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Affairs of State by Burton E. Stevenson

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"Oh, nonsense!" cried Markeld. "What reason could he have for assuming
illness? That would be childish!"

The Frenchman smiled a self-satisfied smile, as he softly caressed his
imperial, and his little eyes glowed with anticipated triumph.

"Let us deal with the facts first, if Your Highness will permit, and
with reasons afterwards. I was, then, standing by the chair in the
attitude which I have described, when your dog appeared and attacked the
spaniel. As the young lady stooped and picked it up, your dog sprang
against her, frightening her so that she cried aloud."

"And you stood by without offering to assist her?" demanded the Prince,
with some indignation.

"There was no need, Your Highness," responded Tellier, easily. "In the
first place, she was, of course, in no real danger. In the second place,
I perceived instantly that fate was playing into my hands. In fact, the
incident could not have been more a propos if it had been arranged by my
guardian angel. For from the chair beside which I was stationed a man
sprang out and kicked the dog away. Your Highness must have remarked his
agility and strength--may even have seen his face."

"No," said the Prince. "I was not near enough to see it distinctly."

"I saw it, Your Highness, very distinctly, and I assure you that it was
that of a man in the full enjoyment of health. Even from his agility,
Your Highness could doubtless judge whether the man was seriously ill."

The Prince hitched about in his chair a little impatiently. He was
beginning to find the Frenchman tedious.

"Most certainly he was not seriously ill," he agreed; "nor, I should
say, even slightly so. What is that to me? Pray have done with this
mystery!"

Tellier's face was glowing with all a Frenchman's pride in a coup de
theatre--his moment of triumph had arrived.

"Of all the eyes which witnessed that episode, seemingly so slight and
so unimportant," he said, proudly, "mine were the only ones which saw
its full significance. Your Highness will, no doubt, be surprised when I
inform you that this gentleman, so agile and so athletic, was no other
than Lord Vernon!"

CHAPTER VI

The Path Grows Crooked

In the sitting-room of apartment A, in the south wing of the Grand Hotel
Royal, Lord Vernon was tramping nervously up and down while his
companions regarded him with evident anxiety.

"I tell you fellows," he was saying, "it can't be kept up--I thought so
from the first, but all the rest of you seemed to think it would be so
infernally easy that I was ashamed to say anything. I knew something was
sure to happen to give us away, and something has happened. What was I
to do? Sit there like a mummy and allow that dog to frighten those girls
to death? What the deuce are you laughing at, Collins?"

"I'm laughing at your tragic tone. No, you couldn't have sat
still--though I don't suppose the young ladies were in any serious
danger. They were pretty, no doubt?"

"Ah!" said Vernon, with a mental smacking of the lips at the entrancing
picture the words called up.

"That, of course, made it doubly impossible to sit still. Did they know
you?"

"Oh, no; never saw me before; hadn't the slightest suspicion that they
were talking to such a famous personage. They said they were Americans."

"Then I don't see that any harm has been done."

"Unfortunately, when I was coming back, all bundled up in my chair, we
ran right into them down here at the door, and they recognised me
instantly--I could tell that by their gasp of amazement as they shrank
back against the wall."

"Still, if you preserved a cold and haughty demeanour, they may have
concluded they were mistaken."

"Cold and haughty nothing!" broke in the third man. "I was there and
I'll swear he winked."

"No, I didn't wink," laughed Vernon. "Though perhaps I should if I'd
dared--they're mighty taking girls!"

"Well, what _did_ you do?" demanded Collins, with just a trace of
impatience.

Again Vernon laughed.

"I sent 'em back a note asking 'em not to tell," he said.

Collins threw up his hands in horror and the third man grinned
sardonically. Vernon looked at them and kept on laughing.

"You two fellows take it too seriously," he added. "I don't believe
they'll tell."

"I thought you knew women better than that," said Collins,
reproachfully.

"I do know them--better than any dried-up diplomat, at least,--and I
believe we can trust these two--for a few days, anyway. How much time do
we need?"

"A week, at the very least. Fancy asking a woman to keep a secret for a
week! And as for taking it too seriously, you know how much depends on
it."

"Yes," observed Vernon, sarcastically, "you fellows seem to think the
peace of Europe depends on it."

"I should say that would not be overstating it in the least," said
Collins, with a solemnity almost religious.

"Oh, nonsense; you diplomatic fellows make mountains out of molehills;
you see a storm in every cloud; you imagine the lightning's going to
strike you every time it flashes! You're all nerves!"

"Anyway, you agreed--"

"Yes, I know I agreed," interrupted Vernon, irritably, "and I was a fool
to do it."

"Besides," added Blake, "we've got to play very close, since it happens
that Markeld is in this very hotel. We supposed, of course, that he
would go on to London. I must say that I think he showed exceedingly
poor taste in following us here."

"Oh, I don't know," said Vernon. "I think it was rather enterprising. I
only wish we could treat the poor devil fairly."

"Well, since he is here," continued Blake, "there's only one thing for
you to do, and that is to stay under cover."

"But, confound it!" protested Vernon, "I can't stay cooped up here in
these rooms all the time!"

"That's the only safe way," observed Collins. "Suppose Markeld should
find out how the land lies! The fat would be in the fire for sure; and
we'd be in a mighty awkward position! Suppose the jingoes got hold of
it!" and he turned pale at the thought.

"Well, I won't stay shut up, that's certain," said Vernon, doggedly.
"As for the jingoes, let them rave!"

"That's easy to say," retorted Collins, with irony, "when some one else
has to bear the brunt of it."

Vernon snorted impatiently.

"You may frighten yourself whenever you please," he said, "but you can't
frighten me. I've heard the cry of 'Wolf! Wolf!' entirely too often."

"But the wolf came at last," Blake pointed out.

"Well, it isn't coming this time; and I don't care if it is. I repeat,
categorically and imperatively, _I won't stay shut up!"_

"You agreed to obey our instructions, you know."

"Every one has the right to rebel against a tyrant!"

"At least," said Collins, yielding the ground grudgingly, "you must
remember always to keep on your sick-togs when you do go out, and to try
to look a little less scandalously healthy than you are. Now, if you'd
kept on your wraps when you jumped out of the chair--"

"How was I to kick a dog with a rug around my legs? You fellows don't
give me credit for what I did do. I'd just got into a most interesting
conversation with those girls, when up came a fellow whom I knew
instinctively to be Markeld."

He stopped as he caught the others' astounded gaze.

"Yes, Markeld!" he repeated, defiantly. "I've an idea that he is the
owner of the dog. I suppose I should have sent James to inquire who the
dog belonged to before I ventured forth!"

"No matter," said Collins, impatiently. "What did you do?"

"I was guilty of unpardonable rudeness," answered Vernon. "I broke away
from those girls as though they had the plague, jumped into my chair,
and buried myself behind my newspaper. They must have thought I'd
escaped from somewhere."

"So Markeld didn't see you, it doesn't matter what they thought,"
remarked Collins.

"Oh, doesn't it?"

"Surely you're not going to run any further risks for the sake of a girl
more or less!"

"My dear Collins!" said Vernon, with chill politeness; "I have always
suspected that a course in diplomacy sucked the blood out of a man and
substituted ice-water in its stead. Now I know it. Permit me to add that
you have not seen the girl--either girl--though I don't suppose that
would make the slightest difference."

"May I inquire what you propose to do?" asked Collins, flushing a
little.

"I propose to cultivate the acquaintance of the beautiful Americans in
every way I can. After all, what does it matter to me who rules over a
little twopenny duchy called Schloshold-Markheim?"

"I suppose your promise is of equal indifference to you!"

"Damn my promise! See here, Collins; don't push me too far; the worm
will turn. Of course, I'll keep my promise; but don't irritate me. I'm
all on edge over this thing now--a little more, and I'll be capable of
doing something--"

A tap at the door interrupted him, and he disappeared between two
curtains into the inner room, where an invalid chair, buried in wraps,
stood by the window. Near it was a little table covered with medicine
bottles, glasses, spoons--in a word, all the paraphernalia of prolonged
and serious illness.

Blake opened the door and took the card that was presented to him.

"The Prince of Markeld," he said, looking at it. "Ah, yes; you will
tell His Highness that there has been no change in the condition of Lord
Vernon, who thanks him for his kind inquiries."

He closed the door and turned back into the room.

"Now, what do you think that means?" he asked, of Collins. "That's the
second time today. He's getting importunate."

Collins stared out of the window gloomily.

"Perhaps he suspects already," he said. "I've been told he's a clever
fellow--in fact, he's proved it once or twice."

"Suppose he does suspect--what shall we do?"

"Convince him to the contrary. Where's Scaddam?"

"In his room, I suppose."

"Better send for him."

"May I come out?" inquired a voice from the inner room.

"Yes, come ahead," called Collins, and Vernon reappeared. "Now, my
friend," he continued rapidly, "you'd better go in and put on your
war-togs." Vernon groaned. "Put 'em on thick. I believe Markeld suspects
the trick we're playing, and we've got to fool him--we've got to show
him what a sick man you are."

"How _could_ he suspect?" demanded Vernon, incredulously. "Even if he
saw me, he couldn't recognise me--he doesn't know me."

"Perhaps those girls have already given you away."

"Nonsense! You fellows are afraid of your own shadows. He can't
suspect!"

"Just the same, we've got to be prepared for emergencies. Have you got
plenty of pepper?"

Vernon groaned again.

"Plenty! I tell you fellows I'll ruin my health if I keep this up much
longer. I might easily burst a blood-vessel. People often do when they
sneeze."

"Well, we'll have to take the risk," said Blake, with grim complacency.

"Much risk you take! In fact, I saw you sprinkling pepper on my
handkerchief this morning, when there wasn't the slightest need of it."

"Now, see here," protested Collins, sharply, "what's the use of all this
argument? We've got to see this thing through, whether we like it or
not. I've sent for Scaddam, so he'll be on the scene in case of
emergencies--"

"You mean, if I break a blood-vessel?" inquired Vernon, politely.

"Oh, break your grandmother! I tell you--"

There was a second tap on the door and Vernon again made a dive for the
inner room. This time, a note was handed in. Collins closed the door,
tore open the envelope nervously, and ran his eyes quickly over the
contents.

"Come out here, you beggar," he called, and Vernon reappeared on the
threshold. "Take a look at this," he added, and held out the note.
"Maybe you won't be so cocksure hereafter that diplomats are always
making mountains out of mole-hills."

Vernon took the paper and read it slowly, his face growing blanker and
more blank as he proceeded. Then he went back to the beginning and read
it aloud:

"The Prince of Markeld admired
greatly Lord Vernon's recent prompt
and chivalrous action, which he had the
privilege of witnessing. He is sure,
however, that His Lordship's illness
cannot be so serious as represented, and
hopes that His Lordship will not persist
in refusing him an audience. Such a
course would be neither ingenuous nor
fair."

For a moment, no one spoke, then Blake gave vent to a low whistle.

"Well," he said, dazedly; "so the cat's out of the bag! What's to be
done?"

"There's only one thing that can be done," Collins said sharply. "I've
already pointed out what that is," and he sat down at the table and
wrote a rapid message. "How will this do? 'Lord Vernon will be pleased
to see the Prince of Markeld at five o'clock this afternoon. He has no
recollection of having recently performed any prompt or chivalrous
action. The Prince has doubtless been misinformed.' That gives us half
an hour--neither too much time, nor too little."

"But that's folly!" protested Blake; "how can you carry it through?"

"Leave that to me. I've got out of tighter places than this one. And,"
he added, turning to Vernon, "if you ever looked ill in your life,
prepare to do it now."

Vernon was looking dreamily over Markeld's note.

"He uses adjectives well, doesn't he?" he asked. "'Such a course would
be neither ingenuous nor fair.' 'Pon my word, I quite agree with him!"

"Remember, you're under orders," said Collins, sternly.

"Under reasonable orders, perhaps," admitted Vernon, quietly, with a
little tightening of the muscles of the face. "I don't admit that either
you or Blake is infallible. What is it you propose to do?"

"We propose, in the first place, to send Markeld this note."

Vernon took it and read it at a glance.

"A note which is, of course, a lie," he observed, dispassionately, as he
handed it back.

"It is not a lie!" retorted Collins, flushing hotly. "It is, on the
contrary, the absolute truth."

"There are many ways of lying," remarked Vernon, still more coolly. "It
isn't so much the letter as the spirit which constitutes a lie."

"This is scarcely the time," put in Blake, "for a lecture upon ethics."

"And it would, in any event," added Vernon, "be entirely wasted upon the
present audience. Well, what next?"

"I think you understand your part," answered Collins, curtly. "The only
question is, are you prepared to play it?"

Vernon hesitated for an instant, his hands trembling slightly.

"I feel the veriest scoundrel," he said, bitterly. "It sickens me--but
you've got me fast."

"Yes," agreed Collins, with a malicious grin, "we've got you fast."

"Though not quite as fast as you think, perhaps," added Vernon,
quietly. "I warn you that I will break the bonds if they become too
galling. I see that I'm going to owe Prince Frederick a hearty apology
before this thing is over."

"Oh, I shan't interfere with your apology when the time conies,"
retorted Collins.

"I should hope not," said Vernon, still more quietly; then he turned and
entered the inner room.

"You mustn't push him too hard, Arthur," said Blake, in a low tone, "or
he'll kick over the traces. Remember, he is devilish high-spirited. And
he won't lie."

"It takes a firm hand to keep him under control; but I'll be careful.
And he won't have to lie. It's confoundedly unfortunate Markeld couldn't
have left his dog at home! Just see how small a thing may affect the
fate of nations!"

"Don't get philosophical," advised Blake. "There isn't time. Are you
going to send that note?"

Collins sealed the missive.

"It's our only chance," he said, decidedly. "Don't you see; we've got to
brazen this thing through. We're in a corner, and there's only one way
out." He went to the door and opened it. "For the Prince of Markeld," he
said, as he handed the note to the man who stood outside.

CHAPTER VII

An Appeal for Aid

One can easily guess with what delicious precipitation the Misses
Rushford, having read the note sent to them by Lord Vernon and having
recovered somewhat from the paralysis of amazement into which it had
thrown them, hurried up the stair and sought the privacy of their own
apartment. Here, evidently, was a full-fledged mystery enacting under
their very noses, no trumpery neighbourhood mystery, either, but one of
national--aye, even international--importance! It made them gasp to
think of it; they were even a little frightened. By the touch of a
finger the stage-door had been opened; they had been admitted behind the
scenes--to the inside, as they had longed to be. And the experience was
even more interesting and exciting than they had dared to hope! They
were playing a part, however humble, in the great drama of European
politics!

"But what can it mean?" Nell demanded, as she read the note for perhaps
the twentieth time. "What can it possibly mean? Why should Lord Vernon
wish to appear ill when he isn't?"

"I don't suppose he's doing it for fun," observed Susie, sagely.

"No, of course not," agreed Nell. "There isn't any fun in it that I can
see. But it seems a very remarkable course of action. Some great affair
of state must depend upon it," she added in a tone slightly awe-struck,
for her imagination was beginning to be affected. "He seems awfully
young to hold such an important place," she added.

"These English statesmen always look younger than they are," said Sue.
"From his pictures, I always imagined that Chamberlain was a
comparatively young man, and here I read somewhere the other day that
he's nearly seventy!"

"At any rate," concluded Nell, "since it was for our sake Lord Vernon
threw off the mask, so to speak, it is only fair, on our part, to keep
quiet about it. Why do you think he ran away so quickly? It was almost
rude."

"I thought it quite entirely rude," asserted Sue. "But maybe he saw
somebody coming whom he wished to avoid."

And then both gasped simultaneously:

"The owner of the dog!"

"Of course!"

"How dense we were!"

"But who is the owner of the dog? Not an Englishman!"

"No--a German, I should say."

"Yes--did you notice his accent? And then he is tall and blond."

"Distinguished looking; and with an air about him--an autocratic
manner--which makes me think he's a Somebody. He's evidently not used to
being snubbed."

"It's perfectly maddening!" exclaimed Nell, with brows most becomingly
wrinkled. "If we only knew something of English politics, we might be
able to guess what it is all about."

"Dad could see through it in a minute," sighed Susie, "but that poor
dear will never have the chance, because, of course, we can't tell even
him. And he likes this sort of thing, too; it would give him just the
excitement he's been sighing for!"

And yet fate willed that he was to have the chance, for half an hour
later, after a short conference with Monsieur Pelletan, a gentleman whom
we have met before in the apartment of Lord Vernon approached him where
he sat in the smoking-room, drew up a chair, and sat down beside him.

"This is Mr. Rushford, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes; that's my name," and the American looked him over in some
surprise.

"My name is Collins," went on the other. "I am secretary to Lord
Vernon."

"Glad to know you, Mr. Collins," and the American held out his hand. "I
hope Lord Vernon's getting along all right."

"As well as could be expected, thank you; but there has been a little
unforeseen--er--complication--"

"Nothing serious, I hope?"

"Well, yes; to be quite frank, Mr. Rushford, I think it decidedly
serious."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Rushford, with genuine feeling. "We
Americans have always taken a special pride in Lord Vernon's career--his
mother was an American girl, you know--and his death would be almost a
personal loss to us."

"His death?" echoed Collins, staring.

"There's no immediate danger, then? I'm glad of that. Still, if the
complication is as serious as you think--"

"My dear sir," broke in the Englishman, "you have misunderstood me. Lord
Vernon's health is--er--quite satisfactory, all things considered. The
complication is in--er--a rather delicate affair of state,
which--which--"

"Anything I can do?" asked Rushford, encouragingly, as the other
stammered and broke down.

"Yes, there is, Mr. Rushford," answered Collins, quickly, taking his
courage in both hands. "Or, rather, there's something your daughters can
do."

"My daughters?" Rushford looked at him again, a growing suspicion in his
eyes. "I don't quite understand. You'll have to be more explicit, Mr.
Collins. I don't see how my daughters can have anything to do with your
affairs of state."

"I am going to be as explicit as I can," Collins assured him, "but it's
such an infernally delicate matter that one hardly knows where to begin.
Of course, what I have to tell you must be told in confidence."

"All right," said the American, with a little pucker of the brow which
told that he did not wholly like Mr. Collins. 'Fire ahead."

"First, if you don't mind," said the Englishman, looking about him, "I
think we'd better get out of this crowd."

"Suppose we go up to my rooms," suggested Rushford, rising. "We'll be
free from interruption there, and can thresh the whole thing out."

"Thank you," assented Collins. "Of course, I understand," he continued,
in a louder voice, as they started toward the door, "that the question
of stocks is always a very complicated one, and very difficult for a
layman to understand, but a man of your experience--"

The door of the elevator-car closed behind them, and he stopped.

"Whose benefit was that for?" asked Rushford.

"For the benefit of a French police spy, who was trying his best to
overhear our conversation."

"A police spy? Did you know him?"

"I know his class; it's impossible to mistake it. They all look
alike--it's a type which even the comic opera has been unable to
burlesque. You probably noticed him--all moustache, imperial, and
lavender gloves."

"Oh, him? Yes, I've seen him. And I've been rather itching to apply my
boot to his coat-tails. I thought he was a cheap actor--a ten, twenty,
thirty, as we say in America. Do you suppose Pelletan knows him?"

"Oh, undoubtedly! He's probably boarding him for nothing. These French
police have a way with them."

Rushford bit his moustache savagely and resolved to have an explanation
with Monsieur Pelletan.

The car stopped.

"Here we are," he said, stepping out into the corridor. "You see our
apartment is just over Lord Vernon's. I don't believe even a French
detective can disturb us here," and he locked the door after them as
they entered. "Besides, my daughters will be handy if we decide to call
them in."

Yet, in spite of the plural pronoun, it was quite evident that he was
the one who proposed to do the deciding.

"Thank you," said Collins, again. "I hope to show you the necessity of
calling them in. In fact, the principal favour I want to ask of you is
an introduction to them. They can, if they will, save Lord Vernon, and
incidentally the government, a lot of trouble."

Rushford looked at him with a little stare.

"In what way?" he asked, motioning him to a chair.

"It happens," answered Collins, "that, by chance, they hold in their
hands the key to a very important affair of state--nothing less than the
succession to Schloshold-Markheim. They could, if they wished, involve
the government in difficulties of the most serious nature."

Rushford stared at him yet a moment. Then he settled back in his chair.

"Have a cigar?" he asked. "No? You won't mind my smoking? I can think
better when I smoke. Now let's have the story; I'm anxious to hear what
those girls have been up to. I'm afraid they need a chaperon, after
all!"

CHAPTER VIII

Pride has a fall

Shortly before six o'clock that evening, the door of Lord Vernon's
apartment opened, and the Prince of Markeld appeared on the threshold,
bowed out in the politest manner possible by Blake, Collins, and Sir
John. He crossed the corridor, paused irresolutely at the stairhead,
then went on toward his own rooms, his head bent, his face expressing
the liveliest dissatisfaction: an expression which deepened to disgust
when, on opening his door, he perceived Tellier awaiting him within.

"He would come in," explained Glueck, after a glance at his master's
countenance. "He lied; he said Your Highness was expecting him. Shall I
throw him out?"

"No," said the Prince, "not yet," and Glueck retired to a convenient
distance, confident that his hour would yet arrive.

The detective, apparently, had no uneasiness concerning the result of
the interview, for his face was beaming with self-importance and he
greeted the Prince with a confidence born of certainty. His eyes asked
the question which his lips were too well-governed and discreet to
articulate.

"Tellier," began the Prince, abruptly, looking at him with a fiery
glance, "you are either a knave or a fool--a fool, doubtless, since you
seem too stupid to be a knave--and you very nearly made me appear
another!"

The detective's face dropped suddenly from triumph to humility.

"I do not understand," he faltered. "Does Your Highness mean--"

"I mean that that story of yours was a ridiculous lie!" responded the
Prince, brutally, being, indeed, greatly overwrought. "How do I know,"
he added, suddenly, "that you did not intentionally deceive me? I have
only your word--what is that worth? How do I know that it was not a
trick--a trick on the part of your government to involve me with
England? That would be like you!" and his hands clenched and unclenched
in a most threatening manner.

"I swear to Your Highness," protested Tellier, his cheeks livid, his
lips quivering convulsively, "that I told only the truth! On my heart, I
swear it--on my soul--on the grave of my mother. Otherwise, pardieu,
would I have been so imprudent as to remain here awaiting the return of
Your Highness?"

The Prince's face relaxed a little as he looked at him.

"No," he agreed, grimly, after a moment. "I don't believe you would.
Yes, you are a fool and not a knave. For I have just seen Lord Vernon
with my own eyes--he is truly ill--sneezing as though his head would
burst, gasping for breath, his eyes running water, cursing even the
friends who nurse him! It was some one else who kicked my dog away. You
have been deceived."

Tellier was walking up and down the room, tugging at his imperial, at
his hair, biting his nails, shaking his clenched hands at the ceiling in
a very ecstasy of bewilderment.

"Impossible!" he murmured, hoarsely. "Impossible!"

"How impossible!" cried the Prince, violently. "Do you presume to
contradict me? Do you dare to dispute my word when I tell you that I
myself have seen Lord Vernon; when I describe his condition to you? He
was most courteous, though he could not speak above a whisper--he
treated me more kindly than I deserved, when one considers the wording
of that note I sent to him, for which I was glad to apologise! One could
see he was in no condition to give me audience--to discuss business of
any kind! He could scarcely sit erect!"

"Oh, there is some knavery!" cried Tellier, his face purple. "I know it!
I scent it!"

"You are, then, infallible, I suppose!" retorted the Prince. "His
physician assured me that in a week Lord Vernon would be much
better--nearly well; he suggested that for a week I do not press my
business."

"But you did not agree!" screamed Tellier. "Your Highness did not
agree!"

"Most certainly I agreed. Not to agree would have been to insult them
yet a second time!"

"A week!" groaned Tellier, throwing up his hands, with a gesture of
despair. "Then all is lost!"

"How lost?" demanded Markeld, red with anger. "In what way lost? Have a
care of what you say!"

Tellier controlled himself by a mighty effort and managed to speak with
some approach to calmness.

"The German Emperor will not waste a week, Your Highness. That is not
his way, as you very well know. He will be at work every hour--every
minute!"

"What can he accomplish, if the British foreign office will do nothing?
Will he take the affair into his own hands? He will not dare!"

"He might dare, Your Highness; he has dared things more perilous than
that. But how do we know the British foreign office will do nothing?"

"I tell you," repeated the Prince, hotly, "that Lord Vernon is a
gentleman--something you do not seem to understand; that he is ill--
something you seem to doubt!"

"In diplomacy, Your Highness, even a gentleman may sometimes lie, or, at
least, disguise the truth. Perhaps even before this, he has hinted to
the Emperor that he will not interfere, if he acts promptly--perhaps
this illness is merely a ruse to avoid a situation the most awkward."

It was the Prince's turn to stride up and down, to pluck at his
moustache, to go red and white.

"If I thought so!" he murmured hoarsely. "If I thought so!"

"There is some underhand work in progress," cried Tellier, growing more
and more excited; "some trap, some piece of trickery--I know not
what--but I am certain--I will find out!"

"If I thought so!" said the Prince again, and his face was not pleasant
to look upon.

"For I repeat to Your Highness that I could not have been mistaken. It
is impossible that I should have been mistaken. I saw Lord Vernon leap
from his chair; I was as near it as I am to you at this moment; I saw
him return to it and hide himself behind his paper, when he saw you
approaching; I waited, and saw his lackeys come after him and lift him
to the invalid chair. If I had not been certain before, I was certain
then! I followed him back to the hotel. Yes!" he added, with sudden
excitement, "and there was another circumstance which will confirm me!"

"Go on!" commanded Markeld, yielding somewhat before this torrent of
proof.

"At the door he met the young ladies whom he had rescued--the Americans;
they recognised him--I could see their look of astonishment at
perceiving him in the chair of an invalid, buried in rugs. They stared
after him--the chair stopped--he wrote a few words on a piece of paper
and sent it back to them. They read it with eyes even more astonished."

"Did you, by any chance, read it also?" inquired the Prince, with a
deceptive calmness.

"No, Your Highness," Tellier replied, simply, quite unconscious of his
danger. "I saw no way of doing that, unfortunately. I thought of
snatching it away, but that would have created a turmoil, which is
always to be avoided if possible. But Your Highness might easily gain
possession of the note--"

The Prince stopped him with a fierce gesture of repugnance.

"Do you know what it is that you have the effrontery to propose to me?"
he demanded.

The Frenchman paused in mid-sentence and swallowed with difficulty, his
face very red.

"I am certain," he said, after a moment, "that those young ladies know
it was Lord Vernon who rescued them. They would no doubt confirm this,
if Your Highness would inquire--"

The Prince strode to the door and flung it open.

"Do not come back till you can speak without insulting me," he said,
sternly.

"One moment, Your Highness!" cried Tellier. "But a moment! I have
another proof. Oh, you are wrong not to believe me! You are wrong to
yield to your anger!"

"The proof!" broke in the Prince, sharply, realising, perhaps, the
justice of the reproach. "The proof! What is it? Speak quickly!"

"It is this, Your Highness," answered the detective, striving
desperately to steady his voice, to speak intelligibly. "But an hour
ago, the secretary of Lord Vernon was in conference with the father of
those young ladies. He approached him in the smoking-room; he introduced
himself; he sat down; he began a conversation. I should have overheard
everything, but that, unfortunately, he was more clever than I thought.
He suspected me. They went together to Monsieur Rushford's apartment--I
followed, I listened at the keyhole; but they went on into an inner
room, and the outer door was locked, so I could not--"

The Prince, who had listened to all this with blazing eyes, suddenly
raised his arm with a furious gesture.

"Glueck!" he shouted.

That faithful servitor appeared on the instant, his face alight with
anticipation.

"But if there should be a plot!" protested Tellier, hesitating, even
yet, on the threshold.

"If there is a plot," said the Prince, sternly, "someone shall suffer
for it, depend upon that! But against gentlemen, the proof must be
conclusive. Glueck, show him out," and he shut the door upon the unhappy
spy.

"It would have been well," observed Glueck, calmly, coming back after a
moment, "to have thrown him out in the first place."

"I agree with you," said his master. "You may do so whenever you find
him here again, my friend," and for an instant Glueck almost smiled.

"Will Your Highness dine in your apartment tonight?" he asked.

The Prince hesitated; then his face relaxed as at some pleasant thought.

"No, Glueck," he said, "I will dine downstairs. Get my bath ready."

CHAPTER IX

Pelletan's Skeleton

As he left the dining-room that evening, Rushford crooked an imperious
finger at Monsieur Pelletan.

"I want a word with you," he said in his ear.

"In private, monsieur?" asked the little Frenchman, with some
trepidation.

"Yes, I think it would better be in private--that is, if you can
accomplish it in this bedlam."

"Oh, I haf a place, monsieur, where no one will intrude," and Pelletan
led the way through the hotel office to a little door back of the desk.
"T'is iss my--vat you call eet in English?--my sty, my kennel--"

"Your den."

"Iss t'ere a difference?" asked Pelletan, fumbling with the lock.

"A sty is for pigs and a kennel for dogs," Rushford explained. "A den
is for wild beasts. These niceties of the English language are not for
you, Pelletan."

"Still," persisted Pelletan, "a man iss no more a wild beast t'an he iss
a dog or a pig."

"Not nearly so much so, very often," agreed Rushford, heartily. "You
have me there, Pelletan. Sty would undoubtedly be the right word in many
cases."

"Fery well, t'en," said Pelletan, proudly, opening the door, "pehold my
sty!" and he stood aside that his companion might enter.

It was a little square box of a room jammed with such a litter of
bric-a-brac as is to be picked up only on the boulevards--trifles in
Bohemian glass, a lizard stuffed with straw, carved fragments of jade
and ivory, a Sevres vase bearing the portrait of Du Barry, an Indian
chibook, a pink-cheeked Dresden shepherdess, a sabre of the time of
Napoleon, a leering Hindoo idol, a hideous dragon in Japanese bronze
grimacing furiously at a Barye lion--all of them huddled together
without order or arrangement, as they would have been in an auction room
or an antique shop. In one corner stood a low table of Italian mosaic,
bearing a somewhat battered statuette of Saint Genevieve plying her
distaff, and the walls were fairly covered with photographs--
photographs, for the most part, of women more anxious to display their
charms of person to an admiring world than to observe the rigour of
convention.

Rushford dropped into one of the two chairs, got out a cigar, lighted
it, and sat for some moments looking around at this wilderness of
gimcracks.

"Pelletan, you're a humbug," he said at last. "You came to me yesterday
and said your last franc was gone."

"Unt so it wass, monsieur."

"But this collection ought to be worth something."

"Monsieur means t'at it might pe sold?"

"Undoubtedly."

"But monsieur does not know--does not understand. Tis--all t'is--iss my
life; eet iss here t'at I liff--not out t'ere," with a gesture of
disgust toward the door. "I could no more liff wit'out t'is t'an wit'out
my head!"

Rushford, looking at him curiously, saw that he was in deadly earnest.

"Really," he said, "you surprise me, Pelletan. I had never suspected in
you such depth of soul."

"Besides, monsieur," added Pelletan, leaning forward, "t'ese t'ings are
not all what t'ey seem--t'is dragon, par exemple, ees not off bronze,
but off t'e plaster of Paris--yet I lofe eet none t'e less--more,
perhaps, because off t'at fery fact."

"And these--ah--females," said Rushford, and waved his hand at the
serried photographs, "I suppose even they are necessary to your
existence."

"I lofe to look at t'em, monsieur," confessed Pelletan.

"Personal acquaintances, perhaps."

"Not all of t'em, monsieur; but t'ey haf about t'em t'e flavour off
Paris--off t'at tear Paris off which I tream each night; t'ey recall t'e
tays off my yout'!"

"Oh, are you a Parisian? I should never have suspected it. Your
accent--"

"I am off Elsass, monsieur. It wass, perhaps, for t'at reason t'at Paris
so won my heart."

"If I were as fond of the place as all that," observed Rushford,
laughing, "I'd have stayed there."

"It proke my heart to leafe," murmured Pelletan. "T'at is why I lofe all
t'is," and he motioned to the walls, and kissed his hand to a
voluptuous siren with red hair. "T'at is Ernes tine. Tonight she will
take her part at t'e Alcazar; at t'e toor a friend will meet her unt
t'ey will go toget'er down t'e Champs-Elysees to t'e grand boulevard,
where t'ey sit in front of Pousset's and trink t'eir wine unt eau
sucree. T'ey will watch t'e crowds, t'ey will greet t'eir friends, t'ey
will exchange t'e tay's news. T'en t'ey will go to tinner--six or eight
of t'em toget'er--een a leetle room at Maxime's, where t'ey can make so
much noise as pleases t'em--only I will not pe t'ere--in all t'at great
city, nowhere will I pe! Unt I am missed, monsieur, no more t'an iss a
grain of sand from t'e peach out yonder!"

His voice trembled and broke, and he ran his hands through his hair in a
very agony of despair.

"There, there," said Rushford, soothingly, repressing an inclination to
laugh at the grotesque figure before him. "Don't take it so much to
heart. I dare say they drink your health oftener than you imagine."

"Do you really t'ink so, monsieur?" asked Pelletan, brightening.

"And, depend upon it, you'll get back to them some day," continued the
American. "Only stay here a year or two until you've made your fortune,
as you're certain to do now."

"Yess, monsieur," agreed Pelletan, huskily. "T'anks to you!"

"In the meantime," added Rushford, smiling, "keep the ladies, if you
like to look at them. Your little foibles are no affair of mine. What I
wanted to speak to you about was a matter of business. There's a
blatant, detestable French spy in the house who has got to get out. He
even had the impudence to ogle my girls at dinner this evening. Shall I
kick him out, or will you attend to the matter?"

Pelletan had grown paler at every word until he was fairly livid.

"Iss eet Monsieur Tellier to whom monsieur refers?" he stammered.

"I don't know his name, but he looks like a freak from the wax-works.
He's got to go--he's nearly as bad as Zeit-Zeit."

Pelletan mopped his shining forehead and groaned dismally.

"What is it, man?" demanded the American. "Don't tell me that this
rascal has a hold on you!"

Pelletan groaned again, more dismally than before.

"I was told this afternoon," added Rushford, grimly, "that he was
probably staying here at my expense."

"Eet iss not so!" cried Pelletan, his eyes flashing. "I pay for
heem--efery tay I charge myself mit' twenty franc for hees account."

"But what on earth for?" demanded Rushford. "What have you done--robbed
a bank or committed murder?"

Pelletan glanced around to assure himself that the door was tightly
closed, then drew his chair nearer to his patron.

"I haf a wife," he said, slowly, in a sepulchral tone.

"Well, what of it? Is that a crime in France? I could almost believe
it!"

"I could not liff mit' her no longer," continued Pelletan. "She wass a
teufel! I leafe her!"

"Oh, that's it--so you ran away?"

"Yess, monsieur, I ran avay--avay from Paris--avay from France--I
t'ought efen of going to Amerique."

"Was she so bad as all that?" asked Rushford, sympathetically.

For answer, Pelletan went to the statue of Saint Genevieve, lifted it,
and took from beneath it a photograph.

"T'is iss she, monsieur," he said, and handed the photograph to
Rushford.

The latter took one look at it and passed it back.

"Not guilty!" he said. "You have my profound sympathy, Pelletan. How did
you happen to get caught? You must have been exceedingly young!"

"I wass, monsieur," admitted Pelletan, with a sigh. "I wass just from
t'e province--my head wass full of treams. Unt she wass petter-looking,
t'en, monsieur; she wass almost slim. She wass a widow--unt besides she
had a leetle patisserie which her man had left her."

"I see--avarice was your undoing. And you caught a tartar!"

"A teufel!" repeated Pelletan. "A fiend! Oh, what an end to t'e tream! I
worked--oh, how hard I worked--sweating at t'e ovens, efery hour of t'e
twenty-four--for t'e ovens must not pe allowed to cool. She sat at t'e
money-drawer unt grows fat; I wass soon so weak t'at she tid not
hesitate to--to--"

The little man's face was bathed in sweat at the memory of that
degradation, which his tongue refused to describe.

"I endured eet to t'e last moment," he added, thickly. "T'en I fled!"

"You seem to have alighted on your feet," remarked Rushford.

"We had made a success of t'e pusiness," Pelletan explained, "unt I
brought mit me my share of t'e profits, which seemed only fair, since I,
py my labour, had earned t'em. Unt t'en I took a lease of t'is place,
unt did well until t'is year. T'at iss my whole history, monsieur. T'at
iss why I dare not return to Paris, efen for a small visit in winter
when pusiness here iss pad. Eef she so much as caught one leetle glimpse
of me, she would murder me!" and he mopped his face again.

"Still," said the American, "I don't see where Tellier comes in."

Pelletan carefully replaced the photograph under the statuette and then
reseated himself opposite his companion.

"Tellier knows her," he explained, simply.

"Met her professionally, perhaps," suggested Rushford. "Well, what of
it?"

"Eef I offend heem, he gifes her my attress!" continued Pelletan,
hoarsely, and his forehead glistened again at the thought. "He
t'reatened as much when he arrife here unt I tol' him t'e house wass
full."

"Hm!" commented Rushford. "I see. All right; I'll stand by you. I dare
say I can stomach Tellier for a day or two."

Pelletan breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"Tat iss kind," he stammered; "I--I--"

"There, there," and the American waved him to silence. "And you needn't
charge yourself with his keep. But I hope you haven't any more skeletons
in the closet, my friend."

"Skeletons, monsieur?"

"Such as Madame Pelletan."

"Oh," said the Frenchman, naively, "Madame Pelletan iss quite t'e
opposite off a skeleton, monsieur!"

* * * * *

Rushford paused at the hotel door and looked out along the Digue. It was
thronged with people hurrying toward the Casino, eager for the night's
excitement. But the American turned in the opposite direction, and
sauntered slowly along, breathing in the cool breeze from the ocean. At
last he paused, and, leaning against the balustrade, stood gazing out
across the moonlit water, smiling to himself at thought of Pelletan's
vicissitudes.

He was roused by the sound of voices on the beach below him. He looked
down mechanically, but for a moment saw no one. Then, deep in the shadow
of the wall, he descried two figures walking slowly side by side. One
was a man and the other a woman. They were talking in a French so rapid
and idiomatic that Rushford could distinguish no word of it, except
that the man addressed his companion as Julie.

There was something strangely familiar about the figure of the man, and
as Rushford stared down at him, his vision seemed suddenly too clear and
he perceived that it was the French detective.

"Tellier prosecutes his loves," he murmured, smiling grimly to himself,
and turned back toward the hotel. There he stopped, struck by a sudden
thought. "Julie," he repeated. "Julie--where have I heard that name
recently? Oh, I remember--Julie is our maid at the hotel. I wonder--"

He went back abruptly to the parapet and looked over, but Tellier and
his companion had disappeared.

CHAPTER X

An Introduction and a Promenade

Warm and fair dawned the morning; and having, at its leisure, duly
arisen, bathed and breakfasted, the unemployed population of
Weet-sur-Mer, male and female, sallied forth to throng the beach and
Digue, to inhale the fresh air, to shake off so far as possible the
effects of the evening's dissipations, and to exchange such toadstool
growths of gossip as had sprung up over night.

To join this parade there presently came Lord Vernon, reclining
languidly in his invalid chair, and muffled in many rugs; but his eyes
were eagerly alert and he gazed with evident anticipation down the long
promenade of the Digue. He was attended by Blake, Collins, and Sir John,
all of them determined, no doubt, to prevent a second contretemps. But
Sir John presently descried a learned fellow-Aesculapian and stopped for
a chat with him; while Blake soon afterward succumbed to the glance and
smile of a red-cheeked English beauty. Collins, however, stuck grimly to
his post, being above--or below--such human weaknesses.

"There they are!" cried Vernon, suddenly, with brightening eyes.

"Who?" asked Collins, following his gaze. "Oh, the Rush ford girls. I
suppose it will be polite to show our gratitude. I think we owe them a
vote of thinks, don't you?"

"I certainly do," agreed Vernon, straightening himself in his chair with
a vigour which had nothing of the invalid about it. "Will you introduce
me?"

"If I can snare them without being too intrusive," assented Collins,
who, since the success of his stratagem of the afternoon before, had
been in an unusually complaisant mood.

But fate willed that they should be snared without any effort on his
part whatever, for just then a porter came by with a truck piled high
with luggage, and it and the invalid chair combined to form an impasse
from which there was no escaping. Not that either of the young ladies
displayed any very evident anxiety to escape.

"Good-morning," said Collins, in his best manner. "My lord," he
continued, turning to his companion, "these are the Misses Rushford, to
whom we owe so much. I hope I may introduce Lord Vernon to you," he
added.

Both of them were laughing as they took, in turn, the hand which Vernon
rather eagerly held out.

"I'm awfully glad to meet you," he said, looking from one to the other
and trying to decide which was the prettier. "I feel that we _do_ owe
you a great deal. When Collins came back yesterday afternoon and told me
what he'd had the impudence to ask you, I was--I was--"

"Very wrathy, to put it mildly," said Collins. "But I took it meekly; it
was in a good cause."

"And we didn't think it impudent at all," said Sue. "Since we had caused
all the trouble, it was only fair that we should bear a part of it.
Besides, it wasn't by any means so difficult as Mr. Collins thought it
would be."

"You don't mean that Markeld actually asked you! I didn't believe he'd
do that, despite Collins's prophecy. He seemed to have too much of high
politeness about him."

"I was sure he would," put in Collins, triumphantly. "He couldn't afford
to neglect such an obvious way of making certain, and he's much too
clever to have overlooked it."

"You were quite right, Lord Vernon," said Susie, very quietly, though
there was a dangerous sparkle in her eyes. "The Prince did not ask
us--but a French creature did--a detective--"

"One of his emissaries," suggested Collins. "I know him--his name is
Tellier."

"I have no reason to think him an emissary," retorted Susie, curtly,
beginning to dislike the secretary. "I don't in the least believe the
Prince would choose such a one. Dad pointed him out to us in the
dining-room last night--a thing of mustachios and eyes--just the kind
one sees at the vaudeville, but which I hadn't the least idea existed in
real life.--Oh!" she cried, with a little start, "there he is now,
almost near enough to hear!"

Collins swore softly between his teeth, for there, indeed, Monsieur
Tellier was, leaning with elaborate negligence against the balustrade,
apparently intent upon the crowd below. His countenance was quite
inscrutable--calm as a summer day--which might mean much or nothing, for
he had an immense pride in keeping it always so. Vernon took him in
with a quick glance.

"I recognise the type," he said. "Can't we go on, Miss Rushford? Collins
might form a rear guard. And James is blind, deaf, and dumb toward
everything that doesn't concern him," he added, as she glanced at the
stalwart footman behind the chair. "I'm very anxious to hear the story.
But, of course, if it's asking too much--"

"It isn't," answered Susie, promptly, and fell in beside the chair,
while Collins and her sister followed at a distance of a few paces.
"Now, I think, we can talk without fear of being overheard by Monsieur
Tellier. But there is really very little to tell. He sent up his card
just before dinner yesterday evening; we sent it back. Then, being
persistent and not easily snubbed, he sent up a note which asked 'Are
the Misses Rushford acquainted with the gentleman who came to their
assistance this afternoon?' To which the Misses Rushford added a line,
'They are not,' and sent it back to him. It was too absurd. It reminded
me of the agony column in the _Herald_."

"The agony column?"

"Yes--'Will the lady dressed in blue, who took a Broadway car
yesterday,'--and so on."

"Oh," said Vernon, with a smile. "Yes--we have the same thing in
England."

"And, after all," continued Susie, "our reply was the exact and literal
truth--of a kind which, I should imagine, is well known to diplomats."

The occupant of the chair had quite made up his mind that Susie was the
prettier.

"It is their favourite kind," he assured her; "nothing delights them
more than to lie while telling the truth."

"Them? But aren't you a diplomat?"

"There are many who doubt it. Perhaps they will doubt it more than ever
before we are out of this tangle. It's awfully good of you and your
sister to take an interest in it."

"But of course we'd take an interest!"

"And keep a secret."

"Ah--well, perhaps that _is_ a little unusual."

"Especially after my rudeness," he added.

"Your rudeness?"

"In running away and hiding behind my paper. What did you think of me?"

"We didn't know what to think," admitted Susie, candidly; "though, of
course, afterwards we were able to guess."

"And I am pardoned?"

"Oh, quite; you had to escape, you know. It's a perfectly delightful
muddle, isn't it? Dad understood it at once."

"Did he?" The occupant of the chair moved a little uneasily.

"Yes--we talked it over, you know, after Mr. Collins left. But then dad
is up on politics and we are not. Only it's a little rough on the
Prince of Markeld, don't you think?"

"Yes, it _is_ rough on him, but--well, it would be rougher to turn him
down--rougher on all concerned!"

"You'd have to turn him down? But there; I mustn't meddle with affairs
of state!"

"Sentiment hasn't much show in the foreign office," said Vernon, with
some bitterness; "not even the sentiment of friendship. We're trying to
find the easiest way out."

Susie nodded, her eyes sparkling. This was a new and delicious
experience, this weighing the fate of nations, as it were. She even
skipped a little, unconscious of Lord Vernon's eyes upon her glowing
face.

"Of course," she agreed, judicially, "I suppose one must always try to
find the easiest way out. Only dad seemed to think--"

She hesitated.

"Go ahead," he encouraged her. "I don't doubt that your father was
entirely right."

"Well, then, dad seemed to think that Prince Ferdinand is much the
better of the two men."

"There is no question of that," assented Lord Vernon, gloomily. "But let
me put a case, Miss Rushford. Suppose your best friend were set upon by
thieves and just as you started to help him, another thief came up
behind you and, putting a pistol to your head, commanded you to stand
still. What would you do?"

"I'd stand still," laughed Sue.

"Yes; but your friend can't see the thief behind you, and when he sees
you standing there, not offering to help him, he thinks you are a coward
and a traitor. Perhaps he tells you so in the most emphatic language at
his command."

"It would be a very difficult position," agreed Sue, still laughing at
the picture presented by the words. "On second thought, I don't believe
I'd stand still for long; I'd try to give my thief a knock-out blow and
then go help my friend."

"But you would have to wait till your thief was off his guard. Well,
that is pretty much the position that England is in, as I understand it.
Prince Ferdinand is our friend, but we've got to wait till the man with
the pistol makes a false move. We're doing the best we can--and in the
meantime, Prince Ferdinand's misguided friends are calling us hard
names."

"But," inquired Susie, "who is the man with the pistol? He must be a
pretty big fellow to be able to hold you prisoner, and yet I must
confess that I'm like Prince Ferdinand--I can't perceive him, either."

Lord Vernon hesitated a moment.

"I'm afraid, Miss Rushford," he said, slowly, at last, "that I can't
tell you, just yet. I'd like to, but if I did, I'd have all these
diplomatic sharps down on me in short order. I thought maybe you could
guess."

"Oh, don't apologise!" cried Susie. "I hadn't any right to ask.
Though," she added, regretfully, "I'm not at all good at guessing."

Lord Vernon smiled as he looked at her.

"I don't think we'll have any more trouble," he said. "Markeld and I
have called a truce for a week, and by that time--"

He paused again, evidently on the verge of another indiscretion. Chance
saved him the necessity of going on, for at that moment a tall, military
figure loomed ahead, approached, hesitated, stopped, and uncovered.

"I hope I see you better this morning, Lord Vernon," said a pleasant
voice.

"Why, yes, thank you, Your Highness," answered Vernon, colouring a
little. "I feel much better. Let me introduce to you Miss Rushford," he
added, catching the other's admiring glance and interpreting it aright.
"Miss Rushford, this is the Prince of Markeld."

CHAPTER XI

The Prince Gains an Ally

So it presently came to pass that Susie Rushford found herself walking
on with the Prince of Markeld, while Nell took her place beside the
invalid's chair. Five minutes later, Vernon had revised his judgment and
decided that Nell was far the handsomer--she had the air, somehow, which
one associates with duchesses, but which, alas! is, in reality, so
seldom theirs. She was just a little regal, just a little awe-inspiring,
so that to win a smile impressed one as, in a way, an achievement.
Vernon had won several before they had been long together, and felt his
heart growing strangely, deliciously warm within him.

As to Sue--if we may pause to analyse her feelings--she, too, had been
for the first moment impressed. The Prince was so visibly a Highness;
every line of him expressed it, not consciously, but inevitably, from
the blood out. So, after a glance or two, she walked along beside him
rather humbly and very silent, not in the least as the proverbial
American girl should have done! Then she stole another glance at him and
saw that he was twisting his moustache in evident perplexity.

"You may have perceived," he said, at last, with that slight formality
of utterance which Sue thought very taking, "that I was most desirous of
meeting you, Miss Rushford."

"I believe I _did_ discern a sort of royal command in your eye,"
assented Susie, feeling suddenly at ease with him. He was evidently a
mere man, even though he were a prince.

"Yes," he continued, "I felt that I owed you and your sister a more
complete apology than it was possible for me to make yesterday without
impertinence. You see I am unaccompanied to-day."

"Poor Jax!" laughed Susie.

"I suspect," the Prince continued, "that I somehow offended you when I
offered you the dog."

"Oh, you perceived it, did you?" and she flashed an ironic glance upon
him.

"Yes--though I could not in the least guess in what the offence
consisted."

"My dear sir," said Sue, tartly, "American girls are not in the habit of
accepting gifts from utter strangers."

"Not even from--from--"

He stopped, at a loss for a word which would express his meaning without
absurdity.

"No, not even from Royal Highnesses," she added, interpreting his
thought. "Besides, you know, in America we haven't any."

The Prince walked on in silence for a moment, his brow knit in
meditation.

"Your last sentence explains it," he said, at last. "You have in
America no class whose prerogative it is to bestow gifts, and, in
consequence, you do not accept them as a matter of course. With us a
gift is a conventional thing, like shaking hands."

"I wasn't trying to explain it," said Susie, with a little sigh of
despair, "or to defend it--but let it go." Then, with a flash of
mischief,--"Are you frequently called upon?"

"There are occasions almost every day which demand them of us," answered
the Prince, soberly, missing the glance.

"Poor man! And the affair of yesterday was one of them? Forgive me if I
am rude; but it is all so new and interesting!"

"It seemed only right," explained the Prince, "that I should compensate
you in some way for the annoyance I had caused you."

The words were said so candidly and simply that the ironical smile
faded from Susie's lips and she was silent for a moment.

"I think the American way the nicer," she said at last, decisively. "An
American would have considered an apology ample reparation. With us a
gift means something--it has a sentimental value. Besides, girls are
never permitted to accept gifts of value. Flowers are the only things
which may be given them."

"Flowers!" repeated the Prince, eagerly, looking at her.

"And only by their nearest, dearest friends," added Susie, hastily.

"Well, it is a very different point of view," said the Prince, the light
fading from his face. "I have even heard that in America there are
workmen who consider a tip an insult."

"It's unthinkable, isn't it? And yet, I'm proud to say, it's true. I may
add that many Americans feel humiliated when they offer a tip to a
man--it's like branding him with a badge of servility."

"I must confess," said the Prince, "that such an attitude seems to me
absurd. What other badge than that of servility shall the servant wear?"

"He need wear no badge, if he does his work honestly and well," retorted
Susie, hotly. "There is nothing disgraceful in service."

"No," agreed the Prince, with some hesitation, "perhaps not; nor, for
that matter, is there anything disgraceful in a badge. But I have not
said what I wished to say, which was that I hope you believe my offence
was wholly unintentional and that you pardon me."

"I am not vindictive," answered Sue, smiling at his earnest tone, "and
therefore you are pardoned. But it seems unjust that Jax should suffer
imprisonment."

"Oh, he will get his outing, but with Glueck, who is less absent-minded.
Yesterday, I had much to occupy me."

"And to-day?"

"Not so much. I am resting on my oars."

"Yes," said Susie, and contented herself with the monosyllable. She was
keenly on the alert; determined not to betray Lord Vernon's confidence,
yet, at the same time, desirous of helping, in some way, her companion.
She distinctly approved of him. Then, too, she had somehow got the
impression that the other side was not playing fairly, and her whole
American spirit revolted against unfairness.

"I should like to tell you about it," he began, with a sudden burst of
confidence. "But perhaps you know?"

"I know some of it. I can guess that it means a great deal to you."

"It does--more than you can guess; I think. Not so much to me,
personally, as to our people. I believe that I am speaking only the
exact truth when I say that it will be much better for the people of
Schloshold-Markheim if our branch of the house is recognised and not the
other. Our branch has been, in a way, for many years, progressive; the
other is and always has been--well--conservative."

He had the air of searching for a word that would not go beyond the
truth; Susie, glancing at him, decided that he had chosen one which fell
far short of it.

"We have a certain claim of kinship and friendship upon England," he
added, "and we are very anxious to enlist her aid, even though we lose
this time; for there may soon be another vacancy. The head of the other
branch has no heir and is not well."

He might have added that the August Prince George, of Schloshold, was
hovering on the verge of dissolution as the result of forty years'
corruption--a corruption of which not all the waters of the Empire
could cleanse him; but there are some things which are better left
unsaid.

"Who is it that is opposed to you in all this?" asked Sue.

"The German Emperor," said the Prince, simply. "He is not always in
sympathy with--ah--progress."

"So he is the man with the pistol!" said Susie, thoughtfully.

"The--I beg your pardon," and the Prince looked at her in some surprise.

"It is nothing," said Susie, hastily, colouring under his eyes. "I was
merely thinking aloud--thinking of a story. Pardon me. Will you tell me
some more?"

"There is not much more to tell. Only, we fear that if we are not given
an opportunity to present our claims this time, we may be forgotten the
next. Prince George might possibly try to name a successor--we have even
understood that he already considers doing so--that this, indeed, is
the price he has agreed to pay the Emperor for his support--though this,
of course, is strictly entre nous. You see I am trusting you."

"Thank you," answered Susie, simply; but there was that in her voice and
glance which told how she would deserve the confidence. And, on the
instant, a great yearning leaped warm into her heart. If she could help
this people to the ruler they needed most; if she could somehow turn the
scale, so delicately balanced! There would be a task worth doing; an
achievement to be proud of all her life! And she trembled a little at
the thought that to her, Susie Rushford, fate had given such an
opportunity!

But Markeld, apparently, had had enough of high politics, or perhaps he
found it difficult to keep his mind on them with Susie's dark eyes
looking up at him. He was no novice in womankind; he had known many,
high and low; but there was in his companion something different,
something appealing, something fresh, invigorating, which he had felt
from the first, in a vague way, without quite understanding. Princes may
be outspoken when they please, and he was so at this moment.

"I was glad of to-day's meeting not only that I might apologise," he
said, with a calmness which rather took his companion's breath away,
"but because you interested me. I have heard much of American women, but
all that I have heretofore been privileged to meet seemed to me to
resent being called Americans. You and your sister, on the other hand,
appear to be rather proud of it."

"I don't know whether that is intended as a compliment or the reverse,"
said Susie, "but it is undoubtedly true."

"It was that which interested me," he went on. "It indicated such an
unspoiled point of view--a freshness which I fear the Old World is
losing."

"Thank you," retorted Susie, gasping a little. "You have honoured us, I
see, with a very careful study. I can respond by saying that there is in
your manner a certain freshness which I do not like," and she shot him a
fiery glance. At the moment, he was rather too evidently the Prince.

"I am sorry you find me displeasing," he said, looking at her gravely.
Perhaps she was, at the moment, just the merest shade too evidently the
American girl. "I hope the impression is one which will change when you
know me better."

"Am I to have that pleasure?"

"I intend to ask your father if I may call upon you."

Susie gasped again. She felt that she was being swept beyond her depth
by a current which she was powerless to resist; that she was beating
with bare hands against a wall of incredible height and thickness--the
wall of Old World convention, of class imperturbability. And she felt a
little frightened, for almost the first time in her life.

"Do," she said faintly, realising that her companion was waiting for her
to speak.

"I think that I shall like him," he added.

"Oh, do you know him?"

"'I was looking at him last night at dinner," he explained, calmly. "He
seems a very interesting man. I looked at all of you a great deal--more
than was perhaps quite polite. I feared you had perceived it."

"No," murmured Susie, desperately, telling a white lie.

"Tellier told me you were Americans--but I should have known it anyway."

"Tellier!" she repeated, turning upon him fiercely, welcoming the
opportunity to create a diversion. "Then he _was_ your emissary! And to
think that I defended you!"

"My emissary?" he stammered. "Defended me?"

"Yes, when--when--some one said you had sent him to us--"

"Sent him to you!" he cried, flushing darkly. "Do you mean to say that
he has been annoying you?"

"It was almost that."

"Ah!" he said. "Ah!" and he grasped his stick in a way that boded ill
for Monsieur Tellier.

Susie, glancing up at him, thought it very fine. He was such a volcano,
and there was such a fearful pleasure in stirring him up--in skipping
over the thin crust with a lively consciousness of the boiling lava
beneath!

"Then you didn't send him?" she inquired, sweetly.

"Send him! Miss Rushford, do you think for a moment that I would be so
rude, so impertinent? Tell me you do not think so!"

"I _didn't_ think so," said Sue, biting her lip, a little fearfully. "I
even defended you, as I have said. But now--"

"But now--"

His eyes seemed to burn her; she dared not look up and meet them. She
even regretted that she had begun to play with fire.

"But now," he repeated, insistently, imperatively.

"No, I don't think so now," she said, with a little catch of the breath.
Then she glanced up at him, and instantly looked away. He should not act
so; every one would notice; it was very embarrassing!

"That is kind of you," he said, in a low voice.

"Though," she added, reprovingly, glad to find a joint in his armour, "I
am surprised that you should discuss me in any way whatever with that
creature!"

"You are right!" he agreed, flushing hotly. "You are quite right. But
the temptation was very great, and I wanted to know so badly. I beg you
to believe that I regretted it an instant later. I do not want that you
should think of me as like that!"

"Perhaps I would better not think of you at all," ventured Sue. Ah, what
a fascination there is in fire!

"That would be still more unbearable!" he protested; his eyes were very
bright and he was bending down a little that he might the better see the
face under the broad hat.

"The view from here, I think, is very beautiful," she remarked,
incoherently.

"No doubt," agreed the Prince, but he didn't take the trouble to look at
it.

"He's a survival of the dark ages," said Susie to herself, "when they
just snatched up girls and ran off with them!" Then aloud, "Have you
ever been here before?"

"Never before."

"Do you like it?"

"Oh, very much!" His eyes would have told her why; but she could guess
without looking.

"I suppose you usually go to one of the larger places?"

"It is one of the traditions of our family that at least a month must be
spent at Ostend."

"What a shame that the tradition should be broken!"

"On the contrary, I bless the circumstance that shattered it. Do you
know, Miss Rushford, I have never before realised what a tremendously
lucky fellow I am? I must pour a libation to the god of chance!"

"It's a goddess, isn't it?" she asked, and regretted the question the
next instant.

"You are right," he agreed, his eyes blazing. "A goddess! You have
found the word. A goddess! And such a goddess!"

Fortunately, they had reached the end of the promenade, and as they
paused at the balustrade, Nell and Lord Vernon joined them, saving Susie
from a situation which had slipped entirely beyond her control.

Evidently Nell, too, had been having her difficulties, for she
telegraphed her sister a desire to change places. So, on the homeward
journey, despite the very apparent unwillingness of the men, Sue walked
beside the invalid chair and Nell accompanied the Prince; and while both
seemed gay enough--even unnaturally gay, perhaps--I dare say they found
that the situation had lost a certain interest; for every danger has its
fascination, every hazard its piquancy.

"I am not sure," observed Susie, reflectively, as they went up the stair
together, "that I approve of princes. They are too self-assured; they
carry things with too high a hand. They are evidently too much
accustomed to having their own way."

"It seems to be a characteristic of lords, also," said Nell, with a
little sigh.

"What they need is a vigorous calling down. Well, that ought not to be
so difficult!" and the dark eyes snapped ominously.

"Though, perhaps, it's hardly worth the trouble," suggested Nell.

"Perhaps not," assented her sister; but half an hour later she waylaid
her father to give him her commands. "Dad," she said, "if the Prince of
Markeld asks you for permission to call, you'll tell him he may. It's
just one of these odious Old World customs."

"So I judged," smiled her father. "He seems a nice fellow, and so when
he asked me ten minutes ago, I told him we'd be glad to see him."

"Did--did he mention any particular time?" faltered Sue.

"Why, yes, now I think of it, I believe he said something about this
evening."

"Oh!" gasped Susie, and then closed her lips tightly together. "Well,"
she said to herself, as she turned away, "he hasn't lost any time, to be
sure! I'm afraid he's worse than I thought!"

CHAPTER XII

Events of the Night

Life at Weet-sur-Mer, as at most other places of its class, swung in a
round prescribed by custom, as fixed and predestined as the courses of
the stars. In the late morning occurred the promenade, taken as a brisk
constitutional by a few, but by the great majority as a languid stroll
designed to create an appetite for luncheon. That meal was followed by a
period of torpor, then every one sought the beach--the high, the low;
the rich, the poor; the dowdy and the well-dressed; the virgin in white
and the cocotte in scarlet; the thin and the obese; the French, the
Dutch, the Italian--yea, and the angular English, for Weet-sur-Mer
attracted a crowd as hybrid as its name! There they amused themselves
each after his own fashion, with dignity or abandon, as the case might
be. They could not be said to mingle in the way that an American crowd
would have done under like circumstances--the elements of society in an
aristocratic country are as incapable of mingling as oil and water. The
oil floated placidly on top, while the water disported itself
contentedly beneath.

The oil, to preserve the simile, consisted, in the first place, of a
number of self-important individuals stalking solemnly up and down,
seemingly unconscious of the fact that they were not as solitary as
Crusoe; and, in the second place, of certain solid, cohesive groups,
presenting to the world a front as impenetrable and threatening as any
Austrian phalanx, and guarding in their midst two or three young girls
who must, at any hazard, be kept unspotted from the world. Strange to
say, the girls appeared contented, even happy; the position seemed to
them, no doubt, the normal one for them to occupy--and they could, of
course, look forward with certainty to the opening of the prison door
when a marriage should be arranged for them. They order this matter
better in Europe; or, at least, differently, for there, as a discerning
observer has pointed out, marriage means always that a woman is taken
down from the shelf, while with us, alas, too often! that she is placed
upon it, never to be removed!

To this class, too, belonged certain obese women and emaciated men
sitting, in couples, under the gay sunshades with which the beach was
bright. The women were dressed always in gowns which, however ornate,
were not quite new, not quite fresh, not quite clean; and the black
coats of the men were a little shiny at the elbow, a little faded at the
seams. But madame still took care to preserve such figure as unkind fate
had left her; and monsieur still kept his moustaches waxed to a needle's
point; and they sat there together, quite immovable, for hours at a
time, staring drearily out toward the horizon, meditating, no doubt,
over past glories, or arranging some coup by which their fortunes might
be retrieved. Pride will slip from them gradually, as the years pass;
madame will abandon her figure and monsieur his moustaches, and they
will end their days miserably in some second- or third-rate
pension--even, perhaps, the Maison Vauquer!

The water was more interesting, being at once more natural and lively.
With it there was no question of maintaining the equilibrium of its
position; there was no need of air or artifice; there was none of that
heartburning with which the latest Pontifical Princess smilingly
swallows the insolence of the descendant (a la main gauche) of the Great
Henri, happy to have been noticed, even though to be noticed meant
inevitably to be snubbed. There was a freedom about the water, an honest
vulgarity, a quality as of Rabelais, refreshingly in contrast with the
hot-house manners and morals of the haute noblesse. Madame need not
hesitate to cross her legs, if she found that attitude comfortable;
monsieur could at once remove coat, waist-coat, collar, cuffs, if he
found the weather warm.

Families whose size testified to their bourgeois respectability, lolled
in happy promiscuity upon the sands; the children constructed forts or
canals, the women tore some neighbour's reputation to pieces, the men
lay back lazily and smoked and kept an eye out for the bathers.

There were always many scores of them, belonging principally to that
strange and tragic half-world which hangs suspended, like Mahomet's
coffin, between earth and heaven, or, at least, between mass and class,
and which stretches out its tentacles and sucks nourishment from both.
These with a regularity almost religious, spent an hour of every day,
weather permitting, splashing in the gentle surf or posing on the beach
in costumes more or less revealing, according to the contour of the
wearer. The climax of the afternoon, the coup-de-theatre which all
awaited, was the appearance of Mlle. Paul, late of the Varietes. This
was such a masterpiece in its way that it is worth pausing a moment to
describe.

Suddenly the door of her bathing-machine, which has been drawn just to
the water's edge, is flung open, and she appears on the threshold,
wrapped in a white sheet with a red border, producing a toga-like effect
not ungraceful. She hesitates an instant, and casts a startled glance
over the crowd of onlookers, then trips modestly down the steps. With a
little frisson, she casts the sheet from her and stands revealed--well,
perhaps not quite as Eve was to Adam, but so nearly so that the
difference is scarcely worth remarking. She glances down at her shapely
legs and then again at the entranced spectators.

"C'est convenable, j'espere hein?" she murmurs, and her bald-headed
cicisbeo, who has taken possession of her sheet, hastens to assure her
that all is well.

Whereupon, her doubts thus happily set at rest, she wades out to the
diving-board, mounts it leisurely, stands poised for an instant at the
outermost end, and then dives gracefully into the expectant billows.
This she does at intervals for perhaps an hour, the supreme instant for
the onlookers being that in which her glowing body, shimmering white
through its single clinging garment, is outlined in mid-air against the
sky. But finally Mademoiselle grows weary and returns to her machine,
where the gallant and attentive gentleman previously referred to
patiently awaits her--deus ex machina in more senses than one! The other
bathers gradually disappear and the crowd melts imperceptibly away. The
show is over.

But though all this was no doubt sufficiently diverting, Weet-sur-Mer
was never gloriously, aggressively awake until the sun went down. The
diversions of the day depended wholly upon the weather--a dash of rain,
a wind from the north, and, pouf! they were not thought of.

Not so the festivities of the night. Nothing short of an earthquake
could interfere with them. It was for the night that most of the
sojourners at Weet-sur-Mer existed; it was for them, in turn, that the
place itself existed! With these worthies, the first serious business of
the day was dressing for dinner. As darkness came, a stir of life
thrilled through the place from end to end. Rows and clusters of
electric lights, many-sized and many-coloured, flashed out at the
Casino, in the hotels, along the Digue. Women donned their evening
gowns, thankful for handsome shoulders; got out their diamonds, real
and paste, their rouge, cosmetics, what not; prepared to go forth and
conquer, to play the old, old game which, by the calm light of the
morning, seems so flat and savourless! Oh, what would it be without wine
and lights and jewels and soft gowns, without warmth and music and
perfume, without the suggestive, sensual darkness closing it in!

At the Casino presently spins the wheel of fortune--named in very
mockery!--and it is there that one may gaze unrebuked into the most
alluring eyes, may see the reddest lips and whitest shoulders;--creme de
la creme of all in that smaller room upstairs, arranged for those whose
jaded appetites demand some extra tickling; where no wager may be laid
for less than a hundred francs, and for as much more as you please,
monsieur, madame, provided only that you have it with you! Too bad that
the immortal soul has no longer a money value, or how many would
ornament that crowded table in the course of an evening's play!

But there; let a single glimpse of this tawdry, perfumed, fevered hell
suffice us, even as it did Archibald Rushford on the first night of his
stay at Weet-sur-Mer, and let us go out, as he did, into the pure night,
and stand uncovered under the bright stars until the cool breeze from
the ocean has washed us clean again, and turning our backs forever upon
the Casino and its habitues, retrace our steps along the Digue to the
Grand Hotel Royal.

In apartment A de luxe, a man with flushed face and rumpled hair was
stamping nervously up and down. It required a second glance to recognise
in him that usually well-groomed and self-possessed individual known as
Lord Vernon. Two others were watching his movements with scarcely
concealed anxiety--Collins leaning against the window with folded arms,
Blake seated at a table with an open despatch-box before him.

"Hang it all, fellows," he was saying, "don't you see what a pickle it
puts me in? I was a fool to fall in with the idea--I was actually silly
enough to think it would be fun!"

"Of course," put in Collins, in his smoothest tone, "nobody could
foresee the presence of this American Diana."

Vernon shot him a quick glance.

"Be mighty careful what you say, my friend," he warned him, "or I'll
chuck the whole thing."

"Oh, you can't do that!" protested Blake. "You've got to carry it
through! You can't back out now!"

"Can't I?" said Vernon, with a grim little laugh. "Don't be too certain!
Suppose she finds it out? Pretty figure I'll cut, won't I?"

"But how _can_ she find it out? In four or five days, you can tell her
the whole story--you'll figure as a sort of hero of romance--"

"Yes--penny-dreadful romance--backstairs romance. The more I think of
it, the less I like it. Diplomacy or no diplomacy, we're playing Markeld
a dirty trick--that's the only expression that describes it. He's a nice
fellow and we ought to treat him fairly."

Collins shrugged his shoulders as he turned away to the window and
lighted a cigarette.

"You said something of the same sort yesterday, I believe," he remarked,
negligently.

"Yes--and I meant it then" as I mean it now. Markeld has the right to
expect decent treatment at our hands."

"Rather late in the day to take that ground," retorted Collins.

"Late or not, I do take it," answered Vernon, pausing an instant in his
walk to emphasise the words.

"I see," said Collins, drily, "it's a sort of moral awakening--a
quickening of conscience--the kind of thing we are all so proud of
displaying. Pity it didn't come before we started for this place."

Vernon did not reply, only clasped and unclasped his hands nervously.

Collins wheeled around upon him abruptly, his face very stern.

"Come," he demanded, "let's have it out, once for all. I'm sick of this
shilly-shally. Why can't you let Markeld take care of himself?"

"Because you're not playing fairly."

"What do you mean by fairly?"

"I mean openly, honestly--as gentlemen should."

"You forget that this is diplomacy--and that we don't live in the Golden
Age. We fight with such weapons as come to hand. It's the game."

"Yes--as you understand it. A gang of cutthroats might say the same
thing."

Collins flushed a little, but managed to keep his temper.

"I understand it as all diplomats understand it. I take no advantage
that every diplomat would not take."

"Then God save me from diplomats!" retorted Vernon.

Collins flushed again, more deeply, and his eyes flashed with sudden
fire.

"Your words verge upon the insulting," he said, after a moment. "I warn
you not to try my patience too far. Perhaps, after this, you will see
fit to choose other company--company more in accord with your really
absurd ideals. But I would remind you of one thing--your career depends
upon this affair. If it succeeds, you succeed. If it fails through any
fault of yours, you are ruined. I assure you the fault will not be
overlooked nor extenuated. You will pay for it!"

Vernon looked at him without answering, but his glance was full of
meaning. Then he turned and left the room.

For a moment his companions stared after him--they had read his glance
aright.

"We'll have to look sharp," said Collins, at last, "or he'll cause us
trouble--he's ripe for it, confound him! We'd better wire the home
office to hurry things up."

"Yes," agreed Blake, "there's no reasoning with a man in love."

"Nor frightening him," added Collins. "I'm afraid I made a mistake
taking that tack. I'll go down and get off a message."

As he opened the door, he fancied that a figure melted into the shadow
at the end of the hall. But his attention was distracted from it, for an
instant later, he heard a step on the stair, and the Prince of Markeld
mounted from the floor below, passed him with the slightest possible
inclination of the head, and continued upward. Collins, staring after
him, standing still as death, heard him enter the apartment of the
Rushfords.

He remained a moment where he was, his heart heavy with foreboding, then
he descended slowly to the office, his head bent, deep in thought. So
preoccupied was he that he did not see the sleek face which leered at
him from the shadow into which the dim figure had vanished.

The spy listened a moment intently; then, with a tread soft as a cat's,
mounted the stair to the floor above.

* * * * *

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