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Gallantry by James Branch Cabell

Part 5 out of 6

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From within the Red Salon came a murmur of speech,--quiet, cordial,
colorless,--which showed very plainly that madame had visitors. As the Duc
de Puysange reached out his hand to draw aside the portieres, her voice was
speaking, courteously, but without vital interest.

"--and afterward," said she, "weather permitting--"

"Ah, Helene!" cried a voice that the Duke knew almost as well, "how long am
I to be held at arm's-length by these petty conventionalities? Is candor
never to be permitted?"

The half-drawn portiere trembled in the Duke's grasp. He could see, from
where he stood, the inmates of the salon, though their backs were turned.
They were his wife and the Marquis de Soyecourt. The Marquis bent eagerly
toward the Duchesse de Puysange, who had risen as he spoke.

For a moment she stayed as motionless as her perplexed husband; then,
with a wearied sigh, the Duchess sank back into a _fauteuil_. "You are at
liberty to speak," she said, slowly, and with averted glance--"what you
choose."

The portiere fell; but between its folds the Duke still peered into the
room, where de Soyecourt had drawn nearer to the Duke's wife. "There is
so little to say," the Marquis murmured, "beyond what my eyes have surely
revealed a great while ago--that I love you."

"Ah!" the Duchess cried, with a swift intaking of the breath which was
almost a sob. "Monsieur, I think you forget that you are speaking to the
wife of your kinsman and your friend."

The Marquis threw out his hands in a gesture which was theatrical, though
the trouble that wrung his countenance seemed very real. He was, as one has
said, a slight, fair man, with the face of an ecclesiastic and the eyes of
an aging seraph. A dull pang shot through the Duke as he thought of the two
years' difference in their ages, and of his own tendency to embonpoint, and
of the dismal features which calumniated him. Yonder porcelain fellow was
in appearance so incredibly young!

"Do you consider," said the Marquis, "that I do not know I act an
abominable part? Honor, friendship and even decency!--ah, I regret their
sacrifice, but love is greater than these petty things!"

The Duchess sighed. "For my part," she returned, "I think differently.
Love is, doubtless, very wonderful and beautiful, but I am sufficiently
old-fashioned to hold honor yet dearer. Even--even if I loved you,
monsieur, there are certain promises, sworn before the altar, that I could
not forget." She looked up, candidly, into the flushed, handsome face of
the Marquis.

"Words!" he cried, with vexed impatiency.

"An oath," she answered, sadly,--"an oath that I may not break."

There was hunger in the Marquis' eyes, and his hands lifted. Their glances
met for a breathless moment, and his eyes were tender, and her eyes were
resolute, but very, very compassionate.

"I love you!" he said. He said no more than this, but none could doubt he
spoke the truth.

"Monsieur," the Duchess replied, and the depths of her contralto voice were
shaken like the sobbing of a violin, and her hands stole upward to her
bosom, and clasped the gold heart, as she spoke,--"monsieur, ever since I
first knew you, many years ago, at my father's home, I have held you as my
friend. You were more kind to the girl, Monsieur de Soyecourt, than you
have been to the woman. Yet only since our stay in Poictesme yonder have
I feared for the result of our friendship. I have tried to prevent this
result. I have failed." The Duchess lifted the gold heart to her lips, and
her golden head bent over it. "Monsieur, before God, if I had loved you
with my whole being,--if I had loved you all these years,--if the sight of
your face were to me to-day the one good thing life holds, and the mere
sound of your voice had power to set my heart to beating--beating"--she
paused for a little, and then rose, with a sharp breath that shook her
slender body visibly,--"even then, my Louis, the answer would be the same;
and that is,--go!"

"Helene--!" he murmured; and his outstretched hands, which trembled, groped
toward her.

"Let us have no misunderstanding," she protested, more composedly; "you
have my answer."

De Soyecourt did not, at mildest, lead an immaculate life. But by
the passion that now possessed him the tiny man seemed purified and
transfigured beyond masculinity. His face was ascetic in its reverence as
he waited there, with his head slightly bowed. "I go," he said, at last, as
if picking his way carefully among tumbling words; then bent over her hand,
which, she made no effort to withdraw. "Ah, my dear!" cried the Marquis,
staring into her shy, uplifted eyes, "I think I might have made you happy!"

His arm brushed the elbow of the Duke as de Soyecourt left the salon. The
Marquis seemed aware of nothing: the misery of both the men, as de Puysange
reflected, was of a sort to be disturbed by nothing less noticeable than an
earthquake.

VII

"If I had loved you all these years," murmured the Duc de Puysange. His
dull gaze wandered toward the admirable "Herodias" of Giorgione which hung
there in the corridor: the strained face of the woman, the accented muscles
of her arms, the purple, bellying cloak which spread behind her, the livid
countenance of the dead man staring up from the salver,--all these he
noted, idly. It seemed strange that he should be appraising a painting at
this particular moment.

"Well, now I will make recompense," said the Duke.

VIII

He came into the room, humming a tune of the boulevards; the crimson
hangings swirled about him, the furniture swayed in aerial and thin-legged
minuets. He sank into a chair before the great mirror, supported by frail
love-gods, who contended for its possession. He viewed therein his pale and
grotesque reflection, and he laughed lightly. "Pardon, madame," he said,
"but my castles in the air are tumbling noisily about my ears. It is
difficult to think clearly amid the crashing of the battlements."

"I do not understand." The Duchess had lifted a rather grave and quite
incurious face as he entered the salon.

"My life," laughed the Duc de Puysange, "I assure you I am quite
incorrigible. I have just committed another abominable action; and I cry
_peccavi!_" He smote himself upon the breast, and sighed portentously. "I
accuse myself of eavesdropping."

"What is your meaning?" She had now risen to her feet.

"Nay, but I am requited," the Duke reassured her, and laughed with
discreetly tempered bitterness. "Figure to yourself, madame! I had
planned for us a life during which our new-born friendship was always to
endure untarnished. Eh bien, man proposes! De Soyecourt is of a jealous
disposition; and here I sit, amid my fallen aircastles, like that tiresome
Marius in his Carthaginian debris."

"De Soyecourt?" she echoed, dully.

"Ah, my poor child!" said the Duke and, rising, took her hand in a paternal
fashion, "did you think that, at this late day, the disease of matrimony
was still incurable? Nay, we progress, madame. You shall have grounds for a
separation--sufficient, unimpeachable grounds. You shall have your choice
of desertion, infidelity, cruelty in the presence of witnesses--oh, I shall
prove a yeritabie Gilles de Retz!" He laughed, not unkindlily, at her
bewilderment.

"You heard everything?" she queried.

"I have already confessed," the Duke reminded her. "And speaking as an
unprejudiced observer, I would say the little man really loves you. So be
it! You shall have your separation, you shall marry him in all honor and
respectability; and if everything goes well, you shall be a grand duchess
one of these days--Behold a fact accomplished!" De Puysange snapped his
fingers and made a pirouette; he began to hum, "Songez de bonne a suivre--"

There was a little pause.

"You, in truth, desire to restore to me my freedom?" she asked, in wonder,
and drew near to him.

The Duc de Puysange seated himself, with a smile. "Mon Dieu!" he protested,
"who am I to keep lovers apart? As the first proof of our new-sworn
friendship, I hereby offer you any form of abuse or of maltreatment you may
select."

She drew yet nearer to him. Afterward, with a sigh as if of great
happiness, her arms clasped about his neck. "Mountebank! do you, then, love
me very much?"

"I?" The Duke raised his eyebrows. Yet, he reflected, there was really no
especial harm in drawing his cheek a trifle closer to hers, and he found
the contact to be that of cool velvet.

"You love me!" she repeated, softly.

"It pains me to the heart," the Duke apologized--"it pains me, pith and
core, to be guilty of this rudeness to a lady; but, after all, honesty is
a proverbially recommended virtue, and so I must unblushingly admit I do
nothing of the sort."

"Gaston, why will you not confess to your new friend? Have I not pardoned
other amorous follies?" Her cheeks were warmer now, and softer than those
of any other woman in the world.

"Eh, ma mie," cried the Duke, warningly, "do not be unduly elated by little
Louis' avowal! You are a very charming person, but--'_de gustibus_--'"

"Gaston--!" she murmured.

"Ah, what is one to do with such a woman!" De Puysange put her from him,
and he paced the room with quick, unequal strides.

"Yes, I love you with every nerve and fibre of my body--with every not
unworthy thought and aspiration of my misguided soul! There you have the
ridiculous truth of it, the truth which makes me the laughing-stock of
well bred persons for all time. I adore you. I love you, I cherish you
sufficiently to resign you to the man your heart has chosen. I--But pardon
me,"--and he swept a white hand over his brow, with a little, choking
laugh,--"since I find this new emotion somewhat boisterous. It stifles one
unused to it."

She faced him, inscrutably; but her eyes were deep wells of gladness.
"Monsieur," she said, "yours is a noble affection. I will not palter with
it, I accept your offer--"

"Madame, you act with your usual wisdom," said the Duke.

"--Upon condition," she continued,--"that you resume your position as
eavesdropper."

The Duke obeyed her pointing finger. When he had reached the portieres,
the proud, black-visaged man looked back into the salon, wearily. She had
seated herself in the _fauteuil_, where the Marquis de Soyecourt had bent
over her and she had kissed the little gold locket. Her back was turned
toward, her husband; but their eyes met in the great mirror, supported by
frail love-gods, who contended for its possession.

"Comedy for comedy," she murmured. He wondered what purblind fool had
called her eyes sea-cold?

"I do not understand," he said. "You saw me all the while--Yes, but the
locket--?" cried de Puysange.

"Open it!" she answered, and her speech, too, was breathless.

Under his heel the Duc de Puysange ground the trinket. The long, thin chain
clashed and caught about his foot; the face of his youth smiled from the
fragment in his not quite steady hands. "O heart' of gold! O heart of
gold!" he said, with, a strange meditative smile, now that his eyes lifted
toward the glad and glorious eyes of his wife; "I am not worthy! Indeed, my
dear, I am not worthy!"

IX

THE SCAPEGOATS

_As Played at Manneville, September 18, 1750_

"_L'on a choisi justement le temps que je parlois a mon traiste de fils.
Sortons! Je veux aller querir la justice, et faire donner la question a
toute ma maison; a servantes, a valets, a fils, a fille, et a moi aussi._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

PRINCE DE GATINAIS, an old nobleman, who affects yesterday's fashion.

Louis QUILLAN, formerly LOUIS DE SOYECOURT, son to the Prince, and newly
become GRAND DUKE OF NOUMARIA.

VANRINGHAM, valet to the Prince.

NELCHEN THORN, daughter to Hans Thorn, landlord of the _Golden
Pomegranate_, and loves Louis Quillan.

And In the Proem, DUKE OF OSMSKIRK.

SCENE

The Dolphin Room of the _Golden Pomegranate_, an inn at
Manneville-en-Poictesme.

THE SCAPEGOATS

_PROEM:-To Present Mr. Vanringham as Nuntius_

However profoundly the Duc de Puysange now approved of the universe and of
its management, it is not to be supposed that in consequence he intended
to overlook de Soyecourt's perfidy. De Puysange bore his kinsman no
malice; indeed, he was sincerely fond of the Marquis, sympathized with
him at bottom, and heartily regretted that the excellence of poor Louis'
taste should be thus demonstrably counterbalanced by the frailty of his
friendship. Still, one cannot entirely disregard the conventions: Louis had
betrayed him, had before the eyes of de Puysange made love to de Puysange's
wife. A duel was the inevitable consequence, though of course the Duke did
not intend to kill poor Louis, who might before long be very useful to
French statesmanship. So the Duke sent Ormskirk to arrange a meeting.

A floridly handsome man in black was descending the stairway of the Hotel
de Soyecourt at the moment the Duke of Ormskirk stepped cheerily from his
coach. This person saluted the plump nobleman with due deference, and was
accorded in return a little whistling sound of amazement.

"Mr. Vanringham, as I live--and in Paris! Man, will you hare-brained
Jacobites never have done with these idiotic intrigues? Nay, in sincerity,
Mr. Vanringham, this is annoying."

"My Lord Duke," said the other, "I venture to suggest that you forget
I dare no longer meddle with politics, in light of my recent mishap at
Tunbridge. Something of the truth leaked out, you comprehend--nothing
provable, thank God!--but while I lay abed Captain Audaine was calling
daily to inquire when would my wound be healed sufficiently for me to have
my throat cut. I found England unsalubrious, and vanished."

Ormskirk nodded his approval. "I have always esteemed your common-sense.
Now, let us consider--yes, I might use you here in Paris, I believe. And
the work is light and safe,--a trifle of sedition, of stirring up a street
riot or two."

Vanringham laughed. "I might have recognized your hand in the late
disturbances, sir. As matters stand, I can only thank your Grace and regret
that I have earlier secured employment. I've been, since April, valet to
the old Prince de Gatinais, Monsieur de Soyecourt's father."

"Yet lackeyship smacks, however vaguely, of an honest livelihood. You
disappoint me, Mr. Vanringham."

"Nay, believe me, I yet pilfer a cuff-button or perhaps a jewel, when
occasion offers, lest any of my talents rust. For we reside at Beaujolais
yonder, my Lord Duke, where we live in retirement and give over our old
age to curious chemistries. It suits me well enough. I find the air of
Beaujolais excellent, my duties none too arduous, and the girls of the
country-side neither hideous nor obdurate. Oho, I'm tolerably content at
Beaujolais--the more for that 'tis expedient just now to go more softly
than ever Ahab did of old."

"Lest your late associates get wind of your whereabouts? In that I don't
question your discretion, Mr. Vanringham. And out of pure friendliness I
warn you Paris is a very hotbed of hot-headed Jacobites who would derive
unmerited pleasure from getting a knife into your ribs."

"Yet on an occasion of such importance--" Vanringham began; then marvelled
in reply to the Duke's look of courteous curiosity: "You han't heard,
sir, that my master's son is unexpectedly become the next Grand Duke of
Noumaria!"

"Zounds!" said his Grace of Ormskirk, all alert, "is old Ludwig dead
at last? Why, then, the damned must be holding a notable carnival by
this, in honor of his arrival. Hey, but there was a merry rascal, a
thorough-paced--" He broke off short. He laughed. "What the devil, man!
Monsieur de Soyecourt is Ludwig's nephew, I grant you, on the maternal
side, but Ludwig left a son. De Soyecourt remains de Soyecourt so long
as Prince Rudolph lives,--and Prince Rudolph is to marry the Elector of
Badenburg's daughter this autumn, so that we may presently look for any
number of von Freistadts to perpetuate the older branch. Faith, you should
study your _Genealogischer Hofkalender_ more closely, Mr. Vanringham."

"Oh, but very plainly your Grace has heard no word of the appalling tragedy
that hath made our little Louis a reigning monarch--"

With gusto Francis Vanringham narrated the details of Duke Ludwig's last
mad freak [Footnote: In his _Journal_ Horace Calverley gives a long and
curious account of the disastrous masque at Breschau of which he, then on
the Grand Tour, had the luck to be an eye-witness. His hints as to the part
played in the affair by Kaunitz are now, of course, largely discredited by
the later confessions of de Puysange.] which, as the world knows, resulted
in the death of both Ludwig and his son, as well as that of their five
companions in the escapade,--with gusto, for in progress the soul of the
former actor warmed to his subject. But Ormskirk was sensibly displeased.

"Behold what is termed a pretty kettle of fish!" said the Duke, in
meditation, when Vanringham had made an end. "Plainly, Gaston cannot fight
the rascal, since Hop-o'-my-thumb is now, most vexatiously, transformed
into a quasi-Royal Personage, Assassination, I fear, is out of the
question. So all our English plans will go to pot. A Frenchman will reign
in Noumaria,--after we had not only bought old Ludwig, but had paid for
him, too! Why, I suppose he gave that damnable masquerade on the strength
of having our money,--good English money, mark you, Mr. Vanringham, that we
have to squeeze out of honest tax-payers to bribe such, rascals with, only
to have them, cheat us by cooking themselves to a crisp! This is annoying,
Mr. Vanringham."

"I don't entirely follow your Grace--"

"It is not perhaps desirable you should. Yet I give you a key. It is
profoundly to be deplored that little Louis de Soyecourt, who cannot draw
a contented breath outside of his beloved Paris, should be forced to marry
Victoria von Uhm, in his cousin's place,--yes, for Gaston will arrange
that, of course,--and afterward be exiled to a semi-barbarous Noumaria,
where he must devote the rest of his existence to heading processions
and reviewing troops, and signing proclamations and guzzling beer and
sauerkraut. Nay, beyond doubt, Mr. Vanringham, this is deplorable. 'Tis an
appalling condition of affairs: it reminds me of Ovid among the Goths, Mr.
Vanringham!"

"I'm to understand, then--?" the valet stammered.

"You are to understand that I am more deeply your debtor than I could
desire you to believe; that I am going to tell the Marquis de Soyecourt all
which I have told you, though I must reword it for him, as eloquently as
may be possible; and that I even now feel myself to be Ciceronic." The Duke
of Ormskirk passed on with a polite nod.

* * * * *

Next day they gossiped busily at Versailles over the sudden disappearance
of Louis de Soyecourt. No more was heard of him for months. The mystery was
discussed, and by the wits embroidered, and by the imaginative annotated,
but it was never solved until the following September.

I

For it was in September that, upon the threshold of the _Golden
Pomegranate_, at Manneville in Poictesme, Monsieur Louis Quillan paused,
and gave the contented little laugh which had of late become habitual with
him. "We are en fete to-night, it appears. Has the King, then, by any
chance dropped in to supper with us, Nelchen?"

Silently the girl bestowed a provisional pat upon one fold of the white
table-cloth and regarded the result with critical approval. All being
in blameless order, she moved one of the candlesticks the width of a
needle. The table was now garnished to the last resource of the _Golden
Pomegranate_: the napery was snow, the glassware and the cutlery shone with
a frosty glitter, and the great bowl of crimson roses afforded the exact
splurge of vainglorious color and glow she had designed. Accordingly, being
now at leisure, Nelchen now came toward Monsieur Quillan, lifting her lips
to his precisely as a child might have done.

"Not quite the King, my Louis. None the less I am sure that Monseigneur
is an illustrious person. He arrived not two hours ago--" She told how
Monseigneur had come in a coach, very splendid; even his lackeys were
resplendent. Monseigneur would stay overnight and would to-morrow push
on, to Beauseant. He had talked with her,--a kindly old gentleman, but so
stately that all the while she had been the tiniest thought afraid of him.
He must be some exalted nobleman, Nelchen considered,--a marquis at the
very least.

Meantime diminutive Louis Quillan had led her to the window-seat beneath
the corridor, and sat holding one plump trifle of a hand, the, while
her speech fluttered bird-like from this topic to that; and be regarded
Nelchen Thorn with an abysmal content. The fates, he considered, had been
commendably generous to him.

So he leaned back from her a little, laughing gently, and marked what a
quaint and eager child it was. He rejoiced that she was beautiful, and
triumphed still more to know that even if she had not been beautiful it
would have made slight difference to him. The soul of Nelchen was enough.
Yet, too, it was desirable this soul should be appropriately clad, that she
should have, for instance, these big and lustrous eyes,--plaintive eyes,
such as a hamadryad would conceivably possess, since they were beyond doubt
the candid and appraising eyes of some woodland creature, and always seemed
to find the world not precisely intimidating, perhaps, yet in the ultimate
a very curious place where one trod gingerly. Still, this Nelchen was a
practical body, prone to laughter,--as in nature, any person would be whose
mouth was all rotund and tiny scarlet curves. Why, it was, to a dimple,
the mouth which Francois Boucher bestowed on his sleek goddesses! Louis
Quillan was sorry for poor Boucher painting away yonder at a noisy garish
Versailles, where he would never see that perfect mouth the artist had so
often dreamed of. No, not in the sweet flesh at least; lips such as these
were unknown at Versailles....

And but four months ago he had fancied himself to be in love with Helene
de Puysange, he remembered; and, by and large, he still considered Helene
a delightful person. Yes, Helene had made him quite happy last spring: and
when they found she was with child, and their first plan failed, she had
very adroitly played out their comedy to win back Gaston in time to avoid
scandal. Yes, you could not but admire Helene, yet, even so....

"--and he asked me, oh, so many questions about you, Louis--"

"About me?" said Louis Quillan, blankly. He was all circumspection now.

"About my lover, you stupid person. Monseigneur assumed, somehow, that I
would have a lover or two. You perceive that he at least is not a stupid
person." And Nelchen tossed her head, with a touch of the provocative.

Louis Quillan did what seemed advisable. "--and, furthermore, your
stupidity is no excuse for rumpling my hair," said Nelchen, by and by.

"Then you should not pout," replied Monsieur Quillan. "Sanity is entirely
too much to require of any man when you pout. Besides, your eyes are so
big and so bright they bewilder one. In common charity you ought to wear
spectacles, Nelchen,--in sheer compassion toward mankind."

"Monseigneur, also, has wonderful eyes, Louis. They are like the
stars,--very brilliant and cool and incurious, yet always looking at you as
though you were so insignificant that the mere fact of your presuming to
exist at all was a trifle interesting."

"Like the stars!" Louis Quillan had flung back the shutter. It was a
tranquil evening in September, with no moon as yet, but with a great
multitude of lesser lights overhead. "Incurious like the stars! They do
dwarf one, rather. Yet just now I protest to you, infinitesimal man that I
am, I half-believe le bon Dieu loves us so utterly that He has kindled all
those pretty tapers solely for our diversion. He wishes us to be happy,
Nelchen; and so He has given us the big, fruitful, sweet-smelling world
to live in, and our astonishing human bodies to live in, with contented
hearts, and with no more vain desires, no loneliness--Why, in a word, He
has given us each other. Oh, beyond doubt, He loves us, my Nelchen!"

For a long while the girl was silent. Presently she spoke, half-hushed,
like one in the presence of sanctity. "I am happy. For these three months I
have been more happy than I had thought was permissible on earth. And yet,
Louis, you tell me that those stars are worlds perhaps like ours,--think of
it, my dear, millions and millions of worlds like ours, and on each world
perhaps a million of lovers like us! It is true that among them all no
woman loves as I do, for that would be impossible. Yet think of it, mon
ami, how inconsiderable a thing is the happiness of one man and of one
woman in this immensity! Why, we are less than nothing, you and I! Ohe, I
am afraid, hideously afraid, Louis,--for we are such little folk and the
universe is so big. And always the storms go about it, and its lightnings
thrust at us, and the waters of it are clutching at our feet, and its laws
are not to be changed--Oh, it is big and cruel, my dear, and we are adrift
in it, we who are so little!"

He again put forth his hand toward her. "What a morbid child it is!" said
Louis Quillan. "I can assure you I have resided in this same universe just
twice as long as you, and I find that upon the whole the establishment
is very creditably conducted. There arrives, to be sure, an occasional
tornado, or perhaps an earthquake, each with its incidental inconveniences.
On the other hand, there is every evening a lavishly arranged sunset, like
gratis fireworks, and each morning (I am credibly informed) a sunrise of
which poets and energetic people are pleased to speak highly; while every
year spring comes in, like a cosmical upholsterer, and refurnishes the
entire place, and makes us glad to live. Nay, I protest to you, this is
an excellent world, my Nelchen! and likewise I protest to you that in its
history there was never a luckier nor a happier man than I."

Nelchen considered. "Well," she generously conceded; "perhaps, after all,
the stars are more like diamonds."

Louis Quillan chuckled. "And since when were you a connoisseur of diamonds,
my dear?"

"Of course I have never actually seen any. I would like to, though--yes,
Louis, what I would really like would be to have a bushelful or so of
diamonds, and to marry a duke--only the duke would have to be you, of
course,--and to go to Court, and to have all the fine ladies very jealous
of me, and for them to be very much in love with you, and for you not to
care a sou for them, of course, and for us both to see the King." Nelchen
paused, quite out of breath after this ambitious career in the imaginative.

"To see the King, indeed!" scoffed little Louis Quillan. "Why, we would see
only a very disreputable pockmarked wornout lecher if we did."

"Still," she pointed out, "I would like to see a king. Simply because I
never have done so before, you conceive."

"At times, my Nelchen, you are effeminate. Eve ate the apple for that
identical reason. Yet what you say is odd, because--do you know?--I once
had a friend who was by way of being a sort of king."

Nelchen gave a squeal of delight. "And you never told me about him! I
loathe you."

Louis Quillan did what seemed advisable. "--and, furthermore, your
loathsomeness is no excuse for rumpling my hair," said Nelchen, by and by.

"But there is so little to tell. His father had married the Grand Duke
of Noumaria's daughter,--over yonder between Silesia and Badenburg, you
may remember. And so last spring when the Grand Duke and the Prince were
both killed in that horrible fire, my friend quite unexpectedly became a
king--oh, king of a mere celery-patch, but still a sort of king. Figure to
yourself, Nelchen! they were going to make my poor friend marry the Elector
of Badenburg's daughter,--and Victoria von Uhm has perfection stamped upon
her face in all its odious immaculacy,--and force him to devote the rest
of his existence to heading processions and reviewing troops, and signing
proclamations, and guzzling beer and sauerkraut. Why, he would have been
like Ovid among the Goths, my Nelchen!"

"But he could have worn such splendid uniforms!" said Nelchen. "And
diamonds!"

"You mercenary wretch!" said he. Louis Quillan then did what seemed
advisable; and presently he added, "In any event, the horrified man ran
away."

"That was silly of him," said Nelchen Thorn. "But where did he run to?"

Louis Quillan considered. "To Paradise," he at last decided. "And there he
found a disengaged angel, who very imprudently lowered herself to the point
of marrying him. And so he lived happily ever afterward. And so, till the
day of his death, he preached the doctrine that silliness is the supreme
wisdom."

"And he regretted nothing?" Nelchen said, after a meditative while.

Louis Quillan began to laugh. "Oh, yes! at times he profoundly regretted
Victoria von Uhm."

Then Nelchen gave him a surprise, for the girl bent toward him and leaned
one hand upon each shoulder. "Diamonds are not all, are they, Louis?
I thank you, dear, for telling me of what means so much to you. I can
understand, I think, because for a long while I have tried to know and care
for everything that concerns you."

The little man had risen to his feet. "Nelchen--!"

"Hush!" said Nelchen Thorn; "Monseigneur is coming down to his supper."

II

It was a person of conspicuous appearance, both by reason of his great
height and leanness as well as his extreme age, who now descended the
straight stairway leading from the corridor above. At Court they would have
told you that the Prince de Gatinais was a trifle insane, but he troubled
the Court very little, since he had spent the last twenty years, with brief
intermissions, at his chateau near Beaujolais, where, as rumor buzzed
it, he had fitted out a laboratory, and had devoted his old age to the
study of chemistry. "Between my flute and my retorts, my bees and my
chocolate-creams," the Prince was wont to say, "I manage to console myself
for the humiliating fact that even Death has forgotten my existence." For
he had a child's appetite for sweets, and was at this time past eighty,
though still well-nigh as active as Antoine de Soyecourt had ever been,
even when--a good half-century ago--he had served, with distinction under
Louis Quatorze.

To-night the Prince de Gatinais was all in steel-gray, of a metallic
lustre, with prodigiously fine ruffles at his throat and wrists. You would
have found something spectral in the tall, gaunt old man, for his periwig
was heavily powdered, and his deep-wrinkled countenance was of an absolute
white, save for the thin, faintly bluish lips and the inklike glitter of
his narrowing eyes, as he now regarded the couple waiting hand in hand
before him, like children detected in mischief.

Little Louis Quillan had drawn an audible breath at first sight of the
newcomer. Monsieur Quillan did not speak, however, but merely waited.

"You have fattened," the Prince de Gatinais said, at last, "I wish I could
fatten. It is incredible that a man who eats pounds of sugar daily should
yet remain a skeleton." His voice was guttural, and a peculiar slur
ran through his speech, caused by the loss of his upper front teeth at
Ramillies.

Louis Quillan came of a stock not lightly abashed. "I have fattened on a
new diet, monsieur,--on happiness. But, ma foi! I am discourteous. Permit
me, my father, to present Mademoiselle Nelchen Thorn, who has so far
honored me as to consent to become my wife. 'Nelchen, I present to you my
father, the Prince de Gatinais."

"Oh--?" observed Nelchen, midway in her courtesy.

But the Prince had taken her fingers and he kissed them quite as though
they had been the finger-tips of the all-powerful Pompadour at Versailles
yonder. "I salute the future Marquise de Soyecourt. You young people will
sup with me, then?"

"No, monseigneur, for I am to wait upon the table," said Nelchen, "and
Father is at Sigean overnight, having the mare shod, and there is only
Leon, and, oh, thank you very much indeed, monseigneur, but I had much
rather wait on the table."

The Prince waved his hand. "My valet, mademoiselle, is at your disposal.
Vanringham!" he called.

From the corridor above descended a tall red-headed fellow in black.
"Monseigneur--?"

"Go!" quickly said Louis de Soyecourt, while the Prince spoke with his
valet,--"go, Nelchen, and make yourself even more beautiful if such a thing
be possible. He will never resist you, my dear--ah, no, that is out of
nature."

"You will find more plates in the cupboard, Monsieur Vanringham," remarked
Nelchen, as she obediently tripped up the stairway, toward her room in the
right wing. "And the knives and forks are in the second drawer."

So Vanringham laid two covers in discreet silence; then bowed and withdrew
by the side door that led to the kitchen. The Prince had seated himself
beside the open fire, where he yawned and now looked up with a smile.

"Well, Louis," said the Prince de Gatinais--"so Monsieur de Puysange and I
have run you to earth at last. And I find you have determined to defy me,
eh?"

III

"I trust there is no question of defiance," Louis de Soyecourt equably
returned. "Yet I regret you should have been at pains to follow me, since I
still claim the privilege of living out my life in my own fashion."

"You claim a right which never existed, my little son. It is not demanded
of any man that he be happy, whereas it is manifestly necessary for a
gentleman to obey his God, his King, and his own conscience without
swerving. If he also find time for happiness, well and good; otherwise, he
must be unhappy. But, above all, he must intrepidly play out his allotted
part in the good God's scheme of things, and must with due humbleness
recognize that the happiness or the unhappiness of any man alive is a
trivial consideration as against the fulfilment of this scheme."

"You and Nelchen are much at one there," the Marquis lightly replied; "yet,
for my part, I fancy that Providence is not particularly interested in who
happens to be the next Grand Duke of Noumaria."

The Prince struck with his hand upon the arm of his chair. "You dare to
jest! Louis, your levity is incorrigible. France is beaten, discredited
among nations, naked to her enemies. She lies here, between England and
Prussia, as in a vise. God summons you, a Frenchman, to reign in Noumaria,
and in addition affords you a chance to marry that weathercock of
Badenburg's daughter. Ah, He never spoke more clearly, Louis. And you would
reply with a shallow jest! Why, Badenburg and Noumaria just bridge that
awkward space between France and Austria. Your accession would confirm the
Empress,--Gaston de Puysange has it in her own hand, yonder at Versailles!
I tell you it is all planned that France and Austria will combine, Louis!
Think of it,--our France on her feet again, mistress of Europe, and every
whit of it your doing, Louis,--ah, my boy, my boy, you cannot refuse!"

Thus he ran on in a high, disordered voice, pleading, clutching at his son
with a strange new eagerness which now possessed the Prince de Gatinais.
He was remembering the France which he had known; not the ignoble, tawdry
France of the moment, misruled by women, rakes, confessors, and valets, but
the France of his dead Sun King; and it seemed to Louis de Soyecourt that
the memory had brought back with it the youth of his father for an instant.
Just for a heart-beat, the lank man towered erect, his cheeks pink, and
every muscle tense.

Then Louis de Soyecourt shook his head. In England's interest, as he now
knew, Ormskirk had played upon de Soyecourt's ignorance and his love of
pleasure, as an adept plays upon the strings of a violin; but de Soyecourt
had his reason, a gigantic reason, for harboring no grudge against the
Englishman.

"Frankly, my father, I would not give up Nelchen though all Europe depended
upon it. I am a coward, perhaps; but I have my chance of happiness, and
I mean to take it. So Cousin Otto is welcome to the duchy. I infinitely
prefer Nelchen."

"Otto! a general in the Prussian army, Frederick's property, Frederick's
idolater!" The old Prince now passed from an apex of horror to his former
pleading tones. "But, then, it is not necessary you give up Nelchen. Ah,
no, a certain latitude is permissible in these matters, you understand. She
could be made a countess, a marquise,--anything you choose to demand, my
Louis. And you could marry Princess Victoria just the same--"

"Were you any other man, monsieur," said Louis de Soyecourt, "I would,
of course, challenge you. As it is, I can only ask you to respect my
helplessness. It is very actual helplessness, sir, for Nelchen has been
bred in such uncourtly circles as to entertain the most provincial notions
about becoming anybody's whore."

Now the Prince de Gatinais sank back into the chair. He seemed incredibly
old now. "You are right," he mumbled,--"yes, you are right, Louis. I have
talked with her. With her that would be impossible. These bourgeois do not
understand the claims of noble birth."

The younger man had touched him upon the shoulder. "My father,--" he began.

"Yes, I am your father," said the other, dully, "and it is that which
puzzles me. You are my own son, and yet you prefer your happiness to
the welfare of France, to the very preservation of France. Never in six
centuries has there been a de Soyecourt to do that. God and the King we
served ... six centuries ... and to-day my own son prefers an innkeeper's
daughter..." His voice trailed and slurred like that of one speaking in his
sleep, for he was an old man, and by this the flare of his excitement had
quite burned out, and weariness clung about his senses like a drug. "I will
go back to Beaujolais ... to my retorts and my bees ... and forget there
was never a de Soyecourt in six centuries, save my own son...."

"My father!" Louis de Soyecourt cried, and shook him gently. "Ah, I dare
say you are right, in theory. But in practice I cannot give her up. Surely
you understand--why, they tell me there was never a more ardent lover than
you. They tell me--And you would actually have me relinquish Nelchen, even
after you have seen her! Yet remember, monsieur, I love her much as you
loved my mother,--that mettlesome little princess whom you stole from the
very heart of her court.[Footnote: The curious may find further details of
the then Marquis de Soyecourt's abduction of the Princess Clotilda in the
voluminous pages of Hulot, under the year 1708.] Ah, I have heard tales of
you, you conceive. And Nelchen means as much to me as once my mother meant
to you, remember--She means youth, and happiness, and a tiny space of
laughter before I, too, am worm's-meat, and means a proper appreciation of
God's love for us all, and means everything a man's mind clutches at when
he wakens from some forgotten dream that leaves him weeping with sheer
adoration of its beauty. Ho, never was there a kinder father than you,
monsieur. You have spoiled me most atrociously, I concede; and after so
many years you cannot in decency whip about like this and deny me my very
life. Why, my father it is your little Louis who is pleading with you,--and
you have never denied me anything! See, now, how I presume upon your
weakness. I am actually bullying you into submission--bullying you through
your love for me. Eh, we love greatly, we de Soyecourts, and give all for
love. Your own life attests that, monsieur. Now, then, let us recognize the
fact we are de Soyecourts, you and I. Ah, my father,--"

Thus he babbled on, for the sudden languor of the Prince had alarmed him,
and Louis de Soyecourt, to afford him justice, loved his father with a
heartier intensity than falls to the portion of most parents. To arouse the
semi-conscious man was his one thought. And now he got his reward, for the
Prince de Gatinais opened his keen old eyes, a trifle dazedly, and drew a
deep breath which shook his large frail body through and through.

"Let us recognize that we are de Soyecourts, you and I," he repeated, in a
new voice. "After all, I cannot drag you to Noumaria by the scruff of your
neck like a truant school-boy. Yes, let us recognize the fact that we are
de Soyecourts, you and I."

"Heh, in that event," said the Marquis, "we must both fall upon our knees
forthwith. For look, my father!"

Nelchen Thorn was midway in her descent of the stairs. She wore her simple
best. All white it was, and yet the plump shoulders it displayed were not
put to shame. Rather must April clouds and the snows of December retire
abashed, as lamentably inefficient analogues, the Marquis meditated; and as
she paused starry-eyed and a thought afraid, it seemed to him improbable
that even the Prince de Gatinais could find it in his heart greatly to
blame his son.

"I begin to suspect," said the Prince, "that I am Jacob of old, and that
you are a very young cherub venturing out of Paradise through motives of
curiosity. Eh, my dear, let us see what entertainment we can afford you
during your visit to earth." He took her hand and led her to the table.

IV

Vanringham served. Never was any one more blithe than the lean Prince de
Gatinais. The latest gossip of Versailles was delivered, with discreet
emendations; he laughed gayly; and he ate with an appetite. There was a
blight among the cattle hereabouts? How deplorable! witchcraft, beyond
doubt. And Louis passed as a piano-tuner?--because there were no pianos in
Manneville. Excellent! he had always given Louis credit for a surpassing
cleverness; now it was demonstrated. In fine, the Prince de Gatinais became
so jovial that Nelchen was quite at ease, and Louis de Soyecourt became
vaguely alarmed. He knew his father, and for the Prince to yield thus
facilely was incredible. Still, his father had seen Nelchen, had talked
with Nelchen....

Now the Prince rose. "Fresh glasses, Vanringham," he ordered; and then: "I
give you a toast. Through desire of love and happiness, you young people
have stolen a march on me. Eh, I am not Sgarnarelle of the comedy!
therefore, I drink cheerfully to love and happiness, I consider Louis is
not in the right, but I know that he is wise, my daughter, as concerns his
soul's health, in clinging to you rather than to a tinsel crown. Of Fate
I have demanded--like Sgarnarelle of the comedy,--prosaic equity and
common-sense; of Fate he has in turn demanded happiness; and Fate will at
her convenience decide between us. Meantime I drink to love and happiness,
since I, too, remember. I know better than to argue with Louis, you
observe, my Nelchen; we de Soyecourts are not lightly severed from any
notion we may have taken up. In consequence I drink to your love and
happiness!"

They drank. "To your love, my son," said the Prince de Gatinais,--"to the
true love of a de Soyecourt." And afterward he laughingly drank: "To your
happiness, my daughter,--to your eternal happiness."

Nelchen sipped. The two men stood with drained glasses. Now on a sudden the
Prince de Gatinais groaned and clutched his breast.

"I was always a glutton," he said, hoarsely. "I should have been more
moderate--I am faint--"

"Salts are the best thing in the world," said Nelchen, with fine readiness.
She was half-way up the stairs. "A moment, monseigneur,--a moment, and I
fetch salts." Nelchen Thorn had disappeared into her room.

V

The Prince sat drumming upon the table with his long white fingers. He had
waved the Marquis and Vanringham aside. "A passing weakness,--I am not
adamant," he had said, half-peevishly.

"Then I prescribe another glass of this really excellent wine," laughed
little Louis de Soyecourt. At heart he was not merry, and his own
unreasoning nervousness irritated him, for it seemed to the Marquis,
quite irrationally, that the atmosphere of the cheery room was, without
forerunnership, become tense and expectant, and was now quiet with much the
hush which precedes the bursting of a thunder-storm. And accordingly he
laughed.

"I prescribe another glass, monsieur," said he. "Eh, that is the true
panacea for faintness--for every ill. Come, we will drink to the most
beautiful woman in Poictesme--nay, I am too modest,--to the most beautiful
woman in France, in Europe, in the whole universe! _Feriam sidera_, my
father! and confound all mealy-mouthed reticence, for you have both seen
her. Confess, am I not a lucky man? Come, Vanringham, too, shall drink. No
glasses? Take Nelchen's, then. Come, you fortunate rascal, you shall drink
to the bride from the bride's half-emptied glass. To the most beautiful
woman--Why, what the devil--?"

Vanringham had blurted out an odd, unhuman sound. His extended hand shook
and jerked, as if in irresolution, and presently struck the proffered
glass from de Soyecourt's grasp. You heard the tiny crash, very audible in
the stillness, and afterward the irregular drumming of the old Prince's
finger-tips. He had not raised his head, had not moved.

Louis de Soyecourt came to him, without speaking, and placed one hand under
his father's chin, and lifted the Prince's countenance, like a dead weight,
toward his own. Thus the two men regarded each the other. Their silence was
rather horrible.

"It was not in vain that I dabbled with chemistry all these years," said
the guttural voice of the Prince de Gatinais, "Yes, the child is dead by
this. Let us recognize the fact we are de Soyecourts, you and I."

But Louis de Soyecourt had flung aside the passive, wrinkled face, and
then, with a straining gesture, wiped the fingers that had touched it upon
the sleeve of his left arm. He turned to the stairway. His hand grasped the
newelpost and gripped it so firmly that he seemed less to walk than by one
despairing effort to lift an inert body to the first step. He ascended
slowly, with a queer shamble, and disappeared into Nelchen's room.

VI

"What next, monseigneur?" said Vanringham, half-whispering.

"Why, next," said the Prince de Gatinais, "I imagine that he will kill us
both. Meantime, as Louis says, the wine is really excellent. So you may
refill my glass, my man, and restore to me my vial of little tablets"....

He was selecting a bonbon from the comfit-dish when his son returned into
the apartment. Very tenderly Louis de Soyecourt laid his burden upon a
settle, and then drew the older man toward it. You noted first how the
thing lacked weight: a flower snapped from its stalk could hardly have
seemed more fragile. The loosened hair strained toward the floor and
seemed to have sucked all color from the thing to inform that thick hair's
insolent glory; the tint of Nelchen's lips was less sprightly, and for the
splendor of her eyes Death had substituted a conscientious copy in crayons:
otherwise there was no change; otherwise she seemed to lie there and muse
on something remote and curious, yet quite as she would have wished it to
be.

"See, my father," Louis de Soyecourt said, "she was only a child,
more little even than I. Never in her brief life had she wronged any
one,--never, I believe, had she known an unkind thought. Always she
laughed, you understand--Oh, my father, is it not pitiable that Nelchen
will never laugh any more?"

"I entreat of God to have mercy upon her soul," said the old Prince de
Gatinais. "I entreat of God that the soul of her murderer may dwell
eternally in the nethermost pit of hell."

"I would cry amen," Louis de Soyecourt said, "if I could any longer believe
in God."

The Prince turned toward him. "And will you kill me now, Louis?"

"I cannot," said the other. "Is it not an excellent jest that I should
be your son and still be human? Yet as for your instrument, your cunning
butler--Come, Vanringham!" he barked. "We are unarmed. Come, tall man, for
I who am well-nigh a dwarf now mean to kill you with my naked hands."

"Vanringham!" The Prince leaped forward. "Behind me, Vanringham!" As the
valet ran to him the old Prince de Gatinais caught a knife from the table
and buried it to the handle in Vanringham's breast. The lackey coughed,
choked, clutched his assassin by each shoulder; thus he stood with a
bewildered face, shuddering visibly, every muscle twitching. Suddenly he
shrieked, with an odd, gurgling noise, and his grip relaxed, and Francis
Vanringham seemed to crumple among his garments, so that he shrank rather
than fell to the floor. His hands stretched forward, his fingers spreading
and for a moment writhing in agony, and then he lay quite still.

"You progress, my father," said Louis de Soyecourt, quietly. "And what new
infamy may I now look for?"

"A valet!" said the Prince. "You would have fought with him--a valet! He
topped you by six inches. And the man was desperate. Your life was in
danger. And your life is valuable."

"I have earlier perceived, my father, that you prize human life very
highly."

The Prince de Gatinais struck sharply upon the table. "I prize the welfare
of France. To secure this it is necessary that you and no other reign in
Noumaria. But for the girl you would have yielded just now. So to the
welfare of France I sacrifice the knave at my feet, the child yonder, and
my own soul. Let us remember that we are de Soyecourts, you and I."

"Rather I see in you," began the younger man, "a fiend. I see in you a far
ignobler Judas--"

"And I see in you the savior of France. Nay, let us remember that we are de
Soyecourts, you and I. And for six centuries it has always been our first
duty to serve France. You behold only a man and a woman assassinated; I
behold thousands of men preserved from death, many thousands of women
rescued from hunger and degradation. I have sinned, and grievously; ages of
torment may not purge my infamy; yet I swear it is well done!"

"And I--?" the little Marquis said.

"Why, your heart is slain, my son, for you loved this girl as I loved your
mother, and now you can nevermore quite believe in the love God bears for
us all; and my soul is damned irretrievably: but we are de Soyecourts, you
and I, and accordingly we rejoice and drink to France, to the true love
of a de Soyecourt! to France preserved! to France still mighty among her
peers!"

Louis de Soyecourt stood quite motionless. Only his eyes roved toward his
father, then to the body that had been Nelchen's. He began to laugh as he
caught up his glass. "You have conquered. What else have I to live for now?
To France, you devil!"

"To France, my son!" The glasses clinked. "To the true love of a de
Soyecourt!"

And immediately the Prince de Gatinais fell at his son's feet. "You will go
into Noumaria?"

"What does that matter now?" the other wearily said. "Yes, I suppose so.
Get up, you devil!"

But the Prince de Gatinais detained him, with hands like ice. "Then we
preserve France, you and I! We are both damned, I think, but it is worth
while, Louis. In hell we may remember that it was well worth while. I have
slain your very soul, my dear son, but that does not matter: France is
saved." The old man still knelt, looking upward. "Yes, and you must forgive
me, my son! For, see, I yield you what reparation I may. See, Louis,--I was
chemist enough for two. Wine of my own vintage I have tasted, of the brave
vintage which now revives all France. And I swear to you the child did not
suffer, Louis, not--not much. See, Louis! she did not suffer." A convulsion
tore at and shook the aged body, and twitched awry the mouth that had
smiled so resolutely. Thus the Prince died.

Presently Louis de Soyecourt knelt and caught up the wrinkled face between
both hands. "My father--!" said Louis de Soyecourt. Afterward he kissed
the dead lips tenderly. "Teach me how to live, my father," said Louis de
Soyecourt, "for I begin to comprehend--in part I comprehend." Throughout
the moment Nelchen Thorn was forgotten: and to himself he too seemed to be
fashioned of heroic stuff.

X

THE DUCAL AUDIENCE

_As Played at Breschau, May 3, 1755_

"_Venez, belle, venez,
Qu'on ne scauroit tenir, et qui vous mutinez.
Void vostre galand! a moi pour recompence
Vous pouvez faire une humble et douce reverence!
Adieu, l'evenement trompe un peu mes souhaits;
Mais tous les amoureux ne sont pas satisfaits._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

GRAND DUKE OF NOUMARIA, formerly LOUIS DE SOYECOURT, tormented beyond
measure with the impertinences of life.
COMTE DE CHATEAUROUX, cousin to the Grand Duchess, and complies with
circumstance.
A COACHMAN and two FOOTMEN.

GRAND DUCHESS OF NOUMARIA, a capable woman.
BARONESS VON ALTENBURG, a coquette.

SCENE

The Palace Gardens at Breschau.

THE DUCAL AUDIENCE

_PROEM:--In Default of the Hornpipe Customary to a Lengthy Interval between
Acts_

Louis de Soyecourt fulfilled the promise made to the old Prince de
Gatinais, so that presently went about Breschau, hailed by more or less
enthusiastic plaudits, a fair and blue-eyed, fat little man, who smiled
mechanically upon the multitude, and looked after the interests of France
wearily, and (without much more ardor) gave over the remainder of his time
to outrivalling his predecessor, unvenerable Ludwig von Freistadt, who
until now had borne, among the eighteen grand dukes (largely of quite
grand-ducal morals) that had earlier governed in Noumaria, the palm for
indolence and dissipation.

At moments, perhaps, the Grand Duke recollected the Louis Quillan who had
spent three months in Manneville, but only, I think, as one recalls some
pleasurable acquaintance; Quillan had little resembled the Marquis de
Soyecourt, rake, tippler and exquisite of Versailles, and in the Grand Duke
you would have found even less of Nelchen Thorn's betrothed. He was quite
dead, was Quillan, for the man that Nelchen loved had died within the
moment of Nelchen's death. He, the poor children! his Highness meditated.
Dead, both of them, both murdered four years since, slain in Poictesme
yonder.... Eh bien, it was not necessary to engender melancholy.

So his Highness amused himself,--not very heartily, but at least to the
last resource of a flippant and unprudish age. Meantime his grumbling
subjects bored him, his duties bored him, his wife bored him, his
mistresses bored him after the first night or two, and, above all, he most
hideously bored himself. But I spare you a _chronique scandaleuse_ of Duke
Louis' reign and come hastily to its termination, as more pertinent to the
matter I have now in hand.

Suffice it, then, that he ruled in Noumaria five years; that he did what
was requisite by begetting children in lawful matrimony, and what was
expected of him by begetting some others otherwise; and that he stoutened
daily, and by and by decided that the young Baroness von Altenburg--not
excepting even her lovely and multifarious precursors,--was beyond doubt
possessed of the brightest eyes in all history. Therefore did his Highness
lay before the owner of these eyes a certain project, upon which the
Baroness was in season moved to comment.

I

"The idea," said the Baroness, "is preposterous!"

"Admirably put!" cried the Grand Duke. "We will execute it, then, the first
thing in the morning."

"--and, besides, one could take only a portmanteau--"

"And the capacity of a portmanteau is limited," his Highness agreed. "Nay,
I can assure you, after I had packed my coronet this evening there was
hardly room for a change of linen. And I found it necessary to choose
between the sceptre and a tooth-brush."

"Ah, Highness" sighed the Baroness von Altenburg, "will you never be
serious? You plan to throw away a duchy, and in the act you jest like a
school-boy."

"Ma foi!" retorted the Grand Duke, and looked out upon the moonlit gardens;
"as a loyal Noumarian, should I not rejoice at the good-fortune which is
about to befall my country? Nay, Amalia, morality demands my abdication,"
he added, virtuously, "and for this once morality and I are in complete
accord."

The Baroness von Altenburg was not disposed to argue the singularity of any
such agreement, the while that she considered Louis de Soyecourt's latest
scheme.

He had, as prologue to its elucidation, conducted the Baroness into the
summer-house that his grandfather, good Duke Augustus, erected in the
Gardens of Breschau, close to the Fountain of the Naiads, and had en
tete-a-tete explained his notion. There were post-horses in Noumaria; there
was also an unobstructed road that led you to Vienna, and thence to the
world outside; and he proposed, in short, to quiet the grumbling of the
discontented Noumarians by a second, and this time a final, vanishment from
office and the general eye. He submitted that the Baroness, as a patriot,
could not fail to weigh the inestimable benefit which would thus accrue to
her native land.

Yet he stipulated that his exit from public life should be made in company
with the latest lady on whom he had bestowed his variable affections; and
remembering this proviso, the Baroness, without exactly encouraging or
disencouraging his scheme, was at least not prone to insist on coupling him
with morality.

She contented herself with a truism. "Indeed, your Highness, the example
you set your subjects is atrocious."

"And yet they complain!" said the Grand Duke,--"though I swear to you I
have always done the things I ought not to have done, and have left unread
the papers I have signed. What more, in reason, can one ask of a grand
duke?"

"You are indolent--" remonstrated the lady.

"You--since we attempt the descriptive," said his Highness,--"are
adorable."

"--and that injures your popularity--"

"Which, by the way, vanished with my waist."

"--and moreover you create scandals--"

"'The woman tempted me,'" quoted the Grand Duke; and added, reflectively,
"Amalia, it is very singular--"

"Nay, I am afraid," the Baroness lamented, "it is rather notoriously
plural."

But the Grand Duke waved a dignified dissent, and continued, "--that I
could never resist green eyes of a peculiar shade."

The Baroness, becoming vastly interested in the structure of her fan, went
on, with some severity, "Your reputation--"

"_De mortuis_--" pleaded the Grand Duke.

"--is bad; and you go from bad to worse."

"By no means," said his Highness, "since when I was nineteen--"

"I will not believe it even of you!" cried the Baroness von Altenburg.

"I assure you," his Highness protested, gravely, "I was then a devil of a
fellow! She was only twenty, and she, too, had big green eyes--"

"And by this late period," said the lady, "has in addition an infinity of
grandchildren."

"I happen to be barely forty!" the Grand Duke said, with dignity.

"In which event the _Almanachen_ dating, say, from 1710--"

"Are not unmarred by an occasional misprint. Truly I lament the ways of all
typographers, and I will explain the cause of their depravity, in Vienna."

"But I am not going to Vienna."

"'And Sapphira,'" murmured his Highness, "'fell down straightway at his
feet, and yielded up the ghost!' So beware, Amalia!"

"I am not afraid, your Highness,--"

"Nor in effect am I. Then we will let Europe frown and journalists
moralize, while we two gallop forward on the road that leads to Vienna and
heaven?"

"Or--" the Baroness helpfully suggested.

"There is in this case no possible 'or.' Once out of Noumaria, we leave all
things behind save happiness."

"Among these trifles, your Highness, is a duchy."

"Hein?" said the Grand Duke; "what is it? A mere dot on the map, a pawn in
the game of politics. I give up the pawn and take--the queen."

"That is unwise," said the Baroness, with composure, "and, besides, you are
hurting my hand. Apropos of the queen--the Grand Duchess--"

"Will heartily thank God for her deliverance. She will renounce me before
the world, and in secret almost worship me for my consideration."

"Yet a true woman," said the Baroness, oracularly, "will follow a
husband--"

"Till his wife makes her stop," said the little Grand Duke, his tone
implying that he knew whereof he spoke.

"--and if the Grand Duchess loved you--"

"Oh, I think she would never mention it," said the Grand Duke, revolving in
his mind this novel idea. "She has a great regard for appearances."

"Nevertheless--"

"She will be Regent"--and the Grand Duke chuckled. "I can see her now,--St.
Elizabeth, with a dash of Boadicea. Noumaria will be a pantheon of the
virtues, and my children will be reared on moral aphorisms and rational
food, with me as a handy example of everything they should avoid. Deuce
take it, Amalia," he added, "a father must in common decency furnish an
example to his children!"

"Pray," asked the Baroness, "do you owe it to your children, then, to take
this trip to Vienna--"

"Ma foi!" retorted the Grand Duke, "I owe that to myself."

"--and thereby break the Grand Duchess' heart?"

"Indeed," observed his Highness, "you appear strangely deep in the
confidence of my wife."

Again the Baroness descended to aphorism. "All women are alike, your
Highness."

"Ah, ah! Well, I have heard," said the Grand Duke, "that seven devils were
cast out of Magdalene--"

"Which means--?"

"I have never heard of this being done to any other woman. Accordingly I
deduce that in all other women must remain--"

"Beware, your Highness, of the crudeness of cynicism!"

"I age," complained the Grand Duke, "and one reaches years of indiscretion
so early in the forties."

"You admit, then, discretion is desirable?"

"I admit that," his Highness said, with firmness, "of you alone."

"Am I, in truth," queried the Baroness, "desirable?" And in this patch of
moonlight she looked incredibly so.

"More than that," said the Grand Duke--"you are dangerous. You are a menace
to the peace of my Court. The young men make sonnets to your eyes, and the
ladies are ready to tear them out. You corrupt us, one and all. There is de
Chateauroux now--"

"I assure you," protested the Baroness, "Monsieur de Chateauroux is not the
sort of person--"

"But at twenty-five," the Grand Duke interrupted, "one is invariably that
sort of person."

"Phrases, your Highness!"

"Phrases or not, it is decided. You shall make no more bad poets."

"You will," said the Baroness, "put me to a vast expense for curl-papers."

"You shall ensnare no more admirers."

"My milliner will be inconsolable."

"In short, you must leave Noumaria--"

"You condemn me to an exile's life of misery!"

"Well, then, since misery loves company, I will go with you. For we should
never forget," his Highness added, with considerable kindliness, "always
to temper justice with mercy. So I have ordered a carriage to be ready at
dawn."

The Baroness reflected; the plump little Grand Duke smiled. And he had
reason, for there was about this slim white woman--whose eyes were colossal
emeralds, and in show equivalently heatless, if not in effect,--so much
of the _baroque_ that in meditation she appeared some prentice queen of
Faery dubious as to her incantations. Now, though, she had it--the mislaid
abracadabra.

"I knew that I had some obstacle in mind--Thou shalt not commit adultery.
No, your Highness, I will not go."

"Remember Sapphira," said the Grand Duke, "recall Herodias who fared
happily in all things, and by no means forget the portmanteau."

"I have not the least intention of going--" the Baroness iterated, firmly.

"Nor would I ever suspect you of harboring such a thought. Still, a
portmanteau, in case of an emergency--"

"--although--"

"Why, exactly."

"--although I am told the sunrise is very beautiful from the Gardens of
Breschau."

"It is well worth seeing," agreed the Grand Duke, "on certain
days--particularly on Thursdays. The gardeners make a specialty of them on
Thursdays."

"By a curious chance," the Baroness murmured, "this is Wednesday."

"Indeed," said the Grand Duke, "now you mention it, I believe it is."

"And I shall be here, on your Highness' recommendation, to see the
sunrise--"

"Of course," said the Grand Duke, "to see the sunrise,--but with a
portmanteau!"

The Baroness was silent.

"With a portmanteau," entreated the Grand Duke. "I am a connoisseur of
portmanteaux. Say that I may see yours, Amalia."

The Baroness was silent.

"Say yes, Amalia. For to the student of etymology the very word
portmanteau--"

The Baroness bent toward him and said:

"I am sorry to inform your Highness that there is some one at the door of
the summer-house."

II

Inasmuch as all Noumaria knew that its little Grand Duke, once closeted
with the lady whom he delighted to honor, did not love intrusions,
and inasmuch as a discreet Court had learned, long ago, to regard
the summer-house as consecrate to his Highness and the Baroness von
Altenburg,--for these reasons the Grand Duke was inclined to resent
disturbance of his privacy when he first peered out into the gardens.

His countenance was less severe when he turned again toward the Baroness,
and it smacked more of bewilderment.

"It is only my wife," he said.

"And the Comte de Chateauroux," said the Baroness.

There is no denying that their voices were somewhat lowered. The chill and
frail beauty of the Grand Duchess was plainly visible from where they sat;
to every sense a woman of snow, his Highness mentally decided, for her gown
this evening was white and the black hair powdered; all white she was, a
cloud-tatter in the moonlight: yet with the Comte de Chateauroux as a foil,
his uniform of the Cuirassiers a big stir of glitter and color, she made an
undeniably handsome picture; and it was, quite possibly, the Grand Duke's
aesthetic taste which held him for the moment motionless.

"After all--" he began, and rose.

"I am afraid that her Highness--" the Baroness likewise commenced.

"She would be sure to," said the Grand Duke, and thereupon he sat down.

"I do not, however," said the Baroness, "approve of eavesdropping."

"Oh, if you put it that way--" agreed the Grand Duke, and he was rising
once more, when the voice of de Chateauroux stopped him.

"No, not at any cost!" de Chateauroux; was saying; "I cannot and I will not
give you up, Victoria!"

"--though I have heard," said his Highness, "that the moonlight is bad for
the eyes." Saying this, he seated himself composedly in the darkest corner
of the summer-house.

"This is madness!" the Grand Duchess said--"sheer madness."

"Madness, if you will," de Chateauroux persisted, "yet it is a madness too
powerful and sweet to be withstood. Listen, Victoria,"--and he waved his
hand toward the palace, whence music, softened by the distance, came from
the lighted windows,--"do you not remember? They used to play that air at
Staarberg."

The Grand Duchess had averted her gaze from him. She did not speak.

He continued: "Those were contented days, were they not, when we were boy
and girl together? I have danced to that old-world tune so many times--with
you! And to-night, madame, it recalls a host of unforgettable things, for
it brings back to memory the scent of that girl's hair, the soft cheek that
sometimes brushed mine, the white shoulders which I so often had hungered
to kiss, before I dared--"

"Hein?" muttered the Grand Duke.

"We are no longer boy and girl," the Grand Duchess said. "All that lies
behind us. It was a dream--a foolish dream which we must forget."

"Can you in truth forget?" de Chateauroux demanded,--"can you forget it
all, Victoria?--forget that night a Gnestadt, when you confessed you loved
me? forget that day at Staarberg, when we were lost in the palace gardens?"

"Mon Dieu, what a queer method!" murmured the Grand Duke. "The man makes
love by the almanac."

"Nay, dearest woman in the world," de Chateauroux went on, "you loved me
once, and that you cannot have quite forgotten. We were happy then--very
incredibly happy,--and now--"

"Life," said the Grand Duchess, "cannot always be happy."

"Ah, no, my dear! nor is it to be elated by truisms. But what a life is
this of mine,--a life of dreary days, filled with sick, vivid dreams of
our youth that is hardly past as yet! And so many dreams, dear woman of my
heart! in which the least remembered trifle brings back, as if in a flash,
some corner of the old castle and you as I saw you there,--laughing, or
insolent, or, it may be, tender. Ah, but you were not often tender! Just
for a moment I see you, and my blood leaps up in homage to my dear lady.
Then instantly that second of actual vision is over, I am going prosaically
about the day's business, but I hunger more than ever--"

"This," said the Grand Duke, "is insanity."

"Yet I love better the dreams of the night," de Chateauroux went on; "for
they are not made all of memories, sweetheart. Rather, they are romances
which my love weaves out of multitudinous memories,--fantastic stories of
just you and me that always end, if I be left to dream them out in comfort,
very happily. For there is in these dreams a woman who loves me, whose
heart and body and soul are mine, and mine alone. Ohe, it is a wonderful
vision while it lasts, though it be only in dreams that I am master of
my heart's desire, and though the waking be bitter...! Need it be just a
dream, Victoria?"

"Not but that he does it rather well, you know," whispered the Grand Duke
to the Baroness von Altenburg, "although the style is florid. Yet that last
speech was quite in my earlier and more rococo manner."

The Grand Duchess did not stir as de Chateauroux bent over her jewelled
hand.

"Come! come now!" he said. "Let us not lose our only chance of happiness.
'Come forth, O Galatea, and forget as thou comest, even as I already have
forgot, the homeward way! Nay, choose with me to go a-shepherding--!'"

"Oh, but to think of dragging in Theocritus!" observed his Highness. "Can
this be what they call seduction nowadays!"

"I cannot," the Grand Duchess whispered, and her voice trembled. "You know
that I cannot, dear."

"You will go!" said de Chateauroux.

"My husband--"

"A man who leaves you for each new caprice, who flaunts his mistresses in
the face of Europe."

"My children--"

"Eh, mon Dieu! are they or aught else to stand in my way, now that I know
you love me!"

"--it would be criminal--"

"Ah, yes, but then you love me!"

"--you act a dishonorable part, de Chateauroux,--"

"That does not matter. You love me!"

"I will never see you again," said the Grand Duchess, firmly. "Go! I loathe
you, I loathe you, monsieur, even more than I loathe myself for having
stooped to listen to you."

"You love me!" said de Chateauroux, and took her in his arms.

Then the Grand Duchess rested her head upon the shoulder of de Chateauroux,
and breathed, "God help me!--yes!"

"Really," said the Grand Duke, "I would never have thought it of Victoria.
It seems incredible for any woman of taste to be thus lured astray by
citations of the almanac and secondary Greek poets."

"You will come, then?" the Count said.

And the Grand Duchess answered, quietly, "It shall be as you will."

More lately, while the Grand Duke and the Baroness craned their necks, and
de Chateauroux bent, very slowly, over her upturned lips, the Grand
Duchess struggled from him, saying, "Hark, Philippe! for I heard some
one--something stirring--"

"It was the wind, dear heart."

"Hasten!--I am afraid!--Oh, it is madness to wait here!"

"At dawn, then,--in the gardens?"

"Yes,--ah, yes, yes! But come, mon ami." And they disappeared in the
direction of the palace.

III

The Grand Duke looked dispassionately on their retreating figures;
inquiringly on the Baroness; reprovingly on the moon, as though he rather
suspected it of having treated him with injustice.

"Ma foi," said his Highness, at length, "I have never known such a passion
for sunrises. Shortly we shall have them announced as 'Patronized by the
Nobility.'"

The Baroness said only, with an ellipsis, "Her own cousin, too!" [Footnote:
By courtesy rather than legally; Mademoiselle Berlin was, however,
undoubtedly the Elector of Badenburg's sister, though on the wrong side of
the blanket; and to her (second) son by Louis Quinze his French Majesty
accorded the title of Comte de Chateauroux.]

"Victoria," observed the Grand Duke, "has always had the highest regard for
her family; but in this she is going too far--"

"Yes," said the Baroness; "as far as Vienna."

"--and I shall tell her that there are limits, Pardieu," the Grand Duke
emphatically repeated, "that there are limits."

"Whereupon, if I am not mistaken, she will reply that there
are--baronesses."

"I shall then appeal to her better nature--"

"You will find it," said the Baroness, "strangely hard of hearing."

"--and afterward I shall have de Chateauroux arrested."

"On what grounds, your Highness?"

"In fact," admitted the Grand Duke, "we do not want a scandal"

"It is no longer," the Baroness considered, "altogether a question of what
we want."

"And, morbleu! there will be a horrible scandal--"

"The public gazettes will thrive on it."

"--and trouble with her father, if not international complications--"

"The armies of Noumaria and Badenburg have for years had nothing to do."

"--and later a divorce."

"The lawyers will call you blessed. In any event," the Baroness
conscientiously added, "your lawyers will. I am afraid that hers--"

"Will scarcely be so courteous?" the Grand Duke queried.

"It is not altogether impossible," the Baroness admitted, "that in
preparation of their briefs, they may light upon some other adjective."

"And, in short," his Highness summed it up, "there will be the deuce to
pay."

"Oh, no! the piper," said the Baroness,--"after long years of dancing. That
is what moralists will be saying, I suspect."

And this seemed so highly probable that the plump little Grand Duke
frowned, and lapsed into a most un-ducal sullenness.

"Your Highness," murmured the Baroness, "I cannot express my feelings as to
this shocking revelation--"

"Madame," said the Grand Duke, "no more can I. At least, not in the
presence of a lady."

"--But I have a plan--"

"I," said the Grand Duke, "have an infinity of plans; but de Chateauroux
has a carriage, and a superfluity of Bourbon blood; and Victoria has the
obstinacy of a mule."

"--And my plan," said the Baroness, "is a good one."

"It needs to be," said the Grand Duke.

But thereupon the Baroness von Altenburg unfolded to his Highness her
scheme for preserving coherency in the reigning family of Noumaria, and the
Grand Duke of that principality heard and marvelled.

"Amalia," he said, when she had ended, "you should be prime-minister--"

"Ah, your Highness," said the lady, "you flatter me, for none of my sex has
ever been sufficiently unmanly to make a good politician."

"--though, indeed," the Grand Duke reflected, "what would a mere
prime-minister do with lips like yours?"

"He would set you an excellent example by admiring them from a distance. Do
you agree, then, to my plan?"

"Why, ma foi, yes!" said the Grand Duke, and he sighed. "In the gardens at
dawn."

"At dawn," said the Baroness, "in the gardens."

IV

That night the Grand Duke was somewhat impeded in falling asleep. He was
seriously annoyed by the upsetment of his escape from the Noumarian exile,
since he felt that he had prodigally fulfilled his obligations, and in
consequence deserved a holiday; the duchy was committed past retreat to the
French alliance, there were two legitimate children to reign after him, and
be the puppets of de Puysange and de Bernis, [Footnote: The Grand Duke,
however, owed de Puysange some reparation for having begot a child upon the
latter's wife; and with de Bernis had not dissimilar ties, for the Marquis
de Soyecourt had in Venice, in 1749, relinquished to him the beautiful nun
of Muran, Maria Montepulci,--which lady de Bernis subsequently turned over
to Giacomo Casanova, as is duly recorded in the latter's _Memoires_, under
the year 1753.] just as he had been. Truly, it was diverting, after a
candid appraisal of his own merits, to reflect that a dwarfish Louis de
Soyecourt had succeeded where quite impeccable people like Bayard and du
Guesclin had failed; by four years of scandalous living in Noumaria he
had confirmed the duchy to the French interest, had thereby secured the
wavering friendship of Austria, and had, in effect, set France upon her
feet. Yes, the deed was notable, and he wanted his reward.

To be the forsaken husband, to play Sgarnarelle with all Europe as an
audience, was, he considered, an entirely inadequate reward. That was out
of the question, for, deuce take it! somebody had to be Regent while
the brats were growing up. And Victoria, as he had said, would make an
admirable Regent.

He was rather fond of his wife than otherwise. He appreciated the fact that
she never meddled with him, and he sincerely regretted she should have
taken a fancy to that good-for-nothing de Chateauroux. What qualms the poor
woman must be feeling at this very moment over the imminent loss of her
virtue! But love was a cruel and unreasonable lord.... There was Nelchen
Thorn, for instance.... He wondered would he have been happy with Nelchen?
her hands were rather coarse about the finger-tips, as he remembered
them.... The hands of Amalia, though, were perfection....

Then at last the body that had been Louis Quillan's fell asleep.

V

Discontentedly the Grand Duke appraised the scene, and in the murky
twilight which heralded the day he found the world a cheerless place. The
Gardens of Breschau were deserted, save for a travelling carriage and
its fretful horses, who stamped and snuffled within forty yards of the
summer-house.

"It appears," he said, "that I am the first on the ground, and that de
Chateauroux is a dilatory lover. Young men degenerate."

Saying this, he seated himself on a convenient bench, where de Chateauroux
found him a few minutes later, and promptly dropped a portmanteau at the
ducal feet.

"Monsieur le Comte," the Grand Duke said, "this is an unforeseen pleasure."

"Your Highness!" cried de Chateauroux, in astonishment.

"_Ludovicus_," said the Grand Duke, "_Dei gratia Archi Dux Noumariae,
Princeps Gatinensis_, and so on." And de Chateauroux caressed his chin.

"I did not know," said the Grand Duke, "that you were such an early riser.
Or perhaps," he continued, "you are late in retiring. Fy, fy, monsieur! you
must be more careful! You must not create a scandal in our little Court."
He shook his finger knowingly at Philippe de Chateauroux.

"Your Highness,--" said the latter, and stammered into silence.

"You said that before," the Grand Duke leisurely observed.

"An affair of business--"

"Ah! ah! ah!" said the Grand Duke, casting his eye first toward the
portmanteau and then toward the carriage, "can it be that you are leaving
Noumaria? We shall miss you, Comte."

"I was summoned very hastily, or I would have paid my respects to your
Highness--"

"Indeed," said the Grand Duke, "your departure is of a deplorable
suddenness--"

"It is urgent, your Highness--"

"--and yet," pursued the Grand Duke, "travel is beneficial to young men."

"I shall not go far, your Highness--"

"Nay, I would not for the world intrude upon your secrets, Comte--"

"--But my estates, your Highness--"

"--For young men will be young men, I know."

"--There is, your Highness, to be a sale of meadow land--"

"Which you will find, I trust, untilled."

"--And my counsellor at law, your Highness, is imperative--"

"At times," agreed the Grand Duke, "the most subtle of counsellors is
unreasonable. I trust, though, that she is handsome?"

"Ah, your Highness--!" cried de Chateauroux.

"And you have my blessing upon your culture of those meadow lands. Go in
peace."

The Grand Duke was smiling on his wife's kinsman with extreme benevolence
when the Baroness von Altenburg appeared in travelling costume and carrying
a portmanteau.

VI

"Heydey!" said the Grand Duke; "it seems, that the legal representative of
our good Baroness, also, is imperative."

"Your Highness!" cried the Baroness, and she, too, dropped her burden.

"Every one," said the Grand Duke, "appears to question my identity." And
meantime de Chateauroux turned from the one to the other in bewilderment.

"This," said the Grand Duke, after a pause, "is painful. This is unworthy
of you, de Chateauroux."

"Your Highness--!" cried the Count.

"Again?" said the Grand Duke, pettishly.

The Baroness applied her handkerchief to her eyes, and plaintively said,
"You do not understand, your Highness--"

"I am afraid," said the Grand Duke, "that I understand only too clearly."

"--and I confess I was here to meet Monsieur de Chateauroux--"

"Oh, oh!" cried the latter.

"Precisely," observed the Grand Duke, "to compare portmanteaux; and you
had selected the interior of yonder carriage, no doubt, as an appropriate
locality."

"And I admit to your Highness--"

"His Highness already knowing," the Grand Duke interpolated.

"--that we were about to elope."

"I can assure you--" de Chateauroux began.

"Nay, I will take the lady's word for it," said the Grand Duke--"though it
grieves me."

"We knew you--would never give your consent," murmured the Baroness, "and
without your consent I can not marry--"

"Undoubtedly," said the Grand Duke, "I would never have given my consent to
such fiddle-faddle."

"And we love each other."

"Fiddle-de-dee!" said his Highness.

But de Chateauroux passed one hand over his brow. "This," he said, "is some
horrible mistake--"

"It is," assented the Grand Duke, "a mistake--and one of your making."

"--For I certainly did not expect the Baroness--"

"To make a clean breast of it so readily?" his Highness asked. "Ah, but she
is a lady of unusual candor."

"Indeed, your Highness--" began de Chateauroux.

"Nay, Philippe," the Baroness entreated, "confess to his Highness, as I
have done."

"Oh, but--!" said de Chateauroux.

"I must beseech you to be silent," said the Grand Duke; "you have already
brought scandal to our Court. Do not, I pray you, add profanity to the
catalogue of your offences. Why, I protest," he continued, "even the Grand
Duchess has heard of this imbroglio."

Indeed, the Grand Duchess, hurrying from a pleached walkway, was already
within a few feet of the trio, and appeared no little surprised to find in
this place her husband.

"I would not be surprised," said the Grand Duke, raising his eyes toward
heaven, "if by this time it were all over the palace."

VII

Then, as his wife waited, speechless, the Grand Duke gravely asked: "You,
too, have heard of this sad affair, Victoria? Ah, I perceive you have,
and that you come in haste to prevent it,--even to pursue these misguided
beings, if necessary, as the fact that you come already dressed for the
journey very eloquently shows. You are self-sacrificing, you possess a good
heart, Victoria."

"I did not know--" began the Grand Duchess.

"Until the last moment," the Grand Duke finished. "Eh, I comprehend. But
perhaps," he continued, hopefully, "it is not yet too late to bring them to
their senses."

And turning toward the Baroness and de Chateauroux, he said:

"I may not hinder your departure if you two in truth are swayed by love,
since to control that passion is immeasurably beyond the prerogative
of kings. Yet I beg you to reflect that the step you contemplate is
irrevocable. Yes, and to you, madame, whom I have long viewed with a
paternal affection--an emotion wholly justified by the age and rank for
which it has pleased Heaven to preserve me,--to you in particular I would
address my plea. If with an entire heart you love Monsieur de Chateauroux,
why, then--why, then, I concede that love is divine, and yonder carriage at
your disposal. But I beg you to reflect--"

"Believe me," said the Baroness, "we are heartily grateful for your
Highness' magnanimity. We may, I deduce, depart with your permission?"

"Oh, freely, if upon reflection--"

"I can reflect only when I am sitting down," declared the Baroness. She
handed her portmanteau to de Chateauroux, and stepped into the carriage.
And the Grand Duke noted that a coachman and two footmen had appeared, from
nowhere in particular.

"To you, Monsieur le Comte," his Highness now began, with an Olympian
frown, "I have naught to say. Under the cover of our hospitality you have
endeavored to steal away the fairest ornament of our Court; I leave you
to the pangs of conscience, if indeed you possess a conscience. But the
Baroness is unsophisticated; she has been misled by your fallacious
arguments and specious pretence of affection. She has evidently been
misled," he said to the Grand Duchess, kindly, "as any woman might be."

"As any woman might be!" his wife very feebly echoed.

"And I shall therefore," continued the Grand Duke, "do all within my power
to dissuade her from this ruinous step. I shall appeal to her better
nature, and not, I trust, in vain."

He advanced with dignity to the carriage, wherein the Baroness was seated.
"Amalia," he whispered, "you are an admirable actress. 'O wonderful,
wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after
that out of all whooping!"

The Baroness smiled.

"And it is now time," said his Highness, "for me to appeal to your better
nature. I shall do so in a rather loud voice, for I have prepared a most
virtuous homily that I am unwilling the Grand Duchess should miss. You
will at its conclusion be overcome with an appropriate remorse, and will
obligingly burst into tears, and throw yourself at my feet--pray remember
that the left is the gouty one,--and be forgiven. You will then be restored
to favor, while de Chateauroux drives off alone and in disgrace. Your plan
works wonderfully."

"It is true," the Baroness doubtfully said, "such was the plan."

"And a magnificent one," said the Grand Duke.

"But I have altered it, your Highness."

"And this alteration, Amalia--?"

"Involves a trip to Vienna."

"Not yet, Amalia. We must wait."

"Oh, I could never endure delays," said the Baroness, "and, since you
cannot accompany me, I am going with Monsieur de Chateauroux."

The Grand Duke grasped the carriage door.

"Preposterous!" he cried.

"But you have given your consent," the Baroness protested, "and in the
presence of the Grand Duchess."

"Which," said the Grand Duke, "was part of our plan."

"Indeed, your Highness," said the Baroness, "it was a most important part.
You must know," she continued, with some diffidence, "that I have the
misfortune to love Monsieur de Chateauroux."

"Who is in love with Victoria."

"I have the effrontery to believe," said the Baroness, "that he is, in
reality, in love with me."

"Especially after hearing him last night," the Grand Duke suggested.

"That scene, your Highness, we had carefully rehearsed--oh, seven or eight
times! Personally, I agreed with your Highness that the quotation from
Theocritus was pedantic, but Philippe insisted on it, you conceive--"

The Grand Duke gazed meditatively upon the Baroness, who had the grace to
blush.

"Then it was," he asked, "a comedy for my benefit?"

"You would never have consented--" she began. But the Grand Duke's
countenance, which was slowly altering to a greenish pallor, caused her to
pause.

"You will get over it in a week, Louis," she murmured, "and you will find
other--baronesses."

"Oh, very probably!" said his Highness, and he noted with pleasure that he
spoke quite as if it did not matter. "Nevertheless, this was a despicable
trick to play upon the Grand Duchess."

"Yet I do not think the Grand Duchess will complain," said the Baroness von
Altenburg.

And it was as though a light broke on the Grand Duke. "You planned all this
beforehand?" he inquired.

"Why, precisely, your Highness."

"And de Chateauroux helped you?"

"In effect, yes, your Highness."

"And the Grand Duchess knew?"

"The Grand Duchess suggested it, your Highness, the moment that she knew
you thought of eloping."

"And I, who tricked Gaston--!"

"Louis," said the Baroness von Altenburg, in a semi-whisper, "your wife
is one of those persons who cling to respectability like a tippler to his
bottle. To her it is absolutely nothing how many women you may pursue--or
conquer--so long as you remain here under her thumb, to be exhibited, in
fair sobriety, upon the necessary public occasions. I pity you, my Louis."
And she sighed with real compassion.

He took possession of one gloved hand. "At the bottom of your heart," his
Highness said, irrelevantly, "you like me better than you do Monsieur de
Chateauroux."

"I find you the more entertaining company, to be sure--But what a woman
most wants is to be loved. If I touch Philippe's hand for, say, the
millionth part of a second longer than necessity compels, he treads for the
remainder of the day above meteors; if yours--why, you at most admire my
fingers. No doubt you are a connoisseur of fingers and such-like trifles;
but, then, a woman does not wish to be admired by a connoisseur so much as
she hungers to be adored by a maniac. And accordingly, I prefer my stupid
Philippe."

"You are wise," the Grand Duke estimated, "I remember long ago ... in
Poictesme yonder...."

"I loathe her," the Bareness said, with emphasis. "Nay, I am ignorant as to
who she was--but O my Louis! had you accorded me a tithe of the love you
squandered on that abominable dairymaid I would have followed you not only
to Vienna--"

He raised his hand, "There are persons yonder in whom the proper emotions
are innate; let us not shock them. No, I never loved you, I suppose; I
merely liked your way of talking, liked your big green eyes, liked your
lithe young body.... He, and I like you still, Amalia. So I shall not play
the twopenny despot. God be with you, my dear."

He had seen tears in those admirable eyes before he turned his back to her.
"Monsieur de Chateauroux," he called, "I find the lady is adamant. I wish
you a pleasant journey." He held open the door of the carriage for de

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