Part 3 out of 8
On the stairs his lightness counted. His bare feet made no
sound. He could hear behind him the great mass of Humbert,
hurling itself down. Haeckel ran as he had never run before.
The last flight now, with the concierge well behind, and
liberty two seconds away.
He flung himself against the doors to the street. But they
were fastened by a chain, and the key was not in the lock.
He crumpled up in a heap as the concierge fell on him with
fists like flails.
Some time later, old Adelbert heard a sound in the corridor,
and peered out. Humbert, assisted by the lodger, Spier, was
carrying to the attic what appeared to be an old mattress,
rolled up and covered with rags. In the morning, outside the
door, there was a darkish stain, however, which might have been
IN THE PARK
At nine o'clock the next morning the Chancellor visited the
Crown Prince. He came without ceremony. Lately he had been
coming often. He liked to come in quietly, and sit for an hour
in the schoolroom, saying nothing. Prince Ferdinand William
Otto found these occasions rather trying.
"I should think," he protested once to his governess, "that he
would have something else to do. He's the Chancellor,
But on this occasion the Chancellor had an errand, the product
of careful thought. Early as it was, already he had read his
morning mail in his study, had dictated his replies, had eaten
a frugal breakfast of fruit and sausage, and in the small inner
room which had heard so many secrets, had listened to the
reports of his agents, and of the King's physicians. Neither
had been reassuring.
The King had passed a bad night, and Haeckel was still missing.
The Chancellor's heart was heavy.
The Chancellor watched the Crown Prince, as he sat at the high
desk, laboriously writing. It was the hour of English
composition, and Prince Ferdinand William Otto was writing a
"About dogs," he explained. "I've seen a great many, you know.
I could do it better with a pencil. My pen sticks in the
He wrote on, and Mettlich sat and watched. From the boy his
gaze wandered over the room. He knew it well. Not so many
years ago he had visited in this very room another
bright-haired lad, whose pen had also stuck in the paper. The
Chancellor looked up at the crossed swords, and something like
a mist came into his keen old eyes.
He caught Miss Braithwaite's glance, and he knew what was in
her mind. For nine years now had come, once a year, the
painful anniversary, of the death of the late Crown Prince and
his young wife. For nine years had the city mourned, with
flags at half-mast and the bronze statue of the old queen
draped in black. And for nine years had the day of grief
passed unnoticed by the lad on whom hung the destinies of the
Now they confronted a new situation. The next day but one was
the anniversary again. The boy was older, and observant. It
would not be possible to conceal from him the significance of
the procession marching through the streets with muffled drums.
Even the previous year he had demanded the reason for crape on
his grandmother's statue, and had been put off, at the cost of
Miss Braithwaite's strong feeling for the truth. Also he had
not been allowed to see the morning paper, which was, on these
anniversaries, bordered with black. This had annoyed him. The
Crown Prince always read the morning paper - especially the
They could not continue to lie to the boy. Truthfulness had
been one of the rules of his rigorous upbringing. And he was
now of an age to remember. So the Chancellor sat and waited,
and, fingered, his heavy watch-chain.
Suddenly the Crown Prince looked up. "Have you ever been on a
scenic railway?", he inquired politely.
The Chancellor regretted that he had not.
"It's very remarkable," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto.
"But unless you like excitement, perhaps you would not care for
The Chancellor observed that he had had his share of
excitement, in his, time, and was now for the ways of quiet.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto had a great many things to say,
but thought better of it. Miss Braithwaite disliked Americans,
for instance, and it was quite possible that the Chancellor did
also. It seemed strange about Americans. Either one liked
them a great deal, or not at all. He put his attention to the
theme, and finished it. Then, flushed with authorship, he
looked up. "May I read you the last line of it?" he demanded
of the Chancellor.
"I shall be honored, Highness." not often did the Chancellor
say "Highness." Generally he said "Otto" or "my child."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto read aloud, with dancing eyes,
his last line: "'I should like to own a dog.' I thought," he
said wistfully, "that I might ask my grandfather for one."
"I see no reason why you should not have a dog," the Chancellor
"Not one to be kept at the stables," Otto explained. "One to
stay with me all the time. One to sleep on the foot of the
But here the Chancellor threw up his hands. Instantly he
visualized all the objections to dogs, from fleas to rabies.
And he put the difficulties into words. No mean speaker was
the Chancellor when so minded. He was a master of style, of
arrangement, of logic and reasoning. He spoke at length, even,
at the end, rising and pacing a few steps up and down the room.
But when he had concluded, when the dog, so to speak, had fled
yelping to the country of dead hopes, Prince Ferdinand William
Otto merely gulped, and said:
"Well, I wish I could have a dog!"
The Chancellor changed his tactics by changing the subject. "I
was wondering this morning, as I crossed the park, if you would
enjoy an excursion soon. Could it be managed, Miss Braithwaite?"
"I dare say," said Miss Braithwaite dryly. "Although I must
say, if there is no improvement in punctuation and capital
letters - "
"What sort of excursion?" asked His Royal Highness, guardedly.
He did not care for picture galleries.
"Out-of-doors, to see something interesting."
But Prince Ferdinand William Otto was cautious with the caution
of one who, by hoping little, may be agreeably disappointed.
"A corner-stone, I suppose," he said.
"Not a corner-stone," said the Chancellor, with eyes that began
to twinkle under ferocious brows. "No, Otto. A real
excursion, up the river."
"To the fort? I do want to see the new fort."
As a matter of truth, the Chancellor had not thought of the
fort. But like many another before him, he accepted the
suggestion and made it his own. "To the fort, of course," said
"And take luncheon along, and eat it there, and have Hedwig and
Nikky? And see the guns?"
But this was going too fast. Nikky, of course, would go, and
if the Princess cared to, she too. But luncheon! It was
necessary to remind the Crown Prince that the officers at the
fort would expect to have him join their mess. There was a
short parley over this, and it was finally settled that the
officers should serve luncheon, but that there should be no
speeches. The Crown Prince had already learned that his
presence was a sort of rod of Aaron, to unloose floods of
speeches. Through what outpourings of oratory he had sat or
stood, in his almost ten years!
"Then that's settled," he said at last. "I'm very happy. This
morning I shall apologize to M. Puaux."
During the remainder of the morning the Crown Prince made
various excursions to the window to see if the weather was
holding good. Also he asked, during his half-hour's
intermission, for the great box of lead soldiers that was
locked away in the cabinet. "I shall pretend that the desk is
a fort, Miss Braithwaite," he said. "Do you mind being the
enemy, and pretending to be shot now and then?"
But Miss Braithwaite was correcting papers. She was willing to
be a passive enemy and be potted at, but she drew the line at
falling over. Prince Ferdinand William Otto did not persist.
He was far too polite. But he wished in all his soul that
Nikky would come. Nikky, he felt, would die often and hard.
But Nikky did not come.
Came German and French, mathematics and music and no Nikky.
Came at last the riding-hour - and still no Nikky.
At twelve o'clock, Prince Ferdinand William Otto, clad in his
riding-garments of tweed knickers, puttees, and a belted
jacket, stood by the schoolroom window and looked out. The
inner windows of his suite faced the courtyard, but the
schoolroom opened over the Place - a bad arrangement surely,
seeing what distractions to lessons may take place in a public
square, what pigeons feeding in the sun, what bands with drums
and drum-majors, what children flying kites.
"I don't understand it," the Crown Prince said plaintively.
"He is generally very punctual. Perhaps - "
But he loyally refused to finish the sentence. The "perhaps"
was a grievous thought, nothing less than that Nikky and Hedwig
were at that moment riding in the ring together, and had both
forgotten him. He was rather used to being forgotten. With
the exception of Miss Braithwaite, he was nobody's business,
really. His aunt forgot him frequently. On Wednesdays it was
his privilege - or not; as you think of it - to take luncheon
with the Archduchess; and once in so often she would forget and
go out. Or be in, and not expecting him, which was as bad.
"Bless us, I forgot the child," she would say on these
But until now, Nikky had never forgotten. He had been the soul
of remembering, indeed, and rather more than punctual. Prince
Ferdinand William Otto consulted his watch. It was of gold,
and on the inside was engraved:
"To Ferdinand William Otto from his grandfather, on the
occasion of his taking his first communion."
"It's getting rather late," he observed.
Miss Braithwaite looked troubled. "No doubt something has
detained him," she said, with unusual gentleness. "You might
work at the frame for your Cousin Hedwig. Then, if Captain
Larisch comes, you can still have a part of your lesson."
Prince Ferdinand William Otto brightened. The burntwood
photograph frame for Hedwig was his delight. And yesterday, as
a punishment for the escapade of the day before, it had been
put away with an alarming air of finality. He had traced the
design himself, from a Christmas card, and it had originally
consisted of a ring and small Cupids, alternating with hearts.
He liked it very much. The Cupids were engagingly fat.
However, Miss Braithwaite had not approved of their state of
nature, and it had been necessary to drape them with sashes
tied in neat bows.
The pyrography outfit was produced, and for fifteen minutes
Prince Ferdinand William Otto labored, his head on one side,
his royal tongue slightly protruded. But, above the thin blue
smoke of burning, his face remained wistful. He was afraid,
terribly afraid, that he had been forgotten again.
"I hope Nikky is not ill," he said once. "He smokes a great
many cigarettes. He says he knows they are bad for him."
"Certainly they are bad for him," said Miss Braithwaite. "They
contain nicotine, which is a violent poison. A drop of
nicotine on the tongue of a dog will kill it."
The reference was unfortunate.
"I wish I might have a dog," observed Prince Ferdinand William
Fortunately, at that moment, Hedwig came in. She came in a
trifle defiantly, although that passed unnoticed, and she also
came unannounced, as was her cousinly privilege. And she stood
inside the door and stared at the Prince. "Well!" she said.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto was equal to the occasion. He
hastily drew out his pocket-handkerchief and spread it over the
frame. But his face was rather red. A palace is a most
difficult place to have a secret in.
"Well?" she repeated; with a rising inflection. It was clear
that she had not noticed the handkerchief incident. "Is there
to be no riding-lesson to-day?"
"I don't know. Nikky has not come."
"Where is he?"
Here the drop of nicotine got in its deadly work. "I'm afraid
he is ill," said Prince Ferdinand William Otto. "He said he
smoked too many cigarettes, and - "
"Is Captain Larisch ill?" Hedwig looked at the governess, and
lost some of her bright color.
Miss Braithwaite did not know, and said so. "At the very
least," she went on, "he should have sent some word. I do not
know what things are coming to. Since His Majesty's illness,
no one seems to have any responsibility, or to take any."
"But of course he would have sent word," said Hedwig, frowning:
"I don't understand it. He has never been so late before, has
"He has never been late at all," Prince Ferdinand William Otto
spoke up quickly.
After a time Hedwig went away, and the Crown Prince took off
his riding-clothes. He ate a very small luncheon, swallowing
mostly a glass of milk and a lump in his throat. And afterward
he worked at the frame, for an hour, shading the hearts
carefully. At three o'clock he went for his drive.
There were two variations to the daily drive: One day they went
up the river - almost as far as the monastery; the next day
they went through the park. There was always an excitement
about the park drive, because the people who spied the gold-
wheeled carriage always came as close as possible, to see if it
was really the Crown Prince. And when, as sometimes happened,
it was only Hedwig, or Hilda, and Ferdinand William Otto had
been kept at home by a cold, they always looked disappointed.
This was the park day. The horses moved sedately. Beppo
looked severe and haughty. A strange man, in the place of
Hans, beside Beppo, watched the crowd with keen and vigilant
eyes. On the box between them, under his hand, the new footman
had placed a revolver. Beppo sat as far away from it as he
dared. The crowd lined up, and smiled and cheered. And Prince
Ferdinand William Otto sat very straight; and bowed right and
Old Adelbert, limping across the park to, the Opera, paused and
looked. Then he shook his head. The country was indeed come
to a strange pass, with only that boy and the feeble old King
to stand between it and the things of which men whispered
behind their hands. He went on, with his head down. A strange
pass indeed, with revolution abroad in quiet places, and a
cabal among the governors of the Opera to sell the opera-glass
privilege to the highest bidder.
He went on, full of trouble.
Olga, the wardrobe woman, was also on her way to the Opera,
which faced the park. She also saw the carriage, and at first
her eyes twinkled. It was he, of course. The daring of him!
But, as the carriage drew nearer, she bent forward. He looked
pale, and there was a wistful droop to his mouth. "They have
punished him for the, little prank," she muttered. "That
tight-faced Englishwoman, of course. The English are a hard
race." She, too, went on.
As they drew near the end of the park, where the Land of Desire
towered, Prince Ferdinand William Otto searched it with eager
eyes. How wonderful it was! How steep and high, and alluring!
He glanced sideways at Miss Braithwaite, but it was clear that
to her it was only a monstrous heap of sheet-iron and steel,
adorned with dejected greenery that had manifestly been out too
soon in the chill air of very early spring,
A wonderful possibility presented itself. "If I see Bobby," he
asked, "may I stop the carriage and speak to him?"
"Well, may I call to him?"
"Think it over," suggested Miss Braithwaite. "Would your
grandfather like to know that you had done anything so
He turned to her a rather desperate pair of eyes. "But I could
explain to him," he said. "I was in such a hurry when I left,
that I'm afraid I forgot to thank him. I ought to thank him,
really. He was very polite to me."
Miss Braithwaite sat still in her seat and said nothing. The
novelty of riding in a royal carriage had long since passed
away, but she was aware that her position was most unusual.
Not often did a governess, even of good family, as she was,
ride daily in the park with a crown prince. In a way, on these
occasions, she was more royal than royalty. She had, now and
then, an inclination to bow right and left herself. And she
guarded the dignity of these occasions with a watchful eye. So
she said nothing just then. But later on something occurred to
her. "You must remember, Otto," she said, "that this American
child dislikes kings, and our sort of government." Shades of
Mr. Gladstone - our sort of government! "It is possible, isn't
it, that he would resent your being of the ruling family? Why
not let things be as they are?"
"We were very friendly," said Ferdinand William Otto in a small
voice. "I don't think it would make any difference."
But the seed was sown in the fertile ground of his young mind,
to bear quick fruit.
It was the Crown Prince who saw Bobby first.
He was standing on a bench, peering over the shoulders of the
crowd. Prince Ferdinand William Otto saw him, and bent
forward. "There he is!" he said, in a tense tone. "There on
the - "
"Sit up straight," commanded Miss Braithwaite.
"May I just wave once? I - "
"Otto!" said Miss Braithwaite, in a terrible voice.
But a dreadful thing was happening. Bobby was looking directly
at him, and making no sign. His mouth was a trifle open, but
that was all. Otto had a momentary glimpse of him, of the
small cap set far back, of the white sweater, of two coolly
critical eyes. Then the crowd closed up, and the carriage
Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat back in his seat, very pale.
Clearly Bobby was through with him. First Nikky had forgotten
him, and now the American boy had learned his unfortunate
position as one of the detested order, and would have none of
"You see," said Miss Braithwaite, with an air of relief, "he
did not know you."
Up on the box the man beside Beppo kept his hand on the
revolver. The carriage turned back toward the Palace.
Late that afternoon the Chancellor had a visitor. Old
Mathilde, his servant and housekeeper, showed some curiosity
but little excitement over it. 'She was, in fact, faintly
resentful. The Chancellor had eaten little all day, and now,
when she had an omelet ready to turn smoking out of the pan,
must come the Princess Hedwig on foot like the common people,
and demand to see him.
Mathilde admitted her, and surveyed her uncompromisingly.
Royalties were quite as much in her line as they were in the
"He is about to have supper, Highness."
"Please, Mathilde," begged Hedwig. "It is very important."
Mathilde sighed. "As Your Highness wishes," she agreed, and
went grumblingly back to the study overlooking the walled
"You may bring his supper when it is ready," Hedwig called to
Mathilde was mollified, but she knew what was fitting, if the
Princess did not. The omelet spoiled in the pan.
The Chancellor was in his old smoking-coat and slippers. He
made an effort to don his tunic, but Hedwig, on Mathilde's
heels, caught him in the act. And, after a glance at her face,
he relinquished the idea, bowed over her hand, and drew up a
chair for her.
And that was how the Chancellor of the kingdom learned that
Captain Larisch, aide-de-camp to His Royal Highness the Crown
Prince, had disappeared.
"I am afraid it is serious," she said, watching him with wide,
terrified eyes. "I know more than you think I do. I - we hear
things, even in the Palace."
Irony here, but unconscious. "I know that there is trouble.
And it is not like Captain Larisch to desert his post."
"A boyish escapade, Highness," said the Chancellor. But, in
the twilight, he gripped hard at the arms of his chair. "He
will turn up, very much ashamed of himself, to-night or
"That is what you want to believe. You know better."
He leaned back in his chair and considered her from under his
heavy brows. So this was how things were; another, and an
unlooked-for complication. Outside he could hear Mathilde's
heavy footstep as she waited impatiently for the Princess to
go. The odor of a fresh omelet filled the little house. Nikky
gone, perhaps to join the others who, one by one, had felt the
steel of the Terrorists. And this girl, on whom so much hung,
sitting there, a figure of young tragedy.
"Highness," he said at last, "if the worst has happened, - and
that I do not believe, - it will be because there is trouble,
as you have said. Sooner or later, we who love our country
must make sacrifices for it. Most of all, those in high places
will be called upon. And among them you may be asked to help."
"I? What can I do?" But she knew, and the Chancellor saw that
"It is Karl, then?"
"It may be King Karl, Hedwig."
Hedwig rose, and the Chancellor got heavily to his feet. She
was fighting for calmness, and she succeeded very well. After
all, if Nikky were gone, what did it matter? Only -
"There are so many of you," she said, rather pitifully. "And
you are all so powerful. And against you there is only - me."
"Why against us, Highness?"
"Because," said Hedwig, "because I care for some one else, and
I shall care for him all the rest of my life, even if he never
comes back. You may marry me to whom you please, but I shall
go on caring. I shall never forget. And I shall make Karl the
worst wife in the world, because I hate him."
She opened the door and went out without ceremony, because she
was hard-driven and on the edge of tears. In the corridor she
almost ran over the irritated Mathilde, and she wept all the
way back to the Palace, much to the dismay of her lady in
waiting, who had disapproved of the excursion anyhow.
That night, the city was searched for Nikky Larisch, but
NIKKY DOES A RECKLESS THING
Nikky Larisch had been having an exciting time. First of all,
he exchanged garments with the chauffeur, and cursed his own
long legs, which proved difficult to cover adequately. But the
chauffeur's long fur ulster helped considerably. The exchange
was rather a ticklish matter, and would have been more so had
he not found a revolver in the fur coat pocket. It is always
hard to remove a coat from a man whose arms are tied, and
trousers are even more difficult. To remove trousers from a
refractory prisoner offers problems. They must be dragged off,
and a good thrust from a heavy boot, or two boots, has been
known to change the fate of nations.
However, Nikky's luck stood. His prisoner kicked, but owing to
Nikky's wise precaution of having straddled him, nothing
Behold, then, Nikky of the brave heart standing over his
prostrate prisoner, and rolling him, mummy fashion, in his own
tunic and a rug from the machine.
"It is cold, my friend," he said briefly; "but I am a kindly
soul, and if you have told me the truth, you will not have so
much as a snuffle to remind you of this to-morrow."
"I have told the truth."
"As a soldier, of course," Nikky went on, " I think you have
made a mistake. You should have chosen the precipice. But as
a private gentleman, I thank you."
Having examined the knots in the rope, which were very well
done, indeed, and having gagged the chauffeur securely, Nikky
prepared to go. In his goggles, with the low-visored cap and
fur coat, he looked not unlike his late companion. But he had
a jaunty step as he walked toward the car, a bit of swagger
that covered, perhaps, just a trifle of uneasiness.
For Nikky now knew his destination, knew that he was bound on
perilous work, and that the chances of his returning were about
fifty-fifty, or rather less.
Nevertheless, he was apparently quite calm as he examined the
car. He would have chosen, perhaps, a less perilous place to
attempt its mysteries, but needs must. He climbed in, and
released the brakes. Then, with great caution, and
considerable noise, he worked it away from the brink of the
chasm, and started off.
He did not know his way. Over the mountains it was plain
enough, for there was but one road. After he descended into
the plain of Karnia, however, it became difficult. Sign-posts
were few and not explicit. But at last he found the railroad,
which he knew well - that railroad without objective, save as
it would serve to move troops toward the border. After that
Nikky found it easier.
But, with his course assured, other difficulties presented
themselves. To take the letter to those who would receive it
was one thing. But to deliver it, with all that it might
contain, was another. He was not brilliant, was Nikky. Only
brave and simple of heart, and unversed in the ways of
If, now, he could open the letter and remove it, substituting -
well, what could he substitute? There were cigarette papers in
his pocket. Trust Nikky for that. But how to make the
Nikky pondered. To cut the side of the envelope presented
itself. But it was not good enough. The best is none too good
when one's life is at stake.
The engine was boiling hard, a dull roaring under the hood that
threatened trouble. He drew up beside the road and took off
the water-cap. Then he whistled. Why, of course! Had it not
been done from time immemorial, this steaming of letters? He
examined it. It bore no incriminating seal.
He held the envelope over the water-cap, and was boyishly
pleased to feel the flap loosen. After all, things were easy
enough if one used one's brains. He rather regretted using
almost all of his cigarette papers, of course. He had,
perhaps, never heard of the drop of nicotine on the tongue of a
As for the letter itself, he put it, without even glancing at
it, into his cap, under the lining. Then he sealed the
envelope again and dried it against one of the lamps. It
looked, he reflected, as good as new.
He was extremely pleased with himself.
Before he returned to the machine he consulted his watch. It
was three o'clock. True, the long early spring night gave him
four more hours of darkness. But the messenger was due at
three, at the hunting-lodge in, the mountains which was his
destination. He would be, at the best, late by an hour.
He pushed the car to its limit. The fine hard road, with its
border of trees, stretched ahead. Nikky surveyed it with a
soldier's eye. A military road, or he knew nothing - one along
which motor-lorries could make express time. A marvelous road,
in that sparsely settled place. Then he entered the forest,
that kingly reserve in which Karl ran deer for pastime.
He was nearing his destination.
On what the messenger had told him Nikky hung his hope of
success. This was, briefly, that he should go to the royal
shooting-box at Wedeling, and should go, not to the house
itself, but to the gate-keeper's lodge. Here he was to leave
his machine, and tap at the door. On its being opened, he was
to say nothing, but to give the letter to him who opened the
door. After that he was to take the machine away to the
capital, some sixty miles farther on.
The message, then, was to the King himself. For Nikky, as all
the world, knew that Karl, with some kindred spirits, was at
Wedeling, shooting. That is, if the messenger told the truth.
Nikky intended to find out. He was nothing if not thorough.
Nikky had lost much of his jaunty air by that time. On the
surface he was his usual debonair self; but his mouth was grim
and rather contemptuous. This was Karl's way: to propose
marriage with a Princess of Livonia, and yet line the country
with his spies! Let him but return, God willing, with his
report, and after that, let them continue negotiations with
Karl if they dared.
When at last the lights of the lodge at the gate of Wedeling
gleamed out through the trees, it was half-pass three, and a
wet spring snow was falling softly. In an open place Nikky
looked up. The stars were gone.
The lodge now, and the gate-keeper's house. Nikky's heart
hammered as he left the car - hammered with nervousness, not
terror. But he went boldly to the door, and knocked.
So far all was well. There were footsteps within, and a man
stepped out into the darkness, closing the door behind him.
Nikky, who had come so far to see this very agent, and to take
back a description of him, felt thwarted. Things were not
being done, he felt, according to specification. And the man
spoke, which was also unexpected.
"You have the letter?" he asked.
"It is here." Luckily he did not speak the patois.
"I will take it."
Nikky held it out. The man fumbled for it, took it.
"Orders have come," said the voice, "that you remain here for
the night. In the morning you are to carry dispatches to the
Poor Nikky! With his car facing toward the lodge, and under
necessity, in order to escape, to back it out into the highway!
He thought quickly. There was no chance of overpowering his
man quickly and silently. And the house was not empty. From
beyond the door came the sounds of men's voices, and the thud
of drinking-mugs on a bare table.
"You will take me up to the house, and then put the car away
Nikky breathed again. It was going to be easy, after all. If
only the road went straight to the shooting-box itself, the
rest was simple. But he prayed that he make no false turning,
to betray his ignorance.
"Very well," - he said.
His companion opened the door behind him. "Ready, now," he
called. "The car is here."
Two men rose from a table where they had been sitting, and put
on greatcoats of fur. The lamplight within quivered in the
wind from the open door. Nikky was quite calm now. His heart
beat its regular seventy-two, and he even reflected, with a
sort of grim humor, that the Chancellor would find the recital
of this escapade much to his taste. In a modest way Nikky felt
that he was making history.
The man who had received the letter got into the machine beside
him. The other two climbed into the tonneau. And, as if to
make the denouement doubly ridiculous, the road led straight.
Nikky, growing extremely cheerful behind his goggles, wondered
how much petrol remained in the car.
The men behind talked in low tones. Of the shooting, mostly,
and the effect of the snow on it. They had been after
pheasants that day, it appeared.
"They are late to-night," grumbled one of them, as the house
appeared, full lighted. "A tardy start to-morrow again!"
"The King must have his sleep," commented the other, rather
With a masterly sweep, Nikky drew up his machine before the
entrance. Let them once alight, let him but start his car down
the road again, and all the devils of the night might follow.
He feared nothing.
But here again Nikky planned too fast. The servant who came
out to open the doors of the motor had brought a message. "His
Majesty desires that the messenger come in," was the bomb-shell
which exploded in Nikky's ears.
Nikky hesitated. And then some imp of recklessness in him
prompted him not to run away, but to see the thing through. It
was, after all, a chance either way. These men beside the car
were doubtless armed - one at least, nearest him, was certainly
one of Karl's own secret agents. And, as Nikky paused, he was
not certain, but it seemed to him that the man took, a step
"Very well," said Nikky, grumbling. "But I have had a long
ride, and a cold one. I need sleep."
Even then he had a faint hope that the others would precede
him, and that it would be possible to leap back to the car, and
escape. But, whether by accident or design, the group closed
about him. Flight was out of the question.
A little high was Nikky's head as he went in. He had done a
stupid thing now, and he knew it. He should have taken his
letter and gone back with it. But, fool or not, he was a
soldier. Danger made him calm.
So he kept his eyes open. The shooting-box was a simple one,
built, after the fashion of the mountains, of logs, and
wood-lined. The walls of the hall were hung with skins and the
mounted heads of animals, boar and deer, and even an American
mountain sheep, testifying to the range of its royal owner's
activities as a hunter. Great pelts lay on the floor, and the
candelabra were horns cunningly arranged to hold candles. The
hall extended to the roof, and a gallery half-way up showed the
doors of the sleeping-apartments.
The lodge was noisy. Loud talking, the coming and going of
servants with trays, the crackle of wood fires in which whole
logs were burning, and, as Nikky and his escort entered, the
roaring chorus of a hunting-song filled the ears.
Two of the men flung off their heavy coats, and proceeded
without ceremony into the room whence the sounds issued. The
third, however, still holding the letter, ushered Nikky into a
small side room, a sort of study, since it contained a desk.
For kings must pursue their clerical occupations even on
holiday. A plain little room it was, containing an American
typewriter, and beside the desk only a chair or two upholstered
in red morocco.
Nikky had reluctantly removed his cap. His goggles, however,
he ventured to retain. He was conscious that his guide was
studying him intently. But not with suspicion, he thought:
Rather as one who would gauge the caliber of the man before
him. He seemed satisfied, too, for his voice, which had been
curt, grew more friendly.
"You had no trouble?" he asked.
"Did Niburg say anything?"
Niburg, then, was the spy of the cathedral. Nikky reflected.
Suddenly he saw a way out. It was, he afterward proclaimed,
not his own thought. It came to him like a message. He burned
a candle to his patron saint, sometime later, for it.
"The man Niburg had had an unfortunate experience, sir. He
reported that, during an evening stroll, before he met me, he
was attacked by three men, with the evident intention of
securing the letter. He was badly beaten up."
His companion started. "Niburg," he said. "Then - " He
glanced at the letter he held. "We must find some one else,"
he muttered. "I never trusted the fellow. A clerk, nothing
else. For this work it takes wit."
Nikky, sweating with strain; felt that it did, indeed. "He
was badly used up, sir," he offered. "Could hardly walk, and
was still trembling with excitement when I met him."
The man reflected. A serious matter, he felt. Not so serious
as it might have been, since he held the letter. But it showed
many things, and threatened others. He touched a bell. "Tell
his, Majesty," he said to the servant who appeared, "that his
messenger is here."
The servant bowed and withdrew.
Nikky found the wait that followed trying. He thought of
Hedwig, and of the little Crown Prince. Suddenly he knew that
he had had, no right to attempt this thing. He had given his
word, almost, his oath, to the King, to protect and watch over
the boy. And here he was, knowing now that mischief was afoot,
and powerless. He cursed himself for his folly.
Then Karl came in. He came alone, closing the door behind him.
Nikky and his companion bowed, and Nikky surveyed him through
his goggles. The same mocking face he remembered, from Karl's
visit to the summer palace, the same easy, graceful carriage,
the same small mustache. He was in evening dress, and the
bosom of his shirt was slightly rumpled. He had been drinking,
but he was not intoxicated. He was slightly flushed, his eyes
were abnormally bright. He looked, for the moment; rather
amiable. Nikky was to learn, later on, how easily his smile
hardened to a terrifying grin. The long, rather delicate nose
of his family, fine hair growing a trifle thin, and a thin,
straight body this was Karl, King of Karnia, and long-time
enemy to Nikky's own land.
He ignored Nikky's companion. "You brought a letter?"
Nikky bowed, and the other man held it out. Karl took it.
"The trip was uneventful?"
"A bad night for it," Karl observed, and glanced at the letter
in his hand. "Was there any difficulty at the frontier?"
Karl tore the end off the envelope. "You will remain here
to-night," he said. "To-morrow morning I shall send dispatches
to the city. I hope you have petrol. These fellows here - "
He did not complete the sentence. He inserted two royal
fingers into the envelope and drew out - Nikky's cigarette
For a moment there was complete silence in the room. Karl
turned the papers over.
It was then that his face hardened into a horrible grin. He
looked up, raising his head slowly.
"What is this?" he demanded, very quietly.
"The letter, sire," said Nikky.
"The letter! Do you call these a letter?"
Nikky drew himself up. "I have brought the envelope which was
Without a word Karl held out papers and envelope to the other
man, who took them. Then he turned to Nikky, and now he raised
his voice. "Where did you get this - hoax?" he demanded.
"At the cathedral, from the man Niburg."
"You lie!" said Karl. Then, for a moment, he left Nikky and
turned on his companion in a fury. He let his royal rage beat
on that unlucky individual while the agent stood, white and
still. Not until it was over, and Karl, spent with passion,
was pacing the floor, did Nikky venture a word.
"If this is not what Your Majesty expected," he said, "there is
perhaps an explanation."
Karl wheeled on him. "Explanation!"
"The man Niburg was attacked, early last evening, by three men.
They beat him badly, and attempted to rob him. His story to
me, sire. He believed that they were after the letter, but
that he had preserved it. It is, of course, a possibility
that, while he lay stunned, they substituted another envelope
for the one he carried."
Karl tore the envelope from the agent's hands and inspected it
carefully. Evidently, as with the agent, the story started a
new train of thought. Nikky drew a long breath. After all,
there was still hope that the early morning shooting would have
another target than himself.
Karl sat down, and his face relaxed. It was stern, but no
longer horrible. "Tell me this Niburg's story," he commanded.
"He was walking through the old city," Nikky commenced, "when
three men fell on him. One, a large one, knocked him
insensible and then went through his pockets. The others - "
"Strange!" said Karl. "If he was insensible, how does he know
"It was his story, sire," Nikky explained. But he colored. "A
companion, who was with him, ran away."
"This companion," Karl queried. "A dark, heavy fellow, was
"No. Rather a pale man, blond. A - " Nikky checked himself.
But Karl was all suavity. "So," he said, "while Niburg was
unconscious the large man took the letter, which was sealed,
magically opened it, extracted its contents, replaced them with
- this, and then sealed it again!"
The King turned without haste to a drawer in his desk, and
opened it. He was smiling. When he faced about again, Nikky
saw that he held a revolver in =his hand. Save that the agent
had taken a step forward, nothing in the room had changed. And
yet; for Nikky everything had changed.
Nikky had been a reckless fool, but he was brave enough. He
smiled, a better smile than Karl's twisted one.
"I have a fancy," said King Karl, "to manage this matter for
myself. Keep back, Kaiser. Now, my friend, you will give me
the packet of cigarette papers you carry."
Resistance would do no good. Nikky brought them out, and
Karl's twisted smile grew broader as he compared them with the
ones the envelope had contained.
"You see," he said, "you show the hand of the novice. You
should have thrown these away. But, of course, all your
methods are wrong. Why, for instance, have you come here at
all? You have my man - but that I shall take up later. We
will first have the letter."
But here Nikky stood firm. Let them find the letter. He would
not help them. But again he cursed himself. There had been a
thousand hiding-places along the road - but he must bring the
incriminating thing with him, and thus condemn himself!
Now commenced a curious scene, curious because one of the
actors was Karl of Karnia himself. He seemed curiously loath
to bring in assistance, did Karl. Or perhaps the novelty of
the affair appealed to him. And Nikky's resistance to search,
with that revolver so close, was short-lived.
Even while he was struggling, Nikky was thinking. Let them get
the letter, if they must. Things would at least be no worse
than before. But he resolved that no violence would tear from
him the place where the messenger was hidden. Until they had
got that, he had a chance for life.
They searched his cap last. Nikky, panting after that strange
struggle, saw Kaiser take it from the lining of his cap, and
pass it to the King.
Karl took it. The smile was gone now, and something ugly and
terrible had taken its place. But that, too, faded as he
looked at the letter.
It was a blank piece of note-paper.
FATHER AND DAUGHTER
With the approach of the anniversary of his son's death, the
King grew increasingly restless. Each year he determined to
put away this old grief, and each year, as his bodily weakness
increased, he found it harder to do so. In vain he filled his
weary days with the routine of his kingdom. In vain he told
himself that there were worse things than to be cut off in
one's prime, that the tragedy of old age is a long tragedy,
with but one end. To have out-lived all that one loves, he
felt, was worse by far. To have driven, in one gloomy
procession after another, to the old Capuchin church and there
to have left, prayerfully, some dearly beloved body - that had
been his life. His son had escaped that. But it was poor
comfort to him.
On other years he had had the Crown Prince with him as much as
possible on this dreary day of days. But the Crown Prince was
exiled, in disgrace. Not even for the comfort of his small
presence could stern discipline be relaxed.
Annunciata was not much comfort to him. They had always
differed, more or less, the truth being, perhaps, that she was
too much like the King ever to sympathize fully with him. Both
were arrogant, determined, obstinate. And those qualities,
which age was beginning to soften in the King, were now, in
Annunciata, in full strength and blooming.
But there was more than fundamental similarity at fault.
Against her father the Archduchess held her unhappy marriage.
"You did this," she had said once, when an unusually flagrant
escapade had come to the ears of the Palace. "You did it. I
told you I hated him. I told you what he was, too. But you
had some plan in mind. The plan never materialized, but the
marriage did. And here I am." She had turned on him then, not
angrily, but with cold hostility. "I shall never forgive you
for it," she said.
She never had. She made her daily visit to her father, and, as
he grew more feeble, she was moved now and then to pity for
him. But it was pity, nothing more. The very hands with which
she sometimes changed his pillows were coldly efficient. She
had not kissed him in years.
And now, secretly willing that Hedwig should marry Karl, she
was ready to annoy him by objecting to it.
On the day after her conversation with General Mettlich, she
visited the King. It was afternoon. The King had spent the
morning in his study, propped with pillows as was always the
case now, working with a secretary. The secretary was gone
when she entered, and he sat alone. Over his knees was spread
one of the brilliant rugs that the peasants wove in winter
evenings, when the snow beat about their small houses and the
cattle were snug in barns. Above it his thin old face looked
pinched and pale.
He had passed a trying day. Once having broken down the
Chancellor's barrier of silence, the King had insisted on full
knowledge; with the result that he had sat, aghast, amid the
ruins of his former complacency. The country and the smaller
cities were comparatively quiet, so far as demonstrations
against the Government were concerned. But unquestionably they
plotted. As for the capital, it was a seething riot of
sedition, from the reports. A copy of a newspaper, secretly
printed and more secretly circulated, had brought fire to the
King's eyes. It lay on his knees as his daughter entered.
Annunciata touched her lips to his hand. Absorbed as he was in
other matters, it struck him, as she bent, that Annunciata was
no longer young, and that Time w as touching her with an
unloving finger. He viewed her graying hair, her ugly clothes,
with the detached eye of age. And he sighed.
"Well, father," she said, looking down at him, "how do you
"Sit down," he said. The question as to his health was too
perfunctory to require reply. Besides, he anticipated trouble,
and it was an age-long habit of his to meet it halfway.
Annunciata sat, with a jingling of chains. She chose a
straight chair, and faced him, very erect.
"How old is Hedwig?" demanded the King
He knew their ages quite well. It was merely the bugle before
"Hedwig is old enough to marry. Her grandmother was not
nineteen when I married her."
"It would be better," said Annunciata, "to marry her while she
is young, before she knows any better."
"Any better than what?" inquired the King testily.
"Any better than to marry at all."
The King eyed her. She was not, then, even attempting to hide
her claws. But he was an old bird, and not to be caught in an
"There are several possibilities for Hedwig," he said. "I have
gone into the matter pretty thoroughly. As you know, I have
had this on my mind for some time. It is necessary to arrange
things before I - go."
The King, of course, was neither asking nor expecting sympathy
from her, but mentally, and somewhat grimly, he compared her
unmoved face with that of his old friend and Chancellor, only a
few nights before.
"It is a regrettable fact," he went on, "that I must leave, as
I shall, a sadly troubled country. But for that - " he paused.
But for that, he meant, he would go gladly. He needed rest.
His spirit, still so alive, chafed daily more and more against
its worn body. He believed in another life, did the old King.
He wanted the hearty handclasp of his boy again. Even the wife
who had married him against her will had grown close to him in
later years. He needed her too. A little rest, then, and
after that a new life, with those who had gone ahead.
"A sadly troubled country," he repeated.
"All countries are troubled. We are no worse than others."
"Perhaps not. But things are changing. The old order is
changing. The spirit of unrest - I shall not live to see it.
You may, Annunciata. But the day is coming when all thrones
will totter. Like this one."
Now at last he had pierced her armor. "Like this one!"
"That is what I said. Rouse yourself, Annunciata. Leave that
little boudoir of yours, with its accursed clocks and its heat
and its flub-dubbery, and see what is about you! Discontent!
Revolution! We are hardly safe from day to day. Do you think
that what happened nine years ago was a flash that died as it
came? Nonsense. Read this!"
He held out the paper and she put on her pince-nez and read its
headings, a trifle disdainfully. But the next moment she rose,
and stood in front of him, almost as pale as he was. "You allow
this sort of thing to be published?"
"No. But it is published."
"And they dare to say things like this? Why, it - it is - "
"Exactly. It is, undoubtedly." He was very calm. "I would
not have troubled you with it. But the situation is bad. We
are rather helpless."
"Not - the army too?"
"What can we tell? These things spread like fires. Nothing
may happen for years. On the other hand, tomorrow -!"
The Archduchess was terrified. She had known that there was
disaffection about. She knew that in the last few years
precautions at the Palace had been increased. Sentries were
doubled. Men in the uniforms of lackeys, but doing no labor,
were everywhere. But with time and safety she had felt secure.
"Of course," the King resumed, "things are not as bad as that
paper indicates. It is the voice of the few, rather than the
many. Still, it is a voice."
Annunciata looked more than her age now. She glanced around
the room as though, already, she heard the mob at the doors.
"It is not safe to stay here, is it?" she asked. "We could go
to the summer palace. That, at least, is isolated."
"Too isolated," sail the King dryly. ."And flight! The very
spark, perhaps, to start a blaze. Besides," he remind her, "I
could not make the journey. If you would like to go, however,
probably it can be arranged."
But Annunciata was not minded to go without the Court. And she
reflected, not unwisely, that if things were really as bad as
they appeared, to isolate herself, helpless in the mountains,
would be but to play into the enemy's hand.
"To return to the mater of Hedwig's marriage," said the King.
"I - "
"Marriage! When our very lives are threatened!"
"I would be greatly honored," said the King, "if I might be
permitted to finish what I was saying."
She had the grace to flush.
"Under the circumstances," the King resumed, "Hedwig's marriage
takes on great significance - great political significance."
For a half-hour then, he talked to her. More than for years,
he unbosomed himself. He had tried. His ministers had tried.
Taxes had been lightened; the representation of the people
increased, until; as he said, he was only nominally a ruler.
But discontent remained. Some who had gone to America and
returned with savings enough to set themselves up in business,
had brought back with them the American idea.
He spoke without bitterness. They refused to allow for the
difference between a new country and an old land, tilled for
many generations. They forgot their struggles across the sea
and brought back only stories of prosperity. Emigration had
increased, and those who remained whispered of a new order,
where each man was the government, and no man a king.
Annunciata listened to the end. She felt no pity for those who
would better themselves by discontent and its product, revolt.
She felt only resentment that her peace was being threatened,
her position assailed. And in her resentment she included the
King himself. He should have done better. These things, taken
early enough, could have been arranged.
And something of this she did not hesitate to say. "Karnia is
quiet enough," she finished, a final thrust.
"Karnia is better off. A lowland, most of it, and fertile."
But a spot of color showed in his old cheeks. "I am glad you
spoke of Karnia. Whatever plans we make, Karnia must be
"Why? Karnia does not consider us."
He raised his hand. "You are wrong. Just now, Karnia is doing
us the honor of asking an alliance with us. A matrimonial
The Archduchess was hardly surprised, as one may believe. But
she was not minded to yield too easily. The old resentment
against her father flamed. Indifferent mother though she was,
she made capital of a fear for Hedwig's happiness. In a cold
and quiet voice she reminded him of her own wretchedness, and
of Karl's reputation.
At last she succeeded in irritating the King - a more difficult
thing now than in earlier times, but not so hard a matter at
that. He listened quietly until she had finished, and then.
sent her away. When she had got part way to the door, however,
he called her back. And since a king is a king, even if he is
one's father and very old, she came.
"Just one word more," he said, in his thin, old, highbred
voice. "Much of your unhappiness was of your own making. You,
and you only, know how much. But nothing that you have said
can change the situation. I am merely compelled to make the
decision alone, and soon. I have not much time."
So, after all, was the matter of the Duchess Hedwig's marriage
arranged, a composite outgrowth of expediency and obstinacy, of
defiance and anger. And so was it hastened.
Irritation gave the King strength. That afternoon were
summoned in haste the members of his Council: fat old Friese,
young Marschall with the rat face, austere Bayerl with the
white skin and burning eyes, and others. And to them all the
King disclosed his royal will. There was some demur. Friese,
who sweated with displeasure, ranted about old enemies and
broken pledges. But, after all, the King's will was dominant.
Friese could but voice his protest and relapse into greasy
The Chancellor sat silent during the conclave, silent, but
intent. On each speaker he turned his eyes, and waited until
at last Karl's proposal, with its promises, was laid before
them in full. Then, and only then, the Chancellor rose. His
speech was short. He told them of what they all knew, their
own insecurity. He spoke but a word of the Crown Prince, but
that softly. And he drew for them a pictures of the future
that set their hearts to glowing - a throne secure, a greater
kingdom, freedom from the cost of war, a harbor by the sea.
And if, as he spoke, he saw not the rat eyes of Marschall, the
greedy ones of some of the others, but instead a girl's wide
and pleading ones, he resolutely went on. Life was a
sacrifice. Youth would pass, and love with it, but the country
The battle, which was no battle at all, was won. He had won.
The country had won. The Crown Prince had won. Only Hedwig
had lost. And only Mettlich knew just how she had lost.
When the Council, bowing deep, had gone away, the Chancellor
remained standing by a window. He was feeling old and very
tired. All that day, until the Council met with the King, he
had sat in the little office on a back street, which was the
headquarters of the secret service. All that day men had come
and gone, bringing false clues which led nowhere. The earth
had swallowed up Nikky Larisch.
"I hope you are satisfied," said the King grimly, from behind
him. "It was your arrangement."
"It was my hope, sire," replied the Chancellor dryly.
The necessity for work brought the King the strength to do it.
Mettlich remained with him. Boxes were brought from vaults,
unlocked and examined. Secretaries came and went. At eight
o'clock a frugal dinner was spread in the study, and they ate
it almost literally over state documents.
On and on, until midnight or thereabouts. Then they stopped.
The thing was arranged. Nothing was left now but to carry the
word to Karl.
Two things were necessary: Haste. The King, having determined
it, would lose no time. And dignity. The granddaughter of the
King must be offered with ceremony. No ordinary King's
messenger, then, but some dignitary of the Court.
To this emergency Mettlich rose like the doughty old warrior
and statesman that he was. "If you are willing, sire," he
said, as he rose, "I will go myself."
"Since it must be done, the sooner the better. To-night,
The King smiled. "You were always impatient!" he commented.
But he looked almost wistfully at the sturdy and competent old
figure before him. Thus was he, not so long ago. Cold nights
and spring storms had had no terrors for him. And something
else he felt, although he said nothing - the stress of a
situation which would send his Chancellor out at midnight, into
a driving storm, to secure Karl's support. Things must be bad
"To the capital?" he asked.
"Not so far. Karl is hunting. He is at Wedeling." He went
almost immediately, and the King summoned his valets, and was
got to bed. But long after the automobile containing Mettlich
and two secret agents was on the road toward the mountains, he
tossed on his narrow bed. To what straits had they come
indeed! He closed his eyes wearily. Something had gone out of
his life. He did not realize at first what it was. When he
did, he smiled his old grim smile in the darkness.
He had lost a foe. More than anything perhaps, he had dearly
loved a foe.
ON THE MOUNTAIN ROAD
The low gray car which carried the Chancellor was on its way
through the mountains. It moved deliberately, for two reasons.
First, the Chancellor was afraid of motors. He had a
horseman's hatred and fear of machines. Second, he was not of
a mind to rouse King Karl from a night's sleep, even to bring
the hand of the Princess Hedwig. His intention was to put up
at some inn in a village not far from the lodge and to reach
Karl by messenger early in the morning, before the hunters left
for the day.
Then, all being prepared duly and in order, Mettlich himself
would arrive, and things would go forward with dignity and
In the mean time he sat back among his furs and thought of many
things. He had won a victory which was, after all, but a
compromise. He had chosen the safe way, but it led over the
body of a young girl, and he loathed it. Also, he thought of
Nikky, and what might be. But the car was closed and
comfortable. The motion soothed him. After a time he dropped
The valley of the Ar deepened. The cliff rose above them, a
wall broken here and there by the offtake of narrow ravines,
filled with forest trees. There was a pause while the chains
on the rear wheels were supplemented by others in front, for
there must be no danger of a skid. And another pause, where
the road slanted perilously toward the brink of the chasm, and
caution dictated that the Chancellor alight, and make a hundred
feet or so of dangerous curve afoot.
It required diplomacy to get him out. But it was finally done,
and his heavy figure, draped in its military cape, went on
ahead, outlined by the lamps of the car behind him. The snow
was hardly more than a coating, but wet and slippery. Mettlich
stalked on, as one who would defy the elements, or anything
else, to hinder him that night.
He was well around the curve, and the cliff was broken by a
wedge of timber, when a curiously shaped object projected
itself over the edge of the bank, and rolling down, lay almost
at his feet. The lamps brought it into sharp relief - a man,
gagged and tied, and rolled, cigar shaped, in an automobile
The Chancellor turned, and called to his men. Then he bent
over the bundle. The others ran up, and cut the bonds. What
with cold and long inaction, and his recent drop over the bank,
the man could not speak. One of the secret-service men had a
flask, and held it to his lips. An amazing situation, indeed,
increased by the discovery that under the robe he wore only his
undergarments, with a soldier's tunic wrapped around his
shoulders. They carried him into the car, where he lay with
head lolling back, and his swollen tongue protruding. Half
dead he was, with cold and long anxiety. The brandy cleared
his mind long before he could speak, and he saw by the uniforms
that he was in the hands of the enemy. He turned sulkily
silent then, convinced that he had escaped one death but to
meet another. Twenty-four hours now he had faced eternity, and
he was ready.
He preferred, however, to die fully clothed, and when, in
response to his pointing up the bank and to his inarticulate
mouthings, one of the secret police examined the bit of
woodland with his pocket flash, he found a pair of trousers
where Nikky had left them, neatly folded and hung over the
branch of a tree. The brandy being supplemented by hot coffee
from a patent bottle, the man revived further, made an effort,
and sat up. His tongue was still swollen, but they made out
what he said. He had been there since the night before.
People had passed, a few peasants, a man with a cart, but he
could not cry out, and he had hesitated to risk the plunge to
the road. But at last he had made it. He was of Karnia, and a
"I was coming back from the barrier," he said thickly, "where I
had carried dispatches to the officer in charge. On my return
a man hailed me from the side of, the road, near where you
found me. I thought that he desired to be taken on, and
stopped my car. But he attacked me. He was armed and I was
not. He knocked me senseless, and when I awakened I was above
the road, among trees. I gave myself up when the snow
commenced. Few pass this way. But I heard your car coming and
made a desperate effort."
"Then," asked one of the agents, "these are not your clothes?"
"They are his; sir."
The agent produced a flash-light and inspected the garments.
Before the Chancellor's eyes, button by button, strap on the
sleeve, star on the cuff, came into view the uniform of a
captain of his own regiment, the Grenadiers. Then one of his
own men had done this infamous thing, one of his own officers,
"Go through the pockets," he continued sternly.
Came, into view under the flash a pair of gloves, a box of
matches, a silk handkerchief, a card-case. The agent said
nothing, but passed a card to the Chancellor, who read it
There was silence in the car.
At last the Chancellor stirred. "This man - he took your car
"Yes. And he has not returned. No other machine has passed."
The secret-service men exchanged glances. There was more to
this than appeared. Somewhere ahead, then, was Nikky Larisch,
with a motor that did got belong to him, and wearing clothing
which his victim described as a chauffeur's coat of leather,
breeches and puttees, and a fur greatcoat over all.
"Had the snow commenced when this happened?"
"Not then; sir. Shortly after."
"Go out with the driver," the Chancellor ordered one of his
men, "and watch the road for the tracks of another car. Go
So it was that, after an hour or so, they picked up Nikky's
trail, now twenty-four hours old but still clear, and followed
it. The Chancellor was awake enough by this time, and bending
forward. The man they had rescued slept heavily. As the road
descended into the foothills, there were other tracks in the
thin snow, and more than once they roused Nikky's victim to
pick out his own tire marks. He obeyed dully. When at last
the trail turned from the highway toward the shooting-box at
Wedeling, Mettlich fell back with something between a curse and
"The fool!" he muttered. "The young fool! It was madness."
At last they drew up at an inn in the village on the royal
preserve, and the Chancellor, looking rather gray, alighted.
He directed that the man they had rescued be brought in. The
Chancellor was not for losing him just yet. He took a room for
him at the inn, and rather cavalierly locked him in it.
The dull-eyed landlord, yawning as he lighted the party
upstairs with candles, apparently neither noticed nor cared
that the three of them surrounded a fourth, and that the fourth
looked both sullen and ill.
The car, with one of the secret-service men, Mettlich sent on
to follow Nikky's trail, and to report it to him. The other
man was assigned to custody of the chauffeur. The Chancellor,
more relieved than he would have acknowledged, reflected before
a fire and over a glass of hot milk that he was rather
unpropitiously bringing Karl a bride!
It was almost four in the morning when the police agent
returned. The track he had followed apparently led into the
grounds of Wedeling,, but was there lost in many others. It
did not, so far as he could discover, lead beyond the lodge
The Chancellor sipped his hot milk and considered. Nikky
Larisch a prisoner in Karl's hands caused him less anxiety than
it would have a month before. But what was behind it all?
The inn, grumbling at its broken rest, settled down to sleep
again. The two secret-service agents took turns on chairs
outside their prisoner's door, glancing in occasionally to see
that he still slept in his built-in bed.
At a little before five the man outside the prisoner's door
heard something inside the room. He glanced in. All was
quiet. The prisoner slept heavily, genuine sleep. There was
no mistaking it, the sleep of a man warm after long cold and
exhaustion, weary after violent effort. The agent went out
again, and locked the door behind him.
And as the door closed, a trap-door from the kitchen below
opened softly under the sleeping man's bed. With great caution
came the landlord, head first, then shoulders. The space was
cramped. He crawled up, like a snake out of a hole, and ducked
behind the curtains of the bed. All was still quiet, save that
the man outside struck a match and lighted a pipe.
Half an hour later, the Chancellor's prisoner, still stiff and
weak, was making his way toward the hunting-lodge.
Kaiser saw him first, and found the story unenlightening. Nor
could Karl, roused by a terrified valet, make much more of it.
When the man had gone, Karl lay back among his pillows and eyed
"So Mettlich is here!" he said. "A hasty journey. They must
"They must be in trouble," Kaiser observed dryly. And on that
uncomplimentary comment King Karl slept, his face drawn into a
But he received the Chancellor of Livonia cordially the next
morning, going himself to the lodge doorstep to meet his
visitor, and there shaking hands with him.
"I am greatly honored, Excellency," he said, with his twisted
"And I, sire."
But the Chancellor watched him from under his shaggy brows.
The messenger had escaped. By now Karl knew the story, knew of
his midnight ride over the mountains; and the haste it
indicated. He sheathed himself in dignity; did the Chancellor,
held his head high and moved ponderously, as became one who
came to talk of important matters, but not to ask a boon.
Karl himself led the way to his study, ignoring the
chamberlain, and stood aside to let Mettlich enter. Then he
followed and closed the door.
"It is a long time since you have honored Karnia with a visit,"
Karl observed. "Will you sit down?"
Karl himself did not sit. He stood negligently beside the
mantel, an arm stretched along it.
"Not since the battle of the Ar, sire," replied the Chancellor
dryly. He had headed an army of invasion then.
Karl smiled. "I hope that now your errand is more peaceful."
For answer the Chancellor opened a portfolio he carried, and
fumbled among its papers. But, having found the right one, he
held it without opening it. "Before we come to that, sire, you
have here, I believe, detained for some strange reason, a
Captain Larisch, aide-de-camp" - he paused for effect - "to His
Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Livonia."
Karl glanced up quickly. "Perhaps, if you will describe this -
gentleman - "
"Nonsense," said the Chancellor testily. "you have him. We
have traced him here. Although by what authority you hold him
I fail to understand. I am here to find out what you have done
with him." The paper trembled in the old man's hand. He knew
very well Karl's quick anger, and he feared for Nikky feared
"Done with him?" echoed Karl. "If as Captain Larisch you refer
to a madman who the night before last - "
"I do, sire. Madman is the word."
Of course, it is not etiquette to interrupt a king. But kings
were no novelty to the Chancellor. And quite often, for
reasons of state, he had found interruptions necessary.
"He is a prisoner," Karl said, in a new tone, stern enough now.
"He assaulted and robbed one of my men. He stole certain
documents. That he has not suffered for it already was because
- well, because I believed that the unfortunate distrust
between your country and mine, Excellency, was about to end."
A threat that, undoubtedly. Let the arrangement between Karnia
and Livonia be made, with Hedwig to seal the bargain, and Nikky
was safe enough. But let Livonia demand too much, or not agree
at all, and Nikky was lost. Thus did Nikky Larisch play his
small part in the game of nations.
"Suppose," said Karl unctuously, "that we discuss first another
more important matter. I confess to a certain impatience." He
The Chancellor hesitated. Then he glanced thoughtfully at the
paper in his hand.
Through a long luncheon, the two alone and even the servants
dismissed, through a longer afternoon, negotiations went on.
Mettlich fought hard on some points, only to meet defeat. Karl
stood firm. The great fortresses on the border must hereafter
contain only nominal garrisons. For the seaport strip he had
almost doubled his price. The railroad must be completed
within two years.
"Since I made my tentative proposal," Karl said, "certain
things have come to my ears which must be considered. A
certain amount of unrest we all have. It is a part of the
times we live in. But strange stories have reached us here,
that your revolutionary party is again active, and threatening.
This proposal was made to avoid wars, not to marry them. And
civil war - " He shrugged his shoulders.
"You have said yourself, sire, that we all have a certain
"The Princess Hedwig," Karl said suddenly. "She has been told,
"Not officially. She knows, however."
"How does she regard it?"
The Chancellor hesitated. "Like most young women, she would
prefer making her own choice. But that," he added hastily, "is
but a whim. She is a lovable and amiable girl. When the time
comes she will be willing enough."
Karl stared out through one of the heavily curtained windows.
He was not so sure. And the time had gone by when he would
have enjoyed the taming of a girl. Now he wanted peace - was
he not paying a price for it? - and children to inherit his
well-managed kingdom. And perhaps - who knows? - a little
love. His passionate young days were behind him, but he craved
something that his unruly life had not brought him. Before him
rose a vision of Hedwig her frank eyes, her color that rose and
fell, her soft, round body.
"You have no reason to believe that she has looked elsewhere?"
"None, sire," said the Chancellor stoutly.
By late afternoon all was arranged, papers signed and
witnessed, and the two signatures affixed, the. one small and
cramped - a soldier's hand; the other bold and flowing - the
scrawl of a king. And Hedwig, save for the ceremony, was the
bride of Karl of Karnia.
It was then that the Chancellor rose and stretched his legs.
"And now, sire," he said, "since we are friends and no longer
enemies, you will, I know, release that mad boy of mine."
"When do you start back?"
"Within an hour."
"Before that time," said Karl, "you shall have him,
And with that Mettlich was forced to be content. He trusted
Karl no more now than he ever had. But he made his adieus with
no hint of trouble in his face.
Karl waited until the machine drove away. He had gone to the
doorstep with the Chancellor, desiring to do him all possible
honor. But Mettlich unaccustomed to democratic ways,
disapproved of the proceeding, and was indeed extremely
uncomfortable, and drew a sigh of relief when it was all over.
He was of the old order which would keep its royalties on
gilded thrones and, having isolated there in grandeur, have
gone about the business of the kingdom without them.
Karl stood for a moment in the open air. It was done, then,
and well done. It was hard to realize. He turned to the west,
where for so long behind the mountains had lurked an enemy. A
new era was opening; peace, disarmament, a quiet and prosperous
land. He had spent his years of war and women. That was over.
>From far away in the forest he heard the baying of the hounds.
The crisp air filled his lungs. And even as he watched, a
young doe, with rolling eyes, leaped across the drive. Karl
watched it with coolly speculative eyes.
When he returned to the study the agent Kaiser was already
there. In the democracy of the lodge men came and went almost
at will. But Karl, big with plans for the future, would have
been alone, and eyed the agent with disfavor.
"Well?" he demanded.
"We have been able to search the Chancellor's rooms, sire," the
agent said, "for the articles mentioned last night - a
card-case, gloves, and a silk handkerchief, belonging to the
He is Captain Larisch, aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince of
He had, expected Karl to be, impressed. But Karl only looked
at him. "I know that," he said coldly. "You are always just a
little late with your information, Kaiser."
Something like malice showed in the agent's face. "Then you
also know, sire, that it is this Captain Larisch with whom
rumor couples the name of the Princess Hedwig." He stepped
back a pace or two at sight of Karl's face. "You requested
such information, sire."
For answer, Karl pointed to the door.
For some time after he had dismissed the agent, Karl paced his
library alone. Kaiser brought no unverified information.
Therefore the thing was true. Therefore he had had his enemy
in his hand, and now was pledged to let him go. For a time,
then, Karl paid the penalty of many misdeeds. His triumph was
ashes in his mouth.
What if this boy, infatuated with Hedwig, had hidden somewhere
on the road Olga Loschek's letter? What, then, if he recovered
it and took it to Hedwig? What if -
But at last he sent for the prisoner upstairs, and waited for
him with both jealousy and fear in his eyes.
Five minutes later Nikky Larisch was ushered into the red
study, and having bowed, an insolent young bow at that, stood
and eyed the King.
"I have sent for you to release you," said Karl. Nikky drew a
long breath. "I am grateful, sire."
"You have been interceded for by the Chancellor of Livonia,
General Mettlich, who has just gone."
"Naturally, since you said nothing, of your identity, we could
not know that you belonged to His Majesty's household. Under
the circumstances, it is a pleasure to give you your freedom."
Nikky, bowed again.
Karl fixed him with cold eyes. "But before you take leave of
us," he said ironically, "I should like the true story of the
night before last. Somehow, somewhere, a letter intended for
me was exchanged for a blank paper. I want that letter."
"I know no more than you, sire. It is not reasonable that I
would have taken the risk I took for an envelope containing
"For that matter," said His Majesty, "there was nothing
reasonable about anything you did!"
And now Karl played his trump card, played it with watchful
eyes on Nikky's face. He would see if report spoke the truth,
if this blue-eyed boy was in love with Hedwig. He was a
jealous man, this Karl of the cold eyes, jealous and
passionate. Not as a king, then, watching a humble soldier of
Livonia, but as man to man, he gazed at Nikky.
"For fear that loyalty keeps you silent, I may say to you that
the old troubles between Karnia and Livonia are over."
"I do not understand, sire."
Karl hesitated. Then, with his twisted smile, he cast the
rigid etiquette of such matters to the winds. "It is very
simple," he said. "There will be no more trouble between these
two neighboring countries, because a marriage has to-day been
arranged - a marriage between the Princess Hedwig, His
Majesty's granddaughter, and myself."
For a moment Nikky Larisch closed his eyes.
The anniversary of the death of Prince Hubert dawned bright and
sunny. The Place showed a thin covering of snow, which clung,
wet and sticky, to the trees; but by nine o'clock most of it
had disappeared, and Prince Ferdinand William Otto was informed
that the excursion would take place.
Two motors took the party, by back streets, to the
landing-stage. In the first were Annunciata, Hedwig, and the
Countess, and at the last moment Otto had salvaged Miss
Braithwaite from the second car, and begged a place for her
with him. A police agent sat beside the chauffeur. Also
another car, just ahead, contained other agents, by Mettlich's
order before his departure - a plain black motor, without the
In the second machine followed a part of the suite, Hedwig's
lady in waiting, two gentlemen of the Court, in parade dress,
and Father Gregory, come from his monastery at Etzel to visit
his old friend, the King.
At the landing-stage a small crowd had gathered on seeing the
red carpet laid and the gilt ropes put up, which indicated a
royal visit. A small girl, with a hastily secured bouquet in
her hot hands, stood nervously waiting. In deference to the
anniversary, the flowers were tied with a black ribbon!
Annunciata grumbled when she saw the crowd, and the occupants
of the first car looked them over carefully. It remained for
Hedwig to spy the black ribbon. In the confusion, she slipped
over to the little girl, who went quite white with excitement.
"They are lovely," Hedwig whispered, "but please take off the
black ribbon." The child eyed her anxiously. "It will come to
"Take the ribbon from your hair. It will be beautiful."
Which was done! But, as was not unnatural, the child forgot
her speech, and merely thrust the bouquet, tied with a large
pink bow, into the hands of Prince Ferdinand William Otto.
"Here," she said. It was, perhaps, the briefest, and therefore
the most agreeable presentation speech the Crown Prince had
Red carpet and gold ropes and white gloves these last on the
waiting officers - made the scene rather gay. The spring sun
shone on the gleaming river, on the white launch with its red
velvet cushions, on the deck chairs, its striped awnings and
glittering brass, on the Crown Prince, in uniform, on the
bouquet and the ribbon. But somewhere, back of the quay, a
band struck up a funeral march, and a beggar, sitting in the
sun, put his hand to his ear.
"Of course," he said, to no one in particular. "It is the day.
I had forgotten."
The quay receded, red carpet and all. Only the blare of the
band followed them, and with the persistence of sound over
water, followed them for some time. The Crown Prince put down
the bouquet, and proceeded to stand near the steersman.
"When I am grown up," he observed to that embarrassed sailor,
"I hope I shall be able to steer a boat."
The steersman looked about cautiously. The royal guests were
settling themselves in chairs; with rugs over their knees. "It
is very easy, Your Royal Highness," he said. "See, a turn like
this, and what happens? And the other way the same."
Followed a five minutes during which the white launch went on a
strange and devious course, and the Crown Prince grew quite hot
and at least two inches taller. It was, of course, the
Archduchess who discovered what was happening. She was very
disagreeable about it.
The Archduchess was very disagreeable about everything that
day. She was afraid to stay in the Palace, and afraid to leave
it. And just when she had begun to feel calm, and the sun and
fresh air were getting in their work, that wretched funeral
band had brought back everything she was trying to forget.
The Countess was very gay. She said brilliant, rather
heartless things that set the group to laughing, and in the
intervals she eyed Hedwig with narrowed eyes and hate in her
heart. Hedwig herself was very quiet. The bouquet had
contained lilies-of-the-valley, for one thing.
Miss Braithwaite knitted, and watched that the Crown Prince
kept his white gloves clean.
Just before they left the Palace the Archduchesss had had a
moment of weakening, but the Countess had laughed away her
"I really think I shall not go, after all," Annunciata had said
nervously. "There are reasons."
The Countess had smiled mockingly. "Reasons!" she said. "I
know that many things are being said. But I also know that
General Mettlich is an alarmist;" purred the Countess. "And
that the King is old and ill, and sees through gray glasses."
So the Archduchess had submitted to having a plumed and
inappropriate hat set high on her head, regardless of the
fashion, and had pinned on two watches and gone.
It was Hedwig who showed the most depression on the trip, after
all. Early that morning she had attended mass in the royal
chapel. All the household had been there, and the King had
been wheeled in, and had sat in his box, high in the wall, the
door of which opened from his private suite.
Looking up, Hedwig had seen his gray old face set and rigid.
The Court had worn black, and the chapel was draped in crepe.
She had fallen on her knees and had tried dutifully to pray for
the dead Hubert. But her whole soul was crying out for help
So now she sat very quiet, and wondered about things.
Prince Ferdinand William Otto sat by the rail and watched the
green banks flying by. In one place a group of children were
sailing a tiny boat from the bank. It was only a plank, with a
crazy cotton sail. They shoved it off and watched while the
current seized it and carried it along. Then they cheered, and
called good-bye to it.
The Crown Prince leaned over the rail, and when the current
caught it, he cheered too, and waved his cap. He was reproved,
of course, and some officious person insisted on tucking the
rug around his royal legs. But when no one was looking, he
broke a flower from the bouquet and flung it overboard. He
pretended that it was a boat, and was going down to Karnia,
filled with soldiers ready to fight.
But the thought of soldiers brought Nikky to his mind. His
face clouded. "It's very strange about Nikky," he said. "He
is away somewhere. I wish he had sent word he was going."
Hedwig looked out over the river.
The Archduchess glanced at Miss Braithwaite. "There is no
news?" she asked, in an undertone.
"None," said Miss Braithwaite.
A sudden suspicion rose in Hedwig's mind, and made her turn
pale. What if they had sent him away? Perhaps they feared him
enough for that! If that were true, she would never know. She
knew the ways of the Palace well enough for that. In a sort of
terror she glanced around the group, so comfortably disposed.
Her mother was looking out, with her cool, impassive gaze.
Miss Braithwaite knitted. The Countess, however, met her eyes,
and there was something strange in them: triumph and a bit of
terror, too, had she but read them. For the Countess had put
in her plea for a holiday and had been refused.
The launch drew up near the fort, and the Crown Prince's salute
of a certain number of guns was fired. The garrison was drawn
up in line, and looked newly shaved and very, very neat. And
the officers came out and stood on the usual red carpet, and
bowed deeply, after which they saluted the Crown Prince and he
saluted them. Then the Colonel in charge shook hands all
round, and the band played. It was all very ceremonious and
took a lot of tine.
The new fortress faced the highroad some five miles from the
Karnian border. It stood on a bluff over the river, and was,
as the Crown Prince decided, not so unlike the desk, after all,
except that it had a moat around it.
Hedwig and the Countess went with the party around the
fortifications. The Archduchess and Miss Braithwaite had
sought a fire. Only the Countess, however, seemed really
interested. Hedwig seemed more intent on the distant line of
the border than on anything else. She stood on a rampart and
stared out at it, looking very sad. Even the drill - when at a
word all the great guns rose and peeped over the edge at the
valley below, and then dropped back again as if they had seen
enough - even this failed to rouse her.
"I wish you would listen, Hedwig," said the Crown Prince,