most frightening dream. She had dreamed that she was bound and
enveloped in a coarse rug, carried like the captive of some barbarian
soldiery. Two terrible looking men in shaggy furs and great turbans
were taking her down a narrow winding step-way hewn in a steep rock.
She saw the slimy walls dripping with water and felt the heavy, damp
air weighing on her chest so that she could scarcely breathe. She tried
to scream in her terror. She heard the roaring of the surf beating
against a door into which she realized she would soon be carried a
prisoner. She must act at once--cry aloud for help. Straining at the
thongs that bound her cruelly she gave a groan. It was then she awoke.

Her throat felt dry and almost parched. Trembling in every limb, she
passed her hands over her face and took courage to look about her. Her
eyes caught a purplish color against yellow boards; irregular cracks
and knot holes let in faint streaks of light. Where was she? She pushed
aside a heavy braid of hair that had fallen across her face and tried
to collect herself. A grating noise from without drew her attention
to the wall, where she saw a partly opened broad low window across
which floated a purple scarf. Gradually she remembered. One by one the
events of the past hours came back to her. She recalled the last words
the young American had addressed to her. He had asked her to leave the
window open, and she remembered carrying out his suggestion to put
something over the opening so as to keep out the morning’s light. He
had left her a lamp and a clock. Yes, the lamp was still there, its
pale yellow flame flickering feebly now. The clock also was by the
bedside ticking quickly. Its “tick-tock, tick-tock,” somehow comforted
her; there was a human quality in the almost impudent carelessness with
which it was doing its business--so regardless of her own feelings. How
silly of her to be frightened by a dream!

By her side lay the Princess, her face and hair almost pansy-tinted
in the light that filtered through the improvised purple-colored
scarf-curtain. She was breathing regularly in a sleep that would be
strengthening in its refreshing rest. And then came thoughts of the
dangers yet to be endured and overcome. Would they once again be free
and happy? Would it be granted to them to see their loved ones again?
The questions brought a longing hope shot through with pain. But come
what may she would play her part as her father would have wished her to
play it.

Stepping out of bed so as not to arouse her companion, she dressed
herself in the rough peasant’s costume she had worn the day before, and
crept on tip-toe to the window.

Pushing aside the scarf, she leaned out to inhale the cool, balmy air.
But the sight that met her eyes made her start back. Surely this was
fairyland! Through majestic tree trunks and spreading boughs of noble
firs, shafts of sunlight shot down on an earth white with snow. In
the golden light the crystals shone and glittered again. The light
wind blew the flakes and showered them abroad so that they seemed like
floating diamonds as they dropped noiselessly to the ground. High up
through the branches she caught a vista of a deep-blue sky, crossed and
recrossed by the gleaming white bars of branches and making a pattern
of lace work as intricate as it was wonderful. She felt as if she had
been transported by some genii into a palace of snow and stalactites.
And through it all--through this indescribable maze of virgin
whiteness--floated and vibrated a bluish haze, an azure atmosphere
that seemed as if it could be felt--pulsating light and living
shadows playing a bewildering dance. Helène could scarcely breathe,
so entranced was she. She leaned over the window-sill and watched the
downy snow as it fell, released from its hold on the branches under the
redeeming influence of sunlight. The blood coursed rapidly through her
veins; her heart quickened and a new courage and hope came to her. She
forgot her anxiety, she forgot the dangers, she thought of nothing but
fairies and flowers and the sweet visions of her childhood. She was all
compounded of wonder and worship, and happy, happy, happy!

A clear shrill whistle, the intimate call of a bird, drew her attention
to the mysterious depths of the lower foliage. A little crossbill was
hopping and flitting back and forth; and then she remembered that
it was still autumn in the valleys below. And with this remembrance
she was brought back to the reality of her present situation--of her
escape from the palace with the Princess; of Mr. Morton--how brave and
gentle he was! Of the terrible journey through the storm--how kind
and considerate he had been!--of their arrival at this place--how
encouraging and courteous he had proved himself! Who and what was this
man? The little bird flew off with a whirr, and a knock sounded on the
door. Helène jumped back quickly.

“Good morning, ladies!” came Morton’s voice through the closed door,
“it is a lovely morning and breakfast will be ready as soon as you are.”

Ah, what a friendly sound his words carried with them! She stepped
quickly to the door and called out heartily:

“Good morning, Mr. Morton. I am already dressed, and the Princess soon
will be. Isn’t it glorious outside?”

“Glorious, indeed. Don’t hurry. Call out the moment you are ready. We
are just in the next room.”

“Thank you; we shall be with you in ten minutes.”

She listened to his firm steps and heard the outer door being closed.
For a moment she stood smiling at the wooden partition.

“Helène, Helène, where are we?”

She turned quickly and found the Princess sitting up in bed, her hair
in disorder and her great dark eyes staring frightened at her.

“Oh, my darling,” she cried, running up to her, “get up and dress at
once. It’s so lovely and beautiful outside. I have just been speaking
with Mr. Morton, who came to tell us that breakfast would soon be
ready. I am so hungry that I could eat all Roumelia.”

“I didn’t know where I was when I woke up,” sighed the Princess, “and
when I found you were not by my side I got frightened.”

“There is nothing to be afraid of now. Mr. Morton says we are quite
safe. Come, let me be your maid this morning,--we must put on pleasant
faces if only to show Mr. Morton that we have confidence in him.”

“You are right, dear Helène. I am afraid I’ve been a bit of a kill-joy.
But, oh, you don’t know what I’ve suffered.”

“I do know, dear Princess, and I feel for you in all my soul. But the
danger is passed now, and you will soon be with your friends.”

Thus comforting and cheering her companion Helène helped her to dress.
In a little more than the ten minutes they were both ready, and with
fresh, smiling faces walked timidly into the adjoining apartment.

They found no one there; but a table all laid out with tablecloth,
plates and eating utensils was in the center of the room, giving it a
homelike and inviting air. Helène walked to the door, and in her clear,
ringing voice called out:

“We are ready, Mr. Morton!”

Instantly, almost, it seemed to her, John appeared, and greeting both
girls, he led them to their places at the table. Papiu entered with
a bountifully loaded tray, and the meal was begun under his grinning
waiting. He beamed on them all as if there were no higher duty than
service. John took the occasion to tell the girls of their present
situation.

“We are quite safe here,” he assured them. “The men and I were out at
daybreak exploring the country, and I was glad to find that the tracks
of the wheels have been quite covered up. We took the precaution,
however, to cut the telegraph wires on the other side of the valley, so
that no communication can be sent to the border on the northwest, for
which we are bound. I am sure we have nothing further to fear. All that
it needs now is to be patient. There may be a few difficulties; but
these can easily be overcome.”

The Princess smiled at Morton graciously. “You have placed us, Mr.
Morton,” she said, “under a debt of gratitude which we can never repay.
I must ask you to forgive me for my seeming lack of faith in you; but
you will, I am sure, appreciate the circumstances of my position.”

“Please, Your Highness, say no more. I quite understand. In my
eagerness to help you, I forgot that I was a total stranger to you.
Count Rondell made it so imperative--I was not to leave you to the
mercy of the new government, at any cost. That was why I begged your
friend, the Comtesse Helène, to see you again and do her utmost to
persuade you and to inform you of the political conditions about which
you might, perhaps, be in ignorance.”

“You were very kind and thoughtful, Mr. Morton. I assure you I can
never forget what you have done.”

Helène looked delighted at the happy outcome of this the first real
meeting between her beloved Princess and Mr. Morton. Her face was all
roses and her eyes beamed the emotions she was feeling.

“And now everything will be all right, won’t it?” she asked jocularly.
They all laughed, as they rose from the table.

John explained that it was necessary for him to leave them now for an
investigation as to the next stage of their journey, but he would see
that Donald and Papiu remained behind to keep guard. He would go with
Mihai. If they liked they could sit on the porch running along the
south side of the cabin, but in that case they must be careful to wear
their fur coats. He then shouldered his rifle and was soon seen to
disappear in the close timber.

Helène and the Princess, only too eager to enjoy the freedom of the
open air, put on their coats and sat sunning themselves under the
sheltering wing of the house, drinking in the pine-laden air and
filling their souls with the silent, imposing beauty of the forest-clad
mountains. What a change from the rooms in the castle! Surely nature
was kinder than man! She gave so freely of her bounteous treasures
and asked nothing in return--nothing but the heart to feel and the
spirit to enjoy her gifts. Helène looked at her companion and saw that
her face had become clouded again. With a quick movement she drew
close to her and put her arms about her, and thus they sat for many
minutes in silent sympathy with each other. Nature is kind, but she is
sadness-breeding even in her most generous moods, and it is then that
the heart sends out its tendrils feeling for another heart. Perhaps
that is why people are happier and simpler in the country than they are
in the city.

Their meditations were disturbed by the sound of footfalls on the mushy
snow. It was Donald emerging from the wood, rifle under his arm.

The girls greeted him smilingly.

“Fine morning, ladies, but kind o’ mean under-foot,” and he smiled a
little sheepishly as he stood before them. They relieved him of his
shyness by encouraging nods.

“Is there anything I can do for you? Mr. Morton told me to look after
you.”

“Nothing, thank you,” replied Helène; “we are quite comfortable and
enjoying the splendid air.”

Both, however, were hoping he would not go away. They longed for
some companionship rather than their own--some other human being who
would speak to them and tell them things--anything. Helène caught the
Princess’s eyes and saw the same desire in them.

“Please, Mr. McCormick, won’t you sit down?” she asked in her soft,
seductive voice. “Sit down and talk to us.”

“Thank you, miss, I don’t mind if I do.”

Donald’s social instincts, like those of all true Americans, were
very strong in him. Moreover, he had not had many opportunities of
exercising his English-speaking tongue since he had left Brindisi.
His intercourse with Papiu and Mihai had been in the deaf and dumb
language, mostly. Laying aside his rifle, he brought out a roughly
made stool, and sitting down, cap in hand, faced the girls.

“Ah, it does a fellow like me good to see your sweet faces, ladies. And
how did you like my breakfast?”

Of course it was delicious. So was he, they thought.

“Well, now, miss, that’s awful kind of you. But I would have done
better if I’d had some time and things, and less strictness.”

“Strictness? What does that mean?”

“Why, miss, I wasn’t allowed to build a fire until the sun was way up.
Mr. Morton didn’t want no smoke about.”

“Your friend is a very cautious man.”

“My friend? Oh, I see, you mean Mr. Morton. Well, he’s a friend all
right, and a very good one; but he’s really my boss, you know--my
master, I guess you’d call it.”

“Oh! I thought you were comrades.”

“Well, bless your pretty eyes, miss, we’ve been pals and comrades many
a year and in many a land; but as I get paid for my part of it, I guess
it’s a job with me. With Mr. Morton, it’s sport and study. A mighty
good sport he is, and a fine student, too.”

Don was warming up.

“You interest us greatly--please go on.”

Donald’s leathery face creased itself into numerous wrinkles as he
smiled.

“There ain’t much to tell, I guess. I’ve known Mr. John ever since he
was a boy of ten or twelve, and a finer youngster never lived. His
father, old Dan Morton, used to come every summer to the Upper Lakes
for the fishin’, and when the boy got old enough to travel he took him
along. In those days, I used to work as a guide in summer and fall and
did loggin’ in winter and spring. After the great catch of 1874, the
old gentleman had me for guide regularly; and when young John started
to come up alone, I always rowed and cooked for him.”

Don paused for a moment; mechanically, his hand slipped into a side
pocket of his coat to reappear with a pipe in it. He glanced at it,
then recollecting himself, he quickly put it back. The Princess smiled:
“Please, Mr. McCormick, don’t deprive yourself. Light your pipe.”

Don looked queerly dubious and hesitated. “You are very kind, but I’m
afraid my tobacco ain’t a cigar.” The girls laughed and assured him
they would enjoy the aroma. Don nodded and lit up; but as he puffed
he was careful to blow the smoke so that the wind would carry it away
from where the girls were sitting. These girls were all right, he said
to himself--nice and pretty and considerate. He began to feel quite at
home with them. Puffing serenely he took up his narrative with added
zest.

“Mr. John wasn’t very strong as a youngster; he had some fever when a
baby that left him kind o’ delicate. But he was fearless, quick and
mighty steady. After a couple o’ years he started to pick up--and
now--there ain’t a logger in Minnesoty that can beat him in rowing or
wrestling or at huntin’. I took to him from the start, and I love him
as I would if he were my own son. The Lord don’t make ’em any better
than John Morton--let me tell ye!”

“It is fine of you to say so, Mr. McCormick,” said Helène; “and I’ve no
doubt Mr. Morton thinks very highly of you, too.”

“I guess he does. He took me to the city, gave me all kinds of chances;
but somehow or other I never could cotton to straight town life. Always
wanted to go back to the woods and the water--I am satisfied to end my
days there.”

A pause for a few more puffs.

“Well, about two years ago, Mr. Morton comes up to his camp pretty late
in the season and wants me to go huntin’ and fishin’ with him. It was
kind o’ late for fish, and Mr. John is a queer hunter, he is. He would
just watch the game, follow them up, maybe--but shoot? You can’t get
him to kill anything. He has all the trophies he wanted, he said--and
as long as we had grub there wasn’t no need of killing God’s creatures.

“He was quieter than usual, and he says to me that he wants me to go
with him to Africa--doing some exploration work, some observing--and
says he, ‘Don,’ he says, ‘you come with me and we’ll have a good time;
you’ll learn some new things, see new kinds o’ game, and get fine
experience; and I can do something I wanted to try for years.’ It was
kind o’ sudden like, but I agreed. And so, the week after Christmas we
went to London and Paris and from there to Egypt--and there we stuck
out for nigh on twenty months. I ain’t seen snow in two years--’most
forgot how real cold feels--and I’m mighty glad to get a taste of both
once more! And to think that some ten days or so ago I was in the
hottest part of the world--now, would you believe it?”

“Where was that, Mr. McCormick?”

“Why, bless your pretty face, Miss, in Egypt and the Red Sea. Hot?--two
minutes of that climate, and there wouldn’t be a trace o’ this snow
left!”

Helène could barely suppress showing her keen interest. Now, perhaps,
would come what she had been longing to know. “And was it in Egypt that
you met my father? Did Mr. Morton know my father very long?”

“I don’t know anything about that, Miss; Mr. John didn’t tell me much.”

“Then you and Mr. Morton--you are not officers or soldiers in our--the
Roumelian Army?”

“Why, bless your hearts, miss, so far as I am concerned, I didn’t know
such a place as Roumelia was on the map ten days ago; and it’s very
little more that I know now! Mr. John, he came to me the night we got
to Suez, saying I should get ready to take the midnight train, go to
Brindisi and act under written orders--and I went. From there I took
a train to Kronstadt; and four days ago I drove the teams down to
Padina with the dagoes--that’s all I know. When Mr. Morton gives you
orders you ain’t askin’ no useless questions, I guess. He knows what he
wants--and you are supposed to go ahead and do what you’re told. But
you needn’t worry, young ladies, there ain’t no better man living than
Mr. John--and few have as level a head as he’s got!”

“You are a great admirer of your master, Mr. McCormick,” remarked the
Princess, who till now had sat very quietly, quite willing to leave the
conversation to her friend. It took her some time to become accustomed
to the peculiar drawl of the lanky foreigner; but when once she caught
the quaint humor of the man she enjoyed him greatly. She wondered also
at the simple directness of his manner, which was deferential without
being in the least subservient. This must be due to the democratic
spirit of his country.

“I don’t know if it’s admiration, young lady, but I have learned that
Mr. Morton knows what’s right. There isn’t a man anywheres that can
teach him much! You can build on him and never get left. If he says a
thing--it’s so; and if he stands up for you you’re all right. And then,
he ain’t putting the load on the other fellow, either! When it comes to
hard knocks, he takes his share--and takes it without a murmur. He is
square, is Mr, John--and white all through! You can bet on that!”

“White all through? What does that mean, please?”

“It means, miss, that he is good and true and fair all over. Not a
yellow streak in him! Why, out in the desert--the niggers and them
Arabs--they found it out quick enough--and Mr. Morton, he had the run
of the country and their good-will pretty soon after we got settled
there and they had a chance to see what kind of a man he was! After we
had a little ruction with them once--why, after that, they would eat
out of our hands!”

“Eat out of your hands?”--The Princess’s eyes were big with inquiry.

Helène gave a little laugh--equally at loss. “Now, Mr. McCormick,
please tell us what that means.”

“Oh--I guess my talk ain’t just the easiest for you to get on to. I
always forget that not all people come from America. Why, after these
natives found out we were square, that Mr. John wasn’t afraid of them
or anyone else, for that matter, that he wouldn’t stand for any crooked
deal--why, they were just good--that’s all! I remember it as if it
was yesterday; out there in the Soudan--a God-forsaken country that
I can’t see why people will insist on living in--when Mr. Morton got
to investigate our store tent one mornin’--he found a tripod and some
instruments missin’. We looked ’round, found tracks in the dust and
sand proving that some barefooted rascals had stole in over night. Mr.
Morton, he just throws his rifle over his shoulder, says, ‘Come along,
Don, we must see about this.’ Well, we got our Arab driver to bring
the horses and rode over across the valley to a camp of Wadi-Arabs
we know’d were stoppin’ there. Mr. John rides up and asks for the
Chief. And when this feller--a fine-looking old chap with whiskers
like Moses--comes up--‘Can I talk to all o’ your people for about five
minutes?’ says he. The Chief just stares, asks Achmed--that’s our
servant--a thing or two--and then gives a call like a foghorn. Out come
a crowd o’ men, big and small, old and young, and they all lined up
behind him without sayin’ a word.

“And then John Morton asks them to step up to the hollow into the shade
of the rock--it was gittin’ mighty hot by that time--he just stands
up on a boulder, leans on his rifle not caring any more than if he
were in Euclid Park--in Cleveland, you know--and he says to the Chief:
‘I’ll say what I got to say in English, and I want you to translate
it to your people.’ And the old man nods and grunts somethin’, an’
my boss--he goes on. And he tells ’em all right! ‘I have come here a
stranger,’ says he, ‘to be a neighbor to you; I am peaceful. I don’t
bother about you and I mind my own business. Now I want you to do
to me as I am doin’ to you! Somebody, last night, took my tools and
instruments, and I need them in my work--and I want ’em back! If any of
you men is in need--you can come to me and if I can help ye--I will! If
you need food--I’ll share mine with you. If you are in trouble and I
know a way out--you can have my assistance. But I won’t allow any man
to steal my things, and I am a feller you want to leave alone. I never
wronged anybody--but neither will I permit any man living to do a wrong
to me.’--Then he motions to the Chief and the old man he translates it
to his people.”

Don stopped out of sheer breathlessness; his enthusiasm had carried
him at a rapid pace, while the girls, fascinated, bent over, devouring
every word. He paused long enough to relight his pipe and send out a
few mouthfuls of his beloved golden-leaf smoke. Its pungent odor came
to the girls’ nostrils and added to the reality of the mental pictures
they had built out of his narrative.

“You ought to have seen him--standin’ there among those savage people,
alone against a hundred--but as steady as a rock and as cool as a
cucumber! Not an eyelash did he move! I wasn’t sure what would come
next--but I guess Mr. Morton, he knew. He looked fine! I wish his
father could ha’ seen him! The old man always was proud of his boy--as
he had a right to be. He used to say to me: ‘Don, I want my boy to be
a man first and a gentleman after!’ And I guess Mr. John is both, and
both to the limit.”

He paused and gave a reminiscent stare into the infinite space above
him. A few thoughtful pulls at the pipe followed by a copious discharge
of saliva and he proceeded with his tale:

“Well--after the Chief had finished, two young fellers just drawed
their burnooses a bit tighter over their faces and sneaked off. A
minute later they brought the instruments, laid them down before Mr.
John, and, walking with their heads bent in shame, they passed before
the Chief. The old priest he just looked dark and grieved and waved
them off without a word. Then he up and walks to John, hands him bread
and salt and says: ‘Noble stranger, my people and me are humbled by
your just complaint. Hereafter you needn’t lose sleep over my men;
none of ’em will ever wrong you again, none of my people will do
anything toward you that he don’t want you to do toward us. If we can
do anything to please you--say the word--we are your slaves. And Mr.
John--he took the bread and salt. Then we mounted the horses and rode
home. Our servant, he carried the instruments and after that--none of
them fellers came within a big spell of our camp! Those Arabs know a
man when they see him pretty damn quick, I guess!’”

He shifted uneasily in his seat and shut his mouth tight. In his
excitement he had forgotten he was speaking to ladies. “I guess I’m
talking too much. I must apologize. But you’ve been so interested that
I couldn’t help myself.”

The girls assured him that they had enjoyed his story extremely and
begged him to tell them some more of his interesting adventures. But
Don was too cautious now to be caught a second time.

Morton now appeared, followed by Mihai. He looked up at the porch and
took the situation in at a glance. Don approached his master looking as
if he had been caught, like a child in a naughty act. A few whispered
words passed between them, and Don walked off without even giving the
girls a glance.

“I suppose Donald has been chattering,” remarked Morton as he stepped
on to the porch, “he’s a great yarn-spinner and doesn’t know when to
stop. I hope he has not bored you.”

“Oh, no--not at all! He was telling us some of the incidents of your
life in the desert----” Helène was attempting to shield the fellow.

“A-h--then I guess he’s been sounding my praises. But you must not
believe everything he says. He’s a true Yankee, and knows how to drag
the long bow. Have you rested?”

Both the girls assured him that they had and that Mr. McCormick had
entertained them immensely. Morton smiled, and excusing himself, left
them to themselves. The Princess, however, was tired; the bracing air
had made her drowsy. She begged Helène to remain while she lay down in
her room.

Morton was really disturbed about Don’s chatter; he was afraid he might
have spoken of Count Rondell’s illness. He would find out, and warn
the man to say nothing about that matter to the Comtesse.

Helène sat for a long time thinking over what she had learned from
Don’s narrative. Instead of clearing up the situation it had only
aroused in her more questionings. She could not explain Mr. Morton’s
presence in Roumelia. Why had he undertaken this mission? It was true
that her father had written begging her to place implicit confidence
in him--but why this man, this American of all men? Even if it were
dangerous for him to come himself, could he not have sent one of his
own friends? It was more than she could understand. And yet--and
yet--she was glad it had been this man. He was so different from the
men she had met. He came from a country where there were neither kings
nor nobles and yet, he knew how to command and be obeyed. His father
wanted him to be a man first--yes, he was that--the equal to the best
she had known. She felt herself blushing at her thoughts. No, no, no,
she must not let herself think like this. Rising suddenly she crossed
the open space before the cabin, and with quickened steps passed under
the firs, to where a rushing stream was frothing its way down a deep
gorge.



CHAPTER XII


Her back against the protecting trunk of an ancient hemlock, whose
exposed gnarled roots gave a good foothold and a secure seat, Helène
sat curled up with her feet tucked under her warm skirt. She was
watching intently the turbulent waters hurrying in the direction that
meant freedom and safety to her, the Princess--and to their escort
also. The child in her felt the longing for refuge, the desire to flee
from the land that had denied her, but that was yet her own land. The
woman in her, the existence of which the girl did not suspect, mingled
with these fears and desires the mysterious feeling of having found a
man who would, with strong arm, come between her and danger.

Helène had never been in so wild a country. She had never been alone
in the woods, and the peacefulness of her surroundings, the grandeur
of it all, impressed her deeply. Her situation seemed so unreal, as
though it were almost impossible to believe in its fact. Was she little
Snow-White with the Seven Dwarfs across the Seven Hills? Was she like
Saint Elizabeth driven into the wild forests by her jealous spouse? It
seemed as if some gnomes or fairies were peeking out from under the
tumbled chaos of roots and boulders; as if every little heap of dried
pine needles were the seat of some good little goblin. No, it really
was true; here she was sitting watching the cataracts of an unknown
mountain stream tumbling and gamboling down hill, dressed in peasant’s
garments, with hobnailed shoes on her feet, provided by a strange man
speaking a foreign tongue, from some most unknown part of a distant
world, and yet, strange to say, she was quite happy! Would anyone
ever believe her if she told the tale? Stowed in a wagon equipped
like a gipsy’s caravan, in the dark storm and driving rain, dreading
discovery every instant! And the arrival at the hidden house under the
whispering trees, still under the calm protection of a strange man who
provided everything and seemed to rule even the elements. It was all so
wonderful! And how good and brave he was!

“Miss Helène, may I sit and talk to you?” Her face turned scarlet as if
he had heard her thoughts. She stammered and attempted to rise. “Pray,
don’t disturb yourself, Miss Helène. You have selected a charming spot,
and if you will permit me, I’ll join you in your retreat. But first
take this robe; the air is damp here.”

Morton came up to her with steady, quick steps. Helène scarcely dared
to look.

A soft rug was laid across her lap, and John stood beside her. “Is
it not fascinating to watch a mountain stream straining and speeding
towards its future? I love it, and it is so long since I have been near
one. A glorious day, Miss Helène, and all the elements in our favor.
May I sit down?”

Helène looked up. “Certainly, Mr. Morton.”

Her gaze sank again and rested on her shoes. How clumsy the boots were!
Looking up she met John’s questioning eyes.

“I am glad your feet are resting on a dry spot, Miss Helène; you must
guard yourself against catching cold.”

“Are you not over cautious, Mr. Morton?”

“Possibly, but you know I have just come from a country where it never
rains, where it is always hot and dry, and it may be I am worrying
about the effects of dampness more than the people here would do. It
seems a crime to ask you to wear those heavy boots, but----”

“Oh, Mr. Morton, I don’t mind them at all. You are very kind and
thoughtful. We are under a deep obligation to you.”

“Please forget the obligation. Just be brave and help the Prin-- I
mean Miss Marie, to keep her courage, and we shall soon be out of
this forsaken land. May I adjust your rug? Ah--now you are snug and
comfortable.”

“Thank you. It is delightful to sit here and watch the brook. Isn’t the
contrast between the pure white on the ground and the deep green of the
trees striking?”

John assented. “This is as beautiful a spot of mountain scenery as
I have ever seen. The Carpathians are far wilder than I imagined. I
have never been in these Eastern sections of Europe. This fine Alpine
landscape equals that of Switzerland and the Tyrol. Do you know this
country well, Miss Helène?”

“Not very well. Three years ago my father took me to Kimpola at the
foot of the Negoi, our highest peak, you know. The mountains there are
covered with snow and ice all the year round; the slopes are very steep
and rocky, devoid of all vegetation. It is far more attractive here.”

It seemed providential that he had come at this time; her doubts could
be satisfied--why not take courage and ask him to explain?

“Mr. Morton--may I ask you some questions?”

She tried to look unconcerned though inwardly she was greatly agitated.
Would he resent her presumption?

“My dear Miss Helène, I am quite at your service.” On his open
countenance she could not read the mental reservation he had registered
in his thoughts; she might ask, but he would tell her only what was
good for her to know.

“First, then, allow me to apologize for my rudeness to you upon our
second interview. I--I was very much agitated and--I felt humiliated
that a stranger had been sent to us to succor the Princess. Even now I
cannot understand why one of our own cavaliers had not come forward on
behalf of his monarch’s niece.”

In the pause that ensued a deep frown puckered the young man’s brow.
Helène continued: “I am in the dark as to what happened at the Capital,
but our army and our court boasted of many a noble devoted to their
King; I--I do not know what to think, what to say!--Mr. Morton--I hope
you are not offended at my foolish questions?”

John looked at her steadily with eyes serious, his face alight with
sympathy. “Pray, Miss Helène, do not disturb yourself about feelings;
but take my advice and let well enough alone! It might be better not
to inquire too curiously. What need you care what happened at the
Capital, or what motives have prompted the inaction of your Roumelian
cavaliers? Be brave and patient--and when we are once across the border
line--why--you may ask all the questions you like. Think now only of
Transylvania and safety.”

“Mr. Morton--how long have you known my father?”

“I have not known the General very long, but I have known him long
enough to have obtained his confidence. Evidently, I was the most
available man for the job--I mean the plan, and--here I am. Are you
dissatisfied with me?”

Helène colored deeply, raising her hand almost as if in supplication.
“Oh, Mr. Morton--please! You have been so kind, so considerate, that
I scarcely know what to say. The Princess feels as I do. But she also
feels so forlorn, so abandoned by her own people that she can only
wonder how you came to be our protector.”

“Comtesse--pardon the slip--Miss Helène, please do not dwell on
that. Of the affairs of Roumelia and the Count I know but little. I
am here but for one purpose, and we are well on the way towards its
accomplishment. Nothing else matters. You may recall, however, I have
never claimed any allegiance to the cause of royalty. All that has been
and still is on my mind is your safety and that of the Princess--” He
broke off with an assumption of impatience. “Your father, dear lady,
felt it was his duty to do all he could to protect Miss Marie--of
course, you were in his thoughts also. It has been my happiness to be
of service to the Count. Please, Miss Helène, do not live in the past,
but look ahead! The world is beautiful, you are young. All happiness
is before you. In a few days you will have forgotten these dark weeks.
You will then be restored to your father. Tell me now about yourself,
Miss Helène. What kind of a life does a lady of a court, a petted and
admired Comtesse, lead?”

His assumed lightness of manner deceived the unsophisticated girl.
Youth does not dwell on misfortunes forever--it is more comfortable to
be irresponsible! Her frown disappeared. How delightfully naïve this
foreigner was!

“There is very little to tell, Mr. Morton. Until six years ago I have
lived at home with my dear parents--very quietly--studying languages, a
little art and music. When my dear mama died--after a dark and lonely
six months--papa sent me to the ‘Seurs de Sacre Coeur’ in Gratz. Last
year he called for me and I joined him in Bucharest. When Princess
Marie and her court left for their annual stay at the Summer Castle in
Padina--her Majesty the Queen proposed that I should join the Princess.
I think father worried about my being left alone, but it seemed to be
the best arrangement for both of us. I have really never been at the
Court itself; indeed, I have not yet been presented!” Her eyes danced
with fun. “This frock would look fine for my _début_--would it not?”

She rose, shook herself free from the folds of the rug and gave him
a deep courtesy, mischief and laughter in her eyes, as she murmured:
“Your Highness--Your obedient servant!”

John, entered into the spirit of the rekindled happy moment, and
holding out his hand to the charming maiden, bowed low and murmured
back: “Your slave, my lady.” Both laughed aloud.

Helène was the first to recover herself. She glanced at the fine frank
face before her, and recalling her neglect of her companion, exclaimed,
with somewhat heightened color: “I must see if the Princess requires my
presence! Permit me to go into the house.”

“Please stay. Before I came here Miss Marie told me that she would lie
down and rest. She is probably asleep.”

“Are you not afraid I shall catch cold, Mr. Morton?” Helène asked
roguishly.

“Now, you are teasing, Miss Helène!”

“Forgive me, Mr. Morton. No, you have been more than kind. I can never
thank you sufficiently. The Princess and I must be a great anxiety to
you. I shall tell my father how good you were. Shall we return to our
old observatory?”

All shyness and timidity had now left the young girl. She was safe with
this strange American. His quiet strength inspired confidence.

Resuming her seat, she snugly wrapped herself up and abandoned herself
to the charm of the view. The warmth of the sun sent her blood coursing
freely through her veins, and she gave a free rein to the happiness of
the moment. Without realizing it, her protector meant more to her than
she would have dared to admit to herself. Certainly he was good to look
upon. His eyes were so frank and gentle and they looked at her with
such protecting glances, in their expression. He was telling her now of
his travels and his home life. He spoke warmly of his father and with
devotion of his mother. He seemed glad of the opportunity to speak of
his people.

“You know, Miss Helène, I have a little sister at home, about your
age--a jolly, fine girl; you would like her, I am sure. And my
mother--you would love her--everybody does. She is tall and very
handsome, with the loveliest gray hair, and the face of a young girl. I
wish you could meet my people some day. You would like them, I think.
And father, oh, he’s a splendid fellow. He is the kind of man who is
everybody’s friend. He’d adopt you as his own, five minutes after he
saw you.”

The Comtesse laughed heartily. “But your sister--how old is she and
what is her name?”

“Ruth is just twenty; she is named after her aunt, my mother’s sister.”

“What a beautiful name--Ruth! I have heard that your country loves the
Bible names. Is she fair?”

“No, Ruth is quite a brunette. Father is dark--Ruth favors him.”

“And when do you expect to see your family again, Mr. Morton?”

“I expect to be in New York toward the beginning of December. I had
some disquieting cables about my father’s health--you know I haven’t
been home in almost two years. He isn’t old, but he has worked hard
all his life. I should have been home earlier, but--but for some things
that had turned up unexpectedly,” he concluded rather lamely.

The girl grew thoughtful; she guessed to what he referred. She began to
realize what a sacrifice it had been for him. What could she say? Dared
she speak her thoughts? With blood mantling to her cheek and brow, she
remained silent.

“A penny for your thoughts, Miss Helène!”

“We have no pennies in Roumelia, we call them ‘banu.’ And I don’t think
they are worth even a penny.”

“I will take my chances on their value.”

Providence has endowed woman with a sixth sense which, when called
upon, forms a defensive armor of no mean strength. Helène’s intuition
told her she was on dangerous ground, and she changed the subject of
their conversation. Mr. Morton’s eyes had been insistently directed to
her face, not for an instant had they faltered--and the expression in
them was a little disquieting to her.

“Please, Mr. Morton--may I inquire what we are to do next?”

Poor John! He had noticed the heightened color, cursed himself for
an imbecile that could not govern his tongue, saw the glorious eyes
covered by their silken lashes, and perceived the embarrassment. He
took it for a hint.

“The men are clearing the short stretch of lane that leads from the
road to our camp here. The road itself is in very fair state. The moon
rises about midnight, and if sufficiently light we shall start at that
hour. If very cloudy, or if it snows or rains--I wouldn’t care to
travel. It wouldn’t do to light lanterns; we might run into a patrol or
something like that, and would be seen before we had warning. I have
examined the road and country with Mihai, some kilometers to the north
of us; the brothers know the country thoroughly. Still--I would wait
another day, if necessary, rather than risk all by undue haste.”

The thoughtful blue eyes looked confidingly into his, and John decided
that prudence had indeed become a virtue.

“We are quite safe here, Comtesse, and could remain undetected for
days. Still I hope it will be clear to-night and that we can start. As
it is, we shall have to rest the horses about half-way. We must cover
the last stretch in the dusk or at night. Mihai, who is an experienced
woodsman, suggests that even a light cloudiness should not prevent us
from starting. You remember, Comtesse, that the men had a little mishap
with their reserve horses, and that we have no relay between here and
the Pass; and, of course, horses are all-important to us just now.”

Voices from the wood drew their attention.

“Hello, here come the men; I had better see them at once. Do you wish
to go in, Miss Helène? At three o’clock,” consulting his watch, “we
shall call you to dinner. Thank you for a pleasant hour, Comtesse; I
hope I haven’t bored you.”

“I enjoyed our chat immensely--and thank you ever so much, Mr. Morton.”

The afternoon meal was very much like the breakfast, and consisted
mainly of canned meats and fruits.

John sat with the ladies, helpful and cheerful as always, telling tales
of his life in the Soudan. It was his business to keep them in good
spirits, and he acquitted himself admirably.

The sun sank lower, the shadows lengthened, the blue of the sky
deepened; there was not a cloud on the horizon. Helène had begun to
enter into the spirit of the adventure, and felt quite proud of being
in the confidence of their leader.

Towards evening the packing began, and every article was gone over
with great care and deliberation. John was everywhere, calm and quiet,
seemingly seeing everything, the men accepting his absolute authority
as a matter of course.

The fast sinking sun found them ready, their work finished. Papiu went
forward up the lane, taking his place as sentinel. Donald took up his
post as watch in the wood to the north, while Mihai retired to his
quarters to sleep.

John approached the ladies, who had now retired to their cozy sleeping
apartment, and begging permission came to the door.

“We are in good luck, ladies; we shall start shortly after midnight.
Everything is in order. Get some sleep now, as there may not be an
opportunity for another rest for many hours. I will call you at eleven
for a little supper before we start.”

The girls thanked him for his advice, and, after a hearty “Good night,”
John withdrew.

Left alone, the two girls made themselves comfortable and settled down
to sleep and rest, lying together in close embrace. The Princess was
soon fast asleep, but Helène could not sleep. Her thoughts kept her
awake. Through her brain coursed the events that had happened, the
dangers yet before them, and the strange circumstances in which she
now found herself. Where would she meet her father? Where would they
live? How would she find him? The Princess, she knew, would eventually
go to the Court of Saxe-Weimar--but what would she, the daughter of an
ex-Minister, do there? She did not long for life at Court--and what
position could her father occupy in a foreign land--himself a stranger?

What did it mean? And what was Mr. Morton’s relation to her father and
to this affair? These questions puzzled her again and again! She could
not rest.

Stealthily she lowered her limbs to the floor, scarcely disturbing the
covers, and crept from the bed. Slipping into her fur slippers--she
tiptoed into the far corner to the tiny lamp that shed a bright light
upon the diminutive table. She drew up a stool and took from her blouse
the letter from her dear father Morton had delivered to her. She read
it again slowly, studying each sentence. No, there was nothing there of
his plans, and not a word about himself. He simply said he could not
come in person.

During her reading she had not noticed the chill which pervaded the
room. Now she could see her breath as vapor against the still rays of
the lamp. Creeping back to the couch for a rug she wrapped it around
her and curled herself up on the crude parapet of logs running along
the outer wall.

Was her father a prisoner somewhere in a strange land? Was he ill
or--tears gathered in her burning eyes.

What did it mean? And she--without a friend or a relative in the
world--without experience of the world! She recalled the girls at the
convent, and how much more they seemed to know of life than she did;
how astonished they had been on many occasions at her ignorance. They
had dubbed her “Diana the Ingenuous.”

She was without clothes or money! How did people get these things? She
stared into the gloomy recesses of the darkened room and shivered,
oppressed, afraid. The Princess could neither help her nor clear up her
doubts--the poor child knew less than she did herself. Was ever anyone
so forlorn, so abandoned?

Then her pride and her natural energy came to her assistance. She must
think--and she _could_ not think in this prisonlike room. She would go
out, and breathe the night air, and pray--pray for enlightenment. “Oh,
father,” she sobbed, “why do you not come for me?”

With her rug about her she crept to the door and, cautiously opening
it, peered into the darkness of the adjoining space. Not a sound was to
be heard. She closed the door behind her and moved swiftly towards the
exit leading into the open and stepped out onto the porch.

There was light enough by which to distinguish the outlines of beams
and eaves against the bit of sky visible above the tops of the tall
trees. In the deep shadow of the porch her eyes, now accustomed to the
doubtful light, made out the shapes of the bench and the packages with
which it was loaded. She hoped no one would find her there. It was very
cold, but she wrapped herself in the rug, glad of its protection.

Through the firs came the sound of the rushing waters of the stream in
the gully; she could see the stars and a faintly brighter spot in the
heavens toward the east. Leaning against the roughly hewn pillar in an
attempt to rest, she now began to regret her childish flight from the
room.

“Hello!” came in suppressed, but very peremptory tones, “who is there?”

The ever-watchful Morton stepped from the offing towards the gully.

“Oh--Mr. Morton--it is only I!” Her words came in timid gasps. “I
couldn’t sleep. I was restless and unhappy, and I thought I would sit
outdoors a while. I am sorry if I have disturbed or startled you--I
shall go right in!”

Morton threw away his lighted cigar and went towards the house.

“My dear lady, what is the matter?” With quick steps he reached her
and took a limp little hand protectingly into his own. “You haven’t
startled me. Of course--if you could not sleep--I know how stuffy the
room is. Is the Princess asleep?”

“Yes, sound asleep, poor darling; but I couldn’t rest.”

“Come, Miss Helène, let me arrange a seat for you here on the porch.
Sit down and rest yourself.” Suiting his action to his words, he
removed the bundles from the bench, pulling his seat somewhat nearer
to the edge of the flooring, spread the blankets that had covered the
packages over the boards, and leading Helène to it gently urged her to
sit down, and he carefully wrapped her in the rug.

“Now you can sit in comfort. I am sorry you must be here in the dark,
but I do not dare to light the lanterns, and cannot give you a fire in
the room--there is no chimney. In an hour or so our supper--or rather
breakfast--will be ready and shortly after that we shall start. Do you
see that light streak over the hillside, Comtesse? That is where our
friend the moon will appear in sixty minutes or so, and then--we shall
bid good-by to this gloomy place.”

“Oh, Mr. Morton, you are so kind. I ought not to add to your burden by
my foolishness. Please, don’t mind me--don’t let me keep you from your
intended work. I am making your duties only the more arduous.”

Morton gave vent to a hearty though subdued laugh. “I haven’t a thing
to do but to wait until the fixed time arrives. I also couldn’t sleep.
If Donald catches me he will scold me, too. So you see, Miss Helène, we
are culprits together. It is a glorious night--it couldn’t be better
for our plans if we had ordered it. Mihai will ride ahead. The horses
are in fine form, and by daybreak we shall be fully twenty-five miles
up the road. Then, after a good rest we will start out towards the
saddle of the mountain range, and get there just in the right time.
Why, to-morrow at this hour I will have you both in a nice cozy room at
the best hotel in Raros. The morning after you will be in a warm coupé
on the railroad, speeding on your way to your friends! It couldn’t have
gone better in the piping times of peace!”

“You are very good,” murmured the girl. His confident cheerfulness
was infectious. Fear and doubt had vanished, and she resolved to be
obedient to his earlier request and refrain from worrying. But as to
one thing she had made up her mind--she _must_ know about her father.

“Mr. Morton--why doesn’t my father write where I am to meet him? And
why didn’t he at least come to the border?”

Luckily it was dark. “More trouble coming--this young person has a
mania for questioning!” Morton reflected, but he was now thoroughly on
the alert!

“Oh, did I forget to explain that? Why, the General felt that if he
were recognized anywhere near the Roumelian line, the alarm might be
given and then my opportunity to get you two ladies away would be gone.
The only thing to do was to be bold and avoid arousing suspicion. We
were informed as to the conditions in Padina and elsewhere--through
Baron de Haas, who wired from Constantinople, as you know. Where will
he join you? Hm--I am not certain, but I have arranged to wire him the
moment it can be done safely and I think he expects to meet you at
Weimar. He will be there ahead of us, no doubt.”

“Mr. Morton--where did you first meet my father?”

“On his return trip from India. We spent days in each other’s society,
and became quite intimate. I am very proud indeed to be a friend of
the General, whom I admire above all men. I deem the confidence he has
placed in me a great compliment--nay, even a noble condescension!”

There are many workings of the human mind not yet understood--a girl’s
courage seems to expand in direct ratio to the cube of her obscured
sight. The timid Helène knew she could not be observed and suspected
her informant, whom she could not see in the darkness. She was,
therefore, the more determined to find out more of her father.

“Oh, you met him on the steamer from India? How was my father when you
saw him last?”

John was quick in his answer, and took refuge in rapid speech.

“The last time I spoke to the Count was on an evening as lovely as
this. The stars were shining just as bright as they do now. We were
discussing astronomy and kindred subjects. The General is an unusually
well-informed man--and a delightful companion! I asked him if he
admired the much glorified Southern Cross, sung in verse and praised
in prose--and your father surprised me by confessing that he had never
noticed it at all! Then we spoke of the stars of our own latitudes--you
know we in America see the same heavens as you do. He was pleased when
I told him that our own ‘Big Dipper’ was far more beautiful than the
famed southern constellation. I remember well his remark: ‘Give me our
own land, our own stars, our----’”

“The Big Dipper? What is that?”

John was delighted to find he had succeeded in turning the
conversation.

“Why, Comtesse, don’t you know the beautiful constellation of seven
big, bright stars that point to the Polar Star? To men living in
the free air of primitive and thinly settled countries, it is their
guide in their travels--their compass at night. See, Miss Helène,
yonder in the north--that fine group looking like a giant S? That’s
the constellation which we Anglo-Saxons in our practical, non-poetic
way call ‘The Big Dipper.’ In form it looks like a pot with a crooked
handle, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, we call it the ‘Great Bear’--it is the ‘Ursus Major’ of the old
Romans! I--I have always loved it. Astronomy is one of my favorite
studies, Mr. Morton.”

John mentally patted himself on the back; he certainly had managed it
well. He entered with renewed enthusiasm on the subject and allowed
her to instruct him in a science the study of which had taken up many
nights of his life. Never in his life had John Morton, the learned
savant and traveler, enjoyed himself so thoroughly. He was perfectly
happy to sit at the feet of his new teacher.

He turned eagerly towards Helène, and though he could but faintly make
out the outlines of her hooded figure, he yet saw the eyes that shone
intermittently under the protecting shadow. Once more he relapsed into
the stage of adoration. He pictured to himself the glorious eyes, the
temptingly arched lips, the delicate cheeks. His heart went out towards
the lonely, forsaken girl. He longed to take her into his arms--to
comfort and caress her. But--what was he thinking of? He pulled himself
together with a mighty effort.

Helène, all unconscious of the turmoil in the breast of her companion,
leaned towards him and pointed upward.

“You will hardly believe it, Mr. Morton, but I don’t think I ever sat
up as late as this, nor do I remember ever having seen the sky so
beautiful and so full of stars as it is to-night. It is a most glorious
sight.”

“It is, indeed, Miss Helène. Even I, who have lain awake numberless
nights, the entire dome and horizon free and unobstructed above
me--have never seen it more gorgeous. For me the night skies always
have a curious charm--the lure as of a mystery--they fill me with
unknown longings. I believe I could easily become a devotee to the
worship of the starry heavens.”

Without knowing, perhaps without even realizing it, he had taken hold
of the extended hand of the girl, and drew it gently to himself in a
light and tender grasp. Helène was utterly unconscious of his action;
she was so happy.

“They have a strange power over me,” she whispered rather than spoke
the words. “I could sit and look at them and forget everything else.”

Morton’s voice, equally subdued, whispered back: “Is it not your own
famous Queen, the poetic and noble ‘Carmen Sylva,’ who says: ‘The night
has thousands of eyes watching its children’? There is a lovely lady!”

“Oh, Mr. Morton, is she not? Noble and good--and so beautiful! Have you
read her books?”

“Some of them, Comtesse, and I admire them exceedingly. But don’t
forget that for more than two years I haven’t seen a new book. During
those two years I have dreamed of happiness to come, my longings have
become crystallized--and under these stars, I feel, my fate is being
sealed--here or at some other place--who knows? Miss Helène--for two
years I haven’t looked upon--I haven’t spoken to a woman. Meeting you
has shown me so much more clearly the great treasure of a noble woman.
Do not attribute my words to the hour or the stars. Let me plead--plead
for myself. Permit me to tell you that from the bottom of my heart, I
am glad to have known your father; glad he selected me to be the bearer
of his letter; happy to be of service to you. I shall always bless the
fate that let me meet you! And when you are back among your friends, I
hope you will let me still be your friend and grant me the opportunity
to be worthy of your friendship--your regard.”

Rising, he lightly touched the hand he had been holding and gently
released it. Then he added: “And may the ‘Big Bear’ plead for me!”

Helène sat motionless. Her heart was beating wildly. His words filled
her with a curious warmth as though in response to a desired caress.
She blessed the darkness that hid the tell-tale burning in her
cheeks,--she felt she didn’t know what--she knew only that she was
happy, at peace with everything--and above all--she was glad it was
dark!

She rose confusedly and, to his great surprise, said in a low voice,
quite clearly:

“Mr. Morton--I have known few gentlemen other than my father; but
it has been my privilege to meet you. I shall be proud of your
friendship--any time and anywhere.”

She bowed slightly, but suddenly recalling herself to her position, she
became afraid and added: “And the unhappy Princess, I am sure, feels as
I do.”

“I thank you. And now, won’t you go in and waken Miss Marie? I see the
silvery strip over the hill widening; Mihai is scraping in the shed and
breakfast will soon be ready.”

Then to himself he whispered: “God bless you, dear love!”--Aloud, he
added: “Till breakfast, Miss Helène!”



CHAPTER XIII


The frowning and forbiddingly gloomy slope of the hillside across the
gorge to the East showed clear against the sulphur streak in the sky,
when the lumbering vehicle drew up before the porch and the order came
to start.

Morton in short serviceable sheep furs that set off his square
shoulders and powerful chest, helped the ladies into their
wagon-recess. The horses strained and pulled; the sled-runners squeaked
and scratched but luckily held; the drivers, by turns, coaxed and
threatened, prayed and swore, until at last the vehicle was gotten
under way. Papiu walked at the head of the horses, Donald handled the
reins while the younger of the brothers, astride the leader, encouraged
the animals in the subtle, mysterious ways which only the experienced
teamster knows. As they emerged from the protection of the firs and
the thick undergrowth the road became brighter and sloped perceptibly
towards the narrow valley which marked the location of the mountain
road leading to the West.

John, who was following on behind the vehicle which had now become in
reality a sled on wheels, aided the runners, with the help of a stout
stick. There was no opportunity for conversation.

The girls, snugly wrapped in furs, sat in silence observing the mighty
efforts of the men and after a while picked up sufficient courage to
inquire if they could not aid the poor animals by walking. Morton shook
his head and begged them to remain where they were, for the present.
Later on, when the climb would begin, he might ask them to do what they
had suggested.

With many oaths and imprecations on the part of the men and with not
a few misgivings on the part of the girls, the valley was finally
reached. They then removed the appended runners and hid their tracks as
best they could. They followed the fairly firm road-bed winding along
the banks of a noisy mountain stream, and struck off to the North.

The stars were shining brightly, the narrow crescent of the pale moon
had risen high and clear above the mountain slopes and timber, the
rattle and clatter of the wagon had ceased and instead was heard the
crunching of crisp snow on frozen ground.

The road wound through densely wooded inclines, over rocky bare
stretches without a semblance of cultivation or a sign of human
dwelling. From time to time an owl would flit across their path. Their
progress was accompanied by the sound of rushing waters, the heavy
breathing of the laboring horses and the occasional creak of a breaking
twig.

Helène had noticed that John’s rifle was lying across the opening
at the rear of the wagon and saw that he himself had fastened his
cartridge belt over his fur coat. The other men also had their rifles
ready and their pistols in their belts. Papiu, she saw, had been sent
forward, as a scout. With trepidation she asked Morton if he expected
an attack.

John smiled and reassured her. At the same time, he told her, it was
best to be prepared for any emergency. The wires had all been cut from
Padina and the South, and as they were traveling on the only road
leading to the Aluta Valley, they must be on the alert.

At that moment, a short sharp call rang out in the distance and the
horses were halted. John rushed hurriedly away. Helène was left in
anxious expectation, but he returned after a few minutes’ absence and
explained that the delay was due to a tree which had fallen across
the road, and which had now been removed. If she wished, she and the
Princess could now leave the wagon and walk.

The Princess was too tired, but Helène was delighted at the suggestion.
She clambered out of the vehicle and joined Morton.

The moon had now reached the high heavens and spread its gentle light
silvering the entire snow-covered landscape. Looking back on the road
they were traveling she saw the deep furrows made by the wheels of the
wagon edged with glinting crystals. The rare mountain air sent the
blood tingling through her veins. She experienced a sense of renewed
strength and her supple and strong limbs marched to the musical rhythm
of her thoughts. A delightful feeling of comradeship with this man
by whose side she was walking pervaded her. She felt content, quite
happily content that it should be so. How strange it was that she
should be so perfectly at ease with one whom she had known but three
days!

As for John his heart beat time to her steps. He was ever ready to help
her over a tree-stump or a stone. He chatted ceaselessly of his hunting
expeditions in America, of his enjoyment of the present adventure,
of the beauty of the Carpathian landscape. And all the time Helène
noted his eyes were everywhere, taking in everything, noting the least
untoward sound. A capital companion and a chivalrous protector, surely,
was this stranger from America! Unconsciously, his bearing transmitted
its spirit to her. The noble blood in her asserted itself and she
walked more erectly and felt a new desire steal into her heart, to help
and be of service to others. Thus did they climb together the rocky
ascent, each thinking of the other and both happy in their thoughts.

The moonlight which had grown paler and more mysterious now gradually
gave way to the first hazy drab of the dawn. They had reached the more
rugged parts of the mountains where the ribbed cliffs lay exposed,
uncovered by snow. Sparse brown patches of grass and withered ferns
showed on the small open spaces. A bleak wind which had risen and was
sweeping over the unfriendly landscape made the air bitingly cold. John
threw occasional glances at the girl by his side and noted with pain
her pale, haggard face, the eyes bright from the exercise, the parted
lips almost blue with the cold. But he also saw that she was happy.
What a splendid, noble-hearted creature, he thought, was this! And then
the longing arose in him again to tell her of what he felt--to speak to
her of his heart’s desires; but he restrained himself, although it cost
him a great effort to do so. Helène, all unconscious of the emotions
she had excited in Morton, would look at him, from time to time,
silently thank him with a smile and a grateful glance, gladly accepting
the helping arm he proffered. Her little hand rested there with easy
confidence, the while her silvery laughter rang out in the clear air
when the obstacle had been overcome or avoided. And all the way John
kept thinking: “I have found the pearl of the land--I have found her
and am taking her home--home to comfort and love. Do you love me, my
queen? Shall I win you in the end?”

At that moment, a low exclamation of warning came from Mihai who was
leading the tired horses. John and Helène looked anxiously before them
and saw the advance guard holding up his rifle and waving his hand.
Donald also was motioning to Morton to come forward. Urging Helène
gently into the wagon, John seized his rifle and bounded forward. He
found the men crouching behind a rock and learned that Papiu had gone
on to investigate.

The girls, in the meantime, sat huddled close together in the wagon,
wondering what had happened. They listened intently, but could hear
nothing but a sound like the loud cracking as of a whip, which was
repeated several times and then ceased altogether. The Princess was
trembling from fear. She begged her companion to let her go out, but
Helène kept her back.

In a few minutes Morton appeared at the opening of the wagon and nodded
to them smilingly. He was holding a compass and a map in his hands. He
informed them that they were about to take a branch road and that there
was nothing to fear.

Morton seized the leader of the horses by the hand while the men pulled
at the wheels. In a short pace of time the wagon was turned round and
the party retraced the road they had traversed.

Soon they entered the branch road and found it to be but a woodsman’s
run. It was thickly carpeted with pine needles and wound its narrow
way through a dense growth of hemlock, as far as the eye could see.
They drove for some time in silence, crossing a few shallow streams and
arrived at last at the foot of a rocky height which rose sheer. Here
they came to a halt, and Morton informed Helène and the Princess that
they were to stop here for rest and refreshment.

Baskets were quickly unpacked and a substantial repast was spread out
before the weary travelers. The girls ate in anxious silence while
Morton explained to them that the men had gone merely to clear the
road. They could hear, from where they were sitting, the sound of wood
being sawn and the occasional breaking of branches. After what seemed
to the girls an endless time, the men returned and Morton announced
that they would shortly continue their journey--but this time on foot.
The men knew of a foot-path over the mountains along which it would be
more prudent to travel than on the highway, and a tramp of nine or ten
kilometers would bring them to the main road along the Aluta and across
the divide into Transylvania. Morton explained all this cheerfully and
said they must travel with light baggage--the most necessary things
only.

The girls gladly assented and in a short time they had made their
preparations for the journey. Mihai, who had left a short time before,
now returned and mounting the wagon, drove off following the woodsmen’s
road. As soon as he was out of hearing Papiu rose and in response to a
nod from Morton, struck out to the right, carefully skirting the ledge.
Donald followed with the girls behind him and John brought up the rear.
In this Indian-file fashion they advanced through the timber, slipping
occasionally over the thick carpet of pine needles, but making good
progress and always mounting higher and higher.

Helène, whom the events of the morning had filled with vague doubts and
to whom the climb thus far had been quite easy, waited impatiently for
a favorable opportunity to question Morton. The halt and the return as
well as the men’s disappearance had puzzled her.

The opportunity came when they arrived at a relatively level stretch, a
small plateau bordered on their left by the dense timber and gradually
losing itself in the opposite direction into the forbidding rocky
expanse of the mountain. She waited for Morton to get up to her and
then asked him what the sudden change in their route betokened. Had he
suspected any danger?

Morton met her honest eyes with a perfectly assumed innocence of gaze
in his own and explained quietly that they had encountered a small
patrol of a few men on foot, who had ordered them to halt. To avoid
being questioned too closely they had started to withdraw when one of
the gendarmes had fired. This fire they had returned and had put the
patrol to flight. One of the soldiers, unfortunately, had been hit and
left behind. Mihai, pretending to be a peasant casually passing by,
had gone forward and had bandaged the man’s slight wound. He had left
him in a protected spot, with food and water, where he would be easily
found by his returning comrades. It was from this soldier that Mihai
had received the information which prompted them to turn back and take
this new path. Very few people knew of a passage or road crossing the
slopes of the dreaded “Caineni”--his own military map did not show
it--Papiu and Mihai were well acquainted with the path, and....

“You haven’t killed one of those poor soldiers, have you, Mr. Morton?”
exclaimed Helène in awestruck tones.

Morton smiled and assured her that no one had been killed. The shots
were intended to frighten them only. Mihai had reported that the
soldier who had been wounded would be all right--his mates would be
certain to find him. Miss Helène need have no anxiety. All her strength
was now needed for the climb that was before them. He begged her to
keep up heart and cheer the Princess.

They had now reached the narrow gully from which the spring descended.
Helène could not repress a slight shudder as she saw the native guide
turn and pointing upward begin the precipitous ascent.

It needed all the strength the girls possessed to follow. Don gave
a helping hand to the Princess and John supported Helène’s faltering
steps. It was a long, tedious and heart-breaking climb. The Princess,
again and again, begged to be allowed to rest, saying that it was
impossible for her to continue much longer. But Donald would put
his arm around her and almost carry her up bodily. Helène, pale and
staggering, found Morton’s ever ready arm to aid her and his quiet
cheerful smile to encourage her.

The climb once begun they dared not stop. So up, up they went and after
an hour or two the sun became visible through the light haze which
an icy wind was dissipating. Before them appeared a horizontal ledge
and on this the exhausted girls lay down, panting for breath. Morton
decided to remain here for a space so as to allow them to recover
themselves. He was deeply distressed to witness their prostrated
condition. He ordered the men to unroll and spread the rugs on the
ground for the better comfort of the Princess and Helène.

From his blouse he drew the soft, fur-lined boots the girls had worn
in the cabin, and displaying them, said with as much cheer as he could
muster: “Here, brave ladies--here is comfort for your feet!” With
faint glad cries they seized them and managed with a little difficulty
to exchange them for the hard leather boots which had sorely rubbed
their delicate feet. Soon the color had returned to their pale faces
and Morton was rewarded by seeing them embrace each other with tearful
smiles. He seized the opportunity to further encourage them by telling
them that the worst of the journey was over. “Another ascent of 160
meters,” he said, “and then the easy descent to the smiling plains
below. Let me know when you are sufficiently rested and we will start.”

Princess Marie tried to smile through tears which were now freely
coursing down her pale cheeks. “You ought not to be burdened by me,
sir. I feel I shall be the cause of your being overtaken--I am putting
all of you into jeopardy!” Crying, Helène put her arms about the
Princess and begged her to be of good courage. All would be well, soon.

Morton waited in silence, knowing that Helène would succeed where he
must fail. When he saw that the Princess had somewhat recovered, he
said: “Dear lady, I assure you the worst is over. It is my duty and
my honor to protect you and lead you both to safety. As soon as Mihai
rejoins us we shall make better progress. There, upon that little
ridge,” pointing ahead, “we shall rest once more and before long we
shall be at the divide. You have done nobly, Princess.”

Helped by Helène, Marie rose, smiling through tears, and finding her
limbs would support her, said bravely: “Thank you, Mr. Morton, I shall
manage now.”

The men rolled up the rugs, and the party, taking the same order of
march as before, resumed the climb.

Patiently and silently the girls trudged along; the path had become
almost undistinguishable, but the footing was much firmer and easier.
The ascent, however, was steeper.

After great difficulty, Donald and Mihai, half carrying the Princess
between them, the party at last succeeded in reaching the ridge Morton
had indicated. By this time the Princess could scarcely stand on her
legs. She collapsed on the rug spread on the rock. Although suffering
acutely, she begged Morton, in a whisper, to forgive her for her
weakness. Her strength seemed to have gone from her.

Morton remained cool, though somewhat alarmed. He forced some brandy
from his flask between the girl’s lips and wrapped her carefully in
his robe. Helène, tired and worn out as she also was, assisted him in
his ministrations. He could not help admiring the splendid courage of
this girl--the brave daughter of a brave man. When he had satisfied
himself that both were resting he stood up and with a light laugh,
remarked: “There is not the slightest need for worry now! We have any
amount of time--we can wait here for hours, if necessary. Not a soul
will dispute our path any more; and Papiu will have no difficulty in
guiding us down even after dark.”

He turned and paced the ledge with short steps. The men sat removed,
rifles in hand, eagerly scanning the downward slope and the distant
valley all about them; utter quiet reigned.

A scarce half hour had thus passed when Helène, looking up, saw that
Morton’s face wore an anxious expression. She noted that he was
consulting his watch and glancing frequently and impatiently about him
with an evidently carefully suppressed concern. She dared not ask any
questions, and besides, she was too tired and worn out to summon the
necessary energy.

Just then the thrice-repeated call of a partridge followed by a
peculiar, long-drawn whistle, broke into the dead silence of the
desolate fastness, and from the left, behind some gigantic boulders,
Mihai was seen approaching with long swinging stride, bearing on his
back two stout poles and what looked like a tent-cover. The brothers
exchanged a few whispered words, and Papiu hastened back to Mr.
Morton and reported that his orders had been executed. Mihai had not
encountered any guards or militia, and he was now awaiting further
instructions. They were on the right path and there was no snow to
speak of on the divide.

John went forward with Papiu, and receiving from Mihai confirmation of
Papiu’s statement, he hurried back to the resting girls, and in a voice
of renewed cheer, said: “Mihai’s report is most satisfactory. About a
thousand feet from here our path crosses a road, which leads from the
state-chaussé toward the western country. He had been over it and found
neither patrols nor any signs of the enemy. And here is a conveyance
which will mean relief to you, Your Highness.”

The girls turned their eyes to where Morton had pointed and saw to
their astonishment that what they had thought were tent and poles had
been unfolded and converted into a strongly constructed stretcher--a
heavy canvas sheet suspended between two stout bars.

John spread a rug over it, and, folding another for a cushion at the
head, led the Princess to it. In this wise they began the last stage of
their ascent.

Mihai took the lead, rifle in the crook of an arm, his older brother
and Donald bore the crude palankin; and, as before, Helène and Morton
brought up the rear.

The sun was now nearing the western slope, the wind had died down, the
air had grown colder, but was bracing and refreshing. They reached the
crossroad so dreaded by Morton, advanced over it for some hundreds of
paces, and then once more Mihai struck off due north--the continuation
of the indistinctly marked path that was to lead them to safety.

They followed this difficult road for a considerable distance silently,
every man observing carefully the place in which his predecessor had
put his foot. In this manner they at last reached a rounded plateau
beyond which the eye saw but the unobstructed sky, clear and cloudless,
stretching its blue vault as if with a benign promise of freedom.

From time to time Helène had stolen a glance at Morton, who untiring
and ever present guided her steps and aided her progress by silent
encouragement. She noticed that his face had gradually cleared, the
eyes had lost their grim expression, the deep furrow between the brows
had vanished, and his step seemed more elastic and confident. Catching
one of her looks he smiled and pointing ahead of them, said, “There is
the divide--the boundary line!”

Helène’s head swam and her limbs shook. John sprung to her support.
Timidly glancing up at him she whispered, “Are you sure? You are not
saying that just to cheer me, Mr. Morton, are you?”

“No, Comtesse, I am not. Look at our guide!”

Mihai had stopped upon the crest of the saddlelike bare expanse of
smooth rock they had now attained. He had lifted his cap and was
standing grinning. He was pointing straight ahead--toward the hazy deep
green valley that had unfolded itself to their view.

Morton reluctantly released the girl’s arm and hurried forward. In
a voice in which he could not hide his deep emotion he announced to
Princess Marie that they were on Transylvanian soil. A quick, happy
flush came to the haggard cheeks and glad tears filled the soft eyes.
Helène stood nearby, her bosom heaving in happy sympathy and her eyes
shining brightly. Reverently she bent and kissed her companion’s cold
wrist. To Morton she raised a look of mingled gratitude and admiration,
the tribute of a thankful heart that gladly acknowledged noble merit.

The red ball of the sinking sun threw their elongated shadows
grotesquely on the rocks gleaming in rosy reflection. The steep parapet
of the deep gorge to their left was lit up, showing the fiery glinting
narrow ribbon of the river Aluta, winding in a wide sweeping curve
beneath them. To their right stretched forth and loomed overpoweringly
the commanding peak of snow-capped Negoi against the delicate gloam
of the east. And straight before them unrolled hill after hill--slope
after slope--the welcome sight of deep evergreen, of rustic brown and
sere yellow, the purplish plowed fields and darkening meadows spread
out like a checker-board. A needlelike white spire and little bright
red-capped dots of houses in the midst told of human life, of comfort
and safety.

Mihai had stepped aside from the path so as to allow Papiu and Donald
to put down the stretcher and permit the Princess to alight. He was all
smiles and bubbling over with happiness.

The girls stood together in close embrace and followed with eager looks
the arm of their guide, who was pointing back and downward.

“El Tornu Ros!”--and they beheld the deeply cut “Red Tower Pass,” the
connecting link between the turbulent Balkans and the well-ordered
country into which at last they had entered, opening before them like a
wondrous gate. It seemed to them that they had conquered fate.

Morton, quietly exultant, approached Papiu and shook the man’s rough
and soiled hand. “You have made good, and you are all true and brave
men. I freely acknowledge your fine devotion, your quick wit and
splendid performance. In addition to the agreed amount each of you will
receive two thousand florins. I shall never forget your services. Tell
your brother what I have said, and I shall write to Father Moskar at
the earliest opportunity.”

The brothers looked proud and glad, and beamed sheepishly at each
other. The words of the “gospodar” had made them happy--the sum they
had gained meant independence to them.

John left the men to talk the good news over among themselves, and
approached the two girls, who were now resting against a boulder. Cap
in hand, his damp hair straggling over his forehead, he looked down
and suddenly found himself shy and awkward. The journey over he was no
longer their guide. These ladies were noble women--and one a Princess.
His words came stammeringly: “Your Highness--Comtesse Rondell--all
danger is past----”

Helène was the first to speak: “Mr. Morton, we cannot tell you how much
we feel ourselves beholden to you. I hope that a more fitting occasion
will offer itself to express our deep appreciation and gratitude for
the service you have rendered us.” Her words sounded strained to his
ears; but he smiled and bowed. “The Princess feels herself strong
enough to walk,” continued the Comtesse, “we are ready when you are.”
Morton bowed without a word and turned to the guides with orders.

They resumed their downward march, and entered the protecting woods of
pink-tipped trees. At dusk they reached the highway, broad and smooth
in gleaming gray, silently following the guides, who were laughing and
chatting with careless ease, as they munched their bread and cheese.

Soon they came to a neatly gravelled path which led to a low, rambling
cottage some hundred feet back from the highway. Here they stopped and
Papiu announced that their journey’s end had been reached.

It was the house of Toni Brasic, a God-fearing man and the husband of
their good sister Amuska. The gracious Gospodinas and Gospodar Morton
would be in good hands here and very welcome.

A loud call accompanied by the growling of a sheep dog brought to the
door a strapping young woman, whom the brothers greeted with sounding
smacks as their beloved niece Rossika, and who was told to hurry and
call her mother.

In the cheerfully lighted and warm room the girls sank gratefully into
stiff tulip-painted chairs and greedily drank the clear cool water
offered them. A roaring fire through the open door of an ovenlike brick
stove lit up the place and spread comfort all around. In its warmth
the girls brightened and their faces shone with happiness. The comely
stout hostess with the leathery weather-beaten face stood looking at
them with open mouth and adoration in her eyes. In the next room could
be heard Rossika busy with her preparations for the supper, and in
a few minutes she rushed in with a shy, smiling mien to inform the
“Gospodinas” that their rooms were ready for them. Here they found warm
water, clean linen and garments, and soft red “saffian” boots for their
tired feet. The girl helped them, blushing and shy at the honor of
serving the noble ladies.

Dressed at last in their hostess’s best gowns, which were so ample as
to envelop them, they reappeared in the living room, where they were
immediately joined by the men, and where a plentiful repast had been
spread. The natives sat at one end of the long table, close together,
whispering to each other of their adventures and glorifying their deeds.

At the upper end of the table sat the two girls, their faces flushed,
their tired, deep-sunken eyes sparkling in wondering happiness. Morton
sat opposite them in deep thought.

The Junolike Rossika flitted from chair to chair piling goodies upon
their plates, filling their glasses and constantly throwing glances of
intense admiration at the girls. How different they were from the girls
she knew. They were Princesses or perhaps Queens--beautiful as the
pictures of the angels in lace-paper borders in her prayer book.

Supper over, everybody expressed themselves as being too tired to
sit up. The girls withdrew to their rooms, and the men retired to the
kitchen for a smoke and a talk with their relatives. Morton, however,
remained to consult with Don about the program for the next day. Soon,
even these were too wearied to stay awake, and retired to their beds.

The low-burning night-lamp was placed in the chimney corner, and the
house locked up for the night. Peace and quiet soon reigned in the
house where our worn-out travelers had found their well-earned rest.



CHAPTER XIV


Morton’s sleep was heavy but restless. He had thrown himself down,
glad of the chance to rest, with his mind still busied over the day’s
happenings, and doubting if he had done right in relying on his host,
Toni, to keep a careful watch during the night. He had not “sworn” the
man, so that he was uncertain if the fellow would keep his word. He
fell asleep with the question and he awoke with it. It had kept his
mind working even in his slumbers. He sat up quite wide awake with all
his faculties keenly alert. The sonorous breathing of Donald jarred on
his ears. In the distance he heard the baying of a hound. Had they been
followed? They were but a little way from the border, and a quick raid
could undo all that had been done. He determined to satisfy himself
that all was right.

Dressing hurriedly he seized his rifle and throwing a rug over his
shoulders slipped out of the room quietly, withdrew the heavy bolts of
the entrance door and locked it after him. It was a beautiful moonlight
night. As he stepped into the open, the faithful house dog came
bounding towards him and licked his hand. Morton stroked the animal’s
head affectionately as it followed him in the tour he made round the
house. As he had suspected, he found no one on the lookout. Toni had,
evidently, preferred the comforts of a warm bed to breathing the cold
night air.

Well, there was nothing for it but to keep watch himself. He found a
wooden bench opposite the garden, and wrapping the rug about him, sat
down with his rifle across his knees. The stillness and the glory of
the night soothed his tired mind. Now and again he would doze off,
but he quickly roused himself. Once again he thought of the strange
adventure of the past days. If anyone had told him a month ago that he
would be acting the part of a knight-errant he would have laughed in
scorn. That he of all men should have done this thing!

He could not help smiling at the situation in which he now found
himself. And yet--why not? Would he be deserving the name of a man
if he had left these two helpless creatures to their fate? Two--nay,
one! And his heart filled with tenderness as he thought of Helène--the
beautiful child-woman; so lovely a being, so lovable a girl, so noble
a woman. How brave she had been; how splendid in her self-sacrificing
devotion to her friend, the Princess! Surely, there was no other like
her in this wide world!

What did it mean? Was this love? If it was, then, certainly it had been
love at first sight. Strange that he, the practical man of the world,
should have so easily succumbed to this mysterious power! What would
his father have said to him?

The question was but a natural one, but he did not know that however
experienced and worldly-wise a man may be, the heart of him ages less
than does the mind. And he had kept his heart pure in spite of the
world of business in which his father lived. To the young and pure in
heart Love is the one power which must be obeyed; for that is nature’s
wonderful way of preserving her own. That is the meaning of woman.
Strive as we will in our efforts to escape, unless some ignoble passion
such as the craving for gold or power deadens the soul within us, we
must serve God; and we can only serve him through Love.

Morton had taken Helène’s photograph out of his pocket and was gazing
raptly at the face in the moonlight that shone fully where he was
sitting. Should he speak to her in the morning--the last day before
they parted? No--he could not take the advantage her helplessness gave
him. He must wait until she was free to think and decide--free of the
sense of obligation which she might now feel.

Replacing the photograph he rose from the bench, and looking at
his watch found that it was still three hours before the dawn. He
let himself in the house and tried the chimney seat. But he was
restless--he was too far from where the girls were sleeping. It would
be better if he lay down in the room adjoining theirs. He found the
place empty of any couch or bed, but spreading his rug on the floor he
used his coat as a pillow and was soon at peace in what the Easterns
call “the outer court of the Seven Heavens”--the deep sleep of tired
limbs and a clear conscience.

Helène and the Princess had enjoyed the evening fully. Before retiring
to bed they had exchanged glad expressions at this happy issue out of
their afflictions. Their hearts were full to overflowing with gratitude
towards their deliverer. They realized now fully what Mr. Morton had
done for them, and could find no words in which sufficiently to express
their feelings. The Princess began to quiz Helène about him, but by
that time the two were in bed and the light lowered, and Helène was
glad of the darkness. She managed, however, to reply to her friend’s
remarks in a voice of cold indifference. She thought him rather curt
and domineering she said. The Princess laughed quietly and told Helène
to go to sleep and dream of knights of old.

Helène said nothing and pretended to go to sleep. It was long, however,
before she did sleep. When she awoke, after what seemed to her but a
few minutes later, she heard a cock crowing lustily outside. In the
low light of the lamp her watch told her that it would soon be daybreak
and time to begin making preparations for continuing their journey. Mr.
Morton would be punctual, she was sure. She would get up and dress now.

Throwing aside the voluminous quilts she stepped out of bed, though not
without some pain, for her limbs were still sore and aching from the
previous day’s exertions, and in a few minutes had clothed herself in
the garments of the stout Rossika.

Stepping softly so as not awaken her companion, she left the room,
walked into the outer room in which Morton lay, and stood looking
through the window. In the darkness behind her Morton, who slept
lightly, had heard her soft footsteps. He looked up from where he lay
and saw her head and slender neck silhouetted against the lattice-work
of the window. He could but faintly distinguish her outline, but, faint
as it was, it was enough to cause his heart to leap to his throat and a
wave of exquisite emotion to surge over him.

Quickly rising he put on his coat and, before Helène had become aware
of his presence, he was by her side.

“Is that you, Comtesse?” he whispered.

“Oh, Mr. Morton, I--I hope I didn’t disturb you. I am so sorry. I was
not aware that anyone was up yet----”

“I am afraid I frightened you, Comtesse. I have been around the house
and found that our host has been remiss in his duty. Instead of
watching he is sound asleep in his bed. Have you had a good rest? I see
you are all prepared.”

“Oh, yes, I feel splendidly and I--I am so happy. But, please, Mr.
Morton, go back to your sleep. You must be very tired. I’ll go to my
room.”

“Don’t go, Comtesse. The day will be breaking soon and we shall have to
make ready for our next stage. Besides--I--am glad of this opportunity
to be alone with you.”

The mist was clearing and above the dark timber a golden expanse was
heralding the coming of the life-giving sun. Small, fleecy clouds of
amethystine hues floated above the snow-clad tops of the Divide, now
flushing rose. They seemed like flower petals that had been blown
across the sky. In the bare autumnal garden the last flowers, slender
feathery stalks of cosmos, stood greeting the dawn in colors matching
the coming glory and tiny dew-drops reflected the golden sheen as they
glinted on leaves and petals trembling in the morning’s breeze.

Helène’s eyes sought the distant enchantment, not daring to look at the
man who had now approached her so closely that he almost touched her.
She felt her hand being taken in a gentle grasp. Her heart beat fast;
she could feel the pulse beat in her throat.

“Comtesse,” and Morton’s voice was very tender, “the few days of
our common purpose, the hardships that brought us together, are now
ended. To-morrow you will be in Vienna and with your friends. You
will, I hope, soon forget the trials you have endured, the days of
anxiety in which I have come to know you. To me they will remain ever
unforgettable. You have your way to go and I mine--duties await you as
they do me. May I hope that we shall meet again?”

Helène knew not what to say. Her hand trembled in his and her head was
bent away from his ardent gaze. She felt his eyes though she could not
see them.

“Comtesse, may I ask you to think of me as your friend? I shall come
back in this part of the world soon, and if I knew the door of your
friendship would still be open for me it would make me very happy.”

Helène had raised her head and was now gazing at the ever brightening
horizon.

“Mr. Morton--the Princess and I owe you our freedom, our honor and,
perhaps, our lives. Not only my friendship but my eternal gratitude is
yours.”

She found courage to turn and look at him, but quickly looked away
again.

“Comtesse, it is not gratitude I care for. Will you do me a favor--will
you make me a promise?”

Helène looked at him with wide, questioning eyes.

“I want you to tell me--that you will take no important step in the
near future until I see you again. Promise me that you will call on me
if you need help? Will you do this, for me, Comtesse?”

The deep, resonant tones in which he uttered these words swept over her
like the music from a fine-stringed instrument. It brought from her
responsive chords which found expression in involuntary sighs. She felt
a curious pride and realized that she was happy and inexplicably glad
to obey when that voice commanded.

“I promise,” she whispered. Then her voice gathering strength she
went on: “I do not know why you should value the friendship of an
inexperienced girl, but I am proud that you ask for it.”

Reverently Morton bowed over the little hand he had been holding,
afraid to trust his eyes to look at her face, and kissing it softly,
released it.

“Thank you--and God bless you.”

Gathering up his rug and rifle he hurriedly left the room. Helène
remained motionless for a time, then she slowly turned to the window,
on her lips a happy smile and in her eyes a new lustre. The first rays
of the now risen sun shot through the serrated tops of the forest
and found their straight paths into the embrasure of the window,
casting a wondrous light on her dreamy face. Her heart felt light as
thistledown. She saw the flowers opening--how beautiful they were!
Unconsciously her eyes fell upon the hand he had held--she still felt
the lingering imprint of his lips on it, and her face took on a color
that rivalled the rosy tints of the dawn. The great secret of nature
had been imparted to her. She could not speak of it in words, even
to herself, for the power of it had overcome her. Instead, her hands
mutely unfolded like a flower opening under the morning’s sunlight, and
her face shone as if transfigured.



CHAPTER XV


Breakfast that morning was, indeed, a serious business. Everybody
was ravenously hungry. They knew that it would be some hours before
they could partake of the next meal. Even the Princess and Helène did
justice to the food which their host had provided with true rustic
generosity. Papiu and Mihai, whom Morton had paid according to his
promise, were talking over their riches with their relatives. They had
also been presented with the rifles and equipment used on the journey.
They were discussing Morton in awed tones, as if he were some being of
a superior world. And Toni, himself, had occasion to agree with them,
for both he and his family had likewise been very liberally dealt with.

The party that gathered around the carriage in which the two
gently-bred ladies were seated, waiting for the signal to start was,
therefore, a happy if a noisily hilarious one. Chatterings as of
magpies and greetings in Roumelian and German came from all sides.
Rossika especially was everywhere in evidence; for had not the
Gospodinas worn her clothes? She ran about smiling and nodding and
advising with heightened color and heavy tread, as if the very lives
of the ladies depended on her final ministrations. At last Papiu, his
face all wreathed in smiles, ascended the driver’s seat, and amid loud
exclamations of thanks and adieus he cracked his whip and the carriage
rolled away, followed by Morton and Donald in a low dray.

The drive to the railway station was a pleasant one, though a longer
route was taken at Morton’s orders, to avoid a possible meeting with
soldiers from the border. During the slow drive, it occurred to both
the Princess and Helène that their old friend the canvas-covered wagon
had disappeared. They wondered what had become of it. Helène questioned
Papiu.

The wagon? Oh, yes--the wagon had been destroyed. Gospodar Morton--what
a leader of great wisdom he was!--Gospodar Morton had sent Mihai away
in it to deceive the soldiers who had been following them. He was to
send the wagon over a ravine after he had set the horses free to roam
in the woods.

Had they really been followed by soldiers? Oh, yes! Papiu, by this
time, had quite forgotten that he had been ordered to say nothing to
the ladies about the matter. Yes, Mihai had seen them--“duke drag”
(devil take them). One of the six fellows had escaped their rifles, for
he had evidently brought assistance, and the whole crew had been after
them. But the wagon’s tracks to the ravine had done the trick. Ha! ha!
ha! That Gospodar Morton was some leader!

Helène and the Princess said not a word. This then was the explanation
for Morton’s strange behavior at the time. Then there had been fighting
and killing! What an escape!

When they alighted at the railway station both the girls were very
quiet; but Morton was too busily occupied to notice the change. He
monopolized the little telegraph office for so long a time that the
operator in charge of the place thought the foreigner must be some
government official or one of those newspaper correspondents who were
everywhere. By the time the train for Hermanstadt drew in Morton had
sent off all his messages. Within the hour they were in Hermanstadt,
the first real town they had seen since leaving Padina, a city of early
Saxon character and enterprise.

As the train for Vienna was not due for two hours, Morton drove the
girls in a droshky and left them in the rehabilitating hands of the
head of the best outfitting establishment the town possessed. He then
took the occasion to see to his own person, and make some purchases
which he knew would be welcomed by the ladies on the long journey
before them. When he met them again at the station they hardly knew
each other. What a difference clothes make!

Morton had been careful to secure a private compartment for the ladies
so that they might obtain the rest of which they were in real need;
and when he had seen them comfortably placed in their seats, he joined
Donald in an adjoining compartment of the same car.

The long ride was uneventful, except for the usual bustle at the
stopping places and the interest which this aroused. It was at one of
these that the Princess procured a newspaper. She was eager to learn
of what had happened since she had left Padina, and anxiously scanned
the columns for news of her country. Suddenly, she uttered a loud
exclamation of distress, and Helène, startled, saw her lean back and
point to the sheet lying spread in her lap.

“Read this, Helène,” she cried, pointing to the headline: “News from
Roumelia.” Helène took the paper and read:

“From Sophia, under date October --, we received the following
communication, which evidently escaped the strict censorship. The
_Divane_ met on Saturday, October --, and was attended by a majority
of the members. The meeting, presided over by Demeter Sturdza, was
one of intense excitement throughout. M. Flava, after making an
impassioned address, moved a resolution demanding the expulsion of
all the remaining officials of the old régime, unless they took the
oath of the new constitution. It asked that the members of the royal
family be placed under arrest and tried under the laws as administered
by the Triumvirate. The resolution also called for plenary authority
for himself and his two colleagues, MM. Balescu and Calorasi. It was
carried by virtually the unanimous vote of the assembly, and President
Sturdza was compelled to sign the warrants presented. Great excitement
still prevails in the capital.

“Reports from Padina, so far unconfirmed, state that the Princess
Marie-Louise has disappeared with the Comtesse Rondell, her
lady-in-waiting. It is said that the disappearance of the two ladies
was connected with the arrival of a party of some forty foreigners, who
came to Padina ostensibly on a prospecting visit to oil-lands and for
the purchase of horses. These people bought a number of blood animals
and disbursed fabulous sums of money in other directions. The strangers
had left Padina on the very Sunday on which the absence of the Princess
was discovered. The borders are being closely guarded, and no one is
permitted to leave the country without a passport from the Committee of
Safety.

“A reward has been offered for the capture of the Princess, dead or
alive. Colonel A----, commanding at Padina, has been arrested, and the
Mayor and Chief of Police of the town have been suspended. They are
suspected of being implicated in the plot for the abduction of the
ladies.

“The Bulgarian government has ordered the mobilization of the Third
and Fifth Divisions of the army. The Roumelian garrison along all the
borders has been strengthened. All officers suspected of royalist
tendencies have been imprisoned. The country is again under martial
law.”

Helène turned deathly pale as she came to the last words. She looked at
the Princess and found her leaning against the window her head bowed
on her arms.

“Oh, my darling,” she cried sobbingly, embracing her friend, “what
would have become of you had you remained in Padina? What has become of
all our friends?”

“God alone knows,” murmured the Princess. “We should have shared their
fates if Mr. Morton had not come to us when he did. I cannot forgive
myself.”

They comforted each other and found relief in tears. But they were
free--free--free--and their hearts filled with gratitude for the kind
fate that had sent Morton to them.

“We owe that to your father, the Count,” said the Princess; “he had the
foresight to know and the courage to act. Without him and Mr. Morton we
should certainly have perished.”

They were glad they were alone, and when the attendant came to tell
them that their sleeping berths were ready, they lay down with thankful
prayers in their hearts and on their lips. God had been good to
them--the poor, helpless, defenseless girls!

The early forenoon of the succeeding day saw the train glide slowly
into the brightly lit and imposing terminal at Vienna. It had scarcely
come to a stop when Morton appeared at the door of the compartment with
a tall and distinguished gentleman, who was introduced as Mr. Tyler,
the American Minister to Germany. He told the ladies that Mr. Tyler
would see them to their hotel and look after them. He himself had much
to do and with very little time in which to do it. He was leaving for
England that very afternoon. He promised to call on them later at the
hotel.

With a courtesy that is now, alas, rarer than it once was, Mr. Tyler
placed himself at the entire disposal of the Princess and Helène. They
soon realized that there were gentlemen in America as well as in
Europe. He drove with them to the “Bristol,” where they were already
expected. Morton had telegraphed for rooms from Hermanstadt. Here
maids were assigned to them, and their every requirement attended to,
while Mr. Tyler waited for them in the foyer. He had been requested
by Morton to take them around the shops and see that they were amply
supplied with everything they might need, so that when they came down
to him he was ready for them. He acquitted himself admirably, and the
girls enjoyed their shopping to the full, as only girls can. On their
return to the hotel, they found a telegram from Brindisi, which had
been opened and sent on by Morton, instructing them to carry out the
original program laid out for them, and to travel by quickest route to
Weimar, where they were expected, and where they would be well taken
care of. Helène breathed a sigh of great relief. The telegram must
be from her father. Then he was alive, and, therefore, well. God be
thanked!

When Morton called to make his adieux, he was an altogether changed
man. The Princess, who saw him first, scarcely recognized in the
elegantly dressed and formally polite gentleman before her, the rough
leader of the men of Padina. Her first impulse was to return his
formality with a like show of dignity; but her heart was too full.
Approaching him with outstretched hand, she said in a voice drowned
with emotion:

“I cannot thank you, Mr. Morton, for all that you have done. I may
never forget it. But you will, I know, understand my feelings. I am
deeply, heartfully grateful.”

Morton smiled and bowed: “Your Highness, you over-estimate my poor
services. I have been honored in your trust. I shall carry with me to
my own country the beautiful memory of a noble lady.”

She extended her hand to him, and as he bowed over it and kissed it
softly, she said:

“I hope I may have the pleasure of seeing you at Weimar, Mr. Morton. I
shall be proud to make you known to my people.”

Morton thanked her and bowed himself out. He was glad that parting was
over when he was again in the little salon. It was the other parting
which he now awaited that filled him with emotion and fear. He walked
to and fro with quick, nervous steps, thinking of what he should say
when he saw her. He wished it were over so that he might get away--the
sooner he went the sooner he could come back. As he had begun, so he
would finish. He had engaged himself in a dangerous enterprise for
Helène’s sake, moved to it by a mere face in a picture; but now that he
had seen and come to know her very self, his whole being clamored for
her love. Nothing should come between her and him, once he was assured
of his father’s health. If only he could wait until he had fulfilled
his duties to his dear ones at home! Ah, then, he would come back on
wings and claim her, if--if--she would have it so. God grant that he
had found favor in her eyes!

He was interrupted in his impassioned thinking by the opening of the
door. It was the maid who had come to tell him that the Comtesse
Rondell would be pleased to see him. With considerable trepidation and
many misgivings he entered the apartment. The scent of flowers were
wafted sweetly to his nostrils--he recognized it as the scent of the
flowers he had sent her a little while ago, and his heart beat again.
He saw them in a tall vase on a table near the window, and the sight
of them deepened the turmoil within him. It was as if he had met his
self-confessed self.

The soft frou-frou of silken skirts on carpet rustled and Helène stood
before him in all the glory of her heightened beauty. She was dressed
very simply in silver gray, but the rose color in her cheeks gave the
contrast and drew his charmed gaze to the shining eyes that looked at
him as if they were the windows of her noble spirit.

Morton stood gazing at the vision, spellbound. He drank in the
sweetness and the light of it as if these were the one food he craved.
With a bewitching smile she moved towards him conveying a pretty
greeting with the gesture of her outstretched hand. “Thank you, Mr.
Morton, for the lovely flowers. You are too kind. But how changed you
are! Yesterday, you were the knight of old in armor, now you look like
a gallant of the Ringstrasse.”

The girl was excited and felt an unaccountable shyness before him.
She was trying to hide her embarrassment with an attempt at badinage.
Morton sensed her feelings and tried to help her by smiling, but he
could find no words. Instinctively she saw what was the matter with
him, and with womanly quickness she changed the subject.

“Have you heard from papa?”

The important question brought Morton to himself again. He seized it
gratefully. “Only the message I transmitted to you advising your early
departure for Weimar--nothing more. I have arranged that Mr. Tyler
accompany you to Weimar.”

“Ah, yes--I forgot; you are leaving us.” The rose in her cheeks had
faded slowly and left the color of the lily behind, imparting a new
beauty to the sweetness of the childlike face. Her long dark lashes had
drooped and were quivering on the satin of her skin. He dared not look
longer or he would forget himself. And time was pressing. He must be
gone; but he must say just one word more before he left her.

“Comtesse, I am come to remind you of your promise given me at our last
conversation together. You will not forget, will you, to call on me if
you need help? I want to remain your friend, if you will permit me.
This is my card; it will tell you where you can reach me at any time.
Send me word and I will come. And here also is a package from your
father. It contains such funds as you will need until Count Rondell
joins you at Weimar.”

Helène took the card and package and laid them listlessly on the table
on which stood the vase of flowers. An unknown fear had suddenly taken
possession of her; she experienced a dread of dangers yet to come, and
knew not how to account for it. Her father--what of him? Would she
ever see him again? And this gentleman--would she ever meet him again?
Morton’s voice came to her as if from a long way off.

“Dear lady, I have nothing more to say, except that I must tell you
that my meeting you has been a great pleasure to me. I am leaving to
return to my own people whom I have not seen in two years, and who are
anxiously waiting for me. But I leave with the determination fixed to
come back. May I hope--that you will be glad to see me when----”

He hesitated, not daring to say more. Helène had kept her eyes lowered,
and at the pause she raised them to his face. What she saw there
caused her to step back involuntarily and to speak quickly in low but
impressive tones:

“Mr. Morton, I shall pray that you find your dear ones at home all
well. When next you come to Europe you will find no heartier welcome
than we shall extend to you at Weimar--papa, the Princess and myself.”
Then looking him bravely full in the face, she added: “And I promise
you that if ever I am in need of a friend, I shall turn to you.”

Morton drew nearer to her, breathing in the faint odor of roses which
exhaled from her. He took the hand she had unconsciously stretched
towards him, and bending over it touched it softly with his cold lips.

“Thank you. Good-bye, dear lady, till we meet again.”

“Au revoir, Mr. Morton.”

She allowed her hand to remain in his, and with the other drew a little
rosebud from among its sisters on her breast and offered it to him.

“This,” she said, smiling saucily, “is for our Bayard--_le preux
chevalier sans peur et sans reproche_.”

Morton took the flower reverently--“I shall keep it in memory of the
honor you have conferred on me,” he said. “Au revoir, Comtesse--May God
bless you and guard you.”

He bowed once more and kissed her hand again. Then letting it gently
slip from his hold he turned to the door.

“_Auf wiedersehen_, Mr. Morton--and my deepest gratitude goes with you.”

He hesitated for a moment, and then quickly walked out of the room.

As he descended the stairs sweet strains of music reached him from
the band playing in the dining-room. They came to him as a fitting
accompaniment to her parting words, lingering in his memory. When Mr.
Tyler met his friend in the foyer he saw a face transfigured in a new
light and wearing a smile of ineffable happiness.

Tyler was a man of the world and drew his own conclusions. Ah--the old,
old story! Well, he thought, good luck to you, my boy; but aloud he
remarked to Morton that they had but very little time in which to catch
the Ostend Express.


END OF BOOK ONE



BOOK II



CHAPTER XVI


The express for Ostend was punctual to the minute, and John ensconced
himself in the luxurious seat of his compartment, glad to be alone with
his thoughts, alone for the first time in many weeks. As he took a
mental survey of what had happened in the past three weeks, it seemed
to him as if he had lately lost his identity. Instead of John Randolph
Morton, he had been some soldier of fortune. It was indeed time he
came back to himself, for the latest advice from home had been very
disquieting. His father had been badly shaken in an elevator accident
and, although no bones were broken, yet coming on a previous illness,
his condition might, any day, be serious.

He blamed himself for his absence, thinking that the accident, perhaps,
might not have occurred had he gone with his father on that trip to the
western mines. Then he remembered that it would have been impossible
for him to get to New York from Brindisi until three days after the
accident, and felt relieved.

Brindisi? Ah, yes-- Where was the Count? He was afraid the old man was
no better or he would have sent word. “I shall not see you again, my
son,” he had said on parting. Were the words to be prophetic? If he
should die, what would become of Helène? Who would take care of her?
Who will take care of her? He repeated the question so often that he
suddenly found the clicking of the train’s wheels over the rail-joints
keeping time to them. Who will take care of her? Who will take care of
her? It was as if they were reminding him of the greater duty he had
left unfulfilled--the duty he owed to his own heart’s promptings.

Why had he not taken her with him? She would have been so tenderly
cared for by his mother and by sister Ruth. And he had left her--with
no friends to protect her, with no one near to whom she could turn in
her loneliness or distress!

And what if her father died? Who would tell her the sad news? How would
she be able to bear up should she hear of it in the cold words of a
telegram? Thank heaven, he had Tyler to help him. He would provide for
that, at any rate.

Should he write to her from London and offer her his heart and hand? He
began thinking of the possible outcome of such an action on his part.
If he did write, was there not the danger that she might refuse him
without her father’s consent? And suppose he heard in the meantime that
Count Rondell was dead, how could he dare to plead his own cause at a
time of such distress? Surely her heart and mind would be closed to
him, then! What a quandary he was in!

Thinking thus, he lost himself in a tangle of his own weaving. It
seemed as if he were beset by worry and anxiety from all sides. Look
which way he would, he found illness, trouble and portending disaster
there. Of what value to him his wealth and education in this present
predicament? He was up against it, as he put it to himself.

What had Tyler, his father’s old friend and experienced man of the
world, what had he said to him? “Never forget, my boy, that not one
of us can escape the rules of life as the world lays them down. The
very restraint of the conditions is salutary, aye, even for the freedom
of choice we occasionally must exercise. Our rights would cease to
be rights were it not at the price of the corresponding duties. If a
man thinks he can cheat life--evade the rules--he’ll find he is only
cheating himself.”

Duties? Ah, yes, Tyler was right. His duty must come first--and he owed
that to his father and to his anxious mother. If the Comtesse Helène
could not bear up before that test--why--he must lose her. He rose
excitedly and raised the window. The night air rushing in cooled his
hot head. He stood for some moments breathing in deep gulps of it as if
it were allaying a great thirst, staring stonily into the darkness.

By God, no! He would never lose her. The window closed with a crash
and he threw himself once more on the cushions. Never, for an instant,
would he doubt her. It was up to him--everything was up to him. He
must be a man--or he was not deserving of her. And she, oh, she was
worth the winning! Thus determined, he slept heavily and awoke the next
morning to the refreshing sounds of the Bavarian country life.

All journeys have an end and in time Morton arrived at the Hotel Cecil
in London. Here he found his mail awaiting him. A cable from home
confirmed the one he had received in Vienna. They were glad he was
soon to sail. His father’s condition remained unchanged. The telegram
from Brindisi from the doctor was a shock. It read: “Our friend died
on November twelfth, conscious to the last, of acute uremia and heart
failure. Body in vault. Property all sealed, your agent in possession.
Wire or write further instructions. Detailed letter mailed you Mont
Cenis mail, reach you seventeenth.”

Morton held the flimsy paper in his hand scarcely believing what he
had read. It had come at last. He expected it and yet it shocked him
deeply. Well, he must be up and doing quickly.

The wire from Donald told him that the ladies were leaving for
Weimar that day. Mr. Tyler was with them and everything had been
satisfactorily arranged; he had received no news from Brindisi.

He also opened a note from his friend Stillman which said that he would
call on him at nine that evening.

Morton looked at the clock; he had just forty minutes before Stillman
was due.

It was absolutely necessary that some person should convey the sad
tidings to the poor girl. Tyler was the man, of course; there was time
to wire him asking him to wait for a letter. He rang for a messenger
and sent off the following telegram: “Please wait at Weimar for my
letter mailed you via Oriental Express. What we anticipated has
happened. Rondell is dead. Say nothing to the Comtesse Helène until you
receive my letter.”

Morton was putting the finishing touches to a hasty toilet when his
friend Stillman was announced.

“Hello, Jack!”

“How do, Harry!”

The two exchanged cordial and prolonged handshakes.

“Well, upon my soul, Jack, old man, you’ve not changed nearly as much
as I expected. You look perfectly civilized. Where have you been and
why are you leaving us so quickly? We surely will have a couple of days
together, eh? How’s the governor and Mrs. Morton? What do you hear from
Ruth?”

“My dear Harry, you are asking for my biography. I came here from Egypt
and I must leave to-morrow for home because father has had a serious
accident in a mine elevator. Mother and Ruth report being well. Are
you satisfied, now? I suppose you are still on deck at the Embassy?
But you look fine--quite like a Britisher. Still the same old Harry,
though, eh?”

“The same, I guess. Same job, too,--a bit closer to the chief, perhaps,
and a bit of raise in the salary. But, say, I’m awful glad to see you.
Have you dined?”

“No, I was hoping you would be free so that we could go out together.
I wanted to see you about presenting some reports I have made to the
British Colonial Office. I haven’t much time, as I tell you, and,
perhaps, I may not be able to manage it this time. But you’ll come and
eat with me first. How will the Red Room below suit you? You see, I’m
not in evening clothes and I know you fellows of the Diplomatic Corps
are sticklers on that score. Will you take a chance with me?”

“Who wouldn’t with John R. Morton, my dear boy. You’re above clothes.
The ‘Red Room’ is all right; but why not come up to my club, the
Hoarders? They serve a bully good dinner there and you may meet some of
our fellows. I expect the Chief may drop in after ten and, I am sure,
he wouldn’t want to miss you while you’re in town. How does that strike
you?”

“It suits me down to the ground.”

“Then come right along, old man.”

As they were passing the clerk’s desk, Morton turned to his friend and
excusing himself for a moment, left with the clerk the address of the
club where he could be found in case a message came for him.

“Lady, eh, Jack?”

“No such luck. Speaking of ladies, Harry, how do you manage to escape
all the beautiful English girls--not to mention the beauties from our
own land? I should think they’d be glad to bag a Secretary of the
American Legation.”

“A prophet, my boy, is not without honor save in his own country. Our
girls take no stock in Secretaries of the Legation; and as for the
English girls they’ve enough Secretaries to choose from of their own.
We’re all of us only cogs in a big wheel.”

They stepped out of the hansom and entered the splendid home of the
Hoarders. John enjoyed the novelty of the place--its refined atmosphere
appealed to him. The dinner was excellent and excellently served. It
was his first real taste of civilization in two years. The two friends
chatted and gossiped over old times and new. John was treated to a good
deal of politics and not a few instances of the Chief’s peculiarities.
Evidently, it was not all beer and skittles at the Legation. He was not
much interested really, though he gave Stillman the politest attention
and sympathy. But he could not put out of his mind the many matters
which just then were weighing heavily on him. The very brilliancy of
the room with its coruscating crystals and heavy crimson and gold
draperies served but to accentuate the difference between his own
present situation and that of the dear girl he had left alone and
friendless. He would write that letter to Tyler immediately he got back
to the hotel.

They were about to retire to the lounging room when a servant came up
to Stillman and handed him a note on a salver. Stillman read it with a
puzzled expression on his face.

“I say, Jack, what does this mean? There are several newspaper fellows
in the hall who want to interview you. They learned at the hotel
that you were here and have come in a body? I didn’t know you were a
celebrity of that kind. What’s the game?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. I suppose I’d better see them and find
out. Can they come up to the reading-room?”

Stillman turned to the waiting servant and told him to bring the
gentlemen into the reading-room--the small one, he added.

When they entered the room they found awaiting them four gentlemen
of various ages who introduced themselves as representatives of
the _Associated Press_, the _Times_, the _New York Herald_ and the
_Sphere_, respectively. Their spokesman, a Mr. Worcester, begged
permission to explain their seeming intrusion. Morton nodded his
willingness to listen.

“Mr. Morton,” he began briskly, “we have been advised of the arrival
in Vienna of Her Royal Highness Princess Marie-Louise of Roumelia and
her Lady-in-Waiting, the Comtesse Helène Rondell. We have been given to
understand that you escorted the ladies over the border, or, in other
words, that you rescued them from the castle in which they had been
confined. Are we correct in our information?”

John was both astonished and chagrined. Who on earth had spread the
news? It never occurred to him that any publicity would follow his
adventure. Confound these newspaper fellows! However, he knew the class
well from past experience and also that it would be better if he told
them the facts himself rather than leave them to their imaginations.
Assuming a friendly and frank manner, he smiled and said:

“Why, gentlemen, I shall be very glad to tell you all I know. Pray, be
seated. Harry, will you be good enough to order some drinks and cigars
for the gentlemen?”

He was gaining time and doing some quick and hard thinking as well.
“Now, Mr. Worcester, go ahead with your questions so that I may know
what you want me to tell you.”

“Would it not be better, Mr. Morton, if you told us the story in your
own way?” Evidently, Mr. Worcester was no tyro at the game. “We shall
ask questions and, perhaps, more than you care to answer, after we have
had your story?”

The waiter came in with the refreshments and by the time glasses were
filled and cigars lit, John was ready for them.

“There is not much to tell,” he remarked in a tone of admirably
assumed regret. “So, I think, you’d get more out of me if you put your
questions first.”

“As you wish, Mr. Morton. Reuter’s report the arrival of the two ladies
at the Bristol in Vienna. They came to the city accompanied by you and
your man. The report says further that they were left in charge of Mr.
Gordon S. Tyler, the American Minister to Germany. Mr. Tyler denies any
knowledge as to how the ladies got out of Roumelia, nor does he give
any other information except that he is escorting them to their friends
in Germany. He refused permission to have the ladies interviewed. We
had heard, of course, all kinds of rumors from Sophia and Belgrade, but
nothing in which we could place any confidence. The papers have been
full of the escape during the past few days, but gave no details. That
is what we are here for now.”

John had made up his mind. He would tell the story or some simple,
plausible tale that would satisfy the papers so that they would leave
the rest alone.

“Well, gentlemen, if you will have it, here it is--all I know. My
friend, Count Rondell, shortly after I arrived in Italy on my return
from Egypt, asked me to assist him in getting his daughter to him. He
gave me full instructions, provided me with the necessary guides and
equipment and led me to a place close to the Roumelian border where we
remained in hiding. When all was ready, one stormy night, we entered
a small town,--you will pardon me if I do not give its name--and took
the ladies away in a closed carriage. The ladies had been prepared for
our arrival, so that there was little or no delay. We managed to elude
the officials and guards and, after crossing the border, arrived at a
railway station where we took the train for Vienna. The rest you seem
to know.”

“Were you acquainted with the ladies before you undertook to assist
Count Rondell?”

“Not at all. I am sure my fame never reached the Princess’s ears. I had
neither time nor opportunity to see much of them on the journey and I
question if they know even my name. To them I was simply the man in
charge of the expedition.”

John sipped his brandy and soda and puffed calmly at his cigar as he
looked his interlocutor steadily in his face.

“Of course,” he added, smiling, “I am happy and proud to have
succeeded. It was certainly exciting driving over those hills. But
Count Rondell had seen to everything and there wasn’t a hitch. Will you
have another glass, gentlemen?”

“May I inquire what you are going to do now?”

“Oh, I am sailing for home on the _Umbria_ from Liverpool on Saturday
morning. I haven’t seen my people for two years. What I shall do when I
get there is hard to say.”

“May I be permitted to ask a question?” The voice came from a young,
red-haired dapper little fellow with an upturned nose on which were
placed thick eye-glasses.

“Certainly, Mr. Witherspoon.”

“You must have driven at a break-neck speed. Were the ladies
frightened?”

John smiled at the inanity of the question. “I was hardly in a position
to know. As you say, we rode fast and I sat with the driver, so there
was not much opportunity for conversation. The only occasion for talk
was when we took the train for Vienna.”

“How did the Princess appear to you, Mr. Morton?” Mr. Witherspoon was
insistent.

“The Princess appears to be a very noble and serious-minded young
woman. Perhaps I am wrong in using the word woman--she looked so young.”

“The Almanach de Gotha gives her age as nineteen.”

“Well, the Almanach de Gotha ought to know--the poor thing does not
look it.”

“Were the ladies surprised to find that their rescuer was no other than
the son of the richest living American?”

John rose in all his dignity. The pup was getting unbearable with his
impertinent questions. But he kept himself well in restraint.

“I think, Mr. Witherspoon, you heard me say that the ladies knew
nothing about me. There was no occasion when it was at all necessary
for them to know who or what I was. As I have already said, they knew
me only as Count Rondell’s deputy--they obeyed his instructions as I
did. I think, gentlemen, that will be all.”

The reporters rose quickly and withdrew as quickly.

It was late when Morton got back to his hotel and he was very tired. He
would write his letter to Tyler to-morrow, and by that time he would
most likely hear from the Brindisi doctor, and then he would know
better what to say.

Early next morning he received a telegram from Tyler, who expressed
his willingness to remain over in Weimar and act on John’s letter
when it should reach him. Somewhat later in the day the French mail
brought him the anxiously expected letter from Brindisi. It was more
of a physician’s report than a letter, and was written in a dry,
professional style. Count Rondell had rallied a little two days after
landing. He constantly inquired for letters which he was expecting.
On the fourth day, he received a letter which made him very happy.
He was much better that day. Then he began to fail again. His heart
became so weak that it was deemed advisable to call in a specialist
from Rome. This was done, but he proved of no help. For two days
the Count remained in a comatose condition. On Tuesday morning, he
rallied somewhat. When the message from Hermanstadt arrived he had it
read to him. The news seemed to make him very happy and he murmured
words of prayer. He dozed off in the afternoon, awoke in the evening
and dictated a few sentences which the nurse wrote down. Soon after
he sank slowly and expired towards midnight. The report went on to
say that Mr. Morton’s agent was in possession of all the papers and
personal property of the deceased gentleman as well as such letters
he had written or dictated while in Brindisi. Mr. Morton’s agent had
discharged liberally all the costs, for which the writer begged to
thank him herewith.

Another letter, one from Morton’s agent, confirmed the doctor’s report.
He now had all the information for which he had been waiting. Sitting
down immediately, he wrote his letter to Tyler at Weimar:

  “MY DEAR MR. TYLER:

  “I have your wire advising that you will await in Weimar the arrival
  of this letter. Thank you for this most heartily.

  “I enclose herewith letter of Dr. ---- of Brindisi which gives the
  details of Count Rondell’s death. I have wired my agents in Rome
  to forward promptly all letters and papers left by Count R. to you
  and to hold other personal property at the order of yourself or the
  Countess.

  “As, perhaps, you are aware, my dear Mr. Tyler, my interest in
  Comtesse Helène is very deep and sincere. I want you to be the person
  to tell her of her sad loss. You will know how to soften the blow.
  She will need all her courage and the help of a good friend in this
  hour of her sorrow.

  “I would give a great deal were it possible for me to be there to
  protect and comfort her; but my duty calls me home. I have received
  another cable confirming the earlier one and I fear I must be
  prepared for the worst.

  “Please advise the Comtesse in all things; you will know best what
  and how. It would be best if the money left by her father were to be
  deposited in an ordinary checking account to her order. The Comtesse
  is a minor and you must avoid a guardianship. She is a foreign
  subject and it would lead to complications and red tape. She will do
  what you suggest, I am confident. Don’t allow her to act on her own
  initiative, and urge her to keep her affairs to herself. The German
  laws are tedious--but you know all about that!

  “I shall be back in Europe right after New Year, I think, and
  will then take occasion to thank you in person for your splendid
  friendship. Father will, I hope, perhaps be also able to thank you
  for having done this for his son.

  “Once more assuring you of my deepest appreciation and hoping to see
  you soon, I am,

                              “Yours very sincerely,

                                                               “MORTON.”

The letter written, John felt greatly relieved. But he had other tasks
before him--one, the most difficult of all--his letter to Helène
herself. She had never, for one moment, been out of his thoughts since
he left her in Vienna. He dared not put it off any longer, especially
now when she would need the heartfelt sympathy of a dear friend.

  “MY DEAR COMTESSE RONDELL:

  “My friend, Mr. Tyler, whom I trust you will permit to be your friend
  also, has, no doubt, told you of your loss and of the calm and happy
  last hours of your beloved father.

  “He will also have let you know that my dispatch telling your father
  that you were well and safe in Transylvania had reached him when
  perfectly conscious. His mind had been freed from worry about your
  welfare. He died with a smile upon his lips, whispering a blessing.

  “In this sad hour of your bereavement, I, a friend of but recent
  date, should perhaps not presume to dwell upon it. But I remember
  that I was probably the last man to whom your father spoke freely;
  and it is the honor he did me by his confidence that moves me to
  write to you now.

  “I dared not tell you, but we both knew, even before our arrival in
  Italy, that the days remaining to him were few, and that he despaired
  of seeing you again. He made me promise to look after you, his most
  beloved in this world. He was afraid you would be left friendless.
  You know now, perhaps, that I am happy and proud to have this
  privilege.

  “My own dear father is in serious condition and I fear that before
  long, I, too, shall lose a parent. The information I have received
  in another cable makes it imperative for me to sail to-morrow
  for America. But for this duty which I owe to my mother and
  father--nothing would have prevented me from returning to Weimar and
  telling you the sad tidings myself. Mr. Tyler, for whom I beg your
  full confidence, is a most honorable and experienced gentleman. His
  official position puts him where he may well be able to lighten the
  terrible burden which has now fallen upon your young life.

  “It may be presumptuous on my part, but I would remind you again of
  our last interview in Vienna. I beg of you not to take any important
  step in your life until I can present myself once more before you.

  “May God bless you, and soften the heavy blow that has come to you
  now. May He in His great goodness and wisdom guide your thoughts and
  give you the strength you need.

  “Rest assured, dear lady, that I shall be ever ready to devote
  myself, if you and the kind fates permit, to your happiness. With my
  highest regard and my most fervent hope that you will still permit me
  to be your sincere friend and servant, I am, in deepest sympathy and
  devotion,

                   “Yours most sincerely,

                                                 “JOHN RANDOLPH MORTON.”

He enclosed this letter in one he had written to Don, because he wished
Helène to read it after Tyler had seen her. He then drove to the
Post-office and despatched the letters himself.

The rest of the afternoon he spent in making various calls on officials
and agents, and by midnight he was on the train rushing to Liverpool
where early the next morning he boarded the steamer which was to carry
him home--home at last!



CHAPTER XVII


The following Sunday Morton, standing on the upper deck of the
good ship _Umbria_, saw in the distance the serrated outline of
his country’s real metropolis. Up the bay, past the gaunt and gray
structures looming above the sands of Coney Island, through the leaden
murk and mist of the late autumn day, his eyes roved and lingered,
glorying inwardly at the pride and pomp of New York. He took in deep
draughts of the air. It was good to be back again, and his heart lifted.

He was met at the pier by a representative from the office who told him
that his father’s condition was still unchanged. He had received word
to tell Mr. Morton that he was to take the train for Cleveland without
delay.

At daybreak, the following morning, he was once again in Cleveland, the
city of his childhood, the place of his home. The coachman, an ancient
servitor of the Mortons, greeted him with welcoming smiles and glad
words. Even the horses knew him and neighed as he stroked their manes.
The drive through the deserted streets, so familiar to him, brought
back to his mind so many memories that he could scarce see the houses
for the moisture in his eyes. The tinkling of the silver harness, the
hoof-beats of the spirited animals were music to his ears. Ah, at last,
there was the tall iron gate that led to home! With a bound he was
through it and running swiftly up the pebbled approach he almost fell
into the waiting, outstretched arms of his mother and sister.

“Home at last, John,” cried the mother, kissing and hugging him while
Ruth had her hands on his arms.

“Yes, dear mother, home at last. But how is father?”

Bravely restraining her tears she told him:

“Father is very weak, but cheerful. The doctors are non-committal, but
won’t you go up to him, dear? He was sleeping at little while ago, but
I think he’s awake now. And, ah, he does so want to see you.”

Then followed more embracing. The handsome mother held her boy at arm’s
length, bathing him with the lovelight that streamed from her eyes.
“Oh, but you’re so altered--so brown and big--and--and--just the same
dear boy.” Her voice broke in sobs.

“Of course, I’m just the same, dear mother. Would you have me
different? And here’s our little Ruthie. Little? Why bless me, Ruthie,
but you’ve grown to be quite a lady! Yes, and a mighty good-looking one
at that! I suppose I shall have to behave myself now, eh?” He kissed
her affectionately, his arms about her shoulders.

“Oh, Jack, I’m so glad you’re home again. You’ll stay with us now,
always, won’t you? We did miss you awfully. You do look nice, John. I
like your mustache, but you’ve quite a serious look in your eyes. He
looks just like you, mamma, really he does, although not so handsome,
of course. But you’ll pass in a crowd.”

John laughed and gave her another hug.

“All right, old girl, I don’t mind; so long as I look like mother I
guess I’ll do.”

The nurse preceded him up the stairs to the bedroom. Propped up in bed
lay a thin, gray-haired man, looking pale and wan, but with eyes bright
and with a look in them anticipatory of pleasure.

“Father, dear father,” John whispered brokenly as he bent lovingly over
the smiling and happy face.

“Ah, dear boy, welcome home. Stand back, John, and let me get a good
look at you. My, but you do look fit! I am glad to see you again, my
lad, though I’m sorry you find me in this scrape.” The sick man’s eyes
twinkled and a humorous smile bent the pale lips. “Well, well, so you
are ready to settle down with the old folks, eh? No more exploring and
adventure? By George, you’re some man, John, some man. You make me
want to ask her name. Never mind, lad, you needn’t tell me right now.
My--but it’s good to have you home again.”

“Dear dad, I am so glad to be home again. You are looking fine and not
a bit changed. Get well again, dad, because I want you to teach me how
to be of use to you. I want you to be proud of me.”

“Proud of you, John? Why, I always have been and still am proud of you.
There isn’t a finer fellow in Ohio. You’ll make good; I’m dead sure of
that. All right, nurse, I’ll be good. John, I’m afraid we’ll have to
obey Miss Persing. She says that six in the morning is too early for
children of my age to be up. I’ve got to sleep for a couple of hours
longer. No, you go back to mother and Ruth. I guess they’re dying to
hear all you have to tell them. Hello, mother; good morning, my dear.”
Mrs. Morton and Ruth had that moment appeared in the doorway. His wife
went to the bedside and kissed her husband tenderly while Ruth stroked
his hand.

“What’s the orders, nurse?” Mr. Morton asked as he looked at her over
his wife’s shoulder.

“You would better be resting, Mr. Morton. The doctor will be here at
half past eight and he’ll scold me if he finds you feverish.”

“All right, Miss Persing, I’ll be good.”

The family withdrew leaving the old man, weak and pale but with a face
wreathed in happy smiles. His head sought the pillow gratefully and
soon he was sleeping like a child.

It was now that John heard the full details of the accident to his
father. He had been suffering all summer, diabetes the doctors had
said. When they came to New York from Newport, he was much improved
and felt himself well enough to go out to Utah to look over his pet
mine, the Calumet Minnie. It was there the accident occurred. Nobody
knew just how it happened. The elevator had been inspected only the
week before. In the cage with him were the manager, Carson, the
superintendent, two engineers and a foreman. At the hundred and fifty
foot level something went wrong--the safety clutch didn’t work--and
the cage dropped some eighty feet. Carson was killed, the foreman
also, and the rest badly hurt. His father’s weakened state before the
accident complicated things and the doctor considered the case serious.
Later in the seclusion of her own room, his mother broke down utterly
before him. She knew his father would never get better, she said, and
she feared the worst. John tried all in his power to comfort her, but
he succeeded only in bringing pathetic smiles to her face and hopeful
looks in her eyes as she looked at him. He understood what was passing
in her thoughts and swore inwardly that he would never fail her.

Then came the anxious days of hope and fear, when the elder Morton’s
strength failed to respond to the doctors’ treatment. To John these
days were inexpressibly distressful. Gloom settled on the old mansion
which had seen the happiest times for both parents and children. John
did all he could to brighten the home, and spent many hours with his
father in intimate talk of his ambitions and aims in life. It was in
these confidences that he learned to know his father and, in knowing
him, to honor and admire him.

Dan Morton prided himself on the great fortune he had made, because in
making it he had never wronged another and he had brought the treasures
of the earth to enrich his fellow-men’s lives. That was the secret
spring of his success and power; and he knew how to use that power
because he was most keenly aware of the responsibility which its use
entailed.

The younger son of a Connecticut banker, who had made considerable
money in his native state, Dan Morton, quite early in life, had become
impatient of the narrow New England environment. He decided to go
West. With the legacy left him by his father, he followed the then
drift towards the great undeveloped country beyond the Mississippi.
Mines, ranches and the building of railroads claimed his enthusiastic
attention. The astonishing development of the Middle West gave his
investments a solid foundation and furnished opportunities for
realizing greatly increased values. During the second half of the
decade following the Civil War, Dan Morton had become a power in the
financial world of America. Great sections of the Pacific Slope and the
country of the Oregon trail were largely opened up by the aid given by
him and his associates. It was in this way that he helped to promote
the country’s wonderful growth.

He had married a beautiful girl, the daughter of an old Southern family
and had settled in Cleveland where he built a fine mansion. In spite
of his increasing wealth, his tastes remained simple and his manners
unassuming. Neither he nor his wife took any active part in what is
known as “Society,” though they maintained a beautiful country house
overlooking the Hudson.

When his son was born, he was called after his grandfather, John
Morton. As the boy grew up he became his father’s pride and hope. Dan
Morton looked on him as the reincarnation of himself, the child who
would grow up to be a man to carry on the work he had begun. When the
young man was ready to enter college, he developed a rather unexpected
taste for study and research--most un-Morton like, as his mother would
say. His father decided not to discourage the youth, but hoped that in
time he would turn from these strange gods and worship the gods of his
fathers. Indeed, he even encouraged him, possibly because he realized
that opposition might but confirm him in his inclinations. But so wise
a man as was Dan Morton knew also that an earnest search for truth and
a true desire for knowledge are in themselves ennobling and must result
in useful work. That John should apparently be engaged in profitless
labor, never for a moment touched his almost religious conviction, that
his son would return to the Morton fold and hold the belief that life
meant working for a reward and that it was the reward that gave meaning
to life.

During the years John spent at the various colleges, he attended at
home and abroad, acquiring learning if not wisdom, his father kept on
piling up riches, and patiently waiting for the young man to exhaust
himself of his dreamy desires and to come back to earth, as he put it.
But he always spoke of him with great pride, and if anyone referred to
his son’s aimlessness, he would say: “John won’t play second fiddle to
anybody--not even to me. And when I’m ready to quit, John will take my
place--a better man than his old dad was.”

This was the man that John came to know as he had never known him
before during their quiet chats in the sick-room. It was to this man,
so practical in his every thought that it seemed as if there could not
possibly be a chord in his being that would vibrate to romance, it was
to this man that John unbosomed himself of his secret. He told him in
detail of all that had happened, descanted, as only a lover can, of the
beauty of the girl and wound up by saying: “I intend, dad, to make that
girl my wife--if--if she will have me.”

“My boy, I am proud of you,” said his father. “You showed yourself a
man. If she won’t have you, she’s no judge of what a man is--and the
future generations of Mortons won’t be the losers. But if she is all
you describe her to be, she knows a hawk from a hernshaw.”

John laughed at his father’s way of stating the case; but the words
made him very happy. As time passed and but scant and unsatisfying news
came from either Tyler or Don, he became very restless. He had received
one letter from Helène which he treasured; but it contained what he
took as merely a courteous acknowledgment of her gratitude. He took
several flying trips to New York at his father’s request, but always
returned distrait and unhappy. He wrote several heartfelt letters to
the Comtesse, but received no replies.

Christmas came and with it a severe winter. It was a quiet and subdued
Yule-tide for the Mortons. Old Dan Morton was failing fast. The shadow
of the coming tragedy had fallen on the house. Before the New Year had
arrived, the elder Morton lay dead in the stilled solemn room. The
man who had been such a power in the world had no longer any power.
Henceforth the forces of nature which he had conquered would deal with
him in their own silent, resistless and inevitable fashion.

John took his heartbroken mother and sister South, away from the
place where they had known joy and experienced sorrow. They recovered
somewhat their interest in life amid the richer scenes and more vivid
life of the sun-bathed lands. It was here that he spoke, for the first
time, to his mother of his feelings for a girl he had met in Europe.
She said very little, because she knew it would be of no use; and she
also knew that she could trust his taste. She saw that it was very near
to his heart, and urged him to go back. If, she said, he felt convinced
that the girl was, indeed, necessary to his happiness, he must lose no
time in winning her. He had not told her everything and declined to
give the girl’s name or station in life. She was good and beautiful,
he said, and he was sure his mother would welcome her and love her. In
that case, his mother urged, his first duty was to himself. He must go
at once.

It was not his mother’s words, however, but a cable from McCormick that
decided him. Donald had cabled that the Comtesse Helène had left the
Ducal Palace secretly five days ago leaving no trace behind. She had
been hunted for high and low and even detectives had been employed.
Would Mr. Morton cable further instructions.

John lost no time in instructing Don to continue the search and advised
him that he was sailing for Europe by the first boat. To his mother
he gave an envelope with Helène’s handwriting on it, at the same time
begging her, if a letter came from Europe for him addressed in the same
hand, to notify him by cable of its receipt.

While New York matrons who had their daughters’ welfares to think of
were busy planning a season’s siege of the bachelor millionaire’s
heart, the unconscious object of their thoughts was sailing away from
them--back to a land he longed to see because somewhere in it lived one
for whom his whole being yearned, and without whom life would not be
worth living for him.



CHAPTER XVIII


After her trying experiences in that drive from Roumelia, Helène
welcomed the harbor of refuge afforded her by the castle at Weimar.
A small and pretty suite of rooms had been assigned to her in the
older east wing, where her mistress, the Princess Marie-Louise, was
also provided for. Her attendance at the Court was to begin after she
had been presented to the Dowager Duchess Clementine. A maid had been
assigned to her, and in her new surroundings she forgot for a while her
troubles, though she could not overcome the waves of depression which
continually assailed her when she thought of her father.

The maid, Josephine, a pert, little Parisian person, proved to be an
adept at her business; which is to say, that, in addition to a capacity
for ministering to a lady’s toilet, she was a most valuable and
insistent gossip and a consummate flatterer. During her ministrations
she told Helène that she was prettier and had hair more beautiful than
any other lady of the Court. The hair, especially, seemed to possess
most remarkable qualities. By its quality, she judged the gracious
Comtesse to be a lady of fine mind and of a strong constitution; by
its lustre, that the lady’s heart was pure as gold; by its tendency
to waviness, that its owner would have a long life and be wealthy and
happy, and that her future husband would be great and powerful and love
her always.

Helène listened patiently with a smile. She knew the tribe and knew
also that it would be her comfort and peace of mind if she said
nothing but appeared interested. Besides, the girl was really shrewd
and very amusing. Without her chatter, life in the castle would have
been like that of a nunnery. For the atmosphere of the place was heavy
with ceremonies and formalities. Helène’s free spirit soon felt the
restraint keenly. She learned that it was not proper to speak except
in subdued tones, and then only of insipid matters. Laughter was
rarely indulged in, for the Mistress of the Ceremonies ruled with an
iron hand. Her first, brief interview with this handsome and stately
dame was an experience she had no desire to renew. She felt that she
had been in a gigantic, upholstered refrigerator after she had been
permitted to retire from that august presence.

Helène sat in her pretty boudoir thinking of her father. Mr. Tyler had
called the day before to tell her that he had received a wire from
Brindisi advising that a letter was on the way. She was expecting
him. Oh, if only her dear father were with her--how different things
would be! She pictured his meeting with the fat Dowager and almost
laughed aloud. How exquisitely polite he would be and yet how finely
independent! She could almost see the twinkle in his eyes at the air
these princelets gave themselves. She hoped it would not be long before
he would come and take her away from these Arctic regions to a quiet
and sunny retreat where they could be alone together in freedom and
happiness. When would he come? Her eyes fell on a little side-table on
which stood a Dresden vase with a cluster of roses in it. Ah, and Mr.
Morton, would she ever meet him again? They were the roses he had sent
her, full-blown and withering now, the flowers hanging on wilted stalks
in spite of the care Josephine had bestowed on them.

It was late in the afternoon and the fading light of the short autumn
day spread a gloom through the room. She rose and switched on the
electric lights of the candelabra, and turning to put the blinds down,
she almost ran into the outstretched arms of a slender prim woman
rustling towards her in silk. Helène gave a glad cry.

“Anna! dear Anna, where do you come from?”

“Ach, mein Liebchen, but it is good to see you,” and the elderly woman
embraced and kissed her over and over again, the tears running down her
face. “Forgive me, Comtesse,” she begged, releasing the girl, “but I
could not help it. I wanted to see you again.”

“Oh, Anna, I am so glad you are here, so glad. Now that I have my dear
nurse again, all will be well.”

“Why, my little lamb, what is the matter? Are you sick or lonely or
unhappy? Of course, everything will be well. I am going to stay with
you, my little golden mistress. I only just heard of the Princess’s
arrival, and did not lose a minute getting here. Certainly all will be
well now.”

Helène looked at the dear face of her second mother, and felt so
comforted that she believed a Providence had sent the good woman to
her. How good it was to be loved and to have some one near you in whom
you could trust and to whom you could tell the doubts that were racking
your heart!

“But how do you happen to be in Weimar, Anna?”

The question was sufficient to open the sluices of the nurse’s
reservoir of talk; she talked so rapidly that she barely gave
herself time to catch her breath. She was married now--to Anton
Schreiber--Anton had been chief valet to His Highness, the old Duke.
They lived now in Altenburg, in a beautiful cottage with a lovely
garden. Oh, and they were happy and comfortably off, what with her
savings and Anton’s. She had come to Weimar to visit her niece,
Josephine. Why the very Josephine who attended on her sweet lambkin! Of
course! And, oh, how her darling had grown! How beautiful and grand she
looked! And what lovely hair! How long was it since she had seen her?
Yes--three years. Dear, dear, how time does fly! And what had she been
doing? And what brought her to Weimar?

Helène waited patiently, smiling delightedly all the time. However, the
good lady’s breath gave out, at last, and Helène had the opportunity
to open up her heart’s woes. She was so unhappy in the castle, she
explained.

“My dear,” replied the nurse promptly, “take no notice of the
people--they’re not worth it. And we’ll begin at once.” She rose up
quickly and ringing for Josephine said to her, “Tell the man to serve
dinner here for two. I am dining with the Comtesse.--There,” she turned
to Helène, “we’ll make ourselves at home, and do as we like.”

Helène was astonished to find how easily it could be done. She spent
one of the happiest evenings in her life with this nurse, waited on and
served by the lackey who looked to her the reflection of the fearful
formality of the dining-room below. The hours passed so pleasantly that
she knew not they were passing, and was surprised to find that it was
time to retire for the night.

Even then Anna would not be gainsaid; she must put her darling to bed
and see that she was snug and comfortable.

“You are so like your sainted mother,” Anna would say over and over
again, as she helped her to undress. And Helène would cry only to be
soothed again by gentle caresses and soft murmuring words. It was just
like the days of her childhood when Anna would send her to sleep
with plaintive songs and tales of “Red Riding Hood,” and “Aladdin’s
Wonderful Lamp.” And when at last she fell asleep--she slept without a
dream, the peaceful, happy sleep of a child.

The next morning, early, Anna was at the bedside to see to Helène’s
wants. She insisted on dividing Josephine’s duties and taking it upon
herself to dress her “baby,” as she called her.

“Isn’t she the loveliest child you ever saw?” she asked of Josephine.
Josephine agreed laughingly.

“Ah, there isn’t a beauty like this in any other part of the Schloss.
Won’t those dry old maids be jealous! They’ve no chance for a husband
with our little girl, have they, Josephine?”

“No, indeed,” asserted that demoiselle. “They’re sour enough to
frighten any man away--the cats!”

Helène was overcome with her blushes at the irresponsible twittering of
the two women, and begged them to spare her feelings. But she couldn’t
close their mouths--they had not had such an opportunity in which to
indulge themselves in many a day. Josephine went so far even as to hint
of a beau, at which Anna bridled up. Beau, indeed! Her darling had no
thought of beaux. How could she, at her age--only nineteen--the dear,
sweet lamb!

Helène really was relieved when the time came for the two to retire.
She was impatient, too, for Mr. Tyler to come. It was an anxious moment
for her when his card was brought up. He came in quietly, a gentle,
sad smile on his distinguished face. She could not restrain herself,
and made a quick movement towards him, her eyes streaming the question
that her open lips could not utter. With grave courtesy he took both
her hands very affectionately in his and led her to a seat. And then he
told her the sad news--told it with all the kindliness and tenderness
of his finely sympathetic heart. The truth could not be hidden, but
he softened its harshness as only a practised diplomatist like he
could do. And yet the truth was bitter. His heart went out to the poor
orphaned girl for whom he had now come to feel a father’s affection. It
was very painful to see her suffering. At first she could not believe
what she heard, and stood gazing with wide eyes unable to move. But
under Mr. Tyler’s gentle words, she broke down utterly and sobbed as if
her heart had burst. Fortunately, Anna came in, and carried her darling
to her bedroom.

Mr. Tyler told Anna to tell the Comtesse that he would look after
everything, and would call later in the day, when he expected to bring
with him Count Rondell’s papers and last letters. He would remain in
Weimar a few days longer, and would hold himself at the Comtesse’s
orders. “And give this letter,” he added, “to the Comtesse. It is from
a friend. She will be glad to receive it.”

It was, indeed, a Providence that had sent her nurse to her at this
juncture; for Count Rondell’s death had left Helène practically alone
in the world. It is not well to linger over such agonies as the poor
girl endured. They are the common lot of our humanity. Happy are they
whom they leave unbroken in spirit--it is those they strike down who
are to be pitied. Helène was of the sterner stuff, and she was helped
by her nurse. Nothing softens sorrow as love does--and of love Anna’s
motherly bosom was filled abundantly. Herself childless, she had it all
to give to this child of her adoption--and she gave it freely, with a
large measure.

The Princess, also, when she heard the sad tidings, came to her full of
affectionate sympathy; but, alas, what could she do to help her friend!
She was an exile now--a nobody. She would see that the presentation
was put off.

“Oh, my dear,” she cried, with tears in her eyes, “If we only had some
wise and powerful friend! We are both of us dependent on the charity of
strangers.”

A friend’s troubles act as a salve to our own troubles, as fire
extinguishes fire, and in her loyalty to the Princess, Helène realized
that she was not alone in her sorrow. The two girls thus helped each
other in their hour of need.

Mr. Tyler kept his word and came, courteously kind and sympathetic as
always. He had seen to everything. He brought with him a considerable
sum of money--her father’s possession--and he proposed to deposit that
in the local bank in the Comtesse’s name. There were a few formalities
to be gone through in that matter, and he had brought Herr Blume of the
Laenderbank to witness her signature to some documents.

Mr. Tyler reassured her of his devotion and begged her to keep her
courage--for her father’s sake.

“You owe it to him, Comtesse,” he said, “as his daughter. Here in this
package you will find his letters. They will tell you everything you
ought to know.”

She took the package reverently.

“I do not know how to thank you, dear sir, for all you have done. I
shall never forget it.”

Mr. Tyler smiled, and with the liberty of his years, bent over and
kissed her hair. “Fear not, be of good heart, and all will be well.
Good-by, and God bless you.”

For some minutes she sat alone, staring straight before her with
unseeing eyes, her fingers playing nervously with the package on her
knees. Then slowly she broke the seals and listlessly removed the
contents of a small box.

She found in it her father’s watch, some rings, a small locket
containing a miniature of her mother, a bundle of letters tied with a
faded ribbon and inscribed, “To my daughter--to be retained, but not
read,” and three envelopes, two of which were sealed and addressed to
her.

The sight of the trinkets moved her deeply, especially the wedding
ring. She took them into her bedroom and sat down near the window.
Taking one of the envelopes, dated October --, she broke the seal and
read. It seemed to her as if she were holding a communion with the
spirit of her father--as if she were listening to a message from the
grave:

“My most beloved child,” it began:

  “The mission I had undertaken has failed; my journey ended in
  nothing. It has left me so enfeebled that I am not able to move with
  any freedom from pain. The doctor tells me I am very ill, and I
  realize that I am a doomed man.

  “How long a time is still left me I know not; but I must write to you
  while I still have the strength. If this letter should reach you, you
  will know that I have not been vouchsafed the blessing of coming to
  you myself.

  “And in this there is no cause for either tears or mourning. I ran a
  good race and have reached the goal. My one great grief is born of
  the knowledge of the pain my going will give you, my dearest child.
  You are so young to be left friendless in this world!

  “But I have arranged with my dear friend, Baron Robert de Haas, to
  undertake your guardianship. He is in possession of my will. You know
  him and like him. He is a man of noble mind and large heart and he
  will take my place worthily. I cannot leave you riches, my darling,
  but I comfort myself with the thought that you will not regret that
  fact. What I have is yours, and, with Baron de Haas’s help, it will
  be sufficient to keep you independent and free from want. For the
  rest you will, I know, bravely work out your destiny in your own way.

  “And now, dear one of my heart, a few last words from your father.
  A woman was created by God to be the mate of a man--a good man. If,
  as I fervently pray, such a man should enter your life and win your
  love, think of your gracious mother to whose influence I owe so much.
  A man deserving of your love should be honorable in the absolute
  sense of that word--a gentleman, not in title, but in thought and
  deed. He must be such that you will always be proud of him and
  proud to be the mother of his children, if God so give it. You will
  recognize him by these signs: that he is a good son to his parents,
  loyal to his country and God and proud of his honor. And if I have
  judged my child aright, you will deserve him. In body and in mind,
  you are your mother over again, and the earth knew not her like in
  beauty of form and nobility of spirit.

  “Forgive me for seeming to preach-- Your happiness is so close to my
  heart. You have been the reward of my life, my pride and my joy. May
  you find peace and love all your life. I am holding you in my arms as
  I write these last words:

  “Mein Liebchen--Good-bye, until we meet again in God’s own good time.

                                                          “YOUR FATHER.”

A postscript, dated the same month and written at Suez, followed:

  “I have forgotten my illness in my anxiety about you. Word has just
  reached me that de Haas is no more, and I know not now to whom to
  turn. With this news came terrible tidings of the happenings in our
  poor, stricken Roumelia. I am so far from you and cannot help you.
  God alone must help--and He will.

  “I think it was God’s Providence that sent me Mr. John Morton, a
  young American. He agreed, last night, to take my place and go to
  Roumelia and rescue you from the clutches of those rebels. He is to
  bring you and Princess Marie-Louise to Weimar. If he succeeds, and I
  am confident he will, let him guide you in your next step. He is a
  gentleman, and he can help you. You may rely on his word and, if I am
  a judge of human nature, he will not fail you.

  “It is useless to say much--and needless to say more.

  “If I could have come myself, I would not have sent a substitute.

  “May God take you under His protection.”

Helène’s face was bathed in tears. It was with trembling hands that she
opened the second letter. The handwriting was feebler and the lines
very uneven. Evidently, her father had written it under great mental
stress.

                                            “BRINDISI, November 6, 189--

  “MY DARLING CHILD:

  “Mr. Morton left two days ago for Roumelia with my prayers. I have
  heard no news of what is happening there and I fear the worst.

  “My strength is failing fast and the doctor sent me from Rome by my
  American friend has been very frank with me. I have but a few days
  more in which to live.

  “As I am still able to think clearly and write, I must make full use
  of the time left me. I omitted to tell you in my previous letter
  something which I think you ought to know. When I first spoke to
  Mr. Morton of going to Roumelia, I spoke on behalf of the Princess.
  He refused absolutely to undertake the journey or to mix in any way
  with the political affairs of the country. Indeed, he was indignant
  with me for what he considered my presumption in asking him to engage
  himself in an enterprise of such danger and risk. His first duty was
  to his parents and he was called to them. I was not surprised at his
  attitude, but I had no alternative.

  “It was during my pleading that I accidentally uncovered a portrait
  of yourself, and, to my utter astonishment, he suddenly changed his
  mind and accepted the task. I tell you this because I think you
  should know it. The man is a noble fellow. I feel that in my heart.
  If he should succeed in his mission and you are once more free, do
  not hesitate to accept his friendship. If I knew that you would do
  this I should die the happier for knowing it.

  “I can say no more, but pray and hope.

  “God bless you and protect you, dearest.”

The third unsealed envelope contained a simple note written in a
strange, feminine hand, in French.

                                           “BRINDISI, November 14, 189--

  “I am Paola Rimoni, nurse and attendant to his Excellency Count
  Rondell-Barton who has requested me to write down his last words, as
  follows:

  “A telegram from Monsieur Morton has just arrived announcing that his
  party has safely crossed the border. The man has justified my faith
  in him. May God reward and bless him.

  “I send my daughter my blessing and my dearest love. I die happy
  knowing that she is safe.

  “My gratitude to Monsieur Morton, my homage to Her Highness, my last
  kiss and blessing to my beloved child. Roumelia forever!”

Below was scrawled in letters that were barely decipherable--“Rondell.”

Helène was too overcome to move from where she sat. Through the window
came the pale light of the waning day tinged with the red of the
sinking sun. The room was filling with deep shadows. She saw nothing.
Darkness seemed to have fallen on her. Slipping to her knees she laid
her aching head upon the seat and prayed inwardly, the while the
scalding tears fell down her cheeks. It was thus that the faithful Anna
found her an hour later.

The first great sorrow of youth is the inheritance of tears that have
fallen before. It is the burden of existence for an erring humanity. It
means and must ever mean that the blood which has flowed from others’
hearts is the blood which will flow from our own. One generation must
depart to make room for a generation to come; and the burden of sorrow
we have received from those who have gone before us we shall pass on to
those who come after us. Happy are they who can weep in their sorrow,
for tears are a blood-letting of the spirit.

When she opened her eyes in the morning they fell on the Dresden vase
now bereft of its flowers--the petals lay scattered on the table and
carpet, and only dried stalks showed where a few days ago glowed the
red damask of roses. Was this to be an omen of her own life? She
shivered at the question. Rising quickly she gathered the petals with
loving care, and taking the dried stems from the vase placed both in a
drawer of her dressing-table. She knew now that her heart lay with the
faded leaves.

She remembered the letter Mr. Tyler had left with Anna. It was a
message from the man whom her father had blessed with his dying words.
So he was going--sailing over the ocean to that far country where was
his home. Would he, too, lose his father? How cruel life was? He had
signed himself, “in deepest sympathy and devotion.” The words were like
balm to her sore heart. No--she was not alone in the gray world! And
the sunlight of the morning was repeated in her smile.

In the company of her faithful nurse, Helène traveled the short
distance to Sigmaringen, the home town of her mother’s family, to
attend her father’s funeral. Mr. and Mrs. Tyler were present, and their
presence helped her not a little to bear the trial. On her return she
found Donald waiting for her at the railway station. Her heart gave a
bound when she saw his lanky figure and hard yet kindly face. The sight
of him comforted her greatly, and she was glad to accept his escort to
the Schloss.

The next day she was compelled to undergo the trial of an interview
with the Mistress of the Ceremonies, Baroness Radau. It was necessary
that she should be coached in the duties incumbent on a lady of
the Court of Saxe-Weimar. While expressing sympathy for her in her
bereavement, the majestic dame admonished her to repress her grief. It
was not proper to show undue emotion. She must read the lives of the
forty-nine dukes of the blessed realm and become acquainted with the
works of Goethe and Schiller, who were the glory of Weimar. It would
also be very necessary for her to know the proper way to bow and the
precedence of rank; and, above all, she must never forget that next to
God came Duke Ernest Victor the Seventeenth.

On account of her mourning, the color of her presentation dress was to
be a subdued gray, under a special dispensation. It would be of the
regulation style. Perfumes were permitted, but only of a particular
kind. Her Highness did not favor any but that of lilac. Her hair must
be plainly arranged and drawn tight and smooth across the brow. She
might wear pearls.

The day of the ordeal of the Presentation came at last. She went to it
with the greatest trepidation and returned from it almost prostrated
from the strain of waiting her turn. She had been permitted to touch
the gloved hand of the voluminous Dowager and the hands of the reigning
Duke’s consort and her own Princess. Poor little Marie-Louise looked
like a martyr waiting to be led to the stake as she stood on a slightly
lower dais than that on which the Dowager sat, dressed in stiff silk
weighted with gold embroidery. When Helène approached her, she cast big
sad eyes on her friend like those of a doe flying from the hunters.

Having been presented, Helène was now permitted the freedom of the
Court. Her duties were simple but weariedly monotonous. They amounted
to a regulated routine of formality and enforced idleness. She was
permitted to appear in white or gray at the gatherings, but at the
Chapel, which she attended twice a week, she was allowed to wear
black. She was deprived of Josephine’s services and given in her stead
a soured old maid, who was far more experienced and would be able to
instruct her in the punctilios of the Court. Anna was no longer in
Weimar; she had gone back to her little cottage and her beloved Anton.

But there was one pleasant interlude in the dreary round of her week’s
life, and it came to her on her way to and from Chapel. On these
occasions she would find McCormick waiting for her at the castle gate
to learn of her health and to know if he could be of any service
to her. Sometimes, after service was over, she would invite him to
accompany her in her promenade round the Square within sight of the
Schloss. On those occasions she would lead him to talk of his master, a
subject on which Don was ever ready to descant. She would listen to him
with downcast eyes, but with secret delight. These talks added fuel to
the flame in her heart and warmed her lonely spirit.

Winter came, and with it the snow, which buried the little Thuringian
castle in its white mantle. The monotony of her life palled more and
more on her since she was now deprived of her walks. Occasionally a
letter from Mr. Tyler and Anna would come as a ray of sunshine.

One never-to-be-forgotten day she received a box which, when she opened
it, she found filled her chamber with the delicious scent of flowers.
They were orchids of the purest white, sent by Morton. “Heartiest good
wishes to you on your birthday. May you see many, many more in health
and happiness.” The words were inscribed on his card. She had not
realized that this was the last day in November, and that she was now
twenty. That morning at the levée she attracted the curious glances
of the women by the lovely orchids she wore at her breast. Not a few
whispered malicious insinuations to each other.

Helène had but few opportunities of meeting her friend, the Princess.
When she did she found her very unhappy. The poor girl had been made
to feel her equivocal position at the Court, where she was treated as
though she had come there uninvited. She had no means of her own, and
this compelled her to be dependent on the good-will of people who,
though royal in blood, were very mean in spirit, especially where
money was concerned. There is no king so pompous as the kinglet, and
as a consequence he attracts to him the effete and the provincial in
mind--men who will cringe and fawn and flatter, and women whose only
enjoyment is in gossip and slander. It was from the latter especially
that the Princess suffered--and Helène also.

With the coming of December came preparations for the Christmas
festivities. The Court was all agog, Helène excited with the rest. She
had a better opportunity to know the “noble ladies” now. In mixing with
them she occasionally caught whispers about “Americans,” and people who
sacrificed their pride of descent on the altar of money. And she would
notice that they cast side glances at her as they spoke. She did not
altogether comprehend the meaning of their attitude, but she realized
vaguely that she had become a _persona non grata_ with these high-born
tatlers, and, as a consequence, her unhappiness increased. She thought
of her bank account. Perhaps these women had found out about it!
Surely, it had been her father’s money that Mr. Tyler had brought her!
The half question brought a doubt. Had Mr. Morton sent it? How absurd!
And yet--yet--he was so generous. She would speak with the Princess
about it.

The two girls talked it over and even went into calculations, in their
simple way, as to the cost of the expedition Morton had undertaken.
They were forced to the conclusion that Morton must have borne that
himself; nay, that it was to his generosity they owed the very clothes
they wore. Now they understood the dark references to “Americans” and
money. Helène determined to find out the truth by writing to Mr. Tyler.

The reply she received did not clear the matter. Mr. Tyler thought
she was making a mountain out of a mole-hill. She had far better leave
well alone. So far as he knew, the moneys he had brought her came from
her father. It could not be otherwise since they were drawn out of the
Banca Nationale, where they had been deposited in Count Rondell’s name.
He expected Mr. Morton’s arrival early next month, and no doubt he
would call on her. He advised her to forget the matter until then.

Helène was torn by doubt, and humiliated in her pride. She did not know
what to do nor where to turn.



CHAPTER XIX


Christmas morning came and with it came another box of
flowers--glorious roses, this time, of a deep red and of a scent
breathing sympathy to the lonely girl. Enclosed was a card bearing the
one word, “Greetings.” She pressed the lovely flowers to her face as if
kissing the hand that had sent them. The contact with the velvet petals
soothed her troubled spirits. When she met Donald that day she asked
after his master. Don shook his head--he had nothing to tell her.

“Why are you still in Weimar, McCormick?” she said.

McCormick grinned. “Weimar is all right, Miss,” he said, “and I’ve no
home to go to. Besides, orders are orders, Miss, and I’ve got to stay
here in case you might need me. Say the word, Miss, and I’ll be ready.”

She thanked him with a pathetic little smile. The roses and Don’s words
were enough for one day. She re-entered the castle thinking that her
Christmas had been a very happy one.

The next day the Princess came into her room looking greatly distressed
and holding a periodical in her hand, which she held out to Helène.

“Here,” she said, “is the explanation of the malicious gossip.” It was
a copy of an English society paper, three weeks old, which an English
friend had sent the Princess. It contained a scurrilous article dealing
with Morton and his adventure with the two ladies in Roumelia. As
Helène read her heart seemed to turn to a stone--a feeling of nausea
overcame her.

After stating the fact of their escape from Roumelia, the article
went on to say that Morton, the hero of the adventure, had received
but scant courtesy from the two ladies. They treated him with cold
indifference, scarcely deigning to hold any conversation with him. As
for Count Rondell-Barton, who was supposed to have planned and financed
the expedition, he could not have been very active in the matter, since
so far from being on the Roumelian border, he never came closer to
it than Brindisi. When, however, the proud ladies arrived in Vienna
and learned from the American Minister to Germany who and what their
rescuer, Mr. Morton, was, their whole bearing and attitude towards that
gentleman changed entirely. They became as friendly then as they had
been cool before. The millionaire was quite a different person from the
stranger who had risked his life for them. What a tale Mr. Morton would
have to tell when he went back to America; and what would he think of
Europe’s nobility!

And now, as she had finished the vile writing, she was filled with
indignation.

“Who inspired this disgraceful composition?” she asked her friend. The
Princess shook her head.

“I spoke to Count Radau about it and he said that no one would pay
any attention to what this paper printed. It had a bad reputation in
England and, no doubt, lived on purveying this kind of stuff to readers
who like it. He advised me to forget it.”

“But it’s such a tissue of lies and misrepresentations,” cried Helène
in her anger.

“I know; but that’s the way these vile creatures live--by debasing
their talents.”

“Oh, it is too terrible. I shall be ashamed to show my face anywhere
now.”

“We cannot help ourselves, dear Helène; we must bear up in the hope
that the good taste of the Court will leave us free from gossip.” The
Princess spoke lightly, but in her heart she was deeply chagrined and
distressed.

As for Helène, she could not put the thing out of her mind. It was as
if she had been soiled with the mud of the streets. She never, for one
moment, believed that Mr. Morton had had anything to do with it. Some
enemy of her father’s must have inspired it, she thought. What a cruel
thing to do! What degradation of mind to sell itself to such a service!

It was with a breast filled with indignation and pride that Helène
attended the gathering in the small reception-room, that afternoon,
to take her part in the Christmas-tree ceremony. She stood a little
way from the rest as they waited the arrival of “their highnesses.”
There was much chattering going on and not a little simpering and
giggling among the less reserved women who had evidently come to enjoy
themselves. She could not help noticing one particular gentleman who
passed as a wit among these light-headed ones and was the centre of a
bevy of dames all seemingly delighted at some of his witticisms. And
then she heard an ample young countess remark that the Hebe from the
Balkans was not interested in cutting them out--she was too much taken
up with Mr. Moneybags from America.

Helène turned white and grasped the balustrade of the nearby stairway.
She could scarcely stand on her legs and her bosom heaved from her
labored breathing.

An elderly lady, a Madame de Martis, had also heard the words and saw
the girl’s condition. Quickly stepping up to her, she whispered:
“Compose yourself, my dear child, and come with me to the dining-room.”

Helène clutched at the lady’s arm and gave her a pathetic smile.

“Oh, Madame, they have no hearts.” Then recovering herself, she added:
“But cost it what it may, I will tell them what I feel. I have borne it
so long that I can hold out no longer.”

Her recovered anger brought the color back to her face and gave her
strength. Advancing rapidly towards the group, the members of which
were gazing at her in supercilious surprise, she stood before them
boldly erect and with her eyes shining--a thing of ineffable beauty.

“You will listen to what I have to say,” she cried in clear, ringing
tones, and the whole assembly turned spellbound at such colossal
temerity. “I know I am transgressing all the laws of this Court, but
you may do your pleasure after I have finished.”

Several gentlemen came forward to beg her to be composed, but she waved
them away with a fine gesture.

“I shall have my say. The Princess and I came here to a place of
refuge--we are alone in the world with no man to help us. The common
laws of hospitality demand that we be treated, at least, with some
show of courtesy, but you have thought fit to ignore them. You have
not only made me realize my dependence, but you have insulted my honor
and questioned my motives. And now that you have learned from a vile
paper the base insinuations of a base mind, you have accepted them as
the truth, to afford you a little amusement in the dull circle of your
lives.”

Madame de Martis had taken one of the girl’s arms and was hysterically
appealing to her to leave the room with her.

“Pardon me, Madame, it is too late now. I have begun and I will finish
what I have to say to these distinguished members of the Court.” Her
voice had grown stronger; the expression on her face became as if a
holy light had transfigured it. The women were terrified and the men
admiringly interested; but neither moved a foot; they stood as if under
a hypnotic influence.

“The gentleman to whom we owe our freedom is not here to speak for
himself. If he were, you would not be so free with your insinuations.
He did what I doubt any man here would have had the courage to do--he
helped a dying man and two friendless girls. Without that help we
should never be alive to-day, and I am proud to acknowledge the debt
I owe him. You, gentlemen of Thuringia will, I am sure, appreciate my
sentiments. And as for the lying gossip of that paper which you ladies
of the Court have so eagerly accepted, you are welcome to make of it
what you will.”

She turned proudly and marched majestically out of the room. But the
door once closed, she staggered blindly up the stairs and fell fainting
on her bed.

The spell over the assembled courtiers was broken. There succeeded a
noise of talk such as that reception room had never heard since the
castle was built. From all sides resounded indignant protestations,
disclaimers and denials. Here and there came expressions of
commiseration and even avowed desires for apologies. When, finally, the
Baroness Radau’s voice could be heard, they quieted down. The Baroness
would confer with the Dowager Duchess and the Comtesse Helène’s conduct
adjudged. In the meantime, the ladies and gentlemen would do well to
await Her Highness’s arrival.

When Helène recovered consciousness, she lay thinking dully of what
had occurred. There was, no doubt, in her mind about the consequence of
her act. She made up her mind not to wait for the royal verdict and its
inevitable punishment. Anywhere was better than to be in this heartless
place. She would rather live with servants and working people than with
these so-called high-born men and women. She had money--thank God for
that! She would use it whether it was rightly hers or no. She would go
to Anna, her nurse, who was the only one who really loved her. Anna was
good and wise. She would help her and guide her. She would know what
was best to do.

Thus firmly resolved, she bathed her hot, tear-stained face and
retiring for the night, cried herself to sleep.

The next morning she rose, rested and greatly refreshed. After
partaking of a hearty breakfast, she left the castle and took a
“droschky” to the Laenderbank. The ordeal she had feared proved a very
simple affair after all. Her request for money was immediately attended
to and she left with several thousand marks snugly tucked away in her
pocketbook.

Her absence from the castle had not been noted. Once in her room again,
she set about collecting the articles she held as her treasures,
including the faded rose leaves and orchids, and packed them carefully
in a box. Opening the door softly, she beckoned to a passing lackey and
asked him to send Josephine to her.

Josephine came in haste. She had not seen her dear Comtesse for days
and wondered what she had been called for. Helène told her she was
going on a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Tyler in Berlin, who had invited
her to spend New Year with them. At once the maid became excited and
busied herself most energetically in packing the Comtesse’s trunk and
valise. The proceeding took but a short time--Helène’s wardrobe was
not extensive. A carriage was ordered to be at a side door and a lackey
helped to load it. Before leaving Helène left a note for the Princess
in which she begged her friend’s forgiveness for the step she was
taking.

At the railway station her courage oozed out of her. She was afraid she
had been followed and terrified at the thought of the Baroness Radau’s
cold eyes. Her eyes filled with tears as she glanced helplessly around
her. But a guardian angel in the shape of a dignified railway official,
seeing her evident distress, approached her with a bow and begged
the “Gnädiges Fräulein” to permit him to take charge of her baggage.
She could hardly keep from hugging him, so great was her relief. The
uniformed giant soon had her settled comfortably in a first class
compartment with her baggage safely on board the train. “The train will
leave in twenty minutes for Altenberg, gnädiges Fräulein,” he informed
her, well pleased with the change she had left with him. Ah, at last,
the train was moving. At last, she was safe, and laying her aching head
against the upholstered back of the compartment, she closed her eyes
and dozed happily to the rhythmic jolting of the wheels, which were
carrying her away from the gilded prison and its cruel jailers.

At Altenberg the patriarchal conductor came to her assistance. The
sweet face of the girl with its plaintive expression had touched him.
He ordered a porter to see to her baggage and procured a carriage for
her. She looked at him, for a moment, as he held out a hand, then she
nodded and smiled and left him feeling fully recompensed, with the
smile.

Anna lived at Garten-strasse No. 60 in this the smallest of capitals of
Duke-ridden Thuringia. The way to it lay through the Main Street and
by little snow-covered garden plots to the still outskirts. The neat
cottage stood behind a brick wall in which was a prettily wrought iron
gate.

A pull at the bell-handle was succeeded by the shrill barking of a
diminutive dog between the bars of the gate, and the appearance of Anna
in a bibbed apron.

“Ach, my baby!” she almost screamed, and gathered the girl to her warm
bosom. “So you did come, after all. Oh, I’m so glad, so glad.”

“What a lovely little home you have,” cried Helène as she looked around
the room into which Anna had ushered her and which was so inviting in
its furnishing and reposeful effects.

“Yes, it is nice, is it not,” assented Anna with pride in her face.
“But, my dear, you are tired from the journey and will enjoy a little
luncheon, won’t you? Of course. I’ll have it ready very soon; but come
to your own room first. You see I have it all ready for you. Ach, won’t
Anton feel honored when he sees you here!”

It was not until after luncheon, when the two were seated together in
“the best room,” that Helène found her opportunity to tell Anna of the
real reason which had brought her to Altenberg. The nurse listened
quietly at first, but towards the end of the narrative she became
so excited that she kept jumping from her seat, pressing her hands
together out of sheer indignation, and ended by embracing and petting
her “child” with all the sympathetic words her full heart enabled her
to murmur.

“Oh, the mean, nasty cats,” she cried. “I knew from the first that you
would never be happy in a place like that. I told Josephine so. You did
quite right in leaving as you did. You will stop here, which is your
proper place now; and you can stay as long as you wish. We shall have
the loveliest time, and the house and everything is yours. The idea,
their not letting you go in mourning for your dear papa! Why, I never
heard such a thing! It’s wicked, positively wicked. We’ll see to a
proper dress for you at once. We have a very good dressmaker here who
will fix you up elegantly. Oh, the cats, the vipers!”

Anna would have gone on much longer if Helène would have listened. But
she laughingly smothered the dear lady in an embrace and begged her
to forget it now as she herself had done. She would be glad to find
her home here for the present and was grateful to Anna for her loving
kindness.

Thus, at last, did Helène find a resting place for her tired head. Here
she could be alone with her thoughts, study a little and arrive at some
definite plans for the future. Perhaps, her troubles were now over and
things would take a change for the better. For the winter, at least,
she would accept Anna’s kind hospitality.

Soon the spring would come--ah, the spring! She would not plan so far
ahead. She would leave it in God’s own merciful hands. The lines from
the English poet came into her mind. She smiled happily as she murmured
the hope-giving words:

            Oh, Wind,
  If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Spring with its budding of trees and flowers and growing of green
grass; with the coming of the hope-giving sun and blue skies, and all
the thousand beauties that make the heart glad, then surely would come
to her a new strength and a kinder life. Perhaps--perhaps--but she
dared not think of that. If God so willed it spring might bring him
also, and then--ah, then, let come what may. It would, indeed, be a new
life!



CHAPTER XX


Helène’s life in the home of the Schreibers begun so happily continued
as happily for many weeks. She communicated with no one in Weimar
because she wished to forget, so far as she could, the wretched time
she had passed there. She had not told the Princess where she was going
and, in her haste, she had forgotten to inform Donald McCormick. It
was better so, she thought, at any rate for the winter. She would be
happier alone with these humble and kind people.

The people of Altenberg knew her as Miss Barton. Frau Schreiber had
taken care to explain to them that Helène was the daughter of a lady in
whose service she had been; and was staying with them for the winter,
for a rest.

Life, in a little place like Altenberg, especially to one accustomed
to the atmosphere of a refined home and the association with people of
culture, is at best a more or less dull round of daily duties. One must
be born in such a place to accept contentedly its simple offerings of
friendly intercourse and common interests. For a time, the novelty of
its picturesque streets, its quaintly pretty houses, its museum and
historical landmarks, satisfied Helène’s appetite for variety. She
enjoyed the “sights” as a tourist who might be visiting the place. But
familiarity, if it did not breed contempt, did certainly destroy the
novelty, and what once was enjoyed as variety now palled because of the
monotony. The variety itself had become a sameness. Even the different
neighbors of the Schreibers took on a ridiculous seeming of likeness
to each other; and Anna herself, good and kind as she undoubtedly was,
became like the rest. Good people are seldom interesting, and kindness
alone does not always mean that their thoughts are in sympathy with our
own.

So that pretty Altenberg and its simple folk began in time to pall on
Helène. Anna noticed the change, and put it down to the absence of
congenial society. She determined to supply the want. The well-meant
remedy but aggravated the disease. The good woman took every
opportunity to be with Helène, and it was not long before the girl was
almost afraid to see her approaching on her kindly mission bent.

As often as the weather permitted, Helène would go for long walks. She
could the better “think things over,” as Anna would say, when alone in
the open air. She realized that wise as the step had been she had taken
in coming to Altenberg, it was just as wise now that she should leave
it as soon as the winter was over. She must not be a burden on anyone.
She must go away and find something to do--some occupation by which
she could earn, at least, a living. For she had made up her mind that
she would use no more of that money Mr. Tyler had placed to her credit
in the bank. She was not at all satisfied that it was her father’s
money. The six thousand marks she had drawn out on leaving Weimar she
would keep. She had calculated, at least to her own satisfaction, that
this was about the sum which her father might have possessed. By what
process of reasoning she arrived at that conclusion only a knowledge of
Helène’s honest and unworldly nature could explain. But the conviction
was fixed and with it also the determination to provide for her own
future by the work of her own hands.

The days grew longer; the cool airs began to whisper the promise of
spring. With the approach of the season Helène’s spirits returned. Her
body, too, threw off the lassitude which the winter’s confinement had
brought on. Her cheeks showed a little of their old-time rose-color;
her eyes grew bright. Youth was reasserting itself at nature’s silent
call.

One afternoon late in February, on her return from a visit to an
ancient church, she was surprised to see Herr Kauffner approaching
her dressed in holiday attire. She knew him as a prosperous tanner,
and a friend of the Schreibers, and although he was a member of the
town council it was not usual for him to be walking out on a week day
dressed in his Sunday clothes. Her surprise was not lessened when, on
doffing his hat, he stopped and begged permission to accompany her
home. There was an impressive formality about the request which made
her feel very uncomfortable, but she could scarcely refuse.

Herr Kauffner was a heavily built man with a temperament that scorned
circumlocution. He wasted little time and less words in coming to his
point.

“I am happy, Fräulein Barton,” he began with a self-satisfied air, “to
have this opportunity of speaking with you alone.” He cast an ardent,
admiring glance on what he could see of her face. “Indeed, Fräulein, I
have been wishing for it ever since I had the good fortune to make your
acquaintance.”

Helène quickened her step--they were nearing the main street.

“I am one of the richest men in the Faubourg,” he went on, and this
time with a distinct note of pride in his tones. “I am a good-natured
fellow, in the prime of life and sound as a thaler.”

Helène turned pale and increased her pace as she kept looking about her
anxiously in the hope she would see some person she knew.

“But--I am a lonely man. I ask your permission to visit Herr and Frau
Schreiber more frequently as a suitor for your heart and hand. May I so
consider myself?”

Helène was utterly at her wit’s end what to answer. Her rapid steps had
brought her to the turning of the street in which the Schreibers lived.
She paused for breath for a moment and looked at Herr Kauffner with
such surprise and frightened eyes that he stepped back a pace.

“I thank you for the honor you have paid me, Herr Kauffner,” she was
able to say, “but it cannot be. Permit me to go home now alone.”

And without giving him time to answer, she almost ran down the street
into the house. Once in the hall she did not pause, but walked quickly
up the stairs, clinging to the balustrade for support and threw herself
into a chair in her own room, overcome from exhaustion and fear. She
had not dared to announce her return to Anna, as she usually did
after her walks; she was afraid Anna might question her on seeing her
distress.

For many minutes she sat trying to still the beating of her heart. The
rush of blood to her head had made her dizzy. After a time she was able
to get on her feet and bathe her face in cold water.

Then the humor of the situation took her, and she smiled. Poor man--he
meant well. She had been rude to leave him so abruptly. What would Anna
say? How could she tell her?

Just then she heard a noise of some one entering the next room and the
sound of the closing of the door. Then came loud voices in dispute.
Anna and her husband were talking about something that had evidently
made them angry. The voices came nearer and she heard Anna say
distinctly:

“You are very unreasonable. You ought to be proud to have her here.”

“Yes, that’s what you say; but I’m not. You keep on telling me of the
honor your ‘gracious and noble Comtesse’ is doing us by being here. But
I don’t see it. After slaving all these years to be my own master, do
you think I’m going to be a servant again? And yet that’s just what I’m
being driven to. Since she came I am compelled to eat my meals where I
won’t be in the way of your ‘precious lamb.’ I am not allowed to talk
loudly; I can’t have my friends visit me and enjoy a bottle of wine; I
must be always dressed up and keep on my best behavior--and in my own
house, too. I never heard of such a thing. I can’t smoke my pipe except
in a back room, and as for my wife, why I see so little of you now that
I might just as well never be married.”

“Anton, you must not shout like that.”

“Not shout! Why not? Isn’t this my house? I don’t care who hears me.
I’d just as soon tell her if she were here. Before she came I was as
happy and proud as a duke. Here we’ve been working all these years--for
what? For our home. And now that we’ve got it--where is it? Not in
this place. When I want my wife, you are fussing with the ‘gracious
Comtesse’; when I ask you to come for a walk, you tell me ‘Lady Helène
needs me’; when I want to talk with her, you tell me I don’t know how
to talk to a noble lady. What do you think I am--a stone, a fool, or
a man? I’m sick of it all. I want our old life back again--I want my
wife--my home.”

“Anton, you are beside yourself. Don’t you know the poor girl has no
one except us to help her?”

“Well, let her do as other girls do--let her marry a decent fellow and
have her own home. I don’t mind her visiting us--but I don’t keep a
hotel!”

When Helène had realized that it was she who was the cause of their
quarrel, her weakness became such that she lost the power of movement,
and collapsed in the chair. She tried to cry out in an effort to make
them aware of her presence in the house, but her tongue clove to the
roof of her mouth--she could but sit helpless and listen.

She heard Anna weeping and saying bitter words to her husband. How
he must have resented her coming that he, a man usually so mild and
gentle, should have been roused to such anger. She heard a violent
slamming of a door followed by the sound of quick, heavy treads down
the stairs, and then, a deadly silence.

So this was to be the end! An adverse fate must be pursuing her.
Wherever she went unhappiness followed. Even those who would befriend
her suffered because of her.

“Oh, I wish I was dead--dead, and with dear papa,” she murmured
brokenly, for she was too wretched to cry.

She must go and go at once. Anna must not suffer because of her.
She had come between her and her good husband who loved her. Anton
Schreiber was right. His wife and his home were his, and she had no
right here.

But where should she go? Ah, that was a hard question to answer. She
would not go back to Weimar, and she knew nobody anywhere else. If
only Donald were here--he would surely help her. She must go to some
big city where no one would know her and where she could easily hide
herself. But if she went with Anna’s knowledge, that dear woman would
suspect she had overheard the quarrel. She must leave without her
knowing it.

Her mind made up she stepped quietly down the stairs and out of the
house to the rear where the Schreibers’ little maid-of-all-work had
her room. The girl adored the Fräulein Barton and would do anything
she asked. Helène bound her to secrecy. She was going to Munich on a
visit, she told her, and didn’t want Frau Schreiber to know. Could she
get anyone who would take her trunk to the station? The girl smiled. Of
course she could. The butcher’s boy would do it for her any time. When?
She’d bring him that evening at eight o’clock. He could bring the trunk
downstairs to the laundry and in the morning he’d come round with his
cart and take it away. Her Hermann would do it for a thaler--not for
him, but for the porter at the station. That settled it.

Helène returned to the front door and entering noisily called out for
“Mamma Anna” as she usually did to announce her arrival.

“Where are you, ‘Mamma Anna,’” she called up the stairs.

“I’m resting in my room,” came the reply.

“Well, I’m going to write some letters. Call me when supper is ready.”

“I will, dear Comtesse.”

Once in her room Helène commenced packing her belonging quietly, but
rapidly. It took but a little time and the trunk locked, she carefully
moved it, inch by inch, until she had succeeded in placing it at the
head of the back staircase where the maid’s Hermann would be sure to
find it.

At the supper table, Helène told Anna of her encounter with Herr
Kauffner. She treated the matter lightly and in a way that would not
offend Anna. But, to Helène’s surprise, Anna was most indignant with
the man.

“The idea!” she exclaimed. “I’ll tell that gentleman something that’ll
keep him away. That man marry my darling--why it’s preposterous!”

“Let’s forget all about it, Anna dear. Shall I play you some of your
favorite songs?”

And without waiting for her assent she sat down at the piano. But Anna
was not to be restrained. She loved to have Helène play for her, but
her indignation took a long time cooling, and Helène could hear her
muttering as she busied herself clearing the table: “Preposterous! The
idea! I never heard such impudence!”

Anton Schreiber came in all smiles for Helène, but she felt too ashamed
to look at him. She stopped playing and was about to rise and leave
the room, when he begged her to go on. She pleaded weariness, however,
and, excusing herself, retired to her room. The two, she thought, would
be better left alone; it would give them an opportunity to become
reconciled with each other.

In her bedroom she was again a prey to anxiety. What would she do in
Munich? To whom could she go there? She thought of Morton and wondered
where he was. He believed her to be still at Weimar, for she had
written him but once since they had parted--a simple acknowledgment of
his birthday-gift. She had promised to let him know if ever she was in
need of a friend, and surely she was in such need now! Should she write
to him? Torn by anxiety and pride she knew not which way to decide.
After much reflection she concluded there could be no harm in letting
him know that she had left the castle. Taking pen and paper she began;
but it was only after several attempts and with many misgivings of
heart that she finally decided to send the following:

  “DEAR MR. MORTON:

  “I have left the home offered me by the Duchess of Saxe-Weimar. I was
  too unhappy there. I tried most earnestly to become reconciled to my
  surroundings, but the dull routine of the empty life of the Court,
  the heartlessness of its people, were more than I could bear.

  “I have now decided to try to find my own proper place in the
  world--to get some occupation in which I can be happy and, at least,
  be free to live my own life. I have not forgotten my promise to you
  not to take a serious step without consulting you, but I am sure you
  will agree that I have acted for the best.

  “The letters of my father which Mr. Tyler gave me only deepen the
  feelings of gratitude your kindness aroused in me. I know everything
  now and I must ever honor the man who proved himself so noble a
  friend. If I do not ask your advice now before deciding it is because
  I know too well what you would do--and I cannot again burden you with
  my sorrows.

  “Please forgive me if I seem proud. I ask only for time, in which to
  plant my feet on firm ground and, perhaps, find some peace.

  “I have taken some of the money Mr. Tyler gave me, so that I shall
  not be in want. What other poorer girls can do I can.

  “I shall write you again in the autumn when my year of mourning for
  my dear father is over. Until then, think of me as kindly as you can
  and believe that I am obeying an inner voice which commands me.

  “Believe me, Dear Mr. Morton,

                             “Very gratefully yours,

                                                “HELÈNE RONDELL-BARTON.”

The letter took a long time writing and had cost Helène many a
heartache and not a few tears. She had been filled with doubts even
while writing it. It was so easy to shift her burden, and this man
would have accepted it gladly. But how would she seem in his eyes in
that case? How could she accept such a service from one who had already
served her so abundantly? What right had she thus to call on him?
No--the letter was best. She felt more at ease with herself, more
determined in spirit, more resolute of purpose, stronger in will, now
that it was written.

Early the next morning she packed her few remaining possessions in a
small valise and, after leaving a short note for Anna, crept out of
the house and made her way to the railway station where she mailed the
letter to Morton. She waited until the butcher’s boy had brought her
trunk and took a second-class ticket for Hanover, where in due time she
arrived.

An official at the railway station of whom she inquired after a hotel
recommended the “Hanover.” Here she obtained a comfortable room and
after satisfying her hunger she sat down by its window in the dark to
think out a plan of action for the following day.

She sat for a long time looking out on to the brilliantly lit avenue
with its display of the city’s night life and wondered what place she
could fill in it. It was a new world to her--a bewildering world--even
a terrifying world. She must now mix in it--play her part in it
unprepared and unaided. Her heart sank at the thought. And this was
what was meant by life! This was what thousands of girls had to face!
Well, she would face it, too, and do her best. If others could succeed,
why not she? And if she failed--but she would not think of that. She
would not, must not fail. She would begin by going to an employment
agency and offer herself for a position as governess. She knew French,
German and English--these were not common accomplishments and, surely,
they were wanted and would be paid for!

But what a change from her life in Roumelia! Ah, beloved Roumelia! She
pictured the Rosen’s home in Padina--the last real home she had known.
It brought Morton back to her mind. Involuntarily, she closed her eyes
to the lights without, so that she could be alone with her image. Had
he meant all that was implied in his last words? Or had he but used
similar words to her that he had spoken to other girls he knew? No,
no, no, she could not believe that. He was not that kind of a man. Her
father had said of him that he was true and noble, and her father, a
wise man and of great experience, knew men well. It was wrong in her to
doubt him.

“I must leave the rest,” she whispered softly, “in God’s good hands.
Until, then, good-bye, my knight.”

Thus, greatly encouraged and with a mind calmed and at rest, she lay
down and slept the happy sleep of those who feel they are loved.



CHAPTER XXI


True to her resolve, Helène called the next morning at the “Agentur für
Gouvernanten,” the address of which she found in a directory at the
hotel. The experience was a disappointing one. The official gave her a
form to fill out for her name, address, accomplishments and references.
The registration fee was six marks, payable in advance.

As she had no references to give, since she did not wish any of her
friends to know where she was, she filled in the form without the
references.

Helène began to realize that finding a situation might take a much
longer time than she had expected. She, therefore, decided to leave
the expensive hotel and take a room at a modest pension. She was soon
accommodated and spent her days mainly in reading and answering the
advertisements in the daily papers and the “Teacher’s Journal.” On two
occasions she received replies requesting her to call, but nothing came
of her visits--she could give no references. She persevered, however,
convinced that something would turn up some day.

The days lengthened and the snow had disappeared altogether from the
streets. In the park, where she loved to take her walks on sunny
afternoons, the keepers were busy cleaning up the grass plots and
planting flowers. The trees were beginning to burst into foliage; the
leaf buds of the lindens were swelling; the birches began to show
their pretty little pussy-tails and the sparrows and starlings were
twittering their first spring songs. The faces of the people she met
took on expectant and hopeful expressions.

One beautiful, sunny morning she received a letter from a Frau
Professor Heimbach, asking her to call in response to her application
for a governess for her two children. The Frau Professor lived on the
second floor in Hegel Strasse.

Helène had no doubt she had at last succeeded in getting what she had
been hoping for. She was so overjoyed that, for the first time in
months, she sang while eating her breakfast. She arrayed herself in her
best clothes and set out looking the very incarnation of the lovely
spring weather.

Hegel Strasse looked like the very place in which a Frau Professor
might live. It was in a very respectable neighborhood and the house
itself a faded remnant of a one-time dignified and imposing structure.

With a beating heart Helène ascended the unadorned, cold stairway
and pulled the bell-knob below the brass-plate which indicated that
Professor Albert V. Heimbach, Ph.D., lived within. She could hear in
the distance the shrill tinkling sound of the bell. After what seemed
to her an eternity the door opened and an unkempt maid with a red
upturned nose appeared. To Helène’s request to see the Frau Professor,
the servant made no reply, but looked her over very carefully from
head to feet. The inspection appeared to be satisfactory, for the girl
nodded and beckoned to Helène to come in.

At the end of the narrow entresol and sharply outlined against the
bright light which came from a distant room, Helène saw a tall, slender
woman approaching.

“What is it you wish, Madame?” she inquired of Helène.

Helène explained that she had come in response to the Frau Professor’s
advertisement for a governess.

“Come into the room, and be seated.”

In the increased light of the sitting-room Helène faced a tired and
somewhat faded woman, still young, but of a most meagre appearance, and
painfully flat-chested, with pale bluish eyes and thin bloodless lips.
The close fitting bodice of her dress accentuated the length of a thin
neck which stuck up from her shoulders and seemed as if it were a stalk
bearing the small head above it. She spoke in cold, knife-edgy tones.

“Have you had any experience as a governess of children, Fräulein?”

“No--Frau Professor--but....”

“Pardon me, Fräulein--answer only my question, if you will be good
enough. Have you any references from your pastor, or the Council of
your district?”

“No, gnädige Frau Professor.”

“Do you feel yourself competent to teach my two children the subjects
of the North German School curriculum?”

“I think I am quite competent. I am fond of children and....”

“Pardon me, I did not ask you for that information. Have you ever
taught children?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Where?”

“At Gratz--I assisted the Sisters of the Holy Heart.”

“What are your accomplishments?”

“I speak French very well--also English. I play the piano, draw and
paint a little and can embroider and sew.”

The Frau Professor’s face seemed as if it might have been touched by
a faint interest--it almost smiled. Painting and embroidering were
evidently desirable qualities. She had kept her feet crossed during the
examination but she now separated them and displayed a pair of shabby
shoes sadly down at heel. Leaning forward she examined the very young
applicant carefully but not unkindly.

The door leading to an adjoining room, just at that moment, slowly
opened, and after a few moments Helène saw a curly-headed, blue-eyed
little girl stretch its head into the room. The mother turned quickly
and called out: “Close the door, Emilie--you must not be inquisitive.”
The child disappeared instantly. Helène felt sorry to see her go--her
heart had gone out to the dear little thing.

The interruption seemed to have acted on the Frau Professor as a
reminder of her position. She leaned back and folding her arms gazed
for a long time at Helène’s face and clothes with a dreamy look in her
eyes. Finally, she seemed to make up her mind and began to speak, at
first hesitatingly and then more firmly:

“Fräulein, will you let me tell you something--something which I
believe you will thank me for hereafter? You are looking for a position
as governess in a family. By your own admission you have had no
experience in such work and cannot furnish testimonials.”

Helène turned pale and then reddened.

“I want to be perfectly frank with you,” resumed the thin lady; “I
admit that your accomplishments, your appearance and your manners are
greatly in your favor; but you are seeking for employment in the wrong
direction, Fräulein.”

“Oh, Frau Professor,” cried Helène eagerly, “I can learn; and I am so
anxious to please. I would love to teach your children, and I am sure
they would like me. I shall try to make them like me. Won’t you just
give me a trial, please?”

The Frau Professor’s brow clouded and her face turned a brick-red
color. With an effort she seemed to be suppressing her feelings. Then,
laying a hand on Helène’s gloved ones, she bent over and in a softened
voice said:

“My child, you cannot and should not expect that from me. Ten years
ago when I married I was a blooming, fresh girl like you are, though,
perhaps, not quite so attractive. Look at me now. See what those ten
years have done for me.”

She stood up and stretched out her arms. It was a pathetic gesture.

“My husband is a kind and good man. He has his work to do and his
studies. But the romance of his life--so far, at least as I can affect
it, has gone out of him. Look at me and you will see what the drudgery
of household duties, the care of children, the worry of making both
ends meet, have made of me. My youth has departed from me, and with it
have gone all the joy I have known and all the beauty I ever possessed.

“Do you expect that I should bring a beautiful young being like you
into my home? Why, my dear, your presence would be a daily reminder to
me, and to my husband, of my helplessness and futility. I could not
compete with you. And there is not a woman in Hanover who would dare
risk it. I am not doubting you. I am sure you are good and pure. But we
are all fighting to keep the little flame of our husband’s admiration
still burning in his heart for us. It is so small that it would die,
oh, so easily if ... ah, my dear Fräulein, it is impossible.

“Take my advice and marry some good young man. Or, if you must find
an occupation, look for it where women do not rule. Forgive me for my
plain speaking; I do not mean to pain you. Were I a great lady with a
magnificent household and many servants, I would engage you without a
moment’s hesitation. As it is, it is out of the question. I ask your
pardon, Fräulein Barton, and wish you a good morning and good luck.”

Helène knew not how she found herself in the street, but the sunshine
seemed as if it had been washed from the sky suddenly as by a soiled
rag. She walked mechanically, her heart numb, her brain dulled, without
knowing where she was going. She had but one conscious feeling--to hide
herself, to be alone. At the corner of the street she hailed a ’bus and
shrank into its remotest corner. She allowed it to pass her pension;
she would go into the park and sit there and think over what she should
do. There at least she would not be molested. The trees and birds and
children would not chide her.

In a quiet circular spot edged with boxwood she found a seat on a bench
in a sunny corner where the tender green of the shrubbery spoke of a
reawakened life. The sparrows hopped about her for the cake crumbs she
threw them. It was too early in the season for the nurse maids and
their perambulators and only occasionally a park gardener would pass
along the walk wheeling his barrow of turf or soil and leaving behind
him the fresh scent of earth.

Helène sat in a pathetic mood, too depressed to think. Her encounter
with the world had stunned her, and she found herself utterly at a loss
how to renew the attack. Suddenly, she heard the crunching sound of
quick, firm foot-treads on gravel. Turning her head in the direction of
the sound she saw a tall, fine-looking woman coming straight towards
her. As she approached nearer, Helène noticed that she was young
and neatly dressed in a smart tailor-made costume which set off to
advantage a splendid, though rather stout figure. She recalled now
that she had seen this young woman in the rooms of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition, and had admired her freedom and grace of movement, so
unlike that of the other women. Evidently she was a foreigner.

In passing, the lady gave Helène a smile of recognition; then stopping
suddenly, as if on a second thought, she turned back and went up to
where Helène was sitting.

“Do you mind my sitting here?” she asked with a smile.

Helène was so surprised at being spoken to by her that she could only
nod her assent. She passed her gloved hand quickly over her face to
wipe away the tears that had fallen unbidden.

“Don’t mind me, Fräulein. I know how you feel. I’ve been in trouble
myself.”

Helène looked up and met two kindly brown eyes looking in sympathetic
admiration into hers. The face, with its healthy coloring and
expression of good nature, drew her in spite of herself. She could not
resist its strong appeal. Smiling bravely, she said:

“I am in trouble; but I feel ashamed of my weakness in giving way.
Thank you for your sympathy.” And rising, she made as if to go.

But the other put a restraining hand on her arm.

“Please, don’t let me drive you away. I’m a stranger here. Won’t you
sit awhile for a chat. I think I saw you at the Art Exhibit. My name
is Margaret Fisher. I am an American and am here on business. Don’t be
frightened, I can assure you I’m a perfectly proper person. I may be
able to help you, if you will let me, Fräulein.”

“You are very good,” replied Helène, reseating herself. “I, too,
am a stranger here. This is my first visit to Hanover. My name is
Helène--Helène Barton.”

“Helène--what a pretty name! Then you are not a native, though you talk
like one. Well, I’m not looking for information, thank goodness. Are
you staying long here, Miss Barton?”

“For a few weeks only. Both my parents were German born, but I know no
one in this city.”

“Then you are alone and an orphan, just like myself. Well, we should be
friends, then.” She drew a tiny watch from her belt. “It’s past twelve;
won’t you come and take lunch with me? I should enjoy having you.”

“Thank you. I shall be delighted. Do you live near?”

“I’m staying at the Metropole. I suppose you live in a pension. Much
better; but I’m only a transient--here to-day, gone to-morrow.”

“Yes, I live at a pension; but I often go out for my lunch.”

“Good, then we’ll go to the Park restaurant. It’s nice and quiet there,
and we can have a good talk. You needn’t be afraid to come. I’m big
enough to chaperon you.”

Helène laughed happily. It was so comforting to hear her friendly,
soft, confident voice.

“You certainly look as if you could take care of yourself, Miss
Fisher.” The two laughed as they walked towards the restaurant.

The good luncheon which Miss Fisher ordered proved an excellent solvent
for Helène’s state of mind, and Miss Fisher herself knew well how
to break down any barriers of restraint that might still remain. It
was evident that she wanted to help this young and beautiful girl in
distress, and when a woman of Margaret Fisher’s temperament makes up
her mind, there is nothing that will stop her.

It was not long, therefore, before Helène had unbosomed herself of all
her anxieties and told her new-found friend of the difficulties which
she had encountered in her efforts to find some occupation. Miss Fisher
looked at her admiringly with tender, motherly eyes.

“Poor dear!” she exclaimed, “I know all about it. I’ve been through it
myself. My father was a German--his people lived near Hanover, which is
one of the reasons why I am here. My business brought me to Europe and
I took the opportunity to look them up. I am the head of a high-class
dressmaking and millinery establishment in New York, Madame Lucile’s,
and I came on a buying trip. I’m going back next week--as soon as the
new models are ready for me.”

“It must be splendid to be so capable as you are,” Helène remarked with
a sigh of regret.

“Ah, but you don’t get there, my dear Miss Barton, without a great deal
of heart-breaking work. It’s not so easy as it looks.” Miss Fisher’s
face clouded a little as if recalling an unpleasant past, but her face
resumed its bright and alert expression almost before the shadow had
left it. She looked at Helène’s beautiful countenance for a long time
and then suddenly she said:

“Won’t you let me help you? You are too young and too pretty to fight
this battle alone. It will make me happy, if you will. I have lots of
money--my firm pays all the expenses.”

“You are more than kind, dear Miss Fisher. Thank you. I know you mean
well; but I’ve some money of my own. I’m not so helpless as all that.”

Helène spoke with her gentle and distinguished courtesy, smiling
charmingly at the same time.

“My dear--let me call you Helène, won’t you?--thank you. You see I’m
much older than you are, both in years and experience of life. We’ll
drop the subject for the while; but let’s stick together so long as I’m
in Hanover, shall we?”

“I shall be only too pleased. You are so encouraging and so--strong.
You make me feel very hopeful.”

“That’s all right. We’ll just go about and see the sights. Maybe we’ll
think something out before my week is up.”

They spent the afternoon together, and Helène promised her new friend
to call on her that evening at her hotel to look over the purchases she
had made.

The evening provided a rare experience for Helène. Miss Fisher
showed her a collection of wonderful laces, ribbons, trimmings,
jets and ornaments which had been acquired for the New York market.
What impressed Helène more, however, was the quick decisive manner
with which Miss Fisher explained everything; the nimble hands which
displayed the articles to their best advantage; the ready words which
fell from her lips in praise of their qualities. Helène had never
imagined a woman could be so capable, and at the same time so jolly and
witty.

Miss Fisher, in her turn, had not failed to observe in her shrewd
way, how quickly Helène assimilated the information, and how alert
the girl’s mind showed itself, in spite of its natural reserve. The
remarks, too, she let fall evinced a taste and judgment quite rare. She
insisted on taking Helène to her pension in a cab, and promising to
look in on her in her exile, as she put it, left her in a happier state
of mind than she had known in many a day.

Miss Fisher returned to her hotel in a very thoughtful mood. She knew
enough of life to guess that her young acquaintance was a gently
nurtured girl of a refined family, unhappily thrown upon her own scant
resources, and in danger of being wrecked on the rocks. Her beauty, her
gentle ways and voice, the pure, simple mind she had shown, all had
made an indelible impression on her and had won her completely. She
made up her mind to befriend her.

The next morning Helène was surprised to realize how eagerly she was
looking forward to Miss Fisher’s coming. The short acquaintance, so
unusually begun, had so quickly ripened under the benign influence of
the American girl’s way of doing and saying things that Helène was
quite conquered. It was all so novel and yet so humbly pleasant that
she wished it would go on always.

This was the first of a number of meetings between the two. Miss Fisher
sounded Helène, and soon became convinced she was really in earnest.
She did not probe too deeply into the girl’s family history--only just
enough to find that her judgment had been correct. She learned that
Helène could speak English--and what a charming English it was, too!
She was sure Madame Lucile would be delighted with her. She would be a
real acquisition to the business, she felt convinced of it.

“See here, my dear,” she said suddenly on one of their walks, “why
not come with me to New York? You tell me you have neither friends
nor relatives and not even an admirer--so there’s nothing to keep you
here. Come with me, and I’ll see that you get a position. New York is a
beautiful city with more opportunities for a girl than any other place
in the world. You needn’t be afraid; I’ll look after you. We can have
a little apartment together and live the jolliest of lives. You are a
born artist, as I saw from your drawings and sketches. I am sure you’ll
get a good position with the people I’m with. Will you come? Say the
word, and we’ll fix it up.”

Helène’s big blue eyes opened wide in astonishment at her friend’s
words.

“Do you really mean it? Can I really do the things you say?”

“Of course you can,” and she put her arms around Helène and kissed her.
“We’ll be a couple of the happiest girls in Manhattan. And no man shall
come between us, either, miss--do you hear? Oh, I’m so happy.” And Miss
Fisher forgot her dignity and jumped again. “I can just see Madame
Lucile’s expression when she sees you. I’ll tell her I’ve brought the
cleverest designer of hats in Europe--the peer of modistes! And won’t
Miss Foucher, the head trimmer, stare! Hooray.”

It did not take Miss Fisher long to make all the necessary arrangements
for the voyage. She had Helène’s berth engaged, a steamer trunk at her
lodgings and a quantity of necessary purchases made in less time than
it would have taken Helène even to think about them. The money she
spent seemed enormous to Helène.

“Never mind, my dear. These things cost far more in New York, where
you’ll want them--and you’re saving money by buying them here. It’s
dollars in New York--not marks. Just you leave it to me.”

Helène looked on aghast and could make no answer. Miss Fisher had told
her she was “some shopper,” and she had certainly not exaggerated. The
way she made the clerks skip about sent the cold shivers down Helène’s
spine. By dusk every article had been arranged for, and there was now
nothing to do but wait until the next morning’s train, which would take
them to Bremen.

As this was to be the last evening before sailing, Miss Fisher
proposed a “blow-out.” They’d have dinner together and go to the opera.
With Miss Fisher, to propose was to act. The dinner was most enjoyable,
and the opera, “Romeo and Julietta,” neither of them had ever heard,
so that they had, as Miss Fisher put it afterwards, “the time of their
life.”

As they parted for the night, they decided to pay a visit to the park
in the morning and have luncheon in the restaurant there, for old
time’s sake, before taking the train.

The day opened cold and blustering. But Margaret saw in it a good omen.
“Leave in rain and arrive in sunshine,” she quoted from some hidden
recess in the treasury of her knowledge. But it didn’t prevent them
shivering in the park.

“Wait until we get to New York. That’s the place for sunshine, if you
like. And not only sunshine, my dear Helène, but a sunny life.”

To Helène, Bremen was a most bewildering place. If it had not been for
Margaret she would never have known where to go or what to do first.
But Margaret knew everything. She saw that the tickets were correct,
saw to the tickets for the dock at Bremerhaven, had their baggage
carefully labeled and checked and wound up at the big steamer as fresh
as when they had left Hanover. Immediately they boarded the vessel
Margaret saw to the stateroom, found out which side of the ship was the
sunny side and had their deck chairs marked and placed there. She saw
the chief steward and arranged with him for good seats at the dining
table; she found the stewardess who was assigned to their cabin and
came to a satisfactory understanding with her also.

“You see, my dear Helène,” she explained to the now utterly bewildered
girl, “we’re going to live on this boat for eight days. We’d better
be comfortable while we are here. We might be good sailors, and then
we might not. You never know. So it’s best to be on the safe side. If
either of us get seasick now, that stewardess will look after us.”

The great foghorn sent out a roaring sound that seemed to Helène loud
enough for the whole world to hear. Clumsily, at first, the big ship
moved, and then, as she gathered headway, steamed out into the gray
expanse of the seeming boundless sea. Helène gazed with bated breath
and beating heart at the fast receding land. There was no turning back
now. She had indeed burned her bridges. How would she fare in this new
land to which she was sailing?

A strong arm slipped round her waist and a warm hand clasped hers in
a firm, motherly grip. Margaret had seen the expression on the poor
girl’s face and had come to give her comfort.

“Have no fear, dear, all will be well.”

Helène let her head fall on her friend’s ample breast and looked up to
the soft brown eyes that were so kind in their meaning.

“You are a great comfort, dear friend. I shall always love you,
Margaret.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The voyage was calm and uneventful. The weather was fine all the way
and they enjoyed the eight days on the Atlantic as though they were two
school-girls out on a vacation. On the morning of the eighth day the
good ship steamed majestically up the Bay and landed the girls on the
Jersey shore, from whence Helène had a river view of New York.

But the impressiveness of that sight was nothing to her to the noise
and rush of the city itself when she found herself being carried
rapidly on the street railroad. A feeling of terrible depression came
over her. It was all so dirty, so uncouth, so raw. From all sides came
clanging of bells, shrieking of whistles, raucous cries. A wretched
drizzle was falling from a leaden mist of sky. The people hustled
and jostled each other, hot and steaming from under waterproofs and
umbrellas. They seemed an endless stream of humanity coming apparently
from nowhere and going anywhere and everywhere.

But to Margaret it was glorious. She sniffed the raw, damp air and her
cheeks glowed.

“Oh, but it’s good to be back! My proverb didn’t hold out! We landed on
a wet day after all. Well, never mind. It’ll rain sunshine to-morrow.
You don’t mind, do you?”

“Oh, no, Margaret. I think it’s wonderful.” What traffic! What life!
Her voice was drowned in the thunder of trains rushing over their
heads. They were traveling along the avenue towards Margaret’s rooms.
Helène marvelled how the people could bear up under such dreadful
noises. Surely their senses must get dulled and deadened in time! They
crossed Broadway at the risk of their lives, as it seemed to her, but
Margaret had Helène by the hand and laughed aloud. Soon they entered a
quiet square in the center of which was a little park shut in by iron
railings. Margaret explained that this was Gramercy Park where she
lived.

Ascending the brown stone steps of a house near the entrance to the
square, Margaret pressed the bell button. The door had barely opened
when a loud, glad exclamation greeted the two girls.

“Oh, Miss Fisher, I am so glad to see you.”

“Hello, Jane! How are you? How’s Mrs. Kane? Well? Ah, that’s good.
Tell her I’ve brought a friend who is going to stay with me. My room’s
ready, I suppose? Good. Well, we’re going upstairs, but we’ll be down
for lunch. I’ll be glad to see Mrs. Kane if she can come up.”

Then turning to Helène she smiled:

“Come along up, Helène. Our things won’t be here for some time; but
we’ll get along somehow.”

Soon they were joined by the landlady, a pleasant-faced, middle-aged
little woman with a gentle voice and manner. She greeted Margaret
affectionately and shook hands with Helène on being introduced to her.

“My friend will stay with me, Mrs. Kane, if you don’t mind, until you
can find her a room. Have you one free?”

“Yes, Miss Fisher, but it’s only the hall bedroom on this floor. Will
it do?”

“Of course it will. Fix it up for her, there’s a dear.”

The landlady left, casting admiring glances at Helène.

“Helen, dear--it’s to be Helen now, no French edgings here, you know.
Are you happy?”

Helène for answer went up to Margaret and putting her arms around her
neck laid her head on the tall girl’s breast.

“You are too good to me, Margaret.”

Margaret was deeply moved.

“Who could help being good to you, my dear,” she said, stroking
Helène’s hair.

When night came and Helène laid her tired head on the soft pillow
of her bed in the little hall-room, she breathed a prayer of deep
gratitude. Mr. Morton was right. His country was God’s own country.
Then into her heart crept a feeling of sweet gladness. Perhaps--she
would meet him again--her knight, _sans peur et sans reproche_. And,
smiling, she slept.



CHAPTER XXII


John Morton walked the windy deck of the ship as though he were
tramping all the way to Europe. He counted the throbbings of the great
engine and the turns of the screws, so anxious and impatient was he.
The hours were like days and the days like weeks.

Two months had passed since he had placed Helène in Mr. Tyler’s care,
and those two months had left their marks on him. They had changed him
from an adventurous, happy young fellow into a sober, thoughtful man.
But while his brow had become lined his heart still preserved its faith
and hope. He had made up his mind that he would seek out Helène and
marry her at once, if she would have him. During his enforced absence
in America he experienced so overwhelming a desire that he could scarce
restrain himself from throwing everything up to satisfy his heart’s
cravings for a mere sight of her lovely face. In his thoughts she stood
out, by day and by night, as a thing for reverence and worship.

Surely, by this time Don would have traced her; and he pictured to
himself the very place he would meet her, how he would greet her, the
lovely face as it would look in response to his pleadings.

In Liverpool, disquieting telegrams and letters awaited him. No trace
of the Comtesse. The Princess wrote to say that she knew nothing of
Helène’s whereabouts. She had left a short note on leaving Weimar, but
it contained no reference to where she was going. She had drawn some
money out of the bank, and that was all she could learn there. Her maid
knew nothing definite.

Mr. Tyler had written in like manner. The police of Dresden, Munich,
Berlin and Vienna had been communicated with, but with no results.
Detectives had been employed to no purpose. Helène seemed to have
disappeared from off the face of the earth.

“The idiots!” muttered John in anger, “they couldn’t find the Great
Pyramid in a ten-acre lot.”

At Weimar he spent hours going over everything with Donald; but what
that faithful servitor reported served only to deepen the mystery. One
thing, however, was clear--Helène had left in a very unhappy state of
mind.

He wrote an urgent note to the Princess requesting an interview. The
interview was a painful one to both. The Princess broke down and
bemoaned her bitter fate--her inability to protect her friend. She told
him the whole story of the scene in the reception-room and its cause.

Faugh! The thing was nauseating to John. What a Court! What people
these princelets were! He guessed instinctively that it was Witherspoon
who was responsible for the article. He would settle with that fellow
another time. He left the Princess feeling no great respect for her
courage, and more resolved than ever to leave no stone unturned.

And now he began a systematic hunt, on his own account, throughout
almost all Europe. Advertisements were printed in the principal
newspapers. Police records and hotel registers examined, detectives
employed. Blue-eyed girls who read Helène’s description in the
advertisements dreamed thrilling romances and envied the maid who, no
doubt, was the heiress to some enormously rich uncle. Girls with gray
eyes thought them blue and weaved tales of a Prince Charming coming to
set them free. Old maids sighed and old men smiled. But, with all the
interest that was excited, and despite the lavish expenditure of money,
the real Helène remained undiscovered.

Weeks went by and Morton became very anxious. He grew nervous and
restless. As he walked the streets he would examine every young woman
he passed with quick, furtive glances in the vain hope that one of them
might be Helène.

He consulted with Mr. Tyler frequently and that wise man told him not
to worry. The girl herself, he felt sure, would write to him. John
clung desperately to this suggestion. He began calculating the time it
would take a letter to get back to him from America should she have
written him there. Judge Lowell had his instructions and would cable
him immediately on its receipt. The thought calmed him greatly and he
thanked Tyler. He would wait in Weimar until the end of February, by
which time he reckoned a letter might arrive in Cleveland.

Tyler’s judgment was justified. On the twenty-seventh Morton received a
cable from his lawyer informing him that a letter from Germany had been
received and asking for instructions. He promptly cabled back to open
the letter and wire him the whereabouts of the writer.

The answer came: “Party left for place not given. Intends to remain
hidden for some time. Is well. Promises to write in good time. Copy
mailed. My advice not to worry. Family all well.”

There was nothing to do now but to wait. His fears, it is true, were
allayed, but how long would it he before he would hear from her again?
And what should he do meanwhile? On referring his perplexity to Tyler,
that sensible man suggested that he should take a trip around Germany
and look up his old haunts. He decided to do this.

As there was now nothing which should keep McCormick in Weimar, he sent
him home, there to await further orders. He himself went to Bonn, his
Alma Mater, and from there to Munich, where he renewed his acquaintance
with an assistant professor of philosophy, whom he found happily
married. This last visit did him great good. The peaceful home of his
old tutor, where he stayed a few days, acted beneficially on his nerves
and gave him a taste of genuine happiness which lasted him for many
days.

But his restlessness returned. He could not reconcile himself to
patient waiting. His thoughts of Helène, who was never entirely out
of his mind, were charged with anxiety about her welfare. She was so
inexperienced, so young, so beautiful that he felt she would never be
able to fight her way alone. He knew how cruel the world could be to
one of her sensitive nature.

Obeying an irresistible impulse he suddenly took a train for Vienna.
It was there he had last seen Helène. He stayed at the Bristol and
idled his time wandering aimlessly round the city pleasing himself with
the memories the place recalled. The son of Dan Morton the pioneer
was no longer the hard-headed man of business. He had become nature’s
child--the young male longing for his mate. His mother was right; there
was more of the idealistic Randolphs than of the practical Mortons in
him. At the same time, his training made him chafe because he could not
accomplish what he had set his mind on so determinedly. Then the humor
of the situation struck him and he laughed aloud. It was a saving grace
of a laugh; for it brought back his common sense.

That evening, for the first time in many a day, he dressed and went
to the opera. He listened to “Romeo and Julietta,” played by the
splendid company of the Imperial Court. He had an entrancing time.
Juliet was Helène and he Romeo. If only some kind-hearted fairy could
have whispered to him that the same strains which were moving him to
so exquisite a response would, later, stir her heart strings in like
wise! But fairies have been banished from our sophisticated world. Only
children see them and hold communion with them now.

From Vienna Morton went to Berlin and spent a few days with the Tylers.
They were glad to see him looking so well and seeming more contented.
“Youth is a wonderful gift,” thought the old diplomatist, while his
wife could not resist saying to her husband: “What a pity the girl is
so silly.”

At last the long-looked-for letter arrived. John read and reread it a
dozen times, devouring every word and examining each single sentence
for some hint for which his heart asked. He saw nothing to make him
anxious, but he realized now that he must respect her resolutions. He
gave up all further inquiries and search and returned to New York,
quietly resolved and happily content to wait her own sweet pleasure.
The fates would be kind to him, he was sure.

When Morton returned to America, he found that his mother and sister
had gone South. He was not sorry they were away, since it left him
free to give his entire thoughts and energies to the business--work,
downright hard work was the best medicine for a mind distracted as his
was. With Morton-like enthusiasm he plunged into the maelstrom of the
many interests of his vast estates. He was at the office from morning
until, often, late in the evening, consulting, directing, financing
and operating. He took to the game like a duck to water, and found a
new interest in its many-sided activities, and a new enjoyment in
meeting the men who were playing the game either with him or against
him. He was a king ruling a mighty empire, the safety and integrity of
which depended largely on his wise judgment and decisive action. The
experience ripened him.

It was during this period that a letter came from Mr. Tyler informing
him that the Comtesse’s maid, Josephine, had heard from her aunt, Anna
Schreiber, in Altenberg, giving important news concerning her mistress.
It appeared that Helène, after leaving the Weimar Court, had stayed
with her old nurse for some weeks in the quiet little suburb. Helène
had exacted a promise from her nurse not to disclose her whereabouts;
but now that she had suddenly left her, Anna had written to her niece
to know if the Comtesse had returned to Weimar. Tyler had immediately
gone to Altenberg to find out further details. He learned from Mrs.
Schreiber that Helène had left a note stating that she was going
to Munich; but on inquiry at the railway station he was told that
no ticket for Munich had been sold on the day Helène had left. He
concluded by assuring Morton that he would let him know if he learned
anything of importance.

The receipt of this letter from Tyler threw John back into his old
state of anxiety and restlessness. He absented himself from the office
and spent the time alone in his study brooding over what he should do.

His business associates could not understand him. They had begun to
admire the young man, and had thought him a chip of the old block. He
had taken the reins with masterly hands and had proved himself a worthy
successor to the old man. But this sudden change puzzled them.

With the approach of Easter Mrs. Morton and Ruth returned and John
joined them in a quiet hotel on the avenue. The first breath of spring
brought him the news that Helène had been in Hanover, but had left
quite suddenly, no one knew where. Mr. Tyler, who sent the information,
wound up his letter by advising John to give up troubling himself about
the girl. “It is evident,” he wrote, “that she doesn’t want you to find
her. Give up this useless hunt and sit down calmly and wait until she
fulfills her promise to write to you.”

John smiled sadly as he read the well-meant advice. It was all very
easy to write those words, but to act on them was not quite so simple.
However, he made up his mind.

That evening he dined at his club and utterly surprised his friends by
his liveliness and change of manner. They didn’t recognize the Morton
who chatted to them in this free and easy way and told amusing stories
with the rest. It was his first plunge into a sea of dissipation in
which he swam as the mood seized him, which it not unfrequently did.
In a short time, he was eagerly welcomed as “a sport” by those who
considered themselves of that select order of beings. He went in for
horses and fine carriages; gave sumptuous dinners, attended race
meetings, and became the envy of the idle and the admiration of the
foolish. Well might his business friends wonder what had come over John
R. Morton!

His mother and sister were among the first to notice the alteration in
him. It distressed them deeply. The two held a council of war and came
to the conclusion that John needed a change. Mrs. Morton suggested a
trip to Japan or papa’s hobby to convert the home on the Hudson into a
Versailles, or a yacht.

But Ruth, with the wisdom that comes early to American maids, pursed
her pretty lips and turned up her impudent little nose at her mother’s
ideas.

“No, dear mamma, none of those things will do,” she said decidedly.
“John is in love. If he isn’t, he ought to be. What we must do is to
get him married.”

Mrs. Morton opened her eyes wide at her daughter’s plain-spoken words.
The precocity of the chicken was amusing and yet, it seemed to her, on
second thought, that it hit the bull’s eye. The suggestion appealed to
her strongly, and the woman in the mother could not resist the prospect
of the peculiar pleasure of match-making. Besides, it was time John
married. He was the head of the house.

Thus was formed the conspiracy in which two loving women sought to undo
all that the object of their affection had been living for. Against
such a combination, the strongest man must of necessity be helpless.

The coming of the spring, therefore, found the Mortons opening up their
country residence on the Hudson. Officially John was the master, but
actually he was a guest with the rest who were invited. The place was
ruled by Ruth through her mother.

Every evening when John came from business he would find the house and
its magnificent gardens and terraces taken possession of by friends
who had been invited for a week or the week-end. Mostly these were
young women--friends of Ruth whom she had known in college or had met
at different seasons. He was introduced to them all. Some he found
interesting, others amusing and others excellent companions at riding,
golfing or sailing. Before he had realized it he began to look forward
to these afternoons and evenings on the river. The lovely spring
weather, too, acted on him like a tonic. He threw off his moroseness
and entered into the spirit of the healthy gay life with all the gusto
of youth.

Occasionally, he would ask his sister the meaning of all this gayety
and entertaining, but that young woman would look at him innocently
with round eyes and would answer that she was just giving her friends a
good time and having one herself. If he wouldn’t bring his friends, she
had to bring hers. And Ruth would leave him not a little puzzled and
also not at all displeased that things were as they were.

But if Ruth and her mother had expected that John would fall a victim
to the fascinations of one of the many charming girls they had so
cleverly placed in his way, they were doomed to bitter disappointment.
He took things as he found them and enjoyed himself to the full. But it
never went further. The pretty faces and alluring graces only served
to remind him more poignantly of “the girl he had left behind him.”
Helène’s sweet face, Helène’s blue eyes, Helène’s soft voice, were
always in his mind, and if he ever was roused to a tender feeling for
one of Ruth’s friends, the vision of Helène would rise up and he would
sigh and turn away.

As the season advanced his mother and Ruth realized that their scheme,
like many others of “mice and men,” had failed. It vexed Mrs. Morton
and she took occasion to vent her feelings to her son.

“John, what’s the matter with you?” she asked, “why are you avoiding
the girls who come here?”

John smiled and at once saw the meaning of the house-parties.

“Dear mother, I’m not avoiding them. I’ve had a delightful time, thanks
to you and Ruth.”

“But don’t you think, dear, it’s time you settled down?”

“Oh, there’s still time for that. I’m only thirty-three.”

“Your father was married long before he was that age. He used to say
that it was to his early marriage that he owed his success.”

“Ah, my dear mother, but you forget he was very lucky. There are not
many girls like you in the world.”

His mother smiled and shook her head.

“It’s very nice of you to say that, John, but you know it’s no answer
to my question. I am really serious. I want you to get married. I want
to see you happy and the father of children. My old arms ache to hold a
grandchild.”

The good lady’s eyes filled with tears. John was moved.

“Dear mother, you’re the best mother in the world. I’ll tell you the
truth. I have not married because the woman I love is lost to me. I met
her in Europe, as I told you, and she has disappeared. I’ve done all
I could do to find her, but without success. I am waiting in the hope
that I may meet her again.”

“Who is she, John?”

“The most beautiful and the noblest girl in the world.”

Mrs. Morton smiled plaintively and nodded slowly several times.

“Of course, my dear, but who is she? The girl you told me about when
you came back?”

“Yes; but please don’t press me for further particulars. When I find
her I will tell you. I hope with all my heart she will have me. I know
you will love her. All I ask of you, dear mother, is to give me time.”

The good lady was greatly moved by this display of her son’s feelings.
It was evident that this love which possessed him was a very serious
one. John saw her anxiety and putting his arms round her shoulders, he
said:

“Mother, dear, you will love her, too, I know. She is just about Ruth’s
age and the loveliest girl God ever created. Won’t you, please, have
faith in me? You will not be disappointed. If I can wait, surely, you
can. Now, dear, just dry your eyes and believe that I know what is best
for my happiness.”

She had to let the matter rest there. She told Ruth it was useless for
them to go on with their plans, because John had plans of his own. An
unfortunate remark to make to Ruth since it acted like a match to the
dry tinder of her curiosity. Who was she? What was she? Where was she?
Where had he met her? Where was she now? Would she meet her?

To all these questions Mrs. Morton could, of course, give no answer.
John had not told her. They must wait his time. He did not himself know
where she was. He was hoping to find her.

Ah, then it was a real romance! How fascinatingly interesting! And
Ruth, afraid to question her brother herself, gave free rein to her
imagination. Nothing but a princess would satisfy her ideas of what
her brother deserved. She must be the daughter of one of the Balkan
kings, and the lady had to wait until she was called to the throne. She
hoped, however, John wouldn’t get mixed up in those wars there. Still,
John would know how to handle matters when once they were put up to
him. She didn’t mind what happened so long as he would be happy. And,
after all, it was fine to have a brother who didn’t run after girls and
who gave his sister good times. Thus did Ruth reconcile herself to the
inevitable, like the practical philosopher she was.

The summer found the Mortons at Newport. John would come up for
week-ends from the city and suffer the boredom of the clubs. The men
he met appealed to him not at all; and a man can be no more alone
than when with his fellow-men if he declines to live their lives. If,
occasionally, he drifted with the rest, he did not drift far. His good
sense, his self-esteem and inborn dignity of character prevented him
from losing himself in vulgar pleasures or in seeking a cheap notoriety.

The understanding he arrived at with his mother had this one good
effect--it recalled him to his better self. He gave up his horses and
avoided the “set” he had come to know during his temporary lapse. He
went back to his business doubly determined to give it his earnest
thought and energies, and the dollars kept rolling in. He became a
recognized power in the world of finance and people began to say of him
that “he beats the old man.”

But in the quiet of his own room, he would sit of an evening alone
engaged in what he smilingly said to himself were “Hellenic studies.”
Helène’s photograph--the same he had received from Count Rondell’s hand
on that memorable interview on the steamer--was never moved from his
study table. The sweet face looked out at him with all the power of its
insistent beauty. Why had he not carried her off at Vienna and married
her there and then? What a fool he had been!

Now, all he could do was to wait. She had said in her letter that she
would write him again a year hence. He read the letter again. No; it
said, “when autumn comes.” Ah, well--autumn was not so far off. But
oh, if he could but see her for just one minute! He wondered if there
was any truth in his friend, Professor Guermot’s theory about thought
transference. If only he could send her a telepathic message to say
to her: “Helène, Helène, I love you. I am waiting for you, dearest,
with my heart in my hand. Time is flying, and I want you--I want you.”
Surely, she was somewhere in this wide world where his impassioned
thoughts might reach her! Was she happy? Was she well? Perhaps she was
in distress and in need! Damn money! Damn fame! If it hadn’t been for
that disgusting newspaper everything would have been so different. Fate
must have loaded the dice against him, as though she had said to him:
“Heads I win, tails you lose.”



CHAPTER XXIII


Margaret Fisher, the buxom chaperon of Helène Barton, soon settled
down to her life in New York as she had planned it with her friend in
Hanover. The day following their landing she was again in the spacious
rooms of the Modiste establishment known as “Lucile’s,” and, as of old,
one of its moving spirits.

As she had predicted, she found it no difficult matter to interest
Madame Lucile (a canny Scotchwoman from Glasgow by way of Dublin and
London and a two years’ sojourn in “Paree”) in her young protegée.
Madame no sooner set her shrewd eyes on Helène than she became at once
interested. She realized at a glance the business possibilities in a
girl of her refined manners, winning ways and pretty foreign speech.
These qualities were certain to subdue the most petulant and exacting
of her clients. And when she found that the girl also possessed both an
excellent taste in colors and an unusual gift for design, she knew that
a treasure had been brought to her.

Helène was installed in a little room at the rear devoted to the
assembling of the ornaments for the finishing of those exclusive hats
so coveted by the ladies of New York, and it was not long before she
became indispensable to this department. Under her deft fingers and
with her enthusiastic good taste and happy inspirations, lean old maids
would be transformed into blushing “buds,” and faded society leaders of
many seasons would reappear as enterprising and yet dignified dames.
She knew instinctively when to apply velvet and where to mass flimsy,
foamy billows. She knew how to bend the brim of a hat so as to bring
out the good feature of a face; she would select just the very sprig
of flowers and give just the right droop of plume; and she did it
all with such grace, good-will and a winning smile, accentuating her
actions with words spoken in so exquisite an accent, that there was
no resisting her. Margaret’s prediction came true; the second month
brought Helène an increase in her salary, and she became the happy
recipient of a hundred dollars a month.

Helène (Madame had rebaptized her with the professional Heloise, Helen
not being, in her opinion, sufficiently “French”), Madame Lucile
determined, was too valuable to lose. Rather than any rival concern
on the avenue should entice her from her she would double the girl’s
salary. But, of course, this was only breathed to herself in the
secrecy of her private office.

The two girls became closer friends than ever and grew more and more
attached to each other. Margaret, in particular, seemed to have found
in the younger and more cultured Helène an object for the satisfaction
of her maternal instincts. No effort was too great, no care too
exacting, if only her little friend was made the happier by it. She
timed her lunch hour to coincide with Helène’s; she accompanied her on
her shopping expeditions; she would take her away from her designing
and bring her home for rest. Rather than Helène should go home alone,
she would wait an hour for her. At the Trust Company it was Margaret
who opened the bank account in her friend’s name and deposited every
Monday the little surplus of wealth. She selected the style of her
dresses and the material; she fussed over them, sewed them, fitted and
trimmed them. She never tired of admiring the little feet, the pretty
hands and the wonderful hair. The dressing of this hair for select
occasions was one of Margaret’s chief delights. If her “darling” had
a cold or a slight headache, she would nurse and pet her, and be the
happier in doing it.

And Helène would accept this devotion laughingly, knowing that it
was given in love, and would return that love with sweet and gentle
affection. She was very happy both in her work, which was pleasant and
interesting, and in their rooms, which were cozy and “homey.”

At the boarding-house Margaret Fisher was a general favorite. Her ready
good-humor, her quick wit and her unaffected, if somewhat slangy,
speech, always found a ready acceptance and a responsive laugh. She was
ever ready with her help and sympathy, willing to listen and equal to a
gossip.

Helène--the beautiful, reserved, lily-like maiden--was worshipped
by all. From the scullery-maid with the Kerry accent to Mrs. Kane,
the kindly autocrat of this little commonwealth, all bowed to her in
delighted homage. The women admired her without a taint of jealousy;
the two men who lived there reverenced her from afar. She seemed to
them like some rare lily that had been transplanted into a city yard.

One of the men was a librarian at one of the city colleges--a ripe,
old scholar; the other, a young Baltimorean, of a retiring manner, was
struggling as an obscure civil engineer. They considered themselves
fortunate to sit at the table and would gaze in awe on the charming
young foreigner--perfectly content to behold her across the six feet of
tablecloth. If either ventured on a nearer acquaintance, he would find
that Miss Fisher had interposed her ample form between them.

Helène had not imparted to her protectress much more of her early life
than had transpired at their meeting in Hanover and on the voyage
across the ocean. Margaret, in the confidential atmosphere engendered
by the close companionship, found the need of telling her friend all
about herself. It was a simple tale, but the pathos of it drew a
sympathetic response from her listener.

Margaret’s father, an educated German of good family, had come to
America during the Civil War. He had been compelled to leave the
Fatherland because of his activity in politics of a somewhat republican
tendency. In New York he became the city editor of one of the more
influential of the German newspapers. It was during this period that he
met and married a German girl whose elder brother kept a small jewelry
and watch-repairing shop on the East Side. He was a kind-hearted old
bachelor and had been Margaret’s earliest admirer and playmate.

It was to this uncle’s home above the store that she and her mother
went when her father died. A year after her father’s death, when
she was fifteen, Margaret went to work at a dressmaker’s in the
neighborhood. They managed to get along very comfortably together.
Her uncle was kindness itself and a genius at his trade. There was no
style of watch or clock he could not fix up and make keep correct time.
He was an expert at chronometer work and was regularly consulted by
captains of ships and even by the Navy Yard.

Six years ago, Margaret’s mother died, leaving her alone with her
uncle. The old man had aged and grown quite feeble then. He longed to
go back to Germany. So strong was this homesickness for his beloved
Harz Mountains that the doctor thought it best to urge him to go. He
went, promising to come back soon, but he never returned. He died
among the pine-clad hills of his birthplace. The little property he
left fell to Margaret and became the foundation for the now greatly
discussed bank account.

About three years after her mother’s death she met a young man--a
decent, quiet fellow, an assistant in a drug-store. She liked him. He
dressed well and was very attentive and kind to her. A year later she
consented to become engaged to him. They were to be married as soon as
his employer had fulfilled his promise to raise his salary and give him
a percentage of the business.

She was sure she did not love him; but she was in no doubt that he
needed some good, capable girl to look after him. He was rather weak
and vacillating; but he was good-looking and any girl would be rather
proud to go out with him. Margaret put it that way, because it really
expressed her mind. She didn’t see what else men were good for any way,
except to be mothered and to walk out with. It was nice for them to
take you out, and it felt good to have a man lean on you and come to
you for advice and the help that a woman could give him.

Well, things went on very happily for some months and then she noticed
that he came less frequently to the house. He would send notes instead,
excusing himself for one reason or another. One evening, when she had
stayed later than usual at the store to finish some dresses for the
Easter season, she went into Krugler’s restaurant, at the corner of
Second Avenue, for her supper, and sat down near a slight partition
or screen of plants. She had scarcely begun her meal when she heard a
familiar voice from the other side of the screen. Peering through the
leaves of the palm she saw her Bert seated at a table with a young
woman. He had his back to her, but she could hear quite distinctly what
he was saying. He was talking in the most endearing words, exactly as
he had talked to her. Then she heard the girl remind him of the young
lady--the serious girl with the money in bank--she had seen him with.
Wasn’t he engaged to be married to her? He passionately protested. It
was not true, he said. He only loved her--the girl he was with now.
The other couldn’t compare with her. The other was all right, but she
had no heart--she was always preaching and talking about getting on.
Margaret waited to hear no more. She had heard too much as it was. The
next day she returned him the little gifts he had made her, including
the engagement ring, and when he called she declined to see him. Since
then she did not care to know any man. Of course, Bert was no loss. She
knew that now, but she had liked him once. Oh, yes, men were all right
in their way; but a girl was far better off not to bother herself about
them. She’d get along just as well.

Helène kept a discreet silence as to her own opinions on that subject.
She was afraid to trust herself with Margaret, least she might betray
her own heart, and Margaret never again broached the subject.

In their promenades together in the city what struck Helène most was
the people. Apparently all belonged to the same class. All were so
happy, so satisfied and so well dressed. Each seemed to be going about
his own business without interference from others and yet everybody was
so orderly. It was all so different from what she had been accustomed
to in her own country. No poverty, no soldiers, no armed policemen, no
officious park keepers, no bowing and scraping before empty authority.
Everybody was free to do as he liked and yet everybody seemed pleased
to be decent and well-behaved. Even the children were unafraid.

In the park where she and Margaret found such enjoyment in walking or
sitting, the children would come up and look their frank admiration
at Helène, their eyes bright and their faces wreathed in smiles. To
Margaret the little ones crept instinctively. She had such an inviting,
motherly look about her that they knew no introduction was necessary
for them to be taken into her embracing arms. It did Helène’s heart
good to watch Margaret’s keen delight on these occasions.

Helène could have had no wiser guide than this friend proved to be.
Margaret Fisher was a genuine native of New York, bred in its peculiar
ways of life, which were at once the outcome of sharp competition
and bonhomie. She seemed to have the wisdom of the serpent and the
innocence of the dove. Her inexhaustible supply of wit, her humorous
way of seeing things, her happy, healthy nature, gave everybody who
came under her influence a sense of the reasonableness and fitness
of things. “You can’t help being in a good humor when Miss Fisher is
around,” Mrs. Kane truly said.

In the daily companionship of such a teacher Helène ripened in
experience. Without acquiring the slang spoken everywhere about
her, she obtained a command of English which was at once smooth and
polished, though she never lost her quaintly pretty accent. Her own
instinct guided her and her refinement of nature compelled from others
a response which avoided the vulgar. People felt they must be different
with Helène, so that they chose their words in speaking to her. They
felt they must be on their best behavior with her.

Spring grew into summer, the more than benevolent summer of New York.
The girls in Madame Lucile’s employ blossomed in colors and gowns
befitting the season; but Helène made no change in her own dress. She
retained her sombre black despite Margaret’s pleadings and Madame’s
hints. And with it all she bloomed like a rare flower amid the commoner
plants. Margaret would put on an air of chagrin and talk of the anxiety
Helène was to her; but none the less she was exceedingly proud of her
protegée. To her friends she would in mock despair say: “What chance
has any girl with Helène, I should like to know?”

On their occasional visits to Art Exhibitions or the Museum, the old
librarian was proud to act as cicerone. He had become the envy of the
rest in the boarding-house, and especially of the young engineer,
because of this privilege extended to him. He had even acted as their
host on two occasions when they had accepted his invitation to partake
of a table d’hôte dinner at a French restaurant.

The Baltimorean listened to the recital of the enjoyment and waited
patiently for his turn. He proved a good waiter. On the eve of the
Fourth of July, he ventured to ask the two girls to go with him to
the beach. Robert McCreedy could hardly believe his ears when his
invitation was accepted. He made a careful estimate and concluded that
a week’s income would about meet the occasion, and prayed that the day
would be fine.

The day broke cloudless with a pitiless sun blazing down. McCreedy was
happy. He did not know that the effect of the sweltering heat of the
past few days on Helène had more to do with Margaret’s acceptance of
the invitation than anything else. He thought that his patience had at
last been rewarded; that the implacable duenna had thought it well to
permit him a nearer access to the object of his devotions.

To Helène, tired and overcome by the oppressive heat, the day proved
a boon and was also an experience of a novel kind. The ride to the
Battery; the ferry trip to South Brooklyn; the open, swaying cars
of the steam railway to the beach; the beauty of the Long Island
landscape; the cool breezes of the rolling ocean--all were new to
her and afforded such interest and refreshment that she forgot her
weariness of brain and body and gave herself up to the enjoyment with
the abandon of a girl. Everywhere were men, women and children on
pleasure bent. Everybody seemed happy. She had already learned many
a lesson from this wonderful democracy, but none appealed to her so
strongly as did this celebration. A great humanity had assembled, as
if at the call of some mysterious voice, and here they were laughing,
playing, singing, care-free and happy, without a sign or a sound of
discord--all members of a national family, as it were. This, indeed,
was a new world--new in a sense that her people in Roumelia could
never understand. It was a revelation of the human heart, an insight
into the meaning of life which was denied to those who have not known
true liberty and have not been permitted the free play of their finer
natures.

The day came to a close but too quickly for Robert McCreedy. He had
spent his wealth gladly and had known a happiness he had never known
before. When Margaret, after consulting her watch, announced it was
time to go home, he looked his disappointment so openly that Margaret
was compelled to laugh.

“I’m sorry, Mr. McCreedy,” she said, “but we must really get back.”

McCreedy knew, from her tone of voice, that there was no appeal. He
must content himself with the favor that had been granted him. In the
seclusion of his room, later, he relived his happy day. He would see
her again to-morrow. Sufficient for the day was this joy thereof. After
all, the ice had been broken and some day he might get the opportunity
to take her out alone--without that dragon of her friend. Poor fellow!
What dreams he permitted himself! In the hour or two before retiring he
had become so rich that he was sailing in his own yacht with Helène,
happy and radiant, by his side on the deck. And when he slept he
dreamed of a magnificent home with splendid salons through which Helène
“walked in beauty like the night,” and he by her side.

Margaret had long suspected McCreedy’s state of heart, and had taken
care to keep him from Helène as much as possible during the day. As she
sat now, with Helène, in their sitting-room, she looked at the girl for
a sign of resentment at her manoeuvres. But she saw nothing but the
evidences of the happy time she had had.

“What do you think of Mr. McCreedy?” she asked suddenly.

“He’s very nice. He was so kind and attentive, wasn’t he? I hope he
didn’t spend more than he could afford.” Margaret smiled. Her lessons
in economy had borne fruit in Helène’s mind.

“Oh, I guess he wouldn’t do that.”

“No, perhaps not.”

Helène spoke the last words listlessly. The reference to money sent her
mind reflecting on her own life. She was so anxious to save as much
money as she could spare. If Mr. Morton should come, she would then
be in a position to pay him back all that he had spent on her. And
autumn would soon be here, when she must fulfill her promise to write
to him. What would he say when he saw her again? Ah--but would he come?
Cleveland--eight hundred miles away--did people ever travel that long
distance to come to New York? And if he came, he surely would approve!

“Why, honey, you’re not listening to me. I declare you’ve been in a
trance for the last five minutes.” Margaret assumed an offended air.
Helène started and blushed.

“Now come, what were you thinking of? I have an idea there’s a Count or
a Prince buzzing in your little head.”

“Indeed, there is neither Count nor Prince. I was thinking of my old
home. I daren’t think of men with a man-hater like you near me.”

“Well, I won’t press you, my dear. But I’m not a man-hater,” and
Margaret’s voice softened. “I sometimes think it would do me good to
have a man to fuss about and look after. Men are such helpless things.
They wobble from one pretty girl to another, and I believe they can’t
help it. What they want is some woman to mother them. I really think I
would want to mother a man just as I want to take care of babies, and
as I love to take care of you, dearie!”

Helène looked at her friend. Poor, lonely Margaret, she thought, God
had made her to be a mother. The revelation into her friend’s soul was
too sacred to speak about. With instinctive courtesy she changed her
tone covering what she had seen with a veil of light words:

“I’m sure, Margy dear, there are men who are not what you call
‘wobblers.’ I haven’t known many, but I’m convinced there are loyal and
true men. My father was one.”

“I have no answer to that, Helen. I believe it. But as there are not
many girls like you, there cannot be many men like your father was.
Well, dear, it’s getting late and we ought to be in bed. To-morrow will
be another ‘scorcher,’ and we have the new models to go over. And this
weather doesn’t improve the dispositions of the women who want to wear
corsets two sizes too small for them--like Madame Lucile does.”

Helène laughed. “Now you are not just to her. I don’t think she does
that.”

“Don’t you, sweetheart? Well, never mind, I know better. A woman would
be anything rather than fat. Why, even I am sometimes afraid to eat.”

“Oh, Margy, how can you! You are not a bit stout, only big and strong.
Everybody admires you, and Madame is always praising your fine figure.”

“You’re an angel, my dear, and wouldn’t hurt the feelings of a
tax-collector. Give me a kiss, my dear, and good night.”

“Good night, Margy, and thank you for the happy day.”

It was in such intimate talks that Margaret, the strong, protecting
tree to the slender vine, Helène, proved her friendship. In breeding
and education the two girls were poles apart, but the native virtues
and sterling character in each drew them together in an abiding love.
A daughter of the people and a child of an ancient nobility thus met
on the ground of their common humanity. With the passing of the days,
Helène found new interest in her work and became more accustomed to
the new life. Margaret, seeing Helène’s happiness, was happy herself.
Sunshine without and contentment within, with not a cloud on the
horizon of their lives!

Petty incidents like these may seem unworthy of record; but life is
made up of such small happenings. Most of us come into this world
and flit more or less swiftly and pleasantly through the playground
of our childhood and youth as though it were but the antechamber to
some richly furnished parlor. When we enter the longed-for parlor, we
find in it labor and sorrow in plenty. We eat, sleep, dream, enjoy
ourselves a little and then one day we awaken to the sad reality that
we are no longer young. Some kind friend will remark: “Why, your hair
is growing gray!” Another will sympathize and say: “Ah, we are not as
young as we used to be.” He uses the polite plural, but we know he has
a very definite singular in mind. And then comes the day when the roomy
arm-chair is inviting, and the favorite ballad which once whispered
gladness, now only recalls times long, long past. Then it is that the
chatter of youth is a forgotten language; that the faces of women show
only the rouge on cheek and lip and not the glorious eye; when an
invitation to the dance compels us to the confession, “I am too old to
dance,” and to the thought, “did she really want me for a partner?”
when our conversation slips into the question, “do you remember?” when
the past is our present and the future a dread. Ah, if youth knew the
fulfillment of the promises of life, would he or she be gay? It is in
our memory that we live, and memory is but the storehouse of little
incidents. They are the little colored stones, which form the mosaic
background of life. The figures may vary, the genre may change, but the
background is always the same.



CHAPTER XXIV


The halcyon days of that summer were filled with work and innocent
enjoyment for Helène and Margaret. The girls were so happy that the
gods themselves must have become envious, for they sent one of their
number to destroy their happiness.

On days when the heat was oppressive, the girls left their work at an
earlier hour than usual and would then walk along Fifth Avenue. At that
hour the streams of people from shops and business places mingled with
the current of those on pleasure bent. In crossing the thoroughfare,
Helène and Margaret got stalled. Helène, undecided whether to advance
or return, became confused and before she realized it a pair of
spirited horses in an open landau was almost on top of her. Margaret
seeing the danger, rushed up and pushed her into safety. In doing so,
however, she herself was caught by the pole of the carriage, and thrown
down and trampled on by one of the horses.

A crowd gathered immediately and Margaret, now unconscious, was carried
to the sidewalk. Helène, deathly pale and speechless with horror, held
the bleeding head of her beloved comrade in her lap. A policeman who
had promptly arrived on the scene rushed to ring for an ambulance,
when a richly dressed lady of commanding appearance offered to drive
the young woman to the nearest hospital. She was the occupant of the
carriage which had been the cause of the accident. Willing bystanders,
assisted by the officer of the law, lifted the lifeless form into the
landau into which Helène was invited by the owner.

At the hospital Helène was not allowed to go into the ward, but was
requested to await the doctor’s report in the waiting-room. Almost
beside herself with anxiety, she sat in a stupor and could scarcely
answer the usual questions put to her by the doctor in charge.

The lady in whose carriage she had come, sat mutely near the window
nervously tapping the sill, staring absently into the court without.
Some questions were put to her also, but she, too, was too overcome to
answer coherently.

In a few minutes, a terribly long time to Helène, the nurse returned
and whispered that her friend was resting in bed and that a cursory
examination had revealed no serious injuries. The head physician would
be in shortly and would make a more thorough examination. She could
wait until then, Helène was told. The other lady was given the same
information.

The strain of her pent-up feelings relieved by the nurse’s report,
Helène broke into sobs. She thanked God in her heart that her dear
Margaret would not die as she had feared.

“Pardon me, miss,” came a sympathetic voice, “can I be of any help to
you?”

Helène looked up and recognized the dignified lady in whose carriage
she had been driven to the hospital.

“I am glad to learn that your friend is not seriously hurt. I am Mrs.
Van Dusen. It was my carriage that was the cause of the unfortunate
accident to your friend. Won’t you let me help you?”

“Thank you, Mrs. Van Dusen, but I am scarcely able to think. If my
friend, Miss Fisher, is not very badly injured I should like to take
her home. It was my fault....”

Helène broke down, the tears choking her voice.

The unusual beauty, the sweet, refined voice and manner of the young
woman impressed the lady. She sat down near Helène and said in kindly
tones:

“You must not distress yourself, my dear. Your friend will be well
taken care of here. I will see to that. I am deeply grieved the
accident occurred. I saw you and your friend step right in front of the
horses and called out to the coachman; but it was too late. I want to
do all I can to help Miss Fisher. Has she any relatives or friends who
ought to be notified? My son is outside and he will gladly take any
message.”

“She has no friend other than myself. For her sake I shall be glad to
accept any assistance you can give me. It was in saving me that she got
hurt herself. Oh, my poor lovely Margaret....”

“There, there, my dear, it is not so bad after all. Compose yourself.
Here comes the nurse.”

The nurse informed Helène that Miss Fisher was conscious and the doctor
would allow her to see her friend for a minute--but she must not be
excited.

Helène rose eagerly and walked rapidly into the ward. Behind a screen,
on a narrow cot, Margaret lay white and helpless. Her head was heavily
bandaged so that only her eyes showed. On seeing Helène, she smiled
wistfully into the face that was bending over her.

“Hello, darling! I’m all right--only a little bruised. I’ll be out in
no time. Wasn’t it lucky? But who’s going to look after you while I’m
here, little one?”

The nurse approached and whispered to Helène: “Just say a few kind
words for the present. You can come another time.”

“Oh, Margaret, I’m so happy to see you. Don’t worry about me, dearest.
I’ll come and look you up as often as I can.”

Margaret looked back her content; she was too ill to speak.

The nurse touched Helène on the arm. It was time to leave. Kissing the
pale lips, she retired slowly, looking back at the wan face until the
door had been closed on her.

In the waiting-room she found a tall young man by the side of Mrs. Van
Dusen.

“This is my son,” said the lady to Helène, “he will take any message,
Miss--eh----”

“My name is Miss Barton. Thank you, there is no message I wish sent. I
shall wait here for the physician’s report. I will tell Madame Lucile,
myself, later.”

The tall, carefully groomed and good-looking young man approached, hat
in hand:

“Permit me, Miss Barton, to go to her for you. I have a carriage
waiting.”

“Thank you; but it will be better if I see the lady. Madame Lucile is
our employer.”

“Here is my card, Miss Barton,” said Mrs. Van Dusen. “Let me know if I
can be of any service. I shall inquire regularly at this hospital and
my son will see the superintendent and arrange that special attention
be given Miss Fisher. I am deeply grieved at the accident and hope
sincerely that Miss Fisher will not suffer. Good-bye, Miss Barton. Are
you coming, Howard?”

The young man came up to Helène and said in a kind voice:

“Pardon me for suggesting it, Miss Barton, but you ought to consult a
lawyer on this matter.”

“Howard, what do you mean?” exclaimed his mother angrily. “What should
Miss Barton consult a lawyer about?”

“Well, mother, Miss Barton’s friend may suffer in other ways than from
the injuries she has received.”

“Well, of course, I am not going to shirk any responsibility. The young
lady has my card. Come.”

“Don’t forget, Miss Barton, to let my mother know. May I have your
address?”

“Thank you, Mr. Van Dusen, there is no necessity for that. Good
afternoon, madam.”

Mother and son had no sooner left than the nurse came in bringing the
physician in charge. Dr. Loomis relieved the girl’s mind by telling her
that her Miss Fisher was in no danger. She would remain for the present
in the ward until she had recovered sufficiently from the shock. No
bones had been broken, but the bruise on the head was rather severe.
Every care would be given her friend. “Don’t be anxious, my dear young
lady,” he said, “we shall get her quite well again. Good-bye!”

The nurse informed Helène that she could visit her friend every day and
that Mrs. Van Dusen, who was a patroness of the hospital, had left word
that the patient should be most carefully attended to. Helène thanked
the woman.

From the hospital she hurried to Madame Lucile’s home and was greatly
relieved that the lady took the news as she did. Madame promised to
look after everything. Helène, for the first time since she had been in
America, went home alone.

And now began the trying and anxious time. Every day Helène called at
the hospital, but was not permitted access to the sick-room. Margaret
had an attack of brain fever and could recognize no one. She would
leave for Madame Lucile’s in tears. There she worked for two to drown
her anxiety. But the lonely evenings and tearful nights followed and
they had to be borne by herself alone.

Mrs. Van Dusen had called on Madame Lucile and had offered to defray
the expenses; but Helène firmly refused to accept the offer. Margaret
and she could afford to pay them themselves.

Whenever Helène visited the hospital, she would find Mr. Van Dusen
waiting, ready with a courteous request to be of service, and repeated
the offer his mother had made to Madame Lucile. But Helène declined
both. On one occasion he asked permission to call on Miss Barton. This
she also declined. When Margaret recovered from the fever, he sent her
flowers almost daily. Twice Helène received a large box of beautiful
lilies at the boarding-house with his card. She wrote him a polite note
of thanks in which she told him that she would take the flowers to
Margaret.

At the end of three weeks, Margaret was declared to be out of all
danger. Her wounds had healed and the bandages had been removed. On
the left temple showed a livid scar, but the nurse assured Helène that
this would disappear in time. In a week Margaret would be allowed to go
home; but the doctor advised a rest at the seashore or in the mountains
before returning to work.

Mrs. Van Dusen claimed the right to provide for this rest, at least,
and begged Margaret to accept the hospitality of her country place in
the Kittatinnies, which was only an hour’s ride from New York, and
where the mountain air was cool and invigorating. “I have been so
unhappy, Miss Fisher,” she said, “about the accident, and you’ve let me
do nothing.”

Margaret compromised by agreeing to stay at a farm-house near Mrs. Van
Dusen’s place and to use that good lady’s carriage. But she insisted on
paying for her board. Mrs. Van Dusen was only too glad that she had
been able to prevail over Margaret’s independent spirit to that extent.
Her visits to the hospital had made her acquainted with the girl’s
fine nature, both in the courage she had evinced in pain, and in the
devotion she showed to Helène. Mrs. Van Dusen could not help but look
up to so grand and yet so finely democratic a character.

In the younger girl, with the gentle, well-bred bearing which, as she
readily saw, but veiled the reticence of inborn dignity, she had found
a rare personality. A girl entirely aloof from her surroundings and who
was yet self-supporting and happy in the small circle of her life. Mrs.
Van Dusen, the society leader and proud wife of one of the wealthy men
of New York, could not fail to see that this simple, dignified girl was
her equal in everything but worldly gifts. She tried hard to pierce the
armor of modesty and unselfishness in which the girl clothed herself;
but its very inoffensiveness proved it to be a stronger protection than
anything else could have been.

Her son, Howard, had confessed to her that the younger of the two girls
had made a deep impression on him, but, he ruefully added, “I’ve not
made much headway with her.”

To Helène, the American custom which permitted a young man and girl to
meet and converse freely and alone, was one which she either did not
understand or did not approve. Van Dusen’s escort to the boarding-house
was rather suffered than accepted. Upon arriving at the home, she would
bid him good-bye, and take no notice of his hints for an invitation to
call. His floral gifts she invariably transferred to Margaret. He had
to admit frankly that he had not made a very favorable impression. His
mother wisely said nothing.

At the Post’s farm-house Margaret found herself comfortably established
on the second floor. She wrote every day to Helène glowing accounts of
the beautiful country and urged her to come and visit her for a few
days. The people were nice and kind and there was a quaint room which
she could have all to herself. She was getting quite strong again and
had acquired a tremendous appetite. She pleaded so earnestly that
Helène finally agreed to go if Madame Lucile gave the permission.

Certainly the prospect of a vacation did look alluring. She had been
working hard during Margaret’s illness and had been very lonely and
depressed in spirits. She had even denied herself the few hours of
relaxation she had enjoyed when Margaret was at home, and had kept
herself confined during the hottest days--a trying ordeal to anyone
living in New York, and especially so to a foreigner.

The canny lady from Glasgow was too pleased to extend a vacation to
Mademoiselle Heloise, and thus it happened that by the Saturday before
Labor Day Helène had made all her preparations and was ready for the
great event.

As she was utterly ignorant of ways and means, Mr. Diderot, the
fatherly librarian, was duly impressed to act as escort to the dreaded
Terminal and Ferry. Mrs. Kane, with many motherly admonitions, kissed
her good-bye and put her in charge of her elderly lodger. The old
gentleman, proud of his duty, had spruced himself up and assuming a
youthful gait, walked vigorously by her side carrying the suit-case.
His hailing of the street car was done with a dignity which can be
compared only to the bearing of the Mayor escorting the President of
the United States to the City Hall.

In the waiting-room at the Ferry, Helène was glad to sit in the cool
protection from the heat while Mr. Diderot negotiated the various
transactions necessary to obtaining the ticket and checking the baggage
for the particular place in the New Jersey vastness to which his charge
was bound. The crowd of people hurrying here, there and everywhere, so
bewildered the poor girl that she hardly dared to lift her eyes. She
almost regretted her step in taking such a long journey alone into an
unknown country.

At last her escort returned. She rose eagerly and he led her into the
pushing crowd where she was gently propelled through a narrow strait
flanked by two sharp-eyed men armed with shining punchers, into a
spacious room filled with a motley assortment of people of both sexes
and all ages.

A slight shock followed by a tremor through the wood flooring startled
Helène. But Mr. Diderot explained that she need not be afraid--it was
only the arrival of the ferry-boat. At the opened gateway, he handed
her the ticket for Charlotteville and wishing her a pleasant journey
he bowed in his punctilious way and left her to the mercy of the crowd
that soon pushed her on to the boat. What a hurrying and scurrying and
jostling and hustling! Men with packages and suit-cases, women with
suit-cases and packages and children; men with golf bags and women
with dogs; children clinging frantically to their mothers’ skirts--all
perspiring and all craning their necks to swallow the river’s breeze,
thankful of this respite from the city’s heat.

A clanking of bells, a shrill, long-drawn whistle, a clinking of chains
and she was off--off on her wonderful journey across the majestic
river to the hazy, mysterious shore of Jersey--her first travels into
America. She gazed about her at the people sitting on the low seats
and standing in the doorways; they seemed to her to be different from
those she had met in New York. The men were so important, the women so
self-conscious and the children so droll.

Through the open windows shone the reflection from the waters of the
river, the waves of which sparkled in the sunlight. Busy little tugs
saucily stretched their prows; cumbersome ferry-boats glided past as
mountainous shadows. The fresh air and the wide expanse gave her a
sense of assurance. She decided to risk the outside platform.

As she stood up to go out a sudden recollection made her start. Where
was her suit-case? For a moment she felt as if her heart was sinking;
but the next moment she gave a sigh of relief as she remembered that
Mr. Diderot had “checked” the case to Charlotteville. She felt for the
precious pasteboard in her handbag and smiled when she found it was
safely there.

On the platform without she looked about her drinking in the wonderful
expanse of water and free air and blue sky. The great river with its
baggage and floats, tugs and steamers, sailing vessels and a big liner
steaming slowly down towards the Bay, little launches and graceful
yachts, appeared to her like the river of life itself. Looming up
and drawing nearer and nearer, the cavernous train-shed flanked by
stupendous grain elevators, looked to her like gigantic fortifications
guarding and preventing a possible entry into the green country beyond.
Where did the railroad begin, she wondered?

And now the people began their jostling and hustling once more.
Packages were seized and children grabbed at the sound of the clanking
of chains and the turning of windlass. Then came the rattling of iron
gates being opened and the living stream poured itself on to the land.

For a moment she looked about her, bewildered, but seeing a uniformed
individual, she plucked up courage to ask him the way to her train.
He scarcely deigned to notice her, but with a motion behind him he
said: “Track number four to your left.” Helène was no wiser, but she
dared not risk another inquiry and walked with the crowd. She heard
a benevolent looking elderly person in a magnificent uniform and
gold-laced cap singing out some words she could not understand. She
found her courage, however, and put her inquiry to him. To her relief
he led her to the car and even assisted her to mount the steps. The
quick transition from the outer glare to the dark interior caused
her to falter; but seeing that other people were making free with
the cushioned seats, she chose one for herself opposite a wholesome
looking, stout lady and a small girl. She was too timid to look about
her and was almost afraid to return the happy smile of the little child
across the aisle. At last came the long cry “All aboard,” followed by a
hissing noise and the train--her train--moved slowly out.

She was really on her great journey! As the engine gained headway the
train passed the pillars along the track and dived into a cavernous
deep cut on to a long trestle over the housetops. Then winding its
way between simmering and smoky factories, past ugly board fences
and stretches of open land covered with rubbish, it thundered over a
bridge spanning a broad expanse of muddy water. Round a sharp curve
with a shriek as if of desperation, and there she was in a lovely
meadow gleaming green in the sunlight, the reeds and the bulrushes
waving in the breeze--the country! America--the long sought for land of
romance--the New World!

Her heart beat with the excitement of the rush, her eyes fixed on the
swiftly moving landscape. The deep rose color of the giant mallows
enlivens the sage green of the reeds; narrow veins of tidewater wend
their courses with almost geometrical directness through the dark
muck of the salt meadows; in the distance are seen the rounded humps
of dwarfed hills and the tall smoke-stacks of factories. Then another
river is crossed--a broad stream with shallow barges loaded with
crimson bricks and yellow clay. The landscape gradually changes to
cultivated farmlands. Clumps of trees, cottages and cows--real live
cows grazing along the hedgerows--appear and disappear. Through the
opening in the foliage are seen small villas and occasionally more
pretentious houses; lawns and stone walls; highways with carriages and
bicycles. Another rush into a deep cut walled in with rocks and then
a gentle gliding into the open revealing a hilly country with houses,
gardens, rows of trees and avenues. With a rumble, a short bridge over
a stream traversing a deep green pasture is crossed and the train
rushes through a quiet street. Out of the village with a noise as of
many waters and into another cut flanked by a rocky ledge dripping with
moisture and overhung with brambles that almost brush the windows of
the cars. Then once more into the open, rolling land.

On and on, northward, the train speeds. Now and again it stops at some
small station with a grinding noise and, after a few passengers alight,
the engine bell rings once more, the hissing of the brakes deafens the
ear, and with hoarse puffs and groans, it is off again, squeaking,
bumping, swaying with dust and cinders floating and flying into the
cars.

It is all a stunning, bewildering, amazing and wonderful experience to
Helène. She finds herself speculating as to what will come next, hoping
it won’t last long, and wishing it wouldn’t be over quickly. She is
under the fascinating spell of quick motion through space and is in a
continual tremor of excited anticipation.

And now, all at once, the landscape changed entirely. Beautiful
valleys, fine streams shaded by giant trees, broad fields, endless
levels of tasseled maize moving in the wind passed by her like a
swiftly moving panorama. The hills became more abrupt, the mountains
shut out the horizon. Houses were now fewer and smaller. The mirror of
a lake gleamed between dark foliage. A weather-beaten gray structure
resembling a wrecked whaler, though it was only an ice-house, causes
Helène to start back as its black shadow darkened the windows. Then
came a grinding of iron wheels on the metal, a creaking and a scraping,
the train began to slow down, and with a shock it pulled up at the
station--Charlotteville.

She doesn’t realize that this is her goal until the conductor speaks
to her and a begrimed brakeman grabs her bags with a “your station,
miss.” Helène follows with a sinking of the heart and is left, standing
forlorn on the hot, dried boards of the platform, contemplating a
number of boxes, trunks, plows and lawn-mowers which lie around. She
gazes after the fast disappearing train utterly at a loss what to do or
where to turn.

“Be ye lookin’ for somebody, miss?” The question came to her in a
quavering, falsetto voice.

Turning quickly she beheld a whiskered nondescript of a man looking at
her with shrewd eyes and a dry smile on his thin lips.

“Yes, sir,” she answered; “Mr. Post was to meet me.”

“I guess, it’s Bill Post ye mean, miss. Thar’s his team--that sorrel
over yonder. I guess I’ll tell Artie.”

It was Bill Post’s team all right--the large blondish horse of the
breed of hard working cousin of a percheron and a box-like wagon on
the driver’s seat of which a boy of tender years with the face of a
Methuselah, sat humped. The whiskered owner of the falsetto voice
deposited Helène’s valise on the tailboard of the wagon and helped her
to a seat by the side of the silent and prematurely aged Artie who,
without opening his lips or moving a facial muscle, gave a peculiar
chuckle, and the noble steed was off at a heavy, leisurely amble.

“Git ap, Major!” came from the tightly closed lips of the boy, and at
a slightly faster gait they skirted the long, rambling frame building
with the sign, “John P. Brown’s Hotel,” the guests of which on the
stoop stared inquiringly after the ill-assorted pair on the wagon.
Next came an unpretentious structure greatly in need of the painter’s
services bearing the legend, “Post Office.” Passing this they entered a
gray highway, bordered with dust-covered bushes and weeds.

The first part of the drive lay across an unattractive stretch of level
fields baked hard by months of constant sunlight, the green of the
sparse vegetation of which seemed as though it were struggling hard
to overcome the all-enveloping gray. The air vibrated with the heat
and was laden with floating particles of dust. Helène’s spirits sank.
Was this the beautiful, wild rural America? Her eyes were smarting and
her throat parched and itching. Suddenly the vehicle turned round a
sharp bend in the dust-covered road to a short bridge with a somewhat
elevated approach.

What a miraculous change! And oh, what a blessed relief! Under the
rattling boards of the bridge ran swiftly the most refreshing of clear
waters on which graceful fronds floated and trembled in the current.
The banks of this stream were fresh in green and resplendent in the
gay colors of flowers. A little beyond the road were deep shadowy
woods of giant trees with moss-covered trunks. The bright foliage was
altogether free of the oppressive dust. The brilliant yellow of the
golden-rod vied with the heliotrope and the purple of wild asters to
form a charming foreground inviting to the shady depths beyond. Helène
was enchanted.

“What is the name of this pretty stream?” she risked in her meekest
and softest of tones. She was really afraid to speak to this boy of
twelve, with the serious immobile face that appeared so supernaturally
indifferent to mere worldly things. It was almost a sacrilege to
disturb so calm and superior a being.

“Pequannock.” And then, as if he had condescended too greatly, “Git ap,
Major!” The rest was silence.

But the ice was broken, for when they passed an opening in the wood
which showed a large house with broad, sloping lawns in front of it, he
volunteered the information, “Mr. Van Dusen’s place.”

Helène was greatly relieved. He was just a boy like any other boy,
after all, and not a youthful Cyclops or a Rapunzle. She asked more
questions--about the district, about Miss Fisher, about himself--to all
of which he replied in sentences of gradually increasing length. So
that when at the end of the two miles’ drive which took the ungainly
horse half an hour to cover, they drew up before a newly painted house
with a row of fine old maples shading it, she and the youthful “whip,”
had become fast friends.

Margaret had spied the family vehicle in the distance and was at the
gate to meet Helène. Affectionate greetings exchanged, Helène was
shown to her room and ordered to remove the stains of travel.

“I’m just too happy for words to have you here,” exclaimed Margaret.

Helène looked at her friend and was delighted to see that she had
improved greatly. Her cheeks showed the return of color, the scar on
the temple had lost its dull purple, and the expression on her face was
just the same Margy’s of old.

As they were descending the stairs, Margaret whispered: “They are
dying to see you; but they wouldn’t for the world let you see their
curiosity. We must go to them in the kitchen.”

“Mrs. Post, I’ve brought my friend, Miss Barton.”

Mrs. Post, a painfully plain and stolidly built woman of middle age,
was busily engaged at the range, cooking. She turned a kindly face on
hearing Margaret’s voice.

“Pleased to meet ye, Miss Barton.” She wiped her hands deliberately on
a clean apron and let them drop resignedly. Then, seeing the hand of
Helène stretched towards her, she seized it with a glad smile.

“So ye be Miss Fisher’s friend, be ye? Maybe ye’re tired after yer long
trip, hain’t ye, miss?”

“Oh, no, Mrs. Post, the journey was delightful and new; especially the
drive to the house.”

“Waal, I guess it be. I ain’t had a ride ter the city for nigh on five
years. I mean Paterson. I’ve never been to Noo York all my life. But
ain’t ye hungry? Dinner’ll be most ready in an hour--can ye wait that
long, miss?”

Helène could and gladly would.

The two friends retired to rest in the shade of the roomy porch, and to
exchange confidences. There were not many but, such as they were, they
were interesting to them since they were born of their own lives.

Margaret betrayed an anxiety lest others who were more wealthy and
could offer more pleasure and comforts, might entice Helène away from
her. Her questions were carefully framed, however, and Helène replied
frankly and freely. She had not seen Mr. Van Dusen more than she could
help. She had really thought little or nothing about him. Her mind had
been too much occupied with her work and with thinking of Margaret.

Margaret, however, was not quite satisfied and persisted in putting
more questions all bearing on the same subject, until Helène was quite
puzzled.

“What is it you are driving at, Margy? Tell me, now--what’s in your
head?”

Margaret looked into the honest eyes of her friend, clear as a June
sky, and was satisfied.

“I guess, nothing, my dear,” she said, “nothing at all. I love you so
that I suspect everybody has designs on your affections. I guess I’m
just a jealous, selfish old thing. Forget all about it.”

After the mid-day meal Margaret, in obedience to the doctor’s orders,
retired to her room for a rest. Helène, left to herself, took a book
and recalling a shady nook she had passed on her way to the farm-house,
crossed the road and sought its seclusion.



CHAPTER XXV


The small, moss-covered clearing under the beeches proved to be an
ideal retreat--a place good for the soul longing for isolation--a
refuge for those desiring to escape from the insistent call of the
obstinate present.

The sloping ground, soft and furry like a carpet, invited relaxation.
The book seemed clever and promising--but somehow she could not
concentrate her attention on its pages; her mind would wander off
aimlessly. She began to muse, and the volume slid on to the moss.

This life she was living--was it really to be her life always? This
wonderful land had opened up to her new vistas and new experiences. The
people were, oh, so kind and good to her. It was all very interesting
and no doubt worthy the efforts. But was this the land for her--for
her, the last of her race?

She had been so enthusiastic in the morning. She had been looking
forward to this little vacation for many days; and now, when it had
come, when everything was just as she had wished it to be, she was not
happy!

What had become of her dreams of intimate exchange of noble thoughts
with dear friends? Where were her romantic fancies of a world of love,
of glory and poetry? She knew not what these dreams and fancies might
actually be, but she was sure they were not being realized now. Was
her life’s horizon to be landlocked as was this rural home? Was her
life’s goal to reach no farther than the making of pretty bonnets
for strangers? Was this to be her ideal? Certainly she had found a
freedom from one kind of bondage, but had she not obtained it only to
find herself bound by far more cruel fetters--the drudgery of a life
occupied in gaining a livelihood and losing its soul?

Would she be compelled to point to this as her only achievement? And
what would Mr. Morton say when her hour of reckoning came with him?
“And it was for this--that you disobeyed your father’s wishes, and
gave me unspeakable pain!” Had she pained him? Had she disregarded her
father’s injunctions? Oh--if she could but be enlightened on these
doubts, these ever recurring questions!

She sat meditating, lost to her surroundings while the busy
bees hummed and the flies buzzed about her. A slender catbird,
smooth and droll like a dainty squirrel, its bright beetle eyes
turned inquisitively upon the intruder, slipped in and out of the
underbrush--“Peep”--“Peep”--its mate joined in the sport,--“Peep,” and
they were gone. Little kinglets with their wine-colored caps flitted
from branch to branch, chirruping in sweet confidence. A subdued whirr
drew Helène’s eyes idly to a tall plant swaying in blossom in the
glaring sunshine; above it was the most exquisite of little creatures
floating in a haze produced by the rapid motion of its delicate wings,
its thread-like bill seemingly resting within the flower. Whirr--it had
vanished!

Was this an enchanted glade or a fairy’s retreat?

Yes--even if she had done wrong in running away, she had learned
to know something of life, life as it was to the vast majority of
humankind. She had come to know this great Western world--his own land.
Surely he could not but approve--he----

An aggressive noise, resembling the sound of scissors being ground on a
whetstone, piercing and disturbing, broke her reveries. Helène sat up
staring into the leafy tangle which screened her refuge. What could
it be? There it was again. It was only a locust, had Helène but known
it, but its arrival had broken the spell; her retreat became once more
but the hot, sweltering clearing; the buzzing of the flies became an
annoyance, the bees a threat. She was again alone--a stranger among a
strange people.

Oh, no--not alone! There was always her good Margy. No one could take
her from her. And there were her own thoughts and memories. No one
could steal them from her. And--autumn would soon be here--the day of
reckoning and, perhaps, the day of promise, also--the day when her
letter must be written and sent. But her first duty was to Margaret.
She must help her dear friend and protector to get well. As soon as
they were again settled at home, she surely would set to work on the
letter. And an inward voice whispered to her: “my knight without
blemish.” She rose and smoothed out her crumpled dress to cover her
self-confusion at the unspoken words.

Carefully picking her way through the tall weeds and brush she gained
the road. Glancing for a moment towards the house she saw no one about;
but the next instant her attention was drawn to a distant cloud of
dust and the sound of the regular hoof-beats of horses. A carriage
was approaching, and soon it drew up before the gate of the Post’s
farm-house. Hesitating what she should do, she saw a man alight, but,
instead of going up to the house, he turned and made straight to where
she was standing.

As he approached nearer she recognized Mr. Van Dusen. Her indecision
died in its inception. Hat in one hand and the other extended cordially
he called out:

“How are you, Miss Barton? I am so glad to see you. What good fairy
brought you here?”

Somewhat embarrassed, she permitted him to take her hand, and press it
lightly. He felt rather than saw her indifference. “You are not pleased
to see me, Miss Barton?” he added with a weak smile. “But never mind,
since I am here, may I walk with you?”

“Y-e-s, Mr. Van Dusen. Miss Fisher is resting--the doctor’s orders, you
know--but it is almost time for her to waken. Do you wish to see her?”

“Ah, Miss Barton, I am not going to let you get rid of me in that way.
Let Miss Fisher have her full allowance of sleep; my message to her can
wait. Mother sent me to invite her and you for a drive around the lakes
to-morrow. The country is looking so beautiful, she thought you would
enjoy the water and the hotels along the shore. But may I be frank?
I agreed to be her messenger because I had heard you were expected
to-day. Now, please, Miss Barton, don’t look so forbidding. I do so
want to speak to you.”

Helène made a motion as if about to step back, a slight blush suffusing
her cheek and neck. Courteously bowing her proud little head she said
in somewhat staccato tones:

“Very well, Mr. Van Dusen; but I really think we ought both of us go in
to Miss Fisher. I am her guest, you know.”

“I know, Miss Barton, but let me have my way, won’t you? This place,
these woods, fields and lakes,” he added with a wave of his arm,
“have been my playground ever since I was a boy. I know every nook
and corner. You are not alone Miss Fisher’s guest but the guest of us
all who live here and love this secluded corner of Jersey. Do let me
be your guide and show you around.” His humorous eyes gave his face
so whimsical an expression that Helène almost regretted her coldness
towards him.

“Have you seen the orchard and the enchanted bower of Kittanah, the
Indian Maiden who dwelt here more than two hundred years ago? No? It’s
right round the bend of this road, less than a minute’s walk, and
really well worth a visit. Shall we go?”

His playful insistence and her own desire to efface the impression of
her cool reception of him conquered her indecision. She turned with him
along the road to where the orchard was situated.

Gnarled old fruit trees laden with red, green and speckled apples, deep
grass that clung to ankles, weeds of unusual size and luxuriance, and
all against a dense clump of birches as background.

Within these birches were flat boulders covered with lichen and small
tufts of living green--“The Indian bower, Miss Barton; behold the
throne of Kittanah!”

It was a pretty spot, and Helène felt no regret that she had come. Van
Dusen drew out his handkerchief, spread it carefully over the rock and
invited his companion to sit down. “You must let me see how a white
maiden would appear upon the throne of her ancient copper-colored
sister.”

Helène smilingly obeyed, and the young man stepped back in mock
criticism, nodding approval.

“Miss Barton, tradition tells that this Indian maiden outrivalled in
beauty all the other girls of her age and place. But I think--there
never sat upon this rock a more beautiful girl than she who is sitting
there now.”

Helène rose. The very thing she had dreaded was going to happen. She
had been very foolish to come to this place.

“Miss Barton, please sit down.”

Hardly knowing what she was doing, Helène resumed her seat, helplessly.

Van Dusen came close up to her, the smile gone from his face, and in
its place an expression of grim determination.

“Miss Barton, ever since I first met you I have had but one thought--to
win you if I could. I know you have given me no encouragement; indeed,
I believe you have avoided me. Yet, I still beg of you to permit me to
plead my cause.”

Helène, with downcast eyes, sat patiently, her hands folded, a troubled
expression on her face.

“I don’t amount to much, I know, but I am a pretty clean fellow and I
am awfully fond of you. Won’t you give me a chance to show you how in
earnest I am? To see more of you? There isn’t another girl like you
in this world. I know there are lots of fellows much better than I,
but--do give me a chance!”

As he spoke the last words he took Helène’s hand, his eager face
flushed with his emotions. She gently drew it away, and looking up
piteously at the young man she mustered just enough strength to
say sadly: “Mr. Van Dusen--I don’t know what to say, and if I did
I wouldn’t know how to say it. You are very kind. I--I have never
thought of any man as you wish me to think of you. We ought not
to have come here; we should both of us then have been saved this
great embarrassment. Please, remember, that I have no one but Miss
Fisher--that I am her only friend. Shall we return to the house?”

“Miss Barton, Helen dear, will you not give me some encouragement, some
hope----”

“Oh, Mr. Van Dusen--what can I say? Really, I must not listen to you
any longer. Pray, permit me!”

Her heart in a riotous beating, her temples throbbing and her face
filled with indignation, Helène rose and ran toward the orchard. And as
she ran she kept thinking: he had no right to speak to her thus: Margy
would have to tell him that he must not visit them again. Her feet
became entangled in the deep grass and treacherous brambles, and she
was compelled to walk and pick her way.

Van Dusen, who had followed her at a quick pace, hurt and offended at
he knew not what, was the first to break the awkward silence following
on the precipitate flight.

“Don’t be angry with me, Miss Barton. I did not mean to hurt your
feelings. I can see I am distasteful to you; but you need have no
fear.” He paused for breath. Then seeing that she was finding it
difficult to get over the brambles, he added in an unconscious _non
sequitur_: “Pardon me, if you don’t keep to the path you will tear your
shoes and skirt. You are getting into a patch of low bush blackberries;
they are worse than barbed wire.”

Helène stopped short, her sense of humor overcoming her. After all
the young man had not done anything very grievous! Of course, it was
absurd, but he meant well and she had been wrong to be indignant with
him.

She turned to Van Dusen, and the smile which met him was like a ray
of sunshine breaking through threatening clouds. “Mr. Van Dusen--I am
sorry. It was rude of me to run away. I was taken unawares. Please
pardon me. You may show me the path. I can’t afford to ruin my shoes
and spoil my vacation. But you must promise me not to refer to the
subject again. Will you promise, Mr. Van Dusen?”

“Miss Barton, I may not be a genius but nobody can say I don’t know
when I am not wanted. I apologize,” he added in a more earnest and
subdued voice, “and let us be friends. I guess I am not good enough for
you!”

“No, Mr. Van Dusen, you are unjust to yourself. You are a gentleman and
you have been very kind to me. But--oh, well, I suppose I am foolish.
Let us go back to Miss Fisher.”

Van Dusen, silent and depressed, led the way back along the path over
the hard-baked field, through the orchard and into the road. Helène
spoke not another word all the way.

Whether she intended it or not her silence convinced Van Dusen that
he need look for no further hope from her. It was not coquetry, but a
definite and permanent refusal. What an ass he had been not to see that
she never cared for him! But that he, a Van Dusen, should have been
turned down by a snip of a milliner! No, no, he must not think that. He
was a cad to call her names even in thought. Ah, she was a beautiful
girl--as good as they made them--but, she had not been made for him,
worse luck! Of course, there must be another fellow. But, by George,
couldn’t she look proud! And what a temper she could show! Ah, but she
looked more beautiful angry than smiling. Oh, well, if she didn’t care
to talk he wouldn’t make her. There was the gate, and there was Miss
Fisher, all in white, smiling and wholesome. After all, there was no
girl like an American girl. These foreigners----

“Hello, people, where have you two been?” came Margaret’s cheery
greeting to the silent pair emerging from the cover of the trees;
“exploring the landscape, Helen?”

“How do you do, Miss Fisher!” Van Dusen welcomed the break in the
oppressive silence he had endured. “You look very well. I need not ask
if the country is doing you good! Mother sent me with a message to you,
but as I learned you were resting I proposed to Miss Barton to visit
the ‘Kittanah Rock’--and here we are.”

“How are you, Mr. Van Dusen. Come in and sit down in the shade. This
is the only cool spot I know around here. Were you interested in the
Indian Rock, Helen? You didn’t know we could boast of ancient history
here, did you?”

They sat on the camp chairs in the grass under the spreading maples,
chatting in desultory fashion. Helène, however, soon retired to her
room, offering as an excuse her dishevelled condition after the walk.

As he sat facing the comely Margaret with her shrewd eyes, Van Dusen
realized that it would be useless for him to make a secret of what had
happened in the orchard. He saw that she already more than guessed.
Moreover, his disappointment at the rebuff made him feel a deep desire
to unburden himself; perhaps, also, to obtain a little sympathy. He
sought for an opportunity, and it came when Helène left them together.
But it was Margaret who seized it first.

“What have you been saying to Helen, Mr. Van Dusen? She seems unusually
quiet, and she kept her eyes away from you. I have elected myself
Helen’s guardian, you know, and her happiness is dear to me. What’s
been the trouble?”

“Miss Fisher,” the young man fidgeted and spoke nervously. “I know you
will be angry with me. I’ve made an arrant fool of myself. I proposed
to Miss Barton, and was promptly refused. I hardly know how I came to
do it, but, I suppose I couldn’t help it.”

Margaret’s face paled; she closed her eyes and said not a word.

“Miss Fisher, I see you are angry. But I’ve made it all right. I don’t
know how I came to forget myself, because, as I sit here now, I feel as
if I’m not in love with her at all--and never have been. If I feel hurt
it’s not my heart that has been wounded, but my vanity. Do say a kind
word to me, Miss Fisher. I don’t want you to send me away in anger.”

Margaret opened her eyes and looked at Van Dusen for a moment with
slight disdain. The ingenuousness of the young man, however, was so
transparent, and indicated so honest a nature that she was moved to
smile--the free and open smile which only she could give.

“Poor boy!” she said, “I guess you are right, you couldn’t help it. I
don’t blame you. If I were a man I would have done as you did. But you
must not come with us to-morrow; it would be awkward for both of you.
Oh, I do wish men wouldn’t insist on making love to every pretty girl
they meet; I’m afraid you’ve now spoiled Helen’s vacation--the first
one the child has had. I don’t know if you understand what that means
to a working-girl, because you’ve never done a day’s work in your life.”

“You’re right, missie, I don’t. But what can I do? Father thinks I am
a dunce; the fellows I know don’t do anything great, and mother wants
me to do the social stunt and shine. I wish I could do something. Won’t
you advise me, Miss Fisher?”

“Advise you? Why, Mr. Van Dusen, I don’t see that it is any of my
business! And please don’t ‘Missie’ me. I am too old for that. Really,
you make me laugh. I honestly believe you haven’t grown up yet.”

Any other young man might have resented the snubbing he was getting,
but Van Dusen enjoyed it.

“Never mind, Miss Fisher,” he said laughingly. “I’m not nearly the
boy you think I am. And if you keep on looking at me with those nice
eyes of yours--I’ll make another fool of myself. Now, please don’t get
angry. I’m going to behave from now on. You are right about the drive
to-morrow, though I’m awfully sorry to miss the pleasure of showing you
round. I had been looking forward to it.”

His tone was light, but it was evident that he was feeling the
deprivation deeply.

“Don’t think little of me, Miss Fisher. I hope some day to prove to you
that I can be of some use in the world. Say good-bye to Miss Barton for
me, please. Good-bye, Miss Fisher, and think kindly of me.”

Van Dusen rose and held out his hand to Margaret, who had reddened in
spite of herself. Really, he looked a manly fellow in his earnestness,
despite the flippancy of his manner. She couldn’t help appreciating the
sterling nature which it hid.

“Good-bye,” she said quietly as she took his hand in her friendly clasp.

She watched him get into the carriage and take the reins from the
waiting groom, and noticed how well he sat his seat. Van Dusen turned
and raised his hat in a parting farewell to her smiling nods. There
was not a trace to be seen of either disappointment or chagrin in his
laughing eyes, as he drove up the road and was lost in the wooded
avenue. Margaret turned and walked pensively into the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

Labor Day had become a memory; Margaret was now fully recovered, and
both girls were back at their duties. Their well-regulated life, which
had been so rudely interrupted by the accident, resumed its even
course. The new actors which, in consequence of that distressing event,
had come into it, in no way disturbed the even tenor of their ways.

Helène met the spurned wooer, after not a few qualms of conscience,
with quiet friendliness. Van Dusen, on his part, had swallowed his
disappointment and became a devoted friend, using the privileges of an
elder brother, which had been extended to him. Helène had but hinted to
Margaret at what had occurred between her and Van Dusen, and Margaret
had refrained from inquiring too curiously. It was best to leave well
alone, she thought.

Flowers still came to the house in Gramercy Park; but their destination
was the reverse of what it had been before. Then it had been Helène who
was the recipient of the roses and giant asters and Margaret of the
lesser flowers. Now it was to Margaret that the more gorgeous plants
were addressed, and to Helène were relegated modest little bouquets of
lilies and pansies (pansies? Did he mean--heartsease?) and cornflowers.

The arrival of the flowers for Margaret usually presaged an evening’s
outing, and Helène soon came to understand that the bouquets which came
for her were but the expressions of courtesy and brotherly attention.
She did not fail to tease Van Dusen on the change, in her more
audacious moods, to his smiling content.

With renewed health Margaret’s cheeks filled out and regained their old
roundness and color. Indeed, her illness had improved her appearance.
She began to add to nature’s gifts the productions of the lore of the
“Modiste” and blossomed into as charming a woman as ever attracted the
eyes of the dwellers of the Park.

And now, with the waning of the summer, the first signs of the new
“season” began to appear on the Avenue. The World of Fashion was
returning to its urban fields of activity; the shops once more became
busy hives of jostling women. The evenings scintillated and sparkled
with brilliant lights and more brilliant costumes. The glamor of the
city drew people from the country, and once again the busy stir of
business and pleasure filled the blue-covered cañons of New York.

As for Margaret and Helène, work kept them from ennui. It was a lesson
to Helène, and she entered on the work of the season with all her heart.

The letter, the task of writing the important letter, had occupied her
thoughts for many months, sometimes as ominous, often as a ray of hope,
occasionally as a burden, but always as a sacred duty--a pilgrimage to
a shrine. She had begun its composition and had destroyed what she had
written time and again. And every time she had put off its completion,
waiting for a happier mood. When did autumn begin? Mrs. Kane’s almanac
said the twenty-second of September. And that was but a few days off.
Well, she would obey the promptings of her heart and do it now. It was
an evening when Margaret had decided to take an inventory of their
belongings to see what they required in the way of dresses for the
coming season, and she had retired early, leaving Helène to herself.
She sat down determined to get it done with once for all. At the end of
an hour the letter was finished, all but the date and signature. She
read it over carefully, and although she was not satisfied she decided
it would have to do.

Surely he would understand! She wondered what he was doing in
Cleveland, and if he ever thought of his friend of the Carpathians.
Perhaps he had found some rich and beautiful girl of his own country!

And his mother and sister? Was the Ruth he had spoken of like the girls
who came to Madame Lucile’s--free and lively and gay and often slangy?
Was his mother like Mrs. Van Dusen, with her haughty air and jewelled
fingers?

These and the like questions she put to herself only to add to her
hesitancy of purpose and distress of heart. She had learned much but
she was still a child and knew very little of life, especially of life
in America.

The greatest of all teachers, the omnipotent opener of all eyes and
all minds, had not yet come to her. Love may be blind, but it is a
wonderful magician for opening the heart’s far-seeing eyes. It may
be blind to the object of its passion, but as a teacher it takes
the highest rank. Helène did not know this. She was alone in the
world--without a home, without a father or mother, without even her
birthright. In this land of her adoption she was still a stranger.
She could but follow the impulses of her heart blindly. She did not
realize it, but it was love that led her. And Monday would be the
twenty-second!



CHAPTER XXVI


Very soon after he had entered on his administrative duties in
connection with the business his father had bequeathed him, John Morton
had found that one thing was certain--he must give his whole heart and
mind to the work, or things would go wrong. Judge Lowell had put it to
him characteristically when he said: “You must either attend strictly
to the executive work, or pay some one else to do it for you. A leader
cannot sit astraddle.” Morton had not believed him, at first, but it
was not long before he found, to his sorrow, that the judge was right;
and then he knuckled down to the system.

When he began gradually to master the fundamental principles of
generalship underlying the direction of so gigantic an enterprise, he
experienced a curious sense of elation and self-satisfaction. Nothing
pleased him more than to notice the admiration in the eyes of the old
warhorses of his father’s army. The knottiest of problems, he found,
would yield to earnest thought and tactful work.

Those who, at the beginning, had looked at him evasively or
contemptuously, had of late given both their approval and confidence.
The heads of the many diversified interests had tested him and had
found he was not wanting. They realized that he was both able and
strong. “A chip of the old block,” some of them said with a smile, and
others would remark: “I told you the acorn wouldn’t drop very far from
the oak,” or “Old Dan in his prime wasn’t in it with the boy.” These
were the opinions expressed by those who were in the business with him.

“The Street” had even begun to whisper that it wasn’t wise to monkey
with young Morton, and grizzled old bankers had found it desirable to
consult with him before deciding on some of their “big moves.” From
the outset he had declined offices on financial boards, pleading lack
of experience; but somehow important enterprises would be mentioned to
him at their inception. The players on the chess-board knew that it
was safer to give Morton a chance to make a move or not, as he felt
inclined. Thus it was that every day found Morton more firmly seated in
his father’s ample chair, and found also that the work connected with
his duties left him more and more invigorated.

His life with such responsibilities was bound to become circumscribed
in ever-narrowing circles, and could not fail to leave on him, both in
his features and bearing, indelible marks of care and thought. He found
little room for indecision, small opportunity for moroseness, and fewer
moments for idle dreaming. He carried himself so seriously that his old
friends at the club scarcely recognized in him the John Morton of the
past. He no longer found time for intercourse with men of science, nor
for indulgence in reading books. John Morton had, indeed, come into
Adam’s legacy--work and plenty of it.

Mrs. Morton and Ruth, although they could have but few opportunities
for coming in contact with the business world, heard some of these good
opinions. Married ladies, from whom their husbands kept no business
secrets, would repeat what they had been told; fiancées would carry the
expressions their future lords and master had made about Morton; Judge
Lowell, on his occasional visits, never failed to avow his high esteem
of this paragon of a son. They heard that he had been elected to the
dignified offices his father had held, and to which only honorable and
estimable men were called; that his advice and counsel were sought in
matters of public welfare, civic improvement and works of charity. The
Randolph in him may have been strong, but there was enough Morton in
his composition to make his power felt, and those who looked to him for
action were not disappointed.

Mother and admiring sister regretted his now regular absence from
their drawing-room gatherings and his even less frequent visits to
the country home. But the women of America are content to accept the
demands that business makes on their husbands and brothers. As long as
John kept his health and looked as handsome as ever, with his face lit
up by his humorous smile, they were satisfied.

They had almost forgotten the existence of “the dark lady” of the
Carpathians. Ruth had gone so far as to say that she believed John “had
been stringing” them about her. She still was as determined as ever
to marry her handsome brother to some beautiful American girl, which
was her reason for not sharing in her mother’s pride at his continued
devotion to business. Not that she objected to hear people talk in
praise of John; but she could see no sense in working so hard for money
when they already had more than they needed. John lived like a hermit,
she said.

Her brother would listen to her smilingly, pat her on the cheek and
explain that the interests of their estate demanded it. Her mother
would talk of the sacred duty John owed to his father’s plans. But
neither argument had much weight with Ruth, for whom life was a much
more interesting affair than mere money-making. However, she said
nothing, but quietly made up her mind to carry out her plans. She’d see
that John married, come what may.

Moved by the desire to be nearer her son, Mrs. Morton, towards the
middle of the summer, had brought her household goods from Newport
to the big mansion on the Hudson. John had agreed to come there at
least once during the week and to spend his Sundays with her. She made
occasional trips to New York for shopping and visiting purposes, on
which Ruth would often accompany her--especially for the shopping. On
such occasions they generally succeeded in bringing John home with
them. They found that he was willing to break important engagements,
though to them these engagements seemed strangely unimportant. He would
meet them at some store or at the Terminal, and his escort was always
an added pleasure to them. Mrs. Morton, in particular, felt a great
pride in driving home with her son. Their arrival was like a triumphal
entry into some feudal castle. Her eyes would beam with delight as she
noted the servants’ admiring glances at “Mr. John,” or the proprietary
pride of the old station-master’s greeting of “Mr. Morton.”

Sometimes Ruth would go alone to visit a school friend, who would
assist her in selecting her purchases. It was on one of these private
expeditions that she ’phoned John and, catching him in a moment of
weakness, wheedled him into a promise to meet her at Maillard’s that
day at five, and to take her back to Tarrytown.

Punctual, as always, John was at the confectioner’s--the favorite
place of those ladies who believe they need reviving refreshment of a
stronger nature than can be obtained at the ordinary department stores.
His arrival made Ruth and Hattie Brown, her friend, the envy of the
other girls, who saw this distinguished-looking man greeting them. Is
it unkind to suggest that Ruth had selected the place of rendezvous
with this effect in view?

John had met Miss Brown on many previous occasions, so that he looked
at the girls’ effusive leave-taking without much emotion. Ruth’s great
charm to him had always been her perfect naturalness of manner, but
this did not prevent her behaving as other girls did when she was with
them. Once alone in the carriage with him, however, she quickly resumed
her vivacious self and was her brother’s comrade again.

The girl was excited, full of fun and bubbling over with laughter, much
to her brother’s amusement. Something unusual must have happened.

“You know that piece of fine old timber on our grounds, John? I mean on
the slope to the river.”

John nodded.

“Well, I’ve taken a fancy to it and want it all for myself. It’s been
neglected, because it hasn’t got what people call ‘a wonderful view.’
It needs draining and some paths cutting through it. Won’t you spare an
hour and come with me to look it over?”

“I don’t mind,” her brother remarked carelessly.

“And you will please me, won’t you, John, dear, and have the woods
put into good condition? I’m tired of hearing about grand vistas and
glorious sights and distant purple hills and all that kind of rot. It’s
a perfectly lovely bit of timber, and if you go the right way about
it, it can be made into a most delightful spot and a real refuge for
birds and small game. Put some quail on the place and mummy and I will
see that they are taken care of and fed in the winter. Now is just
the time, before it gets too cold. If you do this for me, John, I’ll
reciprocate. Oh, I’ve made the most marvellous discovery to-day. I’ll
let you in on it, if you’ll be good.”

Ruth rattled away without pausing for breath.

“Well, sis, I’ll go round the place with you and try to see it with
your enthusiastic eyes; but the superintendent is really the right
man. However, your wish shall be a command. Now, what’s this wonderful
reward I’m to get for being good?” He spoke in a bantering voice,
smiling at the excited face.

“I’ll tell you in good time. It’ll do you good to feed on your
curiosity a little. You haven’t enough emotion in you, anyway, John.
All you do is work and plan. Before you know it, you’ll be nothing but
a thinking machine. Ah, but I’ve got a charm up my sleeve that’ll make
you come out of your shell and be your old self again. Oh, John, if you
only knew!”

“What is this mysterious thing you are hiding? A new collie, or a plant
that sings between drinks, or some new genius? Tell, oh, sloe-eyed
daughter of my race!”

“You can laugh at me, if you like; but I tell you, John, I’ve struck it
rich. You’ll have to wait. All things come to him who waits. First my
woods and roads and drains, and then--your reward.”

They had arrived at the Terminal by this time and John had all he could
do to guide Ruth through the crowd into the train. In due course they
reached home and a short time after the modest family of three were
seated round the dinner-table.

Though a simple function, dinner was always an important affair for
Mrs. Morton when her son was with them. She took pride in seating
him in the high-backed chair at the head of the table and would gaze
lovingly at his handsome face and listen entranced to his conversation.
In Mrs. Morton’s opinion John could talk better than Daniel Webster. A
day’s absence would afford her an excuse for discovering new virtues
in her boy. Unlike the other women of her station, she had remained
what they would have characterized as “old-fashioned.” Home to her
had its old meanings and old duties--it meant home, and not a mere
stopping-place for the country club or the golf links or the porch for
slangy gossip. So that visitors to her house still found in it the air
of bygone days and were grateful for it.

Mrs. Morton had long since laid out her course of life and kept to
it. She knew that so long as John felt that he was taking care of her
and Ruth, he would stick to his business. She herself was not at all
necessary to him; but her pride lay in his strength and ability to
succeed. She was deeply afraid he might drift again into the “bohemian
life” of aimless study and travel, as she classed his previous lapses
into those fields. She could understand being a gentleman of leisure,
even approve of it; she could easily accept the life of ceaseless labor
and planning of business enterprises, for she had had the example of
that in her boy’s father; but she could see nothing in studying for
study’s sake, or in a devotion to research for the object of discovery.
This might do for eccentric foreigners or crazy college professors; but
for a Morton or a Randolph?--Never!

But Ruth had no such compunctions of mind, no such scruples of
conscience or carefully set plans. As they sat over the meal and
she listened to the serious discussion between her mother and John
on subjects in which she had not the slightest interest, she became
impatient.

“Mother, dear,” she said, breaking in. “I must tell you what happened
to me this afternoon. Please stop talking shop and bothering about
those horrid men in their offices, without souls, who sit there like
spiders in webs. Anyone listening to you two would think you were a
couple of promoters.”

“I think, Ruth, you might have chosen a better comparison,” remarked
Mrs. Morton severely. “What is this wonderful thing that happened?”

Ruth, not a bit abashed at the reproof, went on:

“Well, Hattie and I were snoopin’ around looking for things, you
know----”

“My dear, I wish you’d be a little more select in your vocabulary,”
remonstrated her mother mildly.

“Mummy, dear, you must let me tell my story my own way. As I was
saying, Hattie and I were shopping. You know Hattie simply won’t have
anything else but the latest and Frenchiest, and no trouble’s too much
for her so long as she digs it out. We had been to all the likeliest
places--to Arnitt’s and Longman’s and Carson’s and many others, when
she insisted that we should go to Madame Lucile’s. The great lady
herself waited on her, and Hattie tried on almost everything there was
in the place--hats, bonnets, laces, plumes, frocks--and could not be
suited. While the things were on the shelves they looked beautiful, but
when Hattie tried them on she couldn’t bear them. I am sure Madame must
have been disgusted. Even I was getting ashamed of her. Well, at last
Madame suggested that Mademoiselle Hello-a, or a name something like
that, should come and give her opinion. The young lady, she said, was
the very latest arrival from abroad and was absolutely faultless in her
taste. Well, Mademoiselle with the profane name was sent for and well,
she is simply wonderful!”

Ruth gazed at her listeners with eyes that said what no words could
express. They seemed to suggest dreams of delight and beauty. John
leaned back and roared with laughter. Ruth gave him a mingled look of
pity and disdain, and turned to her mother.

“Mamma, you never in your life saw such a beautiful girl. Honest, she’s
simply a wonder. It’s all very well for you to laugh, John, but you’ve
not seen her. But I’ll take you to see her and then you’ll know if I’m
right or not. I don’t believe she’s a day older than I am, but, somehow
she’s quite womanly. And her face, oh, mother, it’s like the face of
that beautiful Gainsborough picture we have, only much younger. Her
hair is the loveliest color and her eyes are like violets. As for her
figure--well--I’d give my eye-teeth to have one like it.”

“Say, Ruth, let up a little, won’t you?” chuckled John, “if you go on
I’ll have to be carried out by the butler.”

“Let me tell you, you’ll have to be carried out when you see her; she’s
a stunner.”

“Ruth, dear, don’t get so excited,” begged Mrs. Morton.

“I’m not excited, mother; but John doesn’t understand. He’s never heard
her speak, or he wouldn’t make fun of what I’m saying. She talks the
prettiest English in the loveliest voice you ever heard--and she’s so
modest and refined. I tell you she’s one in a million. I bet she’s a
lady--every inch of her--and I couldn’t help saying nice things to her.
You ought to have seen her blush when I said I’d like to know her. If
the girl ever does her blushing stunt when you’re around, John, you’ll
just walk right up and propose to her on the spot. And I hope she’d
accept you. And now, here’s my proposition. If you fix up my woods,
I’ll introduce you to her. Mummy, dear, you must come to New York with
me and invite her out. You’ll fall in love with her. You will come and
ask her, won’t you?”

“But, Ruth, how can we invite a shop-girl to this house? You are so
impulsive, my dear.”

“She’s not a shop-girl; she’s a lady,” exclaimed Ruth, indignantly.

“But a girl you know nothing about; how can you think of it? I never
heard such a thing! What did Hattie Brown say?”

“Oh, Hattie! She thought her very beautiful; but she prefers dark
people. Madame Lucile told us afterwards that the young lady was highly
educated. Now, I’ve said all I have to say. If you don’t want to meet
her, John, that’s your loss. But I tell you she’s a wonder.”

John saw that his sister was really in earnest and would hurt her
feelings if he carried his jocular manner too far. Rising, he went up
to her and put his arms around her shoulders.

“All right, sissie, some day I’ll ask you to introduce me. But not just
now. I’m going to Idaho. I’ll seek your kind favors when I get back.
Mother, dear,” he turned to Mrs. Morton, “I’ve got to go to Jackson’s
Hole next week. Do you mind if I take the opportunity to put in a
week’s shooting? I feel I need the rest.”

“Oh, John,” exclaimed his mother, “I’m so glad you’re going to take a
vacation. You deserve it, and I’m sure you need it. When do you start?
There’s nothing to keep you so far as I am concerned.”

“Thank you, mater, I’ll start next Tuesday. That will give me two days
here. Judge Lowell arrives on Friday and promised to remain until I
return. He’ll see to everything you may want. When you feel like going
to town to stay for the season, I’ve leased the Arkwright house, and
I’ve taken the even days for Box 17 at the Opera. Shall we have our
coffee on the verandah, mother; it’s a lovely evening?”

Mrs. Morton smiled her assent; but said nothing further about his going
away. Since her husband’s death she had clung to John with a double
tenacity--a mother’s love for a son, and a woman’s reliance on the man.
But she was too wise to permit her own feelings to come between them.
When, later in the evening, the three were together in the spacious
living-room, Ruth took her brother aside and finally got her way about
the little wood.

The following morning Morton returned to the city. But this time he
carried back with him his old dreams. Ruth’s story at the dinner-table
had unlocked a door in his memory which he had kept closed; and now
the gracious spirit wandered once more about the chambers of his mind
giving him neither rest nor hope.

Would the promised letter arrive? Perhaps it was even now on its way
to him across the ocean! What if it should come while he was away in
Idaho? He made a note to leave instructions that it must be forwarded
on to him.

Love is said to give the lover almost supernatural powers of insight
and vision, as if the mysterious force produced a psychical state which
responded in harmony to the presence of the loved one. If this be
true, then Morton must have been born of a different species. In all
his concentrated thoughts of Helène he saw her either in some retired
village in Germany, or in some nunnery, or sitting in tearful neglect
in a dreary attic, or living with some high-born relative and walking
the world a queen in grace and beauty, the cynosure of all eyes. But
never for one instant did he picture her in New York, working patiently
and hopefully in a place he had passed a thousand times.

On the Saturday which was to be his last in town for some weeks to
come, Morton decided to lunch at his club before leaving for Tarrytown.
On the way he stopped his brougham at a gunsmith’s to purchase a rifle
and ammunition for his hunting trip. Was it fate or did a mischievous
fairy plan it?

It was a lovely day, one of those days on which in certain places of
the earth, far from the madding crowd, fairies would come out of their
secret places and dance in the green glades of the cool forest. New
York’s cañons of streets were blue and gold under the gracious sunlit
skies. Surely one of those lively sprites must have mistaken the city
in its shining beauty for a new kind of forest; for of a certainty
he was there. He must have skipped in past the yawning policeman at
the corner, heedless of the noise and the crowds, and careless of the
consequences. Seeing Morton in his carriage he must have whispered to
him to stop at the gunsmith’s shop and go inside and take his time. And
this same little fellow must have arranged it that Michael Sweeney,
the best judge in the city of a damascened barrel, with the finest
touch for adjusting the trigger, should just then be in the shop to
wait on customers. For Michael, withal his watery eyes, could weigh
powder with the skill of an assayer and discourse of guns as though
they were his beloved children. Morton forgot where he was and who he
was, so entranced was he. All he felt was that he was going away for
a vacation--he was putting work away and going to play! The fairy had
certainly enchanted him.

Outside on the avenue the horses in the brougham stamped in nervous
impatience, switching their short tails in vain efforts to keep the
flies away; the old coachman on the box had grown tired of flicking
his whip and had dozed off in the warm shade. And all the time Morton
was under Michael’s spell. Then the fairy, who had timed it well,
touched the weight of the old clock in the corner and started so loud
a whirr that Mike was disconcerted. The asthmatic gong gave a hoarse
ding-dong--it was one o’clock!

Immediately Morton realized that he was to get the 2.30 train and that
he had had no luncheon. He made for the exit hurriedly, giving at the
same time brusque instructions to Michael to bring his purchases to the
carriage.

Michael had wrapped everything very carefully, as was his custom,
using the brown paper and string which the famous establishment
always took care should be of the best, and hurried out in obedience
to Morton’s instructions. Now what followed proves conclusively that
there was a fairy or a leprechaun, as Michael would have called him,
in New York that afternoon. For Michael had not taken two steps beyond
his door, when the string broke and the contents of the brown paper
parcel--hooks, lines and sinkers--were scattered, like the buttermilk
from the pitcher of the fair Kitty of Coleraine, all over the place.
Sweeney, the impeccable, looked aghast and could but stare at the
articles rolling and sliding in every direction.

Morton was on the point of stepping into his carriage, but hearing
the commotion he stopped and turned round. And here is where the
fine Italian hand of the fairy came in. For now Morton also made a
discovery.



CHAPTER XXVII


As this Saturday was to be the last of the half-holidays of the summer,
Margaret and Helène were devoting it to replenishing their wardrobes
for the coming autumn. Monday would be “Fall Opening” day, with its
resumption of longer working hours, and no other opportunity would be
given them for this most necessary preparation for the winter.

The avenue was crowded. Idle promenaders mingled with people hurrying
to and from work, all exhibiting, in dress and manner, the many phases
of life in the metropolis. A touch of crispness in the air gave warning
of the change in the season.

Margaret, broad and commanding, walked by the side of Helène as though
protecting the slender figure in black from the press about them. Bent
on their important affairs they stepped briskly along regardless of
those about them and arrived at the gunsmith’s at the very instant of
Michael Sweeney’s mishap.

Michael, bent and perspiring with the effort of collecting the
scattered objects, straightened up to allow the two ladies to pass.
Morton, at that moment, turned and saw one of them skip gracefully
aside and then catch up with her companion’s gait. In that same
instant Morton experienced a sudden singing in his brain followed
by an association of ideas and an awakening of memory. He became
dimly conscious of something familiar about the graceful skip of the
young woman in black, and looked searchingly at the face beneath the
broad-brimmed hat and veil. At once he made an undignified jump from
the carriage step and was walking rapidly after the two girls.

He caught up with them and looked sharply as he passed; the next
instant he had stopped right in front of them.

“Comtesse Helène!” he exclaimed, “you here?”

Helène shot a frightened look at the man before them.

“Mr. Morton!” The silvery voice bathed him in beatific memories. He saw
nothing but the girl; nay, it may be doubted if he even saw her. He had
taken the little hand which had been involuntarily stretched out to him
and he now held it firmly as though fearful it might slip away from
him, his face mirrored with his emotions. The rest of creation did not
exist; it contained but this girl and himself.

“Comtesse Helène--for once fortune has favored me--I am so glad, so
glad.” He could find no other words.

“Oh, Mr. Morton, I wrote you last night and mailed the letter this
morning. And that I should meet you to-day of all days!”

“Pardon me, but I guess you’ve forgotten me,” interposed Margaret in
her driest of drawls. “Won’t you introduce me, Helen?”

John’s face flushed and Helène looked prettily embarrassed.

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Margy,” and then turning to John smilingly, she
said slowly and distinctly: “Miss Helen Barton has the honor to present
to Mr. Morton her dear friend and chum, Miss Margaret Fisher.”

Margaret offered her hand with somewhat cold reserve. This entrance of
a male friend into her shy ward’s acquaintance was both unexpected and
inexplicable. Mr. Morton looked all right--too much so, she thought
with a tinge of resentment.

Morton, by this time, had regained his composure, and shook Margaret’s
hand heartily.

“Now that we have been properly made acquainted with each other, may I
inquire where you ladies are bound for? It is a long time since I last
saw Miss-er-Barton. Have you had luncheon?”

No, they had not. And then, to Margaret’s astonishment, the timid,
ingenuous Helène immediately accepted the offer which followed. On
their way to the hotel, Morton did his best to appear calm and divided
his attentions equally between the two girls. When they were settled
comfortably near a window looking out on the avenue of one of New
York’s famous hostelries, Margaret could not help speculating as to
who this man was. He evidently possessed Ali Baba’s countersign, for
he was waited on most assiduously. A seat at this particular hotel had
always seemed to her to be the reward of the world’s elect. She glanced
inquiringly at Helène, who was all unconscious of what was passing
through her friend’s mind, and to Margaret’s increasing wonder Helène
was taking the whole affair as if a luncheon at the Waldorf were an
everyday occurrence. With the utmost sang-froid she removed her gloves
and, to Morton’s delight, the protecting veil. Her eyes were sparkling
with a light Margaret had never before seen in them. Who and what was
this Mr. Morton? She was becoming really jealous of this interloper.
She remembered that Helen had once casually referred to a Mr. Morton
she had known “in the old country.” But this man was unquestionably an
American! She watched him closely and noted the animation in look and
tone whenever he spoke to Helen. Then she remembered that on meeting
her in the avenue he had addressed her as “Countess.” What did he
mean? Margaret was both puzzled and hurt.

Morton felt a restraint in himself and rightly judged that a similar
feeling existed in the girls. He made an effort to remove it. Turning
to Margaret, he said: “I cannot tell you, Miss Fisher, how glad I am to
have met Miss Barton. When we said good-bye to each other last it was
thousands of miles from here, and I suppose we both find it difficult
to realize that the world is a very small place after all. You will,
therefore, pardon me, I hope, for seeming unattentive. But I promise to
behave better.”

Margery at once saw the situation now. She guessed they would have
many things to say to each other which her presence prevented them
discussing. “Two is company and three is a crowd,” she said to herself.

Smiling amiably in response to Morton’s explanation, she turned to
Helène and said:

“Helen, dear, I’m sure you and Mr. Morton have much to say to each
other. Now, please, don’t mind me. I am going to devote myself to the
good things I see before me, and then I can enjoy looking at the styles
of the women passing by the window. This is a rare treat for me.”

Helène said nothing, but a tell-tale blush spoke volumes. Morton
laughed and said that Miss Fisher was right; he’d take full advantage
of her forbearance.

Suiting his action to the word he drew his chair more closely to
Helène, and before many minutes had passed the two had quite forgotten
Margaret’s presence.

“I have kept my promise, Mr. Morton. I sent the letter this morning and
it would have reached you on Monday--the first day of autumn. You will
believe that I have never forgotten your kindness to me, Mr. Morton. It
was, indeed, not ingratitude that kept me silent.”

“I am too happy to think of finding fault. Now that we have met again,
I shall say not a word of censure. You are looking very well. Ah, Miss
Barton, I give you warning that you won’t lose me again. To think that
you should have been in New York for these five long months when I have
searched the continent of Europe for you!”

“I know now, Mr. Morton, that it was, perhaps, wrong of me not to have
communicated with you earlier. But I am very happy now.”

“I cannot tell you how glad I am!”

“I have been very content of late in my independence. It makes me proud
to be able to say that.”

“I can well believe it,” responded Morton thoughtfully.

“But--Mr. Morton--it is all owing to Margy. She was and still is my
good angel. I don’t know what I should have done without her. She has
been my comfort and stay and the most patient and dearest friend in the
world.”

Helène stretched her arm across the table and pressed Margaret’s hand,
the tears filling her eyes. Margaret blushed and stroked Helène’s
slender fingers. Praise always called up her innate modesty of nature.
“You think too much of me, darling,” she whispered, smiling happily.

Morton looked at Margaret keenly. This was an unusual woman, he
thought, as he noted the broad forehead and firm yet kindly mouth. He
would not forget her kindness to the orphaned girl.

During the meal Margaret kept stealing glances at Helène. She could
scarcely explain the nature of the change she now saw. This erstwhile
quiet, simple maiden might be a princess, so queenly did she bear
herself and so beautiful was she in her animation. “What a difference a
man makes!” she thought bitterly, “especially if he is the right man,”
she added as an afterthought.

The luncheon over Morton remembered that he ought to have been on his
way to Tarrytown.

“Will you excuse me for a moment, ladies? My mother expects me home,
and I ought to send word to her that I will be delayed. Have you any
engagement for this evening, Miss Barton?”

“No, Mr. Morton,” Helène replied, “but I must not keep you from your
family and friends.”

“Miss Barton, I have been in great good luck to-day, and I should like
to take every advantage of it. Shall we say dinner at seven and the
theatre after? Help me, Miss Fisher, won’t you?”

Morton was longing to be alone with Helène, and as he did not quite
understand the relationship which existed between the two girls, he
put the question hoping that she would take the initiative. He was
determined not to part from Helène until he had had an opportunity to
hear her whole story from her own lips.

Margaret’s practical nature saw more than the surface of things showed,
and she had seen sufficient to know that she was _de trop_--to the man,
at any rate.

“Helène, dear,” she said, “you have had enough of me for one day. Make
your plans without considering me. I expect Mr. Van Dusen this evening,
so that I cannot avail myself of Mr. Morton’s kind invitation. You go.
I am sure you and he must have a great deal to talk about. Mr. Morton,
let me thank you for including me in your invitation.”

Helène seemed somewhat uneasy. Before, however, she could reply to
Margaret’s suggestion, she heard Morton say:

“You are quite right, Miss Fisher, Miss Barton and I have a great many
things to talk over. You are very kind. Am I to have the pleasure, Miss
Barton?”

Helène had decided. “I shall be very pleased to dine with you, Mr.
Morton; but I do not care to see a play for some time yet.” Then
turning to Margaret she asked: “You are sure, Margy, you don’t mind?”

“Not at all, my dear. Mr. Morton, I have acted as guardian to Helen for
the past five months, and have been very strict, as you see. Perhaps I
have been selfish; but Helen has been nowhere without me. She is very
dear to me. You may, therefore, consider it a great compliment that I
am willing to place this little treasure of mine in your care. But you
must promise that you will look after her, won’t you?”

“I am honored, Miss Fisher, and beg to assure you that I deeply
appreciate your trust. I shall take your place with Miss Barton.”
Morton smiled, fully appreciating this unusual anxiety on Miss Fisher’s
part.

“Will you excuse me now, for a few minutes, while I ’phone to my
mother?”

Margaret followed him with her eyes as Morton wound his way between the
tables. Helène sat gazing dreamily out of the window absorbed in her
thoughts. Margaret turned to her friend.

“Well, my dear, am I to know all about him? I am bursting with
curiosity, you know; but don’t tell me more than you care to.”

Helène turned her clear, honest eyes on her friend’s face. “There is
not very much to tell, Margy. I met Mr. Morton about a year ago under
unusual circumstances. He was a friend of my father’s. My father died
since then, and you are the one friend I have now. Mr. Morton was very
kind to me at the time, and I believe was willing to assume certain
responsibilities on my behalf, for my father’s sake. I promised that I
would let him know this autumn how I had fared, and it was only this
morning that I sent him the letter which he has not yet received. I
shall tell him now all that has happened to me, and he may be able to
give me news of old friends abroad. Did you really intend to go out
with Mr. Van Dusen?”

“Yes, dear. I was going to tell you about it, and now it will be
pleasant for both of us. Your Mr. Morton, Helen, is the real swell!”

Helène laughed. “Yes, I suppose that’s what you’d call him. But to me
he has been a fine friend--the best I have had--except you, dear.”

“Well, I accept the compliment. But--you know what the old song says:
‘A girl’s best friend is her lover.’ I can see, Helen, where I pass
out.”

“Oh, Margy!” she exclaimed, adjusting her veil quickly.

Morton’s return at that moment ended the confidences between the girls.
He was now, he told them, entirely at their service. It was then
arranged that he should call for Helène at seven o’clock at the address
given him by Margaret.

Helène’s hand lingered an instant in Morton’s at parting, and as he saw
her happy face he knew that he was welcome.

Morton drove to his rooms. Events had been crowding on him and he
wanted to be alone. On his way he stopped at a florist’s and ordered
flowers to be sent to the house in Gramercy Park.

Once in his room he drew a deep chair to the window and after lighting
a cigar sat down to his thoughts.

How beautiful she was! More beautiful than even he had pictured her
in his dreams. This evening she would tell him everything and explain
why she had kept herself away from him. And how pleased she had been
to see him! One look at her face had assured him that no other man had
come between them. She must have carried out her intention and come to
New York to work for her living. That explained Miss Fisher. By George,
that woman was a splendid protectress! He had no fault to find with
her--not in the slightest. Yes--he must put off his Western journey,
now.

John rose and began walking the room, whistling and smoking by turns,
smiling happily. His valet in the next room could hardly believe his
ears. He came obedient to a summons and was ordered to lay out evening
clothes. Mr. Morton would stay in town over Saturday night. What had
come over his master?

John had told his mother that he would be detained in town that night
and promised to be with her for luncheon the next day. He had laughed
to himself as he thought of the guessing match that would follow,
between mother and daughter. Ah, if they only knew!

He dressed with great care and took a hansom, thinking it would be more
fitting than his own more pretentious carriage, and as he drove down
the avenue he could not forbear smiling at his thought--he was just
like any ordinary young “chap” calling on his “best girl.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Margaret and Helène, after leaving Morton and finishing their shopping,
arrived home, their arms filled with packages, most happily expectant.
An evening such as this promised to be to each of them was a rare
occasion. Helène had been afraid that Margaret would question her
further, but to her surprise and relief, she made no reference to Mr.
Morton.

“I think, Helen, dear, you must let me help to dress your hair,” she
said quietly, “your hat will sit better.”

Helène sensed a slight coldness in her friend; she came over to
Margaret and seating herself on the arm of her chair, cuddled up to her.

“Margy, dear, you are not disapproving, are you? Do you think I ought
not to dine with Mr. Morton this evening?”

Margaret held her tight and patted her shoulder affectionately.

“You mustn’t mind me, dearie; I suppose I’m a jealous old thing.
It’s perfectly right to go out with Mr. Morton, and I’m glad you are
going. I’ve been selfish; you’d get quite rusty if you allowed me to
monopolize you. There now, little girl, hurry and get dressed and when
you are ready call me.” And Margaret kissed her affectionately.

Helène knew that her friend had only her good at heart and thought
it wisest to say nothing more. She went to her room, though not to
dress. Her mind had been so disturbed by the sudden meeting with
Morton and she was so excited over it, that she felt she must regain
her composure. She took out her box of treasures containing the
dried leaves of flowers and a few letters and sat fingering them
thoughtfully. What passed through her mind it would be too curious to
inquire. The thoughts of a girl are sacred to herself. All we need to
know is that she did not sit long, but stole quietly to the mirror and
looked earnestly at her face and then with a sigh of satisfaction,
turned away with a happy smile.

Margaret, in her room, could hear her humming a pretty melody, the
words of which she could not make out; but, certainly, they were not
those of a dirge. When she responded to Helène’s call she found her
ready and saw spread on the bed the latest acquisition--a gray silk
dress. Margaret pretended not to notice it.

Indifferently at first she began her task of dressing Helène’s hair;
but gradually the feel of the silken tresses, almost human in their
touch, brought her back to her true self. With a sudden movement she
leaned forward and kissing the cheek before her, whispered: “I am so
glad you are going to wear that dress--you must look your prettiest
to-night.”

Helène gave her a glad look and smiled. The two were once again dear
friends and each felt the happier for it.

Mrs. Kane came in bearing two boxes of flowers. “From Thornley’s,”
she cried, “we sure have some swell admirers, haven’t we?” Her face
was beaming. Not for anything would she have foregone the pleasure of
bringing in the flowers. She also saw the dress and catching Margaret’s
eye she gave her a meaning look. How quickly women seize at the little
straws floating on the swift current!

The box addressed “Miss Barton” contained some magnificent roses on
long stems. Margaret gave an exclamation of admiration. Then taking out
a large bouquet of violets she held them out to Helène: “To match your
eyes, my dear,” she laughingly remarked, with a low curtsey.

At last both were ready to their mutual satisfaction, though not before
Margaret had made a careful survey of Helène from all sides to make
certain that she had received the finishing touches that would heighten
her darling’s charms. Then she had to leave, because Mr. Van Dusen had
arrived and was waiting for her in the parlor.

The Mr. Van Dusen who had now become a regular frequenter at the
Kane boarding-house was a different gentleman from the dapper young
man of the summer. His visits to Margaret had become the talk of the
table. Helène, however, was the only one who seemed to see nothing
of a special purpose in his calls. She always took him as a matter
of course. Under Margaret’s influence, no doubt, Van Dusen’s manner
had lost its flippancy and air of condescension. He had gained both
in reserve and tact, so much so, indeed, that in his intercourse with
Margaret, it was he who played the part of the serious friend and she
that of the light-hearted tease. To see them as they sat in the parlor
one would have said that Van Dusen was undoubtedly a man of experience
and good sense.

Margaret had not failed to notice the improvement. She was glad of the
change and her lightness of manner may have been part of her strategy
to bring out the stronger nature she knew he possessed. She told him of
her meeting with Helène’s friend and the luncheon at the Waldorf.

“Who was he?” inquired Van Dusen somewhat anxiously.

“Oh, a very handsome man, evidently rich, and looked like a Westerner
and with the nicest manners and voice. He is a--Mr. Morton.”

“Oh, how did he come to know Miss Barton?”

“They met abroad some time ago. He didn’t seem sure of her name,
because he called her by a word that sounded like Countess. What do you
make of it? I didn’t like to ask Helène more than she cared to tell me.”

Van Dusen sat looking down thoughtfully.

“You know,” he said after a pause, “I always had an idea that Miss
Barton was not any ordinary young woman. She is so different, don’t you
know. I’ll wager she’s some aristocrat. Poor girl, she must have gone
through great trouble. Did she show any sign of anxiety when he spoke
to her?”

“No, on the contrary, she was very surprised and then very pleased. She
kept on blushing whenever he spoke to her--and he--well he sat looking
at her as if he couldn’t take his eyes off her face. I was afraid he’d
forget himself and begin making love to her right in the restaurant. If
ever a man was in love with a girl that Mr. Morton is with Helène, or I
don’t know anything about men.”

“What’s Mr. Morton’s business, do you know?”

“No, I don’t, and I believe Helen doesn’t know either. He’s a
gentleman, there’s no doubt about that, and as good-looking as they
make ’em. His face seems familiar as if I had seen him before; but I
can’t place him.”

“Are you thinking of a portrait of a Mr. Morton you saw in the
newspapers, Miss Margaret?”

Margaret stared at him for a moment and then exclaimed:

“That’s it! You struck it! That’s just where I did see that face. It’s
a strong face with a slightly drooping mustache and gray eyes so calm
that you feel small as you look into them. That’s the very man! Who is
he?”

“Well,” replied Van Dusen, “if he’s the Mr. Morton whose portrait was
in the ‘Tribune’ the other day, he’s John R. Morton of Cleveland.”

“Who is he?”

“You don’t mean to tell me you’ve never heard of him?”

“No, I never did, and I am sure Helen never reads the papers carefully
enough to have seen it. But don’t look so surprised at me--who is
he--some criminal or a politician?”

“Oh, Lord,” groaned Van Dusen, “this beats anything I ever heard. Why,
John R. Morton is the only son and successor of old Dan Morton; he’s
just the biggest man in New York--and some man! You know my governor
is no piker when it comes to dollars, but Morton--why all the blue
bloods of New York are not in the same class with him. He could buy
and sell them all without the wink of an eyelash. I’ve met him at the
Metropolitan Club this summer. He’s a biggish fellow, about 33, a
couple of inches shorter than I am. Talks like a professor, gentle and
quiet. By George! I remember now. There was something in the papers
about his being mixed up in some foreign business with revolutions and
princesses. I shouldn’t be surprised if he’s the man. No wonder Miss
Barton turned me down. Why, John Morton is the greatest catch in the
country and as fine a fellow as ever stood in shoe leather, so they
say.”

Margaret suddenly realized that she had not been wise to open the
conversation on a matter which concerned Helène alone. Indeed, she had
done wrong, she felt, especially as she had not pressed Helène herself
for information. She was deeply vexed at her indiscretion.

“Excuse me, a moment, Mr. Van Dusen,” she said quickly, “while I get my
coat. I shall not be long. Helen will not be down this evening.”

Without waiting she walked rapidly out of the room. The door closed
behind her, she became at once thoughtful. No--she would say nothing
to Helen of what she had been told. Besides, she did not know how to
broach the subject without betraying herself. She put on her coat and
opening Helène’s door she looked in and called out smilingly: “I’ll sit
up for you, dear.” Before Helène could reply the door had been closed
and Margaret was running down the stairs.

Helène heard the front door slam and knew that she would have to face
the coming ordeal alone. How she dreaded the announcement of Mr.
Morton’s arrival! Mrs. Kane would draw her own conclusion immediately.
The new dress, the flowers, the elaborate preparations--well, Mrs.
Kane must think what she liked! It could not be helped now. To-morrow
would be the twenty-first of September--the last day of summer. She
glanced at the royal roses crowding the vase, their heads proudly erect
as if in challenge to the world. Then her eyes fell on the sweet purple
of the violets on the table--“The last rose of summer,” she murmured;
“but the violet is blue--true blue.”

Her watch told her that it was still some minutes before the time. She
must not betray any anxiety or show any undue haste. She would wait ...
ah--the electric bell was ringing. A deep voice, his voice, reached her
above the hum of talk--then quick steps ascending and a knock at her
door brought Nora, the maid.

“Miss Barton, Mr. Morton is waiting in the parlor.”



CHAPTER XXVIII


Brilliant lights flooded the gallery adjacent to the sumptuous
dining-room from which it was separated by a balustrade of palms.
The tables were occupied by men in sombre evening dress, setting off
to greater advantage the bright costumes of the ladies who sat with
them. The air palpitated with the hum of talk, the peals of light
laughter, the clinking of silver and glass and the music of a string
orchestra. The perfumes of flowers, the odors of viands and the scent
of tobacco smoke rose like the incense from a burnt-offering. The place
was typical of one of the more select of the restaurants in the best
sections of New York.

At a small table sat Helène and Morton facing each other. Helène’s face
was radiant with a happiness that was reflected from Morton’s eyes as
he gazed at her--and her only. Morton had quite forgotten the months of
anxiety of the spring and summer, he had cast into oblivion the many
questions he had intended to ask. It was enough for him that she was
there, facing him, happy and her dear self again. He was wishing he
could tell her all he felt and all he could not repress in his face.
As a matter of fact, however, he was conversing with her just as any
man would do who might be dining at Berry’s with a lady. But he was not
conscious of the power habit gave him to hide his emotions.

Helène’s modest frock was quite in contrast to the costly and elaborate
gowns of the ladies near her. Those of the sisterhood who sent
occasional searching glances at her wished they had the courage to
wear so simple a dress and to look so beautiful in it. The men eyed her
in open admiration, and the waiters evidently were of the same opinion,
for they were most deferential and suave to the slender girl in dove
gray with the violets in her corsage.

To Morton the fresh beauty of Helène grew so overpowering in its
insistency that he put his feelings into words before he knew what he
was saying: “You are bewitching, to-night, Comtesse,” he breathed,
“wonderfully so.”

Helène’s face suffused with blushes while she gave him a quick look of
surprise; but the next moment she smiled and her smile was like a ray
of sunlight through a rift in the clouds.

“The dress is pretty, is it not?” she said. “I am glad now I had
the courage to wear it. I did not expect you would take me to so
fashionable a place as this seems to be.”

Morton said nothing, but looked volumes. He dared not to say any more;
he dreaded a return of shyness and timidity in her, and yet he hoped
it would not pass away. He saw the two pretty little hands resting
flower-like on the white damask, fingering a fork, and an impulse came
over him to take them in his own and tell her there and then, of his
love and his heart’s desires. But the primitive man in him held him
back; it was so delightful to watch the ebb and flow of shy reserve
and unconscious expression in the sweet mobile face. What is it in
the human male that prompts him to seek this peculiar pleasure, as of
a cat playing with a mouse? Morton would have been highly indignant
had any one dared so to characterize his attitude at this moment and
he would have been justified, because he was as much the victim as
the victimizer--he was simply obeying the compulsion of the moment,
enjoying in anticipation the pleasure that he somehow was convinced the
future held for him.

The current of his emotions must have leaked through some faulty
insulation and induced a corresponding current in Helène, for she
suddenly became reserved and shy again. She sought refuge in a question.

“Shall I tell you of my adventures after I left Weimar?” she said.

The waiter had deposited two high-stemmed glasses filled with a pale
liquid before them.

“I am most anxious to hear everything,” he said; “but first let us
drink to good luck.”

He raised his glass and watched her take a dainty sip of the _apéritif_
and then with a puzzled expression replace the glass on the table.

“Your very good health, Comtesse Helène,” he said, “and may we always
be good friends,” and emptied his glass.

The orchestra had struck up a new piece. She listened intently for a
moment to the first few bars, and then her face lightened and the tears
came to her eyes.

“Do you hear, Mr. Morton, do you remember, it’s ‘The Blue Danube.’”

“Yes, I remember well. We heard it at the Bristol in Vienna on the day
I left for home,” he whispered back hastily, overcome with the emotion
born of the recollection. The next moment, however, he was the courtly
host again. It was the present, not the past, that concerned him just
now.

“And now, Miss Helène, may I hear your story?”

At first hesitatingly, then somewhat more fluently and occasionally
with a rush of words, she began and continued the story we know. When
she came to the incident with the Frau Professor in Hanover, she
scarcely knew how to relate it without conveying a false impression
about herself to Morton. But he realized the situation without her
assistance.

“I think I can fully appreciate the Frau Professor’s motives,” he said,
“the poor woman, worried and harassed by cares, had become soured by
her life. Many other women would have been only too glad to avail
themselves of your services; but you know, Miss Helène, Germany demands
diplomas and references more than she does ability. But go on with your
tale.”

Helène then told of her meeting with Margaret Fisher and told it so
enthusiastically that she forgot the excellent food before her. Then
came the voyage to America and her adventures in New York. When she
had finished, she looked at Morton, searching his face for a sign of
interest or reproach; but what she saw there made her cast her eyes
down quickly.

“Do you not think I did right, Mr. Morton, in coming to America?” she
asked, playing with the ice before her, “or did I act too hastily?”
There was a pleading note in her voice. She had not intended to say
the words, but her confusion consequent on seeing the expression in
Morton’s face threw her back on an instinct which women possess and
which they exercise in self-protection, the instinct which appeals to
the man and acknowledges his superiority.

Morton did not reply at once, but busied himself slowly pouring
out the coffee--the one menial office a man permits himself at a
dinner-table--and took the time thus granted him to reflect on what he
should say. This was the point which he had been hoping to reach in
order to discover her real motives.

“Under the circumstances, Miss Helène,” he said, “I think I would have
acted as you did. But why the secrecy towards Mr. and Mrs. Tyler, both
of whom had become greatly attached to you? And why did you not let me
know? Surely we had done nothing to deserve your displeasure! Ah, Miss
Helène, how I searched for you and scoured the most unlikely places in
my efforts to find you! Why did you do it?”

Morton’s face expressed his grievance and he could not repress a slight
tremor in his voice.

Helène had become white at his words of reproach. She struggled with
herself to regain composure and find a fitting answer. About them
everything had become suddenly quiet and she felt as if everybody in
the room were looking at them. For an instant she gave a frightened
glance around to see if her feelings had been justified; but she found
the same people there, all absolutely unconscious of her. Immediately
she realized that the place was her best protection. Alone with him she
would have confessed herself--here, in the crowd, she could tell him
only what she judged proper.

“Do you remember, Mr. Morton, that we had agreed to wait until the
autumn? To-night is still summer--my dress and the lovely violets bear
witness to that. Why should we not enjoy the season while it is still
with us? This is my first dinner _en fête_--will you not allow me to
taste its pleasure to the full without scolding me? If I have been
naughty, be kind to-night, _mon chevalier_.”

She breathed the last two words and looked at him pleadingly, her lips
tremulous, the blue eyes shining. Without saying a word, Morton bent
over and kissed the hand on the table.

“My dear child,” his voice was husky with emotion, “I am a brute. Of
course, it shall be as you say. And, after all, what does anything
matter? You are here, safe and well, and I--I am fortune’s favorite in
the privilege you have extended to me this evening. To-night, as you
have said, is still summer. I shall match the sunshine in your eyes
with the warm friendship in my heart.”

“Thank you, dear friend,” whispered Helène with drooping lashes.

“And to-morrow, Miss Helène, is another summer’s day. Will you not give
me a second opportunity to act as your escort? Let me take you to our
home in Tarrytown. My mother will welcome you, and you and Ruth--do you
remember my little sister?--you two can roam as you please in the park
and woods. It promises to be a beautiful day. Will you come?”

“You are very kind, Mr. Morton. I don’t know what to say. I have
thought of your sister with the pretty name, very often. Does she know
of my existence?”

How utterly different is the trend of women’s minds from men’s, thought
Morton. He had not dared to bare his soul even to Ruth, and yet Helène
took it for granted that he had spoken of her, and she was, perhaps,
speculating at this very moment, if his description of her had been
favorable.

“I want you to be my surprise to them, Miss Helène, if you will. You
have become so thoroughly Americanized that I doubt if my mother will
guess at your identity, though she knows I met you in Europe. But Ruth
knows nothing, and she will throw her slang at you as she would at any
New York girl she knows. So permit me to introduce you merely as a
friend without any further explanations.”

“Why, Mr. Morton, they will know immediately I am a foreigner--my first
words will tell the tale--they always do. Still, I will accept your
invitation gladly.”

“Thank you,” replied Morton simply.

“Won’t you tell me about your mother and sister?” Helène asked shyly.

Morton laughed; the question was a natural one for one girl to put to
another, but to him, a man, it was a puzzling one to answer. However,
he entered into the spirit of her curiosity and told her what he
thought would interest her. Helène had become quite animated now, and
Morton enjoyed keenly watching the sweet play of her features, the
dainty gestures of her little hands, so slender and soft and dimpled,
as he told her of his home life in his quiet unassuming manner. His
eyes kept looking at the finger which he was hoping some day to adorn.

“Is it not getting late, Mr. Morton?” Helène’s voice broke in on his
thoughts with a seeming suddenness that startled him. “Margy will be
waiting for me, and I must not keep her up late. If I abuse my present
privilege, she’ll not let me go another time. Margy is very strict, you
know. Sometimes I think she is jealous. Oh, but we’ve been so happy
together, and she’s been so good and so patient. I can never hope to
repay her.”

“Yes, Miss Fisher is a fine young woman,” he said. “It was a Providence
that sent her to you.”

To himself he thought that if the buxom Margaret were his only rival,
he could afford to be gracious. And as for her jealousy--well--he could
well understand that.

“Won’t you ask Margaret to come with me, Mr. Morton?”

“I shall willingly do so, if you wish,” he replied with a slight
dropping of his voice; “but if you came alone it would fit in better
with our plan.”

Morton thought he saw a threatening cloud in the distance. “Go slow,
old man, go slow,” he said to himself, “let her do the talking.”

To his surprise, however, she dropped the subject.

“When do we start?” she asked.

“There’s a good train at 9:40. Will it be too early if I call for you a
little after nine?”

“Oh, no, we breakfast early on Sunday. Shall we go now, Mr. Morton?”

Morton settled the bill and the two left followed by the admiring
glances of the late diners in the room. John’s vanity had been
suppressed from an early day; his training and habit of mind had made
him indifferent to what people might say of him. But as he walked
across the spacious salon he could not help noticing the looks sent
in Helène’s direction, and felt quite proud. Yes, the girl was worth
admiring, he said to himself.

The fairy of the afternoon must have been near them all the time, for
in spite of the salaaming manager at the exit and the cry of “Cab,
sir?” from a waiting driver, Morton was compelled to turn his head away
and look up at the big moon floating in the spangled blackness of the
gorge’s roof. A voice seemed to whisper to him: “Make hay while the
moon shines.” Instantly he had taken Helène by the arm and though his
heart beat within him he said, in a most matter-of-fact tone: “Shall we
walk? It’s a delightful evening.”

Of a certainty the fairy was at work; for the cool air was laden with
the scent of the meadows across the river and touched with the dew
distilled of youth’s innocent hearts. Margaret was forgotten, the night
was bathed in beauty and the bell of a neighboring clock lost one of
its strokes in the reverberating sounds from the cañon’s sky-scrapered
sides.

It is good to be young and to be pure in heart; for then we stand well
in the esteem of the fairies of our land. Morton trembled at the touch
of Helène’s arm as he walked by her side, breathing in the cool,
scented breeze, and realized, for the first time in his life, that he
was, indeed, rich.

When they arrived at the shadowed doorway of the boarding-house,
Helène gave a quick look upward and saw a light in the window of her
sitting-room. She felt guilty and a little afraid. John stood for a
moment, hat in hand, and took the dear hand in his own warm, friendly
grip. Then bowing deeply he touched it with his lips.

“Good night, Miss Helène, and pleasant dreams attend you. I shall call
in the morning.”

“Good night, Mr. Morton, and thank you for a most enjoyable evening. I
hope these violets will keep. I should like to wear them to-morrow.”

Morton smiled and watched her go up the steps. The door opened. Helène
turned to the still waiting man standing bareheaded in the moonlight.

“Good night, Mr. Morton,” she cried in her happy voice.

“Good night, Miss Barton,” but his words were drowned in the sound of
the closing door.

He looked up at the light in her window for a moment and then,
replacing his hat, walked slowly away.

Helène tripped up the stairs rapidly and almost rushed into the
sitting-room ready with an explanation to Margaret for her late return;
but although the light was brightly burning, no Margaret was there. She
looked into the bedroom but she was not there either. Where was she?
What had detained her? It was so unusual for her not to keep her word.
Well, she would wait until she arrived. The soft arm-chair was inviting
and Helène was not sorry to be alone and dream over the wonderful
events of this wonderful day.

But where was Margery? Ah, that is another story. Shortly after
leaving the boarding-house, she and Van Dusen were comfortably seated
at a table in a restaurant very similar to the one in which Helène
and Morton had spent such intimate hours. Miss Fisher, the buxom
damsel, and Van Dusen, the gilded youth of Gotham’s pride, may not
have appeared to the ordinary eye as fit subjects for romance, but
the ordinary eye is ordinary just because it does not see below the
surface of things and people. We, who are not ordinary, see more deeply
and know better, which is our reason for being present at this second
dinner also.

Van Dusen had evidently made up his mind, though it would seem he
lacked somewhat of courage. He had had his cocktail and not a few
glasses of wine. Margaret had not failed to notice his nervousness
and the frequency with which he refilled his glass, but she said
nothing and tried to look unconcerned. She was herself nervous; her
usual self-possession and poise seemed to have left her. She had tried
on previous occasions to restrain him but to-night he was more than
usually reckless.

As the wine began mounting to his head, he became more and more
sentimental and more and more talkative, and unbosomed himself to her
of his hopes and aspirations. He called her Margy and dearest Margy,
and laying his large bony hand with its prominent knuckles over her
plump one, he fastened on her ox-like eyes that gleamed amorously. He
was pleading his cause with her.

Margaret, full of doubt and distress, with her lips tightly compressed
and her bosom rising and falling in her agitation, knew not which way
to turn.

“Margy, dear,” he said almost tearfully, “I know you haven’t much faith
in my protestations and that you think me fickle; but you are unjust
to me--honestly you are. I know I’ve been a fool; but I’ve been cured
of my folly. Margy, I want you--only you.

“I love you, Margy. Give me a chance to prove it, won’t you? You always
understood me better than any girl I’ve ever met. I know now that it
was you I really cared for from the first--really I do. I know it
sounds silly to say so, but my running after your little friend was
only a momentary fancy--an impulse of admiration, and not love. Instead
of being unhappy, I was glad she refused me. Margy, don’t let that
silly business prejudice you against me. I don’t amount to much; but
I want to be somebody, and--you can help me. There isn’t anybody like
you--and you can do what you will with me.”

He paused while his exploring hand groped for hers: “Say something,
Margy. Say you will believe me and give me a trial.”

Margaret had kept her eyes all the time fixed on the table; she raised
them now and looked full into his now thoroughly serious, pale face.
The earnestness she saw there was as evident as it was unexpected. Was
she wise in permitting him to talk like this? And yet, after all, he
was a man and should know his own mind. She could but admit to herself
that he had been very kind, very courteous to her, and what he said
was really true--he had been marked in his attentions to her from the
first time they had met. He was young--but that was only in manner, not
in years. And, she could not help confessing that she liked him better
than any other man she had known.

Van Dusen sensed her kindlier feelings for him from the changing
expressions in her face.

“Listen, Margy,” he urged, “mother likes you. She says you are the
most sensible and wholesome girl she has ever met. Only last night
she told me that I needed a girl like you to wake me up and keep me
straight. I know she will be glad if you will have me--honest, she
will!”

In a moment Margaret--the strong, big, wholesome Margaret--forgot all
her doubts, forgot her oft-repeated vows to celibacy, forgot everything
except that she was lonely and still young, that Howard was the kindest
of men, and that it would be pleasant to take care of him, to make a
good husband and a successful man out of this spoiled boy. She looked
at his face and noticed that his hair had become disordered in his
excitement and felt an irrepressible desire to brush it straight. She
hesitated what to say--began to temporize with herself--and ended where
all end who hesitate--by being lost.

“Do you really care for me so much?” she murmured. “I never, never
thought you did.” Howard made an impulsive movement towards her.

“Please, remember, we are in a public place. Don’t lean over and look
at me like that. Please, sit up straight and let us be calm.”

“Then, tell me, Margy, that you care for me. Tell me that you love me.”

Margaret admitted that she was very fond of him--and immediately felt
very happy.

He made another movement to get nearer to her. “Please, please,
remember where we are!” And to her own surprise she burst into tears.

Quickly drying her eyes, she whispered: “Do you really love me, dear?”

This time Howard disregarded all injunctions. Leaning over the table
he almost sent the solitary sugar bowl between them sliding to the
carpeted floor, and whispered in her ear: “Shall we go, dearest?”
The question sounded ridiculously inane, but it had a very practical
import.

Proudly and with a new-born sense of protection, he assisted her with
her coat and walked with her to the door. To the boy who handed him his
hat and cane he gave all the change his large fist could grab. Flushed
with victory and anticipatory happiness, he followed the tall, striking
figure of the girl into the street.

Once outside, he lost not a moment in drawing her hand through his arm
and leading her down the quieter side street. Where they walked or what
they said to each other neither of them knew. The evening was balmy and
the little park in Madison Square a quiet haven with most accommodating
benches in the deep shadows. And as the benches can neither see nor
speak nor hear, what transpired there was, therefore, never recorded.

When Margaret reached the house in Gramercy Park, she found it as quiet
as a church. The vestibule, that time-honored institution of America,
the ever-ready refuge for laughing swains and coy maidens, was inviting
and bright. Margaret did not see the fantastic designs on Howard’s
face made by the arabesques etched on the glass panels of the door,
nor did he see anything but her sweet eyes and arched lips. And here
they sealed their plighted troth; here they made their plans for the
morrow’s new-coming happiness. John Morton need have no fear about
Margaret going with Helène. The good fairy had done his day’s work most
excellently well.

Helène was sitting in comfortable deshabille, waiting for Margaret. She
had almost made up her mind to chide the lax duenna for her dereliction
of duty. But when she saw Margaret open the door she greeted her as if
a midnight home-coming were a common occurrence in their lives.

And Margaret? Margaret carefully locked the door and then walked
straight up to Helène. She knelt down before her, put her arms about
her and kissed her without giving utterance to a single word.

For a few moments the two rested thus in close embrace, and then
Helène, the inexperienced, innocent child-woman, kissed her dear friend
and stroking her cheek and hair, murmured:

“I am glad from my heart, dearest, that it has come. I am sure you will
both be very, very happy.”

Who had told her? Ah, who knows?

The workings of a woman’s brain are mysterious, her moods subtle, and
the communion between one woman’s mind and another’s ever a miracle.
The instant she had spoken Helène felt that she had always known that
Van Dusen loved Margaret; nay, that he could not help loving her. And
yet, a moment before she would have denied vehemently the possibility
of her entertaining even a suspicion of such a thought. Scientists may
write volumes about the feminine brain; they may dissect and weigh it
as much as they please--their experiments will but bear witness to
their futility, for their analyses will have been in vain. It is wisest
not to analyse but simply to bow down and accept this perfect organism.
Man may intellectualize and reason; but woman knows, and she never
questions how or why she knows.

Margaret, her head against Helène’s breast was crying softly and
protesting that she would never leave her darling, never forsake her
so long as Helène wanted her. Helène said nothing, but sat still and
allowed the girl to kiss and embrace her. Her sympathetic silence had
its beneficent influence, and when Margaret had quieted down, Helène
said to her:

“Margy, dear, it is the best that could come to you. I have known it
all along. You must think now only of your own happiness. And now, good
night, Margy, dear, it is very late and we must be up early in the
morning. Happy dreams be with you.”

Helène lay in her bed thinking, not of her friend’s new-found
happiness, but of the morning’s meeting, and the visit to Morton’s
home. She was anxious about the impression she would make on his mother
and sister and painfully timid of the ordeal. Of Morton himself she had
no fear--he had been so kind, so happy to meet her. There was but one
problem with regard to him she had still left unsolved--it related to
the money in the bank at Weimar. She was at a loss how to broach the
subject and how to dispose of it once and for all. She lay awake for
a long time turning it over in her mind again and again. She decided
finally that she would speak of it at the first opportunity and have
done with it. She would not then be his debtor, and would feel free of
the burden it had been to her.

Comforted by this decision, she closed her eyes and with a happy sigh
slept peacefully the deep and strengthening sleep of a mind at rest.

Margaret sat for a long time going over in her mind all that happened
to her on this momentous evening. She was doing battle with herself to
subjugate the doubts that kept assailing her as to the step she had
taken. For, indeed, she had gone through a wonderful metamorphosis.
Yesterday, an ordinary working girl--to-day, the affianced of a Van
Dusen! A few hours ago she was a confirmed spinster, and now she was
happy in the possession of the truest lover a girl was ever blessed
with. Her eyes fell on the finger of her left hand on which shone
a gorgeous diamond--his betrothal ring. He had had it ready in his
pocket--nay, as he told her, he had had it there for weeks, waiting
until he could muster up the courage to speak to her. What a man!

She began slowly to undress, speculating the while as to whether or no
she should wear the ring in the morning. What would Mrs. Kane and the
others say? She extinguished the light, but not before she had taken
a last admiring and loving look at the glittering gem, and crept into
her bed. Should she remove the ring or wear it? The pillow was soft and
soothing. She stretched her limbs luxuriously. Should she wear the ring
or--her eyes closed in sleep.

Sleep, dear girl; sleep and dream of the happiness that has at last
come to you. Your brave spirit shall soon receive its reward. Love,
with which you blessed, will bless you.



CHAPTER XXIX


The harvest moon that had smiled so benignly upon New York in all its
fullness the evening before had proved a false prophet. The wind had
shifted to the east and brought a copious rainfall during the early
morning hours, and it was still drizzling when Morton’s carriage drew
up before the Gramercy Park house.

The feelings of Helène, who had risen early, and in high spirits, had
begun to oscillate while awaiting the arrival of Morton, alternating
between looking forward with hopeful expectancy to meeting the
ladies of whom she had thought so often, and the dread of a possible
unfavorable impression she might create.

Laboring under these depressing doubts, her greeting of Morton appeared
less spontaneous than he in his optimism had anticipated. The exchange
of salutations became quite formal, his compliment on her appearance
sounded commonplace. When, during the short drive to the Grand Central
Station, he once more and rather soberly expressed his regret that
their outing had begun in such unpromising weather, Helène turned to
him with a somewhat pathetic smile:

“I don’t mind the rain at all. I think I am really frightened at the
prospect of meeting Mrs. Morton and your sister!”

“You dear child--you need not worry on that score! They can’t help but
like you, and I am quite confident that you will like them.”

“You give me courage, Mr. Morton--I do hope you will prove to be
right!” Helène’s smile had now lost its pathos, anticipating to Morton
the breaking of the sunshine through the clouds which was promised by a
rapidly widening strip of heavenly blue.

In the drawing-room of the now quickly moving train, Helène found the
opportunity she had been waiting for so long.

“Mr. Morton--I want to speak to you on a matter which has been
constantly on my mind. It relates to that money in the Weimar bank. I
cannot accept it--it is not rightfully mine. Please withdraw what of it
is yours. I cannot take money from you, really I cannot!”

Morton was not surprised. He had expected some such outbreak as this.
In the stillness of the past night, in which he had devoted some hours
to his “Hellenic studies,” he had once again read the girl’s last
letter to him, and while in the blissful state of having found her, had
also decided what he would do should she speak of this matter.

“Miss Barton, you told me yesterday that you had written to me to
Cleveland. The letter should reach me in two days. In that letter, I
presume, you accept the injunctions laid upon you by your father? Am I
right?” Helène, who had been anxiously awaiting his reply, nodded.

“Your father had enjoined me to act in his stead. Consequently, I have
become, so to say, your legal guardian. Now, Miss Helène, as you are
still a minor, any action with reference to any property or money you
may own, lies with me. You surely do not question my qualifications for
this duty?” Helène gave a protesting and frightened, “Oh--no!”

“Very good, then, suppose you leave this all to me and to my office.
When the proper time arrives, my secretary will render you a full
account. Until then, please let us dismiss it!” The mouth of his
vis-à-vis showed a decided droop, which made Morton immediately change
both his tone and tactics. Taking the little hand that hung listlessly
at her side, and giving her his most brotherly smile, he said, as
insinuatingly as he knew how:

“Poor child, you have been worrying all these months without any real
cause! You should have had full confidence in your father’s wisdom and
in me. Now remember what you promised me last evening? To-day is still
summer, this is to be yours and Ruth’s day. Brush away the wrinkles
from your brow and let us all be happy. See, the sun is shining again,
bright and warm. The country will look the better for the rain. Even
the elements are on their best behavior in your honor, Miss Helène, and
you should reciprocate!”

His eyes met her searching glance unwaveringly. She saw no guile in
them and her heart found its happiness in surrendering to his authority.

Helène and Morton were the sole occupants of the lumbering “carry-all”
that deposited them at the open park gate. The gravel paths had dried,
but the lawns still glistened with myriads of dazzling rain-born gems.
The foliage of bush and tree shone with a renewed gloss and the sweet
scent of new-mown hay belied the spring-morn redolence of the balmy air
which was filled with faint whispers of bird-song.

Helène breathed the gracious air and with care-free heart tripped
joyously by the side of her companion, exclaiming her delight in the
beauty of her surroundings. Then both grew silent. The restfulness of
the garden, the peace of the Sabbath and the hush of memories were upon
them.

The path rose gradually. The sauntering pair advanced slowly until,
emerging from a group of thick shrubbery, they caught the first glimpse
of the majestic river glistening in the broad sunlight. The charming
vista drew renewed admiration from Helène and brought the suggestion
from her companion that she should rest upon a convenient stone seat in
the deep shade nearby.

“We have many things to talk about, Miss Helène, and, I fear, once my
mother meets you, I shall find very little further opportunity. You
have given me an outline of your life during the past ten months, and
you have told me you are now quite happy. Will you not tell me of your
ambitions, of your work and, perhaps, of your plans? This is a cozy
spot, almost made for friendly confidences.”

Helène’s eyes rose questioningly to his; but the calm face beamed
kindly and invitingly on her.

“I am, indeed, very happy, Mr. Morton. I have not heard from either
Weimar or Roumelia, so that I am entirely out of touch with my old
life. What has been the fate of my country and my Princess? Perhaps you
can enlighten me?”

She paused questioningly. Was she trying to gain time? But surely, it
was Morton’s turn to speak.

“The last information I received from abroad,” replied Morton, “said
that the Princess Marie-Louise was still at Weimar. Some ten days ago
I had a letter from Mr. Rosen, the first news from Roumelia since we
left it. Conditions there have at last begun to improve somewhat;
life has become bearable, he writes. Miss Rachel is well. About the
political state of the country, however, he is silent. From Berlin come
rumors that the Royalist party is growing stronger every day and that
an important move may be expected shortly. Would you wish to return to
your own country, Miss Helène?”

“I have no one left there, Mr. Morton, who would claim me. And even
if restitution were offered and papa’s land should be returned to
me--what could I do there? No, Roumelia and I have parted forever, I
fear. This country, your country, Mr. Morton, has opened to me a new
vista in life, even if its prospects are not quite clear. But to tell
the truth, I have not thought much of what is to come, and I have
formed no plans for the future.”

But John had his plans, however, but these lay hidden in his breast,
for the time had not yet come for him to reveal them. He had his road
cut out before him.

“I am delighted to hear that our beautiful country finds an admirer
in you. It well deserves it. Do you know, your remarks recall a
curious prophecy pronounced by your father in one of our frequent
conversations. He pointed out that history proves the constant trend
of progress from the East to the West, and predicted that the most
powerful commonwealths, the most enlightened people will in future
dwell in the West. His words recurred to me the other night while
thinking over what a friend of mine, a prominent professor of the city,
had said to me on the subject of telepathy. I was wishing I could speak
to you by means of this mysterious power, wishing I could bring you
nearer to me or know where I could find you. And, behold, the very next
day I met you! It must have been this mysterious force of the ‘westward
trend’ that brought you here.”

A flush suffused Helène’s face. “Then you did sometimes think of me?”
she asked shyly. “I see now that it was wrong in me not to write. But,
oh, I was so ignorant of life--will you not forgive me? Happy as I
was with Margaret, the thought of my negligence was never out of my
mind--and--I corrected my error just as soon as I could!”

“My dear Miss Helène, my dear child--all is well that ends well!” He
glanced about him; for he had a sudden feeling that eyes were hidden in
the bushes. But all breathed rest and solitude, not a sound disturbed
the still air. “Miss Helène, we have still some time before us. Mother
and Ruth are at church. Let us walk up to the brow of the hill, where
you can get a wider view of the river. It is but a few rods from there
to the house, and we can time our arrival by observing my mother’s
carriage drive up!”

Helène was chatting vivaciously now about her interesting work, and
was expressing her admiration for the customs of this, her country by
adoption. She permitted Morton the full enjoyment of her confidences.
The path led to a low marble building patterned after a Grecian temple,
which occupied the summit of the gentle hill.

“There is our goal, Miss Helène. Please do not turn round until you are
on the porch; to obtain the full effect of the beauty of the view, it
should come by surprise!” She smiled up to him happily and, obedient to
his request, sat down on a wicker-bench he drew towards her. The next
moment a glad cry of wonderment escaped her.

There before her gaze spread the broad river bordered by luxurious
trees, the waves of which shimmered in the brilliant light of the
sun now high above them, and beyond the glorious waters the olive
smoothness of the hills on the opposite bank. The foreground, a
well-kept park, lost itself into neighboring slopes equally parklike.
On the waters, the one thing in motion, an ungainly barge towed by a
powerful tug; and over all the quiet of leisure, the restfulness of
solitude.

“Oh, Mr. Morton,” she exclaimed, “I am so grateful to you for bringing
me here. It is glorious! And to think that we are but a few miles from
the gigantic city and its teaming millions! Wonderful! I see now why
your people love this place. Will you point out your house to me?”

“The house is hidden beyond that slight swell to your left. There,
right under us, is the driveway. Shall we sit here awhile? It is so
quiet and restful--almost like in a church, don’t you think?” He found
a seat on one of the steps of the porch.

Helène, smiling assent, gratefully relaxed in her seat. She was too
happy to speak. She felt at peace with herself and all the world.

“Miss Helène,” Morton broke into her reveries. “Would you be interested
to know what happened to me since we parted? You have not inquired?”

“I am more than interested, only I had not the courage to ask. Please
tell me.” She placed her hands together supplicatingly.

“May I go further back than one year? I should like to tell you about
my earlier life. You may find it entertaining.”

“Nothing would please me more;” her animated eye confirmed her words.
Morton sat leaning against the fluted column.

“It seems a long time as I look back, but as a boy, I was, no doubt,
as fond of studies and athletics as most boys; but somehow, I never
became intimate with my schoolmates. My father’s wealth prevented me,
for I was always reminded of it, and I resented it. It was the same
at college. Whenever I attempted to embrace a friendship offered me,
my father’s position interfered. I don’t believe that the young men
of my country are any more devout worshipers of the Golden Calf than
those of the rest of the world; but I suppose I was over-sensitive.
At all events, I came in time to hate wealth. I put down to that the
loneliness of my youth; for I became more and more a solitary. In time
this so grew on me that, after my graduation from Harvard, I went
abroad--to England and then to Germany. There I devoted myself to
literary and scientific studies. Strange to say, the people there were
more willing to value me for what I was, and I lived there some of the
happiest days of my life. Do I tire you with this autobiography, Miss
Helène?”

“Not at all, Mr. Morton. I am greatly interested. Please continue.”

“I returned to Cleveland with the full intention of entering one of my
father’s enterprises. I had quite a leaning towards engineering and
had acquired considerable knowledge of it. My father approved when I
spoke to him, but I could see that he did not believe I was serious.
He suspected that I had made the suggestion to please him. I believe
now he was right, because I soon grew restless again. I tried travel
for one year and was attached to our Embassy in London--but nothing
satisfied me. Again I returned to America and assisted my father in
some work in the Rocky Mountains; but _wanderlust_ once more seized me
and I went to the Soudan. It was on my return from that place that I
met and came to know the Count, your father.” Morton paused and locked
his hands over his knee; then he continued in a softer voice: “To know
him was to reverence him. The few days of companionship I had the
privilege to spend with him have had a great influence on me. When I
came home I was a changed man. To-day, I am engaged, heart and mind, in
the work my father so ably laid out for me. I am a business man; and,
strange as it may sound, I am proud of it.”

Helène had listened with the deepest attention and interest showing in
her mobile features. When Morton paused, she said simply:

“I do not think it strange, Mr. Morton. Since I have lived in America
I have come to look up to the business man--the man of action. I think
his is the noblest of occupations. The European attitude to the man of
business is both foolish and wrong. Were I a man, I would want to be in
business.” Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed.

Morton had risen and was standing before her with folded arms.

“Miss Helène,” he said in a low voice, “will you let me tell you what
else happened to me during the few weeks between my meeting with your
father and my leaving for home?”

The words were simple enough; but the man’s face wore so strange an
expression that Helène was filled with trepidation. She could barely
stammer her assent and stared helplessly into space.

“Miss Helène,” Morton was pale now and his voice had gained an
impassioned vigor. She felt she dared not look at him. “Miss Helène,
when I met your father--I also met his daughter--by means of a portrait
which has since never left its place near my heart.”

The girl’s lips formed as if to whisper, but no sound passed through
them.

“A voice in me spoke to me, and said ‘this is the woman of your
dreams,’ and I exultantly obeyed the call. When I met you in Padina my
dream woman was surpassingly realized. And during the days that came
after, when I saw you, hour after hour, so brave, so loyal, so good,
my heart went out to you. All my manhood cried out to protect you,
and all my soul desired to worship you. On that memorable morning in
the Transylvanian cottage, when I stood near you and held your hand,
I almost forgot your distress and came near opening my heart to you.
And in Vienna when at parting you spoke those words of friendship and
approval, it was all I could do to hold myself back. I left determined
to come back to Weimar and speak to you; but you had flown. Oh, how I
have searched for you! But I had to be content with your letter and
its promise for the autumn. I have lived on that promise--and no man
ever longed for autumn as I did! Helène, I am not a youth to be caught
by a beautiful face. I am a ripened man tried by the fire of life.
When I met you, face to face yesterday, I knew it was the answer to my
prayers. I know now what love is--true, ennobling love. Helène, I love
you. Will you not look at me? Speak to me, Helène!”

Deeply agitated, she raised her eyes, which shone with the bliss of a
revelation, to the impassioned man towering over her. Her lashes were
wet with tears they had tried to hide. Then a mischievous little smile
parted the lips as she whispered:

“I am still a minor--what does my dear guardian command?”

Morton gave a quick step forward and gathered her into his arms. Her
face was hidden in his breast; she was safe in the harbor at last! He
held her for some moments when a timid voice muffled in the folds of
his coat came up to him:

“Mr. Morton--did you say those words because you pity me--because of
your promise to my father?”

“Pity you, my darling! Why, sweetheart, you are the greatest, noblest
gift God can bestow on any man. All my life I shall bless Him and thank
Him for the great boon he has vouchsafed me. The promise I gave your
father was given long after the sacred promise I had given myself--to
protect you always--as my dear wife.” Then in a softer voice: “But,
sweetheart--you must call me John.”

No reply, only sounds suspiciously like a child’s sobs, came from the
hidden face. Helène was weeping her tears of unspeakable happiness.
Morton gently lifted her head back and saw her face transfigured with
love. With reverent finality he kissed her moist lips as she murmured:

“My dear knight, without fear and without blemish.”

The shady porch is transmuted into an altar. Framed between the pillars
and above the balustrades, templelike, the blue vault of true heaven
looks down. In an air vibrating with a whispered symphony a little
butterfly alights on the seat--a harbinger of security. And over the
pair passes that happiness which the human heart knows but once in a
lifetime.

Through the shade of the lofty pillared portico Helène and John
entered the spacious reception hall of “Rhinecliff.” Helène was still
under the influence of the emotion aroused in her by the solemnity
of the last hour. She barely noticed the transition from the park to
the broad driveway, lined by ancient elms, leading to the commanding
terrace. Indeed, she could not have told how she reached the room to
which Morton’s guiding arm had led her. The dread which had possessed
her in the early morning had now returned with increased insistence;
so that when they stood before a handsome gray-haired lady, she heard
Morton’s voice as through a veil: “Mother, I have great pleasure in
bringing to you Comtesse Rondell.” She could just see the winning smile
upon the fresh face and hear the cordial words: “I am happy to welcome
you, Comtesse.” As in a dream she took the hand which was held out to
her, and mumbled a polite sentence, imagining, in her trepidation, an
investigating pause on the part of the elderly lady. Try as she would
she could not master her embarrassment; but her gentle breeding and
natural charms came to her aid, and she expressed eloquently what the
disobedient lips failed to say. She looked the pure girl she was. One
glance of Mrs. Morton’s approving eye was sufficient to take it all in.

“We entered through the South Gate, mother, and Comtesse Rondell
must be tired. She has agreed to stay for luncheon; I trust you will
persuade her to remain until after dinner.”

“Permit me to ring for the maid, Comtesse. You will require a rest
after your journey and the warm walk,” suggested the hostess.

“Hello, Ruth!” His sister had entered from an inner door. “Ruth, I want
you to meet Comtesse Rondell, a dear friend of mine--my sister Ruth,
Comtesse. I have often spoken of you, Ruth, to the Comtesse. I hope you
will be friends.”

Full of animation, Ruth came forward. A glance at Helène’s face caused
her to halt momentarily and to send an indignant look at her brother,
both of which actions escaped all but Helène. Then her willing hand
grasped Helène’s shy offering in a hearty clasp: “If the Comtesse is
minded like I am, it won’t take us long to be the best of friends.”

Helène reddened deeply, but this time the little dimples came into
play. The smiling eye veiled the recognition which the parted lips
were longing to betray: “Miss Morton, I shall be very happy if we are
friends.”

When the maid appeared, Ruth and the visitor were occupying seats next
to each other in a retired nook engrossed in a low-voiced conversation.
“Comtesse,” said Mrs. Morton, interrupting them, “Nettie will show you
to your room. Luncheon will be served in a few minutes.”

When Helène retired, John turned to his mother: “I hope, mother, you
will like Comtesse Helène. If you are disengaged before luncheon, I
should like to see you. Can you spare the time?”

“Certainly, my dear boy. You will find me in the lounging room. Was
the matter that kept you in town disagreeable, John?”

“Not at all, mother. I will tell you all about it. I shall put off my
Western trip, however, for the present.”

On his way to his room John was intercepted in the hall by his excited
sister. “John,” she hissed breathlessly. “I wouldn’t have believed it
of you! How could you be so mean?”

“I don’t understand you, sis. What have I done?”

“Couldn’t you wait until I had brought you two together? Who introduced
you to her?”

John looked his astonishment. “Do you refer to Comtesse Rondell? Why, I
met her abroad last year, through her father. What are you driving at,
little one?”

“Oh, John--this is too wonderful! You big stupid--don’t you see! The
Comtesse is my beautiful discovery of two days ago, the replica of
papa’s Gainsborough!”

At once John saw everything, even the ambiguous situation in which his
darling might find herself.

“Ruth, I didn’t dream of this! Please do not refer to it in any way. I
would not have Comtesse Helène embarrassed for anything in the world.
Promise, sis?”

“Sure, Jack, cross my heart! But, brother of mine, isn’t she all I said
she was?”

John laid his arm affectionately about his sister’s shoulder. “She
is all that, my dear, and more. Now, run off and be discreet.
And--Ruth--it is my dearest wish that you and Helène--the Comtesse, you
know--should be dear friends.”

“Oh! Does the wind blow from that quarter, Jack? I am so glad!” A
lightning-like hug, an ethereal kiss--and she was off!

In the lounging room, later, John sat facing his mother. The breeze
entering through the open Venetian windows relieved the noon heat,
but failed to lighten the task he had before him. Many a time had he
gone over this interview in his mind, always looking forward to it
with exultation. And now, when the moment had arrived, he felt greatly
ill-at-ease.

“Mother, dear--you may remember my telling you that I had met a lady
whom I hoped to win--that she had been lost to me. Well, I have
found her again. She is the Comtesse Rondell. I met her in New York
yesterday, quite by chance--and I have won her. Mother, I am very
happy. I want you to love her for my sake, though I know you will
gladly embrace her for her own virtues.”

John had spoken very earnestly. Mrs. Morton looked at her “boy” in
sheer astonishment. “John, my dearest boy--I don’t know what to say--it
has come so unexpectedly! Of course, John, I will do my best--she
certainly looks sweet. But, John....”

“Mother, you will love her and be proud of her when you see me the
blessedest man in America.”

Mrs. Morton’s eyes filled with tears. “Your happiness, John, dear, is
all I ask for.”

“Thank you, mother. And now will you do me a kindness? I have no ring
to give Helène. Can you give me one of yours?”

“Wait until after luncheon, John. Do you love her very much?” She
rose, floundering again on the verge of tears. The news had almost
overwhelmed the good lady; or was it jealous resentment or simply the
fear of the change that it would mean for her?

Morton rose quickly and, laying his hands affectionately upon his
mother’s shoulders said, with deep feeling: “Mother, I do. It is
not a momentary fancy or infatuation. When you know Helène, you will
understand that it was not her beauty only but her golden heart that
drew me to her. Mother, I feel blessed beyond all men that this heart
has been placed in my keeping.”

“Oh, John--I do hope it’s as you say. You must forgive me--I am
a little unnerved. If Comtesse Rondell should come down before I
return--will you excuse me to her, John? I shall be back shortly.”

Luncheon proved a very simple affair and the conversation which at the
beginning had rested upon Ruth’s shoulders soon became general and
animated. Helène, who sat at Mrs. Morton’s left, had lost her shyness
and entered into the spirit of the occasion with the tactful modesty
and grace of manners which never yet had failed to charm. Mrs. Morton’s
formal politeness gradually melted into admiration. She was evidently
charmed with the girl. John observed with lightened heart the approving
eye and the pleased expression on his mother’s face.

On rising from the table Mrs. Morton pleaded some duty and left the
young people to themselves on the porch. At once Ruth rose and took her
new friend by the arm. “Let’s leave John to his cigar, Helène (it had
been Helène after the first, of course), I want to show you my patch of
woods if you don’t mind the hot sun. Mother and John always talk shop
at this hour--even on a Sunday, I believe. Come, dear.”

John caught Helène’s eye and saw the look of relief and longing for
a respite to be enjoyed with her girl friend, and prudently resigned
himself.

It was not long before his mother came to him, smiling happily,
her cheeks faintly flushed. “The ring your father gave me upon our
engagement, John,” she whispered with a catch in her voice, handing him
a brilliant stone. And John knew all was well--Helène had won!

Ruth’s chatter became audible from the stairway, the clatter of
youthful feet resounded from the hall, and the two girls entered hand
in hand. Ruth looked first at John, then at her mother, and lastly at
Helène, who had remained somewhat in the rear. Drawing the hand she
held towards her, she encircled her friend’s waist with the other, and
curtesying in mock reverence, and with a well-assumed dignity, said: “I
have the honor to present to you both the Comtesse Helène Rondell--my
darling sister.” Then, running up to her brother she threw her arms
around him and gave him a resounding kiss. “My congratulations,
brother!”

Of course, after this, all ceremony had to be foregone. But it was Mrs.
Morton’s affectionate embrace of Helène which sealed the welcome. It
brought a great happiness to Ruth and John and a transcendent light
into Helène’s girlish face.

At dinner John announced that Helène would return to New York that
night and that he would escort her home. It was, indeed, a happy meal
for these four--now reunited in love.

Later they were sitting on the porch enjoying the lovely evening over
their coffee. Faint stars were beginning to twinkle and the air had the
warmth which comes with the dying summer.

“John,” broke in Ruth, “it’s a glorious evening; you should show Helène
the hill-view from the east loggia. I will let you know when the
carriage drives up.”

       *       *       *       *       *

John stood with his beloved in the dusk of the protected wing. Below
them the evening haze of autumn enveloped the valley and slopes,
leaving a clear outline of wooded hillside against the bright glow
whence the rising moon was promised. From the distance blinked
occasional gleams of light marking dwellings here and there. Out of
the darkened lawn came the song of crickets and the whisper of the
invisible night life. It was the very time and place for our fairy.
Surely he was behind that dusky bed of cannas, crouching under the
giant leaf of that caladium!

Helène sat supported by John’s strong arm, and over both surged a flood
of golden memories. She was the first to break the stillness:

“Mr. Morton--John--you are so very rich and powerful. I did not dream
of it. And I--I have nothing--not even a _dot_! Is it right that I
permit myself to love you? Will you not regret it, some day?”

John tightened the arm round her shoulder, and gave a love chuckle.
“Darling, the girls of our country never have _dots_, even if their
parents have sinful wealth. And you--the good God has given you wealth
beyond compare. He has given you a heart finer than gold, beauty rarer
than a vision. And ... I love you, Helène, I love you.”

She drew herself closer to his breast and gave a faint sigh of
ineffable content. “If papa could know, John,” she said softly.

“I think he does know, sweetheart, and is smiling down on us. See,
Helène, there is my faithful ally, the ‘Great Bear.’ He kept his
promise and spoke for me.”

“You mean the ‘Big Dipper,’ John,” said Helène with a smile. “He has
been my good friend also. Other girls may have a star of destiny; but
I--I have seven!”

The fairy behind the cannas rubbed his palms together in great
glee--and grinned.

With faces upturned they stood as if listening for the message of
promise from the twinkling stars, their souls in union--the brave
hearts tried, the abiding love tested. It was the last day of summer;
but for these two happy ones, it was the dawn of eternal spring!

A door slammed and energetic heels tatooed a warning. Ruth’s form stood
outlined against the dimly lighted glass door.

“Children,” she called out in her fresh, cheery voice, “the moon will
be up in five minutes--and your carriage is coming up the drive!”



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been standardized.





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