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Long Live the King by Mary Roberts Rinehart

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excitement.

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

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

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

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

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

"It is very innocent fun, mother."

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

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

"Mother!" said Hedwig.

"Answer me."

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

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

"I remember my own dreary childhood," said Hedwig stiffly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Princess requires no defense, Captain Larisch,"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VIII.

THE LETTER

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

Hedwig, of all people!

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

And Karl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To hold him off, then. To gain time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"May I wait for five minutes?"

"What could you do in five minutes?"

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

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

"Very well," she said.

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

"I suppose you mean the United States."

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

"No," said Miss Braithwaite, shortly. She hated republics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I had forgotten about that," he said.

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

"Good-night," he said.

"Good-night, Your Highness," replied Miss Braithwaite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, I'm damned," said the wet-nurse And went out, looking
thoughtful.

CHAPTER IX

A FINE NIGHT

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

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

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

How did Peter Niburg do it?

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

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

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

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

How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is a matter of a letter."

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

"A letter from the Palace," said Herman. And explained.

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

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

"A small envelope. I saw no more."

The concierge reflected. "The Countess uses a gray paper with a
coronet."

"This was white."

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

"Once in a week, perhaps."

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

"Hungaria! I have no money."

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

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

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

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

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

"That is gray," Herman Spier said sullenly.

"But in size?"

"It is similar."

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly Herman became calm. Calm with hate.

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

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

"Fine enough."

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

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

"Since when," he inquired, "have you frequented the Hungaria?

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

Peter Niburg was fond of sweet champagne.

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

"A fine night," he said.

CHAPTER X

THE RIGHT TO LIVE AND LOVE

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

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

"Well?" she said. "Are you still sulky?"

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

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

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

"Naturally. It is always quiet here. But how?"

"I rode."

"Where?"

"At the riding-school, with Otto."

"Only with Otto?"

"Captain Larisch was there."

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

"I have spent most of the day with Otto."

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

"I think Otto is lonely, mother."

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

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

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

"He will tell you."

"Not - I am not to be married?"

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

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

"But surely," Hedwig gasped, "surely I shall be consulted?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No, Highness, I had heard nothing."

"But you knew about it?"

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

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

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

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

"What then?"

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

"Go on."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER. XI

RATHER A WILD NIGHT

Things were going very wrong for Nikky Larisch.

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

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

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

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

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

"You needn't look so worried, you know," he protested. "She's
not really hurt;"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down went Nikky, and lay still.

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

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

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

"Here, man!" he said. "Get up! Rouse yourself!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I do not know. I saw nothing."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nothing at all," assented Peter Niburg.

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

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

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

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

"I see!"

"Naturally, not a matter for publicity."

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

"You were not alone, I think?"

Peter Niburg suddenly remembered Herman, and stopped.

"Your friend must have escaped."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chauffeur muttered something in the peasant patois of
Karnia.

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

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

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

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

"Any news?" he asked, at the end of ten minutes' unbroken
silence.

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

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

Half an hour.

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

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

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

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

"If I tell you, what then?"

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

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

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

"I have only your word."

"And I yours," said Nikky.

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

CHAPTER XII

TWO PRISONERS

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

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

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

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

"You were to see where Niburg took the substitute."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A cipher," said the concierge shortly. "It tells nothing."

It was a moment of intense disappointment. In Humbert's mind
had been forming, for the past hour or two, a plan - nothing
less than to go himself before the Council and, with the letter
in hand, to point out certain things which would be valuable.
In this way he would serve both the party and him-self.
Preferment would follow. He could demand, under the corning
republic, some high office. Already, of course, he was known
to the Committee, and known well, but rather for brawn than
brain. They used him. Now -

"Code!" he said. And struck the paper with a hairy fist.
"Everything goes wrong. That blond devil interferes, and now
this letter speaks but of blankets and loaves!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Adelbert? Are you mad?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well?" he said at last. "I thought - you've been here once
to-night."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who is it?"

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

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

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

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

"I cannot say. The address is fictitious, of course."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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