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Affairs of State by Burton E. Stevenson

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"Of course, dad," Susie had said, in the early evening, "you will have
to stay at home to-night since the Prince is coming to see you."

"Oh, it's not I he's coming to see," rejoined Rushford, easily. "In
fact, he'll probably be tickled to death to find me out.''

"He's not going to find you out," retorted Susie, firmly. "You're going
to stay right here."

"Nonsense, my dear! Why, when I was courting your mother--"

"What has that to do with it?" demanded Sue, very crimson. "Do you mean
to say that someone is courting someone around here?"

"Of course, every man may be mistaken at times."

"Well, take my word for it, you're badly mistaken this time."

"Oh!" said her father, with assumed astonishment. "Am I? Then what is
all this about?"

"And even if they were," continued Susie, a little unsteadily, "they do
it differently from the American way."

"How do they do it, for heaven's sake?"

"Why, dad, how should I know?"

"You seem to have considerable information on the subject."

"I have enough information to know," retorted Sue, with some heat,
"that in Europe, a young man calls upon the head of the family, and not
upon any of its younger female members."

"I have always understood that Europe was behind the times," observed
her father, "but I never suspected it was as bad as that. However, I
take your word for it--I always do, you know. I suppose you and Nell
will have to stay in your rooms."

"Oh, no," said Sue, "we may be present, so long as our chaperon is
there."

"So I'm to do some chaperoning at last, am I?" queried her father. "The
job has ceased to be a sinecure. I suppose I'll have to do all the
talking, since young girls, of course, may only speak when spoken to and
then must answer with a yes or no. Really, my dear, you're setting
yourself an exceedingly difficult part!"

"Where did you learn so much about it, dad?"

"I'm reasoning by deduction--all this follows from what you've already
told me. Well, I'll do my best to entertain this Dutchman. What does he
talk about? Wiener-wurst and sauerkraut?"

"Oh, no," said Susie, with a reminiscent smile and a heightened colour;
"he talks about things much more interesting than those."

And, indeed, the first moments past, Rushford found the Prince an
entertaining fellow, with a fund of anecdote and experience decidedly
unusual. But conversations of this sort are rarely worth recording; the
less so in this instance, since the Prince had taken care to seat
himself where he had a good view of the enchanting Susie, and that
vision more than once caused his thoughts to wander. Still, they
discussed America and Europe, art, nature, the universe--none of which
has anything to do with this story--everything, in short, except the
warm, palpitating human heart, with which we are principally
concerned--and it was very late before the Prince finally arose to go.

Sue whispered her thanks as she kissed her father good-night.

"Good old daddy!" she said, and patted him on the cheek. "And it wasn't
such a trial, after all, was it?"

Her father looked down at her quizzically.

"No, my dear," he answered. "In fact, I rather enjoyed it. I fancy he'd
be a mighty interesting talker if there weren't any distractions around.
Not that I blame him," he added, hastily. "I was that way myself once
upon a time," and he bent and kissed her tenderly again.

Susie, before her glass, stared at herself long and earnestly, then took
down her hair and proceeded to arrange it in various ways. At last, she
got out a diamond bracelet, placed it tiara-wise upon her head, and
studied the effect. She was thus engaged when an agitated tap at the
door gave her a mighty start, and she had just time to snatch off the
decoration when Nell burst in, her face white with emotion.

"Why, what is it, Nellie?" cried her sister, springing up.

"I--I've lost it!" gasped Nell, sinking limply into a chair, and
trembling convulsively. "I'm sure--it's been stolen!"

"Lost it!" echoed Sue, reviewing in one quick mental flash Nell's most
valuable possessions. "Not the diamond necklace!"

"Oh, Sue!" wailed Nell. "How can you be so mercenary? Oh, I wish it was
the necklace! But it isn't! It's the note!"

It was Sue's turn to gasp, to turn pale, to sink into a chair.

"The note!" she echoed, hoarsely. "Not Lord Vernon's!"

Nell nodded mutely, her face a study for the Tragic Muse.

"But I thought you destroyed it," said Sue. "You said you were going
to!"

"I know--but I didn't," answered Nell, a faint tinge of pink in her
pallid cheeks. "I--I didn't see the need of destroying it. I supposed
nobody knew, and I--I thought I'd keep it as a--a souvenir, you know. I
had it in my desk. I am sure I locked it before I came down this
evening, but just now I found it open and the note gone."

"Well, and what did you do then?"

"I looked all through the desk--I thought maybe it had slipped out of
sight somehow--but it hadn't--it wasn't there. Then I called the maid,
Julie, and told her something had been stolen. She swore no one had
entered the room since I left it--that no one could have entered it. Of
course, I couldn't tell her about the note, so I sent her away and came
to you. I--I feel like a traitor. I don't know what to do!"

Susie went to her and put her arms about her and drew her close.

"We can't do anything to-night, dear," she said; "that's certain.
To-morrow you must tell Lord Vernon."

She felt Nell quiver at the words and drew her closer still, with
intimate understanding.

"I don't believe he will care so much," she went on, comfortingly.
"Perhaps the note isn't so important as we think. I suppose we should
have destroyed it at once."

"Yes," said Nell, drearily, "I suppose we should. But who could have
foreseen anything like this!"

"The best thing to do now is to go to bed," added Sue, practically, and
she raised her sister and led her back to her room. "In the morning we
can make a thorough search for the note. Perhaps, after all, you
overlooked it."

"I couldn't have overlooked it," answered Nell. "I remember perfectly
placing it in this drawer," she continued, going to the desk and opening
it, "here, just under this pile of note-paper."

"Perhaps it slipped in between the sheets," suggested Sue.

"I thought of that," said Nell, but nevertheless she began mechanically
to open sheet after sheet. As she opened the third one, a little slip of
paper fluttered to the floor.

She sprang upon it with a cry of joy, opened it, glanced at it.

"Thank God!" she said, thickly. "It's all right--it's--"

And she fell forward into Susie's arms.

CHAPTER XIII

The Second Promenade

Again the sun rose clear and bright, and again, having dispelled the
mist and chill of the early morning, it lured forth for the inevitable
promenade such of the sojourners at Weet-sur-Mer as had managed to get
to bed before dawn. Prince Markeld, descending with the earliest, left
nothing this time to chance, but took his station at the stairfoot, and
waited there with a patience really exemplary. From which it will be
seen that Princes in love are much as other men.

And presently, descending toward him, he descried the Misses Rushford;
Susie radiant as the morning, Nell a trifle paler than her wont, but
more beautiful, if anything, because of it. The Prince hastened forward
to greet them.

"Which way shall we go?" he asked, with the comfortable certainty of
including himself in their plans. "Good-morning," he added, to the
occupant of an invalid chair which was standing just outside the door.

"Good-morning," replied Lord Vernon, his eyes on Nell's. "My outing
yesterday was such a pleasant one that I was hoping it might be
repeated."

"Going or coming?" queried Sue, with a quizzical curve of the lips.

"Both ways," answered Vernon, promptly; but his eyes were still on Nell.

Markeld also looked excellently satisfied.

"Very well," he said, in his autocratic way, "we will proceed as we did
yesterday," and he led Susie away. Strange to relate, she followed quite
meekly. Somehow, when the moment came, it seemed exceedingly difficult
to snub him.

"Do you know," he was saying, "I fell quite in love with your father
last night. His point of view is so fresh and so full of humour.
Though," he added, "I must confess that sometimes I did not entirely
understand him."

"Didn't you?" laughed Susie. "Dad _does_ use a good deal of slang. It's
an American failing."

"So I have heard. I know my aunt will like him, too--the Dowager Duchess
of Markheim, you know."

"No," said Sue, a little faintly, "I didn't know." She had never before
considered the possibility of the Prince having any women relatives; her
heart fell as she thought what dreadful creatures they would probably
prove to be.

"My aunt is the head of the family," explained the Prince, calmly,
unconscious of his companion's perturbation. "She rules us with a rod of
iron. But you will like her and I know she will like you. She adores
anything with fire in it."

"Oh," said Susie, to herself, "and how does he know I've any fire in
me?" But she judged it wisest not to utter the question aloud.

"She worships spirit," added the Prince. "She is very fond of quoting a
line of your poet, Browning. 'What have I on earth to do,' she will
demand, 'with the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?' Sometimes, I
fear, she aims the adjectives at me."

Susie felt her heart softening, for she liked that line, too.

"I don't believe you deserve the adjectives,'' she said.

"Do you not?" he asked, eagerly, with brightened eyes.

"And I should like to meet your aunt," she continued, hastily.

"So you shall, most certainly," he assented, instantly. "As soon as it
can be arranged."

"Oh, does it have to be arranged?" inquired Susie, in some dismay.

"Not in that sense--she is very democratic--she likes people for what
they are. But until this question of the succession is concluded you
will readily understand that, through anxiety, she is not in the best of
humours--not quite herself."

"Is she, then, here?" asked Susie.

"Here? Oh, no; she is at Markheim--at the post of duty. That is another
reason--until this affair is settled, I cannot ask her to join me here."

"You will ask her to do that?"

"Certainly; she can stop here very well on her way to Ostend. She would
be at Ostend now but for this affair. Perhaps that is another reason why
she is ill-humoured. She is so fond of life and gaiety, and in summer
Markheim is rather dull. Besides, there is the tradition to maintain."

"How do you know that she is in an ill-humour," questioned Sue, "if you
have not seen her?"

"Oh, she writes to me--I had a letter from her this morning. I can see
she is not well-pleased--quite the opposite, in fact!--at the way things
are going."

"And how are they going?"

"They seem to be going against us," said the Prince, with a touch of
bitterness.

"But how _can_ they be? I thought things were at a stand-still until
Lord Vernon got--got well enough to take them up again."

"So did I--that is what one would naturally suppose. Yet it seems that
an undercurrent has set in against us. I fear that I made a mistake," he
added, gloomily, "in agreeing with Lord Vernon not to proceed further
for a week, though, under the circumstances, I could scarcely refuse. He
seems well enough," and he glanced around, "to hear what I have to say."

"He _is_ well enough!" cried Sue, indignantly; and certainly at that
moment, talking eagerly to Nell, that gentleman appeared quite the
reverse of an invalid. "_I_ will speak to him--I am under no promise--I
believe--"

She stopped, fearing that she might say too much--after all, she could
not betray Lord Vernon; she could only appeal to him, warn him.

"Yes?" her companion encouraged her, his eyes on her face.

"I believe that I can help you," she concluded, a little lamely. "I want
to help--the people. Of course, we Americans believe that a people ought
to choose their own rulers--but where that isn't possible, the next best
thing is to give them the best available. I should be proud to help do
that!"

"But you are taking my word for it," he protested. "You ought to hear
the other side. Perhaps they might convince you--"

"No, they wouldn't!" cried Susie. "Your word is all I need; you've
explained things so clearly."

"Thank you," he said, in a vibrant voice, still looking at her.

"Besides," she added, with a glance upward, "dad agrees with you, and
I've a great deal of faith in dad."

"I shall be very glad of your help on any terms," he said, refusing to
be cast down.

"And you will tell me if anything unexpected happens? I may be able to
help you more than you think."

"Yes," he promised, "I will tell you the moment I have any news."

"You haven't any real news--about the undercurrent, I mean? You don't
_really_ know--"

"No; it is just in the air; I do not know where the rumours come from,
but my aunt has heard them also. There is a vague impression that we
are losing."

"But you shan't lose!" cried Susie. "You shan't lose; not even if I have
to--to--"

"Not even if you have to--?" prompted the Prince, eagerly, as she
stammered and stopped.

"To play my trump card," she finished, with a little unsteady laugh.
"Don't ask me what it is, but it's a good one!"

* * * * *

Meanwhile, as she walked beside the invalid chair, Nell was making her
confession.

"Lord Vernon," she began, in a low voice, "for a time last night, I
feared that I had utterly ruined your cause."

He glanced up at her quickly.

"In what way?" he asked.

"You remember the note you wrote m--us the first day?"

"Perfectly," he answered, noting the stammer, and understanding it,
with a quick leap of the heart.

"I should, no doubt, have destroyed it at once, but I thought it would
be perfectly safe in my desk."

"And it was stolen? No matter, Miss Rushford. It isn't worth worrying
about. I'm sick of the whole affair, anyway--I shall rather welcome the
catastrophe. You've lost sleep over it," he continued, looking at her
keenly. "It has made you almost ill! I shall never forgive myself!"

"Thank you," she said, softly, her lips trembling, her eyes very bright.
"It is beautiful of you to be so generous. But fortunately the note was
not stolen. I found it afterwards among some note-paper, where it had
somehow found its way."

"And you destroyed it?"

"No," she said, and took it from her bosom. "I thought I would better
restore it to you, so that you yourself could destroy it. Here it is,"
and she held it out to him with fingers not wholly steady.

He took it, his eyes still on her face.

"It has caused us enough trouble," he said, and made as though to tear
it into bits.

But Nell laid her hand upon his arm.

"Without looking at it?" she protested.

"You are right," he agreed, and opened it and glanced at the contents.

His hands were trembling slightly as he folded it again.

"On second thought," he said, and there was a certain thickness in the
words which Nell was too agitated to notice, "I believe that I shall
keep it. It is the only souvenir I have, you know, of our first
meeting."

And he smiled up at her--such a smile as Meiamoun must have bent upon
Cleopatra as he drained the poisoned cup.

CHAPTER XIV

A Bearding of the Lion

Susie Rushford was of that temperament which, so far from avoiding
difficulties, rather rushes to meet them, welcoming "each rebuff that
turns earth's smoothness rough," to quote again from her favourite poet.

So, when they reached the end of the promenade, it was she who commanded
a change of partners and who took her place resolutely beside the
invalid chair. Perhaps Lord Vernon scented danger, or it may be that he
merely resented the change of companions: at any rate, as they started
back, he contented himself with a dignified silence. But Sue was not to
be so easily put off.

"The Prince of Markeld has been telling me a few things about the
succession," she began, resolutely. "You will pardon me, Lord Vernon,
when I say I don't think you're treating him quite fairly."

"I don't think so myself, Miss Rushford," returned the occupant of the
chair, curtly.

"His branch of the house seems to be really, in every way, the more
deserving."

"I haven't the least doubt of it."

"And the one which the people of Schloshold-Markheim prefer."

"That, too, is very probably the case. We threshed all that out
yesterday, didn't we?"

"Not so thoroughly as I should like to do," said Susie. "I've been
thinking over the story you told me yesterday, and I believe I've
guessed who the man with the pistol is."

"I thought very probably you would guess."

"Did you? Then you won't mind telling me if I've guessed rightly. It's
the German Emperor, isn't it?"

"It is."

"Thank you. But I'm awfully obtuse, for I must confess that I haven't
as yet been able to perceive the pistol."

"Haven't you? I thought you'd guess that, too. I had forgotten that
American women aren't interested in public events."

"Now you're growing sarcastic!" cried Susie. "You see, I never before
knew how interesting they were," she added, in self-defence. "I'm trying
to turn over a new leaf--"

"And you want my help?"

"I always like to understand things. Even as a child I hated riddles.
And I think, too, that nations ought to be like individuals--only more
so--always ready, anxious even, to help their friends."

"Even to the point of disregarding the pistol?"

"You'll have to show me the pistol."

"I'll try to, Miss Rushford," said Vernon, with the air of a man staking
his last louis, "since you seem to doubt that it exists. Let us look at
the matter for a moment from the outside, without question of our
personal likes or dislikes. England, just at this moment, has her hands
full in South Africa, and it isn't in the least unlikely that the German
Emperor would put a finger in that pie, if we gave him an excuse--a
great many of his advisers are trying to get him to interfere without
waiting for the excuse, but he's not quite willing to go that far. So
our business is not to give him any excuse--not even the very
slightest. Suppose we meddle in this affair of Schloshold-Markheim,
which is really his dependency--don't you see, he might easily, and
quite logically, claim that as a precedent for meddling in the affairs
of the Transvaal, which we claim as our dependency. Now I hope that you
perceive the pistol, and see, too, that it isn't in the least a toy
affair, but a very dangerous and effective weapon."

"I do see," said Susie, quickly.

"Besides," Vernon added, anxious to vindicate himself still further,
since, after all, Susie was Nell's sister, "Schloshold-Markheim is a
very insignificant corner of this earth; not so big, in fact, as many of
our English shires. Self-preservation is the first law of nations. Why
should England imperil herself? You see, the whole question reduces
itself to that old, heartless, but very sane doctrine of the greatest
good of the greatest number."

"Why not say all that frankly to the Prince of Markeld?" suggested Sue.

"Because, my dear young lady, before we can say anything, we have to
give him a chance to say his say. And he would very probably state
certain truths which it would be very embarrassing for us to hear, and
still more embarrassing to answer. All Europe would be listening. We're
between the devil and the deep sea."

"Well, and what are you going to do about it?" asked Susie, plump out.

"We're going to wait," said Lord Vernon, gloomily.

"To wait?"

"Yes--until the sea subsides a little or the devil gets tired and goes
away and gives us a chance to escape. We dare neither fight the devil
nor brave the ocean. Our hands are tied."

Susie walked along a moment in silence, trying to distinguish the wrong
and the right of this very intricate question.

"All that you have been telling me may be true," she said, at last; "I
haven't the least doubt that it is true; but yet it doesn't quite excuse
tricking the Prince of Markeld as you are doing."

"I know it doesn't," admitted Vernon, instantly. "It doesn't excuse it
in the least. I don't like it any more than you do, Miss Rushford. But
the ways of diplomacy are devious past understanding; and then, again,
when one has entered upon a line of action, it is sometimes very hard
to change it or let go. It's like a hot iron or a charged wire--one
never realises one's mistake until it is too late. After all, a few days
will end it."

"A few days! Then the Prince was right!"

"Right?"

"He told me that an undercurrent of some sort seemed to be setting in
against him. I warn you, Lord Vernon, that I have become his ally."

"Even to the point of giving me away?" he inquired, half humourously,
looking at her in evident enjoyment.

"Even to the point of giving you away, if you don't play fairly," she
answered, in deadly earnest. "At your suggestion, he consented to a
truce for a week--"

"It was Collins who suggested it."

"No matter; it is all the same; the proposal came from your side. One
can't honourably employ a truce in laying mines for one's enemy."

Lord Vernon was looking straight ahead. There was now no trace of
amusement in his face.

"You are quite right, Miss Rushford," he said. "I release you from any
engagement with either me or Collins to keep our secret. Let me tell
you, I've protested more than once, but I'm no longer a free agent in
regard to this thing, and I have to see it through. The very worst
moment of all was when Markeld came up to my rooms and apologised for
suspecting me. I tell you, I felt like a worm, and a particularly nasty
one, at that. It will be my turn to apologise before long; and I won't
feel quite easy in my conscience till I do."

Susie had listened wide-eyed, and had stolen a glance, once or twice, at
his set face. There could be no doubting his utter sincerity, and it
softened her, as sincerity always softens a woman.

"Of course," she said, more gently, "I shan't give you away unless I
see that the Prince is being treated unfairly. Let things drift for a
week, since he has consented to a truce--don't do anything against him."
The words were spoken almost pleadingly.

"Oh, it isn't I who will do anything," retorted Lord Vernon, sharply.
"I'm not quite such a cur as that. Don't you understand, Miss
Rushford--the thing is out of my hands--is quite beyond my control. I'm
not the one responsible for the undercurrent, if there is one. If
anything happens, it won't be through any act of mine--it will be in
spite of me."

"But I thought--"

"You thought the foreign secretary was the whole thing? Well, he isn't!
There's a dozen other members of the cabinet, more or less, to mix in,
and, when all's said, the premier has to approve, and after that the
Queen. And all of us are more or less afraid of the press, to say
nothing of the House of Commons, where the opposition is always trying
to put us in an awkward corner. So our motives are usually pretty mixed,
and it's very rarely that we can do just as we'd like to do."

"Then," said Susie, slowly, "I think that I must tell the Prince."

"Do so, by all means," retorted her companion, a little impatiently. "I
give you full permission, if you care to take the responsibility. But, I
assure you, it's a heavy one."

"Oh, not so awfully heavy!" said Susie, sceptically. "You have already
told me what a little place Schloshold-Markheim is."

"It _is_ little; but so is the pivot that a great piece of machinery
swings on. Collins said yesterday that the peace of Europe may hang upon
this question. I laughed at him then, but it's not at all impossible
that he may be right. Of course, with a little thing like the peace of
Europe, every schoolgirl has the right to meddle! A million of human
beings, more or less--what do they amount to? Let us slaughter them,
maim them, outrage them, burn their houses, destroy their crops! Let us
put great armies in the field, and fight great battles and think only of
the glory! Don't look at the shapeless things beneath the hoofs of the
horses, nor think of the women waiting at home--waiting for the lists of
dead and missing! Let us release the spring that will set all this in
motion--it requires only a touch, the merest touch! And think, we should
be making history! Besides, our honour requires it! We must be jealous
of our honour--it is of so much more importance than the peace of
Europe!"

And Vernon, having arrived at the hotel entrance, bade them good-bye and
was wheeled to the lift, leaving his companion rather breathless.

CHAPTER XV

"Be Bold, Be Bold"

Lord Vernon, no doubt, would have spoken with less acerbity but for the
fact that his nerves were jangling badly. The lift was started promptly,
but it required all his self-control to remain seated in his chair
during the slow progress upward of the great machine of which Monsieur
Pelletan was so proud. Scarcely had the door of his apartment closed
behind him, when he threw aside the invalid wrappings with a perfect
fury, sprang from his chair, and hastened into the inner room. Collins
and Blake were seated at a table there, labouring with a telegram in
cipher.

"What's the matter now?" demanded Collins, sharply, as he looked up and
saw Vernon's disordered face.

For answer, Vernon took from his pocket a folded paper and tossed it on
the table.

Collins picked it up, opened it, and read its contents.

"Well?" he said, looking up with a sigh of relief. "If this is the note
you wrote those Rushford girls, I must say I think you've done a mighty
wise thing to get it back. It was a dangerous thing to have lying
around. Have you had a quarrel?" and he grinned a little maliciously.

"Collins," said Vernon, coldly, "you have the poorest conception of good
taste of any man I know, and I know some awful bounders. But I won't
quarrel with you now, for you'll be grinning on the other side of that
ugly mouth of yours anyway in about a minute. Will you kindly examine
this piece of paper?" and he tore a leaf from his notebook.

"Be Bold, Be Bold"

Collins, biting his lips until they bled, took it and looked it over
with frowning and puzzled countenance.

"Well?" he asked, at last.

"The note I sent the Misses Rushford," said Vernon, quietly, "was
written on a leaf from the notebook, which I tore out just as I did that
one you have in your hand," and he sat down and stared out the window,
across the gray dunes and the gray sea to the gray horizon.

Collins, with compressed lips, held the two pieces of paper up to the
light and compared their texture. Then he got out a small pocket
magnifying glass and examined through it the writing on the note.

"It's a tracing," he said, at last, "and a mighty clever piece of work.
The paper, too, is very like."

"But it's not the same," put in Vernon.

"Oh, no, it's not the same."

"Do you mean this is a forgery?" burst out Blake, hoarsely, snatching
up the note and staring at it.

"Undoubtedly," answered Collins, coolly, but his face was very dark.
"The forger, clever as he was, could scarcely expect to be so fortunate
as to duplicate the paper. And then, of course, he couldn't foresee that
it would be turned over to you. But he did very well. Now let's have the
story."

"Miss Rushford had the note in her desk," said Vernon, shortly. "She
missed it last night and went to tell her sister of the theft. When she
returned to her room and began a systematic search, she found it slipped
among some note-paper in the drawer where she had placed it. She
returned it to me this morning."

"Without suspecting that it was a forgery?"

"Certainly."

"And you didn't tell her?"

"No."

Collins sat for a moment staring down at the note.

"Which reminds me," he remarked, at last, "that Markeld spent the
evening with the Rushfords."

"Well, what of it?" demanded Vernon, sharply, wheeling around. "What is
it you mean to insinuate?"

"My dear sir," answered Collins, suavely, "I insinuate nothing. I was
merely remarking upon the coincidence. If I did not happen to know all
the circumstances, I might have been led to suggest that, as only one
Miss Rushford is devoted to you--"

Vernon sprang to his feet with such wrath in his face that Collins
stopped abruptly.

"It was well you stopped," said Vernon, savagely. "Another word, and by
heaven--"

"Don't be a fool!" Collins broke in. "I'm not afraid of you nor your
threats. This forgery, of course, is the work of that French spy--"

A servant tapped at the door and handed in a card.

Collins took it, glanced at it, and looked up with a little smile of
satisfaction.

"It's Tellier," he said. "I was expecting him; he was certain to come to
us. Leave him to me," and he went out, closing the door behind him.

Monsieur Tellier was even more effulgent than usual. There was upon his
face a smile of supreme self-satisfaction. He had reason to believe that
he had achieved a good stroke, and he was resolved to make the most of
it. He had dreamed dreams and seen visions--one vision in particular
which included within the same circumference himself and a certain frail
fairy of the Robiniere who had always regarded him with disdain. Now all
that was to be changed! So he greeted Collins with a self-assurance and
aplomb quite removed from his ordinary manner.

Collins confronted him with the card still between his fingers, and
returned his greeting with the utmost coldness.

"You wished to see me?" he asked.

"Pardon," corrected Tellier, "it is Lord Vernon I wish to see."

"Lord Vernon is ill and sees no one."

Tellier gave his mustachios a supercilious twirl.

"You still maintain that farce?" he queried. "I assure you that for me
it has long since lost its novelty."

Collins took a step toward the door.

"Shall I show you out?" he asked.

"No--not yet," and Tellier smiled provokingly.

"You would really better let me show you out," said Collins, quietly.
"In another moment, I shall probably kick you out."

Tellier's face turned a deep purple and his white teeth gleamed behind
his moustache.

"Have a care!" he said, hoarsely. "That expression will cost you dear!"

Collins smiled contemptuously.

"Oh," he retorted; "so it's blackmail! I might have known from your
appearance. Well, my dear sir, you have mistaken your men. You have
nothing which we care to buy. You would better go."

A purple vein stood out across Tellier's forehead, as he came a step
nearer.

"Do not be too sure, monsieur," he said. "You play a bold game, but it
does not for an instant deceive me. Lord Vernon is no more ill than I.
It is useless to deny it--I have that here which proves it--written with
his own hand--yes, pardie, written in my presence!" and with trembling
fingers he took from his pocketbook a folded slip of paper.

"Indeed?" said Collins, with mild curiosity. "This is truly wonderful,"
and he held out his hand.

But Tellier drew back a step, unfolded the note and held it open between
his fingers.

"You may read it," he said, his eyes flashing with triumph. "But come no
nearer."

Collins leisurely got out his monocle, polished it with his
handkerchief, adjusted it, and scanned the note.

"Really," he said, "unless you can hold it a little steadier, I fear I
can't read it."

Tellier steadied his hand by a mighty effort, and watched him, his eyes
shining. But the face of the Englishman did not change--not in a single
line, not by the merest shadow.

"Very interesting, no doubt," said Collins, dropping his glass, "to
those who care for backstairs intrigue. Is it this note that you wish to
sell?"

"Oh, not that," corrected Tellier, with a little offended gesture, his
self-assurance back in an instant. "You mistake me--I am not of that
sort at all. On the other hand, it is friendship for you which has
brought me here. I have no wish to injure you, monsieur, and you
yourself, of course, perceive fully what a disaster it would be should
this note be placed in certain hands."

"To what adventure does the note refer?" queried Collins.

"It refers to the adventure of Lord Vernon with the two Americans on the
afternoon of his arrival. He has, no doubt, mentioned it to you."

"Lord Vernon has had no adventure since his arrival here," retorted
Collins, coldly. "But go ahead with your story."

"As I was saying," continued Tellier, "I am a poor man. I have my future
to consider--I cannot afford to throw away this opportunity which chance
has placed in my hands. I will be reasonable, however--I will not ask
too much--a hundred thousand francs--"

"Tellier," Collins interrupted, with a gesture of weariness, "I have not
the least idea what you mean. But I do know that you have been hoaxed,
that you are the victim of some deception, that somebody is making a
fool of you. A hundred thousand francs! And for that note! Why, man, you
are mad or very, very drunk! We don't want the note. We have no concern
in it!"

"No concern in it!" shrieked Tellier. "When it is written by Lord
Vernon!"

"Lord Vernon did not write it," retorted Collins, coolly.

"I saw it--with my own eyes I saw it!"

"Then your eyes deceived you. Evidently you are not acquainted with Lord
Vernon's writing, my friend. Shall I show you a sample? Wait."

He went to a desk, got out a despatch-box, unlocked it, and ran rapidly
through its contents, while Tellier watched him with bloodshot eyes.

"This will do," Collins said, at last. "A note to Monsieur Delcasse,
with which you are perhaps familiar, since it has recently been made
public. Look at it."

Tellier almost snatched it--one glance was enough. There was absolutely
no resemblance between that tall, angular hand and the writing of the
note. He looked at the signature, at the seal--there could be no
doubting them. His lips were quivering, his fat cheeks hanging flaccid,
as he handed the paper back.

"You are playing with me," he said, thickly. "What I have seen, I have
seen. What I know, I know. You cannot trick me. I will go to the Prince
of Markeld--to Prince Ferdinand himself--"

"To whomever you please," interrupted Collins, "only go at once," and
he snatched open the door.

Tellier hesitated an instant, glanced at the other's face, and went.

And Collins, closing the door behind him, mopped the perspiration from
his forehead.

"Well done, my friend," he said; "exceedingly well done!"

And with that, he turned back to the inner room.

* * * * *

"Dad," began Susie Rushford, that evening, gently but firmly taking away
the paper over which her father was engaged, "I wish you would devote
that massive brain of yours to this Schloshold-Markheim muddle for a few
moments, and give me the benefit. It's quite beyond me, and I'm nearly
worried to death over it. I want your advice. Now, in the first place,
why should Lord Vernon play off sick? It seems such a little thing to
do."

"'Tall oaks from little acorns grow,'" quoted her father. "This little
thing may have big consequences."

"I didn't mean little that way," explained Susie. "I meant little in a
moral way."

"Well, my dear," said her father, reflectively, "everything is fair in
love, war, and diplomacy. Your diplomat, when he is busy at his trade,
seems to lose sight of fine moral distinctions. Even the greatest of
them have sometimes stooped to acts decidedly small, and yet in private
life they were doubtless honourable men. It's a good deal like a
political campaign in the United States, where men who are usually
honest will lie about the other side, without any twinges of
conscience--there's even a loop-hole in the libel law for them to crawl
through, made, it would seem, especially for their benefit. So, I think,
we may pass up the moral objection."

"But what does he hope to accomplish, dad?" persisted Susie. "What
_can_ he accomplish by merely sitting still?"

"A great many things may be accomplished by sitting still," said her
father, puffing his cigar reflectively. "It is one of those simple
things which are sometimes very difficult to do. I've found that out,
more than once, in the course of my checkered career."

"Now that we are through with precept, let us pass on to example, you
dear old philosophical thing!" laughed Susie. "What should you say Lord
Vernon hoped to accomplish in this instance?"

"It seems very plain," said Rushford, "though, of course, I may be
mistaken. But I fancy he believes that while he is playing 'possum here,
Emperor William, who is not especially renowned for patience, will
settle the question of the succession without asking any one's
advice--as, I must say, he seems to have a perfect right to do. In that
case, it would, of course, be too late for England to interfere; she
could only express her regrets to Prince Ferdinand, and send her
congratulations to Prince George. So if Markeld doesn't get a chance to
say his little speech within the next two or three days, I don't believe
he'll ever get a chance."

Susie nodded thoughtfully.

"The Prince ought to be able to reason that out for himself, oughtn't
he?"

"I should think so, if he can see farther than his own nose. Were you
thinking of going to his assistance? Take my advice, my dear, and
refrain. You and Nell are altogether too deep in it, as it is."

Again Susie nodded.

"Thank you, dear," she said, and taking him by either ear, she kissed
him between the eyes. "Now, I think I'll go to bed. I've a mighty
knotty problem on hand and I've got to work it out right away."

"Can I help any more?"

"No," and she shook her head decidedly. "This is one of those odious
problems which a person has to work out alone. It reminds me of our
school examinations, where we were on honour not to ask any help. Only,"
she added, with a sigh, "this is far more serious. Good-night."

"Good-night," said her father, and watched her until the door closed
behind her. Then he turned again to his paper.

Susie, alone in her own room, sat with her head in her hands, staring
out across the moonlit beach. Away in the distance, she could see the
little breakers washing white upon the sand; to the left stretched the
long, brilliant promenade of the Digue, ending in the glare of light
which marked the Casino.

"The peace of Europe!" she murmured.

"The peace of Europe! I wonder if he was merely trying to frighten me?"

And she shivered a little at the remembrance of Lord Vernon's words, as
she arose to go to bed.

CHAPTER XVI

A Prince and His Ideals

By what process of telepathy the Dowager Duchess of Markheim, dwelling
in one corner of that gloomy old fortress which had sheltered so many
generations of the family, learned of the danger threatening her nephew
it would be impossible to say. She had been skilled for many years in
telling which way the wind was blowing; nay, more, in foreseeing from
which quarter it would presently blow; so perhaps the two or three
casual references to the American girls which she had gleaned from the
letters which the Prince dutifully wrote her had been enough to awaken
her suspicions. Or, it may be, that some one of the many persons at
Weet-sur-Mer who had observed with interest the Prince's comings and
goings, deemed it a duty to society to send the duchess a discreet word
of warning.

Any one who knew the duchess knew also that a single word would be
all-sufficient. Her reputation for worldly astuteness surpassed that of
any other old woman in Europe, though it was, perhaps, not altogether
deserved. Forty years before, she had been a healthy and happy girl,
whose experience of the world had been confined to the family estate
near Gemuenden. And the estate was a small one, for the family, though of
blood the bluest, was very poor.

One tragedy had marked her early girlhood. She was curled up, one
evening, in the window-seat at the stairhead watching the moon rise over
the great trees of the park, when she heard loud voices in the hall
below, and peeping down, saw her father strike another man heavily
across the mouth. A sudden silence fell, and she stole away frightened
to her bed, where she sobbed herself to sleep. In the gray of the
morning, her mother had awakened her, had carried her to a window, and
knelt with her there, staring out toward the park and calling upon God
to have mercy. Through the streaming mist, there came presently toward
them two dim figures, carrying a third--what need to go on? After that,
the house became a cloister.

It chanced, one day when she was nearly twenty, that the eye of her
cousin of Markheim fell upon her. He had never married; he had been too
busy with his pleasures. But he had arrived at an age when it was
necessary to think of an heir; at an age, too, when the uneasy
consciousness began to grow within him that if he desired an heir, there
was no time to be lost. So he looked at his blooming cousin, noting the
evidences of vigorous health which glowed in eye and lip and cheek. He
knew that the girl would have no dot, but he had reached a place where
he was perfectly aware that if he wanted youth and beauty, he must take
them unadorned. So he made up his mind at once, and in due time the
marriage was arranged.

In pity, we will not dwell upon it. Those who saw the bride's face as
she entered the carriage with her husband will never forget its
expression of horror, disgust, and abject fear. A year later, the
desired heir arrived, a microcephalous idiot, to whom a merciful
providence allowed but eighteen months of life; and in due time, the
August Prince himself was gathered to his fathers.

During her period of martyrdom, the duchess had pressed her cross to her
bosom with the religious enthusiasm of a devotee hugging his barbed
instrument of torture. The consciousness that she was suffering for her
family's sake as became a daughter of the Caesars was the only thing
which enabled her to endure her shame and degradation. She donned her
widow's weeds with such depth of thankfulness as few mortals know, and
settled herself to the enjoyment of her position.

She found it on the whole a good position, unassailable, with many
desirable perquisites. She decided, no doubt, that life owed her such
tremendous arrears of happiness that she could never hope to collect
them except by devoting her whole time to it; and devote her whole time
to it she did, in good earnest. The years, in their passage, erased
certain lines from her face and restored the curves to her
figure--indeed, it came to be much more than a restoration!--but they
could not restore the colour to her hair nor the lightness to her heart.
She looked at mankind from a cynical altitude of worldly wisdom; her wit
grew keen and swift as d'Artagnan's rapier; her bon-mots had a way of
passing into proverbs, or of being stolen by more distinguished
contemporaries. She took her revenge upon society as completely as she
could, yet without bitterness. Indeed, it is probable that, could she
have ordered her life anew, she would not have ordered it differently.

Such, then, was the Dowager Duchess of Markheim, as she sat gazing
thoughtfully from her window, pondering the situation. She was fully
alive to the fact that American girls are always a menace to the peace
of noble families; besides, she was not at all satisfied with the
progress--or, rather, lack of progress--which the Prince had made in the
delicate negotiation entrusted to his hands. In a word, she decided
that, from every point of view, it were wise for her to be herself upon
the scene--and so much nearer her beloved Ostend! Therefore, being of
that superior order of woman who never has to make up her mind but once,
she forthwith gave orders for the departure.

It consequently happened, on the morning following the events narrated
in the previous chapter, that there was another distinguished arrival at
the Grand Hotel Royal, to the delight and despair of Monsieur Pelletan.

"I shall need an apartment of at least five rooms, not higher than the
second floor," announced the duchess.

"If Madame la Duchesse had only notified us of t'is honour!" protested
Pelletan, with upraised hands. "I swear t'at I haff not'ing--
not'ing--not one single apartment wort'y off madame--not efen one leetle
room up under t'e gutters."

"Nonsense!" she interrupted, vigorously. "I have heard all that a
hundred times at least. Which apartment has my nephew?"

"Madame's nephew?"

"Certainly, imbecile! Monsieur le Prince de Markeld."

"Oh," cried Pelletan. "Monsieur le Prince hass apartment B de luxe."

"And so has twice as much room as he needs, of course. Well, take my
luggage up there, wherever it is. At my age, one is beyond the reach of
scandal, even at a Dutch bathing-resort. Where is Monsieur le Prince?"

"Monsieur le Prince iss taking t'e promenade," explained Pelletan.

"Very well; I have my toilette to make. When he returns, send him up to
me at once. Here, boy, apartment B," and followed by her maid, she
started up the stair, leaving Monsieur Pelletan staring, open-mouthed.

"But t'ere iss a lift, madame!" he cried, regaining his breath.

"A lift!" retorted the duchess. "At my age! What is the man thinking of!
En avant, boy!" and she went on up the stair.

* * * * *

The watches of the night had not brought that final solution of the
problem which Susie Rushford had hoped for, and she did not know whether
to be glad or sorry when she found the Prince at the stairfoot awaiting
her. There could be no doubt that he was wholly, undividedly glad--one
glance at his face told her that--and he greeted her in a way that sent
a little thrill to her heart. After all, she told herself, perhaps she
would better let things drift; one more day could make no difference.
And there was no reason why she should take the affair more seriously
than did the principal person concerned in it.

Outside the door, as usual, was the invalid chair; and while Lord Vernon
did not forget to say good-morning, it was not upon her his eyes rested.
Nell, at least, was perplexed by no problems, and was unaffectedly gay.
Susie almost envied her; and yet problems were interesting, too.

And then there was Collins. As she acknowledged his bow, she was struck
anew with the concentrated secretiveness of his appearance. There was a
new look in his eyes this morning, a look as though he were watching
her, and it made her vaguely uneasy. But the feeling passed as they
turned eastward along the promenade, and she soon forgot all about him,
for--quite exceptionally--her companion was talking of himself.

"I do not want that you should exaggerate the importance of this little
dispute," he was saying. "Seen thus close at hand, it looms rather
large; but it really matters very little to the great world. Even I can
get far enough away from it to see that."

"And yet," rejoined Susie, "I have heard it said that it might possibly
endanger the peace of Europe."

The Prince smiled at the words as at an old acquaintance.

"The peace of Europe," he said, "is a kind of bugaboo which diplomats
use to frighten each other with, and even to frighten themselves with. I
do not believe that the peace of Europe hangs on any such delicate
balance as they pretend. Though, of course," he added, more gravely,
"there are certain circumstances under which this question of the
succession might become very unpleasant to the Powers."

"Ah!" breathed Susie, who had been listening eagerly. "You admit that,
then?"

"Admit it? Certainly--why not? But, intrinsically, it amounts to little.
So it is with us Markelds--our lineage is as long as that of any house
in Europe, and we hold our heads very high, but we are really of not
much importance. We keep up a certain state, we live in a castle, if you
will; but we really do nothing worth while, principally, I suppose,
because we are so poor."

"So poor?" echoed Susie, open-eyed.

"You are thinking of the apartment de luxe," said the Prince, with a
smile; "of the special train. But, do you not see, those are the very
things which make me poor. I have no use for seven rooms; in the special
train, I can occupy but a single seat. All the rest is waste, which does
me no good--rather the reverse, indeed, since it serves to impress
people with an exaggerated idea of my importance and so pave the way for
fresh extravagances. I did not mean that I am poor absolutely; I do not
suppose that I shall ever want for food and clothing and a place to
sleep. It is only as a Prince that I am poor--that we Markelds are all
poor."

"But one would think there were many things worth while which a man in
your position could do," said Susie, earnestly, "even if you aren't
rich."

"Oh," he explained, looking down at her with a laugh in his eyes, "I
would not have you think that I am always wholly idle. I am colonel of
a dragoon regiment, and I inspect it, sometimes, or ride in front of it
at a general review. I hunt. I attend various functions of the court. I
even sometimes act as the representative of my house, as I am doing
now."

"None of which," said Susie, "except perhaps the last, is in the least
worth while."

"I agree with you, unreservedly," he assented; "but it is about what
most men in my position do."

"So I have heard," said Sue, "but I never really believed it. I thought
it an invention of the society reporters."

"It is true, nevertheless. You see there is no incentive, for most of
us, to do anything else. Of course, we cannot work, nor engage in
trade."

"I don't admit the 'of course.' But leaving that aside for the moment,
aren't there any exceptions?"

"Yes--a few at whom the rest of us look rather askance. You see, there
is the tradition to be maintained."

"The tradition?"

"Of royalty--of divine right. We must do nothing to spoil the tradition,
or weaken it, or our people may find out that we are not really
necessary, after all, just as the Americans have done."

Susie glanced at him to see if he was in earnest; but he appeared to be
entirely so.

"Do the exceptions mind being looked askance at?" she questioned.

"No, I do not think they mind in the least. Most of them are too busy to
pay any heed to what other people are thinking about them. Besides, the
cause of the exception is usually a woman, who takes up most of the
exception's leisure time."

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand."

"Let me explain. You see, when one of us marries a woman of his own
class--'Prinzessen, Comtessen, Serene English Altessen,' as Svengali
called them--he usually gets a partner more--ah--hidebound, I think you
call it--than himself--a greater stickler for precedent and tradition
and position and etiquette and elegant leisure, and all that sort of
thing. Whatever liberal ideas he may have had, he finds he must abandon
or, at least, suppress, if there is to be peace between his wife and
him. It is only those who are so fortunate as to meet and win exactly
the right woman _out_ of their class who get the incentive. You
understand, now?"

"Yes," said Susie, with a queer catch in her voice. "Yes, I think I do."

"So," he added, with a little bitter laugh, "you see why we others look
askance at these exceptions. In the first place they have preferred to
step down out of their rank for a wife--that deals a blow at the
tradition, and every blow weakens it; in the second place, they have
left some noble lady husbandless, for your noble ladies seldom so far
forget their rank as to marry out of it, though that may be because the
men never permit them to--again an injury to us as a class; and,
finally, they are mixing with the world, they are meeting other men face
to face, as equals, they are claiming no merit because of birth, no
authority because of rank; they are, perhaps, even working with their
hands. Whereas our business is to keep aloof from the world, to maintain
a barrier of caste between ourselves and other men, for they must not
suspect that we are as imperfect as they--that we have the same
appetites and passions, the same defects and meannesses. Our business is
to rule over them, to require their obedience because God so wills it.
We tremble when we see the apostates cast aside their rank and descend
into the world's arena, for we fear that the people, finding them at
close view only human, may come at last to believe that the right by
which we rule is not, after all, divine. Then they will tear down the
barrier of caste, strip us of the privileges of rank, and proclaim the
absurdity that all men are equal. And I might add, we are jealous of the
exceptions, because they are happy. Marriages of state are seldom love
matches; the kind which furnish the incentives are always so."

To all of which Susie had listened with bated breath, only glancing up
once or twice to study her companion's face. It was a lifting of the
curtain, a revelation of the heart, which left her deeply moved.

"You don't seem to care for the tradition," she said, at last.

"Oh, yes, I do; it would be untrue to pretend otherwise. Only, it has
occurred to me quite recently that merely to inherit a position is not
quite enough. A man should try to deserve it"

"And you're going to try?" asked Susie, looking at him with something
very like adoration in her eyes.

"I am going to try--yes," he answered. "But I shall need help--I am
afraid I should not make a success of it by myself."

And then he fell silent, for they had reached the end of the promenade,
where the others joined them.

CHAPTER XVII

The Duchess to the Rescue

It may be that Lord Vernon had been so fortunate as to find a topic of
conversation equally absorbing; at any rate, Nell entered the hotel with
her sister rather subdued and tremulous, and they mounted to their rooms
in silence. A week before, they would probably have thrown themselves
into each other's arms and kissed each other and cuddled each other and
cried over each other, without precisely knowing why, or, at least,
without troubling to put the reason into words. But the events of the
past few days had, imperceptibly, wrought a change in their relations.
An impalpable veil had come between them, a subtle dissonance in point
of view. They were pledged, as it were, to rival interests.

A woman who has no other confidante will, invariably, seek counsel and
sympathy of her own reflected self; and if so it was in this case, for
each of our two heroines went straight to her room, and locked the door,
and sat down before her glass, and, chin in hands, communed long and
earnestly with the image pictured there, gazing deep into its eyes, and
thinking unutterable thoughts, which completely defy transcription.

At the same moment, to Archibald Rushford, sitting immersed in his
morning newspaper, wholly unsuspicious of all this, the Prince of
Markeld's card was handed. It may be noted in passing that, with the
influx of patrons to the house, the American had found it necessary to
retire to the privacy of his own apartment in order to enjoy the paper
undisturbed.

"All rights show him up," he said, when he had glanced at the card; and
almost immediately the Prince himself appeared.

Rushford started up with hand outstretched.

"Glad to see you, Prince," he said. "I was just figuring on looking you
up and wondering how I'd better go about it--I didn't quite know what
the etiquette of the thing was."

The Prince laughed.

"The etiquette is simple." he answered. "You have only to come to my
door and knock."

"Refreshingly democratic!" and Rushford's eyes danced. "That would
appeal to my countrymen. But my ignorance was natural enough. You see,
we never have the chance, at home, to hobnob with Highnesses. That's the
reason so many of us come abroad. But we're not the real thing--the
genuine, simon-pure American stays at home and looks after his
business."

"And no doubt gets along very well without Highnesses," laughed Markeld,
gripping the proffered fingers with a warmth which pleased their owner.
The latter found himself admiring, too, the erect figure, the clean
face, the clear eyes; he told himself with pleasure that the Prince
looked as well by daylight as by gaslight--a tribute to his youth and
the way he had employed it.

"Sit down, won't you?" he asked cordially.

"Yes, the people of the States manage to worry along some way without
any nobility. In fact, they've rather got a prejudice against that sort
of thing. You see, the only Highnesses they've had to judge by are the
fortune-hunters who come over after our girls. Now I've always believed
that it isn't any fairer to judge European nobility by those specimens
than it is to judge us Americans by the expatriated idiots one finds
here in Europe--it's like judging a bin of apples by the rotten ones."

"You are doubtless right," agreed the Prince, who had followed these
remarks with an anxiety almost painful. "And I am glad to hear you
speak in that way. I infer that you do not object to international
marriages."

"Not at all, per se. Other things being equal, I see no reason why a
Highness shouldn't make as good a husband as a plain American. There's
only one reason for marriage, sir--mutual affection. Where that exists,
nothing else matters. Where it doesn't exist--well, marriage becomes
simply a convenient arrangement for perpetuating a family, or restoring
its estates, or accomplishing some less laudable purpose. But
there--shut me off--don't let me preach at you!"

"No, no," protested the Prince. "All that you say interests me
deeply--more deeply than you suspect. In fact, I hope to marry an
American girl myself."

"Ah," said Mr. Rushford, swallowing with sudden difficulty. "Oh! You
mean--"

"I mean that I wish to propose to you for the hand of your daughter,"
explained the Prince, quite simply.

Rushford was not a man easily astonished, but there was no denying his
amazement at this moment. Despite his playful words to Susie, he had
never really suspected the direction in which events were trending;
besides, the lightning-flash, even though expected, is always a shock.

But the Prince bore his gaze imperturbably.

"I do not wonder that you are surprised," he said. "You have known me so
short a time. But we Markelds always know our own minds. I have thought
the matter over very carefully and I am sure that I am acting wisely.
Whether you would act wisely in giving her to me is another question,
for though I am a Prince, I am a very small one, though with income
sufficient, I trust, to maintain a wife at least comfortably. I shall be
glad to send my solicitors to talk it over with you, and explain
anything about me which you may care to know--"

Mr. Rushford's face had gradually relaxed during this harangue, until it
was positively smiling.

"My dear sir," he interrupted, "if there's anything about you I want to
know, I'll ask _you_. But that is hardly necessary as yet; for you're
taking hold of the matter by the wrong end. We of America don't give our
daughters away, they choose their own husbands--subject, of course, to
their parents' approval. Now, my daughter--by the way, you haven't
specified which one you're after."

"It is Miss Sue that I want," said the Prince.

"Ah--Susie. Well, she's perfectly capable of choosing for herself, and
will probably insist upon doing so. Have you spoken to her on the
subject?"

"Oh, most certainly not!" stammered the Prince.

"Well, suppose you take it up with her," suggested Mr. Rushford,
encouragingly. "If she wants you, it'll be all right with me. I may even
say that I'll be very glad to see you get her--I like you better than I
ever imagined I should like a nobleman."

The Prince was on his feet in an instant with outstretched hands.

"Thank you, my dear sir!" he cried. "A thousand thanks! I have, then,
your permission to speak to Miss Rushford?"

"My permission--yes. And my best wishes. And, Prince," he added, as the
latter turned away, "don't worry about the matter of income. Susie will
be able to help you out a little."

Whether the Prince heard or not I do not know, for, as he hurried from
the room, he collided with Monsieur Pelletan, who clutched his coat as
he would have hastened past.

"Oh, Monsieur le Prince!" gasped the little man. "I haf eferywhere been
searching for you. Madame la Duchesse de Markheim arrived some hours
ago and awaits you wit' t'e greates' impatience."

"Where is she?"

"She iss in monsieur's apartment. She insiste' t'at I--"

"Very well; I will go to her," said the Prince, and bounded down the
stair. A moment later, he was kissing his aunt's extended hand, white
and soft as in the days of her maidenhood, though with an added
plumpness. "My dear aunt!" he cried. "I but this moment heard that you
were here."

"You see I have made myself comfortable, my dear Fritz," smiled the old
lady, her impatience forgotten the moment her eyes rested upon his
handsome face. "And I have not been lonesome--Monsieur Tellier has been
relating to me a number of very interesting things."

"Tellier!" The Prince started round as the detective arose, smirked,
and bowed in his humblest manner. "I can't say that I congratulate you
on your choice of a companion, madame!"

"Don't put on your grand manner with me, Fritz," she protested, still
laughing. "I am very glad that Monsieur Tellier sought me out. But what
is the matter with that creature of yours hovering in the background?"

The Prince turned and beheld Glueck, evidently expecting orders to
accomplish an assault upon the detective's person.

"Oh," he explained, "I told Glueck he might throw Tellier out the next
time he tried to get in here. I'm afraid you'll have to wait a few
minutes, my friend," he added, and Glueck retired, visibly disappointed.

"Let me tell you," said the duchess, emphatically, as the door closed
behind him, "that your prejudice against Monsieur Tellier is wholly
unwarranted and very foolish. He has discovered many things which you
seem to have overlooked."

"Perhaps," admitted the Prince; "but he has discovered them in a way
that no gentleman could countenance. Which reminds me," he added,
suddenly turning a fiery countenance upon the unhappy Frenchman, "that I
have an account of my own to settle with him. How dared you annoy--"

But the duchess held up her hand.

"One moment, Fritz," she interrupted, sternly. "Don't begin throwing
stones until you are quite sure you are not yourself in a glass house.
As I have said, Monsieur Tellier had many things of interest to relate."

"Well, my dear aunt," retorted the Prince, "now that he has related
them, I trust we may dispense with his company. I will settle my account
with him another time."

"First," said the duchess, with cold irony, "tell me what progress you
have made with your embassy, Fritz!"

"Very little, I am sorry to say, madame. But in three days, Lord Vernon
has promised to consider the matter."

"Three days! And do you imagine all the rest of the world will stand
still at your command, Fritz, and wait for you? Are you another Joshua?"

The Prince flushed. There was no denying the justice of the taunt.

"But that aside for the moment," continued the duchess. "Tell me
something of this American girl you have met here, and with whom you
have grown so fond of making the promenade."

"I hope soon to have the pleasure of presenting her to you, madame,"
said the Prince, flushing still more. "I believe you will find her
admirable."

"Perhaps," said the duchess, sceptically. "Is it really necessary that
I should meet her?"

"That, of course, will be as madame pleases. I thought you would
naturally wish to meet the woman whom it is my intention to marry."

The duchess fairly jumped in her chair.

"To marry!" she cried. "To marry! What nonsense!"

"You will see," continued the Prince, calmly, "how unwise it was to
begin the conversation in the presence of this--gentleman."

"No!" cried the duchess. "It was more than ever wise! Do you happen to
know who this woman is?"

"I refuse to discuss my affairs further," said the Prince, "until we are
alone."

"But do you know who she is? She has no dot! Perhaps you will say that
is nothing, that you expected none, though it seems to me it is your
duty to repair the fortunes of our house. But it is even worse than
that--she is the daughter of an inn-keeper."

"I refuse to believe it," answered the Prince, quietly.

"Monsieur Tellier, relate to him--"

"If Tellier so much as moves a finger, I will kick him down the stairs,"
added the Prince, still more calmly.

"But he has the papers from the notary!"

"That is nothing to me."

The duchess made a gesture of despair.

"Yet, after all," she cried, "that is a little thing beside this other.
Look at this," and she snatched a folded paper from the table at her
elbow. "She is a traitor to you--she has been playing with you--she has
been assisting these Englishmen to deceive you! You who are such a
stickler for honour in women no less than men! Look at this!"

"What is this paper?" asked the Prince, making no motion to take it from
her eager hand.

"It is a note which this impostor wrote to her and to her sister."

"And obtained how?" he questioned, a little pale, but keeping himself
well in hand.

"Obtained by Monsieur Tellier," replied the duchess. "It does not matter
how."

"No," said the Prince, "perhaps not; yet one can easily guess. By
bribing the chambermaid, perhaps; by forcing a lock; by rifling her
desk, examining her private papers. Oh, it is abominable!" and he turned
upon the Frenchman, fury in his eyes.

"No, no, Monsieur le Prince!" protested Tellier. "It was none of
these--I swear it! She left the note lying quite carelessly--"

But the Prince was upon him. With one hand at the back of his neck, he
steered him, sputtering, to the door.

"Glueck!" he cried, and pitched the Frenchman into the arms of the
faithful servant. The duchess, sitting within the room, caught the
sound of a scuffle, of fierce swearing; then a succession of dull bumps
sounded through the apartment. The Prince closed the door and turned
back to her.

"But, my dear Fritz!" she protested. "It may be true that Tellier is
abominable, yet sometimes one must use such instruments--surely, at
this moment, we are justified in using any instrument. I have paid him,
thank heaven! You must listen to reason. You have been fooled--we have
all been fooled--they have been playing with us--laughing at us behind
our backs for our simplicity--the girl as well as the others."

"No!" he said, fiercely. "No!"

"Fritz," she cried, her voice trembling, a mist before her eyes as she
looked at him, "you believe that I love you, do you not--oh, better than
anything else in the world. You believe that I desire your happiness!
But it must be happiness with honour, Fritz, as becomes a Markeld. You
have your name to consider, your house. You know that I would
rather--oh, a hundred times!--wound myself than wound you! You must
listen, then, when I tell you that this girl is not worthy of you; when
I tell you that this note proves it!"

"Read it!" he commanded, in a hoarse voice. "Read it, then!"

"'Lord Vernon will be deeply grateful,'" she read, "'if he is not
mentioned in connection with to-day's adventure.' To-day's
adventure--when he kicked Jax away from her. Can you doubt? Can you be
so stupid as to doubt? These Americans--they have no sense of honour!"

He turned to the window without answering, but his face was drawn and
white.

CHAPTER XVIII

Man's perfidy

To Archibald Rushford, sitting ruminant in his room, staring absently
out at the dunes and the sea, his paper forgotten, there entered
presently Susie--a rather subdued Susie, as he noted from the corner of
his eye--who drew up a chair very close to his and sat down and propped
her chin in her hands and looked up at him.

It came to him in a flash of revelation that, did she have a mother, it
was to her she would have gone at this moment, and not to him, and his
eyes were a little misty as he looked down at her. That she and her
sister should have grown, motherless, to such sweet, triumphant
womanhood struck him in this instant as a kind of miracle--he had never
thought of it before. He had taken their beauty, their wit, their
sanity, as matters of course; he had never looked at them, clearly, from
the outside; he had never quite thoroughly appreciated them. They had
come this far, guideless, in the journey of life, and had done well and
bravely; but now Susie, at least, had reached a point in the path where
she needed help and counsel. She had come to him for it and he must give
her the best he had.

"Dad," she began, a little tremulously, "would you mind so _very_ much
if I should m-marry and live in Europe? Of course," she added, hastily,
to break the force of the blow, "you would come over very often and stay
with us, and we would go over very often to see you."

"So he _has_ spoken to you, has he?" laughed her father. "He told me he
hadn't."

"Spoken! You know about it? Oh, dad, what do you mean?"

"I mean that a certain William Frederick Albert, of Markeld--I believe
that's his name--or most of it--was in here a while ago and had the
impudence to ask me to give you to him."

"Oh!" gasped Susie, with flaming cheeks, and sank back in her chair and
I dare say cried a little; but her father didn't see her, for his own
eyes were full of tears. The moment passed, the tears were wiped
away--"Tell me about it, dad," she said.

"Tell you about it? I have told you!"

"About what he said. How did he look?"

"I dare say he looked about as he always does--a little pale around the
gills, perhaps, as one usually does when one's performing an unpleasant
duty!"

"Dad!"

"You don't mean to say you think he enjoyed it?"

"They--they always have to do it in Europe," faltered Sue.

"So I understand. But he said he hadn't told you."

"He hasn't--he hasn't said a word."

"Oh--_you_ just sort of scented it in the air, I suppose--sort of saw it
coming."

"Every woman can tell when a man is in l-love with her," explained
Susie, with dignity, but boggling a little at the crucial word. "What
did you tell him, dad?"

"I told him to take you and welcome."

"Now, dad, you mustn't tease!"

"Well, then, I told him he'd better see you first, since you're the
party principally concerned."

"But you like him?"

"Immensely!"

Susie's arms were about his neck, and her cheek was against his cheek,
and a pearly tear plashed down upon his shirt-front.

"Oh, you dear dad!" she cried. "I knew you'd like him!"

"He seems a pretty straight sort of fellow," observed her father, "he
looks clean, and he talks like a man."

"And you won't mind so very much?"

"Not if it makes you happy, my dear. All girls have to marry sometime, I
suppose. You'll be rather farther away from me than I could wish, but I
dare say the Prince will let me come over and stay in his castle
occasionally, and eat at the second table--"

"_Let_ you! Why, he'll _beg_ you to. Why couldn't you come over and live
with us, dad?"

"And die of ennui in a year? Not much. I'll go home and make some more
money for you--you see, I'd never figured on having to finance a
Princess!"

"Dad," very softly.

"Well, what?"

"Do you know, I don't believe he suspects I'm to have any money."

"Neither do I. That's one thing I like about him."

"But you really might come and live with us, dad."

"Oh, no, I mightn't. Besides, there's Nell--What!" he cried,
interpreting the sudden pressure of her arms, "you don't mean that she's
gone and done it, too!"

"I don't know, dad, but Lord Vernon has been very attentive to her. She
hasn't told me anything; I'm only guessing."

Her father gave a long, low whistle.

"Well!" he said. "You've been hustling things up with a vengeance, I
must say! There must be something in the atmosphere. It'll be a little
lonely in that big New York house without you, Susie."

"I know it will, dear dad. And if you say the word, I won't leave
you--not for a long, long time. It will be a long time anyway, you
know--a year, at least--there will be so much to do."

"And a year is quite long enough to keep two lovers apart. Youth goes
faster than you think, my dear. No, no; it'll be all right, Susie. You
don't suppose I'm as selfish as all that!"

"No, dad; that's just what I'm afraid of; you're not selfish enough.
It's I who am selfish."

"Nonsense! Everybody in this world has a right to happiness, Susie; why,
that's one of the foundation-stones of the Declaration of Independence.
And, I take it, a woman's great chance of happiness is in marrying the
man she loves. That's what every woman has a right to do, and nobody has
the right to raise a finger to prevent her. I'll give you to Markeld
with a clear conscience, my dear, when the time comes, and bless you
both. That is, if you really love him."

"Oh, dad!" she cried and hid her face; there is one light in the eyes
which none but a lover may see!

"Quite sure?" he persisted.

"Quite sure!" she said, softly.

"You're sure you're not jumping in the dark; it isn't the Prince you're
in love with?"

"No, dad; it's the man. That seems an awfully bold thing for a girl to
say, doesn't it? But he--he's such a nice fellow!"

"Yes, I believe he is," agreed her father.

"He's been telling me about himself, you know; about what he wants to do
in the world," added Susie, looking up at him.

"Has he?" and her father laughed. "The same old game--effective as ever!
We all do it--why, I remember, Susie--"

He stopped suddenly, with a little tremor in his voice.

"Yes, dad," very softly.

She was leaning forward on his knee, looking up at him. He put his arm
around her and drew her close.

"You're like your mother, Susie," was all he dared trust himself to say,
his arms tight around her.

They sat so a moment, lost in memory, until a knock at the door brought
Susie to her feet. A page handed in a little package.

"For Mademoiselle Rushford," he said.

"Thank you," said Susie, and closed the door. "For me?" she repeated, as
she turned back into the room. "What do you suppose it is?"

"The quickest way to find out is to open it, my dear," suggested her
father, drily.

Susie ripped the paper off in an instant, and disclosed a little book
bound in flexible red leather.

"'Who's Who,'" she read, looking at the title, and just then a card fell
out. She stooped and picked it up. "Why, it's from that odious French
detective! Listen, dad--'With the compliments of M. Andre Tellier, who
is sure of Mademoiselle Rushford's gratitude.'"

"Send it back to him," said her father. "Or here, give it to me--I'll go
down and smash his face with it. I ought to have kicked him out of the
house yesterday--I'd have done it but for Pelletan."

"Wait a minute, dad; here's a page turned down. Maybe there's something
he wanted me to see. Oh, yes; it's about Lord Vernon--he meant the book
for Nell--I'll call her," and she started toward the open door into the
inner room.

"Wait," said her father, instantly. "What about Vernon? Read it."

She stopped, struck by the tone of his voice.

"What do you mean, dad?" she asked, paling a little. "Surely, you don't
mean--"

"Read it," he repeated, sternly.

She opened the book with hands suddenly tremulous.

"'Vernon, fifth earl of (created 1703),'" she read, in a low voice.
"'George Henry Augustus Gardner, K. G., K. T., P. C., F. R. S., F. S.
A.; baronet 1628; Viscount Vernon, Baron Dalberry, 1710; Viscount
Cranford, 1712; Baron Vernon, 1829; trustee of Imperial Institute; born
tenth of May, 1859; son of Lord Henry Augustus Gardner, M. P., son of
fourth Earl and Mary, daughter of Richard Chaloner, Boston, U. S. A.;
married, Catherine--'"

"Married!" cried her father, and then restrained himself, though his
face turned crimson. "But go on--perhaps she's dead."

"No, she isn't dead!" said Sue, reading a line or two farther. Then she
closed the book. "I don't understand," she said, dazedly. "I can't
understand. He didn't seem that kind of man at all, dad!"

"No," said a hoarse voice from the door. "No, he didn't."

"Nell! Nellie dear!" cried Sue, and in an instant her arms were about
her.

"It--it doesn't matter," said Nell, steadying herself against the door,
striving to still a sudden convulsive shuddering. "I was a f-fool to
think he--he cared. Of course he--he was only amusing himself!" and then
her self-control suddenly gave way, and her head fell forward upon her
sister's shoulder. But only for a moment; that high queenliness was not
on the surface, merely, but in the heart, as well. "I think I'm getting
tired of Weet-sur-Mer, dad," she said, quite steadily, with a wan little
smile. "I seem to be hungering for New York again; wouldn't you like to
go home?"

"We'll go, of course, at once, dad," commanded Sue. "That's the only
thing to do. Oh!" she cried, her eyes flashing, "I could murder such a
man--cut him to pieces, inch by inch--and gloat over the deed!"

Rushford was very pale and his hands were trembling a little as he
started for the door.

"Yes, I'll order the trunks packed," he said, incoherently. "I'll have
to hurry--I'll try to--"

Something in his voice caught Susie's ear; she turned her head and
looked at him.

"Dad!" she called.

He paused with his hand on the knob.

"Dad, come here."

He came back reluctantly.

"We're to go away quietly, you know, without telling any one; there's to
be no fuss--we couldn't bear that--"

A tap on the door interrupted her. Rushford opened it. A man stood
without, a German with complexion like mahogany. He bowed silently and
handed in a note. Rushford took it and closed the door.

"It's from Markeld," he said, looking at the crest; "thought he hadn't
made his case quite emphatic enough, I guess," and he glanced at Susie's
blushing face and smiled. "Of course, we'll have to tell him," he added,
as he tore open the envelope and unfolded the sheet of paper it
contained. "He has a sort of right--"

He stopped.

Susie saw his face turn gray again.... A great fear fell upon her
heart--a cold, still fear that gripped her and left her shivering.

"What is it, dad?" she asked quietly, through clenched teeth.

"Nothing," answered her father, looking at her vaguely. "It's nothing.
It's--it's merely a matter of business, Susie."

"Come, dad," she said, still quietly, "don't try to deceive me. Tell
me--no matter what it is, I can bear it. Do you think I haven't any
pluck, dad?"

"Yes, I know you've got pluck, Susie," he said. "We've simply made a
mistake, my dear, in believing these blackguards honourable men. Let's
think no more about them."

"Read what he says, dad."

He hesitated still, but her eyes compelled him, and he read:

"'The Prince of Markeld begs to withdraw his proposal for the hand of
Miss Rushford.'"

"And that is all?"

"That is all, Susie."

"It couldn't be!" she said, a little hoarsely. "His aunt is
here--Monsieur Pelletan told me--and she has pointed out to him the
folly of it! I was silly to think it could come true! But, oh--" and she
dropped sobbing into a chair.

Her father stood for a moment watching the heaving shoulders. Then, with
a face hard as iron, he opened the door and closed it softly behind him.

CHAPTER XIX

An American Opinion of European Morals

"I tell you fellows for the last time," Lord Vernon was saying, "that we
can't keep this thing up any longer. Miss Rushford has served notice on
me that she's going to tell, and dashed if I blame her. Besides, there's
the note."

"The note can't hurt us--I've extracted its sting. As for Miss Rushford,
I might see her again," suggested Collins, who had been pacing nervously
up and down the room.

"See her? Nonsense! You'll do nothing of the sort! What right have we to
bother her? She'd probably send you about your business, anyway. She's
got a heart--something that diplomats know nothing about and never take
into account."

"We didn't take it into account in your case, that's true!" retorted
Collins, with covert irony.

"No, you didn't!" said the other, wheeling short around upon him. "Nor
did I take into account what a damned scoundrelly thing it was I was
persuaded into undertaking. I tell you, some of us will have to get down
and eat dirt before this thing is over!"

"Pshaw!" and Collins smiled loftily. "Before a petty German princeling?"

Vernon turned red with anger at the words, but as he opened his mouth to
reply, there came a sharp knock at the door.

"Come in!" he shouted, before the others could draw breath. "No, I'm not
going to hide!" he added, in answer to Collins's gesture. "That farce is
finished!"

The door opened and Monsieur Pelletan appeared on the threshold.

"Monsieur le Prince de Markeld!" he announced, and bowed low, as the
Prince advanced past him into the room. In the shadows of the hall,
Glueck's erect figure was dimly visible.

For a moment no one spoke, but Vernon's face was flushing under the
ironical gaze bent upon it.

"So," said the Prince, at last. "It appears that you are not ill. You
have been tricking me all the time!"

"Yes," answered Vernon, not attempting for an instant to evade the
question. "Tricking you--that is the word. I am glad she has told you."

"Do you think it was quite the course for a gentleman to pursue?"
continued the Prince, in a voice singularly even.

"No," said Vernon, quietly. "I do not."

"Nor do I!" said the Prince.

Again there was a moment's silence. It was Vernon who broke it.

"When I went into this thing," he began quite steadily, "I had no
thought that it would result as it has. It seemed to me an innocent
deception, warranted by reasons of state. We could not, of course,
foresee that you would follow us here, instead of going on to London.
For some time I have found the role unbearable; but, until a moment ago,
I fancied I might be able to explain to you the course I have taken."

"Explain!" repeated the Prince, with bitter emphasis.

"Now, of course," went on Vernon, evenly, "I see that no explanations
are possible--that no apology, even, which I might make, would excuse
me. I don't in the least believe in duelling--I have always thought that
I would be the last person in the world to be entangled in that way--but
this seems to be one of those situations which have no other solution. I
am quite willing, anxious even, to give you any satisfaction you may
demand. It is your right."

"I agree with you," said the Prince. "It is my right. My friends will
wait upon you," and he turned toward the door.

"But this is folly!" protested Collins, his face very red. "We are
living on the verge of the twentieth century, gentlemen; not in the
seventeenth. I won't countenance this madness for an instant."

"Who asks you to countenance it?" demanded Vernon, sternly. "I repeat, I
am at the Prince's service. I am glad that it is within my power to
offer him this reparation."

"Very well," said the Prince, bowing, and again turned to the door; but
Vernon stopped him with a gesture.

"Before you go, before I can meet you, even," he said, quietly, "there
is a further explanation due you--"

"I have no wish to hear it," the Prince broke in.

"It is one which you must, nevertheless, listen to," went on Vernon,
coldly. "Confession would, perhaps, be a better word for it. Miss
Rushford did not know the whole truth."

"So!" said the Prince, with irony. "You acted unfairly, then, even with
your co-conspirators!"

Vernon flushed hotly, but kept himself in hand.

"The retort is unworthy of you," he said. "I assure you that Miss
Rushford was not in any sense a co-conspirator."

"Do you mean that she was ignorant of the deception you were playing?"
demanded the Prince, quickly.

"No; she was not ignorant of that; but she--"

The Prince held up his hand with an imperious gesture.

"No more," he said; "if this is the explanation--confession--what you
will--I repeat that I do not care to hear it."

"This is not it."

"It cannot, in any event, alter matters."

"I have no wish that it should alter matters, Your Highness!" retorted
Vernon, proudly. "When I have offered you the greatest reparation in my
power, it is ungenerous that you should--"

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